Back to School Resources:

Considering the Classroom Environment

This page is part of a larger series titled Back to School Resources 2020.  To see the full list of topics, visit the Back to School Resources 2020 Landing Page.  



As you begin a new school year, setting up your classroom requires planning and careful thought.  For this coming school year, there will be unique challenges that you will need to give thought to and plan accordingly.  A few of these unique challenges that impact the environment of school or classrooms are the need for social distancing, protective wear, sanitation of materials and body, flexible spaces that meet individual learning and emotional needs.  

Included here are some resources that may help you make these challenges a bit more manageable.  Allow the information/links to springboard your planning and providing for students’ needs, while addressing the unique environmental adjustments the pandemic brings. 

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Where we learn is important.  As educators, we are eager to physically be “with” our students after the lengthy emergency remote learning weeks.  We must accept that there will be different requirements for the safety of all.  Preparing your classroom to meet such requirements AND encouraging student learning, exploring, discovery, and connecting will take  careful planning. 

Classroom Design is Important: In his article What Does Good Classroom Design Look Like in the Age of Social Distancing?, author and educator Robert Dillon encourages educators to thoughtfully consider the physical space of their classroom during this time of COVID-19.  Here are some highlights:  

  • Signage and First ImpressionsDillon writes, “Let all spaces acknowledge the reality, but stress belonging, community, and being together again.” 
  • Optimize the PerimeterFill the walls with images that support daily learning, foster calm, and bring coherence. 
  • Minimize Teacher Only SpaceConsider reducing areas that are typically unavailable to students to maximize classroom space. 
  • Movement and Choice: Consider moving learning outside when possible, standing while the teacher talks, or sitting on tops of their desks to allow for choice when limited options are available. 
  • Space is Time and Time is SpaceDesign with the flexibility that allows for students to fluidly move between physical and virtual learning spaces”, encourages Dillon.  


Intentional Space Can Minimize Risk: Continue to think creatively about how to use your school space to minimize risk.  Here are CDC guidelines for reopening schools for maintaining social distancing and limiting the sharing of materials within schools: 

Requiring students to wear masks in school will most likely be a challenge. Yet, research indicates mask use is effect in limiting the spread of the virus.  Limiting the spread among our most at risk students, fellow staff, or the families connected to your school is critical.  Here are some suggestions on the topic of mask wearing in schools:   


  • Consider having teachers wear face shields or clear masks to allow students increased access to visual cues such as facial expressions and lip-reading. 
  •  Encourage parents and caregivers to work with their child to determine which option may work best, particularly those with high sensory sensitivity.   
  • It may help to begin wearing the face protection for increasingly longer periods of time prior to the beginning of school to build up stamina.   
  • There may be students that are not able to tolerate wearing face protection. If needed, create a visual that indicates this for the student to wear throughout the building. Make sure adults and students understand the this is what the student needs. It’s not bad. It’s not wrong. 


For more information and suggestions on masks and face shields in school, visit our Back To School Resources section on Learning New Routines.   


Additional Helpful Resource Links: 


Students who utilize fidgets, manipulates, or other tools to help them learn will need to have these accessible when sharing materials is not an option.  

  • Create individual bins for fidgets and “I need a break” materials. 
  • For students with Executive Function challenges keep extra supplies (pencils, pens, calculator) with the general ed. teacher or support services teacher. Penalizing them if they forget to bring items to class will increase anxiety during an already stressful time. 
  • Continue to provide alternative seating options (ball chair, wobble seat, wiggle cushion) in classroomsbut assign them to students, purchase additional seats, or create a protocol for sanitizing between use.  


Designate space that invites students to self-regulate, breathe, and utilize tools and techniques when they are having a challenging time.  It is not a time-out spot or used as a disciplinary consequence for behavior; rather, a space for healthy self-regulation equipped with coping tools and strategies.  If shared spaces are not possible in your school, create mobile kits that students can access in designated areas.   

 Check out “Our Classroom Calm Corner Toolbox – helping students self-regulate at school”