1. Turn off the overhead florescent lights: I am a big fan of natural light (what IS it with schools being designed with minimal windows?! Energy efficiency? Re-use of prison blue-prints?) so I actually make it a point to go outside (weather permitting) and open my shades even if it means I have to close them back up when I want to use the projector. I also have several thrift store lamps I spray painted black so they all match and I use these in the corners on top of shelves. I also do a string of fairy-lights around a bulletin board and have one of those paper lanterns with the lightbulb kit. I have one student assigned to turn these on in the morning and another assigned to turn them off – because I would forget and leave them on all weekend/night.
2. Wallpaper the room with butcher paper: Depending on the type of wall material I use either a hot-glue gun on cinderblock or a stapler on drywall and literally go around the room and wallpaper it. This usually takes about 2 – 3 hours depending on the size of the room but it is SO SO worth it! I usually use light blue paper and creates an immediate effect on students when they walk in the room. It shows you care about the space, it makes the room more welcoming, it makes the room less like a cell and more like a place you (and students) might actually choose to be in.
3. Hang up actual art (not cheesy teacher kitch): Resist the urge to hang that motivational poster with the pedestrian nature scene and quote from dead president and instead pick up a giant poster calendar of your favorite artist’s work. I laminated a Frieda Kahlo calendar set seven years ago and have used it ever since – I never get sick of looking at her work (and I suspect my students don’t either).
4. Hang up paper lanterns: I buy a bunch of paper lanterns in different shades of green and blue (to match the butcher paper) and hang them using fishing wire. This so cheap, both in time and money, to do but it is the thing students notice first. It draws the eye vertical (not to get all decorator-y on you).
5. Buy a can of air refreshener OR a reed diffuser OR a bunch of dried eucalyptus branches: Teachers should engage all of their students’ senses. And let’s be honest – sometimes children stink.
6. Ditch your desk: I have found the traditional behemoth-ish teacher desk to just take of valuable space in an already cramped room. Plus, how often do you actually sit down at it? Get rid of it altogether or push it flush against a wall and use it as a table with handy storage space below. I use a smallish round table as a desk where I can both conference with students and parents as well as work during my planning period.
7. Cut out huge letters to spell your classroom motto across the top of your room: The top three feet of space around the room beneath the ceiling are underused – why not use it to display your motto? I do not trace these letters out before hand. I put on You’ve Got Mail and I get my scissors and I cut. They are not perfect and it is OK. Better yet, get a kid to do it for you. When you’ve got your motto, use spray adhesive to glue it to the wall.
8. Use the space above the board in the front of the class to put information you want students to know by heart: I call this the “study while you space-out” area. All students zone out at some point and why not have information they need to know glued/taped to the space they will stare absently at? I have a row of presidents we’re memorizing, important dates, techniques to remember when writing essays . . . sure it sometimes has to be covered during a quiz or test but it works! Every year I have students comment on how there came a point on a test and they just remembered where the fact was on the wall in their mind and immediately wrote down the right answer.
9. Have a word/fact/etc. wall that builds over time: Word walls have the same effect as the tip above and they also allow students to see how their knowledge has build over time. I use a different color sentence strip for each unit and then by the end of the year we have visual record of what we have learned – one whole wall’s worth!
10. When you put up student work, put up everyone’s paper: This sends two messages 1) ooohh! she put up MY paper as well as 2) ahhh!!!! she put up MY paper. The teacher is not playing favorites and if a student produces crap it will be displayed publicly. Also, I only do this with work that does not include a grade directly on the paper itself (so no 100% or 55% in glaring red staring off the wall).
Do you have some excellent classroom decor advice? Share the goods – leave it in a comment.