It’s the most wonderful time of the year…time to set up your classroom! You walk into a blank, clean space with so many decisions to make. Many of us, even seasoned teachers, spend more time than we want to admit checking out blog posts, drooling over school supplies and planning exactly which motivational quote you can put on the bulletin board that will make all the difference in the lives of your students.

We pick a color scheme, find coordinating labels and bins and borders, cut and laminate until our fingers are ready to fall off and can’t wait to put together the Pinterest perfect classroom. We spend hours and hours and hours making sure the letters are perfectly even and centered and that shade of blue background paper is just right.

Creating a beautiful, welcoming classroom space is definitely an art form and can be a lot of fun (and a lot of work), but the truth is teachers often overlook what really matters while focusing on the window dressings.

Organizing your classroom for success has a little to do with how cute it looks on the first day of school and a lot to do with creating an environment the students can manage and own. The physical space needs to be welcoming, but more importantly it needs to be predictable, organized and efficient.

It needs to be a space that makes sense for what and how you teach. With each classroom being unique in it’s physical layout and each teacher/student group being unique in their needs, it would be impossible to tell you the exact formula that will work for your situation, but there are some things for you to consider as you plan and organize for the year.

1. Think through the specific areas you will need in classroom – full class meeting space, individual work spaces, technology stations, storage areas, etc. It is important to note the location of electrical outlets, ceiling mounted computer projectors and other things that are more permanently fixed in the space, as the location of those items may influence how you organize the space.

2. Consider the traffic patterns within and between the different classroom areas. Walk the space, making sure there is a safe, easy way to get to and from each area. If there is a particular area that is more challenging to navigate, determine the best way in and out and teach the students to use that pathway consistently.

3. Check the sightlines. Sit in each of the areas you have developed and make sure there is a clear sightline to the whiteboard and/or projector screen, and also where you will be most often delivering instruction. Look for furniture or other students who might be blocking the way.

4. Stand where you will likely be delivering instruction. You should also be able to see what is happening in each area from the center of the classroom. Ideally, there should be no blind spots or obstructed views for them or for you.

5. The physical size/height of your students is important in determining placement of supplies and tools. Tools need to be easily accessible to create student autonomy and ownership. This often means having things stored on lower shelves for younger students and higher shelves for older students. If you teach younger students, try moving around your classroom on your knees, at their height. Can you see and access the tools you need? This is also a good opportunity to think through the special needs of any students and make sure your classroom set up is accessible and appropriate for all learners.

6. Label, label, label. Storage tubs are your friend. Your students should always know where to find the materials they need. Keep things organized and neat – and expect students to do the same. A chaotic, unpredictable physical environment requires students use time and energy finding things instead of using that time and energy learning.

7. Have out only what you expect students to use independently available. If you have tools you expect students to use in a certain way, keep them put away until you have had the opportunity to teach how you want them to be used. You may want to have shelves covered with paper or fabric with signs that say “coming soon” to build mystery and excitement. As students build community and responsibility for the classroom tools and environment, they earn the privilege of having more classroom tools/spaces available.

8. Walls and bulletin boards should be pretty bare at the beginning of the year and should change frequently through the year. Leaving space for students to help create their classroom environment with class-created anchor charts, student work, living word walls and other tools students need to succeed gives students a sense of ownership and pride. As the year progresses, leave up only what is necessary. If students are color wheel experts, take it down! If students know the instruments in the strings family, they don’t need the poster taking up the wall space anymore.

Some teachers have found that taking pictures of the anchor charts they take off the walls and putting a copy of the picture in a three ring binder for reference is a helpful tool for when students need a reminder. Celebrate and make it a big deal when students no longer need something on the wall for reference – it means they truly own that skill! In general, things that stay on the walls too long become wallpaper – they are no longer useful as learning tools.

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For more tips on getting your arts classroom ready for the new school year, check out my resource, Setting Up Your Arts Classroom for Success.