What kind of decorator are you?
How do you decorate your high school classroom? Do you walk in on the first day of school with a cup of coffee, a red pen and your favorite team’s poster? Maybe you are a new teacher, your Pinterest board is bursting with ideas and you still don’t know where to start. Perhaps, you already do a great job decorating your high school classroom but want to change things up a bit. Or, are you the teacher that is bugging the custodians to know when the floors will be finished so that you can be in your room at the earliest possible moment because you go so over the top that decorating takes you eons?
Why does it matter?
Listen, no matter which kind of teacher you are there is one thing I hope we can all agree on. How your classroom feels will affect how you and your students feel. Personally, decorating my classroom was the first thing I thought about when I got hired because my environment totally affects my mood. So, as a new teacher, I was shocked to walk through my high school and see so many plain, boring classrooms. The classroom environment is just as important for teenagers as it is for little guys, possibly more so. High schoolers can be cranky, fickle creatures that feel like they don’t fit into their own skin!
Notice that I am saying “feel” instead of “look” in regards to your classroom decorating. Ultimately, you are dealing with esthetics but it is really about how your classroom feels that is going to affect moods, not how it looks. It should function well, make kids feel calm and like they know what’s going on. They should feel happy and welcomed when they walk into your classroom. Above all, NEVER sacrifice function for form. It doesn’t matter how pretty it is if it is awkward or difficult to use. Ok, lets get started!
*please note that this post contains affiliate links which means that I may earn money if you purchase through the link. I only ever post links to products that I have personally used and found helpful.
1. Bulletin boards
Cover them up! Seriously, nothing is worse than bulletin boards that are cork brown or some weird hospital-esque green (mine)! It really is a minimal amount of effort and can go a long way to brighten up an otherwise boring classroom. If you only do one thing to decorate your high school classroom, do your bulletin boards. So, what do you cover them with? I’m glad you asked.
The traditional method for covering bulletin boards is paper. I used paper for years. Most schools have large rolls of bulletin board paper free for use in your classroom. However, you are limited to a few colors typically and there is always a seam somewhere on the bulletin board. Also, the paper seems to just call out to students, “write on me!” which totally drives me nuts! Then, there is the problem of fading. If you have the idea of just leaving the paper up and moving things around next year, forget it because you will have an outline of whatever you had hanging there. So, you really only get one year out of paper due to the fading and the charming doodles drawn by your students. I’m not a fan of paper…can you tell?
This eliminates the problem of fading but it is expensive at around $24.00 for just 50’….yikes! I never went this route because I never wanted to spend that kind of money. I can image it’s even more maddening to find a dirty doodle on this paper due to the fact you were hoping you could reuse it the following year. Grrrrr!
This is a viable option if you have access to a decent fabric store with frequent sales and coupons. My colleague in the science wing went this route and her bulletin boards are always super cute! There are sooooo many color/pattern choices! Have you heard of Spoonflower? OMG, just click the link and type in “science ” or “books” or “history” and you will find so many fabric choices for your content area! If you are a fangirl/boy search for your favorite characters like Dr. Who or Star Wars…(p.s. Sorry for making you fall down that rabbit hole!) I’ve read about people using cheap bedsheets or really inexpensive fabric like burlap with great success. But it is still a bigger investment. And although they can last for several years, may still fade depending on the fabric you choose. Also, if you like to switch things up from year to year, it can get costly.
You can buy these at the dollar store but they are sold pretty much anywhere that has a party section. They come in lots of different colors and they don’t fade. This is better than paper but they are really hard to get smooth. And you need to border them with a ribbon or bulletin border because the edges are hard to cut straight.
A couple years ago, I got the idea to paint my bulletin boards and I’ve never looked back. I love how clean and neat they look! You can still use borders if you like, but, personally I always found them kind of “juvenile” and preferred the clean look. If you’re not picky about the colors you can shop in the “oops” section of the paint section. Often times, these are bright and gaudy colors that may not be right for the living room, but are perfect for the classroom. Of course, your school has to agree to let you paint your bulletin boards, but really, why wouldn’t they? The next teacher could just put up traditional paper bulletin boards and no one would know that they were painted. I chose bright and vibrant colors, but the sky is the limit here in terms of your creativity. The best part is that they remain just a bright and vibrant the next school year and they are simple to touch up if someone dares to deface them. Although, I found it much less of a problem because students seemed to treat them more like a wall and tended not to write on them. p.s. the squares on this bulletin board are Kacie D’s Elements: Experiment in Character Design. I thought it was a fun way to bring the periodic table to life!
