Setting Up a Classroom Is Hard. See the Creative Ways These Teachers Did It

By Sarah Schwartz — September 07, 2018 4 min read
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Every summer, teachers spend hours and days planning for the year ahead, including by shaping a physical space where students can feel welcome, build relationships, and grow.

We wanted to see the learning environments you built.

Last month, we asked teachers to share photos of their classroom space with the hashtag #SeeMyClassroom. Below, some of our readers explain the strategy behind their classroom setup and how they hope it will support their students:

The Best Seat for Every Student

Jennifer Hogg, a Spanish teacher at Murray High School in Charlottesville, Va., incorporated “desk-less” space in her classroom for the first time this school year. She set up a semi-circle of stools on a carpet at one end of her room, hoping it encourages her students to engage in free-flowing Spanish conversations.

She also has small, wheeling tables in her room that students can arrange in different configurations and move across the space.

“When students need work space that requires writing, drawing, or space for computer work, we simply wheel out more tables, wheel the chairs around, and get to work,” Hogg wrote in an email.

In Sarah Zabelka’s 6th grade classroom in Justice, Ill., couches and bucket chairs give every student “a seat where they can learn,” she wrote in an email.

She first started experimenting with seating in her classroom last year. “Looking back now, it’s the best decision I have ever made.”

Sandra McCorkle, an 8th grade English/language arts teacher in Keller, Texas, started using flexible seating when she returned to the classroom four years ago after working as a library media specialist.

“I want my kids to feel safe, welcomed, and inspired when they walk into our room,” McCorkle wrote in an email.

A Safe Space

Katie Noble, a teacher in a preschool program for students with disabilities at Hoover Elementary in Houston, Texas, set up a corner of her classroom where students who are frustrated, angry, or overwhelmed can go to calm down and process.

In designing her learning space, Noble incorporated Conscious Discipline—a classroom-management method that teaches students how to recognize and manage their feelings and actions. She hopes that the space will help her students “learn to navigate and regulate their emotions.”

Classroom Themes With Meaning

When students walk into Teddi Ann Zeboski’s 2nd grade classroom at Oaklandvale Elementary School in Saugus, Mass., they might think for a moment that they’ve just stepped into a baseball stadium. The space is decked out, floor-to-ceiling, in Red Sox paraphenalia.

But the colorful classroom setup isn’t just for fun. Zeboski chose this classroom theme—TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More—more than a decade ago in an attempt to address bullying at her school.

In her class, she celebrates the values inherent in good teamwork: cooperation, respect, and communication. “Using the Red Sox décor helps me to get my students’ attention, get my message across to them, and [make] learning fun and exciting,” she said in an email.

Committing fully to a classroom theme makes a room an engaging space for students, said Ella Frazier, a 4th and 5th grade math and science teacher at Pickett Elementary in Lexington, N.C.

Her classroom’s Harry Potter theme inspired some of her students to read the J.K. Rowling series for the first time.

Conversation Starter

Patrick D. Sprinkle, a political science and American history teacher at the New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies in New York city, covered his classroom door in campaign bumper stickers—from all across the political spectrum—to show how political messaging has changed over time, and what ideas and slogans resurface again and again over the years.

“A teacher can take something as simple as a door, and help get kids excited about political campaigns,” he wrote in an email.

Making Teamwork Possible

In Pamela Santerre’s 11th and 12th grade English classes at Three Rivers Middle College Magnet High School in Norwich, Conn., students sit in teams arranged around shared materials hubs, containing pencils, dry erase boards and markers, and a card with tips for successful group work.

The setup facilitates participation and interdependence, and putting materials in close proximity reduces interruptions to instructional time, she said, in an email.

Celebrating Diversity

Students in Julie Motta’s middle school ESL classes are newcomers to the U.S., and they all have had limited or interrupted formal education. To celebrate their cultures and languages, Motta displays a world map that shows what country each student is from.

“It builds trust, unity, and respect for diversity,” said Motta, in an email. “The students love to see their pictures and learn about the different places that they come from.”

Feel free to tell us about your classroom setup in the comments below, or to keep the sharing going on Instagram and Twitter using #SeeMyClassroom.

Images: All classroom photos provided by the teachers.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.