5 tips for a calm, focused, and happy classroom next year

Though we’re just now stepping off the rollercoaster of the 2020-2021 school year, we know you’re already thinking about the fall. It’s going to be a wonderful year of making up for lost time academically, socially, and creatively. But before you tackle everything the pandemic postponed, consider these ways to help your students know that the classroom is their safe haven:

1. Make a game plan.

So much changed last year. And even though it may be possible for your students to share materials and spaces again, some of the systems and processes you put in place during pandemic-learning may still be useful.

Designing a flow for your classroom in advance can make all the difference. Some things to consider: Even without social distancing, how will your students line up to come in from recess? Borrow books from your classroom library? Enjoy an orderly snack time? Store their projects and materials for future use?

Setting expectations for structure and organization from the first day back can help start the year on the right note.

2. Allow space for brain breaks.

Things we may see this fall: shorter attention spans, social anxiety, and easy over-stimulation. Here’s a tip from DonorsChoose teacher and Kern Avenue Elementary School Counselor Ms. Andrews, via her project Calm-Down Kits:

“Many students coming back to in person learning post-pandemic are suffering from extreme anxiety. Students of all ages are re-learning classroom protocols and norms. Teachers need to be prepared in a moment’s notice when a student begins to feel big emotions.”
Her project requests a Calm-Down Kit for each classroom in her school. What’s inside? Noise canceling headphones, emotions flash cards, fidget toys, drawing boards, bubbles, kaleidoscopes, puzzle cubes, stress balls, coloring books, Play-Doh, pinwheels, and sand timers. 

Any one or more of these items – and permission to use them as needed – can help your students adjust back to full days of learning.

3. Bring mindfulness into your classroom.

Coming back from summer is always an adjustment. Perhaps more so this fall than ever. Create opportunities for your students to reflect on their experiences, de-stress, and channel any anxious energy into something creative or productive.

A few ideas from fellow teachers:

  • Journaling for Health, Mrs. A, High School, Connecticut
    Colorful College Ruled Notebook Journals; Colorful Fine-Tip Ink Pens
    “It is well researched that writing helps to process emotions; the pandemic has caused much stress and anxiety that needs to be resolved and then put away to make room for education.”
  • Help! De-Stress My Reading, Mrs. Rutledge, Pre-K-2, Texas
    Yoga Mats, Exercise Blocks, 50 Activities for Calm, Focus and Peace Card Deck
  • “I want to use yoga-themed storytime to get the kids moving, focus on their breathing, and allow time to de-stress. Storytime yoga will provide my students the opportunity to move in many ways, including cross-laterally, as they use their bodies to act out stories, express emotions, and move creatively.”
  • Yes We Can! So Watch Us Grow!, Teacher Kubo, 9th Grade, Arizona
    Raised Metal Garden Planter Beds, Potting Soil, Self Watering Devices
    [My students] are stepping out of a pandemic to re-emerge as valuable members of the community and the school atmosphere. We will use different planters to create artistic spaces outside buildings, while planting resources for fresh produce for students to take home. These young men and women deserve an opportunity to begin a project, build within the project both mentally and physically, and then see it come to fruition.”

4. Consider your classroom setup and decor.

We’re seeing teachers across the country spending a bit of their summer redesigning their classrooms. Flexible seating, soft textures, bright colors, and organizational materials are among the most popular upgrades. 

Here’s how some DonorsChoose teachers are rethinking their classroom setup:

”The items I have chosen will make for a warm and inviting place to learn. The community time that we spend together after a post-pandemic year is so important in building relationships and learning social and emotional well-being.” – Mrs. Vaughn, A Rainbow of Possibilities With a Room Full of Sunshine, Kindergarten, Kentucky

“Post pandemic, I think new, flexible, comfortable, matching seating will allow my students to feel like this is their space…created just for them without dealing with the antiquated, wobbling, mismatched tables and chairs pre-pandemic…My students have spent the last 18 months during the global pandemic doing school from home. As we transition back to the classroom, I want to welcome them with an inviting, comfortable environment.– Ms. Nixon, Cozy Homeplace, Grades 6-8, California

5. Stock up this summer.

Reaching for a pencil, dry erase marker, or notebook and not having one is a stressor no one needs this coming school year. Make a list now of the supplies you’ll want on hand for Day One, including anything that would make your year as smooth as possible. (Here’s one list from Aimee’s Edventures to get you started!) Then make a plan to stock up. Ask family & friends! Post a DonorsChoose project! Keep an eye out for summer sales!

(Pro Tip: If you post a DonorsChoose project during summer break, we can order your eligible project materials to your home or to your school, when it’s open. Here are the details on summer ordering.)

Need some inspiration? Check out these 5 eye-candy classrooms!