classroom setup, new year

It’s Not How Your Classroom Looks, It’s About How It Feels

Image from icanread

Last week, before the arrival of Ida and Oskar, I was able to sneak in some work time in my new room.  As I stood there trying to envision what the room would look like, I realized that it didn’t much matter for two reasons.  One; what it looks like empty is vastly different from when it is filled with 20+ 5th graders.  Two; more importantly the emphasis should not be on what it looks like but what it FEELS like.  So some questions I pondered as I set it up:

Which way does your desk face?
Or do you even have a desk?  I don’t anymore but rather a workspace with my computer and planner on it.    And it faces the wall in the corner.  No more hiding behind my desk, no more defined my teacher space where the kids are not allowed to go  In fact, my super comfy office chair often gets snagged by the students because they know I don’t use it much when they are in the room.  I faced it toward the wall so that I am not tempted to sit behind it, no distance between the students and I, and it works.

What is on your bulletin boards?

I used to be the master of fancy bulletin boards and I was very obsessive over my border and letter placement.  Unfortunately, that meant that I had nowhere to showcase student work or things we needed throughout the year.  I will tell you right now, my bulletin boards look super sad at the moment; empty, scratched and not cute at all – very un-elementary like – an d I am fine with that, soon the students will take over.
How much space does your teacher stuff take up?
Is every space yours or is it open for student use?  Do you have so many things out that you may need more bins to keep it all contained? I try to keep my stuff in cabinets, leaving impromptu work areas for the kids.  It sends the message that I am not the most important person, but rather that this is our space, and they have as much claim to the counter tops and shelves as I do.
What do people see from the hallway?
When people walk by what do they see?  Tables?  Your desk?  Nothing?  At the moment, when people walk by they will see our tables, empty spaces, ad framed pictures and quotes.  This will obviously change once the students come in but what visitors see does influence how a classroom is viewed as well as lend itself to the overall feel of the school.
What is the movement flow like?
Can students move or will they constantly have to ask someone else to push their chair out of the way?  This is out of many of our hands but we can work uot the best overall flow before the students get there.  Can kids access the high-frequency areas such as cabinets, supplies, reading corner, or will they have to squeeze by, take a strange route or get stuck in random places?  Can the students “breathe” in the room or is it filled to the brim with all of your treasures?”  And do ask the students and watch their patterns those first few weeks of school, I don’t think a year has gone by where we haven’t changed something within the first few weeks.  
Do they need permission?
My first year I was very obsessed with keeping things in their place.  So if that particular reading chair belonged in the reading corner then that is where it belonged, no permissions to move granted.  Now students take the movable furniture wherever they need it and at the end of the day we put it out of the way.  I even did this with their desk supplies; I told them exactly what they had to have in their pencil cups (no seriously I did) and then patrolled them to see if they followed my order.  Talk about control freak!  SO now, no permissions needed, just put it out of the way at the end of the day.
Is there room for the students?

13 thoughts on “It’s Not How Your Classroom Looks, It’s About How It Feels”

  1. I love your tips about facing the desk another way and putting materials in cabinets. I am thinking very much about our shared space, and I'm much more concerned about the environment than the appearance. Thanks for a great & timely post, and congrats on the birth of your twins! Joy to you all! 🙂

  2. Thanks for this – since I teach online, it's so stimulating to ponder the physical space of a classroom so that I can then ponder in different ways just what I can/should/will do with my virtual classroom space this semester. One of the biggest drawbacks to teaching in higher ed is that professors don't have their own classrooms – you move from room to room, and the rooms are all without soul, so bare, no life at all. That's a big part of why I prefer teaching online: I do get to decorate my virtual classroom as K-12 teachers get to do but as most of my university colleagues do not!

  3. I have a deep closet with shelves. My "teacher space" is on the top shelf., that hits at arm height All my immediate supplies and files are in there. Don't discount the inside of closet doors as function spaces for calendars, etc..I have a shoe organizer that functions as mailboxes and hangs on each closet door.IMHO traditional teacher desks are poorly designed for function and feel. Objects roll to the back and its a surface for clutter. I use a computer table but am debating this year if it'll be kept in the room.Bulletin boards can be turned into cooperative writing and display spaces. Put up some white paper (or color of choice) and then cover strips or the entire with laminate. tad a! writing and display space for students.It would be nice to see bulletin boards be exchanged for white, magnetic boards. More cross-functional How much easier would be for backing paper and display. I'd rather remove a magnet than a staple.Here's my blogpost about what desks say about our practice: August 5, 2012 2:10 PM

  4. Excellent post. I"m starting at a new school this fall and I'm excited about a new classroom. I'm going to keep this post in mind as a I plan the spaces. I've already gotten rid of my teacher desk. Too much clutter. My "teacher" chair is never where I can find it. The cabinets are constantly used by students.The only other thing I would to this is plants and lighting. Plants are great for health but also contribute to feel. Florescent lights give me a headache and stress me out. I buy cheap hanging lights from Ikea to hang. The fire inspector doesn't really like me but it's not breaking any codes. Both of these really up the comfort and feel of the room.

  5. As a teacher-librarian in a large secondary school, I have to sometimes fight the urge to control the entire 3000 sq footprint as mine! Thanks for the suggestions and reminders of how to create the culture of student space in our schools. I wonder if you would consider a new post about continuing this culture throughout the school community.p

  6. Thanks for this post. I still obsess way too much about how the room "looks" at the same time that I struggle to keep things very basic and utilitarian for the first day of school. I want the kids to make it theirs but in the past I have made the mistake of thinking they will do this automatically, just because. That ain't so! I need to make it explicit that this is our room for the year and we need to make it work for all of us. I need to think about that over the next few weeks as I get ready to return to work.

  7. I think of the classroom as a second home for both me and my students. The room needs to feel welcoming. Students want to see attractive bulletin boards. They need to know where class materials and supplies belong so time is not wasted looking for things when needed. Likewise, personal space is respected. I don't go into students' desks and the students don't touch the materials on my mine. Furniture placement is important. There needs to be space for movement, tables for working together and areas for quiet thinking and writing.

  8. Yes I do agree with this one, it’s how you feel it’s not about the looks and design of the classroom. Being comfortable with the study place is the best thing rather than focusing on designs, one should always think of the furniture’s quality and if it’s safe for students.

  9. Completely agree with you. I moved my desk into the corner of my room years ago and would never return to having a ‘proper’ desk! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, nice to know that I’m not the only one who thinks like that!! 🙂

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