Many of us spend lots of money and time getting our homes to look just right. We spend hours pouring over catalogues to find the perfect sofa and furniture, or spend hours at Home Depot deciding on just the right paint palette. And then when we have all of this stuff, we then face the daunting task of deciding where to put it all. We arrange our furniture one way, and then another, trying to ensure that the lighting is just right or the angle of the T.V. matches up. And it’s an ongoing process, right? Once one room is done, we look at our other rooms and start the process all over again.
We teachers spend over 1,000 hours in our classrooms every year, and yet arranging our room to make it supportive for learning, and as inviting as a home, is all too often the last thing on our mind. Which is understandable, with all of the things sitting on a teacher’s plate, but it’s still so important for us to make our classrooms to be the best they can be for our kids.
Recently, I had the great pleasure of doing a room makeover. Amanda, one of the teachers I work with, told me that she was struggling with how to create a gathering area in her room that was large enough to fit all her kids. So, since I was going to be teaching a demo lesson in her room, I asked this amazing second grade teacher if I could do some rearranging before my lab site — and she said YES! Can you believe it?— So trusting.
I was in my element once I got started, and boy, did it bring back memories. I was a classroom teacher for nine years, and probably rearranged the desks 10 times each year. At least. I decorated everything. I was fortunate to be in a building that had offices for teachers attached to the classroom, and was even more fortunate that I share the office with my teaching partner, Jozelle. In addition to our classrooms, we decorated that space up nicely.
My class was fortunate enough to have its own restroom, and I loved whales, so I even decorated the restroom with whale posters and inspirational quotes. I was out of control.
The old skills came quickly back, and it took me no time at all to move Amanda’s u-shape arrangement of desks into groups of four, which allowed for more room. It was so fun. I arranged the groups, and then rearranged every which way to be sure kids had enough room to slide in and out of their space. When I finished, I crossed my fingers that it would work. You never really know until the kids arrive.
Now time for the gathering area. Amanda had created the cutest little reading nook in the corner of her room. However, she wanted her gathering area to be in front of the smart board. So I took apart the reading nook, spread her large carpet under the smart board, moved her beautiful whicker chair as her teaching chair near the carpet, moved the easel next to the chair, and then pulled over her bench and cute chairs to surround the rug and carve out the area. Voila! The whole exercise took me about 20 minutes from start to finish.
Then it was time for the kids. They entered the room saying…”Look at the room! It’s awesome! I love the space! Can we keep it like this?” We discussed how we might use the furniture when we meet (sitting in your space with your partner for a week then switching), how we want to keep the area permanent, so we need to take care of it, and how it will help us to really get down to learning. They loved it!
Amanda’s space…book tubs will soon be replaced with shelves.
I am forever grateful to Amanda. I’m in classrooms all the time, but I never had the opportunity to do a classroom makeover. It was an awesome experience — especially seeing the kids’ response to it.
I work with schools and educators all over the world who thoughtfully consider how best to use classroom space. In Ocean City, MD this year, we decided to name what matters most when teaching writing and supporting independence. This is what teachers and administrators came up with up:
- A large open space (after all you do most if not all of your teaching there)
- The space includes a large rug, an easel, and a permanent chair
- A writing center with paper choice (a range of three to five choices), pens, revision strips, and mentor text
- Tables and desks in set -up to form small groups (as close to four as possible)
- Charts that support the kids and the work they are doing cluster together. For example, writing charts stay together, reading charts, and math
In the teaching of reading, schools that I work with are always perfecting their libraries and creating space to support independent readers. Some tips:
- A large open space
- The space includes a large rug, an easel, and a permanent chair
- Small book baskets and low shelves –many surrounding the gathering area to allow easy access to the books
- The baskets are neatly labeled and easy to read from afar
- Small baskets work better than large tubs where books often get lost, tub is over stuffed, or messy and overwhelming
- The books are organized by level, fiction, nonfiction, poetry
- The titles of the baskets which are not leveled are catchy and engaging such as The Most Disgusting Creatures on Earth OR Girl Drama OR Read Every Magic Tree House Book
As for me as a classroom teacher, I often thought that my kids and I spent so much time in the classroom that it should feel inviting, exciting, and, for me, have a feeling of literacy permeating the space. Below is my room the last year I taught:
Monique’s Kindergarten Classroom–Lots of space!
Here are a few other picks of the classrooms of many teachers I’ve worked with over the years:
Flexible seating in K! Thanks Staci Stonnell!
In Worcester County everyone is pitching in to support classroom environments. My friend, Chrissy McQuaid (see her room below) spent lots to create a space that works for her and her kids. She didn’t mind. She just wanted to do this for her kids. Her new principal, Matthew Record started and told the teachers to save their receipts. Whatever they spent on their classroom environment he would refund. Wow!
My friend and inspiring NYC principal, Amanda Blatter, told me that the first thing she did when she started at a low performing school in the Bronx was to buy rugs, bookshelves, and books for every teacher. Then she purchased new furniture for the office staff. She told me that when children and educators come to a place of warmth and beauty, they feel respected. Who doesn’t want to be in a place like that?
Coaches, do you have any classrooms that need a fresh look? Offer to makeover that classroom. That teacher will be forever grateful — and you will have a blast. After all shouldn’t we teach in a place that feels good to us and to our kids?
When we take the time to make our environment into a place of warmth, excitement, and inspiration, we say to our kids, “You are only worth the very best.”
Before every game coach Taylor gathers his players into a huddle and they chant together:
“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!”
Together they gather, hold each other up, and believe in the work at hand. When we come together every day before reading and writing workshop and call our kids “readers and writers,” we send them off believing they can do this big work. That they’ve got this. What better gift can we give them.
Let me know if you want support with literacy and room makeovers!!! We would love to visit your district!
Create a room of your own, actually~
Christy & Monique