Before beginning, I just want to say there is no shame with how you choose (or don’t choose) to decorate your room! With the new age of Pinterest and Instagram, seeing what other teachers do in their classrooms can be inspiring, but it can also sometimes feel intimidating or even defeating. I personally do not consider myself a crafty person nor do I have the funds to turn my classroom into a flexible seating paradise that looks like a cross between a cozy living room and a hip coffee shop. Sometimes we need realistic ways to make our classroom feel warm, inviting, and even engaging for students, while not breaking the bank for teachers or consuming our entire summer. Hopefully, these tips will save you time and money, while creating a space you and your students will love!
Fabric Bulletin Boards
It took me a while to finally make the switch from butcher paper to fabric for bulletin boards but I am SO glad I did! Fabric lasts longer–the color is brighter, pen marks or smudges never randomly appear, and because it does not rip/tear, you can easily change displays without the fear of it damaging. To apply fabric to a bulletin board, I strongly recommend using a staple gun. It is fast and efficient. If you pull the fabric tight enough, there is NO NEED to iron out the wrinkles! This is easier when someone is helping you, but even if you are on your own, by adding more staples around the border, tightening the edges, you will not need to add an extra step of ironing the fabric first. Make sure you pick colors that you really love because the whole point of using fabric is to save you time and money in the long run, and you don’t want to keep switching out the fabric. While many people prefer patterns, having solid colors are timeless and can work with any class theme or bulletin board display without worrying about it looking too busy. Bulletin boards should never distract or overwhelm students, after all, and you should be aware of sensory overload. I bought my fabric at JoAnn’s, which does online price checks and teacher discounts!
Putting Letters on Bulletin Boards
This is a hack that has saved me so much time! Trying to figure out how to best space letters on a bulletin board can be a very tedious and annoying task. Try spacing out your letters/words on a table first using painter’s tape. Then, tape the letters to your board or wall. Now use your staple gun, thumbtacks, or whatever you use to affix the letters to the wall! This helps you make your letters go exactly where they need to go and eliminates a lot of planning time! The painter’s tape comes off easily too!
I believe in investing in some good posters for my room. I think it is important to have posters that inspire, speak to your own philosophy, and also serve a function. Having posters that tell students that they are safe and their identities are valued is critical. When a student walks into your room the first day of school, they ask themselves if they belong, particularly students from marginalized and oppressed communities who are often told–directly and indirectly–that they do not belong in the mainstream education culture. By validating who they are and having representation in your room, they can start to see themselves in your class and in your curriculum. In addition to having posters with inspirational quotes and social justice themes (largely from Red Bubble), I also created my own posters that serve as a function in my classroom. Think about some of the reminders you say often. For my class, I find myself reminding my students of MLA format and chromebook keyboard shortcuts. Because of this, I created my own custom posters for both. My district is also shifting towards encouraging Habits of Mind and I am required to have them posted in my room, so I created posters (found in my free ELA drive) to refer to. I also have a whiteboard calendar that I purchased from Amazon in my class to display upcoming deadlines, school events, and student birthdays! This serves as an important function in my room and is helping to support my students executive functioning. Be mindful of the placement of your posters, colors, and legible fonts. Be intentional with what you put on the walls.
Thumb-tacks Are Your Best Friend
Posters can start to get pricey, so when you need to take them down and put them up somewhere else, you want them to last! I learned the hard way that adding tape or mounting putty or tack to the back of your posters can make them more difficult to get down or rip. You always want the freedom to move your room around and you never know when you will be asked to switch rooms. With the price of posters, you do not want to keep replacing them every year. I stick thumb-tacks/push-pins directly into the wall (if you have a tough wall, you can lightly tap it in with a hammer). While you can opt for clear thumb-tacks, I liked picking colored ones that complimented the poster colors. While I first thought that this wouldn’t look as clean as just taping on to the wall, it ended up saving me time and still looked great in the class!
Student Work is Your Best Display
The absolute best art for your room is the art that your students create! Keep at least one board (if not more) available to fill up with student work and projects. It adds life and color to your room and also turns your classroom into a collective community space that doesn’t just belong to you, but belongs to your students as well! Students should feel like your classroom also belongs to them so the more student work, the better! The student work can also act as a model for other students; I have kept some of my favorite student work from previous years as well because it inspires my current students’ creativity! I do keep a busy bulletin board like this in the back of the room, not where the students face, so it does not over-stimulate.
Small Ways to Make Your Room Cozier
For those that cannot find or do not have the space for couches and loveseats (I am fortunate that my school purchased new furniture for me!), there are still ways to make your rooms cozy. This can include curtains for windows, throw pillows, paintings/artwork, plants and area rugs. By adding these elements, you make your classroom feel more inviting and warmer for students, without making any large or expensive purchases. This can also be something that you slowly add to as the year goes on. I LOVE having real plants in my room, but for those with limitations, fake plants also add some life. I slowly collected small ways to make the room warmer and even small additions can make a big difference.
Avoid being too busy
When I decorate my room, I actually end up taking things AWAY, instead of adding more. As an English teacher, I have so many quotes that I love and want to be displayed, but I also have to be aware of my students and what may be distracting. In fact, I find myself simplifying my room more and more each year (some of the photos in this blog post are outdated at this point!)
Option to Use Your Doors as Wall Space!
Your doors are just more walls! I love adding student work to doors. When you have one door open, it gives just a glimpse of the magic that goes on inside your room.
Interactive Bulletin Displays
One way to make your classroom decor engaging for students is to give them ways to interact with it! There are many different ways to do this, but here are a few that I have done:
- Take What You Need/Leave What You Can board: This is a popular display that you may have seen online, but it is essentially space where students can give positivity and kindness to one another or receive words of encouragement for themselves.
- Post-it Prompt or Whiteboard Prompt: I have one bulletin board with a tiny whiteboard attached to it. Each week I write a short writing prompt on the whiteboard that is usually fun or light-hearted (and themed to that week–Halloween, Back to School Night, etc.). Next to the prompt, there are post-its and pens and students can respond to the prompt. Students can do this when they get to class early, after the bell rings, during breaks, and occasionally I will let them answer if we finish class early (which can sometimes be a useful tool if you find yourself with extra time at the end of the period). Students really enjoy seeing others’ responses. This adds one element to the room where students can interact and feel a part of the classroom.
- Informational Bulletin Boards: Some of your more informational bulletin boards can still be interactive by adding an element where students can experience or engage with the display. One way to do this is to have sleeves/pockets where students can pull out informational cards or paper that is folded over and can be opened for more information. This makes it so students can actively seek and discover more information in your class. I do this through an American Literature author wall.
There are many ways to make your classroom more comfortable, more inviting, and more fun for both you and your students! There is not one RIGHT way to do it. You know your own personal style and your students. Teachers already have a million things to do, be kind to yourself and know that you do not have to do everything at once. Slowly add or change aspects of your room (if you want to!) and never be afraid to try something new. The most important part of a room is who is inside and as long as your students feel safe, welcome, inspired, and empowered, everything else will fall into place.