Decorating for Success: How to Personalize Your Classroom

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Originally published for Education Center:

Transforming a boring, empty classroom into an interactive learning space is one of the most rewarding aspects of any teacher's job. To get you started, we talked with some décor-savvy middle school teachers for the scoop on creating a more personalized classroom.

Why Personalize Your Classroom?

"Before I can expect any serious learning to happen, there has to be a relationship established," says Molly Kutsick, a math teacher at Canyon Park Junior High School in Bothell, WA. "Personalizing my classroom helps the kids get to know me. Making the classroom feel homey to you helps the classroom feel homey to students."

James Mader, the music teacher at Parkway Middle School of the Arts in Lauderhill, FL, believes in creating a space where kids feel at home while learning. "I want the students to walk into a place that reflects the knowledge that will be disseminated within."

How to Personalize with Classroom Decorations

Here are some decorating tips to create your personal teaching space:

  • Creative Décor: "I wanted to jazz up my classroom to set the tone for my teaching style," says Kara Wilkinson. As the technology and newsmedia teacher at Canyon Vista Middle School in Austin, TX, she teaches in a computer lab. To make her room more colorful, she creates tassels and stained-glass window effects with tissue paper. At holiday season, she strings colored lights across the lab to create a festive atmosphere. Marcy Layne, the music teacher at Thomas Ewing Junior High in Lancaster, OH, uses colorful borders on her bulletin boards to highlight the important information displayed.
  • Desk Accessories: Show your true colors with brightly colored desk accessories. A stapler, tape dispenser and pencil holder in your favorite hues add a little pop to the classroom, and can lift your spirits during tough days.
  • Lamps & Lighting: Wilkinson keeps a lamp near her desk to warm the glare of fluorescent tubes. Choose a base that you really like, then buy or re-cover a shade in your favorite color or a bold pattern to add a little more flare.
  • Wall Art: Hanging posters with quotes or images that inspire you as a teacher are a simple way of making a more personalized classroom. You might even line the walls with favorite posters designed by the students themselves. Window decals and removable life-size stickers of your favorite sports, literary or historic figures add life to the learning environment. Kutsick swears by putty, tape and mounting strips to keep posters attached to finicky cement walls.
  • Desk Chair: Ditch the standard issue and choose a desk chair that shows your style and protects your posture. Pick an upholstery option that reflects your personal preferences, or re-cover it with a more vibrant fabric. Be sure to choose something durable.
  • Photos: Your teacher's desk is the most personalized spot in the classroom. Display framed photos or a slide show in a digital picture frame on your desk so students can learn more about you. "Middle school students aren't afraid to ask me about the pictures I display," Kutsick says. "I'm generally happy to answer their questions, and it's good to show that teachers are people, too"

The rewards of personalizing your classroom come through when students feel comfortable learning from you in the space you've created. "I love seeing it all come together on that first day when you see the kids' reactions to everything," Kutsick says.

Julie B
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