With the relentless waves of worksheets, professional development packets, and IEP paperwork, it can seem impossible to stay ahead of the whirlwind of disorder. Here are 10 of our tried-and-true tips to make organization a reality!
#1: Get Rid of Your Desk
For one thing, we all know what inexplicable paper-magnets desks are. For another, they often serve as barriers between you and students, especially if you are tempted to grade during the day. If you have a horseshoe table you use with students, position that in the corner instead. Otherwise, keep your pens, scissors, and other such necessities in a plastic 3-drawer cart, or in pencil organizers on your mobile tech cart. Added bonus: you’ll open up the space in your classroom!
#2: Get Rid of Worksheets (as much as possible)
Moving away from worksheets has the mutual benefit of creating less clutter for you and less busy work for your students. Instead, consider displays of student understanding in the form of project-based learning and other alternatives that place the priority more on learning.
#3: Get Rid of Your Filing Cabinet
While this is a bigger project to tackle, the payoff is enormous. Think of all the time you’ve wasted digging through disheveled files to find that one resource, making copies, and then rediscovering its folder to put it away. Contrast that with performing a simple search of your computer files for the resource, and then printing it! Go ahead and start scanning items in your filing cabinet, and be sure to keep them organized in digital folders on your computer. This would be a great task for parent volunteers or the school copy aide if you have one!
#4: Get Rid of Student Portfolio Binders or Files
If you keep bulky binders of student work in your classroom, consider teaching students how to keep their work digitally on individual blogs! Some benefits of keeping portfolios digitally include: increased practicality for students to keep and access their work in the long-term, more varied options for work sample types (including voice recordings, videos, etc.), and preparation for students to utilize 21st century tools and skills. Check out our post for student blogging ideas to get started!
#5: Get Rid of CD’s & More
Make a search for the obsolete in your classroom. CD’s that can be ripped, posters that can be scanned–pare down any items that could be replaced with your smartphone or tablet.
#6: Go Mobile for Student Paperwork
Once you’ve gotten rid of your filing cabinet, there will doubtless still be a few items you need to keep on file, including confidential student paperwork and forms. Keep these instead in a space-effective accordion file folder or a small filing box. You may find the ability to move these papers around with you to be a more convenient option, as well!
#7: Adopt Apps that Will Work for You
Get rid of that giant desk calendar (which will be necessary if you did #1 anyway)! Experiment with various apps to find out what will best meet your needs. Evernote is one option for keeping notes and schedules organized, and Confer is perfect for keeping anecdotal notes from guided reading to math!
#8: Adopt Google Drive
Instead of opening multiple programs to access your files, move everything over to Google Drive! Only uploaded or synced files count against your 15 GB of free storage, too, which means anything you create in Drive is free storage! Additionally, you will be poised to more easily collaborate as you share resources with your colleagues. Tip to remember: Download the desktop version of Google Drive so you can still access your resources during offline occurrences!
#9: Enlist Student Help
Especially if you keep some kind of classroom economy or class jobs, make sure you add student jobs that will help keep up classroom organization! Some that I’ve loved have included organization experts, who dust and otherwise straighten up, and sanitation specialists, who wield Clorox wipes on every possible surface!
#10: Make a Display Wall
This can be as simple as pinning up a few strands of yarn and attaching some clothes pins, or perhaps hanging up a few clipboards. Not only is it a great way to display reminders, flyers, student drawings, and personal inspiration, but it’s perfect to keep it all off work-surfaces. If you are interested in using your wall space in an even craftier way, the ideas are pretty much endless on Pinterest!
What about you? Do you have other strategies to share that have helped you stay organized? Please share in the comments!
Class meetings are more than about discussing logistics or class management, although those are benefits, too. It’s about creating an environment where everyone can feel comfortable to speak their minds & learn from each other!
#1: Develop as Risk-Takers.
“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller
We all develop inhibitions through the years as we become fearful of failure. This kind of mentality, however, is absolutely stifling to any real learning. We must find authentic ways to show students we welcome risk-taking, rather than just telling them we do. Class meetings are a perfect way to do so! Because of their low-pressure settings, they have the capacity to help even the shyest students to slowly build their confidence over the year.
#2: Cultivate Relationships with Students.
In the blur of lunch count, P.E., and grading, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of school, neglecting personal relationships. However, most of us began teaching because of people–as it should be! Class meetings provide an appropriate, dedicated environment for sharing personal experiences–ones of celebration, loss, anticipation, anxiety, and just plain silliness. Such sharing renews and strengthens our most important priority: the students with whom we work.
#3: Social Skills.
Listening, turn-taking, appropriate responding, articulating ideas–these are just a few social skills developed in a class meeting environment. As teachers, it’s easy to react to apparent deficits in these social skills during instruction time with consequences–but what students often need more is additional practice and examples of people effectively using these skills!
#4: Opportunity for Meaningful Discussions.
