Setting up a classroom is difficult. It is easy to get sucked into Pinterest and spending lots of money to make it look picture ready. But sometimes, those picture worthy classrooms aren’t actually functional.
When working with students, a functional space is the key to a good school year. It can reduce distractions, ease behavioral issues, and provide some independence for your students.
Don’t let this frighten you. Functionality is achievable without a lot of extra work. Here are a few things that you need to keep in mind.
Keep it simple.
Keep your room simple and keep it clean. I try to embrace minimalism in every aspect of my life, so when I was packing up at the end of last year I was quickly overwhelmed with the amount of “stuff” that had been tucked into corners and wasn’t being used.
I threw it all out and was able to work with the stuff that was going to lead to a functional space. When we keep the room simple, we allow for more time spent doing fun and engaging things, more of a focus on the students, and a clear system of organization for students and ourselves.
When we begin to overcomplicate areas of our classroom, that is when we find clutter, frustration, and burnout. That area doesn’t have to be a bulletin board or the class library, it can also be your organization strategy for documents and data, which leads me to my next point.
As a teacher, it is imperative that you stay organized and utilize a system that works for you. If you don’t have a working system, your desk becomes cluttered, you forget things, you lose student work, and the nervous energy permeates the room. Students are able to pick up on that and it causes them internal stress and anxiety. Get yourself organized from the get go. Think through what systems work best for you, and don’t be afraid to adapt and try new techniques.
One aspect of staying organized is by creating systems and routines for your students. How do you want them to turn things in? Where will you store their notebooks? How do you want them to get materials? Thinking through these questions will help reduce behavioral issues throughout the year, and alleviate stress for you when plans need to change quickly. Plus, having clear systems and routines in place will help your students start to gain some independence and pride in their actions.
If you need ideas about how to get organized, or help on setting up systems that work for you, please reach out to me and let me know! I am happy to brainstorm and test ideas with you.
As teachers, I think it is safe to say that we all love bulletin boards. They are colorful and fun. It is where we get to show our creativity.
But these can take forever!!
What I do to increase the functionality of the bulletin boards is make them student centered. What information do the students need to have access to? In my room, that is a cell phone hanger, and a student center.
I am lucky enough to have a lot of bulletin board space in my room. But outside of the two I put together, I left them blank. They can be filled later with anchor charts and student work, or be left blank.
Update: I have been moved to a new classroom! I have far less bulletin board space but much more open wall space. I am decorating my bulletin boards with the same ideas though — simple and functional. In addition to what do students need access to, I also ask myself: what makes the room inviting without being overwhelming? That usually helps me come up with some creative ways to display fun elements in my room. But a lot of it is left blank at the beginning to make room for updates throughout the year.
Classroom themes are a lot of fun but can be overwhelming and distracting for students. Although classrooms with lovely themes and matching colors are beautiful, they aren’t always functional.
Plus, how often do our students actually care about the theme in our classrooms? Rarely.
Instead of going all out, go for simple and functional. I love purple, green, and blue so those colors often find their way into my materials. But not every board and square inch of my room is plastered with it. I use a lot of black colored items because they are simple and elegant (plus they go with everything).
Bring your interests and likes into the classroom without overwhelming the space.
If you are excited about a theme, by all means go for it! But many of the pictures I see of classrooms are overwhelming just to look at as an adult. I can only imagine how they might feel to a child. Keep it fun, but keep it simple.
If your classroom is one of the unlucky ones without windows, my heart goes out to you. I believe that natural light is so important for a classroom. If you are able, find ways to let the sun get into your room. It makes the room feel bigger, more inviting, cleaner, and positive.
Walking into my room in the morning always puts a smile on my face because the sun is shining right through my window.
Plants and greenery are also great. They not only clean the air for you, but they add a little piece of the outside world. You can leave students in charge of watering and caring for the plants, use the plants as secret keepers (I saw a teacher do this and her kids talked to the plants constantly, it was cute), or just leave them as a happy place for you.
Don’t have a green thumb? That is okay! You can purchase fake plants for the appearance of greenery which can still bring a sense of peace. Or you can bring in plants that do really well when they are neglected. Pathos and spider plants do well with little care, as well as most succulents. They can go a while without water and will do well if left alone.
Think to yourself – Is this important?
When you approach your classroom with the question, “is this important?” you begin to prioritize what actually matters for your students. The things that matter in my mind are these:
- Clear and visible expectations
- A system for students getting and returning materials
- Objectives and an agenda
- A place for students to see what they missed if they were absent
- Keeping my teacher area clean and organized
Although my last idea is all about me and my space, like I said above, when that space is messy and disheveled it affects the students negatively.
This question has helped me so often when I begin to feel overwhelmed about my to-do list or defeated by something going on in my room.
Realign your mind, and push forward.
Why have a functional space?
The Oxford Dictionary defines functional as “designed to be practical and useful, rather than attractive.” Practical and useful are so important when we think about the ultimate goal of having students in our classrooms — learning. We want to create a student centered space where learning can take place and take precedent.
A functional space can also reduce stress for you, the teacher. You can worry less about the look of your classroom and focus your attention on lesson planning and the positive feelings that a clean and decluttered classroom bring.
When your space is more functional than picturesque, it can adapt as the year goes on. You have room for student work or resources that your students will use. You can update it with the seasons or pack it up and move if you have to.
Functional doesn’t have to mean boring. You can still add in your personality and creativity. Just let that come after you have thought through your procedures and what is most important.
In the end, you need a space that works for you and your students. Adapt, change, and grow all year long.