Why I begin with an empty classroom

When students and families enter our room at the beginning of the year, they will find a fairly empty classroom. There is furniture, seating for children, an easel to work with, and not much else. In particular, the walls are empty. My boards are empty. I attached a simple border, but no paper or fabric. It’s plain and clean.

There are simple signs that I’ve printed that let families know why the room looks like this: I’m waiting for the kids to help me design our classroom. It’s our classroom, not mine, and I want your input as we work on this room together.

Many teachers love to decorate their rooms before students arrive. If it gives you pleasure and makes you feel good, then by all means do it! You just have to know that you’re doing it mostly for yourself, and that’s fine!

Starting the school year with blank walls has been a journey for me

When I started teaching, I spent (way too much) my own money and time before school started making a beautiful classroom. I thought a beautiful room would make me a better teacher. I thought my students and families would see all of my efforts and equate that with my teaching skills and the year they would experience with me as their teacher.

Now I realize that a lot of that pressure was coming from myself. This was before social media was a place where beautiful classrooms were the norm on Pinterest and Instagram. I looked around at my colleagues and put myself under pressure. When the school year started I was so scared. It was so much out of my control and one aspect that I was able to control was the interior of the classroom. But did it really make a difference?

Here are some reasons why I now appreciate starting with a mostly empty classroom

● Send the message that the room is ours and not mine: When children come into the classroom and hear: “I’ve been waiting for you! Let’s design our space together! ”It sends a clear message about the ownership of the space. This message carries over to ownership of learning.

● Allows children to have a voice in their learning environment: why not ask the children what their classroom should look and feel like? For younger students, these choices may be limited: “Do you think we should draw up our timetable with a black or blue marker?”

We created this timetable together. Every day we added a couple of items and after a week it was ready. I’ve written a lot.

● Prevents the clutter and visual noise that often distracts students: all of these cute decorations can be visually stimulating and even distracting. Before adding anything to the room, think about the purpose. It is necessary? Does it have to be this color? This font?

● You take away stress: teachers spend so much of their own money and unpaid time creating the ideal classroom for students. What if you could claim that time and money back? Waiting for the students takes this huge job off your plate.

How to work with your students to set up a classroom together

● Make a list of items you want to make with the students: Once you have made your list, prioritize each item. Remember this will take weeks, not days, so think about what can wait and what you will need sooner rather than later.

● Allow time each day to work on items from your list: Depending on the age of your students, you won’t be busy for more than ten minutes, plan accordingly. Some items are made in a day, but others take days or even weeks to complete.

● Establish expectations for interactive writing: explain how materials are used, what your expectations are for students when they are not writing with you (put one finger on the floor, hand, in the air, etc.) write or give them paper / whiteboards to write with you).

● Remember, interactive means you work too: Depending on the age of your students, you will write more, especially at the beginning of the school year when you are starting out. We want children to be part of the creation process, but teachers are part of it too!

Every month we create a new header and then practice writing numbers as we add to our calendar.

● Enjoy the process and celebrate the work: In the first few weeks of school, your empty classroom will fill with work created by the students. You will find that students engage with parts of the classroom in new, more meaningful, and deeper ways. (Picture of calendar with caption)

Over the course of a few days, the students worked to find objects in the room, write and create a display of color words.

What I’ve learned to understand is that what children need most is you. We know children remember how you feel about them. When we give students the opportunity to design their classroom, we are laying the foundation for the relationships we want to build over the year.

Are you Team-Decorating-Your-Classroom or Team-Keep-it-Simple? Share in the comments!

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