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!
Your class looks like so much fun!
Okay lovely lady, I need:
1. deets on how you covered your chair
2. Ideas for my ceiling. You know how they are. Drop. Styrofoam like. I can’t hang a bunch of things bc ceiling fans everywhere. I want something like hot pink vinyl circles to scatter on them, but I fear it might rip the tile. Any ideas for FLAT pretty coverings??
Jen Siler says
Hey KP! Uugghhh, ceiling fans! Well, you could probably still use those wall art stickers that they sell at places like Target because they are designed to be put up and taken down without ruining paint finishes. You might even find that you have to use some straight pins around the edges to keep them from falling down. The straight pins will go right into the tiles. (Im talking about basic flat head straight pins that you would find in any sewing store) For a cheaper alternative you could find pretty wallpaper and cut out shapes you like and laminate them in the print shop. I would hang the shapes with straight pins pushed into the tiles at a slight angle. The chair…I’m writing that post for next week. It’s hard to explain without lots of pictures, so stop back next Friday 🙂
Dollar tree has re-stickable wall art too.
A science teacher at our school put up posters of planets on the ceiling tile walls. I thought that was great.
Love! Love! Love! Thanks for sharing!
Jen Siler says
You’re very welcome! Hope you have an awesome school year!
Where did you get the poster above your board? Did you make it yourself? I was thinking of doing something similar, but didn’t know what size or how to do it. Can you let us know the details?
Do you mean the giant, teal, hard work one? I bought that several years ago from Vistaprint.com. I designed it on their website. It is 2.5′ x 10′ and cost me $32 but that was because they were we’re having a half off sale. Or maybe I had a coupon? Can’t remember exactly but they have sales all the time. I use them to make business cards and order custom stamps all the time too! I get tired of writing “don’t forget units” and “significant digits” all the time! Lol. Check them out!
Your classroom looks fantastic and so fun! What is the Student Meme photos about?? I’d love to know more!
Jen Siler says
Thanks so much! The memes were just silly things mostly. I’ve always taken lots of pictures of my students and they LOVE to have pictures of themselves hanging up. So I started making them into memes. For example, I took a cute pic of two of my kiddos hugging and the meme said “in chemistry we form bonds”. Give it a try, they love it!
I am loving these ideas. Thank you!! Trying to find cool Science room ideas for Middle School is so hard. I am going to definitely use some of these. At least I hope. Just got my first assignment ever today and so I am super excited, and of course, I want to or rather HAVE TO decorate my room!! And I love the “meme” idea. I think I will use that on the first day of school and have them make a meme about themselves. 😀
Jen Siler says
Awww, I’m glad you found it useful! I think your students will LOVE making memes of themselves! What a great idea. Congratulations on your first assignment, it’s so exciting!
What kind of paint did you use for the bulletin boards? Is it just wall paint?
Jen Siler says
Yup! Plain old latex paint.
In the genetic babies picture with two students, what is the leaf like border on the board behind them?
I love! Your ideas. I think I will steal the meme one, or at least the photo part. I did something similar my first two years teaching and forgot all about it (8 years later)
Thanks for the post!
Jen Siler says
Those leaves are a border I created that has the periodic table of elements on them! You can buy them in my store. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Periodic-table-leaf-border-3357143
They seem to move us from grade level to grade level or just classroom to classroom EVERY year! Any suggestions? I mean its expensive to say the least, but frustrating as all hell!
Jen Siler says
Oh my goodness! I am such a nester, so that would make me a mess! I guess my biggest piece of advice would be to laminate everything. Since you are taking down and putting things up every year, lamination will save things from getting ripped and torn in the process. I would also store as much as possible in totes that are basically already packed so when you move rooms, you just grab your totes and go. (although I would have needed like 30 totes, lol) And beyond that…decorate the things that you take with you, like your chair! Hope this helps, and I hope they stop moving you around!
Thank you so much for the ideas!! I am going from elementary to high school special ed next year and was kind of at a loss for decorating. Going to try almost every one of your ideas. Much appreciated!!
Jennifer Siler says
I wish you luck, that is a major change! I hope you find my ideas useful!
I just got a new classroom assignment this week and I really found this very helpful! I will definitely use that hanging ideas (I’m a math teacher so I’ll just use math tricks instead of molecules), i love the get to know you pennants, will use that on the first week of classes ? and your meme board! So cool! Thank you so much for posting this! ?
Theresa Simoneaux says
What does the sign (that ends with SIT DOWN) on your door say?
