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Your desk has disappeared under a pile of paperwork, your in-box is overflowing, and you have no clue how you’re going to pack up your classroom for summer vacation in just a few weeks. Sound familiar?
No matter how organized your classroom was in August, with a roomful of kids and barely a second to spare, you’ll probably find you’re knee-deep in clutter by April. Doing a little spring cleaning now could save you major headaches come May or June (not to mention next fall).
We’ve combed the pages of tidying guru Marie Kondo’s book, Spark Joy, and spoken to other expert organizers and educators to create an organizational primer to help you get back on track.
1 | Tidy Your Classroom With Marie Kondo
Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has sparked a cleaning revolution. The organization maven’s KonMari method is simple: Keep the items that bring you joy and part with those that do not. The goal is not only to create a more organized space but to create one that brings you joy. In her second book from Ten Speed Press, aptly titled Spark Joy, Kondo provides a hands-on guide for mindful tidying, addressing topics such as how to pack your drawers (like a Japanese bento box), how to store stationary supplies (vertically, in snug compartments), and how to add joy to your space after reducing clutter (a splash of color). If the sight of your classroom mess is causing undue stress, Kondo’s simple method can help you decide what to keep, what to toss, and how to tidy up what’s left. Here are five basic rules of tidying from Spark Joy.
Imagine Your Ideal Lifestyle. “Describe your ideal lifestyle. If you like drawing, sketch out what it looks like. If you prefer to write, describe it in a notebook. You can also cut out photos from magazines,” writes Kondo, who advises that starting before you’re ready can lead to relapse. “When you imagine your ideal lifestyle, you are actually clarifying why you want to tidy and identifying the kind of life you want to live once you have finished.”
Finish Discarding First. “One characteristic of people who never seem to finish tidying up is that they attempt to store everything without getting rid of anything,” Kondo writes. Your classroom might look neat, but if drawers and bins are stuffed with unnecessary supplies, it will be hard to keep organized until summer. Instead, she suggests sorting through all of your supplies before deciding how to store them. Consider any storage decisions you make while sorting to be temporary.
Follow the Right Order. “Have you ever run across old photos while tidying and found that hours have passed while you were looking at them? This is a very common blunder,” says Kondo, who counsels sorting books, papers, and komono (miscellany) before tackling sentimental items such as photos or gifts from students. This order helps organizers hone their ability to determine which items spark joy before they get to the really tricky stuff.
Ask Yourself Whether an Object Sparks Joy. To discover whether or not an item gives you joy, Kondo recommends picking it up and paying close attention to how you feel while holding it. You might find that it’s not a student’s gift that brings you joy but the memory of the student who gave it to you. Keep the memory and discard the gift.
Tidy by Category, Not Location. It might seem easier to organize one area of your classroom at a time, but Kondo suggests focusing on categories of belongings (such as books or papers) instead. Gather every item in a category from around your classroom—and any supply closets that you have—in one spot. Advises Kondo, “This allows you to see objectively exactly how much you have.”
2 | Organize Your Time With Maia Heyck-Merlin
Former teacher Maia Heyck-Merlin saw firsthand both how difficult and how important it is for teachers to stay organized. “Teaching is one of the most demanding jobs on Earth. Colleagues count on us to deliver resources on time, students rely on us to return papers when we say we will, and families need us to be proactive and responsive.” To help teachers stay ahead of the game, Heyck-Merlin wrote The Together Teacher. Here, she shares four tips for making better use of your time.
Remember Your Routines. “Take a moment to write down what you need to do when you open and close each day—from putting your lunch in the fridge to sharpening pencils,” suggests Heyck-Merlin. “Cloi C., an elementary teacher in Washington, D.C., says, ‘My kids eat breakfast in the classroom, and I used to find myself using that time to run back and forth to gather materials or get my snack. The students weren’t getting my full attention. My opening and closing routines benefit my class because they mainly list the small, trivial tasks that must be done for me to be 100 percent present.’”
Construct Your Calendar. “As Pamela C., a former high school teacher in the Bronx, advises, ‘In spring, gather new or changed IEP calendars, field trip dates, observation schedules, testing windows, and more. Take an hour to input everything into your calendar.’ Then ask: What’s one thing I can do now to prevent a scramble later? For example, if you have a field trip in a few months, get a head start on calling vendors and scheduling chaperones. List your to-dos for each event and start crossing them off to prevent the spring flood!”
Double Down on Digital. “Organizing paper is one thing, but what to do with your digital life? Cloi says: ‘A desk full of papers is very obviously messy, but our computer is our virtual workspace and it needs to be cleaned regularly, too. Take the time to create folders to file all of your documents for classes, grades, subjects, instructional standards, and events.’ Doing this now will save time when you are planning for next year.”
Know What You Have. “By the time the final bell rings, you’ll likely have an overflow of classroom materials. Claire B., an early childhood teacher in Washington, D.C., takes inventory: ‘Sort and store it all. Create a spreadsheet that lists what’s in each box so you don’t have to do any re-printing or re-purchasing over the summer. Before you leave, place all the materials for a particular theme into one tub so you can pull them out quickly next year.’”
3 | Tackle Your Tools With Tiffani Mugurussa
“I think teachers have every intention of staying organized at the beginning of the school year,” says Tiffani Mugurussa, a kindergarten teacher in Northern California. “We spend countless hours preparing our classrooms before our students arrive. However, during the course of the day, we are constantly in motion. There isn’t time to stop and put things away.” Mugurussa founded the collaborative blog Time 4 Organization as a platform for crowdsourcing solutions to classroom clutter. Here are four of her favorite ideas.
Reboot Your Drawers. “I took everything out of my drawers and sorted supplies into small plastic baskets filled with like items. As I worked, I designated items to be tossed, returned to the supply room, or given away. Then, I arranged the baskets inside my drawers so that the supplies I used most often were near the front.”
Don’t Delay. “I found myself stacking things off to the side. To fix that, I spend part of my prep hour putting things away. I used to have a tray that said ‘To Be Filed.’ Now I keep master copies in sheet protectors inside binders. I tab the pages that I need to copy, take the binder to the copy machine, make copies, and return the binders.”
Prioritize. “Pick one space in the room that is important to you to keep organized and start there. For me, it’s my desk. My desk is my personal space where I keep my important documents, my planner, and anything else I consider sacred, like my coffee cup. I organize these supplies until I’m satisfied before moving on to the rest of the room.”
Pack Early and Often. “In April, I start boxing up items we aren’t using. I have students help by, for example, organizing my book tubs. My biggest tip for summer: Hang paper over your shelves. This prevents floor wax from splashing onto your things.”
Illustration: Joel Holland