It’s that time of the year again: Back to School! Insert frantic nightmares about school, numerous back to school ads, and dollar sections calling your name that are filled with all the cute classroom things. This time of the year is like Christmas for teachers. Most have been dreaming, and probably loosely planning and prepping in their minds, about how we will set up our classrooms. It can be exhilarating and overwhelming all at the same time. You ask yourself countless questions- Will there be a theme? What million ideas from Pinterest can I actually use? Will this be the year I finally implement flexible seating? What is best for my students? There are so many thoughts that pop up!! I hope that after reading this post you can walk away with some great ideas to get you started and feel less overwhelmed and ready to dig in!
Start with A Purpose
Of course we dream about how we would like to set up our super colorful classroom with all the cute decorations from Lakeshore and/or Target. However, we must remember who this classroom is for. Is it for our friends on Instagram or Pinterest so we can post all the perfect pictures of how fun, clean, and adorable our room is? Most teachers would answer no. The classroom is for our students. So if the classroom is for our students, isn’t that what should be at the forefront when we begin to plan setting up our classroom? I have some secrets to a smooth sailing classroom that you can check out here to help really put your kiddos first in your plan.
Reflecting on past classrooms over the years, I’ve accumulated numerous things I no longer use and themes I’ll most likely never decorate with again. I would think, “theme first, then set up”. It wasn’t until I made the shift to making my room student centered and putting students at the forefront when planning to organize my classroom. Of course Pinterest and Instagram are WONDERFUL resources to find amazing ideas, but it can also be very overwhelming. So before you scroll, think about things that are ESSENTIAL to your classroom being a welcoming, interactive, and successful environment for your students. If you haven’t seen my Classroom Set Up Checklist, I would highly recommend starting there. It covers everything you could possibly need when planning out your classroom set up.
Here are some things I feel are the essentials when planning your classroom set up:
- Seating Arrangement– Where will your students sit? Will you have flexible seating? From your students’ perspective, what do you think would create the most comfortable setting? Creating a visual aid, such as a map or diagram, is something I love to do to determine where everything will be and how our seats/centers will be arranged.
● Student Organization- This is definitely where I spend most of my time thinking. Where will student materials be (pencils, crayons, scissors, etc.)? Where will they turn in papers? How will they get new pencils if needed? Where will broken ones go? Will students have a desk where their personal materials are stored or will you have flexible seating? Where will students store lunch boxes, backpacks, and coats? When planning I like to think about it not only from the student lens, but also by what makes sense in the flow and traffic of the classroom. For example: I’m not going to put a lunch tub all the way across from where students hang their backpacks. That would waste time and create unneeded disruptions.
- Technology– Will you have technology in your classroom? What type of technology will you have? iPads? Chromebooks? Desktops? It’s important to think about where these items will be stored and how students will access them. For example: if you have desktops, think about where they will be placed, because it’s guaranteed that they will be a distraction to other students.
These few “essentials” and more, including rules, routines, and procedures, are all covered in depth in my Back to School Teacher Guide. This guide is a great resource for new and veteran teachers as it takes you through everything that needs to be thoroughly planned in order to have a smoothly running classroom. Over the years, I’ve adjusted, gained feedback and have had principals tell me that my classroom runs like a well oiled machine. The community in my classroom is something I’m proud of and encourage in every class of students I have. I wanted to share my strategies with everyone and so I created the guide to explain how I facilitate this environment. If you’d like a more interactive approach, I also have a course to help you build your very own Student Centered Classroom you can check out HERE!
Ditching the Desk
Another important component of the classroom is of course your teacher area and materials. I am the first to say that I am guilty of having a HUGE mess behind my table. Life happens. Papers pile and things get thrown to the side to be “filed”. Yeah, you know it happens. But of course it’s our intention to try and not have that happen. One way I lessened the crazy pile stashes was eliminating my teacher desk. After a while it became just an extra thing taking up space which in turn, was another place for me to “store”, aka throw a bunch of papers on there that might not be dealt with until the end of the year.
I made a shift to not having a teacher desk and instead used my guided reading table as my personal material space. With a smaller space, organization is key. Below you’ll find pictures of a few of the ways I’ve stored things in the past. I love using the Rainbow Cart from Michael’s. You can almost always find it on sale or usually find a coupon too! Don’t forget to also use your teacher discount as well! Sterlite Drawers to store materials for myself and students are another great option for organization.
When setting this smaller personal material area up, think about things that need to be stored and try to think through things that will eventually pile up. Some examples include: student notes, notes from home, PD materials, guided reading/math materials, books, papers to be filed/graded. Think about what’s going to be functional and easy to manage and upkeep. Just like with anything else, see what works and what doesn’t. Maybe something that works one year won’t work the next. It’s all trial and error.
Preparedness is the key to making sure things go according to plan. As educators we obviously have to be super flexible, but at the same time being over prepared can help lessen the stress that comes with down time or simply plans that change. I talk all about the benefits of OVER planning in THIS blog post and I encourage you to check it out! It’ll help you get the first few weeks of school planned and ready to go. Need a resource to help get those plans up and running? I’ve created an entire FIRST WEEK KIT for you to simply print, go and enjoy with your students! Maybe the first few weeks is a breeze for you, but setting up centers gives you the most anxiety? Head over to my post about how-to make your classroom centers organization an easier task!
And of course I have to give you a freebie! Get yourself set and ready to set up your classroom and think through ALL the plans with my back to school teaching timeline. Grab yours below!
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I hope that you walk away after reading this with some great ideas to get you started planning out your classroom set up. Remember that having a super beautiful classroom with the best décor you can find doesn’t make you a great teacher. The love and thought you put into it with your students in mind is what makes your classroom stand out. Taking time to plan out how to have a functional classroom that meets the needs of your students is what’s important. If you plan for your students, I promise you will have a warm, welcoming, successful classroom that your students will love to come to everyday.
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