Building Community Collaboration Educational Philosophy engagement Family Networking Teaching Community Teamwork

Why Every School, Class, And Learning Space Needs A Couch [Talk]

If you call the Fountain Valley High School Teacher’s Lounge during the school day and I pick up the phone, you are guaranteed to hear a lie. On picking up the phone I’ll say “English office, Mr. Theriault speaking.”

Now the lie isn’t that I say ENGLISH office, even though the room is for the entire staff, the room is in the English hall and we have twenty-one+ English teachers so we kinda take over the space.

No the lie is that it’s not the office, it’s the lounge. We have a small English office just twenty feet away. So why do I call our lounge an office? Perception. My mentor/Master Teacher Jim Caforio taught me to answer the phone that way twenty years ago and I’ve been doing it ever since. People think we are busy doing important stuff if we are doing it in an office. The irony of course is that much more work gets done in the lounge than in the office. Why?

couchpatton2

Cause the lounge has more couches and couches create conversations.

Okay, so your lounge has couches, big deal, every lounge has couches. Well I’m here to try and convince you why you need a couch in your classroom and why you need to create conversation couches in other areas of your life.

For the first ten years of my teaching career I didn’t have a couch in my room. Then I started working with my teaching sisters, Minnie and Annalise. Annalise had this super comfy chair in her room and Minnie had this small couch that worked like a de facto psych couch (not strangely enough Minnie is a psychology major).

I started noticing that I always spent my time after school in their room and that they never came to my room. One day I tried to guilt them about how they never came to my room.

“Well… there’s no where comfortable to sit in your room except for your teacher’s desk chair and you are already sitting in that” They replied.

Desks2

The positions we take to try and stay comfortable in a desk, pity our poor students after six periods.

I brought in a used couch shortly thereafter, and ever since then I’ve tried to maintain a space in my room that welcomes an extended stay, a conversation. So Minnie can play psychologist in room 130.

My couch

 

So what makes a great place for a conversation and community building. Well, according to this extremely thorough article at the Community Toolbox Website called “Creating Good Spaces for Interaction” these spaces need four basic characteristics:

  • There has to be a reason for people to go there.

  • There has to be a reason for people to want to stay once they’ve arrived.

  • People in the space have to feel safe and comfortable.

  • The space has to be welcoming and accessible to everyone.

So the space doesn’t HAVE to be a couch, it could be

Of all of the four characteristics of a good space for interactions I really love number four:

The space has to be welcoming and accessible to everyone.

So that space can’t be a Spartan obstacle course, it’s can’t be an innovation lab that only welcomes those comfortable with using technology (do you have non-tech ways of innovating in your innovation lab), in other words how can you make sure your “couch” is not a club.

You should strongly think about getting a comfy chair or better yet a couch for your classroom, office, or “innovation lab.” If you want people to have a reason to show up or stay either make sure your seating is comfortable or have a stash of chocolate. (Right Minnie?)

Minnie2

I’m so blessed to have such a smart and fun teaching “sister” next door. #ditchingschool

 

Now all this couch talk got me thinking about all the couch talks I have with other smart people so I’ve decided to make one new addition and one big change to my blog for 2015.

The addition:

I’m going to start a series of shorter posts called “Couch Talks” where I share with you the really smart and interesting things I learn in conversations with others. These won’t be every week, but they will run regularly. My first two couch talks will be:

  1. Couch Talk Chapter 1: How To Run Your Meetings And Innovation Sessions Like A Hollywood Pro: A post dinner couch talk I had with my sister-in-law who is a [super] successful (the super part is my humble opinion) Hollywood TV producer who will teach us how to hold meetings, brainstorming sessions, and innovate like the pros do in Hollywood.
  2. Couch Talk Chapter 2: How Darpa Can Transform Professional Development and Edcamps: A pre-dinner couch talk I had with my brother-in-law who is a research scientist for the military think tank Darpa. His talk will help transform how we innovate, learn, and run edcamps and other conferences.

