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?