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Redesigning a Classroom: From Painting to Personal Style

By Meghan Everette on August 19, 2014
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

I’ve been doing one of those back-to-school tasks that fills me with dread and excitement: setting up my classroom. The job can be overwhelming and the spaces never quite come together as seamlessly as I’d like. At the same time, I love getting back to my classroom and creating a fresh new space to call my own. While at times it seems silly to spend so much brain and pocketbook power on the perfect set-up, I figure that I spend far more waking hours in these four walls than in my own bedroom and my students spend more waking hours with me than at their home. This classroom becomes our entire community and world and it needs to be welcoming, functioning, and safe. If it happens to reflect my personal design choices, all the better.

Classroom Before Photo

This year I decided to paint my room. I know many districts do not allow this, and I am lucky that it goes unmentioned in my building. The walls were in desperate need of a fresh update. I decided on nearly white walls with a focal wall of blue. One additional corner is a darker color as well, to make a “bulletin board” within the classroom. The result is a fresh blank canvas. A few tips if you decide to paint on cinderblock walls:

  • Remove all vent and electrical covers, and clean vent traps.

  • Use painter's tape for clean, easy lines on the ceiling and floor.

  • If you have a tile floor, most drips will peel right off once the paint is dry. Accidental smears come off with a scraper.

  • Make sure you use oil paint if the walls are already painted with oil-based paint. Otherwise, latex is fine.

  • A good quality "paint plus primer" in one covers easily with a nappy roller.

  • Scrape all glue and adhesives from walls.

I decided to throw a coat of blue on an old shelf and computer table to help tie in the furniture. Be sure to ask about painting rules before attacking anything the school owns.

New paint versus old paint Cleaning an air vent New paint cans

Last year I bought two sets of curtains: sheer ones that allow filtered sunlight, and thicker accent curtains. I picked out multi-colors that were subtle enough so as not to distract, yet fun enough to match varying décors. By choosing colors and designs that were neutral enough, I won’t need new curtains this year even with a new theme for my room. Last year the same curtains served a Dr. Seuss room and this year we are “Going Global” with a North America focus in first grade. Some solid color décor can help transition from year to year.Midway through redecorating

To help promote our theme I hung maps and map-themed decorations on the blue background. I decoupaged maps on thrift-store lampshades and painted the bases to match. One lamp has a fillable base with small cars to carry the travel theme. I put a state map onto a canvas and then applied letters, painted over the top, and removed the letters, leaving a heart where we live in the state. I stenciled location names onto a six-dollar hard-sided suitcase which will be used to store field-trip t-shirts when they are not in use.

Setting up the flow of the room is something I’ve thought about all summer. Before I left for the year, I measured my room and furniture. This summer I played with the Virtual Classroom Setup Tool to arrange my room without lifting a chair. I like to have a view of the door and for my children to stay focused in small groups. I put the teaching table in the back of the room with a reclaimed music case that now holds desk essentials. My students face me (and my blue wall) without distractions.

Focal map wall

My newly resorted library is a cozy corner that is open to the room. For safety reasons, I don’t want students to be able to disappear behind shelves. The counter nearby leaves room for expansion if I buy more books (which let’s face it, is bound to happen). In my dream world, the rug and beanbag chair would match, but time and money seemed to run out.

Rearranged classroom library

I decided against a classroom rug after removing last year’s to find mounds of dust and dirt underneath. No rug seems to be a healthier solution and accidental snack spills won’t ruin the tile. To create cubbies I zip-tied plastic crates together. We rarely need big coats in Alabama, so the boxes are a perfect size for a backpack and snack boxes will be placed on the top shelf.

Zip tie plastic blocks

I arranged desks in groups of four. An ingenious coworker showed me how to zip-tie the bottom of the desks together so they don’t shift and slide away from their group. The desks have places to hold books and supplies, and placed like small tables, they foster collaboration. I try to create many open areas in the room to allow students to work and gather in different places while allowing intervention groups to be undisturbed.

The last two projects are still a work in progress. I want to reorganize my large closet to have whiteboard doors and a counter where students can work. I also purchased chalkboard paint for my cabinets in hopes of making my word wall with easy-to-add-to chalk words this year. Check back for a post featuring the last two room additions next week!

Finished classroom design

What factors do you consider when decorating your classroom?

What are your biggest obstacles when setting up for the year?

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