Every teacher right now is trying to figure out how in the world they are going to teach a class full of kids with social distancing measures in place. In the Master Your Classroom Training I hosted, dozens of teachers were asking “what do you recommend for classroom setup for social distancing?” It’s a loaded question because, while I have ideas, I don’t actually know what will and won’t work.
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But here is what I do know…The 2020 school year is going to be crazy. This next year will not be as comfortable as years past. The kids are going to accidentally sneeze on each other or share a pencil when they aren’t supposed to.
If you want more support and ideas on how to get your classroom prepared for the upcoming school year, then check out the free 45-minute training. Master Your Classroom will teach you how to set goals, get a classroom plan, and prepare for heading back to school in a pandemic.
This post shares some practical ideas for classroom setup for social distancing. We’ll cover:
- how to set up your classroom,
- how to organize your students for social distancing,
- management tips, and
- ideas for teaching from home or switching classes to avoid kids switch.
That’s a lot! Let’s get started.
Classroom Setup for Social Distancing
First, I want to say that we have to be realistic. If your district is expecting full class sizes this year, social distancing isn’t going to happen. Currently, I live in Germany and life has returned to 90% normalcy. Students have been back in school for over a month. (That’s what happens when people follow social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines….but I digress!)
The Germans are doing a split model where half of the class is in person one week while the other half is online. Then they switch each week. Students wear masks all day and don’t share materials. And guess what…the kids follow directions and keep their masks on! It can be done. Don’t buy into the fear that kids won’t follow these guidelines- they can.
For the sake of this post, I am going to write about classroom setup for social distancing with the assumption that U.S. schools will be offering a similar split model. There really is no other way to do social distancing and school as normal.
How to Set Up Your Classroom for Social Distancing
The question I got the most, in the Master Your Classroom Training, was how to arrange desks for social distancing. Unfortunately, I think the easiest solution is to have kids sit in rows. I hate making kids sit in rows.
If, at all possible, I want my students sitting in groups or pods so they can collaborate together.
I am a huge advocate for Cooperative Learning and shout it from the rooftops. Even though your students won’t be sitting in cooperative learning teams, you can still achieve the same outcome by arranging desks in rows and then assigning teams. The picture below shows how you can do that.
I also recommend getting outside as much as you can when you are teaching. This way you can still have students sitting in teams, doing cooperative learning structures, and the fresh air will do both you and your students well.
If you are looking for tips on how to actually set up your classroom for a new school year, then head to this post where I share the steps + a free checklist.
How to Organize Student Materials for Social Distancing
I am also a huge advocate for community supplies…Not this year! Students will need their own supplies so think through what supplies you might need to purchase or have donated.
Instead, I would recommend you find a “home” for each student’s belongings. This could be:
I always recommend having homes for everything. So ensure that each child has a “home” for all of their folders, books, journals, etc. Then the “home” can be stored underneath their desk or chair. (I know, this doesn’t seem very organized…it isn’t! The visual clutter I envision in my brain right now makes me squirm. But nothing about this year will be ideal.)
Also ensure that each student has a pencil box that can store their own set of markers, colored pencils, all that good stuff…
One benefit of individual supplies is learning how to be responsible and accountable for your belongings. Since they won’t be sharing markers with their friends, it will (likely) be their fault should a marker cap go missing. After losing the “pretty” marker colors, maybe they will learn to be more thoughtful will their supplies. That’s called real-life consequences!
Keeping Students Organized While Social Distancing
As far as keeping your students organized, that’s going to have to be up to them! You model organization routines and expectations for staying organized and they will follow suit.
For example, when you are done with a lesson, put all the materials away right then. That teaches them that once we are done with something, we put it away in it’s home. It also saves you time at the end of the day from having a stack of stuff on your desk that needs to be put away.
This list of 11 Classroom Jobs for Social Distancing is a great place to start. Classroom Jobs are a way to have students involved in the process of keeping the classroom organized. I think jobs can still be utilized this year. Collecting papers from other students, and then the paper collector immediately washing their hands, shouldn’t be a huge problem.
