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.
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.
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: 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.
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:
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.
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!