What is the perfect classroom like?

September 9, 2013

Every year when we start back to school, I think and think and think about how I want to set up my classroom. Not just the layout of the desks, chairs and tables, but how I want the students to operate on a daily basis.

Throughout the years, classroom management has always been one of my strengths. But, when people ask me how I get it all going and make it work, I rarely have a good answer. I usually blurt out something about “respect going both ways” and “spending time setting up expectations” but it never seems like I know what to tell people.

This year, I really wanted to make sure that I hit ALL the bases with my new group of kiddos. For many reasons.

First of all, the horror stories. Oh.my.goodness. Every teacher they have had since they were itty bitty has told some stories that would make even the most seasoned veteran think twice about being their teacher. The “Glue Helicopter” tale is the first one that comes to mind. Don’t ask. I can’t repeat it here…

Secondly, third grade is ALL new to me. Since that means everyone in the room is new to third grade, I better make sure everything runs smoothly. From the get go. Everyone knows that kids can smell fear, so I figured I needed a solid plan to help get everything going in the right direction.

Lastly, I am a control freak. I have to give myself a little credit here and say that my control freak ways have vastly improved since I started teaching. I am a lot more lenient about certain things than I used to be. For example, talking. I used a have a crazy-insane-mean-teacher moment when kids were talking. (Don’t judge.)  But, since I have learned more about kids and THEIR learning I have realized the importance of communication and sharing ideas. I still don’t LOVE a ton of noise, but I have figured out what I can tolerate and what they NEED to be able to learn effectively. That all being said, I still don’t like tons of noise or chaos. Hence….the need for a rock solid plan for setting (and reinforcing) expectations for the classroom!

I also really wanted to be able to articulate why things run smoothly when I am asked by other teachers! We are heading into a new evaluation system and I don’t think “um” and “ah” will be accepted as reasonable answers to “How do you create an appropriate environment for learning?”

So, if you’ve stuck it out thus far, here’s how I set up my expectations with my third graders this year. 

Please note: I’m absolutely sure I am not the first person to do this. I found the idea here: Education World. I’m not claiming it as my idea, I’m just sharing how I did it with my class.

I started by asking them to quietly think about what the perfect classroom would be like. I reminded them to think about the perfect classroom in the real world – no chocolate drinking fountains or video games all day! They closed their eyes and thought about what it would sound like, look like and feel like. 

Before I let them share with a partner, I had them work on a graphic organizer on their own. I really wanted them to come up with their own ideas about what the perfect classroom would be like before they shared and got ideas from others.

Once everyone had a few ideas on their charts, they quickly shared with their neighbor. Once everyone shared, we took some time to write. Each student drew a picture of their perfect classroom and then wrote about it. They *hopefully* included the details they recorded on their graphic organizers!

After everyone wrote and drew their pictures, we shared in partners. They read their writing to each other and then compared to see if their ideas were similar or different. Each partner group used a Venn diagram to record the similarities and differences in their thinking. They struggled with this…but it didn’t affect the outcome luckily!

Once they compared to see what was similar and different, we used the similarities to decide what the most important things were to create the perfect classroom! We created a list…which I forgot to take a pic of. But trust me…it was fantabulous! From that fantastic list (of which there is no record) we created our classroom expectations.

It was pretty easy to create this list, since most of them had similar ideas about what would make a perfect classroom. I typed it up and we all signed it…after we were SURE we could all agree to follow them!

I felt pretty great about how this lesson went…the kids really thought about how they wanted their classroom to look, sound and feel. They did a great job sharing with their partners and agreeing on what would be most important to help everyone do their best learning.

It took some time to get this all done, but I think it was worth it. We collaborated to build the expectations that we are ALL going to live up to, and they felt a huge sense of pride when they signed their names to their own ideas. I feel like they are more inclined to follow these expectations than any I just set out in front of them.

Thanks for sticking with me through this marathon post! I would love to hear how you all kick off the year and make those expectations crystal clear – leave a comment below!

PS Thanks to the lovely Jessica Stanford for her adorable digital papers and fonts that I used to pretty up some pics in this post!

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