The school year is coming up quick and from district to district and school to school it's clear-- the classroom we left behind isn't the classroom of the future. Important decisions are being made at every juncture and COVID-19 remediation actions are changing rapidly. As you navigate this new horizon, there are a number of investments, retrofits, and modifications that can be made to increase student and teacher safety.
We've highlighted four different types of classrooms to illustrate the innovative ways that the current layouts can be reimagined. Most classrooms don't fit a tight paradigm; location, funding, subject, grade level, and any number of factors will create your own unique set of challenges. NBF is here to help you navigate this difficult transition. Contact our sales team to get started with your upcoming transformation, utilizing our vast product selection as well as complimentary space planning services from our skilled in-house design team.
For teachers, one of the most difficult aspects returning to school is a feeling of powerlessness. Most significant decisions will be made at the administrative level, whether that's the district or within the school, and these choices may or may not include teacher input. These will dramatically affect what the school day looks like, the work that teachers will need to accomplish, and how students will have to navigate the post-COVID classroom.
- Budget Concerns: At this time, there's a lot of necessary purchases that need to be made but there might not be funds to cover everything. Tight budgets and limited funding will affect the classrooms that need it most. While there are state-of-the-art solutions available, most will need to consider retrofitting and reusing existing fixtures in new and imaginative ways.
- Classroom vs. Virtual: After ending last semester with a totally-virtual experience, there's always the distinct possibility that classes may need to transition to a fully-online school day. Some districts are already making these calls in advance while others are pursuing other options, including:
- All In-School: Students all return to the premises full-time, 5 days a week. Recess, gym, lunch, and other electives may be foregone and students may be contained to one room.
- Part-Time School: Two to three-day school weeks, possibly with limited hours, may be paired with online schooling on the remaining days. Necessary classes and tasks will be completed in the building while all others will be done online.
- Hybrid Classrooms: Teachers may have AV equipment in their classroom to broadcast lessons to students who are fully remote. This simulates the schoolhouse environment better than fully online classes while keeping children safe at home.
- Optional Online Learning: Many districts are implementing an opt-in program for students who have the option or preference for staying at home. Otherwise, classes continue in their decided format at the school.
- Compulsory Online Learning: All classes remain online, school or district-wide.
Even within well-funded, sparsely populated schools, classrooms that already feature proper distancing are rare. Some schools may need to create overflow classrooms by modifying communal spaces, such as gyms or cafeterias, into temporary-use classrooms. These can be outfitted with the extra fixtures from other classrooms or can use inexpensive desking that can be repurposed after restrictions are relaxed.
Schools have utilized mobile classrooms in certain areas where the population has outgrown the building. These "mobiles" are essentially movable trailers that can be outfitted in a similar way to a standard classroom. Schools with the added real estate are turning towards these overflow solutions to expand their footprint and reduce overcrowding in classes.
The decision to require masks is strongly encouraged by the CDC and nearly any other scholarly source regarding COVID-19. Schools need to make the decision of how to implement these practices, whether that includes providing students with temporary-use masks at the start of the day or providing washable cloth alternatives. While proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19, masks are not a catch-all for social distancing and creating physical barriers between students as well as staff.
At the administrative level, schools should decide on a unified message regarding the spread of COVID-19. As situations change, these messages should be updated, but deciding on a unified messaging regarding hygiene, masking expectations, and in-school behaviors should remain consistent. While communicating these expectations, ensure that they're visibly displayed, delivered to all students, and delivered to parents as well. Any posters or signage should be tailored to the individual grade levels.
In hallways, bathrooms, entrances, reception areas, and other communal spaces, determine the best course of action for professional and daily cleaning. Find the right solvents and disinfectants that are both FDA-approved and gentle enough for use around children. Alongside the janitorial staff, ensure that there's a thorough cleaning every evening, conducted either by in-house staff or a contracted sanitization company trained in managing COVID-19.
Bringing students to and from school lends itself to a completely different set of challenges. As students arrive at the building, ensure that wayfinding measures have been put firmly in place and confirmed with physical barriers and restrictions. Crowd control ropes, vibrant signage, directional hallways, and enter/exit points of egress should be carefully considered. Reception areas can take inspiration from office and healthcare waiting rooms, along with the procedures that can ensure both staff and visitor safety in these spaces.
