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Top 5 Essentials for Back to School Classroom Setup

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

Teacher juggling jobs.
Don't let back-to-school setup get the better of you!

Ever go back to school and feel like you are forgetting something? Are you a beginning teacher about to start teaching your own class and have no idea of where to start in your classroom?

1) Name tags

Regardless of the age of your class, Kindergarten to Year 6, you will need name tags. Whether it is for tubs, lockers, desks, behaviour charts, job charts, birthday charts, guided groups, data walls or displays you will need different sized name tags so that your students take responsibility for their learning and feel a sense of belonging in your classroom. There are tonnes of name tags out there to download and you can always make your own depending on the theme of your classroom, however, the best use of name tags is when students make them. When students design their own name tag they are more likely to have ownership over it. If you are someone who doesn’t like the idea of having students’ names plastered around the room, especially on behaviour charts or data walls, use initials or get students to colour or design figures like monsters, superheroes, animals etc. Photos of students without names can also be a good way of identifying belongings and spaces but are not something that can be prepared before school starts.

2) Guided Groups

When school begins you will be assessing and getting to know students. Best practise teaching involves a gradual release of responsibility whereby students learn through modelled and scaffolded experiences then move through guided experiences to independent experiences. Guided groups should be an important part of your literacy and numeracy blocks. While you will not be able to sort students into groups, you can determine your group names. These can be as simple as colours, numbers, shapes, animals or can be more complex depending on the theme of your classroom. I like to have a classroom theme and my group names always match the theme or are literacy focused or maths focused. It is a good idea, if you can with your class size, to have a maximum of 5 guided groups as this allows you to spend approximately 20 minutes on groups each day for literacy and maths (so 40 minutes). This is 40 minutes of targeted teaching and individualised learning for each child each week. Very valuable!

3) Behaviour Management System

Most school’s have a whole school approach to how behaviour is managed and the system in place should be a positive behaviour system that focuses on supporting children to be successful in their learning. The system should focus on the positives as it is important in creating a safe and supportive learning environment where positives out way the negatives, at least 5:1. Some schools have a whole school system but allow teachers to develop their own systems in the classroom. The best is when it is the same across the whole school with slight variations to cater for the age and needs of your students. Thus far I’ve led learning about behaviour charts and have implemented numerous school wide approaches in my classroom. The best has been a behaviour chart using colours as the common feature across the school. How the behaviour chart or steps were presented differed across the school but the colours remained the same so that no matter who the teacher was or where the student was, the expectations and system was the same. For example; if I was rewarding a child in a different class on the playground I would give them a token from the duty bag that they presented to their teacher to move their name up on their class chart. Vice versa for consequences whereby the child moves down. However, the focus is on the positives, so at each colour/step the child receives an incentive or reward. At the end of each day, in the younger grades, this reward may be tangible such as stamps or stickers on an individual chart so if they finish the day on step 1 they get one stamp, at step 2 they get 2 stamps etc. In the older grades, this reward may be points or classroom cash to trade in for privileges so at step 1 you get $1 of class cash, at step 2 you get $3 etc. It is important that something immediately after the behaviour occurs as well, in order to reinforce the positive behaviour, so praise is great, particularly in the younger grades because they like having a big deal made about them publicly, but it also needs to be specific to the behaviour. For example; “Wow! Sally, that was amazing! I love how you helped your friends in another group pack up after you packed up your own activity.” Some teachers like to use a class clap or cheer here.

