Making Connections Monday: Have you seen Mrs. Ritter's classroom at #KESwired?!

When you walk into Lauren Ritter’s fourth grade classroom at Krause Elementary School, you might be shocked to discover that the students are not sitting straight and tall in plastic chairs at rows of desks. Instead, there are students lounging in bean bags, sitting on floor pillows working at low tables, and even stretched out working on the floor! Lauren’s classroom is like none other in Brenham ISD, but it took some research and development to get it that way.

Lauren joined the Brenham ISD team 2 years ago after moving to this area from Conroe. After seeing students struggle with the stress of rapidly advancing content, Lauren decided she could do something to help students be more comfortable in her learning space. “I wanted to remove the stress I could control,” Lauren shared. She reflected on her own studying habits when she was in school, which included lounging on a couch, not sitting at a desk, and began researching non-traditional school classrooms. After finding several blogs and articles that boasted good results, she went to talk to KES Principal, Courtney Mason, about the idea.

“I thought it was a great idea! Having two kids in the school system today and seeing how their brains are wired differently, I am supportive of anything I see a teacher doing to keep the kids engaged,” Mrs. Mason explained. Lauren fully expected for Mrs. Mason to be supportive, expressing that they both always want what is best for students. After a call to the Texas Education Agency to confirm that the state would not have a problem with students learning and testing in this environment, Lauren went to work to build a creative, comfortable learning space. She communicated openly with parents that the new arrangement might not work for everyone and that a desk would be provided for students who preferred a more traditional learning station. Thus far, not a single student has made that request.

The new classroom arrangement is proving to be positive and Lauren is working closely with the class to make weekly improvements. At the beginning of the year, there was a pallet couch that wasn’t working out, so Lauren removed it. Lauren and the students identify problems together and correct them as a team, creating new rules and expectations as situations arise. According to Lauren, the new physical space has strengthened the students’ ability to problem solve and has also enhanced the classroom community. “The students realize that this is a privilege and that no one else in BISD has this,” she shared.

Lauren expressed extreme gratitude toward her campus administration, her fourth grade team and to parents for supporting her idea. She is grateful for open-minded leaders, colleagues, and parents who see the benefits of exploring non-traditional classroom configurations. She also said she could not have done this without the help of her aunt and uncle who sponsored many of the items in her classroom. When asked what she will do if this doesn’t work out in the long run, Lauren replied, “I guess I’ll have a house full of really interesting furniture!” However, the success of the arrangement so far suggests that Lauren has nothing to worry about!