I think many of us have fond memories of our classrooms from our elementary years. The special reading nooks, the fancy floor rugs upon which we would sit as we happily listened to stories or discussed our classroom plans for the day during morning “meetings”, the colorful and thoughtful decor that conveyed a sense of creativity in our teacher as well as their personality. These days, it is very easy to look online and find so many wonderful ideas for primary classrooms, but it can be more difficult to find the same level of excitement for decorating a secondary classroom. Why is this? Why do secondary teachers not get as excited about their classroom “theme” or decor? Perhaps we feel that our students will not appreciate it. Maybe we are afraid that they will roll their eyes or poke-fun at our attempt? Although this may be true on the outside, I honestly feel that they do appreciate it– even if they don’t express it to you directly. Here are my ideas for things to consider when decorating your secondary classroom (some are more focused on fun and some are more focused on practicality):
Don’t be afraid of color! We may think of primary colors when we think of primary grades, but a bright spectrum of colors has a place in a secondary classroom as well! The way that the colors are displayed might be different, but they still belong, none-the-less. Just because your students are older does not mean that they deserve to be bored to death by your lackluster decor and drab color scheme. They want to feel stimulated in your classroom visually as well as mentally. We know that they do not always watch us, their eyes wander as we talk– therefore, we might as well give them something to look at! This will benefit you as a teacher by making your room more inviting to those who enter. Thus, your students will look forward to your class more and feel at ease when in your classroom which could result in a more positive environment for you both! (one note: my wonderful co-teacher and special education expert reminded me that our ADHD kids can struggle if the decorations get too loud. Try to keep a balance and not let the walls be over decorated. Meaning- you should be able to still see wall between the posters etc.)
Tie in seasonal decorations and worksheets/activities. I try to do something fun with holidays throughout the year. Holidays are a big deal for younger students, but the oder students tend to get overlooked. We all enjoy getting excited about things– so, bring that excitement into your classroom! I like to hang leaves and put pumpkins all over my room in the fall and I go all-out for halloween (spider-webs, ghosts, bats etc), snowflakes and snowmen for winter, hearts for Valentines day, eruptions of green and gold on St. Patricks day, tricks on April Fools, and a celebration at the end of the year. I also try to tie in fun work packets for my students on some of those days, or I at least pass something special out to them. For instance, before winter break, I created a fun work-packet that included a reading with accompanying worksheet on snowflakes as well as a fun puzzle. For Halloween and Valentines day, I hand out extra late passes (for Halloween it says it’s their “treat” and for Valentines day it’s their valentine! The valentine typically has a comical picture of a famous scientist in the fashion of a typical school valentine). Most of my students don’t say too much to me during the year about my decorations, if they do it is something like “It’s actually kind of cool that you decorate your classroom. I like it”. Typically, I hear about it after they are gone. My students often come back to visit me once they are in high school and they will say things like “My high school teachers don’t celebrate things like you did”, or “I miss how you always made small holidays seem so fun”. This will benefit you by making your classroom more fun- when your students are having fun, you are having fun (we all know what it’s like to look out into a sea of blank stares and students refusing the participate… it’s terrible!). Of course, since these small little celebrations are spread it, it makes them more memorable and special.
Rows are not the only approach to classroom management. Personally, I like to put my students into table groups of 4 or 6. For some, this may seen like a bad idea since students are facing one another; however, I think it works out nicely since I have my students collaborate often. If you do not want to try out groups, there are many alternatives to traditional rows. Here are some of the classroom layouts I have tried:
1. The Flying “V”: the desks are angled facing the front center with two V’s, one nested within the other and the point of the “V” pointing away from you. I also have a break down the middle of the “V” so that I can easily walk down the middle (this also makes it easier for handing out papers and collecting papers).
2. The Double “U”: This is similar to the flying V, but it’s two U’s nestled inside one another with a break in the middle. This is nice if you focus on a lot of class discussions as a whole class because the students are facing each other as well as you in the front.
3. The Circled Wagons: This is a nice blend of groups and the U shape. There is one giant U with a break in the middle and two smaller groupings in the center of the U– one on either side in the middle of the U (the break between each side of the “U” also goes between the two table groups).You may need some students in groups versus others needing to work alone. This is typically not my students favorite layout, but it works well for one or two day necessity (various activities that require different stations etc).
4. Table groups: I have tried making table groups two ways: at 45 degrees and 90 degrees in relation to me. I tend to prefer the groups facing me at an angle so that it’s easier for my students eyes to be on me in the front (even though I tend to walk around the room a lot). This is by far my favorite layout, but this is primarily because I do a lot of labs in my classroom.
Regardless of how you structure your room, make sure that you can access a student without having to take more then 6-7 steps. I have found that when I can get to students within a couple of seconds (I can take 2-3 steps in a second if I am in a hurry), it makes management much easier without being worried about rows.
Let your personality shine through: contrary to popular belief, teachers no not sleep in their classrooms! I don’t know about you, but when my students see me out in the ‘real world’, they tend to freak out with comments such as: “What are you doing at the mall?!?” (ummm, buying clothes?) or “I saw you at the movie theatre! What were you doing there?!?!” (Seeing a movie?). Our students seem to be boggled by the fact that we are real humans who lead real lives! The more you let them see who you are, the more they will realize that you are a person, just like them, who has interests and passions. If you can, try to make at least 50% of your decor match the subject that you teach– that way, when their eyes go wandering, they might learn a little something about you as well as your subject!
At the end of the day, the biggest take-away is to remember that they are still kids (even if they don’t look like it on the outside). They want to have fun at school and they want the environment to be inviting (I’m sure you do too!). Happy decorating!
-The Ardent Teacher
PS- want to see my classroom? Check out this blog post of mine that gives you a tour!