Be the change, classroom setup, new year

It Is Time To Renew, Reorganize, and Reevalute

image from icanread

Something magical beckons us on the cusp of a new year; one full of promise to change, a clean slate as if for once we can get it all right, or at the very least figure out what we need to change, ahh, January 1st and all of its promises.  It is no different in the classroom; the new year is an opportune time to not just conjure up  resolutions but also renew and reevaluate your setup hopefully leaving you saner and more organized.

I used to think of things I needed to change after the 1st of the year but quickly got worn out thinking of all of these changes.  After all, as a newish teacher, I have enough things I am already trying to reflect upon and implement so I am not sure we need more things to do.  So now I have scaled it back, I look at my room through a different lens, that of reevaluation.  May my thoughts help guide you as well.

  • Study your workspace configuration.  Are students able to move, spread out, work at different places than their assigned work spaces?  Can they get away when they need to or are they always squished together?  Often this aspect of our room is completely out of our hands as it depends on classroom size but even cramped rooms can have getaway corners, places where students can find some sort of solitude, or places where they can work together as a large group.

  • Study your “dusty” areas.  Are there parts of your classroom that are hardly ever used?  Places where the students cannot get to or where an arrangement of furniture seems cramped or forced?  I recently realized that my large conference table was squeezed into a corner meaning I never used it and neither did my students.  In two moves of furniture it is now front and centre and used every single day with students.  Easy to do once you know what isn’t working.

  • Study where the piles are.  I used to force myself into several organization systems that just didn’t work.  What resulted were various piles of papers, books, and miscellaneous teacher items that never got put away.  I had too many places to place things and often these spots were also in the wrong area so I would drop off stuff and then leave it to gather dust, in the end forgetting that I had put it there in the first place.  Now I pay attention to where I place things, create gathering places where they feel natural (think: where you place things anyway) there and follow the 1 minute rule; if you can do it in 1 minute – do it right away.

  • Ask your students.  I often take the time to ask my students what is working for them, where their favorite places are, or what they are missing.  Conversations such as these have resulted in their own area for office supplies, more small tables, and choices of whether to lie down or sit in a chair whenever we do writing and reading workshop.  Students are the biggest components and inhabitants of the classroom; they should have a say in what is working or not.

  • Recreate your area.  I start out the year with my favorite things close by; a great stapler, hand lotion, my favorite picture, and billions of colorful pens that brighten my day.  As silly as these things sound, it feels nice to have what I need close by when I am planning.  As the year progresses, though, my things seem to move or vanish altogether.  Take this time of renewal to renew your area, think about what would make you happy every day in a small way and bring it into your immediate vicinity.  It may not seem like a big thing, which is why it is perfect to do now.

  • Start to think of next year.  Call me crazy but January is when I start to think of the next school year.  I clean up papers as I go through them, make extra copies for the following year if it something I will have to use like a math test, and throw out/recycle anything I don’t need.  Too often we leave these tasks for the end of the year but it is easier to just stay on top of it throughout the year.  Start to think of what you need to change for next year with your lessons and tweak them now, because next time you teach it, chances are you will not remember the changes you needed to make.

While there are many things you can do to reorganize your classroom as you prepare for the second half of the year, think small at first.  Change the easy things, give yourself time to think about what needs to happen, and then do it.  Recruit your students to help, reflect on what is working and what isn’t, and then decide what needs to change now for you to be happy.  Change never has to be big to be effective. It does not have to be grandiose or expensive; find something small to make you feel renewed even if it just includes the happiness that brand new pens can bring you.


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