Setting Up Your Elementary "COVID-19 Classroom": Advice and Essentials
What should your classroom look like in the age of physical distancing?
Where students learn matters. This truth has undeniably exploded as caregivers, parents, and teachers pushed through the sometimes-harsh realities of emergency distance learning at the end of the 2019-2020 schoolyear.
Teachers, you quickly rose to meet the needs of your students. All of you have experienced the challenges of distance learning. Students without access to Wi-Fi, students with less-than ideal home environments who faded from video calls and completing assignments, and even bright and normally excited students who felt burned out by the end of the year.
All of these factors have many teachers wanting to be back to teaching their students in-person as soon as possible. You know that nothing can replace being in the same physical space as your students when it comes to building learning connections, and relationships.
The realities of the novel coronavirus means that a return to school without restrictions is simply unrealistic. How students return to learning will look different in every classroom, district, home, school, and state. This fluid situation will mean that you'll need to think creatively when it comes to your classrooms and spaces so that your students can discover and explore in meaningful ways and, most importantly, so that you and your students can be as safe as possible. While there are many things that are, unfortunately, out of your control, there are still some things you can control for now! Consider these things:
Limiting Movement While Giving Choices
Be intentional about how you maximize the space you have for physical distancing. Soft seating probably isn't an option right now. You have to press pause on allowing your students to freely roam, in order to lower the risks of spreading COVID-19 in your classroom. If possible, give your students permission to stand behind their desks for a few minutes at a time. You might even get a little wild and let them sit on their desks as a reward! Maybe you can create space along a back or side wall for standing.
Desk privacy screens made from easy-to-clean materials can be placed to face any direction and help you give your students some control over their individual spaces! The screens can be disinfected or wiped down at the end of each school day, according to your school's new cleaning protocols.
What Do Your Signs Say?
Going back to in-person learning is going to be nerve-wracking for everyone. Most students and teachers haven't been in group environments in 5-6 months. It might even be emotional!
Are the signs in your classroom positive, or do they make students afraid to do something wrong? Along with your signage about hand-washing and masks, don't forget to include messages of community and to let your students know how happy you are to see them again, even in circumstances that might be stressful.
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Desks and supplies can also be easily personalized or given a "homey" feel!
Cut Down on Paper
With student and teacher health at the forefront of everyone's minds, consider items that can be easily disinfected and can reduce the amount of touched materials in your classroom. Start with paper! Every bit matters. Consider ways to pare down paper usage.
When we talk about what is within our control during these challenging times, we want classrooms to be seen as places of encouragement. Think of your classroom as a peaceful place for your students where they will have consistency and support.
As the schoolyear approaches, don't forget to take the time to listen to yourself and to notice your needs as well. Incorporate stress relievers into your school routines and even into your classroom design. Together, we can stay healthy and continue to bring an excellent educational experience to students.