Ever wish they had one of those home makeover shows for classrooms? I used to be the clutter queen until I took an amazing HET (highly effective teaching) class from my friends at Lone Tree Elementary. The class was built on the foundation of brain research. Here are a few tips I learned from them about keeping my classroom organized and clutter free:
- Decorate your classroom the way you would decorate your house. Would you splash bright blue, yellow, red, and green on your walls at home? Then you shouldn’t do it in your classroom either. Pick 1-2 main colors and an accent color. Make it something that makes you feel comfortable because you do spend 7 hours (ha! Usually more) a day there. Use color to draw attention to what you want your students to focus on. When that learning focus is over, take it down and highlight something new. The novelty of changing what you hang on the wall keeps things interesting and it keeps students attention. I wasn’t sure about this at first. I’ve heard it all before, but I was sure my students liked all the bright colors and stuff on the walls, and they probably did. But if my purpose is to emphasize a particular skill or concept, having lots of “stuff” everywhere wasn’t helping me accomplish that. Too much visual clutter can be distracting and then students don’t use it as a teaching tool. Effective teachers focus on one concept or theme to make a students’ understanding deep, not a little bit everything all at once. Our rooms should reflect that as well. But you can still express your individual style! Check out how these teachers used the same advice but used their own unique style to make it work (run your cursor over the picture to see whose classroom it is):
Not sure where to start? Brain research expert, Eric Jensen, suggests using a warm yellow on 3 walls and a light blue color on the other wall for a positive impact on student behavior and cognition. When designing your classroom, keep in mind that according to Jensen, warmer colors such as red and yellow stimulate students, and cooler colors such as light blue have a calming effect.
- Cover the Clutter. We’re teachers. We have lots of “stuff”. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think it was a big deal to have my “stuff” stacked tidily on a shelf–until I saw pictures of it. I was looking at pictures from a classroom party, and in the background I saw all my “stuff” stacked tidily on a shelf. I thought, “That’s what my room looks like?!” From the pictures you couldn’t tell that my filing system was (somewhat) organized and that I could put my hands on what I needed whenever I needed it. (I guess that’s why our closets at home have doors!) We need to have our “stuff” on hand, but you can cover it so it is not distracting. It can be as easy as purchasing an inexpensive curtain at Target that matches your room. Check out the pictures to see what you can hide behind the curtains. You’d be surprised what a big difference it makes!
- Take time to add subtle little touches. Brain researcher Eric Jensen states, “One of the first things students do when they walk onto school campus is look around. They also listen, breathe in the air, and form judgments about the environment. Students then decide if their surroundings feel familiar, safe, and friendly–or not.” (Teaching With the Brain in Mind, 2005.)
Homey touches. Adding homey touches such as a center piece in the middle of student tables, plants, pillows, and lamps make your classroom feel comfortable and inviting.
Smell. Plugging in a $5 wall flower from Bath & Body Works may be subtle, but it makes a big difference. I have had parents, students, and teachers alike drawn into my room this year by the subtle smell of cotton blossom. I have had so many people take a big sigh of relief and tell me how much they just love being in my room. They say it just feels like a comforting place to be. Stick to a subtle and clean smell to keep your environment soothing. Stock up on peppermint at Christmas time because peppermint is a smell known for stimulating the brain. If you want a smell that packs more of a punch, get it in a spray bottle. When students are taking a test, you can spray your “brain smell,” (as my class calls it) to stimulate students brain.
Sound. Eric Jensen (2005) emphasizes the negative effect of ambient noise, reverberation, and other acoustical problems in a learning environment. The soothing sound of white noise, such as classical music, nature sounds, a desktop waterfall, and fish tanks can mask the sounds you have no control over. Using fabric on the walls can muffle those ambient sounds too. A few years ago, the PTO at my school purchased sound systems from Front Row for each classroom in our building. It is like having surround sound in the classroom. The teacher wears a microphone allowing all students to hear equally well throughout the classroom. There is also a connector for my ipod so I can play music or an audio book through the speakers for everyone to hear.
Go Digital with Evernote
Are your filing cabinets overflowing? No where to put all those lessons you worked so hard to create, but don’t use anymore? Can’t let go because “someday” you might use them again? It’s OK–go digital! Scan a copy of the things in your filing cabinet and save them to your computer. Many copiers can send a copy straight to your email. Check to see if your school’s copier has that capability. You’re more likely to find them that way if you ever do need them again.
Use Evernote to organize your files. Evernote is a great FREE resource to save and organize anything you need. It saves notes, attachments, pictures, and it even lets you record voice notes and saves it in the “cloud” (virtual space on the internet). This means you can access it anywhere in multiple ways. You can open evernote on any computer, smartphone, or ipad and have access to your files. No more lugging your computer back and forth, saving to the server, or a thumb drive and hoping you have it when you need it. Evernote even has a “web clipper” that allows you to clip something interesting you find online, and it instantly saves the page and the URL to evernote — it’s that simple! That’s how I save my favorite websites that I like to use in the classroom. You can “tag” your files in multiple ways, so it keeps you organized and everything is easy to find. For example, I clipped a website that had great interactive science games for kids, and I tagged it “education,” “website,” and “science.” I can click on any of those tags and find it. Then I can open that website on the student computers and bookmark it. Evernote is going to be teacher’s new best friend!
Find a good home for your old favorites
How long has that rain forest unit been collecting dust in the basement? If it’s been 5 years or more, it’s time to let go. That doesn’t mean you have to trash it though. There are many craigslist-type sites just for teachers. By targeting other teachers (rather than just having a garage sale), you can be sure to find that well loved unit a good home. The whole country is tightening its belt, so this is the best time to recycle those old resources. Here are a few of my favorites sites for selling old resources:
- District resource — my district has a craigslist-type list where anyone in the district can advertise things they have for sale. This is nice because you know the people interested are local. That makes it easier to deliver things to them.
- Teacher Pay Teachers — This scholastic-sponsored webiste has many resources made for teachers, by teachers from all over the country. If you sell on this site, the shipping is paid for, but you have to share a percentage of your profits.
Jensen, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind second edition. Alexandria, VA: ASDC.