130: Build Connection with your Classroom Design

There are as many ways to design a creative classroom as there are to enjoy a summer day. I want your classroom to be a place where you feel safe, cozy, inspired, and happy. A place that you and your students look forward to coming every day. I believe this will help you feel happier and more creative with your teaching on a daily basis, and it will help your students flourish.

So, does that mean it’s time to write a thousand dollar check for curtains, murals, lanterns, couches, candy bins, and five hundred books or so?

Well, no. I hope you know me better than that! Building a space you love is not about money, though if you’ve got budget that certainly doesn’t hurt anything. Garage sales, moving sales, giant Michael’s coupons and Goodwill can do wonders for the odd piece, but you can do a whole lot with your printer, a few bucks, and your intentionality.

Today on the podcast, I’m delighted to bring you five expert guests to share one or two of their best tips each on creating a classroom you love. A classroom that helps you feel at home and build relationships with your students inside. I invited each of them because they’ve impressed me so much with their work, and I am honestly SO excited to share their ideas with you here. So let’s dive in!

You can listen in below, or on your podcast player of choice.

#1: Got a big blank wall? Make a shower curtain tapestry!

Most every classroom has one big blank wall that’s hard to fill. Ashley, from Building Book Love, suggests that instead of filling it with old posters and small papers and letting it become visually distracting, you might want to create something large, calming, and eye-catching, like a shower curtain tapestry! A beautiful shower curtain can pull the whole room together, and believe it or not, they’re available in a ton of different fun designs (see six Ashley recommends in this blog post) and usually cost around $15. Take Ashley’s brilliant suggestion and hot glue a piece of wood on the top and bottom, add a little wire hanger, and you’ve got a beautiful piece of framed art to love.

Ashley’s got one more genius idea for your blank walls. You know those fun murals you see in big cities where you can take a picture with wings or appear to be floating through the sky with a rainbow umbrella? Well, why not help your students make a mural like that with you! You can theme it with your classroom somehow, and then make creating a piece of it an assignment you do with your kids. For example, Ashley had all her students create a single feather as part of an assignment for Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” then put them up into a wings mural. Even the coolest kids will want to snap a selfie in your room.

Follow along with Ashley for more ideas on Instagram @buildingbooklove

#2 Co-Create your Classroom Space with your Students

Angela Stockman, celebrated author and writing makerspace pioneer, has some uncommon advice for you. Consider leaving your classroom walls empty save for large blocks of butcher paper held up with painter’s tape. Invite your students to launch a design lab with you as school begins, sharing their ideas for the space with index cards, sticky notes, magazine cutouts, and markers. Bring special food and encourage them to share their ideas for how to use the space to meet their needs as learners and writers. This is a wonderful way to access the voices of your students and seek representation of their perspectives and needs in your classroom design.

The photos above are just the tip of the iceberg! See a case study in creating a writing makerspace through a design lab process in this full photo essay.

Follow along with Angela for more ideas on Instagram at @angela_makewriting

#3 Share Messages of Inclusivity

Meghan, from Miss Fairchild Creates, has three powerful visual ideas to help you connect with your students. First, she suggests sharing decor that helps students see who you are as a person. When your students see you as a human, they want to get to know you. She shares photos of herself, her family, and her travels on a bulletin board, and as students ask her about her life, they often share something about their own in return. Second, she suggests sharing messages of inclusivity (like the amazing free printable posters from Amplifier) and featuring words and images from activists throughout history. She has an activist bulletin board (pictured above) with quotes (she shares these quote posters on the free Google drive folder linked from her Instagram) and color printed photos of activists throughout history. Gradually as the year progresses her students learn about many of the people featured on her bulletin board through their curriculum.

Finally, Meghan suggests using your classroom library as a place of connection. Use the top of your bookshelves to feature knickknacks that show something about you, and display books featuring many voices with the covers facing out. Meghan likes to display her growing collection of art from BIPOC artists in her library too. Your classroom library can be an open space for students to browse and explore while they talk to you.

As Meghan says, “you can say so much without saying anything at all.”

Follow along with Meghan on Instagram for more ideas @missfairchildcreates.

#4 Create an Interactive QR Code Board with your FAQs

Amanda, from Mud and Ink Teaching, believes that a stunning classroom can also be practical and part of your classroom management system.  To streamline the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) that students are asking at all the wrong times, create a FAQ section of your classroom.  Create one poster per question, record a quick video of yourself answering that question, and then create a QR code for the poster!  Now, when the next student asks you in the middle of your lesson on color symbolism in The Great Gatsby:  CAN I GO TO THE BATHROOM?, you can simply send them to the station in your room rather than stopping the lesson!

Follow along with Amanda on Instagram for more ideas at @mudandinkteaching

#5 Let Students Create for your Walls

Staci, from The Engaging Station, has always amazed me with her flexible seating and creative classroom. So I wanted to show you the photos above, even though her tip for the fall is something she hasn’t tried yet and therefore, doesn’t have photos of yet!

After the way pandemic led to a loss of community and sense of belonging in many classrooms, Staci suggests using the creation of your classroom decor to help your students get to know each other better and connect to your space in the first few days of school. Invite them to create for your walls. That could mean making a watercolor painting of something that brings them joy, lettering their favorite quotes on card stock, representing themselves somehow through an artistic project, etc . The key is to bring their voices and talents into your space. If you have a classroom theme or preferred colors, then you can provide them with colors of paper and artistic materials to match what you already have set up.

Follow along with Staci on Instagram for more ideas at @theengagingstation.

#6 Create Flexible Display Areas you can Easily Remix

OK, It’s me again, Betsy. I wanted to share a really helpful tip that I actually didn’t discover until I had children, and needed to find places to hang the constant barrage of beautiful art they created on a daily basis. I tell you, the little string I hung up with clothespins on it for art in our playroom has probably held 500 pieces of their work during COVID. 

So here’s my tip for your classroom, and I hope you will try it. Create easily changeable displays.

When I first started teaching, all my student work displays were unique. Putting up a new display was time consuming, because I had to change over the display header, take down all the old work (which was usually taped to the walls), and then make 400 new tape rolls to put up the new display. Since it took forever,  I couldn’t do it that often. Please, learn from me and avoid this time drain and stumbling block!

At the start of the year, set up flexible display areas. That can mean bulletin boards covered in pretty paper with a header like “You Should be Proud” or “Creative Genius.” That can mean a wall covered in string zig-zagging back and forth with clips hanging along it where you can easily put up anything you like in seconds. That can mean empty frames you pick up at Goodwill and spray paint in your favorite classroom color, then hang together to await epic work. Flexible displays will save you many hours, but more importantly, they will make it easy for you to keep students surrounded by their own amazing work, helping them take pride in what they’re up to and be inspired for the next creative step they’re about to take. 

Follow along with me on Instagram for more ideas at @nowsparkcreativity.

Ok, that’s a wrap! I hope you’ve found an idea (or five!) that you’re excited to put into place this summer as you prepare for a fresh start in the fall. This post has me itching for a classroom to design, but I’m going to have to live vicariously through you for now, so don’t hesitate to share your plans with me and all of today’s guests in the comments below or through our DMs over on Instagram!

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!

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