Preparing Your Classroom-
by Kristy Wood
Things to consider when you are starting out teaching
This blog is intended to offer some practical support for when you are setting up your classroom for the first time. It can be really beneficial to spend some time feeling into how you want to support the children in your class, how the physical space of the classroom will assist the organisation, flow and rhythm of the room and the foundation you would like to set for how the class interacts with each other. Listed below are some suggestions, it is important for you to develop your classroom based on what you feel will best support the children in your care.
Before you start it can be good to ponder on your personal teaching style and also consider what is going to support different learning styles in the room. Consider how you will organise your classroom resources so that the room can operate easily. Ponder on things like:
- What exercise books you want the children to use and how their work in these will be presented.
- Where will student books and resources be kept?
- How can these resources be accessed easily so they support the flow of the room?
- Will you have a space in the room for all the children to come together?
- If so, is there space for them to sit in a circle and face each other?
- How will the desks be arranged?
- Can you easily access each child with this arrangement?
- Can all the children see the board?
- What resources will you need to use on a daily basis or more regularly and how will these be organised.
The care and attention that you put into how you set up the room will greatly support you in the day-to-day running of the classroom. It will also support the children to have more regard for the classroom, resources and how they do things if they feel that this is how you operate in the room. You will be surprised at the impact it can have. Its important that the children are encouraged to take responsibility for helping to maintain the classroom and the resources as this teaches them responsibility and having regard and care for things.
Again your teaching style will determine how you like desks to be arranged and how you like the children to be seated. We also need to consider what will support the children not only with their academic learning but also with developing their skills for dealing with life.
When starting the school year I would often print out a photo of each child’s face. I would then start to put combinations together to get a feel for who should be sitting together and what the combinations would be like. If you don’t know the children, you could always do this a couple of weeks after the term starts.
Often we arrange seating patterns with the intention of what will be the easiest to manage.
When seating children I often consider, what does each child need to learn in their personal interactions with others? Who will support them? Who do they react too? Who are they comfortable with? Who do they avoid?
Sometimes I would seat children together who may react to each other so that the issues are not avoided but with support they learn how to deal with what is going on. At times some children may need to be seated with someone they are comfortable with so that they develop confidence in learning how to interact in the room. Other times a child may need support with developing a particular skill or understanding and they may be seated with a child who learns in a similar way to them who can support them.
In some classrooms that I have run, the children didn’t have their own desks but I moved them around for different curriculum areas. During a maths lesson they may learn and understand things easier from a child who learns maths in the same way they do, for literacy they may need to be seated with someone different. Remember if you try something and it doesn’t work you can always change it.
This is a big one- how you are as a teacher and how you interact with the children will greatly impact on how they are with each other. Many teachers are not aware of the full extent of this. I often hear teachers who are starting out being told ‘don’t smile until Easter’. However, lets make this statement a bit more real. Lets say you started a new job and your manager gave you jobs to do but never engaged with you or smiled at you. After a few days you probably wouldn’t enjoy going into work. If this continued for a few months you would probably be quite wary of how you engaged with this manager and it would take a lot for them to re-earn your trust. So, it’s the same for kids. Do you really want to set up a relationship in which the children don’t feel supported or they feel like you don’t enjoy spending time with them?
In my experience it is important to have consistent, fair and firm boundaries but equally at the same time, it is important to develop personal and caring relationships with the children, to know them individually but also as a group. Sit with what it is that you would like to encourage in the classroom then consider what you feel you can do to best support this.
Setting the rhythm
It is important that you as the teacher set the rhythm and tone for how the classroom will be. More then ever children need a consistent environment- consistent more in how you relate to them then in the routine of when things are done. I have noticed that when the children come into the classroom in an intensity it can be easy to get caught up in that and then sometimes you can find yourself trying to do things quickly or speaking loudly in an attempt to settle them. This just adds to the intensity in the room. I have found that the more calm I am able to be, this then supports the children to drop into a different momentum and the intensity in the room decreases. Sometimes some of the children may continue with behaviours that disrupt the group however the more calm and consistent I am able to remain the less I react to these behaviours and the more I am able to feel how I need to respond in that moment.
Claiming the room
It is important that you claim the room and consistently hold the boundaries for what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. I was watching a great teacher recently who took over a class for a teacher who was on leave. It was not an easy class she stepped into, but she walked in and held herself and she claimed the room. She built great relationships with the children in the class but she also let it clearly be known what was okay and what wasn’t okay. She consistently pulled the children up when she needed too, without reacting to their behaviour but being very firm with the behaviour but caring with the child when needed. The children respected her for this and they responded to the boundaries she had set.
