This is the first posting in a four-part series that is designed to help you think through getting ready for the new academic year. The good thing about the cycles we go through as teachers is that each year we get to start over again with a more-or-less clean slate. This is a great opportunity to reflect on what worked well that you want to repeat and what you want to change.
The first thing I usually think about is the physical environment, since there is the practical need to set up your room before you do many of the other things to start the new academic year. Here are issues to consider:
- Seating. Whether you have desks or tables, you’ll want to think through where to put the children for seatwork. The important issue is to consider how much you want the children to converse with each other. Will they be working primarily in groups? Or would you prefer that they work silently and independently? I’ve seen teachers struggle with getting the children to stop talking and stay on task when the desks are grouped together. It makes more sense to put the desks in rows or separated somehow if you value more individually-focused work. Of course you’ll also want to think through where you will stand to deliver whole group lessons and try to ensure no child has her back to you. Check out the great set-up ideas from The School Supply Addict.
- Quiet Corner. It’s important to set aside some space for a child to go when he needs to regain control or calm down. This should be created as a pleasant place, not an area for punishment. Check out the “Peace Corner” from Mama Montessori.
- Teacher space.We all need personal space and it’s appropriate to think through the boundaries of your personal are. Then you can teach the children those boundaries and where they are not allowed to touch.
- Small group area. Where will you meet with small groups? This area should be somewhat protected from traffic and noise, and it’s helpful to mark the area off with tape or a carpet so children have a visual reminder not to bother you when your working with the group.
- Learning centers. Do you have enough room to set up some permanent centers like a reading corner, science center, or math games? You’ll also want to put together center materials children can do at their desks, and find storage for these.
- Whole group meeting area. No teacher ever thinks she has enough room in her classroom! However, your class meeting area really needs the most space you can give. I have seen more behavior problems result from children sitting virtually on top of one another, accidentally stepping in toes, bumping into shoulders, and so on. The best seating plan is to put all the children sitting around the edge of the carpet so they can see each other and you. You can also consider getting individual carpet squares for each child. These provide a natural boundary for personal space. Or try using place mats instead as recommended by Teach Preschool. But don’t think these are only helpful in preschool!
- Storage. There are four types of storage to plan for: Children’s personal items (coats, books, etc), learning materials that children need access to (manipulatives, leveled reading books, etc), teaching materials that you will use throughout the year, and your own personal items. Here are some creative ideas I found on Pinterest. In my experience, the important step is to visualize HOW movement in these areas will flow. For example, how many children can get to their cubbies or coat hooks at once? How will the children be able to look through the books? Will all of their materials fit in their desk or do you need more storage unit on their chair. Imagine how a child will go through each step of the day before you finalize your plan. Finally, make sure everything is neat and organized. I’ve repeatedly noticed that the most organized classrooms also have the best behavior!
- Decor. If you are not already addicted to Pinterest, then try it out! You’ll find hundreds of ideas for making your classroom a warm and friendly home for yourself and the children. Be sure to leave some of your spaces undecorated so that the children can make the room reflect their personalities and work. Check out my “Teaching-in-Style” Board on Pinterest and follow me!
The Positive Classroom Book is coming soon! Check back in September to order your copy. A must-have for all early childhood and elementary teachers!