Setting Up a New Classroom Part Two

Setting up my new classroom

This summer I’m taking you along while I set up my new classroom. In part one of classroom set up, we talked about how to think through layout. I started thinking about the things I can’t change (doors, windows, etc). I took into account student behaviors such as elopement and considered that when thinking about the placement of furniture. Space wise, I needed to make sure there was room enough for wheelchairs and walkers to get through. Those items were all inflexible, meaning I couldn’t change them. Now that those inflexible items have been considered, it’s time to look at the things I can change and make the classroom functional for both staff and students.

This mess of a classroom will eventually become a functional space with well defined areas!

Instruction Needs & Student Needs

It’s a good idea to have a general idea of your daily schedule before tackling final classroom layout. Think through your school day schedule. Do you meet with students in a whole group? Small group? One to one? Will you have centers? How about fluency? Independent work? Will students be in and out of your room for inclusion and related services? If so, how can you minimize the distraction of their coming and going? What about a calming area? WHEW! It’s a lot to think about!

Think of Spaces Flexibly 

Once you have an idea of what your instruction looks like, you can start carving out areas in your classroom to meet those needs. Unless you have the biggest classroom ever with an unlimited budget, you’ll likely need to think of spaces flexibly. For instance, my horseshoe table and circle tables will be used for centers, small groups and independent tasks. For one to one learning, I’ve created small cubby spaces that limit the distractions of a busy classroom. I’ve got all of my sensory supports in a cabinet next to a sensory table and a ‘take a break’ table.

Safety and Distractions

For safety, I positioned the table I will work at where I can see the entire classroom so I’ll always know what’s going on and I can keep an eye on things. I also kept academic areas away from the door to minimize the distraction of students and staff coming and going. My whole group will meet around the Promethean board, so I was sure not to put furniture in that area.

Whole group area. This is where we’ll do morning meeting, calendar, and social skills. Students will sit on the floor (we are still waiting to see if we can have rugs due to COVID).

Small group table where I will work. From here, I can see the entire classroom and what’s happening.

Take a break table, sensory table, cabinet with sensory supports. The shelf holds independent work that will be completed at the table in the far right of the photo.

One to one work station. These wooden dividers will help minimize the distractions of a busy classroom. I walk you through how to make them (super easy!) on The Autsim Helper’s YouTube Channel.

This is the door students and staff will enter and exit from. I created a wide area where students have room to put on coats, hang up backpacks, and line up. In addition, I added these two carts by the door. On top of them I have hand sanitizer, related service logs for check in/out, and a set of pens for staff to use. This should minimize the distraction of students coming and going throughout the day.

Staff Needs

This is an area that often gets overlooked. We get so focused on student needs we forget about staff needs. If you want your staff to be successful, set them up for success from the start. Give them a space for their coat, lunch, purse, etc. Be mindful of what you are asking your staff to do and the tools they will need to do it. Have everything they need at their fingertips. Set it up with the same intention you set your space up. I’ve given each staff member a cubby for their coats, and a file drawer of their own for their purse and lunch (a closed drawer keeps little fingers away and everyone safe). 

In this area assistants have a cubby space for PPE, coats, winter and rain gear. We can keep drinks out of little hands by placing them on top of the cubby. The file cabinet will house purses and lunches. We keep lunches locked away due to food allergies.

This is an area where related service providers will sign students in and out. I’ve put our service log, pens, and hand sanitizer (a requirement before working with a student) in this area by the door. I’ve given plenty of space for student to put on their coats, too, since our campus is spread across three buildings. 

Decor comes last.

If you notice, not a single thing is hung up on my walls. That’s because I learned a hard truth when I first started teaching: if a classroom is cute and not functional everyone loses and everyone struggles. If you want a well organized, functional classroom it starts with set up. Decor is a cherry on top.

Be Intentional

At the time I took these photos I had unpacked my boxes into my furniture, being mindful of where things were placed for easy access. It doesn’t make sense to have my independent work shelf 10 feet away from where I want students to do independent work, so I moved it so it was within an arms reach. I put student supply boxes next to our small group area. These small details are what make classrooms work.

Purge Every Box

I purged as I unpacked, evaluating what I needed, what should be stored, tossed or given away. After it was all done, I had filled 6 commercial sized trash cans, and filled my hallway with things to give away. I stored learning materials that weren’t appropriate for this year’s case load, and made space for things that are appropriate. Being intentional was my goal, so I made sure never to just shove materials into a cubby or drawer. If we can’t find things and we aren’t organized, we waste the resources we have. Slowly the space is coming together.

Next up:

prepping for students and staff arrival! I’ll be back with part 3 where I talk about prepping for student, prepping for staff and (finally) decorating my classroom.

Jen Koenig
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