Be the change, being me, classroom setup, new year, Student-centered

Your Classroom Does Not Have to Be Pinterest Worthy to Be Effective

image from icanread

The night before I met my first group of students, I was at school in a panic.  Not because I was about to actually be a teacher.  Not because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.  All true, however, my panic was from the feeling that my classroom didn’t look cute.  It didn’t look lived in.  It didn’t look inviting.  So at 9 PM, the night before school started, I was in the hallway ripping down my welcome bulletin board, furiously folding party hats to create a new 3-d one that would live up to what I thought everybody was expecting.  By 11 PM I went home, exhausted (did I mention I was pregnant with my first child) and still feeling completely inadequate.  My room would never live up to all the other cute rooms I saw around my school.  And I felt like I was doomed to fail as a teacher from the beginning.

It turns out my experience was not unique, nor dated.  7 years later, I get contacted a lot asking what to do with these feelings of inadequacy. What to do when we feel our room does not live up to what the supposed expectation of elementary classrooms is.  But it is not the pressure from seeing our colleagues rooms anymore that drives us into panic.  It is Pinterest, the internet, blogs that shows decorated classrooms that I will never be able to replicate.  And so these new teachers ask for validation, ask whether their rooms are enough.  They fear posting pictures of their room because they don’t feel they are ready.   They wonder if they can be effective teachers without a “pretty” room.  Our fear of inadequacy spurred on by an internet movement of cute.

I advocate for giving the room back to students.  This does not work well with having a completed room on the first day of school.  My walls are not very decorated.  There are no chevron stripes (I do love chevron though), no fancy displays, no motivational posters.  The walls are bare, the chairs and tables in pods, the room is functional but probably not super inviting.  I do the inviting on the first day by placing myself in the hallway, big smile on my face, and then I ask students to become a part of the room.  To move the tables.  To create displays.  To set the rules, to tell me what works and what doesn’t.  And so then it becomes our room, but I cannot achieve that before the first day of school.

Why is this so important to me?  Because for too long we have invited students into our rooms.  We have let them visit.  And yes, I know that our rooms are our home away from home.  That we need to feel comfortable in them as well.  That our personality should show through.  But I feel like it sometimes goes too far,  That we overdecorate, we overdo, and it leaves no rooms for students to be a part of it.  They continue on as visitors in our beautiful rooms and their engagement shows it.

Now, this is not to say that having a nice looking room is a bad thing.  I think there is a balance between decorating your classroom and focusing too much on it.  I see some pictures and I cringe because although they look beautiful, there is no room to make a mess.  There is no room to be creative because all decisions have already been made.  And as the mother of a boy, I wonder how welcome he would feel in a room full of polka dots and pinks?

So I am here to say to all you new teachers, or old ones like me that need to hear it too; your classroom does not have to be Pinterest worthy to be effective.  It does not have to have everything figured out, everything in its permanent place.  It does not have to have all of those things we see in other classrooms, because  we are not other people.  We do not have the same stuff they do, we do not have the same personalities.  Make your classroom work for you, allow yourself to not get hung up on how cute it is, how inviting it is.  Focus on creating a community that invites all children to be stakeholders.  Don’t feel you need to spend so much money decorating, find a balance, allow yourself to stop.  If we really want to build a community with our students, nothing says “I trust you” in the beginning than giving the room back to them.  And you can’t do that if every decorating decision has already been made.  You cannot say “this is your room too” if you are clearly in charge of everything.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.


24 thoughts on “Your Classroom Does Not Have to Be Pinterest Worthy to Be Effective”

  1. Agreed. I’m a language teacher and so the first thing I get students to do is redesign the room. They measure everything, do a “stocktake”, and then submit room design plans… all in the target language. So they’re learning numbers, classroom objects and how to express likes/dislikes. I put the plans on our blog, and also on a RL bulletin board, and over 2 weeks blog visitors can rank the designs using a “hot or not?” plugin. The winning design then gets actioned 🙂

    Other year groups remember doing it in yr8 and are big voters! So it gets them to revise their classroom language too. Win!

