It’s back to school season and if you’ve been on social media lately it’s easy to get sucked into all of those picture perfect classrooms. I’ve seen so many back to school posts involving beautifully decorated classrooms. Classroom libraries and reading nooks that are colorful, perfectly organized, and inviting. Bulletin boards that must have taken hours to create. Inspirational quotes that tug at your heartstrings.
Are all of these things beautiful, motivating, and inspiring? Yes! Are all of these necessary? No!
I don’t mean to sound like I am criticizing teachers I see who work so hard at making their classroom beautiful and inviting and Pinterest-worthy. Quite the opposite, I am in awe of their talents and their executive functioning abilities. And if that works for them and their classrooms, all the more power to them! What I am saying is it may not work for everyone’s classroom and everyone’s students. And that’s ok! Let’s not stress out by comparing ourselves. We are all in it to be the best teachers we can be, no matter what our classrooms look like!
I have come up with what I believe are the top 5 things every classroom and teacher should have at the beginning of the year and throughout the rest of the school year. They are things any classroom can have, on any budget. Read on to see if these things can be found in your classrooms as well!
1. A Safe Space
When students walk into the classroom, they should always know it is a safe space for them. Whether that means music playing or lighting adjusted to create a calming atmosphere. Some classrooms have a designated Calming Corner or safe zone complete with sensory items such as fidget tools, kinetic sand, and fluffy pillows. Too often we see students, especially in the special education field, with anxiety through the roof. They should know, as soon as they step foot into the classroom that they are safe and loved.
Why do students work hard? What motivates them to get through the day and do the best they can?
I once heard the comparison between student reinforcers and a paycheck. Let’s face it, as much as we love our jobs and our students, would we come to work every day and do our very best if we weren’t getting paid? Why should we expect our students to work as hard as they can every day to learn new and difficult things unless they are getting paid somehow? Reinforcers are as different as can be from student to student but our classrooms should have whatever it takes to give them the reason to work each day, even if it’s just extra smiles and high fives.
3. Rules and Routines
This seems like a given, but with all of the different things going on in a special education classroom, and all the different hats we wear, things can slide into chaos pretty easily. One of the easiest ways to combat that is to set rules and routines and then teach, teach, teach them. Start on the very first day and don’t stop. Even when you think your students have gotten it down, keep working on them. Even better, involve your students in creating some of the rules and then hold them accountable for following them. How is it expected to walk in the hallway? What is the routine for getting ready for snack? Where do we go when we come inside from recess? What are the rules for the volume of our voices? These are all things that students can and should learn the first day and practice every other day.
4. A Support System
As much as we (hopefully!) love our jobs and our students, sometimes things can get hard. Really hard. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, anxious and stressed out. In these times (and in happy times too!) we need a support system. This could be a co-teacher or colleague, an assistant, administrator, spouse, BFF, your dog… the list goes on. Find someone who gets you, can listen to your problems, and offer you encouragement. For me, personally, I have a great support system in my husband. He works in the same field as I do and we can bounce ideas off of each other, strategize, or just commiserate. I also have a great group of friends that can take my mind off of things when I just need to unplug from work and not think about it for a while. These people get me through the ups and downs of teaching and I am so grateful for them.
5. A Big Smile
Hear me out on this one. There is research showing that smiling affects not only you and your brain but others around you. If you’re having a rough morning, putting a smile on your face can trick your brain into being more positive. Students and colleagues won’t be able to help smiling back and will, in turn, carry on the positivity. Imagine a student walking through your door and seeing your smiling face. Even if they’ve had a rough morning up until then, walking in the door and seeing a big smile greeting them goes a long way to set the tone for the day. It says “I like you, I’m happy you’re here, and I’m ready to have some fun today!” Get those endorphins and serotonin flowing and lift everyone’s moods. Bonus side effect, smiling makes you look younger.
How is your classroom looking now? Safe? Welcoming? Full of positivity and support? Buy the color-coded storage baskets and fairy lights. Or don’t. Either way, you’ll be ready to rock the school year.
How many of these suggestions do you have in your classroom?