Today I was walking the around our school thinking about the fact that in less than 2 weeks the halls will be full of almost a thousand 5th and 6th grade students. Many of the classrooms that I walk past are still in various stages of preparation for all of those students. Thinking about those students got me excited! But as I walked through the halls today, I tried to look around with a different perspective. Instead of walking around with the eyes of an adult, an educator, or an administrator, I tried to look around and see what our students might notice. What do the things that are posted on the walls say to the 10, 11, and 12 year old students who will be walking these halls?
Many times as educators, we put things up in the hallway or our classroom because we like them. We might intend to share something of ourselves with a student, we might intend to be funny, or we might intend to set up expectations that we have for our class and our students. Unfortunately, our students can’t read our mind and know our intentions. Sometimes your students may see that sign that you think is setting expectations, and instead see it as harsh, judgmental, or possibly even confrontational. Think about what you have hanging up both outside and inside your classroom. How will it make your students feel when they walk into the room? Are they going to feel welcome, or are they going to feel intimidated? Does your room encourage them to be a part of the learning process, or does your room discourage their participation?
I saw a recent post on the blog The Thinker Builder that had a pretty cool idea (at least I thought so). Instead of covering his bulletin boards with amazing decorations to set up a classroom, the author begins his year with a blank bulletin board and puts a reserved sign on it (I have a screenshot of the sign to the right). If you’d like to see his post, or be able to download the sign, check out this post – “Reserved” Signs: A Bulletin Board Stress Reliever. What does a sign like this say to the students and parents that walk into your room? To me, it shows that you value the thoughts and opinions of the students who will be in your classroom.
Remember, your students will notice what you have posted on the walls both inside and outside of your classroom before you have said one word to them. Based on what they notice, they are going to form opinions about you. They will create expectations about what this school year is going to be like. They will also decide whether they feel that the classroom is a place that they are safe to express themselves and become part of the learning community.
One of my takeaways from the book Mindset by Carol Dweck was that a person’s environment can play a role in what mindset they take. Posters that use terms that make us think in a fixed way, or make us think that we don’t have any choice or control will generally lead us to behave in a manner that shows a fixed mindset. On the other hand, things we display that show phrases that encourage a growth mindset will lead us to behave in a manner that shows a growth mindset.
This year, as you are preparing your classroom, take a few moments to take stock of what kids will see in the hallway outside of your room, as well as when they walk into your room. Do the words on those posters have a positive connotation, or are they negative? Are they giving your students an idea of what they will be doing, or of what they will not be allowed to do? We only get one chance to make a first impression! Make sure that the impression that you make sets the students up for their best possible year!
Continue the conversation in the comments below. What are some things you are planning to do to help your students feel welcome in your classroom? How will they know that they are a valued member of the learning community? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!