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3 Helpful Tips for Setting up Your Classroom Library [episode 137]


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What Are Teacher Approved Tips?

This is a special series of episodes from the Teacher Approved podcast. 

Every Thursday, we’re bringing you a weekly bonus episode highlighting new and favorite teacher-approved tips you can apply in your classroom as soon as today. 

This Week’s Teacher Approved Tip: 

[01:32]: Tip #1: Ways to organize your classroom library setup.

Arranging your desks, putting cute decorations on your walls, or organizing your teacher desk might all be things you’d want to set up in your classroom first. However, we’d like you to consider putting your classroom library setup first. 

We are sharing three tips for organizing your classroom library that you might need to consider rather than just sticking random books on a shelf. If you want to foster a love of reading in your students, your classroom library setup is an important part of setting up your classroom!

[04:55]: Tip #2: Questions to ask yourself when setting up your classroom.

When setting up your classroom, whether it’s for the first time or the tenth time, there are so many things to consider. It would be much easier to just put items, desks, and supplies in a random spot, but unfortunately, that doesn’t achieve your goals of making your classroom function smoothly and feel right for you.

To help make your classroom functional and efficient, we’re sharing eight questions to ask yourself when setting up your classroom. Each question covers the feeling you want to create, your teaching style, how to manage your physical spaces, and so much more. So before you begin setting up your classroom, consider our eight questions!

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Read the transcript for episode 137:

Emily  0:37

Hey there, thanks for joining us today. Today we’re sharing our best teacher approved tips for setting up your classroom library and sharing some highlights from Episode 83, all about setting up your classroom.

Heidi  0:49

So when you finally get the chance to start setting up your classroom, whether you are getting back into your old class, or you’re setting up in a brand new room, consider starting with your classroom library first thing.

Emily  1:04

Setting up the library first is a big help because having boxes of books lying around makes it hard to set anything else up. Getting those out of the way will automatically make it feel like you’re close to having your room ready to go.

Heidi  1:17

And you may have noticed that people have big opinions about how to set up a class library. We’re not going to get into specifics here. I guess we can revisit that in another episode if you really want. But today we have three simple tips to help however you want to organize your class library.

Emily  1:33

First, make your library setup easy to maintain. The hardest part of managing a class library is the upkeep. However you decide to organize your books, make sure it’s easy to stay on top of. Ideally, it’s a simple enough system that your students can help manage it without your help.

Heidi  1:51

I know lots of teachers work hard to separate their books into lots of genres and topics. And if that works for you, go ahead keep it up. But if it is not working for you don’t feel like you have to persist with that system.

Heidi  2:05

A class library is not like a school library where there are just so many books, you really do need to separate the ocean animal books from the space books. I had hundreds of books in my class library. And I literally just put all of the nonfiction books on one shelf, and my kids had no problem finding what they wanted that was a really well used class library.

Emily  2:27

Our second tip is to make the books appealing. The point of a class library is for kids to read the books and they’re more likely to pick a book if it grabs their attention. Do what you can to organize your books so the covers are facing the front. Your kids will be much more interested in choosing a book when they can see the cover first.

Heidi  2:45

But if you’re going to organize your books facing out, instead of neatly stacked on a shelf, you’re probably going to need some containers. So you know yay, we get to go shopping.

Heidi  2:54

But our third tip is to do yourself a favor and stick with neutral colored book tubs that can go with any decor. If you get the hot pink and black book tubs to match your room this year, and next year, you change your decor to natural boho colors. You’re gonna be real grumpy you got those hot pink bins.

Emily  3:14

Yeah, and bins aren’t cheap, so you want to get as much use as you can out of them. Neutral colors will help stretch your budget a lot farther.

Heidi  3:22

And don’t forget our other two tips. Keep your book organization simple and easy to maintain. And arrange your books so that your kids will want to pick them up.

Emily  3:30

When you get that library set up send us a photo we will want to see all your hard work.

Heidi  3:35

And stick around as we share our best tips for setting up your whole classroom.

Emily  3:41

Did you know that good classroom management begins well before the first day of school? It’s true. Your classroom management begins with setting up your classroom and preparing for your students arrival. As Harry Wong says the three most important words for a teacher are preparation, preparation and preparation. Good ole, Harry.

