In my 11 years teaching, every new year brought anticipation, excitement and of course, a bit of anxiety. I truly enjoyed getting my classroom set up and loved seeing it all put together on the first day of school! However, as I have made the shift to becoming a professional organizer, I often am reminded of how difficult it was to maintain an environment that was built for student success. Studies have shown that students learn best in a clutter-free environment and although it was my goal to provide that for my students, I didn’t feel like I had the knowledge of how best to maintain it. As a professional organizer, I have spent countless hours researching how to maintain clutter-free homes and have come to realize so much of what I have learned can be applied to classrooms. I want to share a few tips that I wish I had known as a teacher in hopes of you and your students having your best year yet!
Extra Supplies (accessible to students)
Time to Sort!
Although it seems crazy, I am going to encourage you to start by taking everything out of your cabinets and drawers and putting it in groups around your room. You may find your missing stapler or the chart paper that you bought and extra one of because you couldn’t find the one you knew you had. As you're sorting, think about how each object is used verses what it is. For example, if I used highlighters mainly during guided reading, I would put them with the guided reading materials verses with the extra supplies. Although in homes, I strongly encourage my clients to keep like things together, this is not the case for a classroom. It is important to keep all the things you will use at a certain point of the day together, so they are easy to access and use.
Teacher's Personal Items/Classroom Decorations (in lockable cabinet)
After sorting, take another look at each pile. Do you have multiples of things? Do you have things you have never used and will never use? Do you have four bags of cotton balls because you “might use them some day?” There are, of course, non-negotiables, things you are required to keep, but take a good hard look at everything else and make sure you only keep things in your room that you use, need or love. What you choose to get rid of should be donated, passed on, recycled or, at last resort, thrown away.
At this point, take time to clean all cabinets and countertops (that you aren’t already using for sorting).
Colored Paper for Large Group Activities (out of students' reach)
Next you will return all items in an organized way. The best place to start is to see your classroom as several different zones. Some zones are for your students to use for their daily classroom tasks. Other zones are just for you, your personal stuff or your teaching materials/tools. Although these zones do not have to be labeled, they could be. In my classroom, I had a zone for art materials, a zone for math manipulatives, a zone for guided reading materials, a zone for extra supplies, etc. Using containers and tubs is a great way to keep zones tidy and organized. Make sure each tub has only one thing in it and that it is clearly labeled. Whether in a tub or not, each item should have its own place in its zone. Make sure the kids know exactly where the zones are and that the ones they use regularly are easy for them to access. If everything has its own spot in a zone, it will be easier for them to return it to where it belongs.
Now is a great time to pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well done!
Art Supplies for Large Group Activities (not accessible to students)
Maintaining this organized environment is going to require work from you and your students. For your students, play the “I Spy” Game (more about that in a future post) at the end of each day! It’s a fun way to hold them accountable for the items in the room they are responsible for. As far as what you can do, try to put back materials as you use them throughout the day. Leaving everything to put back until the end of the day is never a good idea. It is much easier to do a little at a time throughout the whole day than trying to do so when you are tired and ready to go home. Also, be very selective about what you purchase or take from others to put in your classroom. If the new items don’t fit in your current organized environment, they shouldn’t be there. Your goal is to only keep and store things that are going to benefit you and your students and will support the richest learning environment possible. Lastly, try to leave with a clean desk or horseshoe table every day. It will be amazing you how much more ready you feel at the start of the next day when you do! If everything on your desk has a place, it shouldn’t take long at all!
If you get stuck along the way, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m happy to help! Good luck and have a great school year!