The Purposefully Designed Classroom


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Heidi Smith

The beginning of school rolled in off the wings of a fabulous summer and I started thinking about setting up my primary classroom for a new school year. In my school we have to take everything off the walls, and furniture is pushed to a small tiled area so that the custodians can deep-clean. My first walk into my room led to a cluster of furniture and a blank slate. To keep myself from feeling overwhelmed, I began to think about what really matters most and came up with these questions:

How can I purposefully set up my classroom, creating a beautiful, calm place that serves the needs of my students best?

Which led me to . . .

  •  What worked about my classroom design last year? Small tables instead of individual desks, students choosing their own seating, and a well-organized classroom library. 
  • What did not work? Small-group teaching table too far away from phone (which always seems to ring during a group), tables clumped on one side of the room, too much visual noise with clutter and color. It looked cute, but even I was sick of it by the end of the year.
  • What changes can I make this year so that my classroom functions better and still looks beautiful? This year I have purposefully spaced my tables around my entire room. I moved my small-group table closer to the center of the room (and my phone).  

I chose a soft green color for my all of my bulletin boards and bordered them with black. Nothing is hung on the walls before school starts, so it is ready to highlight student work and anchor charts that we create together as a class. The result is a crisp, clean, and, most importantly, calm look that is ready for students.

I have organized my cupboards so that I know where my instructional materials are. I used to think those materials had to be out of the cupboards so I could access them easily. Now I know that those resources do not need to be on shelves all over my room. It creates visual noise that is distracting to many students. Cleaning out and organizing them in the cupboards allows me to find them quickly when I need them.

Now that I had a plan for the space, I was able to set it up quickly, leaving time for the most important question of all. 

How can I best use my time before school starts to plan for a successful beginning to the year with my students?

I wanted my classroom to look great, but I also wanted to maximize the time I spent planning a great start to the year. Getting the setup done allowed me to spend the majority of my time preparing lessons to teach routines and build community. A purposefully designed classroom will allow me to accomplish both of these goals. 

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