Many of us spend more time in our classrooms than anywhere else during the school year. Your learners spend hours a day in them as well. You may as well make it a place where all of you are comfortable spending time.
But how do you do that? What’s comforting and inviting for one person may be just the opposite for another.
Although there is no one room design I can point you to with confidence and say “that’s how your room should be”. I can help you find a process to come to the right configuration for you and your students.
(Quick note: this article is for if you have a set room you teach in. If you’re looking for a pop-up version of this, consider our traveling teacher blog).
Step 0: Get inspired ✨
Before you even set foot in your new classroom do a little dreaming. Create a pinterest board or something like that to put photos of classes you like. Jot down some things you’ve seen in other people’s classes that you admire.
This step isn’t always necessary, because maybe you already have the perfect room in your head, but if you don’t it’s good to get some ideas and inspo before you begin.
Step 1: Figure out the functional
The most important thing to think of is that your class is a functional space. It has a job to do, and that is to facilitate learning.
To this end you first want to decide on the flow of daily tasks in your room.
- Where do students turn in work?
- Where do they get necessary materials?
- Do you want to have a pass station to help students create their own passes so you won’t have to stop teaching to do it?
- Do you want a board dedicated to upcoming due dates?
Think about how you want students to move around the room and what resources you want them to have ready access to.
Once you have figured that out, create signs to clearly mark these areas of the room (both for the students and yourself).
If you have a SmartBoard, sit at each of the spots to make sure you can see it easily from each desk/table. Ensure it is easy for you to get in and out of each seat, so all your students will have an easy time too.
Also, test out walking the common paths that students will take in your class. Make sure the aisles are wide enough and that the path will be minimally distracting to other students.
An example might be, don’t put your work turn-in toward the front of the room where you are teaching. It encourages students to walk in front of you at inopportune times. Instead, put it closer to the back of the room so if a student gets up to put something in there, they don’t have to do it in front of the whole class.
Make sure the room flows well for all of the common tasks of your class.
Step 2: Gather your supplies
Now that you know the way you want your room to flow and where important resources go, you need to assemble those stations.
Before buying anything new, consider repurposing what you have. Tin cans make great writing device holders. Plastic take-out containers (the ones with the lids) make great holders for small items like dice or paperclips.
Once you decide that your room really NEEDS then you can go out and get that stuff. If you’re on a budget the dollar store is a great resource, but you could also try thrift shops and yard sales. Teachers leave the profession all of the time and they are often getting rid of some pretty premium stuff.
Something that I couldn’t do without in my classes was a label maker (or label tape). It was much easier for me and my students to know where things belonged when they were clearly labeled. It took all of the guesswork out, and when you’re very busy, it’s nice to not have to think about where something goes.
I also highly suggest making signage for important areas of your class. Things like “class calendar”, “student supply station” or “student work gallery” help students feel empowered and comfortable in your class. It also saves you time because you never have to tell students where to go for anything.
Step 3: Add flair
Now comes the tricky bit. You have a perfectly functional class with well-labeled resources and thoughtfully laid out flow. However, it’s a little… barren. Sure there are desks and colored pencils, but it really leaves something to be desired.
This is where you add those things that make your room special.
Start with your desk / work area. Since you will be spending a significant amount of time there, make it feel welcome to you. Place photos of people and things that make you happy.
Have things that make you feel cozy. I cannot overstate enough the value of a good and comfortable chair.
Bring lamps, nick-nacks and anything else you need for it to be a comfortable space for you. Bring a yoga mat if you plan on doing some yoga in your class to de-stress.
Some teachers are worried about students having too much knowledge of their personal lives. If that’s you and it makes you uncomfortable, then skip the personal stuff.
If not, I fully encourage it because it invites your students to see you as human. It helps them to get to know you. Students need to trust you, since you ask them to do uncomfortable things pretty frequently. One way for them to do that is for them to feel like they know a bit of you as well, and displaying a little bit of your life helps with that.
Once you get your area all set up it’s time to move on to the rest of the room.
When adding flair for the class consider a few things:
- How distracting will this be to my students?
- Is this something they need to see every day?
- Is it culturally sensitive?
- Do I feature a diverse group of thinkers or ideas in my class?
- What value does this bring to my class?
When teaching in a social emotional self contained class, I set up a cool down / meditation area. It had a comfortable couch, a computer with headphones for listening to meditations and a few encouraging posters. There were also clipboards in case a student wanted to write or draw to process. Everything in this area was chosen with the goal of “be soothing, and calming” in mind.
Think about the areas you are placing posters or borders or anything else and ask yourself “does this meet the goal I have for this space?”. Something may be cute and you like it, but does it actively make your class better for your learners?
I’d say when in doubt, better to err on the side of too minimal than end up too cluttered. Most people would rather spend their days learning in an Ikea show room rather than a junk shop.
Step 4: Display student pieces
Whereas too much random flair is not a great idea, I think there’s always space for students to leave a piece of themselves.
Students create amazing things all of the time. I always set aside space on the walls as gallery space for students. This space should look intentional and designed. It should be a place where students would feel proud to see their work.
As for what to display, you can select a specific assignment or project and then select some of the best examples. You can also just make it a space for students to share their own artwork or designs.
No matter what you put up, get the student’s consent first. Some students may be shy about having their work displayed. Even if they say they’d rather it not be put up, they will feel good being invited to do so.
On top of an area for student work, I liked to create an area for student announcements. This was usually a cork board where students could place posters for upcoming plays, fundraisers, concerts, club events or anything else that they have coming up they’d like other students to know about.
On top of being helpful and information, having this board helped students feel as if the things they are passionate about are just as important as whatever we had going on in class that day.
Step 5: Constantly refine
Ok, so you have a functional, tastefully decorated, comfortable, student-friendly class environment. Congratulations!
Now comes the easier part: refining over time.
As you teach, needs arise. You may work with a paraprofessional, in which case you need to create a space in the room for them.
You might find that you need a way to display office hours for students to come by for additional help. You may decide that a poster you once thought served your purpose now, does not. You may find that you need a bookshelf to house certain resources that you didn’t realize you needed before.
This is normal and to be expected. Always think of your room as a work in progress. Be flexible and able to change as circumstances do.
If you ever need to tear it all down and start over, that’s ok too.
As long as you keep your goals in mind and always strive towards that, your room will be as awesome as you are!