Friday, August 21, 2009

Get Organized! How To Decorate Your UK Classroom

I was inspired to write this post after reading Mr. D's post on "I Want to Teach Forever." He shares 20 cheap ways to decorate your classroom today.

But for Classroom Canada, as Canadian (and a handful of American teachers) who are teaching in London, England we have a different set of priorities in decorating our classrooms. Many are new teachers, who have never taught in the UK. So how do they decorate their classrooms?

Here are my top tips & tricks to decorating your UK classroom:

1. ASK! Ask your team teacher, or leader, or Head of Department. It is very likely that your school has policies in place for how you should decorate your classroom and you should follow those.

I made the mistake of going in all gung-ho to my first UK classroom and spent weeks before planning, cutting, arranging and all 'round getting ready. Then school opened and I quickly learned that all my hard work was for nothing. My school already knew how they wanted their classrooms organized, and I should have waited to find that out. So, be patient, lay low, and wait. Then ask.

2. Bring some Canadian or American displays to show off where you come from. It's more than likely that your new class is completely unaware of your country. So, for Canadians, that means they will assume you're American, or even Australian, New Zealander or South African because they see more of those nationalities teaching in their school.

I recommend that you purchase (or make your own!) a display like this one from Smile Makers Canada. Here's another one I like.

For Americans, I'd focus on the people and how there are so many different types of Americans. They don't usually know that! It helps the students to see that America isn't just a white/black country and there are many languages spoken, just like London itself.

3. You can assume that you will have a Book Corner. How will you decorate this corner? What you teach will make a difference. I teach primary, so here's my example:

I decided to make mine a football pitch theme, and stapled astroturf to the wall. I made soccer balls and hung them from the ceiling. Each time a student finished a book, I gave them a piece for a 3-D soccer ball that they would eventually make into their very own soccer ball to hang from the display. They loved it and I liked that math, physical education and literacy were all linked together. On each blank section, they would write the book name & author. So in the end, their soccer balls showed what they finished and helped motivate them to read more.

You don't have to put this much work into it! Be creative & have fun with it. It's your reading/resource corner so make it your own.

4. Don't assume you will have a teacher desk. In fact, many Head Teachers (aka Principals) are anti-teacher-desk. They think it means you will spend your teaching time sitting at your desk, when you should be moving around the classroom interacting with the students. But you do need a place to store your things. Work around it, and find somewhere in your classroom where you can find your plans, assessments, calendars, etc. Your plans need to be on display for the Head to find, as well as cover teachers and your team teachers and teaching assistants. So don't lock them away!

5. Your students need to find their things easily, quickly & quietly. For primary, the students usually have little buckets, or cubbies. But at their desks, they won't have much in terms of storage for pens, pencils, rulers etc. It's not like Canada! They don't bring their own supplies, so you have to have a place where they can find these things.

Most teachers use small containers on each table group where they keep pencils, rubbers (aka erasers) and rulers. BUT if you have a tough time with behaviour management, and your class is particularly unruly, don't assume that they will take care of these supplies.

I gave my students their own pencil sharpeners, and assumed that they would understand when to sharpen their pencils (they were in Year 5 and ten years old). They sharpened them into tiny little stubs and I had to run and ask for more. I was horrified when I was told that it was my responsibility to make sure they didn't ruin the pencils and my class could have no more. How embarrassing! They also ripped the rubbers into little bits and every time my back was turned they had these things flying around the room. The other teachers just took away the rubbers and didn't allow them in their rooms at all.

See what I mean? It's not Canada! So, you need to think this through. How will they sharpen their pencils? Will you label each pencil with the student's names? My Head Teacher suggested I do this.

How will you determine what the tables are called? For math, you might want to label the tables "squares, triangles, circles" etc and then label your containers accordingly. For literacy tables, you can call them "question marks, full stops (aka periods), exclamation marks..." and label the tables just like you did with maths.

For secondary, hopefully you won't need to micro-manage to this extent! But again, they won't have pencils & pens (although they should at this point) so you need a good stock that you can keep track of. Know how many you give out and how many get handed back in.

For me, this is the kind of stuff that I am really bad at. So, if you're like me, take the time this summer to find other teachers who are the opposite and ask them what to do. The micro-managers do these things naturally and their lives are made much easier when schools starts because of it! So just ask, and if you think it's too silly or too much, do it.

6. Hang pictures of home. When you're having a horrible day, there's nothing better than looking up and seeing your loved ones staring out at you, reminding you that you are loved and you are a dang good teacher. Don't forget it!

That's all I can think of for now. What about you? Any other advice for our readers who are about to teach in London? Please share below!

To become part of the Classroom Canada team, sign up for our newsletters & apply through our website. Be sure to read the Guide to Teaching in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians to help you understand everything you need to know about teaching in London.


  1. I had to laugh reading about the students constantly sharpening their pencils. In one of my practice teaching classes, there were a number of students who were obsessed with sharpening their pencils. Their pencils were tiny, and their work was usually not finished because of all the time they spent at the pencil sharpener.
    So the teacher set out 2 plastic cups-one labelled "Needs to be sharpened" and the other "Sharpened Pencils". The students would put their dull pencils in the first cup, get a freshly sharpened one, and return to their desks. They got a lot more work done this way! The teacher sharpened all the dull pencils at the end of the day, but it was well worth it for this class! Maybe something like this would work in other classrooms?

  2. Yes, that's a great idea! My students also really loved sharp pencils for stabbing each other in the leg, so I would leave the dull ones for a while... ;-)

    Thanks for sharing! It looks like you have a blog as well, so I'm off to go and check it out. Would you like me to link to it?


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  4. Definitely in October; I know looking at the blogs of teachers from last year really is what helped me consider teaching in London, and I found even the smallest details helpful; hopefully I can return the favour for others!

  5. Sounds like a plan to me! Quite a few of our teachers are blogging now which is great and yes, certainly helps others see the little details. I'll invite you in as an author of the CC Teachers Blog as well, where you can re-post pieces from your blog or write new ones. That way, there's less pressure to post every week and you know others are reading it :-)


Thanks for sharing your two pence!


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