Classroom setup is the most exciting part of a new classroom, but there are some things to keep in mind when setting these spaces up. How can we make your classroom an effective space for learning and teaching? Here are a few tips you probably haven’t heard.

This is a transcript of Episode 8 of the Simple Systems with Sam Podcast. If you’d prefer to listen to the episode, there is an episode player below the links section.

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Setting Up Classroom Spaces Transcript

Today is the day everybody, if you’ve been following along with this simple classroom setup series, then it has probably been really hard to not hear anything about actually setting up your classroom. So today we’re going to set up your classroom. 

But first, if you have not yet done the previous two episodes, or listened to them, and follow through on those to-do lists, that’s really going to inform how we get going today. And if you have no clue what I’m talking about, then you’re also going to want to go to the show notes where there’s a link for my free classroom readiness checklist. It is like the essentials of if you have all of these things set up by the first day of school, you are going to feel so confident and in control, and you’re not going to have any of these weird little worries pop up. That is all there. And then once you come back, we’re going to start talking about classroom things.

The Hard Truth about Setting Up Classroom Spaces

I’m going to start by breaking the hard truth, which I think deep down we all know our first year and we just kind of ignore it. Your classroom environment is not determined by how it looks. It’s determined by how it feels. 

If students feel safe, if they feel comfortable, and if they feel like they’ve built enough of a relationship with you to let their guard down when they walk in your classroom. It does not matter how pretty that bulletin board is. Which is why we are not focusing on pretty things right now. We’re going to focus on the function first to let your students feel comfortable knowing what is happening in the classroom. And they don’t have that kind of background stress of unease. 

Don’t Compare

And then we can add in those pretty things as we feel like we have the bandwidth and the experience and understanding of what our classroom needs. I know that it’s so hard to look at Instagram and to look at Pinterest and see all these classrooms. And they are gorgeous. And I commend those teachers, because you know what, it took a lot of time, probably years and years of saving, and figuring out what works in the classroom. And it takes a lot of money. And those are things that right now we don’t have to worry about if you’re willing to just focus on all of the things that are actually going to function in your room. 

My Classroom Truth

If you actually looked through my Instagram page from the last school year, almost every single picture that I took in my classroom was in front of one wall. And it was a mural that was painted on the wall like years ago. And I put some cardboard letters that I’ve had for five years, moved them from classroom to classroom, I put those up on the wall and almost every single picture in my classroom is from that one corner. And you know, I never had a student tell me that my classroom was uninviting because the rest of the spaces did not look that put together, I never had a student come into my classroom and walk back out because they felt like my classroom wasn’t pretty enough. Instead, they came in, they felt comfortable, they relaxed, they talked, they hung out, we got some work done, learned a little science here and there too. 

So I just want to give you permission to take that deep breath. And know that we are doing the best for you and your students by ignoring the bolts and boards for now. 

Classroom Setup: where to Start

So where can we start? Right? Well, we’re going to start with the student spaces that you wrote down in your routine list. What spaces do they need to execute these routines? And how are we going to evaluate them? Well, we’re going to use the same thing that companies and factories use. 

In Engineering Terms…

When I was in college, one of the things that I wanted to do with my career as an engineer was become a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. And basically this whole “belt system” is based around making a small tweak that costs the company or factory like next to nothing. And how much gain can they get from that? How much time can they save? And how much gain can they get from that there’s two different ways that these small tweaks can really save a company. It’s either in lost time, or in reducing error. And those are the two things we’re going to look at when we are building up our classroom. 

Classroom Setup: Lost Time

So let’s start with reducing lost time when it comes to students, we have about three different ways that we will lose time. One is them getting up and wandering around to find something or to gain access to something, two is in distractions, and three is they literally just can’t figure out where something is. 

We’re going to unpack that by acting out all of these routines with the spaces that we set up as if we are three different students in our class

  • the student who sits at the front of the class where everybody can see what they’re doing and where they’re going. 
  • Somebody who sits in the middle of the classroom where no matter which direction they go, there is a desk there’s just always something in their way. 
  • And then somebody who sits in the far corner farthest away from the front of the classroom and farthest away from the door.

These three students are going to be kind of like our guidepost to see if we are making things easy enough for them that we’re not losing time. 

Example Time

So if I’m a student in the back of the classroom, and I break my pencil mid lecture, and it was like down to the nub, and I need a new one. Where can I go quickly to get a new pencil so that I’m not losing time while notes are taking place? And then also not only located somewhere that I can get to it easily, but where can I go that I don’t feel embarrassed, or called out for needing to go get a new pencil?

If you have your pencils at the front of the classroom by where you lecture, how many students, whether you are talking like second grade on up through high school, are going to willingly walk up to the front of the classroom in front of all their peers in the middle of your lecture, to go get a new pencil? They would rather just sit there. They don’t want to be the distraction for other people because they don’t want to be embarrassed. And that is a very valid thing. So we’re going to help them to not feel embarrassed by putting these things somewhere that they can easily access them. And maybe in certain cases, you have more than one location for it. 

