50 Tips to Set Your Classroom Up for Success
Teaching is hard work! There’s a lot more to successful teaching than having a decorated classroom or even the perfect curriculum (although they help). With careful planning, lots of practice and time, you’ll get more comfortable with all of the hats that teachers wear. Use these 50 tips as a starting point to set your classroom up for success and be sure to add your own as you develop your “secret sauce” as a teacher.
Prepare the Classroom
Here are some tips for how to organize and set up the physical space of your classroom for success.
- Set Up Your Desk - Your desk should be placed where you can see as many of the students as possible without being obtrusive or taking up too much space. Not that you will be teaching from your desk, but you want as much visibility as possible. Keep your desk clear of any items you are attached to and consider using the wall nearest your desk for student letters, quotes and positive reminders of why you do what you do. Consider placing a few interesting objects on your desk as conversation starters, so when nervous students come to talk to you, they become instantly distracted and relaxed.
- Create a Mobile Teaching Station - There are things you will use all the time and don’t want to be constantly reaching for. Set up a teaching station near the point where you will be teaching from the most with these items. Have them organized in a way that makes it easy to slide them into a cabinet at the end of the day for storage. These items might include hall passes, whiteboard markers, scissors, name stickers, notepads, extra pencils, etc.
- Arrange Desks - Think about your lessons and how you want your classroom to feel and place desks and chairs accordingly. Then, practice walking the classroom from all directions to check for walkability, room for chairs, places for backpacks and any other types of things your curriculum requires.
- Place VIP Items - Students are masters at finding ways to distract themselves and others. Simple things like asking for tissues or looking for trash cans can become constant drains on classroom focus. Set up multiple and obvious areas around the classroom where students can easily and quickly find trash cans, tissues, pencil sharpeners, additional supplies or anything else they might need without having to crisscross the classroom.
- Buy a Stool - You’ll want to be as mobile as possible, but also you are human. Pick up an affordable stool that you can perch on when you need to relax for a second after hours of teaching, but still have a good view of the class.
- Update Important Info - Make sure to update important info with signs large enough to be read from any seat in the class. This includes daily bell schedules, classroom rules, motivating quotes and anything else you think is important.
- Desk Supplies - One of the simplest ways to increase efficiency and reduce supply requests is to prep a supply basket for each table or group of desks. Have everything students might need for an impromptu assignment in your class, such as markers, crayons, scissors, glue sticks, etc. You can leave these out for easy access or distribute them only on days when you know students will need them. Many students don’t have supplies and you will reduce so much embarrassment as well as class interruptions when these supplies are needed. Buy enough supplies for 2-3 refills at the beginning of the school year when supplies are at their lowest prices for the year. Set up a teacher wish list with a sign up so parents and community members can donate needed items.
- Submit Receipts - Does your school have a small reimbursement fund for buying supplies? Save and submit those receipts right away so you don’t miss out.
- Figure Out Technology - Figure out what kind of technology your classroom has and test everything ahead of time. Make sure every item has a power cord and see if there is anything broken. Put in work orders immediately. If everything is in good working order, clean it and organize it as needed. Also, request a few back-up items, like projector light bulbs, for those inconvenient moments when they are needed without warning.
- Visit Your Peers - Don’t forget to take a walk occasionally around the halls to bond with and encourage your peers. This gives you the added bonus of seeing what other highly qualified and talented teachers are doing. There’s no shame in getting inspiration from your own teaching team.
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Prepare Your Curriculum
By planning what you can in advance, you’ll relieve the pressure of prepping during the year.
- Update Your Syllabus - Your syllabus is a critical part of your first impression. Revise as needed each year. Look up suggestions online and read those written by your peers and teachers you admire for more ideas.
- Plan Ahead - Have at least two weeks of work copied and ready to go before the first day of school. Even if you don’t use it all, at least you will have it. Can you plan further? Go for it. And, copy anything you know you will use at some point in the year and file it away in a file cabinet or make your own file system in a cabinet with simple folders and labels. The more you have ready in advance, the better.