THE MODERN CLASSROOM
Defined by bright colors, interesting fixtures, and attention to various learning styles, the modern classroom deviates from typical rows of desking and relies on flexible seating to create an engaging learning environment. While it's nearly impossible to maintain these core principles in the post-COVID world, there's workarounds that can alleviate these tensions while preserving the spirit of this classroom style.
COLLECTIVE MEETING RUGS
A defining feature of flexible seating classrooms centers around an area that students come together for collective learning. Unfortunately, these areas should be completely eliminated in the COVID classroom. Modify these areas and repurpose that space for individual workstations
In order to capture the attention of all types of learning styles, flexible classrooms use a mix of seating options to ensure that each student can do their best work in an area that best fits their needs. Unfortunately, not all of these seating options are viable in the post-COVID classroom.
- Upholstery: Fabric is the most porous and difficult to clean upholstery; remove any fabric items from use. Stick with vinyl, plastics, and other hard synthetics that can be fully-disinfected. Older wood chairs or seats should be used sparingly as well.
- Design: Seating with a lot of crevices or moving parts should be pulled from use as well. Any nooks or crannies will be difficult to keep clean, even during end-of-day deep cleanings.
- Movability: Highly mobile seating should be reconsidered in favor of fairly stationary choices, discouraging children from moving their chairs from one place to another.
To preserve the fun and engaging atmosphere of a modern flexible seating-style classroom, consider replacing some student chairs with similarly sized alternatives, such as wobbling stools or hybrid yoga ball chairs. Seek out items that can prevent fidgeting and encourage movement while keeping students planted firmly behind their desk.
Not only does flexible seating add various types of seating to the modern classroom, but it positions this seating in various non-traditional areas. From counter-height collaborative tabletops to small clusters of workspaces, these various configurations need to be positioned in ways that have all students facing the same way. For the same reasons, avoid U-shaped, circular, or pod-based configurations.
When possible, restrict each workspace's area of movement by avoiding casters and other mobile solutions while encircling each workspace with physical tape that shouldn't be crossed unless instructed.
LEAN TOWARDS THE TRADITIONAL
To maintain the appeal of a modern, flexible classroom, create workspaces that harken the individuality of flexible seating styles while keeping students facing forward and well-spaced. While providing each student with a stationary desk, consider switching up the desking and seating styles. Students who once thrived with yoga balls can still use these seats in their designated spot, though it needs to be made clear that they can't move them throughout the room.
Whether you're reusing, repurposing, or repurchasing desking and tables, consider using a mix of sitting and standing-height seating. A tenet of flexible seating has been using stools and other counter-height solutions for students who prefer those choices, and they can add variety while maintaining the need for a well-spaced traditional desking setup.
No matter what way you look at it, this is going to be a difficult time in elementary students' learning career. It's going to be hard to understand why they can't play together or interact closely as they once have and it might be hard to remember where they're supposed to go or sit. Use visual cues on the floor to illustrate their personal space and boundaries. Tape or floor-mounted decals can be a solution to these spacing challenges, but other innovations, such as crowd control ribbons or even acrylic dividers, may be necessary to control traffic flow and movement throughout the classroom.
At this age, students remain in a single classroom for their core subjects and only venture out for electives, lunch, and recess. Since these subjects may be limited, or restricted to the main classroom, there may be more supplies per-student. Similarly, since comingled items must be eliminated, each students' personal property will grow and may not fit in the already established cubby systems.
Supplement their individual storage with a cart with individual buckets. Alongside their existing spaces, these bins can be grabbed at the beginning of the day and brought to the students' workspace for easy access without having to move about the room.
In elementary school, student desks are often equipped with storage. These situations reduce the complications of personalized storage, but some overflow space will still be necessary depending on the class.
EXPLAIN THE SITUATION
Children in elementary classrooms may not understand what's going on in the world around them. Each child will have a different level of comprehension and has received a different degree of information from their parents. In the school environment, it's important to keep every single student on the same page. Make these hard to understand concepts easy to process by keeping information tailored to grade level. Students in the transitional phase while learning to read will need more visual guidance while older elementary students may be able to understand rudimentary words, but these messages are important nonetheless.
