In this post, we answer a common question; “How do I actually organize my classroom?” Although it seems overwhelming, it doesn’t need to be.
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Now that our two and a half years in Germany are quickly wrapping up, the daunting task of packing up to move back across the ocean has begun.
When we moved here, we came with three boxes and a few suitcases. We furnished an entire house with things that can’t go back to the U.S. with us so that means I have spent a lot of time in Facebook Messenger and on “Craigslist” like apps trying to sell our belongings.
But before I could get to the point of posting any of these items online, I needed to think through a plan on how to best organize, share, and sell our furniture.
Luckily, organizing is one of my favorite things to do!
But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been overwhelming or a bit stressful when I think about all I have to sell because it literally will not fit in the shipping container we get to move back with.
(I should note that Cody’s company moved us over which meant they gave us a furnishing allowance when we arrived and a shipping container when we move home. No way are we funding all this on our own! 😂)
This process of getting organized to move internationally makes me think about how many teachers feel when it comes to their classrooms.
There’s a lot to organize and figure out and not a lot of time to get it done.
Barriers to Organizing a Classroom
Time, that’s our number one barrier, right?
I tend to think we use that as an excuse. But, it is true that we only have so many hours in a day and if our priority is our students, then we won’t spend a lot of time organizing our classrooms.
Below are some of the biggest barriers teachers have shared with me about organizing their classrooms.
“The teacher before me left so.much.stuff!”
This is a problem I hear about often.
Many of us have had the experience of walking into our brand new classroom full of excitement and ready to set it up only to be met with complete chaos in the form of textbooks, materials, and anchor charts circa 1987!
My mentor teacher my first year shared wise words with me.
She told me that if I did not invest my own money into buying the resource, I was unlikely to actually invest my time in looking through it and using it.
While it may be tempting to think that all the stuff a former teacher left you might help you out one day, just go ahead and toss it!
Don’t be afraid to get rid of outdated materials. And when I say get rid of, I don’t mean by passing it off to another teacher. I mean literally put it in the recycle and don’t look back.
“How do I know what to keep and what to throw away?”
I am often asked about which things to keep and which to get rid of. Teachers want to know how to decide what to keep and what to throw out.
Part of the problem is, as teachers, we tend to be hoarders. Which is fair. We are given (practically) zero dollars to set up our classroom and want to hang on to things in case we might need them.
Key word there is might!
One of my former clients was asking me for help on clearing out her cabinets. The teacher before her left tons of stuff and since she was a first-year teacher, she wanted to look through it all to see if any of it was worth keeping.
She looked through a bit of it before realizing that a lot of it was outdated. She asked me what she should do next.
I encouraged her to have her high school age kid come in and get allllll that stuff and just take it to the recycle bin.
We, as teachers, have an emotional attachment to school resources even if we didn’t purchase them with our own money. That makes it really difficult to want to get rid of things.
So, if you have someone that can help, I advise having them come in and take care of all the stuff you can’t decide on for you. You likely do not need it!
“I’m busy throughout the day, there just isn’t enough time.”
Part of the problem with flat surfaces getting messy and cluttered is that the those flat surfaces becomes the dumping ground for anything and everything that needs a “home” throughout the day.
Then, at the end of the day you either aren’t sure where to put things or are too tired to put them away so they stay.
Instead, find a small tray (like this one) to leave on one corner of your desk. Everything goes in this tray throughout the day.
Then, at the end of the day you can take 10-15 minutes to clean out the inbox for the next day.
“There is too much paperwork to even know where to begin!”
Paper, paper, paper! If I had a dime for every time someone mentioned paper to me!
On Simply Teach, I recorded an episode where I talked about 4 strategies teachers can use to conquer the classroom paper mess:
- Utilize Kagan Structures
- Use Plastic Dry-Erase Pouches
- Designate a Free-Draw Paper Drawer
- Use Technology
Just by implementing two of those four ideas, you can cut down on a lot of the paper consumption we have as teachers.
“I ran out of time at the beginning of the year and haven’t been able to catch up.”
Inside The Organized Teacher Framework™, I teach the cake method. Essentially I tell teachers to make decorating their classroom the last thing they focus on.
We tend to get so excited about decorating the classroom that we neglect the other key parts of setting up a classroom, like setting up homes and routines for our materials.
If we take time at the beginning of the year to get the classroom organized, then we don’t have to feel like we are playing catch up throughout the rest of the year.
Organize a Classroom with Routines
I always talk about the need for routines and structures to help us keep organized classrooms.
You need daily, weekly, monthly, and even quarterly routines to ensure that things stay nice and tidy throughout the year.
Inside the free Classroom Organization Routines planner I help you create your own organization routines.
- One of the best routines you can establish is giving your students jobs to do! Give them classroom jobs so they can do a lot of the straightening up and putting away at the end of the day.
2. As I mentioned earlier, have one spot in your classroom where you can put things throughout the day and then set a timer for 10-15 minutes at the end of the day to clean that spot out.
3. Don’t forget to create a routine for checking your email, too! Don’t let the digital clutter become overwhelming either.
1. Try to set aside 20 to 30 minutes a week to organize one messy area in your classroom. The goal is that over the course of a few weeks, you start to see some major improvements in your classroom!
2. You also need to create a lesson planning routine. By having a routine for planning and prepping your materials, you are setting up structures for when you will get that task done and where you will store the materials.
3. Another helpful routine is a to-do list planning routine. I recommend the one I share about in this free training. It helped me get rid of the Sunday Scaries I was experiencing each week!
Monthly & Quarterly Routines
Finally, think of things that can be done a bit more infrequently.
1. For example, each month I tried to take some extra time to clean out my lesson planning drawers as they tended to get full as time went on. This wasn’t something I needed to pressure myself to do every week because even though it got a bit disorganized, I was still able to function with the mess for another week.
2. You could also decide 1 big organization project a month to focus on and set a date on the calendar to complete that project each month. (Use the Classroom Organization Guidebook to help you!)
3. In my classroom we used stations frequently, but I had so many activities that they did at each station that I only needed to do a complete overhaul of stations every three to four weeks. Once I realized this, I was able to let go of the pressure to change my stations out each week.
Get Organized with the Classroom Organization Master Class
Inside the Classroom Organization Master Class, I teach you the 6 must-haves to creating and sustaining an organized classroom.
We cover how to assign homes for things, ways to organize your cabinets, and I go even more in depth on daily, weekly, and monthly routines.
Teaching is overwhelming. Add keeping an organized classroom on top of that and things only become more and more stressful. But, just like we can use strategies to overcome teaching overwhelm, we can do the same with organization.
As much as we’d all love to wave our magic wand and walk into an organized classroom after a long weekend of getting it all done, it’s just not very likely.
Instead, create your own classroom organization routines. These are things you will do each day, week, and month to help you keep the classroom organized.
Here is a quick recap of all the links shared in this post:
- 8 Tips to Declutter a Classroom
- Resources to Help You Organize Your Classroom Papers
- Tips for Keeping an Organized Inbox
- The Organized Teacher Framework™
- Steps for Setting Up a Classroom
- Classroom Routines and Procedures to Keep Your Classroom Organized
Until next time,