Four Must-Ask Questions for Classroom Setup

August 18, 2022

I don't know about you, but I loved my undergrad teacher education program. When I graduated from college, I felt ready. I had the tools I needed to go into a classroom and connect with my students, teach engaging lessons, and manage ALL of that grading. When I finally got my first classroom, something that completely overwhelmed me was classroom setup. For some reason, college teacher education programs don't focus on the physical space and the classroom management components of getting ready to be a teacher.

Whether you're getting ready for your first Back-to-School season or your 20th, classroom setup can be completely overwhelming! You're walking into a space with lots of furniture, leftover items from a retired teacher, or even stuff you left behind for yourself at the end of the last school year. It can feel impossible to know where to start, especially when you're sitting and scrolling through TONS of super-cute Pinterest-worthy classrooms.

I'm here today to remind you that your classroom does NOT have to be perfect before the first day of school, but it does need to be functional and lay the foundation to start the school year with purpose. Before you begin lugging furniture and boxes around your classroom, be sure to ask yourself these four questions.

1. Which areas of your classroom will your students interact with daily?

Whether you're in the classroom or a Special Area, there are always items your students will need on a daily basis. This could be something as simple as a pencil or pencil sharpener or as complex as a 3D Printer, but it will be important to give those items priority placement in easy-to-access areas of your classroom.

This year in STEAM, my 5th and 6th-grade students will need to access their binders daily. I've prioritized and organized the location of these binders into book bins. Each class will have one book bin per table, and only one student per table will be responsible for retrieving and returning these bins for class.

Organizing binders this way allows my students to get what they need quickly without forming lines and wasting time at the beginning and the end of class. I have one between each class period so a quick start and cleanup sets the stage for my students to maximize the use of their class time.

2. Which items do you expect your students to use and maintain?

No matter which grade you teach, it's important that we delegate classroom jobs and empower students to help maintain their space. As teachers, we are all working to build responsibility and independence in our students.

Last year was my first year in STEAM and I took on WAY too much of the maintenance myself. I spent my precious minute between classes running around like a headless chicken, changing out supplies for a grade level or resetting caddies at the end of class. This year, those maintenance tasks are being transferred to my students of all ages. Even the smallest hands of our Kinder students can help - though the task may look different at each grade level.

For example, each table in my class will be responsible for 1: cleaning up and resetting their table space at the end of class and 2: cleaning up and resetting one of the "zones" in each class. Each table caddy has a cleanup guide attached (picture guides will be included for lower elementary classes). After tables maintain their own space, they will move on to maintain the space closest to their table.

The routines around this cleanup process will take some time to teach and build, but identifying the importance of my cleanup guides and table caddies makes these items a top-priority item when setting up my space.

3. How will the items and areas my students access impact the flow of traffic in my classroom?

Once I've solidified all of the high-priority items in my room, I sketch an aerial view of my classroom, including where I plan to place my student desks and tables. After sketching out my classroom furniture and the location of my top-priority items, I draw arrows to see how my students need to move around the classroom in order to get access to the items they will use frequently. (See sketch below.)

With the arrows drawn, I can see potential "hot spots" where there may be "traffic jams" when my students go to access their materials. Here you can make the changes you need in order to create a better flow of traffic for you and your students BEFORE you touch a single item in your classroom. (*Note: For safety reasons, this diagram does not reflect my classroom footprint.)

4. Which items and areas will I use daily?

As much as your classroom is student-centered, you most definitely need a dedicated workspace for yourself. It's up to you whether this area can be accessed by students, but in my classroom, these items are to ONLY be touched by the teacher. Think about what you need to be accessible each day and make sure it's in a space that you can easily access.