It’s that time of year to begin reflecting on our classroom practices and what we can do to improve upon the next year. Re-tweak our classroom management style, read some professional development books on becoming a better writing teacher, or rethink how we are managing and differentiating centers. But what about reflecting on the items we put into our classrooms? I think as teachers we are naturally inclined to be hoarders in the classroom. After 10 years of teaching I do not know anyone that has not bought something new for their classroom each and every year. Myself included. But is all of that stuff useful? It’s time to start thinking about how to declutter your classroom.
Take a minute to think about the things that make up your classroom. Got a picture of all those things? Don’t forget about the stuff tucked way in the back of that cabinet you never go into. You know the one. Now read through these 6 reasons and decide if some of those things can go.
1. Having more stuff doesn’t make you a better teacher.
When I first started teaching there were not that many teacher websites and blogs to help out. Trust me I spent hours looking! Two of the best I stumbled upon were Beth Newingham and Jessica Meacham. They became my inspiration and mentors. Unfortunately, this also meant that I felt to be a teacher like them I needed everything they had in their classroom. With the explosion of Pinterest and teaching blogs out there (plus Teachers Pay Teachers) my iwantittoo teacheritis has been in full swing ever since.
Then I packed my life up in two suitcases and moved halfway around the world to teach in the Middle East. After that, my teacheritis diminished and I realized the importance of utilizing what you already owned. Sure it would be nice to have 20 different centers that all have multiple themes for the whole year, or 300 mini holiday erasers for any and all occasions, 15 different sizes and type of die or 10 board games for a go-to rainy day recess is cancelled moment. But will having all of these things make me a better teacher?
After my move to the Arabian Desert I started to think more intentionally about my teaching and the items I kept in my classroom. To be honest, most things I was used to having back home were very hard to find or nonexistent so I began to make do without. My teaching didn’t diminish just because the items in my classroom became less. If anything, my teaching began to improve. I was focusing on the content in my lessons and not the things I needed to buy or the cutesy animal plates I just had to have for a jungle-themed sorting lesson. Students were still learning the outcomes and did not know that I was missing 5 shades of glitter for that art activity. My wallet was also thanking me. Plus the uncluttered look of the classroom meant things were easier to find.
2. Owning too many teacher things means not using most of it.
If you look in my home closet, I bet in a matter of seconds you could pull out 5 shirts I haven’t worn in over a year. My classroom used to be the same way. When I decided to leave my first district and move to another teaching job, I discovered things I had forgotten even existed that were buried way in the back of a cabinet I hardly ever used. (See, I had one of those places too!) Most of those things I ended up giving away for free to other teacher hoarders – er, colleagues at my school. Because I had forgotten I even had it, my students didn’t benefit from the cutesy perfect theme tie-in. But they survived. Your students will too. When you declutter your classroom, you will keep things you know you will be intentional about using.
Those animal plates I mentioned earlier? They collected dust and eventually were just thrown out. I’ve learned now to be more deliberate with what I purchase. As teachers I think we are inclined to be impulse shoppers because we can always repurpose something or reuse it for the classroom. But does it help our teaching? Am I going to use it right away? If it doesn’t have an immediate use within the next week or two, don’t buy it.
3. Most established teachers accumulated their stash over many years.
Those teacher blogs and Pinterest boards you drool over each night most likely did not come by all their stuff overnight. Some probably took years to collect what they have. But what they are not showing you might be that stuffed to overflowing cabinet with the closed doors in every picture. Or the supply room down the hall with boxes of things. Or their garage with no room for a car because they have boxes of children’s books and themed unit activities and games galore. I speak from experience friends.
Don’t be jealous of what other teachers might have in their classroom. It took a while to get there. If you are just starting out, think about how you can utilize what you have available. Do you really need to spend your paychecks at the dollar store collecting containers and paper plates for projects? Can you change something easily without having to buy something else to store that will make it new again for students?
4. A busy classroom can be distracting for students.
When you have too much clutter in your classroom or too many things on your walls, your students can become more distracted. Students with autism or ADHD will benefit from less posters and visual stimuli on your walls. If items are not being used in the classroom they are no longer helpful and can be considered clutter.
Take inventory of your classroom walls. Sure, those anchor charts are beautiful but are students referencing them? Can you give individual posters for their writing or reading notebooks to reference and take the large chart off the wall? If you are using store bought charts because they are pretty ask yourself if they are useful. Keep the alphabet chart and the number lines for primary classrooms. But large hanging pom-poms? Maybe save those for a party. Remember less is more and you want less to help easily distractable students focus on their learning.
5. Not everything in your classroom is useful.
Watch your students during centers. Are they playing on top of stacks of old board games as if it was a table? Do they have to move things out of the way to make way for their activity? Do they leave things out or put them away in other spots? These are signs that the stuff is now a distraction and has become unnecessary. Pack it up and put it away. Give your students a lesson on where things belong and how to clean up when finished. Buy (or find) some baskets to organize your materials. Think about ways to streamline the stuff in your room. Can you hang the pocket chart on the back of a bookshelf instead of on the wall? Maybe this simple act will create less visual clutter for your students and you’ll see them focusing better.
6. Novelty wears off but good teaching lingers on.
You spend hours on Pinterest and then the dollar store buying what you need to create what you saw. Then another hour or two actually recreating those pins that you saved. But then what? How long are your students showing an interest in that cute new activity? Did the activity really help them learn that standard? Did their test scores show an improvement? Yes? Then fantastic! But if you said no or not really was your time and money worth what you invested into that project?
Again, reflect on our classroom. Think about the lessonsthis past year that worked really well. Students were engaged, answering questions, discussing with their partners – learning was happening! Now, what is it about those lessons that are similar? Did you use a particular teaching strategy or two? My guess is that all this engagement was happening and the lesson was ah-mazing because you were utilizing best practices in teaching. Not because your board games were cutesy and matching or you had 5 different types of dice for all occasions. Yes, maybe you were using manipulatives. But most of what makes a lesson successful is the planning behind it. You, as a teacher, were focused and intentional on what the students were going to learn. You were transparent with their learning objectives (in other words, students knew what they were supposed to understand from the lesson). They were talking and collaborating, questioning, and discussing. This is what made the lesson great. Not the stuff. You and your students made the lesson engaging, memorable, and meaningful.