Middle school students are such a unique group. One minute they act like a bunch of little kids, and the next day they are so grown up. But next week, who knows? They may be sweet children again, or they may be hormonal teens, or they may be both at the same time. Creating a classroom environment that fits the needs of all those stages middle-schoolers bounce back and forth through takes a real balancing act. Classroom decor is just a part of the learning environment, but it sets the tone as soon as someone steps into your room. Today I’m going to share some “Do’s and Don’ts” along with some ideas for decorating your middle school classroom.
Follow design principles like unity, hierarchy, and space. The biggest design problem teachers have is trying to cram so much into their rooms or onto their walls that all the pretty things compete with each other and students don’t really see any of it because they’re overwhelmed. You can tame that chaos by selecting a theme or color scheme and following through with it in all your displays.
Make Decor Functional
If you’re like most teachers, you have limited space for decor that doesn’t serve a useful purpose. In my classroom, a dry erase board covered one wall, my ActivBoard was on another, one wall had a row of computer tables against it, and one had a huge bookshelf. (Not complaining–I was grateful to have all that available in my classroom! But it still didn’t allow for much froufrou decor.) Then there were the required posters: hamburger paragraphs, PBIS (behavior management), emergency procedures, etc. That leaves little room for the things you want to display, like inspirational quotes, student work, or photos of your puppy (kidding, sort of).
One way to make your room feel “decorated” without just overwhelming it with posters and bulletin board borders is to include those things that are going to be posted on your wall anyway in your decor scheme.
Decide on a Mood
How do you want students to feel in your classroom? How do YOU want to feel in your classroom? Because, really, you probably spend more time there than anywhere else. Choosing a color palette can have a big impact on the mood of your room. Warm, bright colors are energetic; neutrals are sophisticated; pastels are calming. Why do you think school walls are always that blue-gray or faded green that makes me think of hospitals or prisons? I was lucky that my principal let me paint my classroom walls my favorite color: a pale sunshine yellow. Every year, one smart kiddo would inform me that yellow walls can make a person go crazy. I just smiled and told them it was too late for me!
Create a Sense of Unity
Repeating color and texture throughout your space can make it feel more unified. Choose adjacent colors from the color wheel for a compatible color scheme. You can always add a small pop of a complementary (opposite) color for interest or to create a focal point.
Choose a Focal Point
Usually the focal point in a classroom is a wall (because we don’t have a gorgeous stone fireplace, and we don’t want students gazing out the window, right?). Decide where you want your students to focus. It may be your interactive whiteboard or an educational bulletin board. My focus spot was a board with the daily objectives and agenda because that’s where I wanted students to look as soon as they entered the room.
Spend some time in your students’ seats to see what the room looks like from that perspective. Since teachers are on their feet most of the time, we don’t always notice things that might be distracting or hard to see for our students.
Don’t Get Too Cutesy
My teacher heart still loves to walk through a teacher supply store and look at all the pretty bulletin boards, notebooks, and stickers. I had to learn to restrain myself because my sixth-graders were easily offended if they thought I was treating them like elementary kids. The funny thing is that by eighth grade, they had developed the self-confidence to embrace their inner children! You know your own students best and can decide what you can and can’t get away with in your classroom.
Don’t Create Visual Clutter
Too much color or pattern can be a real distraction from the learning, especially for students with attention deficits. Leave negative space (or white space) around your most important posters to make it easier for students to focus.
Don’t Put Classroom Decor Up in September and Forget about It
I know, I know! I was that teacher who posted an “evergreen” bulletin board so that I would never have to touch it again. After seeing the same thing every day for weeks, we start to tune it out. If you let that happen in your classroom, then you are just wasting that space. Keep your decor fresh by adding new content at least once each month.
Use your decor space for educational posters, word walls, or samples of student work related to your current unit of study. Even better for a busy teacher, let your students help keep it up to date. There will always be a middle school kid or two who are eager to spend their lunch break changing a calendar or stapling up student papers.