5 Easy Ideas for a Classroom Makeover

By Leah Eslinger Shaw

By Leah Eslinger Shaw, Shippensburg Area Middle School

Scene: As your students enter the classroom, you scramble around to find your guided reading plans (or your teacher’s manual, your gradebook...) before the barrage of homework and notes from home begins.

Scene: The receptionist comes over the loudspeaker to remind you that a student is being picked up early and you think to yourself, “Oh no!! Where did I put that pick-up note?”

Scene: It’s time for the faculty meeting and you just cannot find your staff binder.

If any of these sound familiar, you just might need a classroom makeover.

Here’s how you can start:

1) Make a list.            

Think about 3-5 of your greatest personal barriers to being organized in the classroom. You can think about this in terms of the time of day you are most stressed, the type of paperwork that you find overwhelming, or the structure of your day (by subject? period? block?). This will help you prioritize and conceptualize your own needs so you are not crushed by the prospect of doing everything all at once.

2)  Get a clipboard.

My clipboard is an extension of my arm while at school. I carry it around with me like a security blanket. I have a notepad and a pen on the inside, and my weekly schedule/to-do list clipped to the front. If you are anything like me, your to-do list grows as the day goes on. Little things come to you while you are checking your mailbox, walking your class to lunch, or making photocopies. Those same little things seem to escape your memory as soon as you return to your classroom. My clipboard is the ONE thing I carry with me all day, and it allows me to write down those little things as they come. It helps me be more productive before school, during my designated planning time, and after students leave.

3) Invest in some bins or baskets.

Buy them. Slap some labels on them. Use them. Love them. You will not regret this, I promise! They don’t have to be color coordinated with your bulletin boards. They don’t have to have fancy chalkboard style labels. They can be pretty, utilitarian, or anywhere in between. Have one for pick up notes, reading folders, index cards, glue sticks, scissors, and anything else you need and use in your classroom. I can’t get enough bins and baskets in my classroom. I am constantly finding a new use for one.

4)  Take your piles of paper on your desk, on top of the filing cabinet, on the kidney table, etc. and…

Make a BIG pile. Set aside a few hours after school one day or on a Saturday morning and go through it. No excuses. You may not make a File Later pile or a Miscellaneous pile. Put the papers in their rightful homes. For some papers, that may mean the recycling bin (and that’s ok!). Just get rid of those piles. Your future self will thank you.

5) Put things away.

Wait, isn’t this the same as #4? No, and here’s why:

Paper clutter builds, and it is a problem. We can all agree on this point. Other items in your classroom need the same type of attention given to paper but are frequently forgotten. The trade books, teacher’s manuals, workbooks, manipulatives, and posters that you are using will typically change based on the unit of study or time of year. If you are not actively using it for instruction, it should be placed out of sight. Do yourself and your students a favor and reduce the visual stimulation. You will all feel better. While you are putting these things away, you may notice that they don’t have a designated “spot” in a closet or on a shelf. Please see item #3 for a quick solution.

Take a deep breath, and let the makeover begin!


Since graduating from Juniata College in 2008, Leah has worked as a Learning Support Teacher, Life Skills Support Teacher, Instructional Coach, and is currently teaching 6th Grade ELA and Social Studies at Shippensburg Area Middle School. When not busy teaching or scouring Pinterest for teaching ideas, Leah enjoys reading, baking healthy treats, and practicing yoga. She currently resides in Greencastle, Pennsylvania with her husband and daughter. 

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