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CDL Digest

Classroom Walls - Duty or Delight?

The unwritten expectation for any elementary or middle school teacher in August and September in years past was that the classroom looked "finished" before the parent open house rolled around. It was a duty that I and many other teachers experience through the years, breathed a sigh of relief when they were completed after some late-night sessions just in time for the first day of school.

I would like to share three articles below that point to walls as a potential delight!

  1. My dear friend Steven Levy wrote a post a few years back that I thought really nailed the idea of what we do with the spaces we are given - do they reflect commercialism or creation? Are they used for inducing wonder, imparting wisdom, and celebrating beautiful student work?

  2. Recently Kim Essenburg, a veteran teacher who has taught in Japan for the bulk of her career, reminds us through words and images of the possibilities for classroom walls in her recent CDL blog post.

  3. Ron Berger, a leading educational thinker (and former CDL keynote!), shares his experiences and ideas for using classroom walls effectively in an Education Week post.


God is a Creator, Not a Manufacturer

Originally published in the CACE blog of September 5, 2017

By the time this blog is published, it’s probably too late. Students with new sneakers, shiny lunchboxes, and sharpened pencils have bounced across sparkling hallways (thank you, custodians, everywhere!) to your classroom door. They were greeted by posters that say “Welcome,” or “It’s a Great Day for Learning,” or maybe your favorite Bible verse. There might be an apple tree on the door, with students' names on each apple. There’s sure to be a rainbow somewhere in the room. And owls. The alphabet chart lines the wall above the black (or white) board, with cartoon characters for each letter. Or maybe a chart you bought from the reading program you are using. Various posters cover the walls – the colors, the numbers, geometric shapes. The days of the week, months, and calendar. All kinds of happy cartoon figures play alongside gaudy superheroes, Star Wars characters, or minions. Classroom rules are likely posted, and some kind of behavior management chart from threatening red at the bottom to the green field close to heaven. And don’t forget the decorative borders around every bulletin board. Teachers often dip deep into their own pockets, much to the delight of Scholastic, The Teacher’s Store, and Pinterest advertisers, to fill every inch of classroom wall space.

I once was working at schools around the country for ten straight days. The alarm went off the morning of the 7th day, and I realized, in the haze of awakening, I didn’t know where I was (be patient, point coming). I kind of enjoyed the mystery, so I didn’t try and figure it out. I thought I would go for a run and look for clues (the only rule was I couldn’t look at license plates). I ran for 40 minutes and didn’t see one indication of where I was. Home Depot, Target, Olive Garden. Walgreens, Cheesecake Factory, Walmart. Taco Bell, Dollar Tree, Starbucks. I could have been anywhere in the country!

Here’s the point: that’s how I feel when I visit a classroom full of commercial materials like the ones mentioned above. I could be in any classroom in North America!

It’s not that these decorations are bad. I understand the impulse to make the classroom inviting, friendly, and fun for students. But each commercial poster is a missed opportunity to express the unique purpose for which God has brought this particular group of people together. Imagine, this exact group of people has never been together before, and will likely never be together again. All of creation from “Let there be light” until now has been headed towards this moment of our gathering. Behold this opportunity! Let’s make the most of the room God has given us to tend, and fill it with who we are, with the gifts God has given each of us. It shouldn’t look like any other room!

Here is the good news: it’s not too late! There is a principle I call GROCM – the Gradual Reduction of Commercial Materials. What about the letter chart? Wouldn’t it be a terrific project to make our own? Each child would draw a different letter, practice making it beautiful, proportional, resting evenly on the line, just the right height and width. Beautiful symmetry and color. Let’s make our own alphabet chart! Each child could be the guardian of their letter. Whenever we encounter a word beginning with their letter, the child would rejoice! He could write it and put it under the letter. She could make pictures of the items that start with that letter.

What about your shapes? Let’s see how God equips us to make our own shape chart! One group of circles, one group of squares, and one group of triangles. They work hard to make the shapes accurate, beautiful, symmetrical. Multiple revisions! Attention to quality work! Then over the year, when children find pictures that contain their shapes, they place them next to the shape on the chart.

Better to put up a Bible verse in your own handwriting than a slick poster; a student-created sign about what to do when your work is finished than a generic chart from SparkleBox; a student reflection on her spiritual growth than a motivational poster.

I am suggesting you use the commercial posters as placeholders until your class has the opportunity to replace them, gradually, with their own creative expression.

Don’t let yourself be deluded ‘under the influence’ of worldly expectations that you need to fill your walls with media-inspired images, cute and kitschy characters, or cartoon creatures. What spell do these images cast on the child’s imagination? To their God-given sense of beauty? Do I really want SpongeBob SquarePants to introduce them to the wonder and glory of God’s world? Why not fill your room instead with artifacts from God’s creation, the natural world? Artifacts that inspire wonder, amazement, objects worthy of joyful exploration?

God knows the name of every star (Psalm 147:4) and every child (John 10:3), each unique in the eye of his love. God is a creator, not a manufacturer. GROCM!


ICYMI - Kim Essenburg shared a post on this blog on September 12 - Inviting My Walls into the Classroom Conversation - how to use classroom walls to prompt student conversation and spur thinking.


Education blogger and teacher Larry Ferlazzo asks the provocative question How can classroom walls be used most effectively? in this recent Education Week post. The first responder to the question is our friend and Chief Education Officer of EL Education Ron Berger. Ron reflects on the use of walls at Genesee Community Charter School - a school that some of us have visited and a school that has benefitted from many years of PD with our CDL co-chair, Steven Levy! Check out the great photos Ron has included as examples. Included are other responses with great ideas for classroom walls.


CDL6: Call for Presenters! Proposal deadline is October 1!

We are looking for proposals that address the fundamental practices of CDL classrooms and schools:

  • Inviting and equipping students to create beautiful work for God’s kingdom (not for grades!)

  • Engaging all students with effective instruction that builds Christian community

  • Using assessment strategies to help increase student responsibility for their own learning

  • Implementing “embodied” practices, rituals and traditions encourage Christlikeness

  • Creating school-wide structures and leadership toward mission faithfulness

Accepted presenters will receive a stipend ($300 US, $400 CN) and a free registration to the conference. You can access the proposal form here.

UPDATE: We have received many proposals this past week! We are grateful to all who have submitted and will be carefully reviewing these proposals as we construct our schedule for CDL6. There is still time, but it is running out - October 1 is our deadline for submission!

Registration: We have also had some schools register blocks of teachers this week and know of others who will also be attending who have yet to register. We will have an enrollment limit of 500 for this conference, so if you are considering coming, we advise you to register soon and save your spot!

Partnership: We are also seeking interested partners. Please pass this information on if you know someone who might consider partnering to help make CDL6 possible.

Editor's note: We hope to share with you each week articles of interest that you may have missed. This will include current information as well as previous blog posts from CDL that perhaps you didn’t have time to read the first time around. If you have items you think may be of interest, please feel free to get in touch with me at


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