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Classroom Decor

Designed to Inspire: The importance of classroom decorating

For teachers in the Northern hemisphere, it’s summer which means time for that well-deserved vacation. For me, summer means long evenings, Pimms cocktails, Wimbledon, strawberries and lots of time to read. (Can you see how summer brings out the British in me?)

Occasionally my thoughts drift to the upcoming new school year. And then I find myself thinking of the first impression I want my students to get as they walk into their new classroom – and what frame of mind I want them to come to me in. A new year brings with it the chance to wipe the slate clean and start again. What better way to achieve all this than to re-decorate?

I want to share with you my reasons for why it is important to create spaces that will inspire and stimulate your students.

I have noticed that primary school teachers do this so much better than high school teachers. Just take a quick peek at this Kindergarten teacher’s efforts and be amazed. So much thought and effort has gone into planning every space within the classroom: it is inviting, playful and engaging.

However, I must say that the majority of high school classrooms I have experienced have had very little in the way of real, inspiring and engaging classroom décor.

I am sad to say that my own classroom has not been exempt from this criticism. In the past I have had a string of excuses, but in reality none of them were valid. Here’s why:

1. “I just don’t have time.”

If I truly saw the value in creating an engaging and visually stimulating classroom, I would prioritize it. After all, how long does it take to get a poster printed at Staples? How difficult is it to write a word-of-the-week on the board? (Or get a student to do it?) Is there really no time in my week to stick an inspiring quotation on the door? To bring in a pot plant? How hard would it be to play music as students work? There is time, I just need to find it.

2. “High school students don’t appreciate it.”

This is probably the least truthful of all my excuses. I have found that on the occasions I have put a witty quote on the classroom door, students come in discussing it, they come in smiling or laughing – it sets a positive mood. When I have taken the time to attractively display a student’s work, they shine with pride. When I have asked them to create something to display, they usually astound me with their talent and creativity. High school students appreciate an appealing working environment as much as the rest of us.

3. “I’m an educator, not an interior decorator.”

Yes, that’s true. But if I only did the work of what is strictly required of a ‘teacher’ I certainly wouldn’t be coaching softball, helping students choose colleges, mediating disputes, or running fund-raising stalls. We teachers wear many hats. And the fact is: providing an environment which is conducive to learning, which is inviting to my students, which encourages engagement and re-enforces curriculum content, is part of my job.

4. “I would rather spend time planning engaging lessons.”

Maybe. But when my students step into my classroom, they will respond to the environment they find themselves in. The moment they enter, they will either choose to engage and participate or switch off and resign themselves to a lesson of daydreaming – at which point my ‘well-planned’ lesson will fall on deaf ears anyway. Having a visually uplifting and stimulating environment will go a long way to getting students interested and putting them in a receptive mood.

5. “It costs too much money.”

This is probably the most common reason for the lack of décor in high school classrooms. Unless you are fortunate enough to be in school which gives you a budget for décor (if that’s you I want to know where you work!), the likelihood is that the cost of decorating your classroom will come out of your own pocket. This is a problem. But it doesn’t have to be expensive. I am not suggesting that you re-decorate in the style of Extreme Makeover: School Edition. I am talking about keeping a classroom tidy; about putting up a few visually stimulating posters; about taking time to display students’ own work in an appealing manner. (Please note: I do have a plan for a blog post on tips for creating *free* classroom décor – so check back soon!)

I hope you are inspired to join me and spend some time this summer dreaming up some new creative ideas for your classroom. After all, it’s where you spend the majority of your time. Don’t you want it to be an environment that excites you, too?


18 thoughts on “Designed to Inspire: The importance of classroom decorating

  1. I wholeheartedly agree. Yes, it does take some time, thought, and a little money, but the payoff is worth it. It illustrates to your students (and your peers and administration!) that you are focused on your subject matter and in engaging your students.

    1. It’s amazing what all you can do with some scrapbooking paper, which is always on sale at JoAnn’s. You can make pennants, put it behind artwork and labels, frame it in dollar store frames for use as objectives boards, etc. all for $10 or so.

