Setting up a classroom is a task that would challenge the most talented interior designer. Classroom management isn’t just about managing people – it about managing stuff as well; and very often they don’t teach you how to do this in graduate school. Whether you have a surplus of resources in a new building or the barren classroom that I unlocked on day one, all over the world teachers are preparing the physical environment for the work that is ahead. My sister and her co-teacher worked this magic last week:
Year two, my Social Studies colleague calls me in mid-late August:
“Webber-Bey, we’re going in next week to set up our rooms.”
“What? Why? I thought we don’t have to be in until after Labor Day.”
She was giving me the heads up, and even though I didn’t want to go in early, she was doing me a favor. Once we started professional development meetings, and reconnecting with colleagues, there was not much time for setting up our rooms. Coming in a week early so that we could do this uninterrupted and in solitude meant that our 85% finished rooms served as refuge in-between PD meetings and we could fine-tune corners and centers.
Think of classroom setup as your opportunity to engage in a remodeling reality TV episode. Evaluate your needs, take stock of the furniture that you have, sketch out your vision (or try Scholastic’s Class Set-up Tool to do this digitally), and think creatively about how to obtain the items that you need to make it come true. The first day of school will be your big reveal. There are a lot of websites and books that you can locate that will give you checklists and inspirational ideas, and your district or principal will certainly have guidelines, but here are five things I tried out in my different classrooms that seemed unique at the time and definitely went over well:
A feelings barometer – (4th grade) I had a continuum of smiley faces from angry to happy (left to right) on the board inside of the room by the door. As students entered the room they could move their magnet. So if someone started the day angry, I could adjust my approach to them accordingly. During the course of the day students self-regulated and would often just get up and move their magnet. I highly recommend this tool for nonverbal communication. This version that I found online uses clothespins students clip to a string hanging from the appropriate emotion.
A peace tent – (4th grade) Midway through the year I set up a ‘Peace Tent’ (a kid’s tent from IKEA with a peace sign I sharpied onto the side) in a back corner of the room. There was a blanket and pillow in the tent, as well as a ‘Peace Journal’ where they could vent – more nonverbal communication. They could elect to go there themselves, and sometimes I might gently suggest, “Do you think you want to maybe visit the peace tent??” This version that I found online can be easily made with a hula hoop and fabric.
Classroom mail center – (4th grade) Use an over the door shoe organizer, and give someone the job of mailman. You will be tempted to use this to distribute flyers and notices, or return graded papers, but prioritize fun mail. Assign pen pals within the class (less work), with another class in the building (some work), or with a class in another state or country (more work, but also more rewarding!). Students will start to send each other mail and use this for party invitations and valentines, but make sure that you regularly send birthday cards and pick-me-up notes.
Literacy Toolbox – (9/10th grade) I bought a simple red toolbox and sharpied ‘LITERACY TOOLS’ on the front of it. In the top removable tray were things like pens, highlighters, staples, staple removers, paper clips, and all of those other small items. In the main compartment I had post-its, assorted notepads, bottles of white out, loose index cards, some markers, a dictionary/thesaurus, rhyming dictionary, dictionary of idiomatic expressions, and other larger items that helped flesh out this 3D metaphor. I stopped teaching in 2011, but I still use the toolbox (for the same purpose!) at home, except now there are also screwdrivers and allen wrenches added to the mix.
Personalized pens – (9/10th grade) This was one of my more brilliant moments. I ordered ~300 cheap neon pens online that had ‘THIS IS MS.WEBBER-BEY’S PEN’ printed on them, and I used them to regularly stock my literacy toolbox. These pens made their way out of my classroom and all around the school. I might be in class, in the main office, in the parent room, or talking to security… and then the person I’m interacting with starts to write with one. I would say, “That’s my pen.” They look down at it and then look up at me, and they tell me that I’m ridiculous. Good times! This is inexpensive and will garner a lot of laughs.
As far as preparing the room (and for the first day), I always paged through Harry Wong’s The First Days of School towards the end of August – there is a reason this book is a bestseller! We also have help for you on our site, as well as 100+ page titles from Scholastic Teaching Resources full of ideas and color photos to inspire your design.
- An Easy Guide to Setting Up Your Grade K-5 Classroom
- Classroom Setup: Three Hours and Done!
- Literacy Centers in Photographs
- Classroom Management in Photographs
- Launching the Writing Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide in Photographs
- 4 Keys to Successful Classroom Management
Go forth and decorate… Flip your classroom to make it move-in ready, with an open floor plan and pops of color!