In order to ensure that expectations and communication remain cohesive, decide as a school or district on which policies and procedures should be followed. Unlike older grades, it's more difficult to spread out uniform posters and signage, but a standard set of guidelines should be given to every teacher to make sure their messaging and information is consistent.
HIGH DENSITY CLASSROOMS
As teacher-to-student ratios change and class sizes increase, schools have moved to high-density classrooms with close to or the upwards of 30 students per-class. While this is not ideal, it's a common reality. Though learning from home with these configurations poses its own challenges, a primary focus should be on decreasing these class sizes before making physical changes to the space.
WORK WITHIN BUDGET
High-density classrooms are often the result of overcrowded and underfunded districts and schools. While these are some of the most difficult classrooms to distance, they're also some of the most crucial. Students in high-density classrooms come into contact with a significant amount of people outside of class, making it more imperative to optimize their school day.
Because of budgetary concerns, state-of-the-art upgrades may not be possible and classrooms may not be able to accommodate radical changes. As you navigate these retrofits, take a careful inventory of the supplies and fixtures and see how then can be reused and repurposed throughout the classroom. Seek out low-cost alternatives that mimic the effects of higher cost solutions and leverage all of your school's resources in ways that best fit the population.
As a reminder, when you work with NBF we do offer complimentary space planning services that can help you work with your existing classrooms of any size, style, and existing structure. Contact our sales team to begin this process.
We know that this isn't possible or feasible for a number of reasons. An increased number of classrooms also requires additional teachers or taking away prep hours from current staff. If this is a hurdle that's possible to overcome, it's a welcome solution for alleviating overcrowded classrooms.
When there aren't spare rooms throughout the building, there are often flexible gathering or recreation spaces that are relatively free from use. Auxiliary gymnasiums, lecture halls, overflow meeting rooms, and unused cafeteria spaces can be sectioned off and converted into temporary overflow classrooms. Rural and spaced-out campuses may have undeveloped land that can accommodate a network of mobile classrooms in pre-fabricated trailers.
Large, standing-height mobile screens made of clear acrylic (also called sneeze guards) are an emerging solution for teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Particularly within densely populated classrooms, a significantly large barrier can keep teachers closer to their students without worry, though it still is recommended that a 6' separation remains in place.
CREATE HYBRID CLASSES
While distance learning may not be feasible for all students, a district that relies on hybrid classrooms can use this capability to reduce class sizes without sacrificing the importance classroom learning. Instead of relying on the quarantine style of fully-remote learning, students can see the physical classroom in action while engaging with peers and teachers in a virtual way.
Equip these spaces with a camera, tripod, and a mobile laptop cart that keeps the teacher's laptop easy to access at any time. While planning out this strategy, ensure that there is enough space near the equipment to make sure that it isn't a trip hazard, leading to broken equipment and disturbances during class.
ADD MOBILE POWER
Classrooms that rely on Chromebooks, computers, or tablets come with the added challenge of charging these devices. Consider adding a few mobile power towers to your classroom, ensuring that students who need to recharge do not need to crowd around outlets by allowing the charging station to come to them.
These aren't the classrooms that teachers and administrators remember from childhood. STE(A)M classrooms focus on science, technology, engineering, math, and, more recently, arts. Highly specialized, incredibly engaging, and hands-on, these classrooms are often situated in schools that are geared towards the same purposes, ensuring that students can continue their tailored education in pursuit of a STEM career.
These classrooms look the most similar to older science classrooms and may feature some of the fixtures that are expect in such. Built-in cabinets, high-tech peripherals, a central island at the front of the class, and even a chemical hood may be incorporated and highly immovable. To accommodate these challenges, it is more important than ever to consult a space planner that can work with your existing layout to achieve success.
USE THE RIGHT DISINFECTANTS
While selecting disinfectants and sanitizing supplies, be considerate of the equipment they will touch. Tech and science-related items have very different needs as compared to tabletops and workstations, requiring a different set of items all together. As you create cleaning caddies for the classroom, ensure that they're all clearly labeled and that instructions are disseminated for their proper use.
Some of these solvents are tough on skin. Ensure that general purpose cleaners are safe enough for students' skin and provide proper PPE for use with stronger cleaning agents. These general purpose cleaners can be used on desktops and counters while others are better suited for their individual needs.
