Sunday, January 17, 2016

New Year's Organization Challenge: week 3

The challenge for this week involves space and storage planning.  Think about your physical classroom space and what part(s) of the room are and aren't working for you.  Think about the subjects you teach, and how you store your materials for easy use.

The first thing I suggest doing is creating an ideal layout for your entire classroom.  IDEAL.  Even if you don't have all of the furniture or storage items that fit in to this idea plan, sketching out a plan will help you itemize the things you still need to make your classroom the ideal space for you.  This plan may change over time, but keeping this plan in the back of your head will keep you grounded when you are out shopping and find something that is a great deal, but not a part of your plan.

Next, make a plan of how you will store specific items like student books and materials, teacher supplies, community supplies, novels, computers, centers, etc.  You'll need to 1.) figure out where you want to keep these items, and 2.) how you will store them to make everything work for YOU and your students.  While I keep my students in mind when I create and plan anything, ultimately it has to be something that works for ME because my students follow my lead when it comes to handling and maintaining materials.

Here are some ways I keep things organized in my classroom.

I don't keep a teacher's desk.  I use a student table and keep my everyday items on a clipboard and inside chair pockets at my table (since those chair pockets aren't assigned to any one specific student).  My 1920s elementary classroom has an old coat closet.  I use two large metal storage cabinets -- back to back -- to divide this closet in to two sections.  One side of the closet is for students to store their book bags and coats.  Since hooks are limited, they are numbered and students are assigned a number.  It did mean that I have to call certain numbers to the coat closet first, since some hooks are underneath others, but the kids are pretty good at getting it right.  And when they pack up? I just call the numbers in the reverse I did in the morning.  

The cabinet that is on the other side of the cabinet shown below is filled with community supplies.  At the start of the year, we ask students to bring in tissues and lined paper.  I buy baby wipes in bulk and store them in that cabinet as well.  One shelf is solely designated for guided reading books that go with the Journeys series I have in my classroom.  Of course there is a sign on the cabinet that just says "Please ask your teacher before getting supplies from this cabinet."  It has not been an issue.  

This cabinet faces my "teacher side" of the closet.  Students do not go inside this side of the closet unless I ask them to get something.  Extra bins and other supplies are stored in clear bins so they are easy to find.  Items that I need regularly -- like staples and dry erase markers -- are kept in an over-the-door shoe holder on the swing door to the closet.  

At the entrance of my "teacher side" of the closet, there is a wide section with one built-in closet with no doors.  This is where I keep any teacher guides that I use all the time, or books that I cannot get rid of because they go with the curriculum materials that belong to my grade level(s).  

I am lucky to work in a building in which I can choose the materials we use for reading instruction, so I do keep my student Journeys books on a cart by the door.  Those books are only used periodically.  The majority of my reading instruction comes from novels/trade books.  Over the years I have really built up a large selection of class sets of these books.  Due to large class size caps in my district, I have 34 copies of each book in each of these bins.  If I had to pick one organizational method that makes the most sense for my room, it is the purchase of these bins.

*Bins with green labels are 4th grade titles and blue labels are 5th grade titles.
*The pink and purple bins are materials for a classroom volunteer who pulls an accelerated group for me each week.  
*The bins on the bottom belong to the Journeys series (so they belong to my school).  
*And I <3 greek mythology, so I hold on to those materials in their own special bins.

Anyway, the point of these pictures is to prove that I've made a plan to make my classroom work.  People always ask me how I keep things so neat and organized, and the truth is that it works for me because I've made a master plan.  This doesn't mean that messes don't happen.  I do have to spend time each week putting things away.  BUT, because I have a place for everything, I know exactly where it all goes.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

New Year's Organization Challenge: Week 2

How did we do with last week's challenge?  I found the top of my teacher table by Friday, and when I had students help me clean the room before dismissal, I even let someone wipe it down (the normal rule is they don't wipe my table top).  I also sent home every graded paper and all turned in homework assignments with the students on Fridays.  I do this on a regular basis, and attach it all on a weekly report that their parents sign.  They bring the weekly report back, and keep the piles of papers at home!  I also cleaned off a shelf in one of the cabinets in my closet.  I was able to organize the materials for my monthly school store.  It felt good!

