Our school is under construction and dust covers most surfaces as we enter. I have been in and out of my room, setting things up, getting excited, and yet, because of the construction there are a few things that I am not able to do yet. The unfinished to-do list seems to haunt me everywhere.
Staying organized is something that most of us do well as educators. We know that we are setting an example for the students, we know we have to stay on top of all of our piles, especially when we teach more than just one class. Yet sometimes staying organized seems to be just one more thing to-do on our ever expanding to-do lists. One more thing to get done before we can actually work. That is why over the years I have adopted a few small ideas that help me stay organized in our classroom.
The 1 minute rule. If something can be accomplished in under 1 minute then I do it right away, because all of those 1 minute things quickly add up to way more than 1 minute when left unfinished. That means most papers get filed away, most things are put in their right places and short replies are given on emails. This year I may try to expand it to the 2 minute rule.
Where does something want to be? I pay attention to where I place things naturally in the classroom and set up organizational spots for those things. This is why my students finished work is not by my desk but by the front. This is why my book stamp is right next to my computer rather than by the books. All of these seemingly strange places for things happened because I paid attention to where I naturally wanted to place things rather than where the room told me to put them.
Letting go of paper. Paper can be a monster in itself, so I have learned to purge. While I am nowhere near embracing a paperless classroom, I do feel better about the lack of files I have because there is less paper to sort through. I don’t really use any type of worksheet so most of our papers are classroom sets of texts.
Solicit student help. Students should feel like this is “our classroom,” which means they are expected to clean up after themselves. They may seem self-explanatory but I have noticed that students often don’t see the same mess as I do. So I point it out and I ask them for help. The last 3 minutes of the day are also used to stack chairs, pick up, and reset the classroom.
Purging the big stuff. In the past I had too much stuff in our classroom. Taking a hard look at our furniture and what we did not use helps keep the clutter down.
Replying right away to email. I hate having a full inbox so if something can be handled right away, I do it. I don’t strive for inbox zero, but the emails I have in my inbox should be reminders not more things I have to do.
Set up for the next day at the end of the day. I have a 35 minute commute and while I try to get there at 7 AM every morning, sometimes traffic does not agree. Cleaning up my space and setting materials out for the next day means I don’t feel rushed in the morning. Taking those extra few minutes the day before to get ready means that I can walk in and work on something else or even just catch up with a co-worker if I need to.
Don’t send that email. With the ease of emails I think we sometimes send unnecessary ones. I have tried to call people more to ask a quick question rather than send them that email. I am aware that every time I send someone an email, I am creating another to-do for them.
Checking my mood. I have found that if my work space is disorganized or cluttered, I get grumpier as a teacher. So if I seem to be having one of those days where I am in a funk, my environment is almost always playing a role. Therefore taking a moment to re-organize, file, or de-clutter will almost always help alleviate my stress level.
Leave notes for next year. When a day is done, or a lesson, I try to leave a few notes for next year in my lesson planner or document, in case I end up teaching that same lesson. That way things I think I will remember as I go to tweak something are actually remembered and the ideas are not lost. Doing it at the end of the day also means that it does not become one more lingering thing to do.
The Bullet Journal. My husband introduced me to this way of keeping track of to-do’s and other lists that I need to make. I love the simplicity of it and have to adapted it to my own needs. I also try to end most days with a “Happiness is..” list where I list all of the things that made me happy that day. This helps me see the bigger picture at the end of the day and helps un-clutter my mind.
Keeping our classroom simple. The less stuff you have, the less stuff you have to organize. While our classroom may seem sparse to some, to me it means room to breathe and move. Everything has a place and if something is not used, it goes. Being mindful of the piles means that my stress level stays sane.
Getting things done right away or as soon as I can means that nothing builds into a mountain. Rather than wait for the weekend to assess that big pile of assignments, I start on it right away, chipping away so it gets done. My students also tell me they appreciate the quick turn around, after all, they met their deadline for the project and would like to figure out what to work on now. They cannot do that if my part isn’t done.
There you have it, a few ideas for staying more organized, especially if you teach 100+ students. What are your favorite ideas for staying organized?