One enthusiastic educator's exciting journey to teaching mastery
One enthusiastic educator's exciting journey to teaching mastery
My 2016-2017 Classroom
During the first few days of school before the kids come in, every teacher is desperately trying to piece their room together in time for the big day. My process is usually quick (2 days) because I know exactly what I like and what I don't.
It's not unusual that over the course of these first few days that a few colleagues will ask me to take a look at their rooms, and offer any advice I have to make their room feel cozier, lighter, and clearer. I love to oblige to such flattering requests, and I thought I would share some of the hard and fast design rules I've developed over the last few years.
Symmetry is attractive
When you can, embrace symmetry. I visited a colleague's classroom and I offered simple changes to her room. She had 3 bookcases lined up on her front wall: tall, tall and small. I suggested she arrange them tall, small, tall. It made a big difference, and became more pleasing to the eye!
Never block a window!
Would you ever put a bookcase in front of a window at home? I hope the answer is no! Not only are you missing out on that beautiful natural light, but you are also making it harder to access the mechanisms to open said window. It's also important to work with the natural elements of your classrooms whenever you can.
Don't wait, just do!
The caretaker at my school and I have a running joke that I never need help for anything. It's far from true, but it started when he noticed me hammering nails to hang some frames. He offered to help, but I was already doing it! A few days later, he saw me climbing on my window ledges to install my curtains. He offered to help, but I was already up there!
What I'm trying to get to is that if you want to do something in your classroom, truly want to, you don't wait for someone to give you permission, or do it for you- you just do it! It's with this attitude that I quickly gathered the elements in my classroom toolbox. There's nothing major in there, only some light bulbs, tie-wraps, double-sided tape, Allen keys, and a multi-tool (screwdriver with all the tips). For everything else, I know the caretaker has the tools I need- and he let's me borrow without asking whenever I want!
The simplest way is often the best way
Once upon a time, I had a broken support system for my SmartBoard projector. It was taking the school board months to fix it, and I was tired of waiting. I lent the projector to my brother-in-law and he quickly built me a beautiful support for it out of wood and long metal screws.
However, once I brought the whole thing back to my classroom, the projector would slide down. I had to find a way for it to hold...at first I tried a million and one tie-wraps but the mess was so ugly, I chopped them all off and found a prettier, easier solution. I velcro-ed it in place. Whenever I am designing or creating something, I always consider the final look and function. Would 30 messy tie wraps have been attractive? how about sturdy? probably not. The best solution is often the simplest one. The same goes for placing classroom furniture!
People often tells me my classroom looks like a little home, or cafe. We seem to forget so quickly that for many of us, the hours we spend in school with our kids and colleagues far outnumber the hours we spend awake at home. We have so much artistic freedom as teachers- of course our rooms should be beautiful and function, like reflections of our homes! Your students will enjoy it more, and so will you!
Just like your home, you have to make your classroom yours. I have my signature touches, such as framing pictures of my student's playing or reading and hanging them up in class, but that doesn't mean everyone needs to do that. What are your musts? What are your signature touches?
Since I have the pleasure of teaching grade 1 AND 2 this year (in separate groups- thankgoodness), I used different activities for the beginning of the year getting to know you activities.
First, my firsties!
My partner and I worked collaboratively to create summery self-portraits.
I had our students create their summer sunglasses (drawing two things they did during the summer in the lenses...looking back upon their summer vacations, if you will. The idea is from the linked website). They also created their faces using construction paper and markers, working on concepts such as proportion, and colors. My partner had them work on their t-shirts, where they had to draw their favorite things, so we could could get to know them!
In grade 2, students created All About Me books, thanks to Alyssa's freebie on TPT. Since I teach the French half, I quickly re-did the vocabulary in French for two of the pages. Their answers are so priceless (pictured below). Parents, students and school members really enjoyed reading this booklets displayed in the hallway.
Hope you had a smooth Back to School, and wishing all you teachers a Happy New Year!
It's no secret teachers don't make the big bucks. After all, we're not in it for the money, we get something much more than that out of our days. That being said, I think it's fair to say we get very invested in what happens in our classroom (see what I did there?).
So what is the best way to create an inviting learning environment without breaking the bank? Keep reading to see how I set up my class this year with a $200 budget!
Since I've been victim of over-spending in my class, and because I want to save myself and others the trouble in the future, I've set myself a challenge of limiting my new class decor spending budget to 100$. That quickly got spent, and I updated my budget to $200 - I felt this was less than usually gets spent in a year, but still enough to buy me a great classroom set up.
First lesson in budget shopping:
Prioritize your Shopping List
Reduce, Reuse & Recycle
Well now that you've made your list and prioritized it, time to start slashing. That's the reduce part. It would be nice to have those cute IKEA leaves, a document camera, or even a giant rug for classroom morning meetings, but the reality is, schools have limited budgets, teachers definitely have limited budgets, and, as a famous Brit once said, you can't always get what you need. Accept it now that your classroom can be beautiful and fantastic and still be 'missing' things. We get by.
My recycle element takes place when my family clean up their respective homes. I love that they know me well enough to ask before they throw out any furniture or decor accessory- before a pillow, lamp, or frame gets tossed, they always ask: do you want this for your classroom? The answer is always YES (because if I don't, a teacher colleague probably will!). This summer, I got frames, and old board games. Not bad! Make sure your friends and family know to ask you this important question when they are updating or cleaning up their homes!
