Katherine Rowe has taught high school science for five years and runs her blog, The Online Instructional Coach, on the side.
Whether you are returning to the same classroom you’ve had for years or, like me, are switching to another classroom for the seventh time in a row (in five years), it’s that time of year when we start thinking about what we want to do with our classroom space.
Pinterest abounds with ideas for themes from Harry Potter to Dr. Seuss, but if you really want your classroom to work for you, you have to go beyond the theme and think about the practical cues that will help your kids focus and connect with you from day one. The tips below will give you ideas for how to make your classroom look cool and help your classroom management game.
1. Design your classroom around what works for you.
I’m a big proponent of the idea that your classroom should work for you, the teacher. Your classroom is the extension of you and your teaching style, so it should be designed with that in mind.
Design your classroom around how you teach. If you do group activities 80% of the time, then you should have your desks arranged in groups of 3 or 4 (however you like it). If you use a lot of Powerpoints, then all the desks should lend easy access to the screen.
Think about the procedures that you want your kids to follow every day. Create spaces for those procedures to happen successfully in a smooth fashion. Your kids need scissors during the second activity? Have your kids retrieve the scissors from a designated supply table when they’re ready. Your kids need computers for a math lesson? Make sure to position the computer cart to minimize bottlenecking.
This tip alone will help your classroom management game because it minimizes problems from the beginning!
2. Make your classroom tell a story.
What kind of person do you want your kids to be in your classroom? What kind of “role” do you want them to fill while they are in their seats?
Kids act in accordance with the visual cues around them. If they feel like they’re in a “real science lab,” for example, then they’ll act like real scientists. So you should put visual cues around your room to give that “real science lab” vibe.
You can use readily available materials, like arranging science equipment in a visible display. They’ll get a kick when they actually use that equipment later in the year for their own science investigations! You can also call college career centers and ask for posters to put up in your classroom. Even if your kids are in first grade, you can start planting seeds now for their choice of career.
Your story might center around a characteristic that you want them to develop or use. If you want your kids to learn to exercise their imaginations in your classroom, you can inspire their imaginations with art or provoking questions. If you want them to hone their problem solving skills, a poster or two with problem solving methods and quotes about growth mindsets would help communicate that story.
3. Use color to draw attention to important spaces in your room.
Bright vibrant colors draw the eye. So use those colors to mark important places, like places for your kids to grab supplies or anchor charts to clue them in on how to solve a problem. Use different colors for each important place, so that all you have to do is tell a kid to “look at the blue bulletin board” to find the answer to their question.
If you’re short on cash, you can use brightly colored wrapping paper as an easy and cheap alternative to butcher paper or border. If you don’t have a bulletin board in your room, wrapping paper also gives you a good way to create a makeshift one.
4. Use the entryway to forge connections.
Your doorway is the first opportunity for kids to create a connection with you, whether you are present to greet them or not. This is where you start to tell a story (see number 2 above), and where you can introduce your kids to your personality.
Although you can go all out with your theme (I’ve seen some great Harry Potter ones), you can also keep it simple. I know a teacher who likes to put little Woodstocks from Peanuts on her door with a Peanuts border. Whether you go big or small, the kids know at least one thing about their teacher before they even meet you, and that jumpstarts the process of building relationships once they’re inside your class and learning!
Once you have that down, you can reach the bonus round: designing the exitway. A door has two sides, after all! You can design the inside doorway with a goodbye message or a continuation of the theme from the entry side. If you keep your door open throughout the day, you can reverse this idea: have the inside part be a welcome message and the outside part (that you close when not present) be another inspiring message.
5. Consider saving space for your kids to contribute.
Wall space is valuable real estate, but think about reserving space for your kids to add to throughout the year. You’ve told the story that you want the kids to follow in your classroom, but there’s also a second story that gets told: their actual experience during the year.
You can change this space as you move from unit to unit or choose to create a timeline of sorts as you move throughout the year, picking exemplars from big projects or assignments to represent the class experience. You can choose to leave this as “free space,” putting up pictures that kids draw for you over the course of the year as well.
Whichever path you choose, make sure to put something up during the first few weeks of school and let your kids know what that space is for. Since this space is theirs, it gives your kids a sense of ownership over what happens while they’re in your class.
I hope these ideas give you new inspiration for your classroom this year!