Hey @Disney, Here’s What the Modern Classroom Looks Like

I openly admit that I’m a sucker for Disney movies and shows. There was a weird time as a teenager and college student that I didn’t watch much Disney…but now that I’m a parent of three, I’m back in a big way.

My daughter first fell in love with Disney through Beauty and the Beast. We must have watched that movie a thousand times when she was 2-3 years old. These movies have instilled her love of singing…and her love of story. So for that, I’ll always be thankful.

Now, as a five year old, my daughter still watches the Disney movies, but we also get our fair share of shows she likes on Disney Junior and the Disney channel. Hey, I’m a big fan of Jake and Sophia (and if you are a parent of a young child you better be too 🙂 – but when I saw they were having a new “Boy Meets World” spinoff called “Girl Meets World”…I was pumped. So, too were millions of fans online, sharing the news on social media.

My daughter wasn’t as excited, but I still coaxed her into watching the first episode with me.

Girls Meets World Was Completely New…Except

As we sat down to watch the show, I told my daughter about “Boy Meets World”. Explained how Cory and Topanga met in middle school, and had this teacher Mr. Feeney who gave them a hard time…talked about Cory’s best friend Shawn Hunter and how he was a trouble-maker…but all in good fun.

The show was cute. It was exactly what I expected from Disney. It had parts that I would find funny as an adult and someone who watched “Boy Meets World”, and also captured the attention of my daughter for the most part. Yet, everything was different…and I guess it has to be. New storylines, new characters, new Soho apartment instead of suburban house, new friends and clothes, and new problems. Everything was new on the show except the classroom.

Boys Meets World Classroom from 1993


Girl Meets World Classroom in 2014


Mr. Feeney Teaching in 1993


Cory Teaching in 2014


What Does the Modern Classroom Look Like?

I almost said out loud, “Come on Disney!” But, I kept watching the show with my daughter silently checking for everything else that was new…except for the backbone of the show which is “school” life. Cory had different clothes than Mr. Feeney and the room was brighter, but overall it was the same school experience.

I thought the least they could do was add a Smart Board to the room. Allow the students to use their devices. Even a white board to replace the chalk board…

After the show ended my daughter went to draw something, and I tried talking to my wife about the classroom scene. She didn’t see the big deal, and I guess that’s the point: It’s not a big deal…until it is.

It’s not a big deal that Disney has an “old school” looking classroom until my daughter goes into kindergarten and expects school to look like that.

It’s not a big deal that Disney has rows of desks until parents come into back-to-school night and wonder why your classroom has tables and learning stations.

It’s not a big deal that there is NO technology prevalent in Disney’s classroom until a school tries to integrate technology and the community asks, “What’s the point?”

If society continues to see this view of teaching and learning in shows and movies then their perspective on the educational system will be one that is outdated. Worse, it will be one that sees no need for change.

However, this is exactly how I was as a new teacher coming out of college. We never spoke of classroom design, or “brain-friendly” learning spaces. In fact, when I set up my classroom for the first time almost a decade ago…it looked very similar to the classrooms you see on the Disney Channel.

In the past few years I realized that this view of the classroom space is extremely limited, and two people impacted my thinking and research on learning spaces.

Modern Classrooms With Purpose

My good friend Steve Mogg switched his room from desks to tables a few years ago and it opened up the learning environment. This was a small switch, but it had a domino effect. The tables allowed for more collaboration, and with a Smartboard and classroom set of Macbooks…I was envious of his space.

Steve had already allowed students to personalize their learning space. Students painted murals of book covers on the ceiling tiles. Their artwork (this was an English class) was peppered along the walls. This intermixed with various stations around the room. There was active space…and passive space…as well as a closet door that everyone referred to as “Narnia”. When you entered his room, the words “Nil Magnum, Nisi Bonum” were across the door frame (No Greatness, Without Goodness) taken from “The Life of Pi”…a summer reading novel for 11th grade English. Steve’s personal tastes also covered the classroom so students could get a feel for who he was during their first time in the space. This was “their” classroom space…not just Steve’s classroom, and you could feel the energy as the class came into learn.

I also had been following Erin Klein’s work on Kleinspiration.com, and her classroom transformation last year really sent me down a path of research brain-based learning spaces. It was my second year in a new K-12 staff development role, and I saw the potential of the classroom after seeing what Erin did with her space.

Today, I’m still looking for inspiration and knowledge about learning space design. I feel I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg, and now that I’m working with teachers across the K-12 spectrum I’m hoping to be a small part in their learning space re-design. Above all else, I want to help design classrooms that have the purpose of helping students learn, collaborate, and create.

Luckily, there are a number of creative and inventive teachers and leaders who have designed their spaces with purpose. In order to share our own work with learning spaces, and the awesome work of others in education, we’ve started a new website: ClassroomCribs.com.

Classroom Cribs is our hub for “brain friendly learning spaces”. Our mission at Classroom Cribs is to enhance pedagogy and the learning experience with brain-based classroom designs that students will love. And that is the main point. We can (and should) create better learning environments for our students. Spaces that are centered around research and what works.

Brain-based learning theory has been around for a long time, and it has been used to improve the classroom experience in many schools around the world. However, I was shocked how hard it was to find great resources on re-designing learning spaces when I started down the path of re-designing my own school’s learning environment.

We recently launched ClassroomCribs.com. and would love for you to visit and join over 2000 educators who are learning more about learning spaces from our newsletter. And to kick things off, we are starting the first ever “Classroom Cribs Challenge” on August 14th.

It’s Not Your Fault Disney…

When I’ve visited and worked in other schools around the country I’ve seen many classrooms that look like the typical classical learning spaces portrayed by Disney and in other movies and TV shows. Due to limited funds, space limitations, and resources…classrooms have stayed the same for too long.

Yeah, it’d be nice to see Hollywood and the media portray schools in the modern way that I see them, but right now their portrayal is still right in many places. But that is the great thing about our world today. We have the information. We have the power to change these spaces. We have the resources and people who have done it themselves. Let’s change our learning spaces first, and let Disney and others follow suit.

I’d love to see what you’ve done with your learning space. And I’m excited to see the amazing classrooms as part of our Classroom Cribs Challenge!


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