      1. Absolutely! Great idea. The dollar store is a great place to find a few pieces to brighten up the classroom.

  2. As a fellow high school English teacher, I couldn’t agree more…but I find I get some flack from other teachers when they see my classroom. It’s not a cutest-classroom competition! It’s just about my personal style and the environment I want to create for my students! Plus, let’s face it, as dazzling as I may think I am as a teacher, they are not always paying attention to me…so their eyes might as well be wandering off to a meaningful bulletin board…right?

    Love your blog! It’s inspiring me to start mine up again! Thanks 🙂

    1. Oh absolutely! I totally agree with you – especially about the response from other teachers! It’s almost like it’s not ‘cool’ to put so much effort into the decor. Doesn’t stop me though! 🙂 Thank you so much for your comment and compliments on the blog.

  3. I have had the same thought this summer, and I am about 2/3 of the way through a classroom transformation. There is no reason why my high schools students (and I) should not have an awesome room to visit this fall.

    1. Yay! It is so great to hear more high school teachers thinking this way. Thank you Sarah for commenting.

  4. So great to hear! As an elementary teacher I am use to making my class inviting, but as a parent of high school aged students I am even more appreciative of your efforts. I think the environment has a great deal to do with how much learning is going on. Most of the high school classrooms I have seen are downright depressing. Keep it up, no matter what anyone else says…they are just trying to make sure they don’t look bad, because they made no effort!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment Marilyn! I think it means even more to me coming from the ‘parent’ part of you. It is always great to be appreciated by parents and I totally agree with your comments. Let’s hope we change those ‘downright depressing’ high school classrooms, one classroom at a time!

  5. I agree that the ambience of the classroom can be helpful in the ‘feel’ of the subject. The problem is that, more and more these days, teachers do not have their own room so their is no “ownership” of a space. Ownership is actually discouraged because multiple teachers use a room; it is never empty. It’s very obvious which rooms are without ownership – it looks like no one has taken the time to create an atmosphere–there are generally just blank, white walls.
    The best looking rooms ARE the ones who have fewer teachers in them.
    I would imagine that this is in high schools more than in other levels.

    1. You make a really good point Juanita. I once taught in a school in which I shared the classroom with a couple of other teachers, and honestly I felt no desire to decorate as it never felt like my space.

  6. Long ago I decided that if I am going to spend 10+ hours a day in my classroom, I wanted to make it attractive and interesting. I teach Spanish, so I have made it a point to always pick up a few items on my travels. This May, a graduating senior wrote me a thank you note and gave the best compliment ever: she said she really appreciated how homey and welcoming my classroom was and that she always felt very comfortable there. That little extra effort is really worth it!

  7. Great post! People spend time arranging and decorating homes and office spaces, so why classrooms should be any different? I don’t think school has to be something students dread going to, and sometimes a comfortable classroom can help. Haphazard like a junkyard, sterile like a hospital, or eempty like a prison just isn’ t where I want to be for hours every day.

    1. “Haphazard like a junkyard, sterile like a hospital, or eempty like a prison” – so true! So many of the classrooms I have I been in could fit into one of these three categories! Thanks for stopping by and adding your thoughts.

    1. Actually, I am British and we do indeed call a house plant a “pot plant”! So yes, quite meant… But your confusion also made me laugh. 🙂

  8. We are reworking our science department which has resulted in me moving to a new classroom. Have been packing equipment, moving, sorting and taking down posters for three weeks now. Each day my students commented on how sad my room was becoming. Two days before summer both they and I have trouble setting foot in the same room. You’d think I was leaving, but I keep telling them I’m just moving upstairs!! It does matter to kids.

  9. You are absolutely right. It takes take time and comes at some expense but it is worth the effort. I recently started at a new school and as the Head Teacher of English, i know I will be in that particular room for a long time. My principal places great value in the school environment so allowed me to paint the room. Some students helped and painted their own designs on the four poles in the room. I try to hang up student work and change it each term but I do get a bit slack with that. I’ve decorated with some old calendars that I’ve collected over the years (vintage movie posters, advertisements), bookish style wrapping paper above my bookshelf, literary postcards and I’m planning on tearing apart a Literary Listography book that was gifted to me and laminate the pictures and use them as well. It is coming together nicely and students often comment about how much they like my room. Hearing those words make me so happy. I want my students to feel welcome, comfortable and safe.

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