Creating Classroom Environments: Starting the Year with Empty Walls
Let’s talk about the “Pinterest-ization of Education.” (I’m unsure if I heard that term from someone else or made it up. Leave a comment and a link to the place where you’ve seen that term coined if you have, in fact, seen it before.) If you spend some time looking for “first day of school classroom ideas,” I guarantee you’ll start to feel like whatever you’re doing in your classroom isn’t enough. I’ve found classrooms that look as though they’ve had more hours spent decorating them than I’ve spent decorating on my entire home! If one enjoys decorating, then that’s great. All the power to you. But do you really want to spend hours decorating your classroom when you could be planning units of study, organizing your classroom library, perusing articles your PLN shares, or reading professional texts? (Sorry if that short list made you feel like there’s SO much do to before the school year begins!) If not, then I’m here to assuage your desire to decorate because it’s okay to start the school year with a decluttered, somewhat barren classroom, that can still feel welcoming to your students.
- Ditch the Theme: Classroom themes are adorable, but are they worth the time? Instead of spending hours decorating your classroom around a theme (e.g., bees, jungle, monkeys, superheroes) consider an idea-based theme like Matt Gomez did. Classroom themes to build community will increase student engagement more than decorations will.
- Resist the Temptation to Decorate: I realize parents, fellow teachers, and your administrators will be coming into your classroom. I know many teachers decorate out of the fear they’ll be judged for having a spartan-looking classroom. If the idea of empty bulletin boards make you cringe, then post signs that say: “coming soon” or “work in progress.” Also, research Reggio Emilia and Waldorf classroom environments. Both tend to have a more austere approach to classroom decoration.
- Cover Your Bulletin Boards Simply: Buy plain fadeless paper and simple borders to cover your boards so they’re ready to receive student work. (Again, label them with “coming soon” or “work in progress” signs.) If you’re looking for a more durable, longer-term way to cover bulletin boards, consider using wallpaper or fabric.
- Create Permanent Displays: Spend your time creating a permanent display where you can feature your students’ work (e.g., published writing at the end of each unit of study). Once you set up these kinds of bulletin boards all you have to do is change out the work periodically. For instance, I set up a “Celebrity Writer Profile” bulletin board in the hallway at the beginning of one school year. Eventually, I removed the words “Celebrity Writer Profiles” and changed it to “Published Writing” so the bulletin board lasted all year.
- Employ a “Less is More” Mentality: Minimize student distractions by hanging up things that truly need to be on the walls. Only adorn the walls with things that will positively impact student learning (e.g., word walls, anchor charts). A “less is more” mindset will be especially helpful to students with attention deficits.
On a related note: In addition, create spaces for classroom charts around the classroom. Making a space for writing workshop charts, reading workshop charts, math charts, etc. will be useful to students since they’ll know where to look for strategy charts. If you don’t have multiple bulletin boards for this purpose, you can color-code charts by ink color (i.e., green ink is reading, blue ink for math, black ink for writing).
- A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on pupils’ learning by Peter Barrett, Yufan Zhang, Joanne Moffat, Khairy Kobbacy
- Bulletin Board Solutions by Angela Watson: http://bit.ly/1CmZwui
- Rethinking the Colorful Kindergarten Classroom by Jan Hoffman: http://nyti.ms/UoZRYN.
- The Culture of Cute in the Classroom by Angela Watson: http://bit.ly/1CmZlz6
- What Is Your Theme? by Matt Gomez: http://mattbgomez.com/what-is-your-theme/