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Home(room) improvement: Tips for organizing your teaching space

All teachers can benefit from a well-organized classroom. Having one keeps things running smoothly which reduces stress and creates a more welcoming environment for you and your students. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for orchestrating an orderly classroom, here are some tips to get you on the right path to discovering what works best for yours.  

Let your teaching style dictate your classroom layout. 

If you’re big into collaboration, consider arranging desks in small groups. If class discussions are more your thing, try one large circle or U shape. Individualized learning can benefit from various stations throughout the room, in addition to a traditional layout with single-file rows. Ensuring you’re able to make eye contact with each student is also a good guideline to use when arranging desks.

If you do choose to go with rows and columns, have a plan for students to quickly change their configuration for certain projects or assignments. Teach them different formations and how to get into each in advance to avoid wasted time transitioning between projects. 

Make your room personal and inviting. 

A boring, cookie-cutter classroom isn’t fun or inspiring to anyone. Bring in elements that personalize your space such as rugs, posters, wireless speakers, plants, etc. Consider the lighting. If it’s brashly fluorescent, try shutting off some of those fixtures and adding some lamps to illuminate the rest of the space with softer lighting.

Whether it’s posting stand-out projects or even great quotes from classroom discussions, including students into your space helps them feel like it’s theirs, too. If there’s space for it, don’t be afraid to include informal task-based areas around your room (for things like reading) with comfy chairs and pillows.

Optimize access for you and your students. 

Consider your classroom’s flow, then create various stations to accommodate the movement in the room. Set up multiple trash and recycling areas, so students can use the ones closest to their desks instead of crossing the entire room and potentially disrupting others or wasting time. Arrange furniture in a way that allows everyone to move around easily. 

Consolidate project materials so one student can come up and grab a bin of supplies for a designated group. This avoids everyone rushing to grab their own materials, which can reduce traffic jams and cut down on wasted class time. 

Find ways to keep students accountable for what’s going on. 

Bulletin boards are a great way to keep students informed—and cut down on the number of redundant housekeeping questions you have to answer. Make sure yours are engaging, informative and functional. Consider including classroom rules, your grading scale, the bell schedule, a list of weekly lesson plans, current and upcoming assignments (along with their due dates), etc. Make it a one-stop shop where students go for answers.

It can also be helpful to post a daily agenda along with the number of minutes that will be devoted to each activity. Whether or not you choose to set a timer, putting a limit on each segment reduces wasted stints during class, helps students stay on task and makes them aware of time management.

Set up systems for dealing with the mountains of paperwork. 

This can not only help you, but also further your efforts of ensuring students are responsible for the things they need to be. Have a single place where students turn things in. Whether it’s a tray on your desk or a hanging folder, one location helps avoid excuses and those mysterious “lost” assignments.

Create an easily accessible box of hanging folders. Give each class its own folder for turning work in. We recommend emptying this folder daily to keep tabs on on-time versus late assignments. Make another folder for returning work to students. This saves a lot of time over handing it out during class—and forces students to be accountable for their own work. Add a third folder for each class where you can place missed assignments or handouts for students who were absent. If you often have leftover or extra handouts, you can add another file for those, so students know to look there instead of asking you if they need another.

Some teachers like to use late forms that students must staple to all late assignments before turning them in. This creates a quick visual for you when you’re going through papers. Another effective visual que is color coding everything in your room so that each class you teach has its own color for things like files, bins, folders, cubbies, whiteboard pens, etc. 

Design templates to save time and give you stats at a glance. Consider one that includes student names followed by columns for various assignment names where you can place a check or a grade. That way you’ll be able to see at a glance which students are on track and which ones may need extra attention.

Consider making curriculum binders, where you put original lesson plans, things to be copied, etc. Other binders you might want to include would be for administrative matters, professional development and any other groups or activities you advise or oversee. It’s also nice to have a tray (or trays) where you can quickly place items that need to be filed into these binders. 

Know that just like a home, a classroom is never “done.” 

As students rotate in and out, units and assignments change, your teaching style and the tools you use evolve, so should your classroom. Just because it worked last year doesn’t mean it will necessarily be the right fit for the next. Keep the things that are working well and don’t hesitate to tweak or even ditch the rest. 

Figure out how to pay for the stuff your classroom needs. 

Start by shopping your school to find resources that aren’t already in use. Hit up nonprofit donation organizations and other places that sell used items. Keep an eye on Facebook marketplace or apps where you can get good deals through private local sales. Get creative—use painted paper box lids or decorated boxes in place of plastic trays and bins. Organize a bake sale or other fundraising activity (if your school allows) and ask parents to contribute. You can even set up an online donation or fundraising page, such as DonorsChoose.org. 

Getting organized now can save you hours, weeks or even years of frustration in the future. Investing time in optimizing your space and systemizing how your classroom runs will be well worth it. Doing so will help your stress levels subside but can also streamline class time—leaving more time (and energy) for fun activities to keep your students (and yourself) more engaged.