Here are the challenges for this upcoming week.  Choose 3 or more of these challenges to meet by Friday:

1.  Empty your teacher desk drawers.  Throw away anything you know you won't use or need.  Reorganize the materials you will use, but don't forget to wipe out the drawers before you put anything inside.  This will make you feel amazing every time you go to open a drawer!

2.  Open a cabinet with shelves or drawers.  Choose one shelf or drawer and throw away or give away anything that you haven't used in three years.  Anything in this drawer/on this shelf that you are keeping can stay just for the time being.

3.  Find TEN items to throw away or recycle.  The only restriction on this TEN is that it has to be items that belong to you (not student work).  If it's still usable, consider donating it to another teacher.
4.  Go through your bulletin board and classroom decor pile(s).  You know there is stuff in there that you haven't used in years, and stuff you know you won't use again.  If it's in great shape, see if you can give it to a student teacher.  Only keep what you know you will use.

5.  If you have old curriculum materials that are not a part of the new curriculum stuff you use, figure out what to do with it.  Ask your admin what you should do with the textbooks that are not in use.  Ask if there is a closet in which they should be stored.  Every school district has different rules about how to handle old books, so make sure someone gives you the correct response.

BONUS:  Take all of your cleaning supplies and personal supplies (ex: bottles of lotion, wipes, board cleaners, etc) and figure out where you can store them so they are easy for you to get to, but out of the way.  Picture this area like a little kitchen cabinet in your classroom.  I have a lot of random things that fit in to this section of my teacher closet, but they are so helpful to have on hand.

Again, let me know how it goes!

I got new tables this year, and I sit with the students in the middle of the room.  Of course, I also have a small pile of things that I always need on hand (a clip board for grades and important papers, my roll book, and the novels we are reading).  Since taking this picture I got new chair pockets, so I keep a majority of the things I use every day in my own chair pockets.  It's very handy.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Who wants to get organized for the new year?

I am challenging my fellow teachers to get organized in their classrooms as a resolution.  Each week, I am going to challenge you to choose THREE things from my list of five organizational tasks.  The goal is that by spring break you will go in to the end of year pack-up with an organizational plan.  These next few weeks of January will be focused on eliminating unnecessary clutter.

Here are five tasks for this week (choose THREE or more):
1.  Open up a cabinet with shelves or drawers.  Choose one shelf or one drawer and throw away or give away anything that you haven't used in three years.  Anything in this drawer/on this shelf that you are keeping, can just stay for the time-being.

2. If you have a teacher's desk or table, find the top of it by the end of the week.  Get it to a point that you can wipe it down with some Lysol.  You know you need it.

3. Find FIVE teacher books to give away or donate. Not the kind that belong to your school.  I'm talking about those books we all buy when we hit up Barnes and Noble, or when we used to teach that one novel but don't anymore.  Give them to a younger coworker, or throw them in your trunk to donate to a local thrift shop.  

4.  Find something that needs fixing.  It could be a computer that's having issues.  It could be a wobbly student desk, or a poster that has faded from the sun.  Fix it.

5.  Make sure all of your teacher guides and teacher materials are sorted by subject and/or grade level.  For example, one shelf may be Literacy while another may be Social Studies.  If you only teach one subject but your grade levels vary, perhaps one shelf could be designated to each grade level you teach.  It doesn't have to be a shelf.  It can be bins or drawers.  See #3 above while you work on this challenge, because my guess is you'll find plenty of books or materials that you know you bought on a whim but don't plan to actually use.  

BONUS: Take every homework paper in your classroom and A.) return them to students to take home, or B.) recycle those puppies!

Here is a flashback photo of when I was given the task of creating a guided reading book closet:

Report back to tell me your accomplishments!