Heidi  4:04

When it comes to preparing your classroom setup, it is a far bigger task than just putting up some desks. It takes a lot of thought and a lot of decisions at the start to set up your space for your new school year. And

Emily  4:18

And honestly, it should take a lot of thought. Your classroom space is about to become your and your students second home for the next nine months. Deciding how that space should function and feel is not something to take lightly. The time

Heidi  4:33

The time and attention that you put into designing your space will have far reaching benefits for your whole school year. And one good thing you can always adjust your classroom later if you discover a problem, or things aren’t working the way you want them to.

Emily  4:48

So yes, we want to approach these plans with care but also know you can always make changes later.

Heidi  4:55

The goal is to create a classroom that functions smoothly and feels right for you and your students. So we’re gonna go through some important questions to ask yourself, as you start planning and preparing the setup of your classroom.

Emily  5:10

We’re going to cover a lot of questions here. So I would recommend listening once through the whole episode. And then coming back to listen question by question when you’re ready to start working out the details for yourself. So let’s get started.

Emily  5:23

The eight main questions you should ask yourself are, how do you want your space to feel? What kind of learning and teaching do you like to do? What physical spaces do you need in your classroom? Where will your students sit? What will the students need? Where might there be problems? What can you do with the walls and vertical spaces? And how will your space build community?

Emily  5:52

And then we’re going to dive into each of those questions as the episodes go. So Heidi, bring us back to the first question.

Heidi  5:58

So that first big question is, how do you want your classroom to feel? This is the most important question of this whole process and that is why we are starting here.

Heidi  6:08

There are a few things to consider. First of all, how do you want your students to feel in the classroom? So for me, I want my students to feel safe, like that’s the number one priority. But I also kind of want to have a welcoming homey feel in our classroom.

Emily  6:24

For sure. Then consider how do you want your space to feel when others walk in? I know that I want other students who may visit our classroom or other adults in the building or parents to feel warm and calm when they enter my room.

Heidi  6:42

And don’t forget yourself. How do you want to feel when you walk into your space every day? So I just want my classroom to feel like it is my home away from home, spend enough time there, it should feel like that? And I also want to feel like it reflects my personality and my values as a teacher. I want to feel like it’s a place where I can connect with my students and that allows them to connect with each other.

Emily  7:05

Perfect. Now let’s move on to question two. What kind of learning and teaching do you do? This one will vary a lot by teacher and remember that there is no right or wrong answer.

Emily  7:17

Some things you might want to ask yourself are, do you do a lot of group work? If you do a lot of group work, you’re going to want to plan for spaces that allow that. It’s difficult for students to work in groups, if the room has little floor space, and your desk arrangement doesn’t have desks close to each other where group could meet. So what else should you ask yourself Heidi?

Heidi  7:40

Well you also need to consider if you use a lot of technology, and if so what technology do you need to factor into your setup? Now if you use your smartboard, or you project a lot onto your whiteboard, you may want to take that into consideration when you plan your desk arrangements. If you’re using laptops or tablets, you need to consider how they’ll be stored, how the students will access them, how they’ll be charged, and where the kids will sit when they use them.

Emily  8:07

And another thing to consider is do you like to have students work or read on the floor? My students were on the floor every day either for work time, partner work, reading time, or all three. I made sure that my room was set up in a way that there was open floor space in several areas of the room.

Emily  8:26

But luckily for lower elementary aged kids, especially that doesn’t require huge open areas, groups of three to four kids can easily work together in a surprisingly small space, and they will find those spaces, but they’re very little people.

Heidi  8:40

So the third question to ask yourself as you’re planning your room setup is, what physical spaces do you need in your classroom? Right. So think about obviously desks, maybe you have a classroom library, maybe you want to do centers, you might need a space for gathering in a circle that is different than a space where sitting at the rug, might need a small group area. Just a good idea is to make a list of all the spaces that you need your classroom to have.

Emily  9:07

And then think about the furniture that’s going to be in those spaces. Is there any provided furniture in your room already that you need or want to work around like bookshelves or tables? If there’s something in your room you don’t want, see if it’s possible to give it to another teacher or ask someone at the school if it could be stored somewhere. That’s not always possible, but worth checking out if there’s furniture in your room you don’t want.

Heidi  9:32

And when it comes to furniture, let’s talk about the big one. Do you want to teach your desk? If you do, where is the best place for it? Going back to Harry Wong, he says to maximize your proximity to minimize your problems. So if you do want to teach your desk, plan its location carefully.

Emily  9:52

But also ask yourself, do you really need a teacher’s desk?

Heidi  9:57

I got rid of mine.

Emily  9:58

Many teachers find that after ditching their teacher desks, they don’t even miss it at all. I was able to do the majority of my work at my little computer area that was built into my counters, and my horseshoe table. Both of those were in close proximity to the students. And that worked great for me, I didn’t need a separate desk.

Emily  10:17

That would have eaten up so much of the space in my room, I’m thinking about my classroom right now, I can’t even imagine where that would have fit in there. But if you do need or want a teacher’s desk, or if you have one in your room that you absolutely cannot remove, you’ll want to account for that as you plan your physical spaces in the room.

Heidi  10:35

Another thing to consider with your physical spaces is, are there any teacher only spaces? And what spaces do you want to allow for kid access? I think in most classrooms, a lot of your spaces are going to be open to the kids. But some teacher only spaces might be like inside of your cupboards, your personal teacher areas, your supplies, and all of that. So decide what the teacher only spaces will be. And then be sure to make it clear to students where they should and should not go.

Emily  11:03

And one last thing to consider with your classroom space, is do you need any spaces for others? Do you have a classroom aide that needs a dedicated space in your room? Do you have parent volunteers that will be coming into your classroom frequently? And need a place to work or a place they can access materials to use for their volunteer time? Plan for those in your space if you need them.

Heidi  11:24

So on to question number four. As you were putting your room together, ask yourself, Where will your students sit? You may not have a choice of what’s available to you in your classroom, but most likely it is either desks or tables. There are pros and cons either way with that. So if you’re lucky enough to have a choice, choose whichever one works best for you.

Emily  11:46

After deciding on tables or desks think about what layout you want to use. Is there a certain direction you need your students to be facing? Think about that previous question about how do you teach? Do they all need to be able to see the smartboard easil? Do you usually teach from the front of the room? Choose a layout that best supports the way you like to teach.

Heidi  12:06

Once you know your layout for your desks or tables determine your teacher proximity zones. In his book Tools for Teaching, Fred Jones refers to three zones of proximity. And this is so important to keep in mind.

Heidi  12:20

The closer the student is to the teacher, the more likely they are to be on task. So the green zone where the kids are mostly on task is the kids that are only two to three desks away from the teacher. The yellow zone where the kids are probably on task are about four to five deaths from the teacher. And the red zone where it’s anyone’s guess is any student six or more desks away from the teacher.

Emily  12:43

We have a whole podcast episode that deep dives into the process of perfecting your seating arrangements. So definitely go check out episode 26 of the podcast. And you’ll get the nitty gritty of working on your seating chart and using these zones of proximity.

Heidi  12:58

But at the very least just choose an arrangement and figure out your zones in whatever seating arrangement you choose. Because at the start of the year, you don’t know your students, you just have to use what you do know to fill out those zones, the best you can with what you know.

Heidi  13:16

So maybe up front, you know, if a student has an IEP that requires accommodations, maybe you know something like a certain student has a bladder issue, and they’re going to need to be able to get to the bathroom quickly. So you need to seat them by the door. I’ve had that happen more than once weirdly. So use that information to choose your students seats accordingly. And after that, just fill in the rest.

Emily  13:38

And just realize that you will likely need to adjust either the arrangement or who is in each zone after one to two weeks when you know the students better.

Heidi  13:47

So now let’s move on to question five. So as you’re setting up your room, consider what your students need. Think first about where the students will be storing their backpacks and belongings and make sure that you account for that in your room setup.

Emily  14:02

Then think about what they will need when they first enter the room in the morning. Where will they enter from? What will they need access to first thing in the morning? That might be the lunch cap, the homework basket, the pencils, etc.

Heidi  14:14

You also need to consider where students are keeping their supplies. We are loud and proud proponents of keeping student desks backwards and having kids store their supplies in other places. Have you ever heard anyone else talking about that? But we love it.

Emily  14:29

I know I were we’re beating the drum for this.

Heidi  14:32

So when students desks are backwards, you don’t have to spend time managing behavior issues as they’re playing with things on their desks or searching for lab supplies or spending time cleaning them out.

Emily  14:43

I couldn’t agree more. So what did we have them do with their personal supplies? I had them keep their crayons, scissors, glue in a pencil box on their desk. The pencils were communal and stored in an accessible area in the room. They would put the dull ones in one cup as needed and grab another sharpen one.

Emily  15:01

The dull pencils were sharpened for the whole class by two students at the end of the day as a classroom job. Then workbooks, notebooks, folders and other paper materials were kept in stacks of Sterilite drawers on the counters.

