In my first few years of teaching, I got release days to visit other classrooms. I picked up new instructional strategies and enjoyed watching teachers in action. But what I remember most is scouring walls and desks, looking for organizational tips that I could take back to my own classroom. It was ridiculous how excited I could get about new ways to organize books or store chart paper!
Organization systems are the backbone of efficient classrooms. Over the years I came up with a variety of tools that worked for me: a sign-in system with kids' pictures, a color-coded folder system for storing work, and book bins labeled with stickers. But there were some systems that I could never quite perfect. To this day, I'm still thinking about the best way to store math manipulatives so that kids can have easy access to them while not making a gigantic mess.
Create a Special Spot for Each Student
I dabbled in many different organizational systems, but my number one favorite classroom tool has always stayed the same: chair pockets. Before my first year of teaching, my sister helped me sew 22 chair pockets for the back of my students' chairs. Presenting each of my first graders with a chair pocket to store books was a great way to encourage excitement about reading (the kids got to keep their very own books in there) and also keep the classroom tidy (kids didn't have to keep getting out of their seats to get books). Plus, the chair pockets were cute. They were often the first things that people noticed when entering my room.
Work on Flow
Setting up a classroom requires much more than organizational tools. You need to consider the layout of furniture, table groups, and how students will move around your room. In this video, Jen Saul shares how she choreographs her classroom to help students move quickly and efficiently. Even before students arrive, it's helpful to think about how your classroom is set up to encourage smooth transitions.
Think About the Mood You're Creating
Chances are you'll be spending the majority of your days in your classroom, so it's essential to create a space that's warm and comfortable. In this short and inspiring video, Brian Van Dyck reminds us of the importance of using color to create an inviting classroom. Instead of just thinking about what will make your students feel welcome, consider what will make you happy, too. For me, that meant an electric teakettle and a comfy rocking chair.
Share Your Questions and Ideas
As you're getting your classrooms set up for the new year, I know you all have certain tried-and-true systems. Mary Burcher used our Q&A tool to ask about the best way to set up her mixed-grade classroom and teacher Katie Novak responded with a suggestion to check out the UDL classroom simulator, which gives a 3D view of a classroom universally designed for all learners. Collaboration!
P.S. We're about to start our "Show Off Your Classroom" photo contest. Like us on Facebook to stay in the loop on the details.
Lily Jones taught K/1 for seven years in Northern California. She has experience as a curriculum developer, instructional coach, teacher trainer, and is also a contributing writer for Teaching Channel.