Thursday, 15 August 2019

5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Tiny Classroom

Have you ever had to teach in a super small classroom? In my first year of teaching, that was exactly what happened. My very first classroom actually used to be a storage closet for PE equipment (not even joking) and was eventually expanded a bit so that it could be converted into a classroom. I only had six students that year (not joking about that either), so we had no trouble fitting in the space, and I also didn't have that much stuff because it was only my first year of teaching.

Fast forward four years, two of them being in a large room, and I found out I was going back to the #tinyclassroomlife, this time to another small room at my school. (I don't know if tiny classrooms are a thing at any other school, but they definitely are at my school! If tiny houses are a thing now, don't you think tiny classrooms should be too? Ha!) This move wouldn't have been so bad, except for the fact that I had accumulated quite a bit of stuff during my two years in that large room and wasn't sure how this tiny room was going to work for me. I knew it would be a challenge, but I was up for the task. Two years after moving into that small room, I can honestly say that the transition back to #tinyclassroomlife definitely wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Today, I'm sharing five tips for getting the most out of your tiny classroom.

1. Prioritize 

This is a given when you're in a smaller space. Some bulletin boards, items, classroom spaces, etc. are more important than others. Some questions to ask yourself are: What are the non-negotiables? What can be eliminated or minimized? For me, a teacher's desk was something I could do without (more about that under the next tip!), but a large classroom library with cozy seating was a must. I also eliminated my word wall and gave each student their own personal word wall to keep in their desk. This worked super well and saved bulletin board space! 

We spend a lot of time in our classroom library every day. We go there for morning book shopping, read alouds, and read to self/read to someone time. I have no regrets about using a big chunk of my room for our library and my students love it! Some teachers prefer a smaller classroom library and that's fine too - it's all about what works best for you and your students!

2. Allow spaces to serve multiple purposes 

I alluded to this in the previous tip, but when you're working with a tiny classroom, you're forced to create spaces that serve more than one purpose. In my classroom, the library is also our whole group meeting space. I don't have room for two different carpeted areas, so the rug in our classroom library works just fine for whole group mini lessons. 

I also use my small group table as my teacher desk. Some teachers prefer to have a completely separate area for themselves, but if that's not a big deal to you, it's a great way to save on space! It was a challenge at first to keep the table from getting cluttered, but I've gotten much better about keeping things in their place and cleaning the table off before I leave each day.

This picture was taken in the middle of classroom setup, so I didn't have my stools around the table yet. But you get the idea. Having all the storage around the table also helps to prevent it from getting too cluttered. It may not be an actual teacher desk, but I was still able to add some personal touches to this area. I can't help but smile every time I see it!

3. Use wall shelves and carts for storage instead of bulky bookshelves and bins

In my current classroom, I've learned to appreciate wall shelves and rolling carts. They allow you to store so much in a tiny space! One of my favorite things about my 2016-2017 classroom was having a countertop for my paper baskets. I was so disappointed when I moved into my current classroom and realized there was no countertop. I ended up adding a long floating shelf against the wall of my classroom and it works just as well without taking up half the space of a countertop! My paper baskets sit right on top of the shelf and the area doesn't look too cluttered because it's not a bulky bookshelf or large storage unit.

Adding a floating shelf to hold my paper baskets was the perfect solution for my tiny classroom! And there's plenty of space underneath to store my students' book boxes!
I also added a wall unit (similar to a pegboard) in my teacher area for additional storage. It was the perfect storage option for my supplies, photos, decor items, and grading caddy! If you're interested in purchasing this unit for your own classroom, you can find it on Amazon here.

4. Try to only display/keep out materials that you need to access daily 

Think carefully about the materials you want to display in your classroom. Are there some you need to access all year long? Which materials do you only need at certain times of the year? When I was in a large classroom, I had tons of bookshelves and kept so many materials out all year long. One example of this is my math manipulatives. While it was nice to have them out all the time, I just didn't have the space to keep them on display in my current classroom. I decided to store them inside a cupboard in my closet and only take out the ones I'm using each week. This has worked really well and saved a lot of classroom space. I also use my closet to store monthly bins with seasonal materials and I only take those out as I need them. There are some materials that we use all the time (such as whisper phones for guided reading), and I store those items in the classroom instead of the closet.

5. Use space creatively

When you're in a small classroom, you'll be surprised at all the creative ways that you end up using the space you have! Something I've started doing is using my windows and/or blinds to hang student work, anchor charts, or reference materials. (You can see an example of this in the very first photo in this blog post.) I don't do this with all my windows, nor do I do it all year round, or it would end up looking cluttered. But if you really need to display something, it works as a short-term solution.

Other creative ways I've used my classroom space include placing student book boxes under my floating shelf, storing bins under tables, and keeping my supplies in a teacher toolbox. All of these are great space savers, whether you are in a tiny room or not!

These five principles have worked well for me over the past two years, but my classroom is still a work in progress. I usually take the summer to reflect on what is/isn't working and make the necessary changes when I return to set up. I love that we get a chance to do that every year as teachers! What are some of the ways that you maximize space in your classroom?

