10 Changes to Make When Your Classroom Reopens (Blended Learning)

My school is about to reopen full time, and due to the need to spread out for social distancing, I'm setting up in a different classroom. (Imagine my heavy sighs here.)

After a spring of teaching under COVID-19 lockdown, some schools are preparing to reopen with full or half-capacity (hybrid) numbers of students. As much as we want to imagine that the 2020-2021 school year will eventually return to normal, we are also bracing for the possibility of our classrooms being entirely closed again. (I love this blog post by Cult of Pedagogy for a preview of what schools could look like.)

So as some of us begin to set up our classrooms under district and/or state guidelines, which non-required changes should we consider making? Other than being six feet apart and using a lot of cleaning products, how else should the layout, setup, or decorations in our rooms look and feel different? 

I'm currently on my school's Task Force to prepare plans for different learning scenarios. Based on what I'm learning there, this post contains a few suggestions that I foresee as being useful to secondary classrooms. 

DISCLAIMER: Information on what is and isn't safe to avoid the coronavirus is constantly changing. This post obviously does not replace actual medical advice, so be sure that anything in your classroom adheres to CURRENT local guidelines. (Here is what the CDC is advising for schools at the time of this posting.) 

1. Decentralized Supplies
If you have one counter, box, cabinet, or space where students can go to get the supplies they need, consider splitting it up so that fewer students are touching them. You might consider a miniature cart of supplies per row or in several corners of the room. 

(Or, you can remove extra paper and pencils from student access entirely and require students to ask you for them. However, then you might be running around a little more to give students what they need.) 

2. Mailboxes, Cubbies, and Passing Out Papers
Assuming you will still be printing, distributing, and collecting papers (instead of going all-digital), consider how you currently collect or pass back student work. 
  • Do you want students to turn in their work to a bin first instead of handing them to you?
  • Can you implement mailboxes, hanging files, cubbies, or another method for students to get their papers back from you with more distance? 
  • Are you going to wait for a certain number of days before touching turned-in papers? If so, how will that affect the speed of your grading and feedback?

3. Ways to Ask for Help
You may have already seen the ways many elementary schools are asking students if they want a high-five, hug, wave, or other greeting in the morning. That menu concept may need to apply to the way we let older students ask for help. For example, could you...
  • Use a hand signal system to more quickly ask for help (or the bathroom, etc.)?
  • Heavily encourage students to email you their concerns, including during class, if they have a private question (instead of writing you a note or pulling you aside)?
  • Put a literal mailbox in your classroom where students can confidentially leave you a note? 
  • Use desk flips or signs so a student can indicate if they need no, some, or urgent help?

4. Rethinking Bulletin Boards
While you don't HAVE to change your bulletin boards, they do present an opportunity, especially if your classes are cut in half or if every student isn't in the building every day. 

To build community, I'm considering possible displays like...
  • Student of the Day/Week
  • Leave a Message: designated spaces/squares for each class period to write encouraging messages to each other
  • Even more anchor charts and "trails" of learning (see #5)
  • Technology Tips and Reminders to get help

5. Making Progress Visual: Anchor Charts 2.0
Although I'm normally a digital to-do list kind of girl, I've become obsessed with this article by Jocelyn K. Glei about How to Feel Progress. Her basic premise is that we get more satisfaction when we visually chart our tasks and cross them off. 

This raises good questions for us if our classrooms are even partially online: how will students know where we are in a unit (and what we've learned) if they're feeling disoriented between school and home? 

I plan to continue working with my game board templates (see below) and other formats of charting what we've learned and where we're going next. For more information, you might like these blog posts:

6. Making the Digital Realm "You"
If your district has a required LMS like Schoology, Digital Academy, Canvas, etc., then you might not have a ton of control over what your digital presence looks and feels like. However, some teachers are creating virtual classrooms in Google Slides with their Bitmoji, and it's pretty adorable. 

To get started, check out these articles by Hello Teacher Lady or WeAreTeachers. You might also like the Facebook group Bitmoji Craze for Educators

7. Go as Digital as Possible (and Print Ahead)
On one hand, I personally want to make as many self-grading, no-touch, digital modes of learning as humanly possible for this year. However... I also know that our school Wi-Fi could go down at any minute, and that not every student has reliable internet at home. 

One thing I plan to do is print ahead ALL my grammar guided notes for the year and send them home early so that students HAVE the notes even if we go partially or entirely closed later. 

I plan to print other things ahead of time for my students as well, such as: 

8. Stations & Labels
Label. Everything. This. Year. 
If in doubt, put a label on it. Or a sign. Or masking tape. Or a chart, or a big red X in marker, ha!

In addition to decentralizing supplies as in #1, start thinking about...
  • Anything you want to label as "no touch" or "do not open"
  • Permanently numbering stations or locations, such as "this row can visit bucket #1 for extra paper" or "it's your turn to visit Station #1"
  • Reminders to wash hands

9. Classroom Libraries & Books
As of the date that I'm writing this post, it's uncertain to what extent the coronavirus can live on books and paper, but my school is moving forward with assuming that we will distribute books to students this year. 

My hope is to gather all the novels I plan to teach this year and pass them all out at once. If I send them home now, then school closures may affect me a little less. 

This could also look like...
  • Taking turns going to your classroom library (and cleaning shelves/edges more often)
  • Taking turns to go to the school library
  • Bringing the librarians to you
  • More in-person and virtual book talks so that students can find out about books while also touching them less

10. Fidgets & Getting Out Energy
If students are more confined to their desks than usual this year and are limited in where they can go and when, then some of them will go a little stir-crazy. (Imagine the winter "cabin fever" starting as early as September...)

That might mean teachers can consider...

Bonus: Protect the Teacher
What boundaries do YOU want to protect yourself, literally or metaphorically? You've got to take care of both your mental and physical health in this uncharted territory. 

Do you want to...
  • Protect your own supplies more so students don't touch certain items? 
  • Lock up more than you used to? 
  • Wear a teacher apron, a different lanyard, or even a fanny pack to keep certain items more handy?
  • Create different limits about when you will check your email?

You might also like these blog posts...
Do you have additional suggestions or things you're trying? 
Tell us in the comments!

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