'Why I won’t spend my summer putting up displays'

Don’t spend hours putting up displays in the last week of summer, says this senior leader – they aren’t worth the effort

Kevin O'Brien

Primary teachers expend enormous amount of energy in perfecting classroom displays, says Steve Eddison

Classroom displays are the bane of my life, and have been for all the years I have been teaching (13 and counting). I can’t even come up with good ideas for them, let alone competently prepare them or set them up. I’ve even been known to mess up the basics of backing paper and borders.

As a result of this, my classroom "decoration" gets delegated to my teaching assistants, who always manage to do a fantastic job. They work their magic to create maths and English working walls – including prompts, examples of children’s work, WAGOLLs (what a good one looks like) and vocabulary. Sometimes there are even 3D elements. Imagine: 3D displays! What more could a class of 30 children need?

But how important are these displays, really? Perhaps it’s just me, but apart from making the classroom look nice, I do not see the impact of display boards. Most, if not all, of my pupils rarely take any notice of what is around the room and, I’m glad to say, prefer to take notice of my responsive teaching, feedback and the support of their peers.

I am aware that this opinion may cause some people to make judgements on my teaching. Maybe I need to develop more independent learners. Perhaps I am not making the most of the potential of the displays, particularly the working walls.

Are classroom displays 'worth the effort'?

Yet I can honestly say I have never seen any impact, with the exception of my graffiti board (for found vocabulary) and "work of the week", which boosts the self-esteem of the pupils whose work features. There might be plenty of research to suggest the unparalleled impact that displays can have on pupils’ learning, but I am yet to be convinced.

On the contrary, I have read suggestions that brightly coloured classrooms can, in fact, be over-stimulating for some pupils, particularly those with autism. I’ve also read that for displays to be effective, teachers need to spend time developing children’s abilities to self-learn and to "access" the environment. Well, I prefer to spend my lesson time on the children learning from the supposed "expert" in the room, involving themselves in peer discussion and engaging themselves in deliberate practice, rather than squinting to read a laminated sheet positioned high above their heads.

So, before we all spend our much-needed final days of summer locked in a battle to create the most vibrant display in school (NQT’s: don’t do it!), I urge you to sit back and think: is it a really valuable use of your time? Could your time be spent better: planning, developing rich activities or supporting your own wellbeing?

Personally, I won’t be going into school to touch a display board this summer. After all, what is there to put up if the children haven’t done any learning yet? I don’t mind being shot down. I have a thick skin and I am not trying to devalue any of the display work being done (a lot of it looks stunning). I just wonder if the impact is truly worth the effort – and worth more than enjoying your last few days of time away from school.

Kevin O’Brien is a maths coordinator, senior leader and Year 6 teacher in Merseyside

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Kevin O'Brien

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