RESTRICT SHARED SUPPLIES
Because of their specific focus, STE(A)M classrooms often include equipment and supplies that are communal use, such as 3D printers or microscopes. These large supplies, when absolutely necessary, should be thoroughly cleaned with item-specific solvents after every use, however it still is recommended that their use remains limited.
For smaller communal supplies, ensure that each student is provided with their own property and required to store it with their belongings. Even if this is an item that's returned at the end of the semester. Comingled books should remain single-person and activities that require these items should be limited or modified when possible.
CREATE SINGLE-PERSON SEATING
Classrooms that use two-person tables may face an added occupancy difficulty. These tables are large, reducing the ability to add significantly more seating to accommodate a spread-out class size.
Each two-person table should be reduced to one and, to enhance distancing back-to-front, an acrylic divider should be placed at the front end of the table. As you consider social distancing options, the most viable choice may be to add additional rows near the back of the classroom. Ensure that these added workstations don't take complete advantage of physical barriers in lieu of proper 6' distancing.
ADD PERSONAL STORAGE
In situations where students don’t move from class-to-class as frequently, keeping their school supplies handy will become more difficult. If they no longer have access to lockers, including personal storage opportunities will become necessary. Convert an existing storage cabinet into a system of personal bins for small item and textbook storage, monitoring the number of students in close-proximity while accessing these spaces.
Similarly, students will probably have backpacks and coats. As you shop for new fixtures, consider chairs that have under-seat storage or wider backs to accommodate backpack straps. Many traditional chairs have a small wire basket down below, but several updated options have a larger shelf that can accommodate books, bins, and more.
RECONFIGURE CLASSROOM STORAGE
Even though much storage may be built in, some technology carts or storage fixtures may be movable and can be arranged in a less obtrusive way. Try to make as much space throughout the classroom by stacking items when possible or moving them to the periphery to create additional space for rows and columns of desks.
As lesson plans change and collaborative activities are eliminated or modified, some fixtures in the classroom may not be necessary anymore. For the time being, arrange for these items to be placed in storage with excess chairs and workstations, allowing them to be easily added in as pandemic-based restrictions evolve.
ADD POWER OPTIONS
Due to their high-tech nature, STE(A)M classrooms involve a lot of personal technology that requires charging throughout the day. Rather than crowding students around a small number of electrical outlets, add a few mobile power towers to the classroom. These can be rolled over to the individual students, giving them the ability to power up without leaving their seat.
HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOMS
The high school classroom appears to be one of the most uncomplicated, depending on the subject. For the most part, these rooms feature fairly impersonal desks with class-related decorations, fixtures, and supplies. At this point, class sizes have increased, and rows of students are placed closer together. Desks are not equipped with storage and operate under the assumption that students have lockers or move from class to class with a way to carry their supplies with them.
CONSIDER ADMINISTRATIVE DECISIONS
The way your school handles the return to the classroom dictates the specific needs of your class. We have created an example here but we recognize that we had to make assumptions based on a cohort-style model with a drastically lowered class size. We encourage you to tailor your solution based on these recommendations and others that best suit your situation.
Whether your classroom remains static in a cohort-configuration or classes rotate as usual, an emphasis on disinfectants and sanitizers should remain at the forefront of classroom decisions. While some science or STE(A)M classrooms may have access to sinks, the typical classroom clearly does not. Add in as many of the following as possible:
- A hand sanitizer station should be located at the front of the classroom, right as students walk through the door.
- Fully-stocked cleaning caddies should be placed throughout the classroom at the peripheries, full of disinfecting wipes, spray disinfectant, disinfecting wipes, personal disinfectants, and any other available supplies.
- Ensure that cleaning solvents used in the classroom are both FDA-approved for cleaning during COVID-19 and gentle enough so they won't irritate students' skin.
- Tech-ready classrooms should be outfitted with tech-safe solvents, particularly those designed for use on tablet or computer screens. For keyboards, avoid any aerosol dusters and consider using a dusting putty for students looking to deep-clean their keyboards.
RECONFIGURE COMMON STORAGE
While high school classrooms may have limited storage--built-in and otherwise--there hasn't been a lot of attention paid to its location. Storage items that line the side of the classroom may be better moved to the back of the class, allowing for better side-to-side spacing throughout the classroom.
