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?
This year, I set myself the challenge of increasing seating options in my classroom. I've always been interested in classroom design, and I notice how my students respond positively to thoughtfully planned learning spaces.
With that being said, here's what I did, and how it worked out.
This summer, I scouted out some furniture to bring in class. I shopped on kijiji, and garage sales, and accepted donations. I found a beautiful second-hand IKEA sofa, and bought a new cover for it, since white + 6 year olds = disaster.
First, the sofa...
Then, the wiggly elements...
Why fight the wiggle? Some kids spend the whole day tipping their chairs onto their back legs, jiggling their legs up and down, spreading out during circle time...why would I want to spend my whole day trying to "correct" that behaviour if no one is getting hurt, and I have better things to do?
Once again, IKEA to the rescue with these pretty ladies.
Then comes...more sofas...
Yes, I like sofas. There, I said it! We spend so much time in school, and sometimes, the kids spend even more time there than we do, there's no reason why it shouldn't feel like our second home!
People tell me ALL THE TIME that my class looks like a living room, or a little home, and I'm happy to hear it. I want my students to feel comfortable, and welcomed. More than that, I want it to mimic some environments they encounter in real life- I never sit a desk to read a good book, do you? In reality, I read on my sofa, or in a pile of pillows on my bed. I read where I feel comfortable, and there's nothing wrong with that. I want my kids to enjoy their reading, and that's one of the most important things we focus on in grade 1 and 2,
So yes, more sofas. The pink armchair cost me only $40 from a woman on Kijiji. As for the moon chairs...I don't usually buy anything new for my class (because, what's the point), but our school has a WONDERFUL Home & School association, and they gave each teacher a bit of extra funding for classroom purchases (thank you!)- so I splurged and got the two black moon chairs from Wal-Mart. Comfy for kids, AND comfy for teacher when the kids are at recess.
Suzanne, you have so many sofas! How do they work when they are so cozy? I'm sure is what you're thinking. To answer your question, one word: clipboards. It's works just fine you guys, I promise. I just don't let them eat snack on the sofas, that's all!
and don't forget the tables! Duh!
No, I don't solely have couches for seating (yet...). I have 4 round tables at different heights, one rectangular table facing a window where a pair of kids can work, and a table I usually sit at for station rotations.
How it all worked out...
As with most things in grade 1, this took some explanation before I let them roam free.
Throughout this past week, I've been introducing new elements into our classroom, which meant a lot more seating possibilities. I told them I was going to let them work wherever they wanted, as long as they were working. Cue a great discussion about choosing a smart spot to work (examples: not beside your best friend if you need to focus, not squished with 5 other people, not doing anything dangerous).
Overall, I would call this move a great success. Since the kids were finally using every square inch of the room, some working on the floor in our gathering spot, some on sofas, others at tables, I felt like I had a lot more room. This also meant the class was quieter than usual- if your friend is miles away from you, the temptation to start joking with them goes down. Not to mention the fact that they didn't want to lose the privilege of freedom and choice.
Now go have fun sofa-shopping!
A little while back, I tweeted my first attempt at sketchnoting, listing my goals for the year.
Well, I figure I better get started, since school has been in session for almost 3 weeks already! There's no time like the present!
My goal is to offer various seating options, for my wigglers, my socialites, my introverts, and everyone in between.
With that in mind, here are my BEFORE pictures!
I"m giving myself a week to mix things up! Stay tuned to see what this room will turn into!
As we teachers are making our way into our classrooms after a nice long summer, the moment is ripe for
start with a blank slate
It's so hard to know what you have to work with when your room is cluttered with all you earthly possessions. I know I would miss a lot of the magic a room has to offer if I kept all the furniture and trinkets as I tried to re-jig my classroom.
Here's what I recommend:
* Fill your recycling bin! take all the posters, Bristol boards, construction paper and whatever else off the walls.
* pile up all your chairs, and if you can't move them out (or don't want to waste your arm strength), just shove all the big furniture to one side. (here's my secret tip: my boyfriend generously offers me one day of volunteering at school at the beginning of the school year, and one at the end of the year. It's priceless).
* Organize your possessions. Games all in one pile books in another, books together in one area. That allows you to see how much of each thing you own- sometimes we forget what our classroom library looks like because we have different categories of books all over the place.
Here's what my classroom looked like when I first walked in.
Since all the furniture was mainly piled together, I immediately started taking down everything from the display boards. Another reason this is important: you get to see what colors work best in the room. Since my room is painted light yellow and light blue, I'll use dark blue as an accent color- goodbye red!
* As a teacher, you have the power of deciding so much in your classroom. You can decide what makes it up on the walls, if you have tables or desks, what type of seating is available, everything really. As items make it back into your room, seriously evaluate if they are a must, or if there is a better way of doing things.
Teacher desk: do you need it? do you use it? how many times a day do you sit and work at your desk? is it just a spot for clutter to gather? How else could you organize your space?
Walls: Are you putting things up that you won't refer to all the time? Is it appealing to students? (I have hate towards cheesy clip art) Would the same message be more meaningful if it was student created? Is it meaningful to students? Are you putting things up because you always have, or because your colleagues do?
think like a student
Both you and your students are spending the better part of your day in school, in your classroom. In my school board, most kids eat lunch in their classes too- meaning they spend more time in the class than teachers do! It really is your home away from home.
So why not make it feel that way? I want my students to feel like they own the space, which is why I put up framed pictures of them playing or reading. Its also why there are plants, lamps, and comfortable seating around. Making your class into a comfortable, homey environment isn't difficult, and makes a big difference in the tone of your classroom.
It's also important to critically evaluate the implicit message your decor sends to your students. You may or may not have guessed I am opposed to teacher desks, and that's because I feel the message behind a teacher desk is: I am the teacher, and you are the student, and I am more important so I get a big imposing desk only I can sit at, and you get small tables you must share, and that is how child-adult relationships should be. Teacher desks say a lot!
Keep in mind...
These are some of the principles that guide my design decisions in the classroom. No classroom is flawless, and it can be demanding to break habits, and work with the permanent characteristics of a classroom, all while accommodating large class numbers, but it can be done when thinking creatively. Start small, but start!
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!
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