Welcome back teachers! Hopefully by now you have had a little time to think through curricula, read some new articles or books that might impact your teaching, and you are ready to get moving!
Over the past few weeks, my Twitter and Facebook feeds have been filled with teachers heading back into their classrooms to get things set up. I’m not quite there yet – I have one glorious vacation to go on first – but I will soon be there with everyone. Here are some helpful ideas for your classroom set up this year. Good luck getting things set up!
Where to Even Begin??
When I first became a teacher I walked into my classroom in August and stood there staring blankly at all of the stuff piled everywhere. Where do you begin with classroom setup? Some folks like to organize materials, some sketch things out first, some just start making their way through piles, tackling one at a time. I’ve found that a quick sketch of what I would like the room to look like helps. I make a general sketch, including areas like a writing center, classroom library, class meeting space, etc. Sketching gives me an idea for how I would like things to be set up.
A few quick tips for how you might imagine different areas in your classroom. Make sure to put anything that might be messy, such as a sandbox or art center, near the classroom sink, if you have one. Try to keep quiet areas near other quiet areas. The writing center is better placed near the classroom library than the block center. Also, use your corners! Think about what kind of space might need the added benefit of a corner to support it. Perhaps your library shelves can help tuck in a little nook.
Move it All Around
Now that you have a sketch get ready because everything is about to change. Honestly, I’ve never had my classroom look exactly like my sketches look. I still do a sketch to get me thinking but once you start moving furniture around, things come together in unique ways.
I’ve found that when I get to the point of moving things around, that is when the real classroom starts to take shape. I once had a coworker tell me to avoid setting against a wall something that couldn’t be used as a wall itself. Perhaps instead of having a bookshelf lined up against a wall, you could turn it, creating an L shape with the wall. Now you have two “walls” and have created a nice little space.
Once I get tables and chairs set up, I like to pull the chairs out, instead of keeping them pushed in. This lets me check to make sure there are safe walkways between tables and shelves. It will also give you a better idea of what the room will feel like with kids in the seats. I also make sure that I regardless of where I am in the room, I can see kids at all times. Walk around the room and sit in different parts. Do you have a tall shelf or cabinet that blocks a certain area? It might be better to put that piece of furniture against a wall. Those hidden corners are just where kids like to get in a little mischief. You also want to make sure your students are safe at all times. Tall shelves and cabinets sometimes tip over and that is definitely something you want to avoid.
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Of course, the best part of classroom set up is all the small details. Creating labels, hanging bulletin boards, putting your own unique touch on a classroom – those are the things that make your room special. But before you go staple crazy with polk-a-dot bulletin board borders, make sure you have a few things done to keep your room nice and organized.
Something that helps is to put yourself in the shoes of one of your students and imagine a typical day. Your student walks in the door, where do they put their coat? Lunch box? Backpack? Folder or notes from home? See what I mean? Taking time to think through the steps of the day will help you figure out what might be missing. Pro tip? I always make multiple copies of a class checklist, by first name and last name, as well as multiple copies of labels with students’ names. You would be surprised at how handy these are throughout the year.
The Fun Stuff
Ok, ok, now it’s time to get to all the fun things. Many teachers bring their own flair, and educational philosophy, into the room and specifically into classroom design. Montessori classrooms, for example, consider the classroom set up a very important part of learning. My own philosophy is a mish-mash of what I have seen through the years. I definitely ascribe to the tenets of Montessori to keep the room simple, organized, and beautiful. A teacher once told me she liked the room to feel more like a home than a classroom. There have been studies that show that when classroom walls are full of too many posters, work, and just stuff, kids were less engaged and distracted. I like to keep neutral colors, rather than the typical primary colors in my room, to create a calm environment. Once we are done with a unit, all work connected to that unit comes down, making space for new work. I also like to have labels, posters, even borders around the bulletin board, created by the students. Many times, when parents or teachers walk in my classroom on the first day they comment on how empty it looks. However, when it is filled with beautiful work done by students, I get the opposite. One teacher often comments that it feels like going into a spa when you go in my room. That’s exactly how I want it!
So are you ready? Perhaps these ideas gave you something to think about. While you may not be completely aligned with my own process for setting up a classroom, I hope you added something new or got a new idea for your own room. Good luck!
Lamps create a calming light and colors are earth tones.
Students created the boarders on the bulletin board. Curtains hide blocks when they are not in use. Later in the year I moved the shelf against the wall so it now comes out from the wall.
Classroom rules are posted using photographs of students following the rules. A student’s artwork is framed and hung on a column. Different height tables give students options. All materials are low enough for students to access.