Reuse: the easiest element for any decorating teacher. Visit any salvation army to find great deals on board games, books, frames and pillows. I got some wooden IKEA frames from the Renaissance (thrift store) for only 75¢ each! I plan on using this for a classroom management tool that I will show in a future post, as well as display areas for classroom pictures. Since I had some change left in my budget, and decided to buy some new pillow covers at my corner Dollarama- but I am reusing last year's pillows.
The Final Round-up
Stay tuned to see how it all fits together in my new classroom!
As back to school season is approaching, many teachers are preparing to greet their new groups of students for the year. Prepping materials, cleaning classrooms, and gathering supplies.
But there's a part of preparation we teachers often overlook: self-care. In my point of view, taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do before heading back to school!
To make sure I have a successful, happy & healthy year ahead of me, there are some things I make sure to master before back-to-school begins! I created a fun infographic using Venngage to show you the three ways I practice self-care for back to school!
6. Choose a planner
5. Prep visual aids
And I mean sketch, lightly. Talk to your colleagues to see if there are any units they want to bring back next year, or see if some things are off-limits because other grades do them. You can estimate how long the units will take, and if you're very ambitious, write out what you want students to gain by the end of the unit.
Since I belong to an IB school, the staff has already decided on units for the year, even though they may be tweeked along the way. Since I don't know (yet) what activities my colleagues have lined up, I've done a bit of "research" ahead of time, so I don't feel empty-hand.
And by research, I mean I created a bunch of boards on Pinterest. Still counts.
Even if you don't know what grade you're heading into in September, there are still things you can prepare ahead of time to save you some stress. Trust me, future-you will thank you!
7. Sketch out your year
Why not benefit year-long from having the time to finally do things just the way you like?
Spending a bit of my vacation time formatting, printing, cutting and sometimes coloring a bunch of visual aids is not at the top of my holiday musts. But I see it as an investment, because when the school year rolls around, I won't be stressed about having to make all these things- AND they will look just the way I want, not like a rushed- or half-done job!
Here are a few things I got ready over the last week:
- word wall letters
- alphabet banner
- daily schedule
- environmental print
- class calendar
- class responsibility chart
- visuals for class reward system
4. Sub lesson plans
Is there nothing worse than waking up from a terrible night's sleep with a pounding migraine, only to realize that if you want to stay in bed, it's going to cost you the time it takes to make plans for your sub? I've lived it so many times, I daresay I'm learning from my mistakes (gasp!). The next time I need to take a sick day, I'll be thankful for this!
Here's what I include in my sub folder:
- photocopy machine password
- annotated class list
- class schedule
- school procedures for getting from class to class
- class procedures (for morning work, recess, snack, and free time)
- enough lessons to occupy and challenge the kids all day
- some funtivities
3. Meet the teacher handouts
Meet the Teacher handouts
While my school only does the Meet the Teacher night a few weeks into the school year, it always seems to just creep up so fast! Why not cut down on some of that stress now, when you have the time?
Last year, I created this information flipbook to guide my presentation. This year, I'm starting off with the same template, and changing up some information as necessary. I know future me will be happy!
2. Make a wishful shopping list
I know the temptation of stocking up during summertime- but beware: all those little things add up quickly, and you haven't even started the school year yet!
This year, I've started drafting a wishlist of what I think is "missing" from my class. I use quotation mark because sometimes it feels like we'll never have enough stuff. But as I packed up my classroom at the end of the year, gearing up for yet another classroom move, I couldn't believe how much stuff I'd accumulated in just a few years of teaching! How much would it all up to? I hate to think of it!
Couldn't anyone have donated a lamp, if I had asked? Couldn't I look online for a secondhand computer chair? And what about some games I've bought that the kids never touched? Let's not forget the casualties I've lost along the way (the wicker teacher chair that a student loved to pull apart, the lamp a student accidentally smashed, or the Lego people that have one "missing"). Oh, the dollars spent.
That's why I decided to set myself a 100$ limit for spending on my class this year, with the objective that I'll become more resourceful and creative with what I already have and I will spend my money wisely!
Here's what's on my wishlist so far:
- a 5th curtain (new classroom has 5 gorgeous windows!!)
- book boxes for 2 sets of students
- teacher chair
- a sofa, or *I know it's a reach" a claw foot tub (for reading, of course!)
- storage for 40 kids' worth of daily work (I like this, but not the price tag)
- ink pads
- computer chair
1. List EVERYTHING you need to do once you get into your classroom
I know that a lot of teachers can't get into their classrooms until the very last minute (that has been my case every year of my teaching career!!) - which is why it's essential to make good use of those days before school. Keep a prioritized ongoing list during the summer to make sure your time is used efficiently! I like the GoogleApp Keep, but that's one of many available.
Here's are some things on my list so far:
- hang curtains
- write large numbers on the floor for our morning meeting
- take down any remnant papers on the bulletin boards
- set up area for communal supplies
- set up plants & lamps
- get a teacher library card from local library (to take out more books!)
What else do you include in your summer preparation for back-to-school?
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