It's the time of year when many of us are thinking about back to school. Even if you still have several weeks left, you may already be thinking about organizing your room. Thanks for joining me in this 2nd part of a 3 part series on Back to School. If you missed the first one, click to read about Building a Positive Classroom Community.
These days, more and more teachers are embracing the notion that kids need to be mindful and self aware in order to be happy learners. Whole brain teaching, Mindup and Responsive classrooms are being used in classrooms around the world with great success. But because teaching is so busy, many teachers have a hard time keeping themselves organized. Their desks or tables are piled high with papers and marking. In trying to teach organization and mindfulness to students, teachers can be bogged down with their own "stuff". Just like at home, this is powerful modelling. If you are organized like your classroom, you will be less stressed, save yourself A LOT of time and be a much happier teacher. Happy teacher = happy students. You don't need to be a "Pinterest Teacher" to stay organized. This post will give you 4 great time saving tips to help you stay on top of your own organization and keep your classroom and students ticking along independently. This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.
After I had been teaching a few years, I started to see a pattern within myself. My students would have a problem like: "I don't have a pencil", "I didn't get a paper", etc. This would take time out of my teaching or managing because I would have to find those things for students. It's not like it happened once, it was happening A LOT. Then I would feel a bit stressed because it was constant. I started to realize that school is not unlike the business world. Solve a problem people have and things run more smoothly. (In business you could get rich - think of the paperclip invention, but in school, a stress free day is rich!)
1. Solve the Most Common Issues
My absolute favorite simple thing that saved me lots of grief is my "Extra Copies Bin". When something is being handed out (including extra newsletters or hot lunch forms) and there are extras, they go in the extra copies bin. That was one of my biggest issues. Someone would not get a copy of something being handed out. Once the extras went back on my desk, the paper piles started. Then, it was only me that could dig through and find it. Having an "extra copy bin" was a game changer. Now, students know exactly where to go and the lesson is not disturbed.
Lots of people have now adopted the "dull pencil and sharp pencil" bins. In case you haven't heard, if you have these, students will always know where to go to find a pencil. I haven't had this issue in a while since moving to group table seating but I know it drove me crazy for years.
These days, technology is being used more than ever to enhance and deepen student learning. I wish I had some tips for the wifi not working or the lack of technology but I don't. What I can say is that putting systems in place and organizing your gadgets can really go a long way to keep you organized and make tech time easy.
I have a tech table where I keep my laptop, convertors for the projector, some headphones, document camera etc. Then my tech is always ready to go.
Handing out computers or iPads and handing out ear buds can be a hassle. I have two student tech monitors. These are not part of the everyday jobs. They are "special". Students "apply" for the position and tell me why they want to have the job. The job letters are so cute! I look for the words: "responsible" and "careful" when I read them. I let them work on them at home and Moms and Dads enjoy helping them "apply". I try to give all kids that apply some time. These kids are taught how to turn things on and off, pull down the projector screen, hand out iPads and ear buds. It really saves me a lot of time. (These are usually 2nd graders and they rock!)
2. Keeping Yourself Organized
Solving the tips above about common student issues goes a long way to helping to keep YOU organized. Less piles of extra papers on your desk, no more having to go to your desk to give a student a "teacher pencil" (which you have labeled with washi tape with "teacher's pencil"). Also no more frantic handing out of tech items: you can get started right away with the lesson or with helping students in their research. I'm sure you will find more little issues. If you find yourself a little frustrated and saying the same thing over and over again..chances are, you need a solution.
A long time ago, someone told me to pick up one of those little drawers that people use in their garage to put nails and screws in. It's a great way to keep the little things like brads, paperclips etc. in. Nowadays, you can add some cute little labels to make it look nicer and make it easier to find things. Click on the image to see more.
My teacher drawer was always FULL of pencils, coloured pens etc. I had a million pens but often couldn't find the one I wanted. I like to use a different color each day to respond in the kids' journals. Here's a great idea: how about a lazy susan for your table or desk top? It looks great, is very functional and keeps your drawer clean. Let's face it, you need room in your drawer for chocolate and Advil. ;) I got this one for about $12 from Ikea. I usually put student names on popsicle sticks and keep it here too in my "fair and square" jar. It's a great way to fairly choose names for something. I found another great one that has ridges so nothing falls off. You can click on the image to see more.
3. Classroom Design Choices
There's a lot of buzz these days about "flexible seating". Some teachers may embrace it fully and other teachers may feel anxious about the possible impending chaos. I've always been a middle of the road person in many ways. I never just jump right in and follow trends for the sake of following trends. Where are you in the flexible seating idea? It really depends on your personality, teaching style and classroom management skills.
What has worked the best for me is a combination of tables and flexible seating. In general, I like to be organized and have a place for everything that students can count on. I like to have a "home base" for students as it adds to their sense of belonging and comfort. So, every student has a seat in a group at a table, but I have set up areas in my classroom with flexible seating so that some students can go and work.
Not all kids like to work sitting on a bean bag chair. Not all kids like to sit and would rather stand. How many times have you said, "Please sit down" because other children can't see the board? Offering alternative learning spaces solves this "problem". Bam!
This is my computer/ipad area but as it developed, the chairs were pulled away and students used this area to stand and work. Some even took cushions and worked underneath. Sometimes you just have to think outside the box. I always made sure that kids were engaged and on task in order to be able to enjoy different seating options.
How do I choose who goes to these spaces? At the beginning of the year I talk to students about these places. It depends on the makeup of your class. Some years, these areas are super popular, other times not. If they are super popular I may do a random draw using the fair and square jar or use it as an incentive for students that are on task. Just like any area that has a lot of people or traffic, it's beneficial to have areas for students to go because it prevents management problems. I am also careful to have spaces for kids that like to work alone. If your classroom is small, you can get some "writing office" or "privacy folders" which are usually dual purpose and include some skills lists.
4. V.I.P's in the Classroom
Believe it or not, I consider my daily VIP (very important person) as part of my classroom organization. (Obviously it is also a very important part of classroom community and helping kids to feel happy and welcome.) The reason my VIP is part of my organization is because they have an important job to do. Not only are they in charge of running the calendar center in the morning which sets the tone for the day and allows me to take attendance, but they are part of a solid morning routine. The VIP feels happy to have some responsibility in the morning, can share personal items, lead the classroom line and generally help people. All of this contributes to a calming and organized day that the kids count on. They are the perfect model for the other children. There's nothing like being the student that gets to sit in the VIP chair!
I used to have a wing chair as my teacher chair for the reading center. This is where I would spend time reading aloud with my students. This chair reclined. I used to joke to the kids as I reclined during silent reading time that I was going to take a nap. (Although that would have been nice!) They loved this chair. I decided later on that it would be a great incentive for the VIP to get to sit in my chair, reclined, with a friend of their choice each day to read. WOW! I can't believe how happy this made kids feel. They were SO good at being calm and they read so much! (Whatever works to get them reading, right?) As I was writing this blog post I decided to browse and look what I found!!
Classroom organization leads to better class management because kids count on the routines and organization of the class. If you have a plan for all of the little things that can drive you crazy and kids know what to do, then your classroom will run more smoothly. Then you will have more time to spend getting to know each and every students and move them along socially, emotionally an academically.
Stay tuned! The 3rd post in this 3 post Back to School series will be on Classroom Management ideas.
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Clip art credit for cover page: Teaching in the Tongrass , KG Fonts.