12 Things Every Modern Classroom Should Have

by Terry Heick

Every classroom is different—and that’s good because every student and teacher is, too.

But are there any common elements that most/all classrooms should share? and more specifically, in a modern classroom? Screens and data and artificial intelligence and robots and Skype and holograms? Do these belong in every classroom?

What ideas, practices, strategies, patterns, and technology belong in every classroom? Can we identify the kinds of ‘things’ that every modern, high-performing classroom should have?

In the post linked to above, we explored some of these ideas in the form of ‘characteristics.’ And there were more—32, in fact. This post is a bit simpler and briefer. Some of the items are better suited to specific grade levels, content areas, teaching styles—even certain times of year.

Still, most can remarkably improve the learning of students and the overall climate of your classroom. So then, that’s the premise: What sorts of things belong in every modern classroom?

Here are some ideas for your modern classroom in 2020 and beyond.

12 Things Every Modern Classroom Should Have

1. A high-priority on great questions

This has been true since the time of Socrates and I can’t imagine this ever changing–at least until some point where culture is so sufficiently altered from its current form that none of this will make sense.

Learning doesn’t absolutely require great questions, curiosity, grappling with uncertainty, inquiry, and other ‘higher-level thinking’ activities–but if we want students to learn to ask great questions and cultivate their curiosity and grapple with uncertainty and sustain their own inquiry it makes sense that a modern classroom should not only ‘have’ these things, but use them as central tenets of the learning process.

In the context of learning, questions are more important than answers, after all.

2. The need for students to think critically

I’ve written about this idea before–the gist is not just ‘teaching students to think critically’ but create lessons, activities, assessments, projects, and related ‘things’ that can’t function if students don’t think critically.

Imagine a large boat/ship with 20 rowers on each side, paddles in water. Imagine if that ship doesn’t move unless every person rows. Now, transfer that to education. Imagine a lesson that won’t work if every student doesn’t somehow demonstrate critical thinking.

That seems like something that should happen in every classroom.

3. Credibility

Imagine a great classroom that doesn’t have this?

Ideally, this starts with students but also extends to parents. communities, local organizations, job markets, and global initiatives.

4. Endless opportunity

Every modern classroom should have endless opportunities that is immediately visible and credible to all learners. Some examples?

Opportunities to solve local problems via project-based learning ideas

Opportunities to improve grades on past assignments

Opportunities to test themselves against a chosen peer group, standard, or national benchmark

Opportunities to reinvent themselves

Opportunities to read, write, think, and create ‘things’ that resonate with and are capable of improving them as human beings

Opportunities to see what they’re capable of and grow

I’ll write more on this idea soon in a separate post.

5. Genius

Genius in the way learning is personalized for students.

Genius in the way content is framed.

Genius in the way students are engaged and encouraged and cared for.

Genius in the ideas shared by students.

Genius in the way students use their gifts to create something from nothing.

Genius in the timing of interactions between students, curriculum, assessment, and instruction.

There should be genius in every classroom–if for no other reason than there is genius in every student and their genius should change something.


6. Inspiration

Compelling opportunities and ideas shouldn’t just ‘exist’ in every classroom, but serve an authentic and forceful role in the teaching and learning process. This might look like a mix of compelling models, content, curricula, and artifacts from the ‘real world’ and experts there, as well as students but it could also come from:

Place-based learning native to students

Art and literature

Compelling design

Light, space, and other elements of classroom design

Mobile learning



Model-based learning

Divergent thinking

Books and apps

Inspiration can come from anywhere and that’s part of great teaching: figuring out how the best, most consistent, compelling, and functional sources of inspiration for your classroom.

7. ‘Learning sounds’

What does learning sound like?

Does it sound like questions? Uncertainty? Discussion, laughter, play, and joy? Whatever it sounds like–whatever the audible indicators of learning are, if learning is happening, it should (often) be heard.

8. Learning tools and materials that adapt to student ability and growth

Finally some technology!

Student-centeredness can’t exist without learning tools, curricula, curriculum, learning models, technology, and other ‘gears of learning’ that can adapt to the way students change. Strategies to accomplish this include:

Learning models


Better learning feedback

More accurate student data

Adaptive learning algorithms

9. A clear and compelling relationship to the world outside of the classroom

It’s possible to have an exquisitely run and intellectually high-performing classroom that’s focused on academics but it won’t change lives, communities, or futures. Every great classroom should have a clear, ongoing, real-time, and student-authenticated relationship to the world outside that classroom.

Among other strategies (and more technology!), this can be achieved through:

Project-based learning

Publishing ideas, work, writing, etc.

Sharing specific accomplishments and achievements in closed and open communities

Peer to peer and school to school collaboration

Video streaming

Augmented and virtual reality

10. Divergence & Diversity

Creative thinking. Creative expression. Diversity of ideas, people, goals, ideas, strategies, technology, etc.

These things belong in every classroom.

11. Failure

If failure isn’t happening, this likely means student projects, activities, assessments, and so on aren’t differentiated, personalized, or otherwise within the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ that is theorized to yield student growth.

Call it failing forward or a growth mindset or call it common sense. Whatever you call it, it should happen.

12. Visible progress and growth

Clear progress and growth should be immediately obvious–to whatever degree, metric, or quantity its available–for all students in ways that make sense and resonate to those students.

There are many ways this can be accomplished, including:

Competency-based learning

Mastery-based learning

Published (in closed or open communities) student artifacts/portfolios

Gamification (here are some examples of gamification)

Grading systems that are credible and ‘make sense’ and are authentic and useful to those being graded

Working backward from what they can do rather than what they can’t

A culture of ‘can’ (growth mindset)


13. Data that actually helps teachers teach and students learn.

This could’ve been categorized somewhere above–learning tools that adapt to student growth, for example. And it’s not the most elegant or creative entry on the list.

But in the modern era of ed reform, it’s hard to imagine a great classroom without great data–great data that’s packaged in ways that make teaching easier.

14. Good ideas

Whether students are learning from good ideas or creating them on their own, what we refer to as a ‘good idea’ often refers to a new, interesting, or creative thought: a new way to solve an old problem, an interesting perspective, etc.

And classrooms should be full of them.

12 Things Every Classroom Should Have