Is decorating your classroom an important use of your time when you have so much else to do? Research says yes. Having a thoughtfully decorated and nurturing environment can absolutely work hard for you in stimulating student thought and motivation, and in creating a ‘homey’ or ‘place to be’ atmosphere where kids love to be. It can demonstrate who you are and what you value as a teacher. Your classroom speaks volumes about you. What you like, what you care for, your value system.
Get kids involved in decorating and changing up their space throughout the year. Make it personal. Add things they are talking about. Put up their photos. The more input kids have in helping create their own environment, the more they will value it and take ownership of it. Have you ever seen bored students steal pins or pick apart a display that you spent hours on? They won’t do that if they made it. And they won’t let others, either. Have you ever noticed in schools where seniors have a common room or place of their own – the first year or two it goes beautifully and the kids take care of it – they earned it and care about it. The ones who follow simply think they deserve it by right and often trash the place. If they must earn it and decorate it each year, and can lose it if they don’t care of it, this will not happen. Kids care more about spaces that they feel they are part of.
Design for Flexibility
The traditional classroom with wooden desks and hard chairs has got to go. Everyone gets bored of the same old thing. Leslie Hart, an educational pioneer, states that we should ‘unsettle the set’ (Jensen, 1988) and change things up as often as possible to keep things fresh. Change where and how students sit, change their grouping, get floor pillows which can be put away, go outside. Put different things at the front of the room, heck – change where the front of the room IS. Get other people in, get the kids out and about, get them off their seats. This breaks down poor habits and keeps kids engaged, day after day – they’ll look forward to coming in an looking around each class.
Design for Safety and Comfort
I’ll never forget the day a student teacher said they wouldn’t be returning the next day as they’d witnessed me pulling a student who was halfway out a second-storey window back in. He’d decided to climb out instead of going down the stairs, as you do when you’re 14 and your brain is reassembling itself, and she was watching mouth agape as I gave him a dressing down and sent him off (down the stairs). And then I rang the school caretaker and asked for window catches to be placed on all second storey window. Kids are kids. If they’re going to do silly things and hurt themselves, sooner or later you’re going to have to deal with it. Heck, they might have to deal with you! Have safety posters on the wall with in-school numbers to call and emergency numbers. Write the name of a nearby teacher or place they can go for help if they need to. Talk to them about this stuff. Have 3 packets of bandaids, you’ll use them. Have basic cleaning equipment like rags and a shovel and dustpan. It just makes life easier.
Lighting is super important. A quiet, dark room can work wonders at putting your kids to sleep. Lift and lower the shades according to the brightness of the day – and use the lights to keep things bright. If your room has dull bulbs, ask for LED or brighter ones. You don’t want it to be blinding like a hospital, but you want things crisp and clear. If you need the lights off for a video task, turn them back on afterward.
As for comfort, do what you need to do to heat and cool the room to a comfortable temperature. Some teachers are not very aware of the temperature, but it absolutely affects the mood and motivation of your students. If this is you, ask the kids! And don’t boil them, especially when you’ve been sitting down working for 3 hours and they’ve been off at PE working up a sweat. If you have super-sweaty kids who want to open every window in the middle of Winter, if might be better to give them 5 minutes outside to get a drink and cool down rather than risk the ire of every other student in the room. Circulate some fresh air, even when its cold (a draft, not a gale!!). Be aware. I get a headache every time a storm brews or the weather changes quickly. Some people don’t notice till they get rained on. I lie awake on nights when there is a full moon. My husband laughs at me. Such is life.
Furniture and Space
Don’t clutter every inch of your room with bits and pieces – try to have clear zones for clear purposes. Make sure kids can get in and out of the room without bumping against things, or one another. Make sure the furniture is the right size for the kids. Get comfortable chairs. If you hate sitting at the desks during staff meetings, they hate sitting on them during class.
Happy and Intelligently Useful
Colour makes a huge difference to emotions. If you are given a red or bright orange classroom, do what you can to change it, even if you just cover large areas with cheap plastic tablecloths before hanging posters and student work. Try for greens, blues, soft yellows. These are calming and inviting colours.
Where you place things on the wall matters too. If you want to create good feelings, place things below eye level for the students. Down and right accesses out kinaesthetic mode. Visual mode is above eye level, so put instructional stuff up high on the sides of the room. Make the front of your room the best – that’s where they spend the most time looking! It should be orderly, include plants, have information for your classes or your program / rules / important items. Use the back for student work and personal items. Add affirmations for the students up high – ‘I am a confident and generous learner’ and so on.
People are people, and we tend to leave a space approximately the same or a little worse than we found it. At the end of every class, have students stand behind their desks and do a swift check of the area around them before they go. Have a place for everything and put everything in its place. If you’ve done something quite messy, get everyone to help. I ask each student to pick up ten pieces of rubbish and stand at the door as they go out, putting the bits in the bin as they go. I would rather hold the next class out for two minutes and do a speedy check around the room, than allow them in and let them boo-hoo at the end that it’s not their mess. Everyone deserves a clean place to start with.
These tips should help you start out right in your classroom – it does take a little effort and time, but it’s so worth it. And besides, you spend more of your daytime waking hours at school than you do at home, so why not make your workplace somewhere you really enjoy coming to? It’s worth every second.
Enjoy your room this year!
All the best x
Anna from Tea4Teacher