- Laminate What You Can - Go through your curriculum and look for anything you copy over and over and consider laminating. For older grades, laminate things that students can use by writing the answers in a composition book instead of on the actual paper, so you can reuse without wasting paper and time.
- Set Up Paper Stations - Plan in advance where you will be putting finished work, where you will put late work packets, and other important papers that come in and out. These are the types of things that can become huge drains on your time and classroom management.
- Late Work - On that note, how will you handle late work? This is one of the harder parts of classroom management as many late work policies simply don’t work or become too hard to maintain. Consider how you will manage it, grade it and distribute assignments to absent students or students who lost the work. Simply saying “no late work” doesn’t take into account the unique home environments many students live in.
- Grading Policies - Consider how you will grade assignments before the year starts. By weighting in-classroom work heavily, you’ll cut down on grades sinking like a rock over one test. Also, research “The Case for the Zero” as more schools are moving towards this fair, mathematically accurate grading policy.
- Supply Lists - Consider activities during the year when certain supplies are needed. Make a list and buy at the start of the year when school supplies are at their cheapest. Utilize dollar stores to save even more money! Consider creating an online sign up form where parents can sign up to contribute toward those extra items.
- Seating Charts - Decide how you will handle seating charts. Whether you will have them planned from day one or will let students choose to get a sense of the friend groups and personality types, you’ll want a plan in advance.
- Submit Book Requests - Is there a certain book you want for the year? Submit that request at the beginning of the year to ensure you have it in time. Most schools have lengthy processes for acquiring funding, so don’t wait.
- Plan Daily Agenda - Having a clear, easy to read agenda for each class day will help keep all students on task and give them ownership over the daily plan. Decide where you will write it on the board each day and get it set before school starts.
- Prepare for Changes - Flexibility is an important attribute for a teacher as things are going to change often. Follow your student’s lead. Never be too attached to a lesson plan. Scrap a classroom setup that isn’t working. Rewrite classroom rules that aren’t clicking. If it’s not working for the students, it’s not working, period.
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Prepare Your Routines
There are so many tiny routines that can create a smooth, successful class or derail a class in seconds. Plan your routines and then communicate them clearly and practice them the first few weeks of school until everyone knows what to do.
- Greetings - How will you welcome students and start class every day to create a positive and welcoming classroom? Many teachers greet students at the door or stand at the front of class.
- Opening Activity - Decide how you will start class each day. Having a calm, consistent opening activity helps reduce confusion and misbehavior.
- Paper Handouts and Collection - How will you distribute papers when needed? How will you collect papers when finished? Plan both systems out and communicate them upfront so that over time it becomes second nature.
- Bathroom Requests - What will you do? While some schools require an escort for safety purposes, this can be a time-consuming drain. Other teachers have a hand signal that students use that you can quickly acknowledge so they can quietly leave.
- Late Students - This happens. It’s a fact of life. Create a strategy for how to deal with it quickly and smoothly, so that students don’t take advantage of it to be disruptive. Or, with younger kids, have a plan so that it doesn’t embarrass students and throw off their focus.
- Disruptive Students - How will you handle this in a way that allows for the rest of the students to continue feeling comfortable in the classroom? Ideally, the disruptive student is quietly talked with or removed without giving it too much attention. Public admonishment is never a good strategy and creates a lot of division in the classroom.
- Starting & Stopping Activities - How will you start and stop activities so they can flow smoothly with the least amount of time wasted?
- Getting Quiet - When the class gets too loud or rowdy, how will you communicate the need for quiet without yelling? Usually, a noisy class is a happy class and interaction is only natural. Use this energy in a positive way but have a strategy to get their attention when needed.
- Exit Activity - The last 5-10 minutes of a class are difficult. How will you plan for this shift in their attention and allow them time to prepare to leave in an organized, calm way?
Prepare Your Teaching Cycle
There’s more to teaching than just...teaching. So, prepare yourself for the many steps that it can take to reach the learning objective.
- Plan to Teach - Make your teaching plan, including the teaching strategies, objectives, ways you’ll encourage engagement and how you’ll assess understanding.