    1. What a fantastic idea! I always had students evaluate a few weeks in and then revisit through out the year. It is so important that students get a feeling that the room is eve revolving as well, that we have to move it around to fit our needs.

  2. Love this blog. I’ve been in my room once. There are desks, but they might be too big. I don’t know the size of the average first grader. The room is bare. It’s periwinkle. It’s sad, but a blank canvas. I’m coming from 5th where I left the same stuff up all year. I have boxes of room decorating supplies to get started. My kind husband re-stained or painted all my bookshelves and they are in the van waiting to be dropped off. My friend teaches kindergarten next door; her room is amazing, a fairy tale–I feel happy in there, but she’s been there 23 years. I have six left. I will focus on a pleasantly inviting room–not a fairy tale, and see what happens. Thanks for your timely words.

  3. OMG!!! I was just about to post a Facebook status about this and decided to check my email first. I was just thinking that looking at all these other teachers’ classrooms on their blogs was making me feel panicky and inadequate. I have kept the same theme (owls) going for 3 years now because I’ve invested so much time and money in it. I was debating about adding chevron (yes, chevron!) to my decor and just felt exhausted by the prospect.
    So I’m nixing the chevron, putting only plain paper up on the walls, and waiting for my new crop of 1st graders to come in and show off their best by hanging it up. I’m even bringing back my grafitti wall so they can “speak their minds” by writing their thoughts down. It is THEIR room after all.
    Thanks for your support and affirmation!

  4. Loved reading this. We all get caught up in comparisons one time or another. When inviting students in, we invite them into their/our room, not mine. Right?

  5. Thank you for blogging about this topic. Although I do enjoy decorating my room, I often feel like it’s not enough, even though the educator in me says it is. I personally love trendy dots, pinks, girlish color schemes of late, but not for my classroom. Most eight year old boys that I have taught would not enjoy spending time surrounded by girlish decorations. So as much as I love it, I keep my room to neutral prints and colors of blue, yellow, green, and some brown. I think sometimes we need to remember that it is not all about us, it is about the students – their interests, needs and engagement.

  6. I would go for organization and openness. Be prepared to move things, change containers, and put out different objects that inspire learning. I’d always laugh at the new teachers who would buy the standing lamps and delicate knick-knacks that ended up broken by Christmas. It also reminds me of the lovely homes (of people with no kids). Reality, comfort, versatility, and ease access work better.

  7. Even after 30 years as a teacher, I sometimes feel like my room is not enough. Enough for whom, you may ask. Good question. The answer is always about how others will see me and my room, so I have let go of that for the most part and try to make the room look lived in as my students start to own the space as ours. Thanks for this reminder. I’ve been seeing some pictures of classrooms on FB that I would be afraid to walk into for fear of getting something dirty or putting something in the wrong place. This, to me, is not a welcoming space.

  8. This is so perfect. As a classroom teacher, I was never a fan of the bells and whistles that I felt I had to incorporate into my classroom (or any sort of open house, parent night, or curriculum fair) in order to be identified as a “good teacher.” I, too, always believed in the power of giving students the opportunity to make their classroom theirs (and not just mine) and of letting the real “messiness” of learning speak for itself. Admittedly, it was thought for me, as I have always been someone who needs order. But as a literacy specialist, I do find that I am still sometimes fighting that battle. This has come at a perfect time with the ubiquity of all of those gorgeous (but somewhat demoralizing!) classroom photo posts on Pinterest. Thank you for this thoughtful and honest post!

  9. Thank you so much. I’m going on 19 years of teaching and had a bit of the “gotta load up on cute and interactive stuff” bug today while in my classroom. It’s a different set up, because I’m sharing a room with a social studies teacher’s classes. So I’m being mindful of respecting her space and need to prep for her students as well.

    But, as I’ve been telling myself all day, “That’s not you. Be you.” It’s not those things kids can see with their eyes, but what they can sense and feel while they’re in the room– being welcomed, accepted and challenged to achieve greater things– that makes the difference in their lives. That’s the most important part of their school experience: community. This has been my hola for the new school year. (“Canada, Community, Classrooms”,

    Thank you again for the reminder. I enjoyed your candidness.


