Yes, it's that time of year again! When even if we haven't entered the building yet, we're designing our new classroom in our heads!
Teachers to the south of us have been at this for a few weeks now and some have even started back to school. Here in Canada, we are trying to drag out the last of our summer hopes and dreams and ignore the pullback to school to organize and set up.
If we have most of the planning done mentally, actualizing our dreams is quick and easy.
Think about how your classroom runs: groups/centres, whole class, class meetings, tech/computer area, teacher desk, guided table.
Keep in mind what is convenient for you as a teacher and what works best for your students. Once you have all the big furniture and groups areas in position, you can fine-tune the specific organizational details. Sometimes we do need to reorganize the room, for TUSC (Totally Unbelievable Speaking Club) for example, but if we think about the most common needs and plan for as little big furniture movement as possible, rooms can be set up quickly.
So, the first thing I do when setting up my classroom is clean. I know, it's not exciting but there is no point making everything look fabulous and then having to move everything to clean. Cleaning counters, shelves, book boxes and trays can be satisfying and needs to be done. Our custodians do a wonderful job cleaning our rooms, but they can't do it all. Once the cleaning is done the fun can begin.
High Traffic Areas
High traffic areas are the first thing to set up. I think about the day:
- Coming in dropping communication folders/agenda (is this separate or in the student’s book box?)
- Going to book boxes/trays (to lift our start the day activities)
- Giving out materials (easy access needed)
- Access to the class library
- Access to math manipulative materials
- Hand-in tray/area
- Guided instruction table
- Take home notes
I’m currently job sharing in my homeroom, so we set up a morning hand-in and an afternoon hand-in basket to make it easier for our students to know where notes and work goes. The initial set up we do together, so we agree on where everything goes. We are very lucky to have a wonderful working relationship and friendship. Working with my current co-teacher involves having an extra person to problem solve with, discuss how to best meet student needs and as a result, we both have more energy for our students. We have a multiage grade 3/4 class and the joy of this is that we only have half of our class to build relationships with, the other half we already know. I’ll talk more about this in my next post on relationships.
Back to classroom setup: once the high traffic areas are set up, the smaller details can be refined.
Class jobs are a wonderful way to give students ownership in the classroom. This is their space and having them manage daily and weekly jobs help them feel apart of the classroom community. We have a class list with student’s names and jobs get updated weekly by the helpers. Everyone has a job and they're aware of their new role each week. If there are questions about the duties, they can be answered by the “job description” or the student who did the job the previous week. We have the regular jobs found on the published sets and extras including pencils sharpeners and classroom pet rabbit chores. Once set up, this system is managed by the students and continues all year.
Every teacher is different and has specific tastes. I prefer a shared collaborative approach to classrooms supplies where I purchase the supplies and they are a collective responsibility. Some of my colleagues prefer pencil boxes and everything is labelled.
We have pencil pots sitting on the tables that contain only pencils and erasers. All other shared materials -- scissors, markers, coloured pencils, highlighters -- are stored on a side table and only brought to tables when they are needed. This keeps the tables free for flexible seating and hopefully tidy.
There so many different options for setting up your supplies and it's important to find one that works for you and your students.
Flexible seating is an important part of our classroom. Every month we change up the permanent spots to ensure students sit beside different classmates throughout the year. We start the year with seating beside a good work partner to encourage confidence. Flexible seating is given as an option in most lessons depending on the task.
This year we will be using laminated light bulbs with student names written on in wet-erase (so we don’t have to remake for students who leave or arrive) and then they can be taped to students’ spots and easily moved every month.
This is something I have simplified over the years. Yes, I love Pinterest (who doesn’t?), but I don't feel the need to have a Pinterest worthy classroom anymore. I prefer functionality over prettiness. Trimmers stay up for the year, boards are painted or plain (paper is not allowed), a classroom theme encourages harmony and doesn’t require constant changing. I laminate very little as I want students to take ownership of displays and their work is perhaps not as pretty as some teacher's hand-cut lettering, but it is more authentic.
Last year we had a travelling theme and this year it will be a detective theme, the fine details are still being decided. I see magnifying glasses, light bulbs, missions, photos with spy hats, and lots of problems solving. Choosing a classroom theme that you are excited about is the most important thing to me.
When I am excited and can use that enthusiasm to inspire my students!
Final thoughts on Classroom Setup
Please remember that nothing is permanent and whatever isn’t finished or isn’t perfect is an opportunity for students to help or have an opinion on. I always have a group of students who love to help in the classroom. They will gladly help put up displays, organize systems and manage the mess.
We can’t have a Pinterest perfect classroom all the time, but we can have a safe, happy classroom where students love to come and learn and we love to educate.
Written by Chris, a teacher in Pembina Trails School District