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4 Ways to Build Classroom Culture with Interior Design

Have a “Design on a Dime” Mindset!

At the beginning of every school year, teachers are responsible for setting up their classrooms. Some schools give a stipend in the amount of $250 or more to get supplies, posters, and bulletins for the class. However, in most cases, teachers are never given any guidelines or clear instructions on how to decorate their classes. What I have found throughout the years is that most teachers have never received any training on setting up a classroom, even though decorating your classroom is tied to building classroom culture.

Teachers storm to education stores to buy posters, laminate, and purchase all the materials depending on the content area they teach, but rarely do we adopt the mindset of an interior designer.

As a former Art teacher, I was very creative when decorating my classroom.

I understood early on that students will listen to you when they feel they are in a safe environment where they can be free to express themselves.

I wanted my room to look like a museum full of relics and art. Decorating my room became a work of art for me because I wanted my students to experience a whole new world once they entered my room. So much goes into designing space — such as choosing a color scheme, furniture, and accents that provide a personal touch. While teachers are not required to be interior designers, you truly are designing your room based on the theme or subject matter and how you want your students to feel while they’re in your class.

Here are four ways you can creatively design your classroom that will build a classroom culture that is welcoming and introduces you as the teacher:

You don’t always have to purchase all your classroom material at educational stores. My mother sold vintage clothes and accessories for years at various flea markets. We both loved going to flea markets and garage sales, where we would pick second-hand stuff and antiques. I liked memorabilia from the 1960s, the peace and love era filled with hippie objects of psychedelic banners and bean bags. I would bring these things to my class that added a cool vibe for kids. Kids loved the bean bag, especially when they needed a time out. Teachers always asked me where I got my items and materials — I would say it’s one-of-a-kind found at a flea market!

Maya Angelou has a quote that has stuck with me throughout the years:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

When choosing objects to bring into your class, it’s very important that you consider the color scheme because it will have an effect on your students’ emotional well-being. For example, dark colors can make some students feel depressed or sad, and bright colors can make them feel energetic and alive. Neutral colors can hold a very tranquil, zen energy. Every design choice in your classroom matters.

We are living in a generation that customizes everything, from cell phone cases to earbuds. I’m not suggesting that we bring snakes into the classroom because we love reptiles (except maybe if you’re a science teacher, and you would definitely need administrator permission!) Simpler pieces work: a clipboard, pencil sharpener, teacher bins, keys, bathroom passes, post-its, and laptops are all materials that can be customized. Customized classroom supplies, bulletin boards, and posters with your name on them are the start of branding yourself and your content. I usually order my posters with my name from Amazon. It really helps students remember my name since it’s posted all over my classroom.

Adding a lamp, plant, and other student-friendly objects will make the room more welcoming and less intimidating. Use your interior design mindset to make your classroom feel like a second home.

These are just a few tips that can get you excited about the new school year! Don’t be afraid to make your classroom space a place that is comfortable for learning. It’s where you will be eight hours a day — make it the best space in the building.

Michelle Gabriel started teaching Arts & Drama and worked as an Enrichment Director for many years before transitioning to the Middle & High school English/History position. She has a strong passion for promoting student engagement through S.T.E.A.M & culturally relevant education. Michelle presently teaches High School English and has two kids, one in High School and the other in College. She is currently working on a book entitled “Why Students Love Ms. Gs Room: 10 Creative Teaching Strategies for Students in Urban Public and Charter Schools” where she shares years of experience working with different age groups and teaching strategies that promote student engagement. One quote that drives Michelle’s passion for learning is from Maya Angelou: “ Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

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Resources, ideas, and stories for PreK-12 educators. We focus on educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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