Heidi  15:16

So now it’s time for question six. Where might there be problems in your classroom setup? This is the time to troubleshoot any potential headaches that might arise. The best thing to do is to walk through your students journey as they enter your class in the morning. You know, they’re putting their backpacks away and making their lunch selection, getting pencils and supplies, and starting work. So what traffic jams might you run into with those steps?

Emily  15:43

Think through what they need to do to turn in their work and come to the rug, or get ready for lunch, or pack up at the end of the day. Walking through all those steps yourself will likely help you uncover some potential problems.

Heidi  15:55

Then you should consider what you can do to set up your room to avoid problems later. So obviously, we’re talking traffic jams here. How can you space things out in your room, so you aren’t creating bottlenecks in the flow of your day? But also, as you walk through the steps of your day, do you see any management issues that might arise? How about organizational breakdowns that might occur with the way you have things set up?

Emily  16:19

The last thing you want to troubleshoot in advance is your desk arrangement. You should sit in every seat in your arrangement and see what the students will experience when they sit in that spot. This is a great way to see if any of them are going to have an awkward or uncomfortable angle to see you when you’re at the board. And maybe you’ll discover that in certain seats, the sound wall is obstructed, it’s hard to know what problems there might be for students, if you don’t put yourself literally in their seats.

Heidi  16:46

Of course, you can’t foresee every problem. There will definitely be issues that become apparent once you are in your routines. And that’s okay. It is never too late to pivot and adjust as needed.

Emily  16:59

On to question seven, what should you do with the walls and vertical space in your room? Now I’m pretty sure the only thought that I gave to my classroom walls as a new teacher was what cute bulletin boards I could put up in my classroom. Well, a really cute camping theme. And no shaming theme. If you want to do one, you absolutely should. But there is much more to think about with your classroom walls than just what decorations belong on them.

Heidi  17:25

Start by thinking about your whiteboards. That’s kind of the focal point of your room. How much whiteboard space do you have? Some teachers have multiple huge boards, and some only have one small board. And that’s going to make a difference about where you put things. If you’ve got tons of space, for example, you could post your daily schedule, or other items right on your whiteboard every day. But if space is tight, you might just need to project your schedule to save space for using your board for other things.

Emily  17:54

Another thing to think about is how can you use your vertical space for organization and instruction? So think about using your walls for your lunch count, your bathroom sign out, your sound wall, I did some of these on my cupboard doors. Those organizational and instructional displays should get first dibs at your open space before decorative things.

Heidi  18:15

So instead of a theme bulletin board that you’re changing out every month, could you do a bulletin board for student work and just fill it up slowly as the year goes on that you’re not having to manage every month. If you want some inspiration, our friend Joanne over at Head Over Heels for Teaching on Instagram. She does an amazing job at this she she should write a book. But she starts off the year with mostly blank wall spaces that will be filled in by the students as the year progresses.

Emily  18:44

Yes, I love how she does that. And that brings us to our last question How will your space build community? Those collaborative bulletin boards and displays in Joanne’s classroom really add to the community she’s building with her students each year. Her students feel involved and invested in even the displays in her space as they evolve over time. So what an amazing way to make each student feel like their contribution is valuable and that this space is also their space.

Heidi  19:13

There is so much to think through. But trust us it is worth the effort to consider all of these details and make a very careful plan for your classroom at the start of the year. And if things don’t go quite right, and when problems arise, as they will, you can always adjust. It’s never too late to make a change.

Heidi  19:34

So to recap, the questions to keep in mind as you’re planning out your room this year are how do you want your space to feel? What kind of learning and teaching do you like to do? What physical spaces do you need in your classroom? Where will your students sit? What will the students need? Where might there be problems? What can you do with the walls and vertical spaces? And how will your space help build your community?

Emily  20:04

We’d love to hear your thoughts on setting up your classroom space for success. Come join the conversation in our teacher approved Facebook group.

Heidi  20:12

That’s it for today’s episode. If you enjoyed this episode, we would love it if you share it with a teacher friend who might enjoy as well. That is the best way to help our show reach new listeners.

Emily  20:23

And be sure to check out our show notes for links to anything we mentioned in this episode.

More About Teacher Approved:

Do you ever feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to be the kind of teacher you really want to be? The Teacher Approved podcast is here to help you learn how to elevate what matters and simplify the rest. Join co-hosts Emily and Heidi of Second Story Window each week as they share research-based and teacher-approved strategies you can count on to make your teaching more efficient and effective than ever before.

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