I'm not doing my own bulletin boards, but if I did, they probably wouldn't have Twilight
Visit my classroom and it looks unfinished, sparse and beyond minimalist. It's a blank canvas right now and as tempted as I am to fill up the space with my own vision, I am leaving it empty. I've grown to believe that it is as much "our" classroom as it is "my" classroom. It's why I changed my approach to the teacher's desk (adding an extra student desk, when necessary for small groups). It's why I don't hang up my favorite artwork from former students. It's why the bookshelves aren't organized yet.
However, it's more than simply leaving the walls blank. Over the last few years, I've realized that it's far too easy to overplan in certain areas while ignoring other important (though less flashy) areas. For example, a solid calendar and filing system is more important than great bulletin boards or a grade book. So, the following is a list of where I focus and where I don't focus the week before the school year begins.
Where I Focus
- Students’ Perspective: I sit down at various student desks and make sure that I can see both boards, make my way easily to the drinking fountain, etc. This is the time when I move desks or tables around to maximize space.
- A Place For Everything: I try and think through a typical school week and make sure that there is a space for everything we do. It took me a long time, for example, to realize that I needed an area to store projects but I didn't need a teacher's desk.
- Think Multipurpose: Multipurpose doesn't work well in stadiums. I get it. Baseball and football spaces shouldn't mingle. However, I'm always intrigued by urban lofts, where people combine the artistic and the aesthetic and the way space fits multiple uses simultaneously. So, I get rid of my horseshoe table and use a regular group table for small groups. I use bookshelves as standing centers, where students can do enrichment while standing up.
- Purge: I go through resources that I've collected, things left behind in other classrooms and furniture that I don't need to use and I get rid of it. This includes things like the teacher's desk or using a full desk to store papers in bins. For me, the space is limited and I need students to be able to move around.
- Decorating: I wait on this and allow students to decorate the classroom with the goal of aesthetics and learning in mind (i.e. painting canvases to represent each reading strategy)
- Detailed Organization: I usually wait two weeks and then take a few days after school to do the detailed organization of supply cabinets. It's too hard, in the late summer, to remember what supplies need to be available in close proximity.
- Bulletin Boards: I let the students do bulletin boards. So, whether it is a student work bulletin board or a math concepts bulletin board, the bulletin board comes from the students.
- Bookshelves: I usually let students decide if they want to organize the bookshelves thematically or alphabetically.
Where I Focus
- The First Week: I take some time to plan out the first concepts we will learn, the team-building projects (with a focus on academics), the planning of class rituals, the development of norms and the collective commitments we will make.
- Project Framework: I don't plan any projects, but instead revise my project framework and how it will work within the current grade and subject(s) that I teach.
- Weekly Framework: This is a general sense of how each week will work. For example, I might decide that certain days we'll do self-assessments and at certain times I will pull small groups.
- Brainstorm of Activities: This is the one activity I do all summer before I get to my classroom. The beauty of the summer is that I can dream without the constraints of my current context. It's a time to explore and ask questions about new strategies.
- Lesson Planning: I used to plan out the first quarter's lessons during the summer. I would spend forever trying to refine the lessons and make them work. This was a huge failure, because I found the lessons less and less relevant as the weeks progressed. In the process of revising lessons, I ended up creating entirely new lessons based upon the feedback from my students and where they were in mastering the standards.
- Unit Planning: I've learned to trust the collaborative process of a well-functioning PLC and a major part of this process is dividing up the curriculum map into our own pacing guides.
- Project Planning: I may brainstorm some projects, but I've learned that it works best to let students help decide what projects we will do.
Where I Focus
- Setting up a Calendar: I've learned that it is helpful to set up one master calendar at the beginning of the year rather than trying to keep track of all the calendars that the administrators and the district send my way. Check out my calendar checklist here.
- The Paper Trail: The paper trail includes thinking through my process from beginning to end when students turn in work. This might sound crazy to break it up into so many places and steps. However, I've noticed that if I don't think through the following, I run into issues in the school year. Check out the paper trail checklist here.
- Communication: I set up my voice mail and my e-mail and then block out a time in my weekly schedule specifically devoted to messages.
- File System / Storage: I know some people like binders and other people like manila folders. Some use sticky notes. See checklist
- Setting up a Grade Book: I used to spend hours setting up a detailed gradebook with the assignments and with student names. Later, I switched to a standards-based grid with each objective and the level of mastery. I fill out the objectives as I plan my lessons. I leave the student names blank, because they often shift throughout the first week.
- Student Accounts: I wait until I have all my permission slips in and then I create my Google Accounts for students.
So, what am I missing? (I'd love your feedback below)