  10. This is such a good reminder. I do intervention work so my room is very small, so I try to keep the decorating to a minimum and use student examples to fill up the walls. One area I do want to decorate that I didn’t this year is my “window to nowhere”–it used to look out into a hallway at some point long before I came to the school, and then they put lockers in front of it. It’s just depressing and needs to be covered up.

    The pressure definitely comes from the internet (Pinterest, etc), but it can also come from within the building–principals, colleagues, etc. There are sometimes mandates that say you must have X,Y, and Z up before the students come in, every classroom bulletin board must… It’s not the same kind of pressure, but it can definitely keep a teacher from making a classroom a place that belongs to them and their students.

  11. Great angle on this piece of writing. For me, last year, being new to Twitter, I found it almost unbearable at times to hear teachers’ glee at what was happening in their rooms. Not that it shouldn’t happen, not that they shouldn’t celebrate, but just as a writing teacher is supposed to show the struggles of writing to students, we as teachers should also let our struggles with teaching be open to others. And I agree with other comments: administrations and evaluation systems need to facilitate this kind of honesty. Your piece reminded me of something in The Atlantic recently. You may want to check it out.

  12. I have always been concerned about not making my room too girly…try to stay away from puff balls and pink polka dots…
    So this year a fellow teacher who shares the same concern asked one of her former second graders what he thought of a bright pink bulletin board. He simply replied that all he cared about was a nice teacher and a long recess! I have thought of him often during these past few days of decorating!

  13. You always say things so well! I have the same thoughts and really plan to focus my set-up (and spend my money) on books, books, books and a few plants. My walls will be waiting to be the canvas for the learning that’s gonna happen.

    Being insecure I guess, I walk around to see my colleagues around the building making their cute theme classrooms and even had a student ask me what my classroom theme would be. I responded that the theme of OUR classroom would be learning. Here’s a post I wrote about this last year:

    I am going to try to restrain myself from walking around and looking at everyone’s cutesy, Pinterest-y rooms this year. I really don’t think the kids care at all, although some of the parents do. But I KNOW that any money I have to spend is best spent on books!

    1. I agree on your theme. I am moving 5th to 1st and didn’t realize there were theme options. lol I mixed things up and have an owl or two, and a few bugs. I’ve spent about $450 on my room (it was an expensive decision to switch grades) but over half has been on books. I have more I want, but am trying to rely on local libraries. I had well over 1000 in my 5th grade classroom–and won’t ever get there in first as I retire in 6 years, but books are more important than anything else.

  14. I have been teaching for the better part of twenty years. For most of my career, I taught in an urban classroom where teachers barely had necessities, let alone money for chevron, polka dot, cutsie cute-matchy matchy adornments. Any extra money (and I use the term, lightly) was spent on student resources. Three years ago, I began teaching in a district which is on the more rural-suburban side of the curve. When I look at these classrooms, a) I am in disbelief of all the money and time spent to achieve Pinterest-worthy designer rooms; and b) I believe that all of the fluff could be a distraction for many children. I have always had a functional, clean, well-organized classroom as well as a simple oceanic creature theme, but the main focus of my attention has been creating and executing well-planned, engaging, rigorous lessons for all learners. I know I am getting older; however, it seems to me that young teachers, and I would imagine mostly female, do not understand that a classroom is not like your high school bedroom and it should not be decorated for you! If I were a nine-year-old boy, I would not like a classroom containing hot pink, neon green, and bright purple accessories. When did this trend start, anyway?

  15. I know this post is years old, but it has definitely made me think of ways I can make a more student- less teacher- decorated classroom. I have to laugh at the pink comments, though. I teach preschool, and hot pink (the bright neon one that practically punches you in the face) is a huge favorite of 2- and 3-year-old boys!

  16. Thank you! This post articulates exactly what I’m feeling. The teacher next door has a Pinterest worthy classroom and I admire her for it. But that’s not me. Plus, I embrace the idea of allowing my students to make the classroom their’s as well. I’m excited to see what ideas they will have!

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