A thought for bulletin boards

A lucky teacher friend of mine is working in a brand new building this year. She loves her district (the most academically successful in the state) and is very pleased that they put millions into new facilities where she can spend the rest of her career. Her room will feature laptops, a ton of space, lots of chalkboards, and three bulletin boards. This is why she asked me for my best bulletin board idea.

I really think every class should be about the students who work within it, so this was my suggestion. How about a piece of loose leaf paper that says, “school can be dull. Let’s create something amazing together and put it here.” It’s a little dramatic, I know, but there’s really something there.

* * *

“I’m in a new building,” she said, “I don’t think the principal would go for that.” She’s probably right. That’s definitely the kind of creative rebellion administrators have a tendency to second guess, but I think it might have a major effect on students, particularly in this brand new facility! Imagine, a multimillion dollar brand new school and a clear message to students – this place is a blank canvas, and what happens next is all about you. It’s yours, so love it, be proud, make something great, and show it off.

“I’m sorry you don’t have that freedom,” I said. “It’s not a freedom issue,” she said, “It’s a showpiece issue.” She loves her school and she is proud of her new classroom, so I really can’t blame her for wanting it to look nice and be shown off to the world. Surely administrators want the same. That proud urge is very common.

In fact, I think the more you love something (especially if it’s your own), the more you want to show it to off. Isn’t this part of what we do on Facebook and Twitter every day? How often do we give students this opportunity at school? Most, I imagine, are proud of good grades, maybe their parents hang them on the fridge, but its not exactly the kind of passionate project you can’t stop smiling about as you describe it. I think school would be much more successful and enriching if it gave students this opportunity everyday – to make something of their time, their energy, and of themselves.

* * *

When I worked at a boarding school, we had lots of bulletin boards with things like AP scholars on them – pictures of our “top” AP students and a list of their AP scores. It was next to my classroom, but I don’t remember it drawing much attention.

One night, one of our students chose to take on a project. Photography was a hobby of his, so he decided to put together a bulletin board from the photos he had taken around campus. He stayed up all hours of the night piecing together a panoramic view of the main building with dozens of shots of students. He backed the whole thing with black paper and worked meticulously to make it perfect.

The next morning, it was the hottest thing on campus. Students were amazed by the photos, especially the creativity of this piecemeal panorama. Crowds gathered and stared between every period. He was beaming with well-deserved pride. It really was an incredible installation, and he had taken it on for fun, and certainly not for a grade or extra credit. He wasn’t even in a photography class!

* * *

If we give students the chance to take on their passions and guide their own education and activity in a supportive and responsible environment, they will make amazing things, especially of themselves. Our schools have to be more than showpieces. Schools need to recognize the people within them and allow student influence to populate the school with excitement and passion. Proud work should fill the walls and conversation, making school a great place to be.

But if you can’t do that, at least don’t put up some, “math is awesome, because knowledge is power” thing. Nobody needs that.

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4 responses to “A thought for bulletin boards

  1. Love your post. One of my favorite schools here in CA ( minarets high school) has a sign above the entrance that reads, “what will you create today?”. Very nice. They do some amazing things there…worth taking a look.

    • Thanks for telling me about that school. I’m going to look into it. I love putting the responsibilty on kids to take control of their lives and make it what they want. School recognizes that control is important but usually tries to impose control from above. Amazingly, students will respond when they are challenges to control themselves for themselves. Thanks for your comment

  2. I have a blank bulletin board in my 8th grade math classroom. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it. Now I know. Great idea – I know my admins will love it! BTW Found your blog from #mathchat.

    • So glad you’ll give it a go! You may be amazed with what they want to do. Maybe you can take a picture and share here, if something beautiful happens. Thanks for your comment!

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