- Teach - Time to use that beautiful lesson plan! Make sure you adapt it as you go.
- Practice - Give students a chance to practice the lesson. A good rule of thumb is to show them, do one with them, and then let them try. Monitor as needed.
- Get Feedback - As you see the student work, you’ll start to see where the gaps are. Use this feedback to revise the plan as you move forward.
- Practice Again - Now, you are practicing with them again, but using the feedback to become more targeted in your approach. Student work should be much closer this time.
- Review or Revise - Time to go over the key points again to seal them in or do a quick assessment or activity to see what students retained.
- Celebrate - Always take a moment to finish with positivity! Thank students for their hard work and celebrate a job well done by all.
- Give Feedback - Decide how you will communicate their effort. Is the paper graded? Is the information used on a report or upcoming test? Be clear so they know.
- Take Notes - Now, go back to your books and write down how the lesson went, what could have been done better and what you would do exactly the same next time. When you look at this plan in a year, you won’t remember all of those small details that can be used to make the lesson better.
- Create Email Templates - Consistent communication with parents will help you gain necessary support from home. Save time by creating an email template that you can plug important information into on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Include space for homework deadlines, class reminders, upcoming activities, and general school/PTO information.
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Prepare Your Schedule
It’s easy to work around the clock as a teacher, but over time, you’ll want more balance in your life. Consider these questions as you prepare your schedule for the school year.
- Arrival - Plan when you will arrive to school. Think about your natural personality and if you are stronger in the morning or evening and plan for that. Sure, you might feel guilty when the teacher across the hall is always in before you, but they might be a morning person and you aren’t. Whatever schedule you set, stick to it, for your own routine and also for anyone who might need to find you.
- Departure - Plan when you will leave each day after school. If you don’t, it’s easy to stay “until you are finished,” but the work of a teacher is never truly done. Make sure to clock out at a reasonable time.
- Grading - Grading is necessary but a time drain, particularly with older grades. Consider setting reasonable time slots for grading and communicate these to students so they can know when to expect work back.
- Emailing - Emails can start to come in like a faucet. You don’t need to fear your inbox. Simply schedule time each day to answer them and only look at them during that time.
- Required Meetings - You’ll have quite a few. Schedule them in your calendar in advance so you don’t find yourself forgetting. For parent requested meetings, consider having a few days when you offer “office hours” and communicate this in your syllabus at the beginning of the year, otherwise, you could lose all your prep time to requested meetings.
- Team Building - Don’t forget to make time to connect with your peers. It may seem extraneous when you’re already exhausted and overwhelmed, but these are the people who will throw you a lesson when you need it or give you a hand when you feel like you’re drowning. Remember to do the same for them when you can, too.
- Activities - You’ll have some required activities and others you may want to spearhead, such as additional clubs or groups. Choose wisely and don’t overcommit yourself, especially as a new teacher. If it’s your first year, sign up for the minimum required until you’ve gotten your routines in the classroom down first.
- Absences - You’ll have days when you can’t work and you’ll need to plan for a sub. Some teachers have a pre-copied and prepared sub lesson that is separate from their daily curriculum, while others choose to continue the lessons as planned. Always assume that sub days will be a little more disorganized and will get a little less accomplished than normal.
- Parent Feedback - How will you communicate feedback to parents? You don’t want to be the teacher that only reaches out when a student misbehaves. Try to balance out the negative emails or calls with positive ones and find ways to gain the trust of parents and include them as much as possible. A classroom is stronger and more efficient with more help, not less.
- Breaks - School breaks and summers can easily become just extended work time for teachers. Plan how you will structure your break time to make sure you get time to rest and recharge as well.
Teaching is one of the most honorable professions. It's a tough, rewarding career that will push and stretch you in ways you can’t even imagine. Each year you are in the classroom, you will become more efficient, effective and successful. Use these tips to help you consider new ways to set up your classroom for success. Good luck!
Erica Jabali is a freelance writer and blogs over at ispyfabulous.com.