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Middle School No Stress Classroom Setup

By Rhonda Stewart on August 30, 2013
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Welcome to the 2013–2014 school year. The mission at the beginning of every year is to turn a dismantled classroom into a fabulous learning environment in 24–48 hours. As we all know, that mission is nearly impossible! Realistically, it takes time and the process is arduous. I think of the classroom setup as the starting point of the new school year — the blank canvas that will become a masterpiece once the students arrive and add the color and vibrancy.

There are some of you who will have ample time and additional help to plan a dream classroom and hopefully you will gain a tip or two from my Pearls of Wisdom (throughout the year I will refer to Pearls of Wisdom as ideas I hope will smooth your path), but for those of you who don’t have the luxury of additional time or manpower, this is aimed at you. Depending on when you start school, you should be able to use some of these ideas right away. But if you're already in full swing, keep these on the back burner for your class opening next year.


Create a List of Non-Negotiables

Over the years, I have learned that there are some items that I absolutely must have in my classroom. I call them non-negotiables. My list for my classroom is:

  • Student-friendly reading nooks filled with comfortable seating

  • Extensive classroom library organized by genre

  • Classroom meeting area (yes, even in the middle grades, students need an area to meet as a class)

  • Small group instruction area

You will notice that my list is short. I am a firm believer in keeping it simple! Remember to create a list that speaks to those things that are important to you and the development of your classroom community. Once you have established this list, you can move forward with the next step.


Create a Floor Plan

One of my colleagues, Cara Holzer, gave me the brilliant idea of creating a working floor plan in June. This lessens the classroom setup time at the beginning of the school year, simply because it is has the student footprint on it — it has been kid tested tried and true.

One way to create a floor plan is to sketch your room layout on a colored sheet of paper. (Using a color other than white will make it easier to put your hands on when you need it.) You want to be able to reference this information readily as you will find yourself using it constantly throughout the year. Scholastic has a free classroom floor plan creator which is extremely simple to use. For the more ambitious and creative, here’s another site with useful features for designing your room.

Be thoughtful with your plan. You want to make sure that your traffic patterns are clear and accessible. Remember this mantra: A successful floor plan will aid in strong classroom management.

pearls_of_wisdom_med.jpgPearls of Wisdom: Keep a running list of tips that help make your life easier during the year as situations arise, which you can always refer to. It is something you will build on throughout your career. Now that you have your list of non-negotiables and have created your floor plan, merge them into what will now be called Your Classroom.


Getting Organized–Tried and True

My next and final step (remember I did say, keep it simple) in getting ready for the beginning of the school year is generate a things-to-do list. I find that in the hustle and bustle of those first meetings, it is easy to get distracted. Having my plan of action helps keep me on track and even though getting organized requires the most planning on the front end, it will definitely save me time, energy, and aggravation in the long run. Most of my list consists of items related to classroom management and routines. For the most part, this list has stayed consistent over the years and once the task is completed, I cross it off and move on. Here’s a sample of what it looks like:

Things to Do:

  • Classroom routine and procedures — remember to review your student handbook, make note of any changes in district policy, and update where necessary

  • Create student information/contact forms

  • Establish partnerships with teachers — this always helps when planning lessons and having someone to bounce ideas off of

  • Create emergency/backup plans — important for that "just in case" moment

For more detailed suggestions, check out Scholastic's Back-to-School Checklist.


Putting It All Together

Flexibility is your saving grace. You will face times when the workload is overwhelming, but the ability to bounce back and recover quickly will keep you sane and less stressed. Our impact as teachers is priceless and we have the opportunity to make a difference. I'm glad to join you on this “mission impossible” that we call teaching, and keep in mind that, as teachers, we have the power to do the impossible!

Comments (48)

Love working and creating a warm learning environment with you for your students!!!!

Congrats on the blog! Great information, looking forward to our continued collaboration.

Thank you and I look forward to working with you this year as well!


We just met today at our staff meeting and I decided to drop by and check out your blog- loved it, especially the idea of students adding color and vibrancy to the canvas of our classrooms. What a great metaphor! It was lovely to meet you today, you were very inspiring both in a teacher sense and in a mom sense- looking forward to seeing what you add on your blog!

Thank you Suparna for checking out my post. I am very appreciative and look forward to your feedback.

Rhonda, thanks for sharing your experience. These are excellent concrete tips that keep the big picture in mind! I hope you don't mind that I'm sending these on to the 7th & 8th grade coach as well.

Thanks Rose and yes, please share!

Pearls of Wisdom--great idea. Is there a chance you might post some of your forms for us to see? Like what do you use for your student info sheet? I really like the shot of the kids reading. Where did you find that great rug? You know how we like to know where to shop!
Thanks Rhonda. I enjoyed reading this post!