Saturday, 6 July 2019

5 Reasons Why I'm Spending Less Time on Instagram This Summer (And Why You Should Too)

It's been a while since I've blogged on here, but now that I'm officially on summer break, I'm excited to get back into it! Honestly, I'm a horrible blogger, maybe posting twice a year. Instagram is where I am most active, and I have been posting regularly on my account @teachinginthetropicsblog since I started it 5 years ago. However, if you follow me on there, you may have noticed that this year I've been posting on Instagram a lot less frequently than I used to. There's a reason for that - five reasons actually - and I'm sharing them today in hopes that someone reading this will dare to spend a little less time on the Gram.

Disclaimer: The intention of this post is not to bash Instagram. It is actually my favorite social media platform and there are so many positive things about it! However, as I've discovered, even a good thing can become harmful in excess. As I share my journey with you, my goal is to show you the JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) that I've discovered in reducing my time on Instagram.

1. Instagram causes comparison, which breeds discontentment.

Instagram has often been referred to as a highlight reel, and even though we are aware of that, we still can't help but compare ourselves to strangers on the internet. Although I consider myself to be secure in my identity as a teacher and as an individual, I have found myself falling into the comparison trap at times and envying the lifestyle, skills, possessions, and achievements of the people I follow. I tend to think, "If I had access to the technology that she has in her classroom, I'd be a better teacher" or "If I had a home office like that, I'd be happier and more productive." Instead of counting my blessings and being content with all that I do have, Instagram causes me to focus on what I don't have, which is definitely a joy-killer. Don't get me wrong - the temptation to compare myself to others is present in real life too, but Instagram brings it to a whole new level.

2. Instagram causes me to buy things I don't need.

This point goes hand in hand with the first one. The hashtag #instagrammademedoit, though funny, has become the sad truth behind a lot of people's purchases over the years, including my own. I can't tell you how many things I have bought for my classroom after seeing others post about them on Instagram. This hasn't always been a bad thing; a few of those purchases have actually been quite useful. But if I'm being honest, most of them were totally unnecessary. Thankfully, I have not been able to purchase everything I have seen on Instagram. I live in the Cayman Islands where there is no Target, Michael's, Dollar Tree, Amazon Prime, etc., which means that I physically can't buy something as soon as I see it in my feed. However, I go on vacation to the US every summer, which happens to be the most tempting time of year on Instagram with all the cute back to school stuff rolling out. I have often found myself going overboard with my shopping on my summer trips and have realized that I probably wouldn't buy all these things if I hadn't seen them on Instagram first. I haven't gone to the US yet this summer, but as the date grows closer, I have been reining myself in and reminding myself that more stuff won't make me a better or happier teacher/person. Something that has been helpful for me is to reread a blog post I wrote on this very topic almost two years ago. Click here to read it!

3. Instagram causes me to become self-focused.

We have never lived in more self-focused culture than the one we live in today and Instagram ultimately encourages that. I've noticed that the more time I spend on Instagram, the more self-obsessed I become. I begin to crave the attention and validation of others, wanting more likes, more followers, more recognition - ultimately putting myself on a pedestal. The time I give to Instagram each day also causes me to focus on myself, and not in a good way. When our heads are down in our phones, we tune out the real world around us and neglect the needs of others. This summer, I want to spend more of my time focusing on serving God and others instead of myself.

4. Instagram takes time away from what truly matters.

This also builds on the last point. I am embarrassed to tell you how much time I was spending on Instagram before I began setting limits for myself. I spent hours on there each day, especially once stories rolled out. (Anyone else find it hard to stop watching instastories once you start?) I also realized that the more I posted, the more time I spent in the app responding to comments and DMs, which is one of the reasons I no longer post on there as frequently as I used to. I have found myself sitting next to my grandparents (who are 85 and 86) and scrolling through Instagram instead of having a conversation with them. Although they are in good health, I do not know how much longer I will have them here with me, and when they are gone, I know I won't think to myself, "Gosh, I wish I had spent more time on Instagram." In fact, I know I won't be saying that when my own life is almost over. With that in mind, I want to be more present this summer, to steward my time well and spend it cultivating relationships with the people around me.

5. Instagram isn't necessary to be a good teacher.

For a long time, I bought into the myth that I needed Instagram to be a good teacher. I believed that Instagram would provide me with all the tips and tricks to become a better teacher for my students. Yes, Instagram certainly provides us with a wealth of information, but all of it can be found through other resources as well. There are times during the school year when I chose to unplug from Instagram and guess what? My students still learned. I was still a good teacher. And so are you. That lesson is still awesome, even if you don't share it on Instagram. You are still a great teacher, even if you don't implement the latest teaching trends or decorate your classroom. You are still a great teacher, even if you have one follower on Instagram. Because the truth is, teaching isn't and never was about Instagram; it's about loving our students well and teaching them with every ounce of passion in our hearts.

Friends, there is so much more to life than Instagram. And that's what I'm keeping in mind this summer. The real FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) isn't when we miss out on all that's happening on Instagram; it's when we miss out on all that's in front of us in the real world. This summer, I'm excited to experience the JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) that comes when I choose to spend less time on Instagram and more time on what matters most. I'm excited to experience the beauty of being present, to open my eyes to everything I didn't see while they were glued to my Instagram feed. Will you join me this summer? Will you dare to be present, scroll a little less, and spend time on what truly matters? If this is a challenge for you like it is for me, I would love to connect with you so we can encourage one another. Feel free to leave a comment on this post or email me at!