Jen Siler says
“If you are lined up by the door…SIT DOWN” it’s my pet peeve and they tend to forget from class to class.
Love the hanging things from the ceiling. How did you get those by the Fire Marshall?
Jen Siler says
??♀️ I didn’t realize it was an issue until I posted it here and others mentioned it. ? I’ve done it for 11 years and no one has said anything….hmmm. Maybe there are different rules in different states? Or my school never had any fire safety checks?
At my school we can hang things from the ceiling as long as it hangs at least 18” from something that won’t carry a flame (I use chains of paper clips or fishing wire, which melts).
I teach Digital Media, and I have fun with obsolete technology. I made posters of 1980s computer ads (just $5000 for a 10 mb hard drive!) that I found on the Internet. Our school store can take any photo and blow it up to poster size for about $5 each. I used old floppy disks to make a banner over the window. I had students create their own business cards and I printed them all out and taped each one to an old CD and hung them from the ceiling of the computer lab using fishing wire and paper clips tucked into the edges of the dropped ceiling. They made nice gifts at the end of the semester.
Jen Siler says
Those are fantastic ideas, I love old ads. They are so graphic and colorful, I bet they added a lot of fun to your classroom! Thank you so much for sharing.
Thank you for the great ideas. I’m moving to a different school this year and I was having trouble finding my decorating theme this year. I will definitely paint my bulletin boards this year. After 18 years of teaching I was tired of the cookie cutter theme packs. Your post has given me a new way to showcase my passion.
Jen Siler says
Yes! No more cookie cutter ?? You got this!
Kelly Lindley says
Jen, I am so beyond thrilled that I stumbled onto your page! I have never taught before, but my area high school was in a pinch and I literally just got the chemistry teaching position! I’m so very nervous about this venture as I have been a physician assistant up until my divorce and some other issues… I have very limited time and resources to pull this app together, but I’m trying! If you have any additional recommendations or advice, I would appreciate it greatly!
I am beyond excited to see a chemistry teacher posting creative ideas to color up what students think is a boring subject! It’s hard to find ideas that fit for high school chemistry. My biggest question is how in the world do you get stuff to stick to your painted cinder block walls? Everything we hang jumps right off by the morning, if not sooner. I’ve tried everything I can think of. Please share your ‘solution’! ? thanks!
Jen Siler says
? Here’s my secret- Hot Glue! Sounds crazy but it holds great and then peels right off. I find it best to apply a ribbon of glue to what you are hanging and then only apply gentle pressure. You don’t want to spread the glue out too thin or it won’t peel off as nice. You may want to test in on you walls in an inconspicuous place first?
Such cute ideas!! I really like the curtains you showed. Are there directions on how to make them?
You also have to remember that less is more. Over doing decorating is overwhelming for kids. Too much clutter distracts hard to stay focused.
Kelly Ostrowski says
I love the decorations hanging from the ceiling! How do you stagger them out so nicely? I would love to be able to attach something to the ceiling other than on the metal grid
Hi, I love your ideas. I need some ideas for my classroom. I teach French Language Arts. I want to make it fun for my high school students to learn how to play with words, etc. Any suggestions???
Marissa Quigley says
Hi!! This classroom decor really helped me to figure out what I want to do in my room this year! Do you have any suggestions for organizing a space for students’ lab folders? We need to hold onto them all year and I haven’t found a great system for me!
Your ideas are wonderful. I want to read everything on your bulletin boards! After 30 years of teaching science (chemistry/earth science/forensics) my room (the entire section of our school) was renovated this summer. Tuesday I walk into a blank slate! I was wondering where you got the posters for your Safety bulletin board?
SICA SS School says
An excellent post, thank you!
I am so happy I found your blog! I just took my first HS math classroom teaching position (after owning a private tutoring business for 17 years). I have 2 weeks to figure it all out…classroom management, time management, grading, hybrid instruction… and create a classroom…Love your ideas!
Greg May says
I teach earth science so I stenciled fossils on the walls. This year, I converted a few labs to black light so now I’m trying to add neon elements to the room. I stenciled the Chinese elements in blacklight paint and a fluorescent tiger head (we’re the tigers). I’m thinking of stenciling weather symbols and the Greek symbols of the planets on my cabinets (next to vinyl printed planets). Anyone else that does any blacklight decor, suggestions would be welcome.
Where did you get the really big wall sign – hard work is a two way street? Thanks!