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‘Edutopia’ likes Polak’s flexible classroom

MADISON – Emily Polak’s seating and decor approach in her classroom has grabbed the attention of  the Edutopia website and approval of her language arts students.

Polak decided on the redo at Bob Jones High School after reading about benefits of flexible seating. ” Many flexible classrooms were in elementary schools. I wanted to see if it would work in a high school setting,” she said. “I also strongly believed this setup would help my students feel less anxious and therefore enable them to settle into learning.”

She applied her ingenuity and Pinterest ideas within constraints of her resources by choosing affordable furniture pieces. Luckily, Bob Jones PTSA donated a $200 grant to purchase rugs, lamps and couches.

“Since I already love to bargain shop, that $200 went a long way,” Polak said.

Polak’s goal was a comfortable, cozy environment. She defined each seating area with a rug, lamp and furniture. White and colored Christmas lights soften harsh fluorescent lighting. Many wall decorations are Harry Potter-themed. Books-A-Million donated some decorations.

“Decorations tie into the content we’re reading, such as ‘The Hobbit.’ There’s no set color scheme,” Polak said. Walking into Polak’s classroom, one student compared the myriad of colors with Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Recently, Edutopia (edutopia.org) featured Polak’s classroom. Assistant principal Amy Thaxton encouraged Polak to submit photos to Edutopia, which has been spotlighting flexible classrooms. Polak’s post received numerous compliments.

Next, Edutopia asked permission and published an article and photos for Polak’s classroom in a feature showcasing flexible classrooms around the country.

“One of the article’s most rewarding outcomes was how excited and supportive my students’ parents were,” Polak said. “I knew my classroom would be an easy way to show my students how much I cared about them, but what I didn’t consider was how appreciative the parents would be of this setup.”

“When my students enter my room, many cannot contain themselves and have to tell me right away how excited they are to be in my class. Even though they have just met me, through my room layout and decorations, they somehow know immediately they’re going to love this class,” Polak said.

Some students even brag to friends about sitting on couches during class. Polak did keep several desks for testing. “I was surprised some students prefer to sit in desks over the couches. It’s easy for students to transition back and forth,” she said.

In time, Polak hopes to phase out desks for tables and chairs.

“This will continue to be a great environment for my students,” she said. Polak teaches freshman composition, pre-advanced placement English 9 and Honors English 12.

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