The Room Where It Happens
Congratulations! If this is your first, fifth, or fifteenth year I am so excited for you! You are going to have the best year yet this year! I have so many colleagues who moved classrooms, grades, or schools this year. This is the first time in five years I haven’t spent the last few weeks of summer sweating in my classroom to get it ready for the next batch of students.
Here are a few tips and tricks that I have learned from other teachers online and in my own journey.
1. Decorate to Educate
It is so tempting to cover every square inch of blank space with decorations to declare it as yours. Walking into that empty classroom can be so overwhelming. So we turn to Pinterest and Instagram for guidance and inspiration. We find themes for days, rooms with flexible seating, and rooms that look like cozy gathering spaces.
This online classroom wonderland can lead teachers to feel the need to compete or live up to the bar that they see online. I think we find a lot of validation in how our classrooms look. If our spaces look good, surely that means we ARE good teachers.
Let me free you from that lie right now.
Your worth and value as a teacher is not defined by what is on those walls.
Now that you are free from the lie of comparison and worthiness, let’s walk into your room together with fresh eyes. Research tells us that how our environment looks affects our mood. So please do something with those ugly prison walls and awful overheating lighting. Open your door, take a deep breath and release it slowly.
Now let’s lay out all of the things we purchased, laminated, and printed and ask ourselves, “Does this help my students academically, socially, or emotionally? Do I need this on the wall over a visual that I can create with my students? Will this help build community and accountability?”
If the answer is no, then don’t put it up, or if it is already up, take it down. Leave space for anchor charts, your kids’ artwork, and intentional visuals. Fighting the desire to make it feel welcoming by covering every wall with cute quotes and pretty decorations is so hard. I’d say it took me four years to finally part with decorations in favor of visuals that help teach procedures, posters that help regulate their emotions, and anchor charts that we create together.
Let’s take a quick walk-through of my rooms. I was in A5 for three school years (2016-2019) before moving down the hallway to A5 for my last two (2019-2021).
To the left was Fall 2018 back-to-school night. The lanterns are gone. I took the legs off of several desks and raised the height to make flexible seating. I added a peace corner and the biggest win of all….drum roll…I finally was allowed to remove the teacher desk. I had so much room for activities! I loved this layout. I thought I had finally figured it out. But one of the best things about teaching as a profession is that it is ever-changing. Every year I learned more and my room reflected the growth. I went from lanterns and cute posters to blank spaces and character trait posters.
As you are decortaing to educate, leave room for growth. Leave room for your students to take ownership over this space they will call home for the next 180 days.
Create a space that you look forward to going into on the good days and the hard days. I am cheering you on and handing you all of the virtual hot glue sticks right now as you start to transform that room! You’ve got this, friend!
2. Test Out the Flow of Your Day
I thought covering all the blank walls was the most overwhelming part of becoming a teacher. Nope. It was trying to think through my actual day from start to finish. I never experienced the start of a school year in college, my student teaching started several weeks after the kids were already back in school. This is where building relationships with your new team becomes very important. Ask them to walk you through a school day.
Now, this could become overwhelming. So take a deep breath and go in stages.
Here is my internal dialogue to give you an idea of how to test it out.
Start with welcoming your students in for the day. I stand at my door and look into my room. Where are they going first? The cubbies. Do I have a clear path for all the cubbies? Do I have a clear place for the communication folder they take home and drop off every morning? I have breakfast in the room. Where am I going to put the baskets and trash bag? Morning meeting after breakfast. Where/how am I going to display my morning meeting message, date, and quote for the day? I’ll put it on the projector each morning and keep the quote and date on the board. Can all my students clearly see me and those things from their desks? I go and test out each location and adjust as needed. Then I would move onto RTI, the reading block, how they would get and use centers, how and where they would line up for lunch, etc.
This feels kinda silly in the moment, but it helped me build confidence as a new teacher, and it helped me get back into my teaching groove in the years that followed. I swear I must have brain-dumped everything during the summer and needed to walk through the day to get back into the routine.
I can’t remember which year I started asking for people to choose a number and start praying for my students, but I saw the effects of it every year that I asked. I would post a simple message on Facebook and Instagram and ask people to commit to pray for a number all year long. I assigned my kids numbers every year for the line/centers/sorting papers/etc., so I knew that every student was covered in prayer.
I would then spend a few minutes after everything was done just sitting in my room and praying for the kids who would sit at the desks, hang backpacks and jackets, share in the hard journey of first grade and life.
I would pray that learning would come easy and that I would have a positive relationship with their family. I would pray for peace and joy to fill their hearts and minds as they got ready for school. I would pray that they felt Jesus’s love in the room and flowing from me.
I would pray for protection from any evils they might be facing at home. I prayed for the strength to help them fight the hard battles and to keep loving them through the hard days. I prayed for wisdom in creative ways to get content across and I prayed that they would fall deeply in love with learning. I prayed that I would have the courage to stay silly and weird and that I would have eyes to see them how Jesus sees them. I’d close that prayer in Jesus’ name and then open my doors for the tiny strangers that would fill my heart for the next 180 days and beyond.
I am praying for you friend. I am praying that this is the best year yet for you and your students. I pray that this year is filled with joy, learning, and laughter in the room where it happens.