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August 28, 2013 Classroom Setup: Three Hours and Done! By Genia Connell
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

    There is no better time to let your inner-decorator come out than the beginning of a new school year. While planning my classroom space this summer, the colorful classroom boards on Pinterest flashed before my eyes. I envisioned my room as a homey, color coordinated, earth-toned space a Pottery Barn stylist would envy. Then I remembered my classroom was a rather small, cinder-block rectangle adorned with white laminate cabinets and teal counters, and my budget was more Target and Dollar Tree than Pottery Barn. Curse you, reality!

    What I did realize was that without spending a lot of money or time, I could still create a warm and welcoming environment that would serve my students well. This week, I’ll share with you how I set up my classroom in less than three hours leaving me more time to spend planning lessons and enjoying my family during these last days of summer.  

    Watch this video of my actual classroom set-up to learn the zones every classroom needs, how to make sure your floor plan flows, the secrets to fade-resistant bulletin boards, and what you need to put in your teacher tool kit at the end of this year. Mobile users, please go to:



    Tips to Speed Up Your Set Up

    1. Plan Ahead

    • Do as much prep work as possible at home, including sketching furniture layouts and creating bulletin board components on the computer. Even though I’m still technically working, I love that I’m doing it in close proximity to my family.

    table covered withback to school materials

    My kitchen table about a week before set-up. We ate out that night!


    2. Avoid Distractions

    • Choose a time when there are not many people in the building. Don't be distracted with colleagues you haven’t seen all summer. Setting up your classroom quickly means you’ll have time with them — later.

    • Stay away from the computer. Often, sitting at my computer, one click leads to another. I've realized it’s best to get my computer work done at home and only leave printing for school.

    3. Stay Focused          

    • Before you arrive, decide on everything that needs to be done and designate a specific time for each task.

    • Set a timer to help keep yourself on track.  

    My Set-Up Breakdown


    Time Allotted 

    Furniture Arrangement 35 minutes
    Bulletin Boards 40 minutes
    Hallway Display 30 minutes
    Decorating and Desktops 40 minutes
    Copies and Planning 30 minutes

    I use these fun timers with my class to keep them focused all year long (and for me when I need them!).

    classroom timerclassroom timers

    4. Don’t “Finish”

    Everything does not need to be done for you to declare your classroom set-up finished. Think of your room as a work in progress.

    • I aways leave bulletin boards empty so the students can get excited when their work, not mine, fills them.

    • My classroom library is still under wraps on the first day of school. Introducing and setting out a few book baskets at a time over the first month of school helps build interest among my young readers.  

    My "Finished" Bulletin Boards

    star of the week board

    job board

    get started on the right foot


    5. Give Yourself Permission to be You

    • Remember when the theme every single September was simply Back to School? In this day of teacher blogs and Pinterest boards, it is easy to feel inferior to the teacher who has used paper clips to recreate the Eiffel Tower for her City of Lights theme.

    • Do what works best for you no matter what that may be. I’ve had to teach myself it’s okay if everything doesn't match our theme, and in the process I've reclaimed hours of my life. I'll just hope my third graders and their parents will appreciate me for teaching my students all they need to know in a warm and caring environment, even if I’m not wearing a beret!


    A Few More Things From the Video


    My Classroom Spaces

    As the video shows, my classroom is quite traditional. It includes spaces for large and small group instruction, and areas where students can easily collaborate or work independently. There is a teacher work center and student utility areas where homework can be turned in and lunch count taken.

    whole group area

    gathering area

    homework area

    teacher work space


    My Most Ingenius Idea This Year!

    During the decorating portion of set-up, I used just over five minutes to create a "curtain" out of a plastic tablecloth, duct tape, and an old tension rod. I was pretty excited about my $2 creation that will hide my messy bookshelf.

    step one


    Binder Covers You Can Personalize

    I created these at home and printed at school during the last portion of my set-up. 

    pink and aqua editable binder covereditable blue and purple chevron binder cover

    editable black and white monogram binder cover

    Click on the pictures above for an editable binder cover you can personalize. The font used on the first two is Fontmoochers from You can download for free!

    binder cover

    Personalized Water Bottle Labels

    I love creating water bottle labels as an easy way to provide an extra-special touch. Download my template to create our own labels. They're not just for the start of school — you can make personalized labels for special events all year. 

    personalized water bottle labels

    Favorites from Scholastic's Teacher Store

    For nearly two decades I have purchased my Lesson Plan Book from the Teacher Store. I love its extra large size, and it comes with a CD that allows you to create your plans on the computer. 

    I liked these Pop Charts so much I think I bought one of each style. Check them out in The Teacher Store for inspiring classroom decor. 

    Strategically setting up my classroom in three hours has already gotten my school year off to a great start. I've been able to enjoy these last few weeks of vacation with my family. Previously I would be heading off to school nearly every day for a few hours to "work in room."

    What advice do you have to get classrooms ready in record time? Please leave your best ideas and suggestions in the comment section below. Who knows, maybe next year it will take me two hours!


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Susan Cheyney