As teachers head back into classrooms this fall, we want to take a moment to share some tips for setting up your space. In two parts, Dr. Karen Norris, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Momentous School shares her expertise on this topic.
Here’s part one: guiding principles to consider when setting up your classroom.
The setup and organization of a classroom is an essential part of learning. It’s so much more than just aesthetics – a classroom must be functional and support student’s learning throughout the year.
We want learning spaces to be intentionally designed to suit the experiences that students will have in each zone of the classroom. Some areas of the classroom will be designed for writing, some for group work, some to allow movement or self-regulation, some to work 1:1 with the teacher. Before making a space pretty, we encourage teachers to think about its function and what students will do in that space, and design around that.
Create a space where students feel they belong.
When a student enters their classroom, we want them to feel welcomed and like the space was designed for them. We want furniture that fits their bodies, spaces for them to move around, and a classroom that feels like a reflection of who they are and what they are learning.
Here’s a quick way to tell if a classroom fits the students who occupy it. If a visitor came to the room and there were no people there, would they be able to tell who uses the space? What would they know about the learners in the classroom? Would they know what students are learning?
Build student autonomy.
A great classroom setup supports a student’s ability to do things for him or herself without relying on the teacher to do things that a child could do. For example, consider placing shared items on reachable surfaces, teach students how and where to charge devices, and show students where supplies are kept and routines for when and how to access them. Teachers don’t want to – or have time to – be in the role of classroom gopher. A classroom setup can support students’ autonomy by providing the necessary tools to help them help themselves.
Keep it tidy.
Everyone functions better in a well-kept space. Keeping a classroom tidy isn’t always easy, but it can be managed with simple routines and procedures. We encourage teachers to be thoughtful about how they place art on the walls – neat, straight and tidy. Teachers can build in clean-up time after each learning experience, so students share the responsibility of keeping the shared spaces clean and organized. Once students are in the classroom space, notice where the room gets continually messy and introduce an organization system to solve for it.
Make it inviting… but calm.
Many teachers love the fun task of decorating the room, and I’ve seen many different styles of décor over the years. Décor is fun to allow each teacher’s personality and style to shine. As you consider the décor, here are some pointers to help optimize the learning environment for students.
Consider a cohesive color palette and include it throughout the room. Hues of blue and green work well with minor touches of accent colors and fit within the color palette you have chosen. Think warm and soothing. Where possible, pull your color palette into book bins and organizational containers.
Think about your footprint.
Remember that you share the space with students. Think about the space proportionally – the teacher is just one member of (often) 20+ people in the room. How much space makes sense to be dedicated to teacher materials, and how much to student materials? It’s great to bring in a couple of things that represent your interests so students connect with you, but filling the whole room doesn’t accurately reflect the makeup of the classroom.
What to hang on the walls?
Things that support the learning! We say, ditch the motivational “You can do it!” posters that become visual noise over time. Hang student work, posters or displays that help the current learning. Students will become blind to what’s in the classroom over time. When teachers hang materials that support the learning temporarily, and keep it fresh as the learning changes throughout the year, it prevents students from becoming visually blind to the classroom and will keep them continually engaging with the four walls of the room.