Trash Cans

When it comes to trash cans, this is something that I got very passionate about last year on Instagram, I put six trash cans in my classroom, because I wanted students to be able to throw their things away on their own. But also I wanted it to be so accessible that it wasn’t distracting to other students. So I put six trash cans around the room. And if somebody needed to throw something away, if they decided to clean out their binder, while everybody else was working on something, they were not getting up and walking around. They were not wandering everywhere. They could do that very simply from wherever they sat, because there’s a trash can within 10 steps of everybody. 

And that little change didn’t save all the trash from hitting my floor or being left on desks. But it did save my students from getting up and losing that instructional time. Or also allowing them to take care of whatever they needed to take care of without drawing attention to themselves. And the same thing about Kleenex. Please put Kleenex boxes in the back of the room, so students who don’t want to blow their nose in front of everybody can go to the back of the room to do it. And if you trust your students enough, maybe one right by the door so they can step outside to blow the nose. 

Multiple Locations

So location based off of losing time and also embarrassment. Those are two big things. And how easily can we make multiple spaces?

There are certain things you don’t want to make multiple spaces for, you do not want to make multiple spaces for a homework turn in tray. So how can we reduce the time that might be lost by everybody getting up and turning something in? Well, you just have them pass it up to the person closest to the homework tray. And that’s totally fine. And you don’t want them having access to that the whole class period. So maybe that is at the front of the room. And then you have that kind of contained. 

Label it

So once you’ve placed something where they’re not losing so much time, you are making sure that there aren’t too many distractions involved with getting or returning those supplies, then you just have to label it and make the label super obvious so that everybody can find it. Because you don’t want students to have to feel like they need to wander around the classroom to look for the scissors that they need for an activity. 

And then that part of it is done. Doesn’t that feel good? It feels like a lot that you have to consider. But honestly, you really get into understanding where different things need to be placed once you just acted out from those three different scenarios. 

Lost Time: Distractions

Another aspect in losing time in the classroom that is not always talked about enough, is students getting distracted by too many things that stimulate them all around the room. And this has been actually a pretty big push, I feel like in the teacher world the last about four or five years to simplify on what you have so that students can focus on what they need to focus on. And that’s another reason why we are not going to focus on decor until we have everything else set up. Because our students can’t always handle all of the visual inputs. If you listen to the next episode that comes out on Sunday over inventory, it’s going to give you a really great idea of why it stresses us in our students out to have so much on the wall. 

Classroom Setup: Reducing Errors

So we’ve talked a lot about last time. And now we’re going to talk about errors. In a factory, when somebody makes an error, we are trying to reduce it because they are making a mistake that might be caught right then or might be caught down the line. Maybe a machine is going to break because of this error. Maybe we’re just losing tons and tons of product because of the small error. 

You want to make things as easy as possible so that the errors aren’t created. And the way that we’re focusing on this in our classroom is making sure that supplies are easy to access but also really easy to put away. That’s the error that we’re going to reduce so that we’re saving ourselves a lot of time and stress in the long run. 

How Factories Work

Now factories can do this a few different ways. They label everything. Everything has a place and it is easily seen and labeled. Also they’ll put up pictures of how something is supposed to look at the end of the day. And that way they cannot leave until it looks like that. So those are two ideas to think about and kind of mull around. 

Teacher Spaces

But you also want to consider for your own organization, how easy is it for you to grab something? Are you able to grab or put things away that you can need on the fly? You want to make sure that it all has a spot. That’s how we can keep a clean desk; if everything has a place and we know where it’s supposed to go. 

But you also want it all to be easily accessible, you don’t want to have to go into like seven different file folders to grab everything that you need. This takes a lot of time on a teacher level to figure out what really works for you. Whether you’re organizing things by unit, whether you have binders, whether you have bins, whether you’re organizing lab equipment, by lab or by type of equipment. Whatever you do, you’re going to want to play around with it to make it as easy as possible. And as simple as possible for you. 

My Own Idea

Personally, I have just gotten really minimal in my classroom with things that I need to access. And that has helped a ton. But right now I’m setting up a brand new classroom with a lab built in, there are a lot of things that go with that. And so for me to make it as simple as possible for myself and my students to access everything we need. I am organizing my cabinets by color, coding them, numbering them, and then also including an inventory lists that my students can access online of where everything is. 

And after I set up each cabinet, I’m taking a picture of it and taping it to the inside of the cabinet door so that I can easily visually check that everything is going in the right place, that they are treating every piece of equipment with respect, and that it looks as full at the end of the year as it did at the beginning. Because that’ll be a really easy way for me to figure out what I need to reorder. 

That was quick…

Now that you’re getting in your classroom, I hope that you are going to take these things into consideration as you set stuff up, you can still make all of these spaces, their own special unique thing, you just want to make sure that they’re not losing you or your students anytime or any energy in errors. So let’s go ahead and keep it simple for now. And then we can move on to the things that are going to benefit and not distract our students, which is also going to make it a much more personal and welcoming room. Next time we are going to actually talk about how we can prepare the things you’re going to teach and how you can kind of set up a nice little template organization system for the actual content. Before you hit your first day of school. I can’t wait to see you then please make sure to share it over with me on Instagram. If you have any questions, or you just want to let me know how it’s going. I’d love to hear from you.