I LOVE scrolling through the beautiful classroom pictures posted on PINTEREST and Instagram. What teacher doesn’t? You get inspiration, ideas for future projects and classroom activities. What else do I get though? A feeling of not being good enough. I compare myself to the beautiful classrooms shown on these sites.
My classroom just isn’t pretty enough, or natural enough, or organised enough, or interesting enough. Do you ever feel like this? I do and quite often.
Social media has given teachers across the country the ability to share their beautiful classrooms. This is a great thing for many reasons, like I said above, getting inspiration is hands-down the best one. Who doesn’t love looking at pretty pictures.
I was having a chat to a colleague the other day and she raised the issue of her room not being up to the “Pinterest” perfect idea. This made me reflect and I admitted that I had constantly felt the same way. So, here we were, two experienced teachers both feeling inadequate because our classrooms were not picture perfect. WHAT?! Yes, I think I will say that in every blog….
In my initial years of teaching, my classroom was functional and somewhat attractive. The photo’s you see are from 2004. I had absolutely no pressure to make it look like a masterful piece of art. I don’t think there were any unsaid expectations either. Classrooms were just that, functional.
The focus was on WHAT we were teaching and HOW we were teaching it. We knew about using environmental print just because that’s what you did to engage students in language.
Fast forward a few years (well, maybe ten….). These are the general “expectations” that I have noticed:
- Theme – you need to stick to an interior decorating theme (such as, rainbow, Harry Potter, natural, and so on). This includes furniture, decorations, posters, resources – EVERYTHING.
- Every single area of the room needs to be attended to. There are no ugly storage areas.
- Small learning areas need to be allocated and separated – oh, and changed regularly.
- Keep up-to-date with current decorating themes (so, right now it’s monstera leaves, gardening themes, natural themes and Australian leaf themed).
Now, I’ll explain each point in more detail.
As stated above, t is generally suggested (through a variety of websites and also depicted on Pinterest and Instagram) that one theme is chosen and adhered to. Fine attention to details are made. These themes extend to the environmental print used in the classroom such as, alphabet charts, numbers, calendars and other labels (including student desk labels). Sometimes, even furniture, cushions and curtains are purchased to keep in accordance with the current theme. I have seen so many teachers go out and purchase items to match their themes. I have even done this myself however, I have made purchases quite minimal compared to what is spent in other classrooms.
Every single, little area of the classroom needs to be attended to and used for something. That “something” can be functional if it looks beautiful but it is usually a learning area for students. Most learning areas I have seen though, allow enough space for one or two students, so it depends how you are running your class to how these are set up. Small learning areas created can include; writing, reading nooks, tinkering tables, art, math and “Zen” zones.
Some of the classrooms shown in Pinterest and Instagram are following learning approaches such as; Kathy Walker, Reggio Emilia and Montessori. What they all have in common is the incredible attention to detail. There are no random posters, areas and items laying around the classroom.
Kathy Walker, mostly referred to as ‘Walker Learning’ have their own learning website. They encourage a learning approach that is a “play and project-based holistic” pedagogy. At a glance, these classrooms appear to look visually quite similar to the Reggio Emilio classrooms. Often, they use natural materials, lighting and encourage learning that is quite hands-on and in tune with the students’ interests. The Walker Learning approaches do encourage time for explicit instruction also.
The Reggio Emilio classrooms also look amazing. They often use neutral colours, work is displayed with pride (like in an art gallery), they encourage the use of light, natural furnishings, loose parts for students to engage with and recycled materials.
Montessori classrooms appear to look a bit more colourful, at times, but also use natural colours and furnishings. They have open-ended learning centres, with concrete materials and encourage multi-age classrooms.
I know I have not done justice to these wonderful learning approaches however, my point is not to fully explain them here but to glance at classroom environments.
I absolutely think it is perfectly fine to put time into setting your classroom up to make it engaging and a great learning experience in itself however, what is not ok is comparing, competing and setting a standard that all teachers feel they must reach. Pictures on social media are often showing the best out there. I don’t feel that it is ok for teachers to spend so much time making their classroom look perfect that they forget what actually matters; the kids and the teaching!
The psychological “tone” of a classroom is far more important than how pretty it looks. Look deeper than the visual. Just as they say: You can’t judge a book by its cover!
- Stop comparing yourself to others (whether that’s the teachers on Pinterest or in your school). If you are a full-time working mother/father, you are simply not going to have the time to devote to your classroom set up that first-year graduates do.
- Let go of the need to be perfect.
- Stop spending your own money and if you do, have a budget. You do not go to work to spend money on work!
- Ask the school to purchase decorating, or learning centre resources, for teachers to access.
- If you must spend your own money, how about going to Op shops? You can find some interesting treasures in these places.
- Go for function and purpose first. Where things are, what you have and what you need far outweigh beauty.
- Get students to make posters and decorations for the classroom.
- Have balance – if it’s too difficult to maintain ten awesome learning centres/areas, have one to two really great areas.
- Appreciate that there will be times in your life when you can dedicate time and energy to creating a beautiful classroom environment and there will be times when you just cannot do this. Don’t feel bad, it’s just life and it sometimes goes like a rollercoaster.
I generally live quite a minimalist life (at home anyway). I like clean and blank areas. Sometimes, I think we bombard students with too much visual clutter. There have been studies to show that students can learn less in visually cluttered environments. Put up what counts and take the rest down!
Will I stop looking at beautiful pictures shown on Pinterest? Absolutely not! I love it. I get such great ideas and inspiration. What I remind myself though, is that I don’t have time in my life to make my classroom look like the ones I look at and it doesn’t make me a bad teacher!
Wishing you happiness in your messy, uncluttered classroom!
p.s. Check out my Instagram page for current classroom photo’s! Things have changed slightly!