Having a classroom that is organized and ready for students is important. Having a neat and welcoming space helps set the stage for a positive and productive year. It does take time, nobody is denying that, but there are ways to streamline and focus on the things that are essential for the first week or two of school. Here are several ways to help you focus on the absolute necessities to begin the year.
Visit your classroom before school starts
Take a day before school begins to go to your classroom. While it may seem like you’re giving up a day of your summer, it’s a great way to ease some of your worries by tackling a few things that will help you make a plan to conquer the early days of school.
- Clean your space and arrange furniture – if possible, you might want to go ahead and do this while you’re there. This will cross off a couple of items on your list and help you visualize areas you might want to change.
- Take pictures – open up your cabinets/closets and take pictures of the contents. Take photos of all your walls. Stand in your doorway or a corner and take photos of your room (after you’ve arranged the furniture if you were able to). You can use these pictures when you are at home to plan your space.
- Create a diagram and measure – create a diagram of bulletin boards, closets, etc, anything you will need to plan your space. Record measurements of all items on the diagram.
- Discard/save or share decor items – if you’ve chosen something new, perhaps consider donating that to a new teacher. If you’re going to use what you already have, check it for fading and tears. Make sure you have enough. Make a list of items you need to purchase.
- Locate materials needed for the first couple of weeks of school – if you’ve seen your school scope and sequence or other guidelines for the beginning of the year, go ahead and locate the books and materials you’ll need for the first couple of weeks. Add any items you need to your list of things to buy or locate. Make a list of things to copy.
- Check technology – now is the time to find out what equipment in your classroom is broken or missing. Check your document camera, classroom headphones, and other equipment in your classroom. Submit your list of issues to the technology department so that your items will be in working order when school begins.
- Check supplies – if you didn’t go through and discard old glue/glue sticks, broken crayons etc., before school was out, this is a good time to get rid of them and anything else that won’t be useful for your students. Go through all your supplies as well and make sure you have what you need to begin the year.
- Organization tools – do you have bins, baskets, shelves, etc., to organize materials? If you need additional things, add them to your list to purchase.
Make a plan
After you’ve visited your classroom, you’re ready to make a plan. This is the best way to get the year started on the right foot. You know what you have, what you need, and the information to move forward with creating a positive and productive environment. As you build your plan, keep the focus on things you absolutely need to do before the first day/week of school. So many of us get fixed on getting everything out and set up, but that just isn’t necessary. Some key elements of your plan should include the following:
- Establish a timeline – you have several things to accomplish before your first official day on campus and creating a timeline for when you tackle each task on your list is important. Doing a little at a time will prevent you from being so overwhelmed. Don’t forget to build in fun along the way, summer isn’t over yet.
- Shop – hopefully, you don’t have many items on your to-buy list. This is perhaps the one area where you want to go ahead and consider the whole year because school-related items are generally on sale.
- Look through ads
- Categorize items by store
- Try to tackle this in one trip
- Reward yourself with your favorite meal/beverage
- Create classroom layout – use the diagrams and pictures you took to plan how you’ll set up your classroom. Think in terms of zones, library, group time, stations, etc. For older students, you’ll focus on an area where supplies are readily available, seating arranged for both instruction and group work, and technology/book storage.
- Review your lesson plans for the beginning of the year. Make notes as needed and familiarize yourself with the content. Make a list of materials you need to have ready for the first couple of weeks of school.
- Decide on decor – I might lose you here, but I write this out of love and as a recovering classroom decorator. Give up the notion of the perfectly decorated classroom of “your dreams”. It’s okay to pick a pretty/fun theme for your classroom, but your focus should be on your students. A very busy, bold classroom may create problems for your students, a sensory rich classroom can overload their brains. Your classroom decor should facilitate and encourage learning. Keep it simple, but appealing. Here are some ways to simplify decor:
- Decorate sparingly – cover bulletin boards, add trim. Leave room to add maps, diagrams and other learning-related materials. The rule of thumb is that at least 20 percent of the wall space should be clear.
- Display important information – expectations, classroom rules, etc., should be neatly and clearly displayed. This is especially important for middle and high school students.
- Let student work shine – leaving space on bulletin boards in the room to showcase student work is a really important way to build community and foster self-esteem.
- Leave room for content-specific material – leave a bulletin board or other surfaces to display anchor charts or other items created during lessons to reinforce current concepts/topics of study.
Putting it all together
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. You’ve created a great plan and have everything you need. Now all you have to do is follow your plan to create a welcoming, organized, student-centered environment. Remember, you’re not covering every surface, you’re preparing it for the student creations/work and for the lesson content you make together. You are highlighting important information like rules, and expectations. The only items that must be ready by the first day are the ones you need for the first week or two. Establishing structure, rules, and routine are perhaps the most important aspects of the first few weeks of school. Add materials/books, etc., as you go. This might be the most stress-free start of the school year ever, at least I hope it is.
Teia Hoover Baker is an educator, published author, and entrepreneur. She is an innovative, devoted educator whose career has been dedicated to coordinating programs that support struggling learners. Her passion is meeting students where they are and guiding them to excel. Her main focus is always what is best for children. Teia holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s of Education. In her spare time, she enjoys being Lovie to her growing grandchildren.