Classroom Essentials for the School and Band Orchestra Teacher

Mike Lawson • MusicEd: Mentor Minute • October 3, 2019

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Your classroom setup can make or break your year. Whether it’s having tissues handy for the occasional runny nose or displaying the right posters to engage your students when they’re not engaged in rehearsal, having these essentials in your room can help make sure this year is your best one yet.

Get-It-Yourself Basket

Though it’s nice to have students tell you what they need when they need it, more often than not, their politeness can interrupt rehearsal and break the tempo of your class. By having common use items accessible for students to access when needed, you can easily minimize these distractions. Tissues, Band-Aids, nail clippers, hand sanitizer, pencils, or other common requests can be placed in a conspicuous place for students to access, use, and return. You could go one step further by including consumables like valve oil or rosin.

Movement Mapping

Chairs, stands, cases, and backpacks can all become clutter in your classroom. Providing students a place to store personal items, along with a procedure for how to enter the room (how to set-up and take-down) are well worth your time to plot out, teach, and reinforce every day. Students will feel more comfortable in your room when clutter is minimized. Establishing a regular setup and clean-up routine allows them to anticipate what to expect and helps them feel secure. Putting away unused chairs and stands and lining up your seating may take a few extra minutes at the end of class, but to ensure the room is tidy as classes transition is certainly worth it.

World Map

Music is deeply engrained in every culture in the world. Being able to show students where a song originates from helps them feel more connected to the world at large. It helps more visual learners as well. It’s also great for demonstrating cross-curricular lessons.


Social-emotional learning is a major movement in music education. Music is the method for training the emotions after all, so why not capitalize on that to help students connect emotionally? Put away the instrument posters you got from a Yamaha booth 10 years ago and choose instead some inspiring or thought-provoking images. Students are unlikely to keep engaged from the time they enter your room to the time they leave- eyes will surely wander. Make sure that what they are wandering to is educational.


Surrounding yourself with things that make you happy is a great way to feel more relaxed throughout your day. Whatever it is that reminds you of the things you love, bring it into your classroom to help trigger those positive feelings. Consider photos, mugs, lights, awards, or, my favorite, a soft blanket in your desk drawer. Whatever you choose, make it something to bring more joy into every moment you’re in your classroom.

Sensory Experience

Have you thought about the impression your classroom makes when someone walks in the door? What do they hear, see, and feel? Are there areas that feel cluttered or unorganized, which may trigger a feeling of anxiety in your students, and yourself? Does your classroom smell like old instrument cases and valve oil, or can you plug in an aromatic that brings a calmer perspective? Is there harsh lighting your room that can be softened by some white mini LED lights strung around the room? Is your room a comfortable temperature? Is there music playing to provoke the type of mood you want your students to be in? All of these things contribute to making an environment that is inviting and comfortable for your students- which will in turn be reflected in their behavior, outlook, and progress.


As winter approaches, so does cold and flu season. Being a music teacher is inherently risky, with sometimes hundreds of students transitioning in and out of our classroom every day. Most of us can’t avoid contact with illness if a student has something. Keeping hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes and spray, and a warm-water hand washing station accessible at all times can help minimize the risk that your classroom is the one where everyone shares their sickness. Establish a habit of quickly spraying down chairs and stands between classes, wiping down shared instruments with sanitizer, and inviting kids to wash hands if they sneeze or cough, you’ll ensure your efforts to remain healthy aren’t wasted.

A classroom is so much more than chairs, stands, instruments, and equipment. Remember that the most important thing, the one that will make the biggest difference to your students, is you.

A former K-8 music educator, Elisa Janson Jones specializes in helping music educators build, manage, and grow thriving school music programs. With an MBA alongside her degree in music, she is also a coach and consultant to small businesses and nonprofits around the country and serves as the conductor of her local community band. Elisa is the host and producer of the Music Ed Mentor podcast, and a favorite conference presenter. She is the founder of the International Music Education Summit and the author of The Music Educator’s Guide to Thrive themselves.

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