Saturday, 6 August 2011

Preparing for work - the classroom environment

The last week of the summer holiday is approaching, so like most teachers, my thoughts are returning to the world of work. As an outreach teacher, these thoughts become plans and activities quite different to those in my old life as a class teacher.

As a primary teacher, the end of the summer holidays would involve preparing my classroom for the year ahead. A couple of years ago, I'd likely be found in Ikea buying boxes, trays and other bits and bobs with which to organise  my classroom. I'd then be found in school, balancing on step ladders (or more often than not chairs on top of tables) hanging backing paper to the walls and shifting furniture. I'd then arrange and re-arrange the furniture until I was happy with the flow of the room. Admittedly, I did once unwittingly create what one Primary 1 child (let's call him Arthur) considered to be the perfect racetrack around the room, in which he sprinted around the moment he entered the room for the first time. This was swiftly changed, but he did then consider it an obstacle course and it took quite some time for him to realise the purpose of the classroom, and ways to engage with it in other ways. The first solution which worked for a while was involving him in creating his own workstation, which he called his 'office'.
I digress - then there was the always thorny issue of seating arrangements for the start of term. Would this be a class I could have flexible seating for, or would they need the security of their own space? I was lucky in that my last school was in a lovely big Victorian building with huge classrooms, and I was able to be creative with seating, having areas for groups, pairs and individuals to be in. (There are many drawbacks to Victorian schools though, and I won't go into them here). Large expanses of wall were begging to be filled with visual cues, posters and displays. I'd also be undertaking the yearly trawl through and re-organisation of my teaching resources. I'd be creating a lovely big positive discipline display around a theme of some sort, as well as making signs for the different areas of the classroom (which would be replaced by children's ones over the course of the year).  I'd be sticking labels on everything, gathering resources from around school, and pestering colleagues for spare tables and bookcases. Then I'd be planning, planning and planning some more.

Actually that last part hasn't changed; that's where I'm at now. I no longer have a classroom, but visit children in school and at home to support them to fill any gaps in their learning. I still make up materials to aid children with coping in the classroom and returning to school, but make them throughout the year as required, in collaboration with class teachers.

The physical environment is so important, and when right, it can provide security, aid routines, foster creativity and independence and enable a smooth running classroom. (Not literally, Arthur!) The class environment should be welcoming, nurturing and pleasant to be in. It should be conducive to talking and listening, and promote literacy and numeracy. The classroom should meet the needs of the pupils - for example, if there are any visually impaired children, or those with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, then perhaps vibrant displays will be too distracting, and a calming plainer environment would be appropriate. And of course, after the initial teacher set-up, the children should be involved in aspects of the room's design, giving them ownership and the opportunity for creativity. So without a classroom, or having met the teachers of the children I'm supporting yet, or having seen their rooms, why am I working in the holidays?

I'm still preparing for improving the children's physical environment by anticipating the issues the children are likely to have, and to support inclusion. As I know the children already, I'm aware of their needs. Many of the children I'm supporting next term will be requiring visual cues such as pictorial timetables, communication cards and checklists to help with their organisational skills.

So next week, the planning and preparation must begin in earnest. I'll be digging out the laminator and paper trimmer. I'll be buying new ink cartridges for my printer. I'll be writing many, many lists.

And then, I'll maybe think about activities for learning and teaching!


  1. I love your blog Julie - your positivity and reflection on past practice are very inspiring - I too will need to get the laminator out next week!

  2. Thanks Suze! I'm glad the posts come across as positive, it would be easy to go the other way, but I think we both know that that would be the wrong way!

  3. Been laminating up a storm all week and have lists about my lists! Looking forward to getting started though and meeting my class. Ruth