The change:

I’m a big fan of reflection and feedback. Even though people seem to like my blog, I’m always asking my friends and people I trust what I should do differently with my blog. The comment I get the most is “sometimes I can’t read your blog posts right away because I know they are going to be long” or “I can barely read Theriault, you’re killing me with all this writing stuff.”

Additionally there are some things I’m not happy about with both my blog and how I use Twitter.

On my blog there are three sections for shorter shares

The problem with these three areas is that they are just one long post and I can’t use anchor links to point people directly to a resource or idea. But I do want a place to put my short shares because Twitter is failing me at being an archive for these short shares and ideas. Even though I always put a picture on a Tweet that I want to find later (so that I just have to wade through my “photos and videos” tweets) finding a particular tweet is a laborious process.

So I’m going to slowly remove these short share sections from my blog and focus my blog thereadinessisall.com on blogging, both my personal blogging and student blogging. I may even end up changing the theme and look of my blog to facilitate the “Long Reads” nature of my blog. If you want to find my short shares and want to see what a David Theriault blog with shorter and more frequent posts than you can go to www.ideaFM.org my brand new 2nd blog. It looks like this so far.

IdeaFM screen shot

 

Hope you enjoy it. See you soon.

 

PS, if you want to find some fancy seating besides a couch, be my guest and knock yourself out…

 

Non couch2

14 comments

  1. Your “long reads” always have great and interesting topics that I wouldn’t think would be in a blog. I like your opinions and anecdotes in your blogs but I’m looking forward to your short posts👌

  2. I totally agree with you, David, that our physical space creates, or at least impacts, our mental space. And that people migrate intuitively to spaces which resonate with them or in which they feel comfortable. I vividly remember a colleague’s red couch which was a magnet for staff. And I like how your notion of comfy accessible spaces moves from couches to Voxer. Think outside the couch!

    I wrote recently about my views on spaces and places – for play, work, research, writing, inspiration and productivity: http://wp.me/p4TJTj-7p .

    And I love a blogger willing to challenge their readers with the ‘long read’. Not all of our information should be unchallengingly packaged in neat bite-size packages! 🙂

    Deb

  3. In our school library, I’ve added a couch and several comfy chairs right next to the graphic novels and fiction [and my desk which is in the center of the room]. We scatter new magazines on the little tables next to the chairs and put the chairs next to plugs so kids can plug in their phones. Once they’re in the chair waiting for the phone to charge, they usually pick up a book or magazine – sometimes they do their homework. The kids with guide dog puppies to train always come in and share the couch. It’s fun, inviting, and lots of great discussion happens.

  4. Hi, David! I love that you’ve thought about the couch and its efficacy. I’m having a small struggle with the subversion of continuing to have a classroom couch under a new boss (I’m in high school English), and I’d love to know your thoughts and look at any resources you’ve found on the subject. My basic set up is a pretty traditional use of desks during class time proper, but I have a big couch in one corner that I use for club meetings, an alternative study common area (read: safe space) for students during my free periods, and class work maybe once a week when students are writing, reading, thinking, working in groups, etc. My students have said for years that my room is welcoming and a place they want to stay and work. My boss “doesn’t believe in classroom couches.” Help me justify my transgressions with some solid scholarship on the topic?

  5. Hi, David! I love that you’ve thought about the couch and its efficacy. I’m having a small struggle with the subversion of continuing to have a classroom couch under a new Upper School Director (I’m in Upper School English), and I’d love to know your thoughts and look at any resources you’ve found on the subject. My basic set up is a pretty traditional use of desks during class time proper, but I have a big couch in one corner that I use for club meetings, an alternative study common area (read: safe space) for students during my free periods, and class work maybe once a week when students are writing, reading, thinking, working in groups, etc. My students have said for years that my room is welcoming and a place they want to stay and work. My boss “doesn’t believe in classroom couches.” Help me justify my transgressions with some solid scholarship on the topic?

  6. I was just directed to your blog after mentioning you in a FB post. I am a class of ’98 Monsoon and can’t tell you how much a year of you influenced us. Thank you.

  7. I just received a second hand couch for my classroom and have been reading so many articles on classroom seating. I want my couch to be a success. Do you have any tips? Rules? Placement in the room strategies?

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