The third teacher

By Herman M. Lagon

THE TEACHER, the school administrators, the curriculum, and even the students themselves have traditionally occupied the spotlight in the quest to mold young minds. Yet, in the science and art of education, a silent collaborator exists—the classroom. Like an understated and even an understudy actor in a grand theatrical production, the classroom setting plays a pivotal role in shaping learning dynamics. Recent studies, both from far and near, reinforce the significance of crafting an environment that harmoniously blends aesthetics, engagement, and purpose, transforming the classroom, an often missed subset of the overarching curriculum, into the oft-overlooked but potent “third teacher.”

When one envisions a classroom, a spectrum of visuals emerges—wall displays adorned with informative and interactive posters, an array and a celebration of student projects and exemplars, and educational artwork. These visuals, collectively called decorations or interactives, are no longer just embellishment elements; they have evolved into instruments that influence cognitive and affective development and learning outcomes.

In an educational ecosystem where attention is a prized currency, engaging students can be as complex as it is vital. Scientific studies, both from foreign shores and our own, converge on the fact that appropriate visual displays significantly enhance engagement. Fisher, Godwin, and Seltman’s (2014) study suggests that relevant and captivating visuals can effectively capture students’ attention and foster active participation. This echoes the principle of guiding educators to embrace teaching methodoloties to the needs of the individual learners. In the Philippine context, where classrooms brim with diversity, tailored curriculum-aligned visuals offer avenues to reach students from varied backgrounds and aptitudes.

Meanwhile, translating complex concepts into understandable insights is the heart of education. Visual stimuli have emerged as invaluable allies in this endeavor. Just as we encourage discernment through imagination, cognitive sciences assert that visual aids help comprehension by simplifying intricate ideas. Houts et al.’s (2014) research validates this by demonstrating how visual representations facilitate grasping intricate ideas. Apt visuals help students decode complicated subjects, cultivate connections between seemingly disparate concepts, and cultivate a profound comprehension of the material.

In the realm of memory, relevant visuals possess an enchanting magic. This resonates with the dual coding theory. Research by Paivio (2014) asserts that melding verbal and visual information enhances the encoding and retrieval of knowledge. In a classroom context, this dynamic proves pivotal, especially for visual learners—a considerable demographic in the Philippines. Here, our collective attempt to cultivate interiority aligns with the science of memory enhancement through multisensory experiences.

Philippine education must extend beyond the confines of spiritual guidance; they permeate the creation of classroom environments. The pursuit of excellence underpins the aesthetic dimension of classroom design. Appropriate visuals contribute to the tactile tapestry that shapes the atmosphere, promoting creativity and curiosity. Barrett et al.’s (2013) research validates this credo by unveiling how visually rich classrooms enhance students’ perceptions of the learning environment. Infusing classrooms with subject-related visuals that celebrate diversity, honor cultural heritage, and showcase student accomplishments that embrace individual uniqueness.

Like its society, Philippine classrooms are a mosaic of learning styles and preferences. In this vibrant tapestry, fitting visuals are not monolithic but versatile tools that cater to diverse learning modes. We advocate a reflective practice that cultivates self-awareness. In classrooms, the visual variety echoes this introspection. Fleming and Mills (1992) emphasize diverse visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning modalities. This spirit of reflection harmonizes with this idea. Proper visuals empower visual learners and can synergize with auditory learners when coupled with verbal explanations. This resonates with this multisensory approach to pedagogy, where diverse learners perceive knowledge from myriad perspectives. How the teacher implements this, including necessary training and mindset shifts, is a topic for a future article.

The landscape of Philippine education is dynamic, embracing science, spirituality, and the art of teaching. Classroom decorations, the unsung architects of this educational theater, influence cognition, retention, and engagement. While DepEd’s clarifications regarding classroom decorum spark debates, the synergy between scientific insights and Filipino realities emphasizes the significance of visuals in classrooms. Thus, as teachers navigate this intersection, let us remember that a well-crafted environment can be more than just a backdrop—it’s an influential, albeit silent, educator in its own right, enriching the lives of both students and teachers alike.


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.