classroom setup, new year

The Secrets of Your Classroom – What Your Set Up Says About You

image from icanread

I finally made it into school today and saw to my amazement that all of my furniture had been moved back in, the floors were waxed, and now all of those boxes were ready to be unpacked.   I couldn’t help but be excited, and then I realized that I am hugely pregnant, and didn’t even know if I could stand up for the time it would take me to set it up.  So what is a girl to do?  Try anyway.  As I unpacked, arranged, and dreamt a little of the new year, I realized once again how much the way we set up our classroom reflects our educational philosophy.  How much those seemingly innocent decisions of table placement, wall decorations and so on really reveal to the world.  So these are the questions I asked myself

  • To desk or not to desk?  I was offered the granddaddy of desks this year; huge, sleek, brand new and I turned it down gladly.  last year I decided to go deskless and I have never looked back.  Instead I have a table for my computer and planner, one where I can meet with kids but it is tucked into the corner, somewhere where I don’t get drawn behind, isolating myself from the kids.
  • Tables or desks?  I used to have small desks that we would scoot together to create pods, now I am fortunate enough to just have big tables for the kids to use.  They move their chairs as they see fit to work with the lesson and I don’t ask questions when they do.  They just pick up their pencil can and go.
  • What’s on your walls?  I used to have all of those awesome posters with the animals saying cute motivational things plastered all over my walls.  That way wherever you looked you would be motivated to hang in there, work hard, and make great decisions.  I took them down two years ago and now have three posters hanging; a world map to push pin our connections, a top ten of my room created by former students, and a calendar.  Everything else we add as we go.  
  • Are you in the room?  Those kids become part of my family so I have framed pictures in my room of newspaper articles from former years, all of the kids I have ever taught, two fantastic student art pieces that still choke me up and two quotes from the Little Prince.  These mean more to me than motivational poster ever will and show the kids who I am, that is so important.
  • Which way do your desks face?  My former students told me they didn’t want to face the Smartboard but rather the whiteboard because we used that much more.  So this year that is exactly how they face.  However, once again, the students can move about as they like so in all honesty I am not too bothered how they face.  I don’t need to be the center of attention so the desks don’t need to face me so I can lecture.
  • Other areas?  Are there places for the students to work that doesn’t include their desks?  I used to have cushy bean bags and comfy chairs but lost them all to fire code.  Now we have carpet squares, random chairs from my house, a big reading carpet, two stand up desks and lap desks that the students can use whenever they want.  I don’t ask questions, if they need them, they use them.
  • Sign in and out.  Some teachers ask students to sign out when they go to the bathroom etc.  I don’t, instead they put the pass on their desk so in case of a fire drill I know where they are.
  • Can they get what they need?  I used to hide all of my extra supplies and would get really upset if students dared ask for a pencil.  Now, I have bins of stuff they may need which they can grab and they know to just ask if they need something that isn’t out.  My goodness, who hasn’t ever needed an eraser?
  • Where are those rules?  Anyone who walks in will notice there is no class constitution, no rules, no what happens when… posters in our room.  Expectations are discussed by the students and changed as needed.  With only 20% of the walls up for use due to fire code I am not wasting that space on rules.
  • Where’s the tech?  I am fortunate to have a 4-in-1 computer set up for students, but we also have some flip video cameras, headphones, microphones, and camera for them to use.  Do you hide it or can students just use it?  What is your level of trust with technology and putting it in the hands of students?

By no means a final list but things that flashed through my head today as I unpacked.  What did I miss?

18 thoughts on “The Secrets of Your Classroom – What Your Set Up Says About You”

  1. Love the idea of the pass on the desk. I teach HS kids and they are always going somewhere from my room. This would be a great way for me to know where they are!I'll bet you and I would do well sharing a room…although I have desks now, in my middle school classroom I had tables for me and the kids. I'm working in changing back to tables in my HS classroom. And the desks face any way I or the students choose. There is no front of the room!I also have an alcove outside my room that has become my reading/writing center. A big carpet, a desk, a table, comfy chair…..all things kids need to work. Thanks for this glimpse into your classroom. I love getting ideas from others.

  2. Thanks for the post, since I am getting ready to set up my new classroom I appreciate you sharing yours. I plan to have very similar things going on in my room. The funny thing is, although I am not a big fan of classroom rules I am going to have the students create their own. I am supposed to teach democracy and this is a great way for them to see it in action. I think I will let them be called 'laws', but the power to enforce those laws will rest in the supreme leader (me and yes I know that is not very democratic. I suppose I could make them elect me as President for life which would be another good lesson about semantics and words meaning things.) That way I can enforce them as I see fit. I think we also need to draft a Bill of Rights (how fun would that be :)My question to you is, how long does it take the students to 'get it'? I am afraid my 6th grade students may have a tough time transitioning from the more traditional classrooms to one with so much more freedom. (Although that is a pretty good learning experience for them too.)

