Classroom experience not only helps teachers hone their lesson plans but also their decorating skills. Over time, teachers learn what design elements best support student learning and social-emotional well-being.
Now in her 31st year of teaching, Rainbow Kelly’s fourth-grade classroom at Indian Hills Elementary is difficult to beat. In addition to festive decorations to honor the holidays and showcases of student art, Mrs. Kelly’s design choices are curriculum-centered. In fourth grade, students study California history, so the four walls of the classroom represent regions of California: the mountains, the central valley, the coast, and the desert.
Among those themed decorations are Mrs. Kelly’s bulletin boards, which are both educational and interactive. Mrs. Kelly has boards devoted to Sudoku, idioms, and fractions. Each board asks for student participation, providing fourth-graders with more opportunities to learn after they have finished their desk work. “When they’re done with their must-dos and lessons, they can get up out of their seat and have a little fun,” shared Mrs. Kelly. “But it’s also secret learning.”
The interactive boards are very popular with students. Dustin Parsons would not say that he loves math, but his favorite part of the classroom is the Sudoku board. Alexis Walters appreciates that if she finishes her work early, she has options for how to occupy her time. “I think having that opportunity to get up and do something active…makes it a nicer place to be,” said Mrs. Kelly.
Mrs. Kelly also offers flexible seating opportunities. This year, the area at the front of the classroom is campfire-themed. Two camping chairs, a small table, and an inflatable “campfire” make up the space. Each helper of the day is given a flexible seating pass, and most students wait until a friend also has one so they can share the space.
Separate classroom spaces can not only help students feel special but also give them a place to process their emotions on a difficult day. In Vannessa Herrera’s second-grade classroom at Del Sol Academy, her “chill corner” is vital to daily learning. The corner is a small couch with pillows and blankets, tucked away from the rest of the classroom to offer privacy.
"The chill corner prepares students to get back into the classroom to learn because they can sort their thoughts…then focus on the educational material,” said Mrs. Herrera. “If they’re consumed [by negative] thoughts...they’re no longer learning and they’re tuning you out.”
Mrs. Herrera’s chill corner is just one of many social-emotional elements of her classroom. Positive quotes adorn the walls. Abundant greenery provides a calming presence. Tables are arranged in a rainbow shape to support large and small group work. But the element most loved by Mrs. Herrera and her students is the set of twinkling lights around the whiteboard, which Mrs. Herrera turns on whenever she dims the lights for videos.
After spending so much time preparing her classroom, it is gratifying for Mrs. Herrera to see her students thrive in the space. Though a well-decorated classroom may seem inconsequential compared to lessons in math and reading, both Mrs. Herrera and Mrs. Kelly believe their classroom environments support their students educationally as well as emotionally. “I feel like it helps them be able to have that buy-in, that this is a place for [them],” said Mrs. Kelly of her design choices. “This is their space for their learning.”