Monday, July 22, 2013

Some Questions to Ask Yourself As You Set Up Your Classroom

Those bare walls beckon, calling out to us to fill them with motivational posters, rules, and most definitely lots and lots of colorful charts.  Our counters are perfect for boxes of tools that may be useful: staplers, extra books, and perhaps even a cute pencil cup for all of those lost pencils.  Every nook and cranny serves a purpose, every nook and cranny should be used.  Behold; our brand new classroom awaits, and boy, does it have personality!  Yours that is, and not so much that of your students.  My first classroom I had panic attacks over the bareness of it all.  I didn’t have enough stuff to make it look welcoming, to make it look useful, to just make it look great.  So I created laminated rule posters, what if... posters, and even threw up a couple with frogs telling us to “Hang on” or “Work hard!”  My desk was covered in Danish proverbs that I knew my kids would be inspired by and above my door hung a rather obscure quote from Shakespeare telling my students to persevere in failure.  I loved that quote and spent hours getting it just so with my paper and my laminator.  I hung it proudly thinking that it made my room look like a place for learning and that it was sure to inspire my kids every day.  One day, my principal walked in and said the quote to a couple of my students, who instead of breaking out into knowing grins, stared at him blankly.  They had no idea what he was referring to or even what it meant.  After all, these 4th graders had not yet heard of that Shakespeare guy.  I was mortified, and just a little surprised; what else did they not notice in my meticulously set up classroom?

I share that story so that new teachers can laugh at my mistakes and hopefully use it as a way to guide themselves in their classroom setup and organization.  I made the mistake that many teachers make; I filled my room so that it looked cute.  I filled it so that it looked used.  I didn’t want to come off as the newbie in town that had nothing.  Except, that is who I was and I should have embraced it, let my room develop over the years, and always edit everything, but I didn’t.  Instead, I was afraid of looking new.  So to steer you away from my mistakes, I offer some questions as you contemplate the organization of your own room.

  • Do you really need that paper copy?  I hoard paper, most teachers do, yet I never use my paper files much.  Whatever I need I find in my computer files or I google it if I can’t find it.  So ask yourself whether you really need to make that many copies of that sheet of paper, or whether one is sufficient, or perhaps even just a bookmark on your computer to find it again will do.
  • Where does your stuff want to go?  I always tell teachers to ask themselves this because often we subconsciously set things where we feel they belong.  So if you are constantly setting down your books in a certain place, make that place their home.  Make it purposeful rather than accidental.  I started doing this several years ago and my intuition now rules where stuff goes and it means less time spent searching for things that I tried to corral somewhere else.
  • To desk or not to desk?  Several years ago I gave up my desk because of what it did; it created a barrier between me and the students and I was constantly drawn behind it, even though I shouldn’t have been.  So I got rid of, now I have a table for my computer and planner, it faces the wall in the corner and I can’t sit there without turning my back to the students.  It forces me to stay present and not get pulled away from them.  Perhaps that will work for you as well or perhaps you love your desk and that is okay as well.
  • Are you in the room?  Is there anything personal of you in the room or will the room not give of a hint of your personality.  Are there pictures or something that shows the kids just a little of what you are about.  Be aware though, don’t have too much, which leads me to the next question...
  • Is there room for the kids?  I don’t just mean spacewise, although the flow of your room is incredibly important, but did you leave things blank enough for the kids to take over the space and put their mark on it?  Is there room to show their work or whatever tool you need at the moment?  Are there places for them to work besides their tables?  Can they spread out, can they meet at other tables, can they lie on the floor?  Can they make the room their own, a safe place for exploration, or is it just your room and your rules?
  • How many unwritten rules do you have?  Are you strict about where the supplies go or whether kids have access to them?  Do they have to sign out to leave for the bathroom or can they just put a pass on their desk?  Are there other places for them to work or is their desk their only option?  Can they get a corner for themselves if they need it or will the rest of the class always be watching?  Are there things labeled your things and some labeled their things?  All of these ways to organize inadvertently create more rules for the students that may leave them feeling less welcome.  Find the balance between your need for control and their need to take ownership of their learning space.
While many lists abound of great organizational tips, I find that sometimes they don’t speak to the deeper meaning of how we organize our classroom.  The truth is that how you organize your classroom says so much about you and your teaching style.  I hope you take the time it deserves to get it just right, and then take an outsiders perspective to to see what it signals about you and your teaching.  We may think that our classroom is only the place we teach in, but often it is also the place that shows how we teach.  So make it meaningful, much like you teaching probably will be.

A snapshot from my classroom on a regular day


Scott said...

Thank you for this post. Last year - my first in the classroom - I worried about the bareness, too. I did put up a few things just to fill some space but most of those things came down after a short time. Up went more meaningful things. (Though I still had a bare room compared to some others.)

And putting things where they make sense is right on. For a long time I would walk across the room to sharpen pencils and then carry the sharpened pencils back to the place they lived. Finally I moved the sharpener to the same place. I felt like my life had changed.

I'll be using your questions this week as I re-evaluate and plan my room. Thanks again.

@educatoral said...

Enjoyed the snapshot of your classroom. Always wondered what it looked like. :)

Layla said...

Teachers have a lot to think about and I'm glad you touched on this. Perhaps some more future posts on going more in to details would be very helpful to teachers that are beginning in the field. Thx for posting.

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