Starting your day and greeting the kids
How you start your day will often influence how the day will be. In my teaching experience I have found that this is a really important time, a time in which you set the foundation for classroom interactions. If you take the time to greet and connect with the children and welcome them into the class and engage with them, they feel met and they open up and will look forward to being there as they can feel that you look forward to being with them. This will then also extend to how they treat others in the room. If you are irritated and express this towards students, it makes it ok for them to act in this way and they will be more likely to irritate and stir each other. If you are caring and take the time to connect with them this then sets a tone for how they will be with each other and they will naturally be more caring and understanding. There are times when the children will arrive at school restless, upset or in a momentum, if you take the time to meet them and talk to them in the morning and address what is going on, it can help stop this momentum from coming in and driving the day.
Keep your voice real and natural. When I watch students on their teaching practicums, many feel like they have to put on a ‘teacher voice’ and are not themselves. Children innately know when someone isn’t being real with them and they tune-out as they don’t feel they are being personally connected too. When you make it personal and talk to them not at them, they are more inclined to listen. It is simple, so keep it simple. Express naturally, if you enjoy something, show that. Don’t hold back on expressing the joyful moments with kids- they love it.
I also feel its important not to overcomplicate things- when you are teaching be aware of what needs to be said and what is really necessary.
Responsibility- how this is encouraged
Children need to be encouraged to take responsibility for how they behave, interact and carry out tasks. I have found that when I treat the child as an equal and lovingly pull them up on things when they need it, they are more open to responding and taking responsibility. If I react and reprimand them in the reaction they will often get defensive and go into blaming me or another and then don’t take responsibility for what has happened. It is also important that how the classroom feels and looks, is the responsibility of everyone. From the start of the year set an expectation that the children are responsible for looking after things, doing jobs in the room and tidying up. Don’t accept half done jobs that you then go and finish once they go home. Teach them how things need to be done, how things need to be packed away and organised and if it isn’t done to a certain standard ask them to do it properly. This teaches the children a big lesson in how to look after and care for themselves and the environment in which they live. If we accept less than this, it tells them that being half committed or half completing things is ok.
Encouraging care and regard with how things are done
I have found that we need to take the time to clearly explain what is expected and how things need to be done, like the standard of work and the way they treat their workbooks. Sometimes in our busyness it can be easy to accept work that we know the children haven't really committed to doing a good job with or they haven’t been focused while doing it. By pointing this out to them and encouraging them to put more care into their work and how they carry out tasks, we support them to develop good work habits and have a commitment to how they will carry things out in life.
Moments to connect
Create moments to connect and just be with the children. I know it can be difficult as there is so much to get through as a teacher however children want to be seen and engaged with not just ‘taught’. Have moments where kids share their stories (this is different to news telling) or where you go for a walk as a group or just take the time to enjoy a funny moment (not at anyone’s expense). We need to make our classrooms about life and people not just about the curriculum. By creating moments to connect with the kids, it has a massive impact on how the kids feel about school and about themselves and it also makes the job more enjoyable for you.
Remember you are learning too
Sometimes we feel like because we are the teacher we need to know it all or have all the answers. We don’t, we are always learning and we never stop learning. If we can know and really understand this, then we are not so hard on ourselves when we make mistakes. We also start to see these not as mistakes but just as opportunities to learn from. If we can have an understanding of this for ourselves first then we are more able to support our students with their learning and have an understanding of the choices they are free to make and learn from. Ask for support when you need it, don’t try to do it all on your own. Find other staff members you can talk to and who will take the time to explain things and listen when you need it. However, be discerning also, just because everyone else may be doing something a certain way, it doesn’t mean that this is the best way or what is needed, trust yourself and what you feel to do.
Caring for yourself
This is really important but is something that we often put last, many of us often look after everyone else first and this can be at the expense of ourselves. We need to care for ourselves first so that we are then able to care for and offer a consistency to the children in our classrooms. This is one of the most loving things we can do for them. By being aware of how you run yourself during the day, this can help you to observe and recognise what you may need to do to support yourself. Are you in a rush always trying to get everything done? Or do you give yourself the time you need to do things and run to your own rhythm? There are many teachers who don’t even stop to go to the toilet during the day or have their lunch. Where you can, find time within your day to care for yourself in the way you need too, this will help you to remain calm and not get exhausted by the day. Some things to possibly consider are- do you have enough time in the morning to do what you need to do without arriving at work in a rush? Do you prepare a lunch that will support you during the day? Or do you rely on coffee and the snacks fridge to get you through? Do you wake up feeling refreshed? What is it that you need and how can you incorporate this into your life so that you are caring for yourself and in turn able to care for the kids?
Have fun and remember to enjoy yourself- teaching is an amazing profession if you make it so.