(On the note of hand-washing…can I make a suggestion? The thought of how many paper towels will be thrown away this year because of handwashing in school makes me want to cry. If you are able, I would encourage you to buy (or have a few parents donate) washcloths from the dollar store to use as hand towels. You can take them home each weekend to wash and start each week with a fresh stack…and save some trees along the way!)
You also want to make sure when you are creating a plan for the school year to map out your daily routines. These routines are the best tip I can give you for keeping your kids (and your classroom) organized day in and day out.
Behavior Management for Teaching In Person
As I shared in the Master Your Classroom training, behavior management is going to be crucial this year! There are a couple of reasons for that.
First, they have been out of school for so long and are going to need reminders of what classroom expectations are.
Secondly, the classroom is going to look so different this year and you need to be able to have control of your students at a moment’s notice…Even if those kids are online.
Before the start of school, you need to spend time mapping out your classroom and behavior management plans. The time you spend working through this ahead of time will make your transition back into the classroom (physical or online) so much smoother.
Check out the replay of the Master Your Classroom training to see my recommendations on how to actually implement the management plans once the school year starts.
Behavior Management for Distance Learning
If you are going to be teaching online, you want to make sure you have a document with all of your “classroom” expectations and procedures written out. This will help hold you and your students accountable to the classroom expectations.
Think through how you will:
- address kids questions,
- what your “office hours” will be,
- your boundaries on checking email, etc.
For those of you teaching in person while having kids watching virtually…I really have no idea. I’m just being honest. That seems almost impossible to me. Here is what I would do if I was in the classroom.
I would start out the year with a whole group discussion, in the context of a class meeting, about what the kids want to see from each other behaviorally when it comes to this split classroom.
Then, I would talk through how disruptive it would be to be in the classroom and hear kids at home talking to their brother or sister instead of listening to the lesson. I would ask kids what they think about the stress of this for the teacher and how can they help the teacher so he or she won’t be so stressed?
Then, once those discussions happen and expectations are agreed upon, do not waver from them. Hold kids to the expectations y’all created and provide a consequence as needed.
I loved using my Behavior Management Economic System as a management system in my classroom. This can still be done virtually and in person. Kids can get “deposits” into their “bank account.” That rewards them and teaches them financial literacy…win-win!
Teacher Organization for Social Distancing
Lastly, let’s cover how to keep YOU organized this year!
Some of you will be exclusively teaching from home. In that case, I recommend creating a space in your house that is your “classroom” and keep it organized with trays, baskets, and structure. You can check out the Working from Home: Teacher’s Edition mini-course to get some ideas on how to get organized for teaching from home.
There are also teachers who will be in the physical classroom but you will be doing the switching between classes instead of the kids. For those teachers, I recommend getting a “portable classroom.”
That means you need something on wheels, has multiple homes, and that can move from class to class. These rolly carts are a great solution.
You can split it off by one shelf per class (or subject). And then within each shelf have folders that further niche down the “homes” you need. Check out the video below, I do a better job speaking my idea than typing it ;)!
In order to set up a classroom for a year of social distancing (or virtual learning), you need to ensure you have a plan in place for your classroom arrangement, your behavior management plans, routines, and organization.
I shared a lot of helpful links in this post. Here is a quick recap of all of them!
- 4 Must-Have Behavior Management Plans
- Interview with Dr. Kagan about Cooperative Learning
- How to Set Up a Classroom in 6 Steps
- Daily Student Routines to Keep the Classroom Organized
- Top Organization Tools I recommend
- How to Handle Consequences in the Classroom
- Classroom Jobs for Elementary Students
- Working from Home: Teacher’s Edition– a mini-course to help you get organized for working from home
- Master Your Classroom in 2020 Workshop
No matter what this year looks like for you it’s going to be crazy. That is why you need a plan! Plans help you figure out all the messiness now so that when you can actually get into your classroom you can work the plan.
Join me in the free 45-minute training on how to Master Your Classroom. I hosted the training live in July of 2020 which means we talked about classroom setup for social distancing in the training!
We also cover how to plan a focus for the upcoming year, strategies to make the most of your time this summer to work on school time (and enjoy self-care!), and wrap up with the 4 things you need in your classroom for organization.
Until next time,