Creating calmer classrooms

Written by: Shahana Knight | Published:

Your classroom environment can play a crucial role in influencing the emotional state of your students. Shahana Knight offers some quick and practical tips…

Secondary school is a complex part of any young person’s life. It is the stage in which they are figuring out who they are and exploring their self-concept. They are navigating their way through social groups and relationships and they have many chemical and hormonal changes that impact their judgement, mood and overall wellbeing.

Furthermore, there are many young people walking in to school every morning who are dealing with very difficult circumstances or experiences that are affecting their mental health and wellbeing. This influences their learning capacity at school.

The concept of a therapeutic school can help all young people reduce stress, anxiety and that feeling of being overwhelmed. Here I want to focus on how you can make the school environment therapeutic to allow for a calmer atmosphere, which will help students to refocus and re-engage.

Your classroom has the power to alter the emotional state of a young person. However, schools often do not pay much attention to the way in which the classrooms are designed and decorated. I challenge you to completely re-invent your expectations of what a classroom should be.

Soft lighting

Turn off the main strobe lights and replace them with fairy lights and lamps. The soft lighting will create a feeling of safety and help calm the brain and therefore refocus it, increasing the capacity for learning and retaining information. The room does not have to be dark, just inviting and cosy.

  • Try draping battery-powered fairy lights around back boards.
  • Pop fairy light in jars on each table or around the room.
  • Put a small reading lamp on your desk.
  • Add a living room lamp to the classroom.
  • Introduce fun lighting such as globes, domes and lanterns.

Be purposeful with your backboards

Often backboards are used to display work or helpful learning prompts. It is easy to end up with different coloured backboards and borders which do not match because that is all that is left in the cupboard! This can cause students to feel over-stimulated and can contribute to a disorganised way of thinking.

I encourage you to treat your classroom decor, as you would treat your home. Try deciding on a colour theme (two colours are best, three maximum) that are calming and blend well. Blues, purples, white and green are good colours to start off with (not altogether of course).

Once you have a theme, stick to it. Use this for everything you print, buy, use in the classroom (right down to your folders) and instantly it will create a feeling of order and consistency which will help students to feel more organised in their thoughts and ready to learn.

And why not repurpose the backboard all together? Very often the students do not use them, and they do not add much value to the students’ day or learning. Instead you could try using backboard to communicate important messages and affirmations to the students.

Back the boards in calming colours and display a bold positive statement across them. Use the whole board and just have large bubble writing on it. This can be helpful for students who are feeling particularly low and struggling with self-esteem or confidence. It is also a good motivator and inspirational reminder that will help reshape mindsets and reaffirm positive intentions. Your message could be a quote like:

  • “Every day may not be good, but there is good in every day.”
  • “Be a light in this world.”
  • “No-one is you. That is your superpower.”
  • “I am the creator of my own happy life.”
  • “Today is your opportunity to build the tomorrow you want.”

You could also have these statements on boards in shared areas such as corridors and the hall.

De-clutter

It might seem simple, but it is so effective to have a de-cluttering session. Have a good look at your classroom environment – are there piles of paperwork on sides or folders and resources lying around?

It is easy for a classroom that is used every day by multiple students to become cluttered, but this can often have an impact on your mindset and the mindset of the students when they come in to learn.

Having a room that is organised and clear will have a positive impact on the way in which the students access the lesson. Remember, students who are dealing with difficult experiences will already have higher levels of stress hormones in their system and will be hypersensitive to their surroundings. Often clutter can have a negative discouraging impact on how we feel without us even knowing it.

Try having matching folders, tubs and boxes or baskets that go with your colour theme to hold resources and items and hide them away.

Flexible seating

Who said that young people should be sat at tables to learn? Sitting at tables to learn can be difficult for students, especially if they are hyperactive, high energy and easily distracted. It can also be uncomfortable and begin to make students feel tired and achy.

Could you try flexible seating alternatives? This style of learning communicates to students that they can learn anywhere. If they feel relaxed and less stressed, if they feel peaceful and comfortable then they are more likely to learn.

Remove some of the tables and instead introduce sofas, cushions, old tires, crates and beanbags. Arrange them in circles, clusters or in specific areas and encourage the students to begin to experiment with how and where they learn. If they are engaged, it does not matter how they are sat!

  • Shahana Knight is director at TPC Therapy, a mental health service for children. She also sits on a foster care panel, is a school governor and a clinical play therapist. The advice offered here is linked to her Therapeutic Teaching Programme. Visit www.tpctherapy.co.uk or email shahana@tpctherapy.co.uk


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