The moment a teacher walks into their new classroom for the first time, it can be overwhelming. Bare walls, blank notice boards. “How am I going to use this space to help inspire learners and support them on this academic journey?”
Most teachers will have heard of Twinkl. A one stop shop for displays and all things educational. (Don’t mistake me- I’m not knocking it, I have a premium subscription!) It can be very easy to go on a printing spree and send the laminator into meltdown making pretty posters and aesthetically pleasing displays. Pinterest is another wormhole that I’ve found myself falling into many times for hours looking for the cutest lettering, and the most stylish visual aids. What sometimes gets lost in the needs of the learners in the class.
I’m not for one moment suggesting that Twinkl and Pinterest shouldn’t be used, it’s of the interest of a lot of teachers (myself included) to have a professional level of visuals in the classroom. It encourages you to aspire for better in your own environment, it’s cheap, there’s plenty of variety to match whatever theme you have in your classroom (this year in my own, it is rainbows and stars) and more than anything, it saves on our most precious commodity of all- TIME!
Most people who have ever worked with me will probably agree that my classroom is my pride and joy, my home and my sanctuary during a crazy busy day at school. I love nothing more than receiving compliments on how well it looks or being asked to help another teacher on a display they’re unsure of. It’s my (not so secret) weapon in my ever-growing teacher tool belt. I love it. It’s my passion.
It wasn’t always this way. I learned the hard way that the displays needed to be beautiful, perfect even. “Sorry Miss” I was told during an observation whilst working in England, “there’s a spelling error on your Maths wall and there are supposed to be two borders, not one on each board”. Like that was the most important thing? I was working with a group of young people from a tough area in Kent, struggling to learn, some from very difficult backgrounds, others maybe hadn’t had a proper meal in days; but as long as the display boards looked the part for any upcoming inspectors, we needn’t worry about such matters.
It injected a fear into me. I had to please my Senior teachers and make the classroom as visually appealing and error free as possible. That’s not real life, we all know that. Thankfully, the fear subsided long ago, but the drive for perfection has never left me.
I probably sound like a hypocrite already, and you may be half right. Whilst I enjoy creating an environment that is innovative and “pretty”, my learners know that in the haze of colour, there is support for their learning everywhere they look.
Before a display is put together, I ask myself how it will support my learners, what snapshot of our learning will it capture, how is it relevant to my classroom environment, and is it meaningful? This can sometimes take quite a while for me to conceptualise, and that’s ok. I won’t get it right every time. Some displays aren’t so complicated. For example; every KG and KS1 teacher around the world will have the alphabet, days of the week etc on the wall. It’s not reinventing the wheel, or a difficult concept to display, and although it can be printed straight from Twinkl and laminated, it’s completely functional and applicable to their little learners and can be done in a variety of ways.
What I suppose I’m saying is that while I’m perfectionist, what is at the heart of it all are my children. My classroom is “pretty”, there are rainbows and stars everywhere, but there is plenty of room left for them to put their stamp on our little piece of the school. Our little sanctuary. Where my perfect displays (with one border, because I’m eco-friendly) will be replaced soon with messy writing and spelling mistakes, my heart will be warmed to know that we are building our classroom environment together as a team. You can bet that they will all be rushing to show their parents on open night our lovely room, not for my laminating and rainbows, but for what really counts; their stories, or Maths problems or their photo on the wall, their classroom. Because that room isn’t mine, not really. It houses the most perfect creations of all, their learning journey. And that’s the most important thing.