To Decorate or Not to Decorate? Is That Really the Question?

School starts for teachers in my district on August 9th, just seven days away.  Not that I feel like school ever really ended this year - I went from school to summer school to prepping for and attending ILA to an AVID conference in Minneapolis and right back to our first leadership meeting yesterday.  I'm not complaining at all - I chose all of that (and loved what I was doing), and I did sneak in four extra days in Orlando to vacation with my kids.  Plus, I find lots of small ways to enjoy the more relaxed schedule of summer. There's lingering over coffee in the morning, lots more reading and writing, walking the dog, and a little pool time with the kids.

And, I'm going to admit it...I also relax with "language arts and crafts".  By this I mean that I make crafty-style decor for my classroom.

There. The truth is out. I am a high school teacher who really, really enjoys snipping and gluing, choosing patterned paper and fonts and colors, creating pretty organizational tools for my classroom. I even made chipboard letters that spell READ and, if you don't look too closely, they're pretty darn cute (I mean, not cute enough to post, but trust me, from a distance, they rock). It feels like a guilty pleasure to admit that I love to decorate my house, and I love to make my classroom a cozy, inviting place that my students and I want to hang out in. I've made colorful teacher schedules (I mean, how lit is that room schedule?!); signs for the agenda, learning targets, portfolio crates and book shelves.  I put up Washi Tape to section off the white board, hung some posters and washed the classroom rugs. And I enjoyed every single minute of it.

Here's the deal.  I think a lot better when I'm doing something.  It doesn't take me a whole lot of brain power to cut, glue or to choose a font (or paint the walls, but my principal would prefer I keep that little hobby at home), so while I'm doing all this, my brain is busy. It's thinking about how I'm going to start class - ways to create a classroom community that are authentic, safe, and make all students feel valued and welcomed, instead of cheesy, waste-of-time activities that kids and teachers both hate.  I'm also thinking through my Writer's Notebook - how we'll establish authentic writing lives, what kind of prompts will help us connect, write real, and allow students lots of choice. And I'm thinking about books.  How will I organize my growing collection of diverse books?  How will I encourage my students to begin reading for real this year? How will conferring happen? What tools do I need?  How will I get my students to read outside their comfort zones once our reading lives begin to grow? Which books will be my first book talks?

See, decorating my classroom is like warming up for a workout for me. It gives me time to reflect on last year - what I want to keep and change. It is not wasted, fluffy work. It eases me back into the school year, just like I ease my students back into reading and writing. We don't jump in with the hardest questions first; we ease in and help everyone feel comfortable and valued, so they feel safe enough to take risks. I guess my brain needs that too.

And, let's be honest, late summer is about the only time I get to do this. Once the year gets rolling, it's all Sharpies and sticky notes for me.

The ultimate thing, I think, is that teachers need to support each other. Don't judge one teacher for having a decorated classroom, and don't judge another for not having one. Not decorating a classroom isn't evidence that a teacher is thinking deeply about important things any more than decorating is a sign that a teacher isn't thinking about important things. This stereotyping doesn't help at all. Teaching is tough work, and I am glad that there are so many people willing to stay in the profession. Our kids need us all. Isn't it great that we have so many different teachers who can reach so many different students in so many different ways? Isn't that the most important thing?

So, happy August to all of you!  Whether you decorate your classroom, let the kids do it, or prefer a more minimalist style, kudos to you for diving in and committing to what's really important - helping students grow!  Now where did that Mod Podge go?


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