Congrats, Rhonda! You are a great representative for the Teacher Advisors! I'm looking forward to reading more of your no-nonsense, down-to-business blogs entries. So helpful!

Thanks Diana - I appreciate your support and kind words!

Sharing a classroom with you last year gave me first hand experience with your impeccable organization. Thanks for the teaching, and keep the pearls of wisdom coming!!

Thanks Traci! Looking forward to another great year!

Congratulations, Rhonda! Love your blog. Great post and love the title as well. Remembering working with you several years ago and being quite astounded at the work you had to accomplish! Thanks for sharing and good luck this year:) Donna

Thanks Donna! I am glad that I was a and continue to be a resource for you.

Excellent tips for a "Mission Impossible" Rhonda-keep them coming! Can't wait to read more of your Pearls of Wisdom!

Thanks Hyatania! Definitely more Pearls of Wisdom in my next entry. Be sure to check back in every week.

Great job on your blog Rhonda! I will share your blog with other middle school teachers in Florida! Keep up the excellent work!

Thanks Courtney! I appreciate the support and spreading the word about my blog! Please remember to check in weekly for tips to help you in the classroom.

Congratulations on your new role with Scholastic. Your voice can be heard as your words are read. I like that! Great suggestions on how to keep it simple and the layout of the blog is inviting. Well done.

Thanks Cheryl! Please stay tuned for more info!

Right on Rhonda, your organizational ideas are always spot on. I look forward to your Perals of Wisdom and applying them in my classroom.

Thanks Diane. I appreciate the feedback from my math colleagues.

Hi Rhonda,
Mission Possible and done! What a great post and good tips! I bet the kids love being in your class!

Thanks Allie. looking forward to your money saving tips!


Excellent read! I love your idea of the "non-negotiables". I agree that there are just some items we can't live without as teachers and they can not be compromised. Can't wait to read your future posts. They are really helpful for a 5th grade teacher. I get to see the Middle School perspective.

Thank you for sharing!

Thanks Kriscia! I value your opinion and appreciate the feedback.

wow--very impressive

Thanks- please check in next week!

Rhonda, you are the best and this tips are great for the newbies as well as the vets. I am so happy for your participation in this endeavor this year, and I look forward to the gems that you will provide us with. You know I am an info junkie...so I will savor each morsel you provide! You Rock!

Thanks for the feedback!

This is amazing. You nailed the management and organization. This will be helpful to both newbies and veterans to workshop teaching. Congrats on your blog!

Rhonda, thank you for sharing your pearls of wisdom! I love the theme of simplicity. Congratulations on receiving the honor and opportunity of this scholastic undertaking! Hugs!!!

Congratulations Rhonda, you were always so helpful. I look forward to future ideas.

Your support means a lot. Thanks Sue! Check in weekly for new topics and ideas.

Wow! Great job...you look great, the links are excellent additions, and Scholastic is lucky to have you as their resident expert teacher this year! Here's to a great 2013-2014!

Thanks Sue! I am happy to hear that you found the links to be helpful!

Great ideas, Rhonda! I've already identified my non-negotiable list from years past, and all of these are great ideas. I love that we can be collaborative and successful. Thanks for the ideas, and keep them coming!

Thanks Joe and please share your ideas as well.

Congratulations Rhonda! You were such a big help to me when you were our literacy coach, I'm confident that your blog will be just as helpful.

Thanks Lisa! Stay tuned!

Congratulations, Rhonda on becoming a blogger! Your years of experience, knowledge, and great advice has always been invaluable to me! Sharing your enthusiasm, expertise, and tips (officially now called your "Pearls of Wisdom") will enhance any classroom teacher's repertoire. Keep them coming!

Thanks for the kind words and support.

Thank you for the great advice Rhonda. The importance of an organized and welcoming classroom on the first days of school can not be overstated. We only get one chance to make a first impression. These first impressions are critical for effective classroom management. I look forward to getting some more "Pearls of Wisdom" throughout my school year.

Thanks Dave and I agree that first impressions are lasting ones. Please stay tuned and thanks for the support!

Congratulations! The blog is straightforward and full of practical, tried and true advice. I like the promise of The Pearls of Wisdom. Thanks for helping to make the beginning of the year a little easier!

Thanks Denise! I am glad that you found the tips of some use. Please stay tuned for my next entry on classroom management.

Great post, Rhonda! I love your "Mission: Impossible" title, b/c it truly does seem impossible when tackling a project like this. Great tips for making the IMpossible seem POSSIBLE for all of us going back to school!

Thanks Lindsey!Loved your set-up tips as well.

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