Using a 3R’s Strategy to Refresh My Classroom
By Katie Durkin
This past summer I had the opportunity to attend a business conference with my husband, where the opening meeting introduced the employees to their focus for the next year: Reconnect.
His colleagues then shared what they hoped to work on, continuing the theme of using the prefix “re” as they talked of plans to revitalize, reform, refresh, renew, and reenergize.
I was struck by their thoughts as I too was eager to pursue these themes in my classroom, especially after the trials and tribulations of pandemic teaching over the past two years.
Going along with this “re” theme, I decided to take a look at my classroom and reflect on how I could refresh the space while repurposing items I already owned and also rejuvenate or redesign spaces that needed a facelift.
In this article, I’ll share how I refreshed the space in three ways. First, I cleaned out cluttered closets and shelves to find items I could repurpose. Second, I redesigned the shelving space with my students in mind, creating displays to promote literacy and share my own reading life.
Finally, I worked to rejuvenate the classroom library by creating book displays to entice readers to pick their first read of the year.
I wanted to start my classroom refresh by cleaning out all of my closets, cabinets, and drawers, looking for items I could put to new and interesting purposes.
I moved into my classroom eight years ago, and the previous teacher left me with various items I didn’t go through. I’m sure many teachers have done this same thing. When you are a new teacher, or a teacher in a new school, you are so excited to meet your students and colleagues and learn about the school culture that often you take a quick stock of what was left and move on.
This summer I took some time to “deconstruct” each cabinet and closet to see what was left behind – and what I had accumulated over the years. This was incredibly helpful. I actually started this work at the end of the school year, so my students were able to help, especially those who loved to organize.
We found bins to repurpose in my closet and cabinet space, which we used to organize the various school supplies we also found during the scavenger hunt. My students suggested I label where everything was in the classroom so next year’s students could easily find what they might need throughout the year. I also did some creative recycling. I offered unneeded folders and extra school supplies to my colleagues and students to use for next year, ensuring nothing went to waste.
Think about spaces in your own classroom that you haven’t gone through in some time. Are there items that you could repurpose in your own space or recycle for others to use?
The space I most wanted to redesign was the shelves. I am lucky enough to have beautiful classroom shelves. But this space had become disorganized with old notebooks, books, papers, and magazines shoved hither and yon during busy school days.
On the right side of my shelves, I decided to display my professional library. While this is something teachers often keep in their own private spaces, I felt it was important to display these books in my classroom. Teaching is a profession of lifelong learning, and I wanted to show my students some of the books I had curated and read over the years related to teaching. I organized these books by topics and gave pride of place to three professional titles I read and reviewed for MiddleWeb this year.
On the left side of the shelves I decided to repurpose some baskets I found while cleaning out, alongside displays of student art and my current reads. I have had so many student artists over the years who have produced amazing pieces. I found some old frames amid the closet clutter and placed each piece of art in a frame with the student’s name and graduation year.
I had more frames than art pieces, so while I waited for more art from my students, I used some downloadable pictures from one of my favorite online artists – Lindsay Letters. I picked pieces of decorative and message art that would promote a collaborative, literacy-rich space.
The last part of the display will show what I’m currently reading. This classroom refresh was focused on modeling for my students, and while I usually share my current reads with the class, I never seemed to keep up with changing a bulletin board where I wrote what I was reading.
Based on a recommendation from a student last year, I decided to simply display the covers of my last three reads. This way students can check these books out of my classroom and make sure I rotate books in and out of this space regularly so students can see my reading in real time.
Transfer this thinking to your own classroom. Are there places in your class space that could be redesigned to better model your own interest and relationship with your subject area to students?
The final space that needed a bit of rejuvenation was my classroom library. Last year my students helped me to organize my classroom library by genre. While the books are now well organized, things still felt a bit bland. I wanted to use the tops of my bookshelves, and the shelf in front of the window, to spruce up the classroom library space.
First, I decided to bring in some plants. I am a gardener at heart, and I love all of my houseplants. Knowing the benefits of having plants at home, I decided to bring some of that same energy into the classroom. I have great light in the window area, and many hardy houseplants will easily survive throughout the school year with a little love from my students.
I also wanted to use this space as a place to create more book displays. Using metal stands I had found during cleaning out my closet, alongside plastic holders I found on Amazon, I easily created displays to feature books in the library space.
Since our kickoff unit of the year allows students to choose their first book, I decided to create a display of books my students enjoyed the most last year. I plan to rejuvenate this space once a month with my students’ help. We can create a display of mysteries for October, stories about families for November, etc. I also plan to ask my students what displays they would like to see for each month to incorporate their voice into the process.
What parts of your classroom could be rejuvenated? Are there places where you could promote more student voice and choice? If you have a classroom library, do students feel pulled to the space?
While organizing a space the size of a classroom does take time, I’m now feeling like I’m going into this year refreshed and ready to learn together. I am hoping my students feel the same.
I believe the feel of our learning spaces matters, and I hope students feel welcome in our classroom, working together to create a community where we can care about and gain knowledge from each other.
Whether you are a veteran teacher or a new teacher just starting out, think about how you can repurpose, redesign, and rejuvenate your classroom space so you are starting the year feeling fresh and ready to tackle the many opportunities for growth this coming school year.
Katie Durkin (@kmerz610) has been teaching English Language Arts to middle school students for over a decade and currently teaches 7th grade Reading Workshop at public Middlebrook School in Wilton, Connecticut.
Katie is a zealous reader of middle grade and young adult books and enjoys sharing her love and passion for reading with her students. In 2022 she graduated from Northeastern University with her doctorate in education; her research examined the impact of classroom libraries on middle school students’ reading engagement. Katie was the 2020 recipient of the Edwyna Wheadon Postgraduate Training Scholarship from the National Council of Teachers of English.