Back to School Organizing Tips & Tricks Part Deux: Keeping it Together
Give yourself permission to splurge (just a little): It’s easier to keep yourself organized when you take pride in your space. Decorate your classroom with things you love and treat yourself to some stylish organizing accents for your desk. If you can find a way to relish in your creative space, you are more likely to take care of it (and your students too).
Supplies: Although you probably give students a set of materials at the start of the school year, they inevitably lose their materials or need replacements (we’ll talk about managing this another time). I always kept extra student supplies in my classroom closets. At the beginning of the year, I would send out a letter to parents asking for donations for crayons, highlighters, pencils, erasers, or anything I needed for the students. I stored these materials in clear plastic shoe and accessory boxes (which are half the size) and slapped a pretty little label on them. I labeled boxes for post-its, adhesives (sticky tac, command hooks, or anything that sticks to the wall), and binding materials (think extra staples, binder clips, and paper clips). When I needed to go into my closet to retrieve materials I knew exactly where they were and when it was time to replenish.
NOTE: You can buy about 20 plastic, stackable shoe boxes for under $35 at the Container Store…they usually give out annual 10% coupons for teachers.
The Versatility of the Milk Crate: I used milk crates for everything from file bins, to puzzle and game storage, and seating for my kiddos. Most language arts curriculum materials are divided up into five to six different units. Along with the curriculum there are both your teacher and publisher created materials that you use year after year, such as visual vocabulary cards, prepared spelling words for a word wall, bulletin board titles, corresponding standards, and project ideas. It can be difficult to keep all these materials organized and readily available when you need them (especially if they are in separate areas throughout your room), and it’s definitely not time or cost effective to recreate these items year after year. For each unit, I would use one milk crate ($3.99 at Target or sometimes they have a better deal at Walmart) and divide it into however many weeks I would teach that unit (usually between 5-6). For each week, I would designate a color-coded accordion folder for in class worksheets, assessments, vocabulary and spelling cards, projects (including sample projects done in previous years), and other activities and games. Toward the back of the crate, I stored corresponding bulletin board titles, standards, and sample decor that went along with each unit. This not only kept everything I needed in one place, but also helped me with paper management.
The important thing is to have this system in place before the paper starts-a-flowin’ so you have an organized space to put your copies…instead of shoving them in your closet or on an empty surface only to panic when you can’t find them later! I would keep the crate with the current unit I was teaching in an easy to reach place (in the book shelf next to my desk) so I could pull out the necessary materials for the week.
I also used milk crates to store my student centers and built them into little seats that I put around the library (label the contents or subject of each crate of course!). There are plenty of tutorials all over Pinterest on how to make these-crate-seats-turned-storage-boxes (crate seat tutorial). It does take time to gather the fabric and materials, but it’s definitely a worthwhile endeavor!
Teach your kiddos how to keep themselves organized: Some students will come into your classroom already equipped with organizational skills. While others will have daily paper explosions in their desk if left unattended. Although I used to give rewards to students who kept their space organized, this never helped the students who had chronic disorganization issues (and believe me, it’s an issue!). Organizing comes naturally to some; however, for many, it’s a process that needs to be learned. Post visual instructions to illustrate procedures for arriving and departing the classroom. Make sure the pictures are in order of occurrence and give explicit step-by-step directions (this satisfies those students who need visual or written cues). Be sure to spend time modeling these procedures at the beginning and throughout the school year.
Promote a responsible, patient student to perform desk checks at certain points throughout the day. This student can keep a list of desks that need to be organized. When time permits, the trusty student can show their peer(s) how to organize their desk properly (it’s important that you don’t allow the organization process to be done for the student). This consistent monitoring keeps students in check before their space gets too out of hand. I used to perform desk checks before recess and lunch. Students just got into the habit or organizing their spaces so they could leave promptly for their break.
Manipulatives: Manipulatives are tools that are incredibly beneficial for student learning but an absolute pain to manage as a teacher. I found that the longer the process took to pass out manipulatives and retrieve them, the less likely I was to use them. A process that worked for me was to have a small manipulative goody bag for each student within their reach. If you are lucky, your math curriculum will come with individually packaged manipulatives–if not, you’ll have to go through the process of making your own. When I created my own manipulative baggies, I made one sample bag and had a parent volunteer help with the rest. I either had the manipulatives in a bin at the center of the team table, or attached the manipulatives to students’ desks or chairs with a loose leaf binder ring.
Reduce your paper trail and store what you can digitally. By the last year of teaching, I had my unit crates and no papers in my filing cabinets. Most of my materials and resources were stored on my computer or on a shared website with my grade level. All digital files were categorized by subject and unit. The best part about digital storage is that you can type keywords in the search bar and your file will usually pop up (this beats searching through your file cabinet!).
As I said before, there are so many things to talk about in terms of classroom organization, and I really could write an entire book on it–so, if there’s anything I missed, let me know! Next week we’ll be tackling maintaining parent and student organization throughout the school year. Hope you enjoy your last few weeks of freedom!