  3. Will, it doesn't take long but it does take dedication. We talk a lot about freedom and how it is a bit different than normal, we talk about what it means to be a learner, what it means to be responsible. But they get it, and they thrive in the responsibility mostly. I do pull some aside occasionally and speak one on one with them but if the investment is there in the first week and you continue it, it shouldn't take long. They know how to act if we let them.Deb, I love that you do this in high school too, it makes a lot of sense to implement it with older kids. And I wish I had an alcove…

  4. These are all fantastic and as I ponder my class arrangement each year I use a little book Feng Shui for the classroom – interesting. My problem is that I have so little space for so many middle schoolers that I can't fit in carpet squares, etc. I used to and I miss that. I am just like you with kids moving, sharing, using and making the classroom their own, including rules. It is always new to them but they rise to the opportunity. Wishing you another wonderful year and congrats on a new little one!

  5. I teach HS…Great post, I agree completely. I don't have my own classroom, but use common rooms with a department office. The office has to have a friendly, "drop in any time" feel (hard to do with a small space). In the class, I use trapezoid tables and the new 'node' from Steelcase. These new 'desks' are just awesome! Colorful, practical, and I bet the kids will think they're fun, because anything on wheels will be!Love the pass idea. I'll try a post-it that they write where they went. I also think it's great that the kids put decorations up during the year. It's their space, great for them to have some ownership!

  6. Having taught HS for 16 yrs. my best advice for "rules" is create a social contract with each class period. Three questions you have them respond to, How do you want to be treated by each other? how do you want to be treated by the teacher? And finally, how does the teacher want to be treated by you(student)? Watch out for the word "respect" because that means something different to everyone. I role-play this and get the students to do the same. For example, I will grab a bag pack or purse and act as though I'm going to look through it and claim "I found it". The kids laugh and agree respect means asking to borrow something. We add this to the contract. Eventually, we have answered all the questions and as a class agree to abide by them . We discuss reasonable consequences (1st warning, 2nd warning, final ) then I print the contract out and every signs. If they won't sign because they don't agree, we have to go back to the contract until everyone agrees. Usually, the classes have almost identical contracts. MyExpectations are the same usually. It takes a bit of time, but I never have discipline problems; I only have to give my teacher look and say, that's a violation of our social contract, and the kids know that's warning one. If it is a really bad day ( you know how some students are) after the second warning, I can usuallyPull them aside and ask what is going on" and defuse the situation. I love this and the kids love that they have a part in it. BTW-some kids live to demonstrate what NOT to do, whichIs usually a great ice breaker! I remind them that all contracts are binding and they can be amended as needed. So if we forget something, we add to it (look at that as a little social studies lesson!) have a wonderful year!

  7. As a middle school teacher, I always had counter height stools in my room. Initially, I wanted them for myself. But I realized that my 6th graders LOVED them. My kids who could barely contains themselves sat in them first and were velcroed to them for the rest of the period. I bought them at yard sales for no more than $10 each, but it was an awesome way to keep kids on task and in their seats!

  8. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I really get the sense of leaving the pass on the desk, I do hope everyone would understand that. Also, replacing the furniture and your upholstery due to the fire code seems too much of a hassle, but it's definitely worth it, instead of risking your safety. Just a few thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I wonder if school districts have considered getting those "standing" chairs for these situations. I hear it's really helpful for people who have trouble sitting down (like pregnant women).

  10. Mary, the top 10 is where the students brainstorm all of the things they liked in the year and then they each write their top 10. I then tally up the votes to create the official top 10 of the year and the students then create a bulletin board to showcase it for the next year's students. It is always fun to see what gets on the list!

  11. I think these tips don’t only apply to classroom but also to home remodeling. Some can actually get some tips in here regarding where the desks should be properly placed.

  12. I remember in grade school, we also change our desk position almost every month. That way, we could get closer to each one of my classmates. My teacher loved the stadium-like classroom, placing our desks in a semi-circle row. It actually left a bigger space in front for the activities.

  13. Two years ago I came from an emints classroom to a private school still very traditional: middle school desks in rows. We are moving buildings, though, and I have a principal who has listened to me say I would rather have rectangular tables or unconventional seating. I have six 50-minute classes plus a planning period. I’m trying to decide on tables or sofas or bean bags with lap desks or clipboards. Any advice?

    1. I would do a combination, some of my students prefer desks, others prefer laying on the floor etc. Can you do a mixture or do you have to go with one thing?

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