A little feng shui for first-timers

You may need a period of trial and error before your primary classroom is to your liking, writes Sara Bubb

However much time you spent organising your room before the start of term, there are bound to be some things that aren't working. So it may be time to rearrange your space. But children need stability, and you don't want to unsettle them unnecessarily. Take time to think about what's working well in your room and why - and what's not working and how it can be improved. Use the time freed up by your 10 per cent reduced timetable to tackle it.

Trying to get your head around everything in the first few days of term has probably left you shellshocked and unable to focus on clear solutions. Anyway, easy answers are usually pretty thin on the ground, so you need help and lots of ideas. Why not ask the people who, after you, spend most time in your classroom - the children? They are experts and will eagerly tell you all about their previous teacher's set-up.

They'll tell you that those two boys were never allowed to sit together (for good reason), they need more room to work, the tables are too low, they need to swap seats with their neighbour because they're left handed, they can't see the board.

Get advice from other adults who work with you - and from your induction tutor. The more you discuss the minutiae of classroom life, the more creative ideas you're likely to have.

Furniture Look at what you've been given. Is there anything you don't need?

New teachers are often given cast-offs. Make sure you have a desk (don't ruin your back by crouching over the children's tables after school) and shelves to store your files.

You can radically change the feel of your room by rearranging the tables. Popular arrangements include rows, horseshoes and clusters of fours or sixes. Choose whatever you think will work best rather than slavishly following what other teachers do. Perhaps your decision will be based on a temporary need for tighter control. You may go for rows for a while, then arrange seats for more social interaction when you're more confident about behaviour management. Always check there's enough space for children to move around and for other adults working in the room.

Nigel Hastings and Karen Chantrey Wood from Nottingham Trent University have found huge benefits in flexible seating arrangements. For instance, in a Year 3 classroom the basic arrangement for whole-class teaching and paired and individual work is a double horseshoe - the tables laid out in a big U shape set around a smaller one, with a separate table for group teaching. Tables are rearranged for group activities, usually in science, design technology and history. Six children move the tables before breaktimes to form five grouped sets. This only takes a minute.

Resources

Do you have everything you need? Ask your induction tutor for missing items. Resources should be organised to minimise fuss and wasted time. Everyone in your class should know where things are kept and the procedures for getting them out and putting them away.

Think particularly about troublesome items such as lunch boxes, bags, PE kits, pencils and pens, sharpeners, rubbers, scissors, exercise books, worksheets, finished and unfinished work, reading folders and homework.

Procedures

Maybe you need to make some new rules. Phrase them positively and display them clearly, perhaps with illustrations. Refer to them continually - "Well done, I can see you've remembered rule 3," for instance. Think through procedures for moving from the carpet to tables, lining up, going to the toilet, tidying. These need planning, training, practice and regular reinforcement.

What are your systems for difficult times of the day such as when dealing with parents in the mornings, giving out and collecting work, registration, tidying up, carpet time, moves within and between lessons, lining up, moving around the school, after break times, just before lunch, home time, changing reading books, drink time, changing for PE, wet playtimes, setting homework?

Don't worry if things aren't perfect. There can be few teachers in the world who are completely happy with the way their classrooms are arranged and function. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day, and you'll make frequent adjustments to the arrangement of the room and procedures so they work for your class - and the stage you're at as a teacher.

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