It’s back to school time and your to-do list is so long you don’t know where to start. It’s time to prioritize. There are so many important considerations for the start of a school year and how you arrange your classroom is a big part of that. It can help set the tone for the year and facilitate learning. It can help to set expectations and create anticipation without you even having to say a word. As we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words. The picture that your classroom creates speaks volumes to your students and their families.
Where to Start?
I’ve read lots of helpful suggestions for organizing materials, setting up systems, setting up desks and tables, etc. Underlying all that is your personal intention. You need to set your intention for the kind of classroom you want and then create an arrangement that reflects that intention. I once read about a teacher whose classroom was completely empty on the first day; there was no furniture, nothing hanging on the walls. The message to those students was, “This is your room and it will be what you make it.” The students then proceeded to build the furniture as one of the first things they learned. Talk about communicating a clear message! You may not want to take such a drastic approach but the decisions you make will send a message so you need to be clear on what that message will be.
If you are reading this, chances are you want to have a classroom that is arts integration friendly. That means space. You will need open floor space for movement and for theatre. You’ll also need open table space for visual art making. Lastly, you will need to organize your wall space to accommodate the work that your students will create as well as extra word wall space to include all content area subjects including all the arts. The language with which you surround the students influences how they will think, speak and learn.
Space can be at a premium in classrooms
Especially classrooms that house older students with bigger bodies and generally higher numbers of students than lower elementary. That means you may not always be able to have as much open space as you would like to accommodate free and safe movement. That necessitates you have a plan for how furniture will be moved to create that extra floor space when the activities dictate that need. In those first few weeks, you need to train your students to move that furniture safely and efficiently so you can maximize learning time and all the benefits that kinesthetic learning has to offer.
Whether you plan to be making visual art, to house a makerspace, to have a classroom library, etc., you will need to store materials that are organized and accessible. You may want to create areas ideal for certain group activities or a few nooks and crannies for reading or solo activities. A technique encouraged by The Responsive Classroom is that you keep such areas under curtain and off-limits at the start of the year. This can accomplish a few things. It can create a sense of excitement and anticipation in your students (What’s behind that curtain?!). It can also be more comfortable for students who are easily overwhelmed or overstimulated. How? By allowing them to gradually become acquainted with the different resources and areas of the classroom. It also tells the students that care for materials and for the space is paramount to you.
Time is of the Essence
This affords you time to introduce the students to the materials and the different areas of the room so they understand your expectations of behavior when using the tools and special spaces. This approach can minimize issues later regarding misbehavior in those nooks where you cannot always see and wasted materials due to mishandling or misuse.
Only you know what your intention is for the year, so it is up to you to design a space that will communicate that loud and clear and foster the kind of learning in which you want your students to be engaged. In other words, know what you want to say and then let your classroom do the talking!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.