PROVIDE STUDENT STORAGE
Due to their close proximity, it will become difficult for students to return to their lockers between classes. Particularly if they're restricted to one room, adding personal storage is key. Supplies shouldn't be comingled in the classroom--and they are less likely to be so in high school environments--yet students' needs haven't changed.
- Add a cart with individual storage bins (or reconfigure an existing storage cabinet) for storing small supplies and daily needs, such as supplies and textbooks.
- When purchasing chairs, consider those with below-the-seat storage baskets and enough space on the back of the chair for hanging backpacks or coast.
- Consider repurposing full-size desks that have internal storage, though these are often used in middle school or elementary school environments.
In areas where ample distancing may be limited, add acrylic dividers between student desks to supplement the distancing that can be achieved. Schools that rely on traditional desks and chairs may be able to accommodate movable dividers on the edge of the desk, however those that utilize tablet arm chairs may benefit from a sitting-height divider that goes to the floor.
ADD VISUAL CUES
To perfectly illustrate walkways and make it obvious where students must sit, use gaff tape or floor-mounted decals to outline walkways between aisles of desks. These subtle clues also assist janitorial staff during routine and deep cleaning, showing exactly where the proper placement of desks should be.
Not unlike some offices, round floor decals are made to surround individual desks. More so than simple aisles, these perfectly illustrate the spacing radius of every single seat. These options are a little more visually noisy but are the most succinct representation of proper spacing available.
ACCOMMODATE HYBRID LEARNING
Some schools may move to a hybrid classroom that accommodates both remote students as well as in-school staff. In lieu of fully-distance learning, which occurred with both students and teachers at home, classroom instruction may be streamed throughout the school day, adding a unique set of challenges to these classrooms.
- Ensure that there is space to accommodate a camera and tripod. This expensive equipment should have its own breadth, as it is easy to tip over and damage with a simple trip.
- Teachers should be equipped with a mobile laptop cart that can keep their necessary instructional supplies close by. Look towards healthcare innovations that make it easy for scribes to transcribe doctors' appointments; these items often have better ergonomics and amenities built-in to their design.
- Condense teaching space and restrict lessons to a smaller footprint. This ensures that whiteboard instruction or valuable information isn't shown completely off-camera. A wide-angle lens or lens adapter may be useful to increase the visual scope of the stream.
ADD TEACHER DIVIDERS AND AMENITIES
At the front of the classroom, there may be less space between teachers and their students. Additionally, the teacher should be the only person directly facing the students. To protect from the spread of droplets from both teachers and students, invest in a large transparent divider that achieves standing height. These items are often expensive, difficult to ship, and hard to accommodate, so consider purchasing multiple narrow options to create a defined teaching space at the front of the classroom.
RETHINK TEACHERS' WORKSTATIONS
Imagining the reality of cohort-based work and teachers moving from class to class, the way that a teacher's workstation looks will drastically change. These decisions are based heavily on administrative needs, school size, and back-to-school program, but there are open options that can accommodate these newly on-the-move teachers:
- A Central Classroom: In this scenario, nothing really changes and teachers' desks remain in their primary classroom, returning when it's possible to align a prep period or between classes. To increase floorspace and preserve distancing, desks may be reconfigured to face the wall.
- A Mobile Solution: Teachers are equipped with a mobile cart that moves from classroom to classroom, accommodating all of their necessary supplies and needs for teaching. Their primary workstation remains elsewhere.
- A Teachers' "Office": Whether it's a converted common area or a teacher's lounge, desks are reconfigured to mimic an office setting for use during prep periods or before/after school. This removes desks from the classrooms, allowing for better spacing and higher--but safe--occupancy.
GIVE VISIBLE GUIDANCE
By high school, students understand the gravity of COVID-19 and are aware of the various debates and decisions swirling about. Encourage teachers to use their platform to spread accurate and understandable information throughout their classes, relying both on documents in shared digital storage as well as classroom posters that clearly communicate expectations for hygiene as well as classroom behavior.
These messages can become distorted when different teachers have different opinions and beliefs. As a school or as a district, decide on unified messaging with signage and posters that can be printed en masse and distributed throughout every classroom. Rely on highly-visible solutions that can be see by all for posters and keep in-depth information and guidelines on printed or shared documents.