Think about your home. Do you have any windows without curtains or blinds? Probably not. So, give your classroom the same “homey” feel. Every classroom I have been in also had doors with windows or sidelights. For security purposes, teachers are required to cover windows in the event of a lockdown. Most teachers put up rolls of paper that they could unroll during a lockdown. While functional, this isn’t the prettiest option. I like to make curtains for these windows that tie up and can be easily dropped when the lockdown alarm goes off. You do not have to be a seamstress to do this. Stitch Witchery is your best friend if you don’t know how to sew. You only need to be able to iron fabric to use this method. Even hot glue would work in a pinch. If your windows have a frame, you can use inexpensive tension rods to hold them up (photo 1 and 2 below). But if the window is flat, like on a door, I simply used adhesive velcro (third photo). (pssst…ignore the kid in the banana suit, lol)
3. Office chair
You either have an office chair provided by your school or you purchased one for yourself. In my attempts to alleviate back and neck pain I bought one myself with a multitude of adjustment options. But….It wasn’t pretty. So, I covered it! I picked out some pretty fabric and made a cover. A couple of years ago, I went to a standing desk , but you still need a place to sit down on occasion! I couldn’t find a better picture, so I’ll have to make do with a picture of this lovely student who is taking her life into her hands by sitting in MY chair! ? EDIT: I have since written a tutorial for making this lovely chair cover.
Poofs, lanterns and molecules…oh my! Don’t forget about the overhead space. Especially if you teach science, this space is well suited for hanging molecules that you or your students make. I had a dropped ceiling in both of my classroom so I used these Grid Ceiling Hangers. They made it super easy to hang things from the ceiling or move them around. I got them at my local classroom supply store and they had a little “doo-hickey” that you could screw onto a painter’s pole and use it to hang stuff on the ceiling without a ladder! So worth it! There are lots of different types of hooks for dropped ceilings but this was the only kind that I could use from the ground.
5. Picture frames
A very cheap way to pretty up a corner is to pick up some frames at the Goodwill or Salvation Army and spray paint them in coordinating colors. I was on a “bright” kick so these frames had lots of different colors. You could paint them all the same color if you want! I couldn’t find a picture, but I got sick of these colors after a while and spray painted them all lime green. Put some of your favorite family photos in there, kids love to see who you are outside of the classroom. Plus, when I was having a tough day, I liked have pictures of my loved ones nearby.
Fish, reptiles, snakes, gerbils, ant farms, plants. If you are brave enough to go this route…bless you! I taught with a teacher that had everything from fish to turtles to snakes. He really was a wildlife guy and that was such a great experience for his students. When I taught Biology, I had aquatic frogs and my high school students loved them! We had a naming contest across all of my blocks to name them every year (yes, I changed their names, lol) and kids voted on the best options.
If you teach Biology, especially, consider adding something living to your classroom. Even if it is just a plant! I DO NOT have a green thumb. I really hate it because I love plants, and my mom and grandmother are awesome gardeners. However, I had a student give me a bamboo plant one year and I have yet to kill that thing. Seriously, it’s been 7 years and it is in my living room right now!
7. Use student work
We get to make some really cool stuff in science classrooms! Don’t just grade them and be done with them, use them to decorate your high school classroom. From atomic models, to genetic babies and cell models…we have a wide array of student work to choose from. The 2nd photo below shows what appears to be an ordinary pennant border. But it is actually my “get to know you pennant” that I have my students fill out at the beginning of the school year. Check it out here. It’s a great way to make them a part of the classroom decor. *Just make sure you tell them that they will be hung up so that no one gets upset when you hang up something they thought was for your eyes only.
8. Photos of your students
I have always taken pictures of the things that were happening in my classroom. And let’s face it, teenagers are funny as hell! So, when I took great images I would print them out and hang them somewhere in my room. One year I did a collage of student memes. This was a riot and a big hit! The next year, I printed out the photos square and did an Instagram theme that I added to throughout the year. Either way, kids love pictures of themselves and I like that they are included in the the decor. They would often bring their friends in between classes to show them their photos.
Who doesn’t love a giant calendar? I know that it makes me feel calmer knowing what is on the horizon, so I did this for myself as well as my students. A very clear view of test dates, homework due dates and schedule changes put students at ease. I simply used Washi tape or skinny artist tape to make the outline of the calendar. You can write in the dates or do what I did and grab a couple sets of magnetic numbers from the dollar store and spray paint them. (In hindsight, I would have painted them all the same color)
In one of my classrooms I had very little board space so I put the calendar on the window! Used my handy artists tape for the outline and wrote with dry erase markers! A student once told me that he had forgotten+ what the homework pages were and he said he walked over to the school to get the pages off of the window! Ingenuity at its finest!
The calendar adds interest to your classroom but more importantly it adds functionality. There are ALWAYS so many schedule changes, pep assemblies, testing, spirit weeks and holidays to keep straight!
Oh man, I am a total fangirl at heart! I love all things Doctor Who, Star Wars, and Star Trek. If it is a geeky TV show or movie, me and my kids are probably fans. I began a collection of posters several years ago and it has been growing ever since. Walmart, Target, 5 Below and lots of other places sell posters but you may have to look online if you have your heart set on something a little more obscure. I took them to the print shop for lamination and hung them in my classroom. Just a few will cover a ton of space. I love this because my students are fans of the same shows and it’s a way to connect. They would come in after some episode aired and want to talk about it. It’s easy to build a relationship when you have a shared interest.
I have about a million other ideas for decorating a classroom but these are my favorites because they make the biggest impact on how you classroom looks and feels. It’s not just important for your students! YOU will feel better when your environment is comfortable and happy! ? Don’t feel overwhelmed if you have a lot of decorating to do. My room evolved over 11 years, pick one thing to do now and maybe another later in the year. What are your favorite decorating tips? Let me know in the comments, I want to see pictures!