How do you prepare your classroom?

When do you find time to conceptualize the layout of your classroom? In a perfect world, there would be scheduled time for teachers to organize the space in which they create learning. The reality however, is that the first few days before the school year starts is over packed with meetings, more meeting, development meeting, icebreaker meeting, meetings to discuss norms for future meeting, and even meetings about meetings that happened last school year. Did I mention there are a lot of meetings?

The result of this over planning for ‘school vision’ and ‘necessary’ administrative protocols is that classroom teachers have scant time to invest deeply in creating a space where students feel inspired, motivated, and safe enough to engage in the difficult task of becoming open to learning. Teachers are often told that they have the two days before students show up to organize their classrooms but in fact, those days are packed full of meetings AND the building is often open to new, prospective students and parents to come and introduce themselves (as they should) to teachers. If only teachers were given space to privately meditate and contemplate their space and how it impacts students’ needs.

My personal solution is to take the three weeks before I am required to go in the building and spend as much time alone in my classroom. It is not required, but I REQUIRE the time for personal reflection and preparation (mentally) for my task of creating learning. I will often start slowly the week after the custodians have finished prepping and spend two to three hours a day in the space. I conceptualize, I role play, I try desks and bookcases in different combinations, and sift through the previous years’ mountains of material I created to gauge whether or not I should keep them for the upcoming year or retire them in favor of a new creation that has yet to emerge from the depths of my brain. I unload new materials that have been sitting in my house and pack up old ones. Most of the time though, I stand and reflect. I reflect on the previous years of students that have spent time in class. What was their experience like? Did I serve their needs well enough. If I haven’t, what can I do differently this year?

When I think of the layout of my classroom I have to take a number of important things into consideration.

  1. Where do you put tables, desks, chairs, et al. in an organized manner so I can move them efficiently as to not lose valuable instructional learning time during class?
  2. How can I make that organization part of class culture so that my students are efficient in moving things safely and without getting each other’s’ way?
  3. Does the space ‘feel’ right after everything is set up?
  4. If not, why? How do I change this?

These questions are just as important as the questions I have for myself in regards to lesson planning and scope/sequence of units. In many respects these questions are even more important. If my room is not a place where students feel like they can learn, then no amount of lesson planning will change that. As Sugata Mitra puts it in his TED talk on the child driven education, “Learning is a self organizing system”.

It is my responsibility to create the right conditions for learning to emerge. It starts with the space itself.

 

3 thoughts on “How do you prepare your classroom?

  1. Yeah, it’s weird how time disappears on those first official days….hmmmmmmmmm

    One item I would add to your list is something about movement flexibility. The furniture and items against the walls usually stay in place all year long — bookshelves, cabinets, etc. But the desks and tables can & should be relocated for certain activities. I try to push the other stuff against the walls and corners as much as I can, so I have the most flexibility for making small groups, or rows, or whatever I might need to do in the morning.

    And I just thought of something else: locating your center of instruction. If you like to “walk and talk” then make wide aisles and probably free space in the middle. If you frequently use a projector, then aim for symmetry so each student’s seat has a good view of the screen.

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  2. I love this post, Pete! I, too, love thinking about my classroom space and always get in there a couple weeks before school begins. Two things I consider are: 1) Tech plug ins and electrical outlets- because I can’t run electrical extension cords (Fire Marshall) and because I need to devote the outlets to chromebook carts etc. So sometimes this dictates part of my layout. 2) I use a minimum amount of furniture (less is more) in order to create different set ups during the year. I love moving it all around. Plus, you don’t need a ton of furniture to build a castle out of sheets etc. Students need spaces and places to build and stretch out. Love getting ready for the year! Thanks for the window into your design thinking! Loved reading it.

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