This benefit is best illustrated with an example from my classroom. On my first day back at school after a week-long illness-related absence, we gathered in our circle. Students quickly began to report that behavior was not always at its best with our substitute teachers, which led to one student volunteering the statement, “Some kids think, ‘Well, I’m not going to get anything for it, so why should I be good?’” This led to one of our most animated and earnest conversations of the year. As they explored and debated this question, the class eventually came up with the following thoughtful answers, among others:
No matter how smooth your classroom management or arrangement, the fact is, issues invariably arise each year with each group of students. From desk arrangements to concerns about homework loads, students will pick up on small details teachers overlook. When you give them the opportunity to voice concerns and then to discuss them as a class during regular meetings, the classroom starts to truly become a shared, democratic environment instead of one run by one imperfect person. While a class meeting should by no means be the only opportunity for student voice, it is one helpful medium!
5 Set-Up Tips
#1: Establish rules and routines first!
No matter how old your students are, it’s essential to start by discussing expectations. To help them understand the shared nature of class meetings, make sure these are not your expectations, but what the class truly expects from one another during the meetings. Make a shared list, have students sign it as a contract, and post it in the class meeting area for a visual reminder. Have a couple of practice trials that emphasize the expectations, and model some of those skills by role-playing with students!
#2: Start With a “Talking Circle” with a “Talking Object.”
“Talking circles are more successful when the participants have trust with each other. Taking time to share stories, build relationships, explore values, and create guidelines for participation helps everyone feel physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe in the circle and creates a foundation for courageous acts of sharing.” (Winters, A.)
Have students start by sitting in a circle, and one-by-one, passing a “talking object” that declares that they have the floor for sharing. (My students have always loved using a Koosh ball for this purpose).
#3: Put out a Suggestions/Compliments Box.
Place this box in an accessible location to give students the opportunity to share compliments for the positive acts they notice from classmates, or for suggestions to help the classroom run more smoothly. We recommend making and printing your slips to provide a template that includes lines for names, solutions, etc. Remember to model to students what quality compliments and suggestions look like (which will avoid excessive “You are nice” slips, or complaints without ideas for solutions)!
#4: Establish a regular weekly meeting time.
If it matters to your students, it should matter to you! Set aside a regular weekly time, even if it’s only 15-20 minutes. If assemblies or field trips shift the schedule, discuss with students whether they’d like to reschedule that week to help them know it’s still a priority!
#5: Allow Flexibility.
During the Talking Circle, we suggest that you leave the sharing open-ended, rather than giving students a prompt. We also recommend that you give them the choice to “Pass” on their turn to keep it from becoming a stressful, pressured situation.
Those over at the National Education Association recently posted an article on how teachers can avoid conflicts with their students by decreasing power struggles. We take their advice and add our own thoughts below:
I think we’ve all either been the problem student or had to deal (directly or indirectly) with the problem students. We’ve all seen how teachers react, and learned which reactions deal with the students poorly; but how can teachers react to problem students in a way that uplifts, inspires, and corrects?
The tips the NEA gives are broken up into Dos and Don’ts. As we go through their list of just the dos (let’s focus on the positives), we’ll add explanations and illustrations.
Engage students from the beginning by providing a “hook” to keep them interested.
According to a Dr. Robert Feller of the University of Washington, helping students stay interested decreases potential disruptions. Retired teacher LaNelle Holland said:
Attention grabbers may be used to provoke thought, facilitate active learning, or just share experiences.
Another retired teacher, Diane Postman, suggests that being able to connect with a student on a personal level can help a teacher make “allowances or adaptations” to fit the individual needs of the student. This can create trust between a student and their teacher, which is likely to ward off disruptive behaviors. On the topic of creating trust with students, Ben Johnson, who is a superintendent in Texas, had this to say:
We earn our students’ trust by showing them respect in the form of meaningful, challenging, and rewarding learning activities that are worthy of their time and best efforts.
Students in their early years of school are naturally trusting, and — please don’t take this the wrong way — we abuse that trust in the name of socialization and classroom management. In essence, we teach them to obey rather than to explore. As students get older, they often trust less and start behaving…like our…suspicious visitor. Most will take what we offer but will not allow a learning partnership.
Trust works the other way, too. As teachers, we have learned to distrust our students. All it takes is one disruptive young person to ruin it for the rest of the students that follow. We don’t want to get burned again, so we tighten the rules and narrow the focus. We develop an attitude that we can’t trust our students to learn independently. Especially in the early grades, we feel it is our responsibility to control every aspect of their learning activities so things don’t get out of hand, or so they don’t make a mess. 
Turn the misbehavior into a teaching moment.
Taking time to immediately stop the confrontation is key. Showing the student in a polite manner that conflicts can be stopped before they escalate shows them an example of handling a situation in an adult manner; however, you don’t want the student to feel unheard, so in some cases is might be appropriate to set up a time to meet with the student privately to discuss the behavioral problem, such as after the period is over. To continue the trust you’re hoping to build with the student, remaining respectful is of utmost importance.
Frank Iannucci, a math and computer science teacher from West Orange, New Jersey, says teachers should immediately stop the confrontation and arrange to discuss it with the student in a mature, adult manner, regardless of the age of the student, after the period.
The most important thing is to be respectful and gain respect from love not fear! Thanks for reading and we’ll see you guys soon!
As all teachers know, student misbehavior is disruptive to classroom settings and learning environments. A few ways to help students understand the importance of keeping control of themselves and their actions is to reward them when they work hard to achieve behavior goals. Below are a few ideas for helping students learn good behavior: