The Physical Environment

Management was defined as the actions taken to create an environment where learning and success are possible.  One of the first aspects related to the learning environment is the physical environment.  Savage & Savage (2010) argue that, "Every activity is shaped by the physical environment" (p. 66).

Dimensions of the Physical Environment

The Spatial Dimension

The spatial dimension of the classroom is important because it is the setting of education.  It dictates the types of activities that are possible, as well as the types of behaviors that are possible.  For example, if there are two doors in a kindergarten classroom, the teacher must keep an eye on both doors during the first week of school because that creates two ways that scared students can escape.  Aspects of the spatial dimension as according to Savage & Savage (2010) include:
  • Size of the room
  • Shape of the room
  • Location of doors
  • Location of windows
  • Movement of individuals within the space
Although teachers cannot change the size of the room, or the location of doors and windows, teachers must be aware of the spatial dimension and use it to their advantage.  Reason being, the spatial dimension creates behavior settings.

Behavioral Settings

Savage & Savage (2010) argue that, "The concept of a behavioral setting refers to environments that are designed to influence the behaviors or actions of those who occupy the setting" (p. 67).  Environments communicate expectations to those who come into it.  For example, if you walk into a funeral, the dim lights, soft music, and rows of seats indicate that you are expected to remain quiet, respectful, and have a seat.  However, when you walk into Disneyland, the loud upbeat music, wide open spaces (depending on the day), and colorful decorations indicate to you that this a time to enjoy yourself as much as possible.  Therefore, teachers needs to set up their classroom in such a way that it communicates to students what is expected of them.  In a classroom, first impressions are extremely important.  Ways in which teachers can alter behavioral settings, as according to Savage & Savage (2010), are displayed in the graphic organizer below.
  • Arranging Student Desks: The arrangement depends on the type of interaction desired for instruction.  For example, if you want students to participate in a discussion or cooperative learning groups, you would put students desks in tables.  If you are focused on independent work, you do not want to have students facing on another at their desks, and would therefore create rows that all face the front of the classroom.  On an individual level, teachers must consider the self-control ability levels of the students as their seating is arranged.  If a student lacks self-control in socializing, it would be best not to place that student in the back of the classroom next to a friend.
  • Student Density: Student density is the number of individuals that occupy a given space.  If a classroom is too crowded, students might feel threatened by an invasion of personal space.  It is suggested that this causes more deviant behavior because there is a decrease in privacy and an increase in the ability socially interact (Savage & Savage, 2010).  These aspects are determined by the cultural context of the students.  Therefore, teachers should always keep an eye of caution out for students that may be signaling signs of anxiousness or stress due to a high student density.  If this occurs, teachers can rearrange classroom furniture (filing cabinets, student and teacher desks) in order to help students not feel so crowded.
  • Action Zone: The action zone is the area closest to the teacher's position.  It is unlikely that students are goofing off in the action zone, which tends to be where the most students are involved and attentive at any given time.  Teachers can use this to their advantage by assigning students who are struggling behaviorally and academically seats in the action zone. Because the action zone is limited when a teacher does not move throughout a lesson, Savage & Savage (2010) suggest teaching from different spots in the classroom because it increases the number of students who occupy the action zone.  Please see Mobility and Proximity.
  • Teacher Proximity: As discussed in the action zone, teachers should stay as close to as many students as possible.  This allows for an increase in teacher monitoring of students and keeps students on task.  In order to remain close to the largest amount of students for the greatest amount of time, teachers should utilize proximity.  An example would be rearranging the furniture to increase the number of students in the front row.
  • Traffic Patterns: When arranging classroom furniture, the traffic patterns of the students and teacher need to be considered.  Both students and teachers need to be able to enter and exit the classroom quickly, have easy access to classroom materials, and move around without disturbing other students.  Isle ways should be large and free of obstructions.  Teachers should have easy access to all student desks so that all students can be monitored. 
  • The Teacher's Desk:  All good teachers know that teaching should never occur from a seated position at the teacher's desk.  Therefore, in order to keep in accordance with this and previous spatial dimensions, the teacher's desk should be placed in an unobtrusive spot.  This includes the back of or rear of the room.  Because it will be out of the way, the teacher will be able to utilize mobility, proximity, and student monitoring.  It also creates a private area of the classroom for one-on-one teacher-student conversations.
  • Teacher Movement: In order to keep as many students in the action zone for as long as possible, teachers must develop the habit of constantly moving about the classroom.  Furniture should be arranged with the mindset of being at any desk within a matter of seconds.  That way, a teacher can quickly and effectively reach student desks should a problem occur or a student need assistance.  Please see Mobility and Proximity.
  • Activity Boundaries: Different parts of the classroom are designated for different types of activities.  For example, students do not participate in learning centers at the back counter near the kitchen sink.  Rather, learning centers should take place in groups of desks.  Space can and should be arranged for different activities such as independent and group work.  Believe it or not, creating activity boundaries by clearly identifying the type of activity to be performed in a given space increases student security, which helps them maintain self-control.  For example, teachers can create a reading corner for students to go to when they have finished an assignment early.
       (Savage & Savage, 2010).

Application of the Dimensions of the Physical Environment

    As you can see, everything done in your classroom does not simply "occur" but rather is planned in order to align with the teacher's goals and purposes.  The physical environment is crucial to classroom management because it influences teacher and student behaviors.  This intricate and detailed planning makes some behaviors possible and eliminates others.
Because I cannot change the spatial dimensions of my future classroom, I will utilize behavioral settings to my advantage.  The physical environment will be aligned to my classroom goals and purposes by:

  • arranging student desks in a manner that supports learning centers,
  • utilizing furniture to decrease the appearance of student density if necessary,
  • maintaining a large front row and open isle ways for a large action zone and promoting teacher proximity and movement through traffic patterns, keeping the teacher desk in an unobtrusive place, and
  • creating activity boundaries that benefit my students.

Proverbs 21:5
"Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty."
Effective classroom management requires intentionality and hard work.  It is not something that merely occurs on its own, or happens because a teacher has been teaching for years.  It requires much planning, thought, and effort.  As the scripture says, taking hasty shortcuts or not dedicating time to the planning of the management of the physical environment will lead to the opposite of success.  Even though management of the physical environment can be time consuming, the outcome of a well-managed it classroom is an environment that promotes success, which makes it well worth it!