Regardless of what is already in place at your school, you will need to ensure a behaviour management system is in place in your classroom and sometimes you will need something that manages individual behaviour and something that manages class behaviour. These charts are wonderful in building up the positives in the classroom, especially if you have a competitive class because they want to be on the top of the chart each day, they want to fill up their stamp charts or earn better privileges. Other great ideas can include using Class Dojo, however I found that the motivation for positive behaviour fizzled out in the younger grades because it wasn’t tangible. There are also marble jars or “fuzzies” (pom poms) for younger grades which could earn them prizes or privileges as individuals and as a class. For older grades, options include incentive punch cards or classroom cash and trading systems. I’ve seen teachers use a minute counter or thermometer on the board for the whole class to earn a particular privilege such as extra recess that day, golden time at the end of the week or a class party at the end of the term. It is important that students are given choices, vote and have a say in this type of reward so that they are motivated to work towards it.

When children’s behaviour is negative it's important to find the pattern, trigger or motivation for the behaviour. Please read my blog post When behaviour management is a challenge...what do you do? for further insights about managing challenging behaviour. A behaviour management system should aim to turn the negative behaviour into positive behaviour so there should be clear consequences agreed upon by everyone of what happens at each level of behaviour. While we want to give children opportunities to correct their behaviour and make positive choices, behaviour charts or systems that offer too many chances can be detrimental to children learning to make the positive choice. For example; using my coloured behaviour chart, students moved down after a verbal warning to yellow, then again to orange if they made a poor choice and then to red which meant parental contact and being sent to a leadership member. Systems that offer children opportunities to move up and down, up and down throughout the day have pros and cons. They are good for children who could have a bad morning and then a good middle session and still be rewarded for their positive choices. However, when there is a child with challenging behaviour they learn that as long as they don’t get to “red” they can push and push and push. This is part of the learning process, but we want there to be something in place if that child gets to “yellow” every day for a week, or gets to “orange” three days a week in order to support them in learning to make more positive choices.

4) Visual Timetable

Previously used for students with special needs such as children with Autism, now a visual timetable is essential for all students. It is a great part of your morning routine to talk about what is happening during the day. This prevents anxiety for all students and avoids questions throughout the day such as “when is it lunch time?” “what are we doing next?”

There are many ways to set up a visual timetable but the important thing is that it is flexible and interchangeable. While we don’t want to have too many changes throughout the day, it is an important life lesson for children to learn that “things happen” and “sometimes things come up”. I like to use cards that are magnetic and stick to a whiteboard, whereas others may like velcro, blu-tack or pocket charts. For younger grades, it is important for there to be pictures and words as well as a marker that moves down the timetable so students know where they are in comparison to what has passed and what is coming. For older students, using the time or clocks beside each subject or part of the day is handy and gives them opportunities to practise telling time.

5) Teacher Planner

Being mrs-organised when it comes to school prep, I cannot live without my teacher planner. Most people who know me, know that I’m over the top organised. Usually, I have already planned what I’m doing and how I’m doing it a week in advance or I’m the teacher that everyone rolls their eyes at because I’ve already done that curriculum term letter and its not due for another two weeks! A teacher planner is your bible when it comes to teaching and how you choose to organise your meetings, lesson plans, student information, assessment data and notes is completely up to you! It needs to work for you. I like to program on Google Drive documents and have a million tabs open on my computer throughout the day, so this means that in my day book or planner I only have dot points and the key ideas of what I want to do or teach. The lesson plan is in my head and I usually have post-it notes or paper to scribble on throughout my lesson. I like that I can see my week in front of me. This works for me, but other teachers choose to have everything printed and written on paper with super detailed day books, while others prefer everything to be online and use a digital planner.

Planners with term overviews are great because you can map out all the school events, meetings and deadlines for that term. I also recommend a planner with “meeting notes” pages between each week because you are guaranteed to have a weekly staff meeting, sometimes there will be parent meetings and meetings with other staff. Again, you may choose to keep your meeting notes digitally but this can become fiddly when all you need to remember from the meeting is that parent teacher interviews begin in Week 5 - will you add it to your digital calendar, your meeting word document or write it on the term planner? Which suits you?

Please leave a comment if I’ve missed something. What is something that you think is an essential when setting up your classroom for the first day of school?

All items pictured in this post are available from my TpT store.

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