This Year’s Classroom: Swimming to Success


I’m not sure why I didn’t have a theme for my room the first three years of my career. Themes promote cohesion, interest, excitement, and pride. They offer an anchor for a year’s worth of studies and warrant an infusion of creativity on the teacher’s part in an effort to provide cross-curricular learning opportunities pertaining to the theme.

This is the second straight year I’ve created a theme-based classroom. Last year’s was a lot of fun. Motivated by a desire to make my students prove the naysayers wrong, our classroom was a “Field of Dreams,” based on a community of hopes and beliefs (with a touch of New York Mets love).

This year’s theme developed by – well, I don’t know how. It was partly born of necessity and partly born of my lack of inspiration! I had few ideas until I decided the theme would be something along the lines of, “Under the Sea.” As I collected decorations and mental notes, the theme that emerged left me with one foot on the sandy beach and one in the salty ocean. So I decided I’d incorporate elements of both. Needing to hang something on the door, and knowing I had to incorporate this with academics and expectations, I decided to call this theme, “Swimming to Success.”

With these fish, our class is the coolest school in school!

The door sets a positive tone for all who enter, and also presents an expectation of success, which is necessary!

Now, onto the inside of the room. To put it the way a custodian did when he saw the progress in the room last week, “Man, you just don’t want vacation to end!” There is truth to that. But I also think having such a bright and sunny theme will help all of us through our winter weather doldrums and test prep tedium when those times come. As one colleague told me, she knows where she’s heading when the winter blues set in!

In keeping with the beach and ocean theme, kids will hang their coats and bags on hooks that are numbered with Finding Nemo stickers.

When we gather to meet in the morning or for lessons, we won’t go to the meeting area. Instead, we’ll go to the beach. Kids can choose to sit on bright green or blue mats, tubes, beach chairs, or a boogie board. They’ll sit under a palm tree while they use the SMART Board and attend to lessons on the easel.

It is so much more fun to go to the beach than the meeting area.

In case anyone forgets where they are, here’s a reminder.

I love the ocean backing paper I picked up at Lakeshore. It is ridiculously soothing. (This board is nearly complete).

Beautiful ocean-themed paper with an iguana and fish hanging out.

I am returning to the “You Matter” theme again this year, only the message is being emphasized by me and this fabric fish that I found for a measly $1. We will name him within the first week.

I also finally found a use for that broken clock up there. And hey, what’s that? Another palm tree? YOU BET!

One of my new initiatives is a modified version of the STARFISH program, which I loved when I worked at camp. It really helped kids become good citizens. The premise is the kids learn that the STARFISH values and traits are ones they should aspire to have.

I modified STARFISH’s meaning to make it more relevant to school. I am really excited about this. Also, look on top. The picture says, “Be a hero, not a bully.”

When a student does something “STARFISHy” or in a “STARFISH” way, they will receive a raffle indicating the value or trait they demonstrated and what they did. At the end of the week, I will choose one raffle from all the ones we’ve accumulated, and the winner will be my “Chief Mate,” or “right hand man/woman” for the week. I love recognizing kids for being awesome! This is also great for those kids who will never get academic recognition. It shows them that grades and reading levels aren’t all that matter. I will send a note home on the first day so parents can get on board, too.

You rock! And not just because this raffle ticket says so!

Another one of my exciting character-builders this year is this, “Have You Filled a Bucket?” idea, which I found on Pinterest. I still have to label each “bucket,” but the premise is that, when a student does something nice that makes me or someone else happy and “fills someone’s bucket,” they will get a pom pom in their bucket. After all, filling someone else’s bucket means filling one’s own! As a happy and wonderful coincidence, this is a school-wide initiative this year.

We’re going to be a class full of bucket fillers!

To encourage independence, I’m launching two other Pinterest ideas. First, a chart with students’ names on clothespins so everyone knows what they need to do during reading.

Where do you go? I’m not sure. Go check the chart.

To encourage patience and discourage demanding my attention at every possible junction, I’m instituting a, “Take a Number” system. It is color-coded for odd and even, too, just as a bonus. I’ll also couple this with charts about steps to take before asking the teacher and what students should do when finished working.

No, I’m not a butcher. But if I’m working with someone and you need me, I need you to take a number.

Finally, here is my own personal oasis, my desk. It is nudged into a corner and opened up so much more space than there was last year. You can see it’s already a bit of a mess…

When I’m stressed, at least I can always sit at my desk and relax under a palm tree! Now, where can I hang a hammock?

That’s a brief tour of my room. My goal is for it to be fun, welcoming, and functional. I won’t know if it’s functional until the kids are in there, but I think it’s both of the other things. My hope is that when they set foot in their new room for the first time Thursday, the kids will embrace the challenges of swimming to success and be excited for a wonderful year!

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2 responses to “This Year’s Classroom: Swimming to Success

  1. Fabulous room!! Your students will surely love it!!

  2. Pingback: This Year’s Classroom: Swimming to Success « Ms. Zhang's Portfolio

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