I am not a decorator. I repeat, I am not a decorator!
Any good-looking thing in my house is credited to my sisters, who tell me where to put things and how to arrange.
Because I am not a decorator.
This carries over into my classroom, where, for a kindergarten teacher, I am not a decorator.
However, I AM an organizer. I tend to ponder better ways of managing my materials and space in my room each year, and last year I turned my attention towards my classroom door.
The door whose surface had held no management or organizational purpose for the past 12 years. In a primary classroom, every space matters.
It was time to make the door matter.
My classroom door idea actually started out as a non-idea. While I’m not a decorator, I do claim to be a creative type in other ways. Especially ways that involve a technique called “flying by the seat of your pants”.
A year ago I was covering my classroom door with paper and border (I will admit that this is a chore I detest), and I simply did not know what to do with it. I usually don’t have a decorative theme for my room, but I do like to have an underlying theme of community, friendship, and love in everything we do.
So I was staring at my door, thinking of my classroom of kindergarteners who would be returning to me as first graders (we were a looping classroom, read about it here). We loved school and we loved each other so much. I wanted everyone who came through the door to know how much we cared for one another, and I decided to convey it on my door. I didn’t quite have a concrete plan, but the kids implemented their own plan as the year progressed.
I began the year with a door covered in black paper with a border. On the door, I put the words “We love school. We love each other.” Then, I glued 20 half-sheets of 8.5 by 11 inch paper. I wrote each student’s name at the top of a sheet. Since I’d had them the previous school year, I glued their kindergarten picture in the top left corner of the sheet and l left the top right corner for their first grade picture.
For the first few weeks of school, we spent the last minutes of the school day “speaking life” about each friend. On our first experience, I began by announcing that we were going to tell the school what we loved about each other, so that when visitors walked into the room, they’d see all the good things about us right away. I wondered if I’d need to model a few nice words to get us started.
No modeling was needed. We started with one friend at a time, and the kids called out all kinds of authentic accolades. We were whole group, and I was writing what they called out. I had the warm fuzzies for days hearing the sweet things my students said about one another.
She says nice words to me!
She means the world to me.
He saved my life in kindergarten! (Say what?!?)
She’s my friend when I don’t have any.
He’s great at math.
Day after day, the children looked forward to this time of day, when we would add compliments to our classroom door about each other. While they were very flattered and excited to hear what their friends said about them, I think the kids were more excited to add compliments to other kids’ pages.
As the hot summer days faded into fall, the students’ writing became more proficient (they had a writing explosion around October) and it was obvious to me that they should start writing their own kind notes to each other.
I passed out sticky notes one day and had the kids write kind notes to a friend. I was worried about kids getting left out, so I assigned students a friend to write to. Everyone in our classroom was family…everyone could say a nice word to anybody in the room. That’s how it should always be. So I started out assigning people a friend to write to, and would also take occasions to let friends choose who they would write to. Once the sticky notes were finished, the kids stuck them to the friends’ names on the classroom door. I was very viligant to make sure that each child had the same amount of sticky notes on his or her page.
After Christmas, we had a talk about how we were all writing sweet things to one another, but we all seemed to be saying the same things, like “He’s good at reading. She’s a good friend. He’s a good runner.” So we made a classroom list of words to use instead of good. We really focused on the person we were writing to, and we wanted to make our compliments real and authentic.
Our door became a beautiful representation of the friendship and love between the four walls of our little room.
At the beginning of the year, my classroom door idea/non-idea did not consist of classrooom management opportunities, but as the year went on, I sort of naturally started referring to it during individual conferences with students were having a bad day.
While pulling cards and moving clips and other similar systems work beautifully for other teachers, I chose to use a system of practice-making-progress about five years back. This system has worked so very well for me, but there are always students who seem to have a bad day now and then. Or a bad week. Or longer.
I found myself referring those students to their names on the door. On occasion, I walked that student to the door and read his or her compliments out loud. Sometimes I sent the student to read it alone and quietly contemplate all the good things that we said about him or her.
It always helped. It was so much sweeter, so much calmer, and so much more helpful than if I would bark out something like, “Just come and sit over here by me until you are calm!”
And you know those days where it feels like NO ONE is getting along in your room? Everyone’s going bananas? We had a few of those, of course! I found that I loved going to the door at the end of the day and reading a sweet word or two about each child as he or she lined up to leave for the day. We ended on such a better note than we would have with me giving an ultimatum about how, “Tomorrow better not be like today!”
It’s just a door.
It opens our room up to the world outside of our four walls, and it invites others in.
But this last year, our door space was not wasted. It became a management tool, a writing display, and a pep talk for whoever needed it.
Most of all, our classroom door became a beacon for the students of our class, a favorite reminder to each one that they were unique, they were special, and they were loved.
So, yes. I am going to do it again for my new sweet kindergarten babies this year.
I cannot wait to decorate our classroom door.
All pictures used with permission.