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6 Tips for Arranging Your Special Education Classroom

admin 2 Wed at 6:00 AM

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I need to get right before I can concentrate on anything else is my classroom furniture arrangement. I see that as the base of my programming and one of the most influential aspects for my students on the spectrum that crave visual structure. 

Just so everyone can relate to the challenges that I have had in my own classroom set up, I have been teaching for 12 years now. I have been in 15 classrooms during that time. I have never had the same classroom assignment or classroom set up two years in a row. I am always forced to look back at my set-up. I try to look at this challenge as a positive. I would dare you to consider that because your caseload may often be changing and your students are always growing and developing, your classroom should reflect that. 

When you are entering a new to you classroom or a classroom that you have had for years, you need to see what you have to work with. I have experienced a wide array of situations. I have walked into classrooms with 20 typical desks. I have walked into other classrooms full to the brim with adaptive furniture and shelves/cabinets containing tons of materials. Both of these situations are hard.

Once you have taken inventory of what is in your room, go to your administrators or fellow teachers (or your invaluable custodians), to find out what else is available, possibly in other classrooms, storage spaces, or in an off site warehouse. Often furniture that doesn’t make sense for other classrooms, does make sense in our classrooms. I always keep an eye out for various sizes of bookshelves, filing cabinets, and tables. Sharing by BEFORE pic of my scary classroom just one week ago with tons of furniture and materials squashed together. 

Once you have a grasp on your teaching position and your caseload students and their programming, look at the space you have available and prioritize the stations that you need to have first and foremost in your classroom. Based on your furniture and space available, work your way down your prioritized list.

I am experiencing this in my own classroom. I went from being able to span across two physical classrooms, to being reduced down to one. My teaching assignment changed as well from fully self-contained to more departmentalized, seeing more students through the day. While I loved having individualized stations, I will now be seeing 13 students in my day, so they are no longer feasible. I set up generalized independent work stations that will work for more students throughout the day. In addition to independent work stations, I prioritized my teacher table, a group table, a reading nook (because I’m focusing on English/Reading), and my para station.

When you are making decisions about how to arrange your classroom, it is very helpful to know the different behaviors of your students. Already knowing your students gives you a leg up, but if you are new, pour over the paperwork for clues and try to speak with any staff that is familiar with your students. In the case of a few of my students, I know certain students are better off not being by the door because of elopement, other students may need a bit more space without a lot of furniture because of physical outbursts, other students have a bit more anxiety in the classroom and would benefit from being a bit closer to my teacher station.

No matter what type of area you are teaching in, there will be some supplemental classroom items that you’d like to add. As teachers, we are not working with a large budget. My favorite places to get items for my classroom are discount stores, resale stores, buy/sell/trade sites, and traditional garage sales. All it takes is a creative eye and thrifty sensibility to create a great classroom.

This year I got some great items at IKEA that I wanted to share. I got some small, functional shelves for my independent work stations. I picked up some great timers for all of the stations as well. They are super cool and I am excited about using them. I got some frames to put functional visuals for staff on the wall. I used TAH’s prompt hierarchy in a themed printable to remind staff how to help staff move towards less invasive prompts. I also printed out our district’s adopted de-escalation script to remind staff how to move through the steps.

More than anything else, know that things will change! Your students may not work well in your genius set up. It most likely will need to be adjusted. Also, things may get broken. I keep in mind with everything I put in my classroom, that anything and everything could not make it through the year. Know that things will evolve and change and it might now be Pinterest worthy, but as long as you keep your students needs at the forefront of your mind, it will all work out.