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Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Choosing Classroom Decor

It can be hard, especially when you're starting your first year of teaching or moving into a new position, to figure out where to start with decorating your classroom. It's impossible to get a classroom from "bare bones" to "ready for instagram" in one swoop! We want our classrooms to be inviting, and for the visuals to be meaningful learning tools. We want the space to be a place we enjoy, but also be kid-friendly. There's a lot to think about! After setting up many different elementary music rooms in my 17 years of teaching, here's what I think is most important to consider when choosing classroom decor.

1. Pick a widely-available color palette

If you want everything to look "put together", the easiest way to do that is to pick a color palette and stick to it for all of the basics. If you want to be able to pick up things here and there and add to your visuals, storage bins, etc over time, the most practical thing to do is to pick colors that are commonly available for those items. I use basic rainbow colors for this reason, but black and white with some bright accents also works, pastel rainbow can work, or pick a few basic colors like blue and green. You won't have to stress about a specific line of items going out of stock and feel pressured to spend a bunch of your own money buying all the things at once if you have a color scheme that's easy to match.

One additional consideration for elementary music: I love that my color scheme also matches my color-coded instruments, like the boomwhackers®, handbells, and glockenspiels with colored bars. If you're thinking of putting instruments in open storage or on the wall, that's another reason to consider going with the basic rainbow colors.  

2. Use supplies as visual elements

If you notice from my pictures, the posters really just add to the main visual elements which are the instruments and the storage bins- practical supplies we are all using and need to have in the room anyway! As I mentioned already, using a color scheme that matches those basic items you already have, or will be using, can make it much easier to make a room feel put together and organized. By putting the instruments and student supplies out where everyone can see, it not only makes it easier for students to access everything independently, but it also means the instruments (and other supplies) become part of the "decor"! 

3. Get the basics

When I start in a new classroom I have a few priority items that I make sure to have in terms of visuals:
-solfege hand sign posters
-management visuals (keyboard keys, classroom jobs, rules)
-recorder fingering charts
-ukulele chord charts

Those are all things that I want to have up in the room at all times, that make teaching a lot easier and more effective. They are things that I want students to be able to reference any time, so they are a high priority to have up on my walls first.

I also always set aside a section of the wall to be my "wall of fame". Any time a student gives me a picture or card, I ask them if I can add it to the wall of fame- sometimes they want to keep it private, but most of them are eager to have it displayed. It shows them that I love what they gave me, and it reminds me of why I do what I do every day. I also hang all our concert programs there as well to show the pride I have in what they have done.

4. Add some character

My classroom is covered in minions® and has been for years. I often get asked, by students and by other teachers online, what my connection is to the characters- the answer is nothing. I don't have any sort of personal connection to them. But whenever my students ask me why I love minions® so much, I tell them why: they are always messing up but they never stop trying, they work together, they support their friends, and they are completely comfortable being "weird". That's exactly how I want everyone to be in my classes! And that's the actual reason I started using them in my classroom. Thinking through what students can connect with, that also shows a little quirkiness and character, is a good way to make a classroom more inviting for students. And if you can send a message about what is accepted and encouraged at the same time, even better. 

The nice thing about starting with a basic color scheme is it's easy to add a few things with a more specific theme/ character that will go with the all the basics, and they can easily be changed out. This is where I think it can be fun to do a theme you change out more frequently, like some teachers do with their decor every year, to keep things fresh without having to re-do the entire room every year! 

5. Other good visuals to add

Beyond the basics, the other things I love having up in my classroom are:
-grade level expectations
-positive sayings/ quotes
-instrument posters
-anchor charts of musical elements

These are all things that I reference in my teaching, and that my students reference as well, but I can get by without them by projecting them on the board etc when I'm just getting started.

To put all of the thoughts above in context, here's a quick tour around my classroom from last year:

If you want to get printable files of the posters I use, which are all in those basic rainbow colors, you can get the full set here (or there are links to specific portions of the full set). I love that they coordinate with everything, but I also love that everything is purposeful. 

Obviously the minion® items are trademarked and I either make or buy them from various places, but if you are looking for ways to add some "character" with different themes, there are tons to choose from on TeachersPayTeachers- I love the ones from Music In the Meadow. They have everything from ocean to jungle, fairies to monsters, and it would be easy to pick out a couple of elements to add to a basic color scheme to change things up and add some character.

I hope this helps narrow your focus, think about the purpose behind the aesthetics, and make it easier to prioritize as you make your classroom a fun, inviting space that supports student learning! 

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