Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Why I Believe You Should Decorate Your Secondary Classroom (and How To Do It!)

When I first started teaching 15 years ago, I was the only female in my department and the youngest teacher to boot! Needless to say I stuck out from the rest of my department (cue the song "one of these things is not like the other...). When I made the decision to decorate my classroom it made the difference even more obvious. However, looking around my very empty, bare, beige, cinder-block classroom I felt it was very cold, very sterile and just not that welcoming so I HAD to decorate. The big question, though, was how and with what? I had no clue how to decorate a secondary classroom so that it look like a high school classroom and not an elementary one. I had no idea how to get things to stay on the walls, where to find supplies or even a vision of what I wanted to look like! I just knew that I had to do something...

It was that last part - lack of vision - that led to many mistakes and wasted money (and as a beginning teacher money is definitely not something you have a lot of)! Finally, though, after 15 years I have finally feel like I have an under control, inviting, warm, educational and cohesive design! I would like to share a few tips with you to help you avoid the follies that I made my first few years!

1) Plan the space out before you begin. All classroom are traditionally either rectangular or square in design but you don't have all of that space to work with. If your room is anything like mine you have cupboards, heating vents, boards on a certain wall, bulletin boards, computer drops and of course 33 desks! Free space is a premium and you need to use it wise. You don't want to go out and get a bunch of things and then have no wall space to display them or floor space to put them. Before I started my current classroom "decor" I laid out on paper all of the thing that I had to have that I had no control over. For example, based on where the drops were, I had to
have my computer and teacher desk in the front corner. I have a huge air-conditioner/heater that sticks out 2 feet and takes up a third of one of my walls - but it is right under a window so I couldn't have used that wall space anyway. By laying out everything that I HAD to have, I was able to recognize what space I had to work with and could move on to the next step.

2) Place physical objects that take up floor space before posters or other decor. Start by placing your desks, tables, file cabinets that have to be in your room in the place that they need to go. If you want book cases, shelves, a student resource area (i.e. pencils, paper, sharpener, etc.) then they need to go in next. There is nothing more annoying than to put up posters, only to have to move them because a book case, file cabinet, etc. needs to go in that space. Placing everything physical first also allows you to see sight lines and room flow. If you want to post homework, you need to have it in a spot where it is easily accessible and visible versus someplace that it is going to get lost or cause mass congestion.

3) Decide what you want to put on your walls before you buy or make it. Do you want to illustrate your vocabulary (check out my previous post on word walls for ideas if you need them!) and formulas? Do you need to post your objectives and I-cans in a certain place? Do you want to post a list of previous homework or a homework calendar? Do you  want to do some encouragement posters (character, effort and the like?) or words to think about? Do you need to post your rules/expectations? Do you want to leave a space open to display student work?
Do you want to use a lot of different colors or stick to more of theme? Remember, the purpose of putting stuff on your walls is to not only make your room educational and helpful, but also inviting and some place that students feel encouraged and free to learn. Also keep in mind, while you students look at the walls for an hour or so a day, you look at them for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week...

4) Shop smart and frugally. When I first started out buying posters for my classroom I just went to local teacher store and bought what caught my eye. I put tape on the back, hung them up and called it done. It never occurred to me to laminate them to make them last longer, to make them myself or to shop online. Matter of fact, when I first started teaching, the internet barely existed!!! Now, there are so many options. You can go to Amazon and get them in two days for cheaper than the teacher stores offer which is fantastic - depending on what you are looking for that is! I found that while teacher stores were great for the encouragement posters, basic concept and a small portion of middle school math skills that we use at the high school level, they did not cover what we do at the high school level. There just did not exist posters covering the higher level math that I needed. Again, since this was really before the prevalence of the internet I was left with one option - make them myself! And make them myself I did! :) I ended up making over 200 "posters" that are 8.5 by 11! (If you are interested in having them for yourself, check them out in my teacherspayteachers store.) Over time, I have also bought some from other sellers on TpT and finally found a few on Amazon as well! If you choose the route of buying digital and printing them yourself, you can get cardstock pretty inexpensively at your local craft store or some of the big box stores. Also, look into the cost of printing them on your own color printer versus paying an office supply store to do it, often times they are cheaper!

5) Take care of what you have so that it lasts beyond a school year. We live in a green-conscious world and we need to conserve resources so make yours last! While I
know that laminating something and then pitching it is not good for the environment, more often than not, when you laminate a resource, it is because you plan to keep it long term! All of my posters are laminated for two reasons. One because they last longer and two because when I put tape on the back of something that is laminated, it pulls off easily and the poster can be stored easily. I also recommend that you buy a few totes or something else hard plastic to keep them from getting bent or damaged. I tried buying on the poster folders that the local teacher store had, but they were flimsy and unless stored flat, they would eventually curve and curve the posters with them.

My room has evolved a great deal over the last 15 years from a cold, empty, beige (oh way too beige) room to something full of life, color, warmth and that is welcoming! It has been and probably always will be a work in progress but it is also something that I have found enjoyable! I hope that my tips have helped you! I would love to hear what you have done to your room or to answer any questions you might have below in the comments!
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