Organizing and Reorganizing Your Classroom
- Grades: 1–2
Teachers have a LOT of stuff. Especially primary grade teachers and pack rats. I am both. And I am not a naturally organized person. I have to really work to keep things where I can find them. I stalk organizational blogs, look into other people's classrooms for ideas, and buy tons of gadgets and sorters. Nevertheless, it's a daily battle to keep my life from becoming the next episode of Hoarders. Here is the 12-step program that I invented to keep myself organized.
1. Do not rescue anything from the trash unless you are going to use it this year. I often look at people's trash, sitting outside someone's classroom or on the sidewalk, and think, "OOOH, I can use that!" I lug it home, where it just becomes clutter in my garage or classroom. This a tough thing for me to resist because I have gotten some really cool items this way! If you do pick something up, get rid of two other items in your classroom that you don't use anymore.
2. Schedule ten minutes a day, an hour a week, an evening a month, and a vacation day every three months to reorganize and clean up. Follow it. I find that coming into school on one vacation day helps me get my head back into teaching and planning. It also allows me to take as long as I need to move some of my big furniture around and tackle major projects like cleaning out a BIG cabinet and reorganizing it.
3. When you are cleaning, make three piles: Trash, Give Away, and Keep. If you haven't touched something in three years, put it in the trash or giveaway pile. If it is something you use yearly, keep it, but put it away somewhere you can easily find it, and label the box or bin. Things I have a few sets of, that any teacher could use, I put in the give away pile, if they're in good condition.
When you are done with one area, say that BIG cabinet, take a minute to toss the trash out, send a quick email to your staff to come shop from your giveaway pile (make sure that you list what you have available), and give yourself a pat on the back for getting rid of stuff. In my case, I keep chocolate handy to give out to friends who come and take things away and to reward myself for cleaning. :) Items in the Keep pile get put away immediately. And though it's not environmentally friendly, I toss all extra copies of worksheets and scraps of used construction paper. I'm not at a point where I can manage it all.
If you have changed grade levels recently, take all the grade level stuff you are NOT using and either store it in your garage at home or give it away to the people currently in those grade levels. You don't need to have it handy, taking up space in your classroom. Keep only those things that you are still using for your classroom now.
4. Find your organizational style. I love the idea of neatly organized filing cabinets filled with color-coded, labeled files, but I am very visual. Things in file folders go into the filing cabinet to die. I am a "file by pile" gal. I like to things that go together to be all together, whether they are 3D or 2D. I couldn't do that with a filing cabinet (believe me, I tried). If you are a filing cabinet person, Angela Bunyi has some wonderful tips for you! If you are a file by pile person like me, there is still hope! I keep things organized by month and units, but in boxes, binders, and drawers.
I use large boxes labeled by month to hold classroom decor and bulletin board setups. Legal-sized boxes are labeled with the months or units. So one box contains all of my holiday materials with examples for September through June. Binders live in these boxes as well, to keep the master copies flat and organized. I also have boxes for each theme in language arts with their respective blackline masters and for each science unit with samples, resources, teacher's editions, and pictures.
Math is separated into topic units, each with its individual topic teacher's editions and blackline masters packets. All of the manipulatives are housed in a tall Sterilite drawer unit, with each drawer clearly labeled. In each drawer, each child has their own baggie labeled with how many of each unit belong in the baggie. I train them to count their items when they get a baggie. If they have too many, they put the extra in the drawer. If they don't have enough, they take from the extras that are floating around in the drawer. We count our units again before putting them back in the baggies and drawers. The drawers are easy to pull completely out of the unit, so it's easy to just grab the drawer and have a students pass out baggies.
5. Put your materials in a space that is easy to get to and easy to find. Under tables and between cabinets are gold mines of space. Utilize them to hold your materials. Before, I had four cabinets standing together with no space between them. My cabinets were full to capacity. I wanted my classroom to look less cluttered, to reduce visual noise and to create a smooth eye line in the room. So I spread my cabinets apart and bought a shower curtain holder and some curtain panels to create two closets. I put bookshelves in my closets, but you could store other items. I also make use of the areas under my table, but hide the clutter with a table cloth in a neutral color.
6. Support other pack rats and organizationally challenged people. Don't give things to them, offer to help them reorganize an area, or give them ideas for updating their space.
7. Ask people who are super organized to help you. A colleague of mine had her sister who is a professional organizer come in to help her. Her scrap paper was organized and everything had a home. I went in to talk to her and pick her brain for ideas.
8. Use your time wisely. I have a few colleagues who use their phones to help keep them on track with their time. They set their alarms to remind them when students need to go to special pullout programs. Use your phone to help you manage your time when you are cleaning, too. Remember, it will get messier before it gets cleaner, and even Rome wasn't built in a day.
9. Learn to notice when your materials are beginning to get out of control. Because I am used to the clutter building up, I often tell myself, "I'll do it later," but later never comes. So I have a "Later Basket" to help me. I throw things in the box when I don't have the time to deal with them or put them away. When the box is full, I stay after school (when I can have a chunk on uninterrupted time) and deal with ALL of it. This is also the basket I try and get to when I have a few minutes free during the day.
10. Don't buy anything new unless it is absolutely required. Use what you have, and borrow the rest. Many times I come back from a conference or a seminar with the latest gadgets and gizmos only to discover that I really didn't need them. They just end up in my overcrowded closet.
11. Don't be afraid to spend money on an organizational tool that you really need. When I bought my Sterilite tower of drawers, I cringed at the bill. After I moved all the materials into the containers, I realized that it was a wise use of my money. After three months of living with the materials in their organized spaces, I realized that I couldn't live without them now.
12. Being organized and staying organized takes work and patience. It's a process. Yes, things might get messy. The piles might threaten to swallow your desk, and you might become frustrated looking for things that you know you have. Don't give up. Take a step back and begin again. Have your kids, your significant other, your parent volunteers, teacher friends, and your students help you. Take a day or two and reorganize. Sometimes you have to try a few methods out to find the one that fits you best. I have a ton of file folders and three filing cabinets that I gave away after my failed attempts at filing.
I hope that you had a lovely, relaxing vacation and are ready for a fun, organized, efficient rest of the year. Join me next week as I post about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a heroes report for your students.