Space for Learning

By Steve Tuit and Abby Zwart

Where are you right now?

There’s a good chance you’re in your classroom, a space you spend countless hours in each year. Look around. What’s on your walls? Student work? Anchor charts? Inspirational posters? Senior photos? The daily schedule? How are your desks or tables or exercise balls or carpet squares arranged? How many boxes of tissue do you have? Is there a reading corner or a dress-up station or a box of lost and found?

Maybe you’re in the teacher’s lounge or your office or a common area. What’s the lighting like? Do you smell anything? Is there comfortable seating? When is the last time someone vacuumed?

Or maybe you’re at home (lucky you!). Whether you’re grading papers or eating dinner or just relaxing after a good day’s work, take a look at your space for a moment. How is it decorated? What things make you feel at home? What unfinished projects do you see?

This issue of CEJ is all about where you are—literally. Midyear, among our syllabi and science experiments, we often don’t stop to think much about physical space. We set up our classrooms in September and call it good, not doing much beyond occasionally cleaning up or hanging a new poster now and then. But physical space is an essential ingredient, however taken for granted, of every classroom and every school building.

In this issue, we’ll start small, considering the classroom level and how to make decisions about classroom decoration. From there we’ll zoom out a bit more with each article. We’ll look at a special area of Christian schools—worship space—and then we’ll discuss with an architect the design of school buildings overall. Finally, we’ll move beyond the building into nature and the neighborhood.

Maybe you’ll be inspired to simply rearrange the desks in your classroom. Maybe you’ll think about how to create more common space for students to socialize during break. Or maybe you’ll lead students outside to pick up trash in the neighborhood. Whatever you do, we hope you take a few moments to consider where you are when you teach.

And as far as the space of this journal goes, the pages are under new leadership! Read below for our introductions and to hear about our favorite school spaces.  We’re excited to host the conversation about Christian education in the pages of this journal, and we are pleased to be joined by our new layout editor, Klass Wolterstorff. We’re thankful for all of our readers and hope that whether you read each issue cover to cover or just browse an article that looks promising, you find in these pages encouragement, ideas to play with, and opportunities to reflect on your calling. Happy reading!

Abby Zwart

I’m a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who grew up in the Grand Rapids Christian Schools. After attending Calvin University (2013) and spending a few years teaching in charter schools around the city, I’m back at my alma mater teaching high school English, including courses like creative writing, media studies, and literature and social justice. When I’m not grading papers, you’ll probably find me in the kitchen, at the climbing gym, or adding to my list of favorite movies.

My favorite school space was definitely my third grade classroom. Mrs. Noordewier had a loft built in the back corner of the room, and I spent a lot of time up there reading—she didn’t even make me go outside for recess sometimes. Though probably in total violation of safety codes now, it was novel, and we loved using it for the make-believe games we’d play during free time. That loft reminds me of the days when all I needed for hours of enjoyment was a book and a little imagination.

Steve Tuit

Since graduating from Calvin University in 1995, I have been teaching in Christian schools for twenty-five years (I sometimes find myself surprised that I am no longer among the younger teachers in the staff lounge). At school, my courses include AP psychology and a variety of classes in the English department. At home, when my family can’t find me and my running shoes are sitting by the back door, they look in the garden or the basement workshop.

My favorite educational space is a courtyard that my graduate school cohort would take over every day for lunch during our three-week long summer sessions. It’s where we had our best conversations about our former teachers, current colleagues and students, and school settings to deepen and extend what happened in the classroom. It’s where we built a community that empowered and sustained us. It’s where we made the learning our own.