Thursday, August 11, 2016

Creating a Welcoming Classroom

This is usually me.
This is just a quick post to offer some ideas on classroom organization and design, because I have often found that I need ideas for this and have envied the beautiful classrooms I see on Pinterest and in blog posts and at elementary schools. Even when researching for ideas, the one high school classroom image I found seemed to lack something homey and welcoming that all of the elementary school rooms had. It was clean and well-organized, but somehow more bland and industrial-seeming than the others.

And I found, when setting up my room this year (I moved rooms! I have a window!), that even as I set up the room's furniture to maximize space and create a good flow for activity, the room still looked basic--it didn't look like it was "my room" or create a comfortable space where students could feel at ease.
Just your average, boring, gray metal
bookcase with all the shelves removed.
Then I had a sudden inspiration from the huge amount of home decor I've been researching on my down time (I am slowly fixing my fixer-upper home): much of the cookie-cutter effect was coming from the bookshelves, which were clearly collected at random. I had already separated them by type (the wooden bookshelf is near the wooden cabinet and the two metal bookshelves are around the reading nook), but they needed something more intentional. So I removed the shelves and papered the backs of the cases!
Red paper makes the case interesting.

It makes a world of difference. I was going to have to remove one shelf in order to fix it anyway; I can't stand a crooked shelf. So I just removed all the shelves and got the butcher paper that my school provides for our bulletin boards and taped it inside. My gray metal shelves now look like a set, and my wooden shelf seems like it fits with the room.

I also warmed up the room by getting some neat printed burlap to go on the bulletin board (I thought it would wear well and wouldn't be damaged by staples and push pins) and over the tops of the shelves to unify them.

The wooden shelf is my supply/student center shelf. This is an idea I got from Miriam--I had long kept a location for pencils and cobbled a location for loose-leaf paper students could use, but now it's a purposeful space with paper, pencils, erasers, staples, paperclips, tape, and a three-hole punch, plus anything else I find in my stores that I don't want to keep (right now it's a couple of folders, dividers, and plastic paper sleeves). Students are allowed to take items from that space any time they need anything, which does two things: lessens classroom interruptions and reduces embarrassment for students living in poverty. I also have my classroom supplies stored in that bookcase in see-through tubs (another idea taken from Miriam), so whenever we need markers or scissors or anything else, I can ask students to grab items without having to open my cabinet. The lumpy bag in the picture, because I feel the need to explain it, contains t-shirt rags that I give students as dry-erase markers. I like them better than paper towels because I just have to take them home and wash them, then we can reuse them.

The pillows and rug are from Ross (total $35) and the lamp is
from Ikea ($15). An inviting reading space? Priceless.
The two metal shelves hold books for reading and Latin dictionaries. I really wanted to create a space that emphasized reading and also doubled as a safe space for students who are having a really rough day, so I got a rug, large pillow (technically a dog bed--but it's just a large pillow), and decorative pillow to make the area cozy. The bottom shelf near the reading nook is filled with stuffed animals that we can use in stories or students can grab as comfort items if they like. Eventually (my plan is to do this by the beginning of next week) I will add descriptions of the five Latin novellas I currently have access to (I know more are coming out!) on the bulletin board near that space and cement the reading focus.
You can see the reading selection
as it currently stands.

I got to decorate the rest of the room with my students' gifts and projects, and I think it looks amazing. Han Solo even has a convenient corner by my desk that keeps him out of the way and less likely to be damaged. The last thing that needed sprucing up was my whiteboard, which is old and really shows its shabbiness near the top--so I covered the top edge with the same trim I used on my bulletin board.
I left one wall blank--it will be my word wall. Maybe I'll post on that once I have it figured out. I plan to use an idea from Miriam (organize new vocabulary according to question words) and an idea from Traci Dougherty (set up my Latin II vocabulary on the back of my Latin III vocabulary so I can just flip the words over between classes) to make it work.

This is the most I've ever felt my classroom to feel like my own space, and I am excited to share it with my students.