Minimalistic Classrooms

Given the lingering infection rates of covid-19, this year is the perfect year to go minimalistic. When I was in the classroom, I didn’t bring much into my classroom, preferring to embrace blank wall space and directing student attention where I wanted it.

Why have a minimal classroom?

  1. Cleanliness

Less in your classroom means there is less that needs cleaned. With a global pandemic that can make you and your students incredibly sick, your classroom cleaning routine should be as easy as possible.

2. Less to purchase

Skip the new bookshelf purchase this year. Save money on that area rug you’ve been eyeing. The new book bins are not necessary this year.

If you haven’t purchased those new pieces of furniture for your classroom yet or you are putting off the shopping spree for supplies, consider leaving off everything decorative. Save the money this year. Save the hassle.

3. Less to set up/maintain

Especially for teachers who were not in the classroom last year, this year will probably feel like your first year of teaching all over again. Don’t add to your stress levels. Skip bringing all of your normal pieces of comfort and decoration and keep it simple. In addition to having less to clean, the general maintenance time will be reduced. No more time spent straightening, labeling, and sorting.

“Decorating” a minimal classroom

  1. Plan the foot traffic

Are you a desk teacher who spends as much time as possible seated? Then plan around your desk. Are you a whiteboard/smartboard teacher? Then plan around that space.

The point is, know your teaching style and plan accordingly. Do not block your own teaching space. Make sure you have plenty of room for yourself. Don’t lean over anything. Don’t block your walking path, forcing you to take a detour because that little table with a light and book pile is cute. Plan for yourself first.

Second, how do your students use your classroom? Are you a rigid rule follower that likes students in their seats as much as possible or do you prefer students to help themselves and they need access to various sections of the classroom?

Assess how your students will move and remove all obstacles, just as you did for yourself. Don’t block their walking paths or make them function over furniture. The old, manual pencil sharpener shouldn’t be behind a big table that has a lot of books, file organizers, or other supplies. Desks shouldn’t be shoved against walls or furniture because students don’t want to feel like they are compacted. If your additions take away the workable square footage then you should really reconsider.

Also, ask your janitor to take away furniture that is broken or that is surplus. Some schools will take away that extra table or desk, others won’t. It never hurts to ask.

2. Plan for safety

Lamps, hanging lights, and signs are cool but may pose safety hazards to your students. Overusing the electrical capacity of your classroom can be dangerous and you are creating unnecessary heat. Old schools may not have cooling capabilities and no one wants to sit in the hot classroom.

Any cords that have to run into foot traffic should be secured so there are no trip accidents. Organize any technology first, secure it, then move on to decorative items (if you just have to have something).

Final step: check all areas to be sure your classroom would be easy to leave in an emergency. None of your organization should hinder that.

3. Windows: Free design element

I’m an advocate for using natural light to add to the classroom. Students are going to daydream regardless of a window shade being open or closed. A nice view (or ugly view) isn’t going to change your students attention span. That is on you, not the window. Open the shades and have instant decor.

For more on sunshine and learning, click here.

4. Wall displays

I taught two sections and each section had their own dedicated wall space. I hung two different maps (both laminated so I could draw on them) and then I had things on a cork board by my desk. That was it.

I rarely hung student work so when I did it was a big deal. I preferred instead for students to take their work home or keep it in their folders (which I did for end of year testing prep).

I chose one background color for the display. I chose one border. The white walls really made the two displays pop but otherwise I had no decor.

My classroom had an empty feel to most people but I was told by so many students that they enjoyed the vibe of the room. They didn’t feel overwhelmed in my room. That is what I was going for. Calming.

5. Decor can be what you least expect

I had a HUGE whiteboard in the back of my classroom and an even bigger one in the front. I used one small section in the front to display, “This Day in History” which I wrote on every day. This was a huge hit with students. Every single of them would read it. Every day. It was the decor of my room.

Sometimes that little section was filled. Other times it had just a few things. Once a year I wrote, “Nothing interesting happened on this day,” because nothing interesting happened. They all thought that was funny.

When I was in high school, my English teacher wrote a quote of the day on her board. We all read it and many people wrote their favorite quotes in their notebook.

It doesn’t have to be fancy to bring joy.

6. Embrace the trash can/recycling bin

Teaching with a lot of hard copies requires storage space. Keep the minimum you need. Don’t get in the habit of keeping old projects or examples. Keep what you need, no more. If you want to keep some examples from past years then filter them like you do your tax returns. Keep them for only a few years then pitch them. Students don’t need to see twenty examples of a projects.

Not to get too organizational queenbee on you here but get rid of stuff. I keep things I shouldn’t too but I really do try to live by the idea that if I haven’t used it in two years then I never will. Even the stuff I try to fool myself, “I will use this next year,” I never do.

The books from your teacher program? If you are a recent grad, sell them. If not, gone.

Old workbooks? Either use them right now or they are gone. Don’t keep them. They are most likely junk.

That pile of magazines you keep for student use but is just a collection of dust bunnies? Recycle bin.


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