Imagine that you are entering a classroom for the first time. What do you see? What are your first impressions? What images are speaking to your soul? Many of us naturally adjust to our daily surroundings and therefore become numb to the messages they send. Because the messages conveyed can be both clear and hidden, we must take a fresh look at our classroom environment.
Charlotte Mason, a favored educator of the 19th century, pioneered a return to the ancient methods of education. She believed that education was more than just stacks of textbooks, large cold classrooms and academic bureaucracy. She argued that education is upheld by three pillars: education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. The first pillar, education as an atmosphere, will be the focus of this article.
Atmosphere is layered; it is richer and deeper than you might first realize. Charlotte Mason defined the word in this way, “The learning place is not a child’s environment but rather the formation of proper conditions for learning.” She believed that the atmosphere of a classroom was equally important to the material taught. She also emphasized that the atmosphere in a child’s home played a part in their learning at school. Creating an atmosphere that invites children to learn and love learning should also be our goal.
We tell students: “take care of your things;” “do your best work;” “be attentive to this subject.” In a room that is often disorganized and harshly lit, with bare walls and furniture that is old and broken, these messages often contradict. Our words say one thing but our atmosphere speaks a much louder message. In addition to our physical atmosphere, we expect children to develop a sense of wonder in learning while we, the vital fixture, droll on for long boring lectures, giving no time for discovery, thinking and wonder.
Because a teacher is the key fixture in any classroom, a teacher significantly contributes to the atmosphere of a classroom. Children naturally love what a teacher loves. A teacher who is awakened to the classroom atmosphere, will demonstrate love of material and love of students. While the physical atmosphere of a classroom conveys a message, teachers, likewise, either foster or hinder the sense of wonder, love of learning and cultivated thinking by their leadership in the classroom.
The belief that education is an atmosphere will be revealed in classrooms that are filled with life, beauty, and order, taught by educators who joyfully lead children into discovery and wonder. These three words prompt educators to ask three important questions when evaluating classroom atmosphere:
Does this room have life?
Is this room beautiful?
Is this room orderly?
Richer learning will take place in the classrooms that align with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of atmosphere. In short, you could say: atmosphere speaks louder than words. Take a fresh look at the classroom you first imagined, is it a classroom filled with distractions or is it a classroom that encourages a love of learning? Allow yourself to be awakened to the hidden messages in the classroom.