Organize to Simplify: Four Steps to Organizing Teaching Resources
It's week three of our "Organize to Simplify" series and I'm glad you're with me! Have you worked through the steps from the first two weeks? I'd love to hear how the process is going for you this summer!
Today I'm going to share with you four ways to keep your own teaching resources organized. If you've been teaching for any length of time, you know how much "stuff" one can accumulate in just a year. I admit, I'm a bit of a hoarder when it come to teaching resources. I'm in recovery, but one look at my basement (and now garage) and you can see that it's difficult for me to part with things. After all, we typically buy all of our teaching materials using our own personal funds and our teaching placements are never guaranteed. Unlike other jobs, it is possible that we will, in fact, one day use those math manipulatives that haven't been touched in seven years. The idea of repurchasing supplies - with our own money - makes us cringe. I get it, believe me.
However, there are ways to keep valuable resources without being nominated for an upcoming episode of "Hoarders: Buried Alive." Personally, I've worked through each of these four steps and they've radically changed how I view and use teaching materials. And if I can do it, you can too!
Four Steps to Organizing Teaching Resources
1. PURGE. Oh friends, this is both the easiest and hardest step. It requires serious dedication and commitment, but if you do it right, offers the biggest payoff.
Take a serious look at your resources - plan books, lesson plans, anchor charts, mentor texts, curriculum books, TPT resources, worksheets - everything. Go through each item and sort into three categories - keep, donate, and recycle. In order for a resource to be placed into your keep pile, you must answer "yes" to each of these questions:
- Is this really necessary? Do you really need ten types of lesson plan forms? How about those math manipulatives when you've been teaching ELA for nine years?
- Is this the best _______ that I own? At one time, I had fourteen books full of reading passages that I used for small groups, homework, skill practice, etc. Some were fantastic resources that I referred to weekly. Others were terrible - outdated, horrible fonts, poor layouts, etc. When I was purging my teacher books, I kept only the best of what I owned. If I had two books on making inferences, I decided which was better and just kept the one. When sorting through your materials, decide which resources are your "best of..." and keep only those.
You'll be amazed at how much you can purge just with those two questions.
2. Break up with paper. For the first six years of my teaching career, I had a love affair with binders. An addiction, perhaps. I kept copies of everything - my lesson plans, student resources used in those lessons, and extra sheets that might come in handy the following year. Being the organized person I am, I neatly filed it all into three-ring binders. Being the OCD person I am, I placed each page into plastic sheet covers instead of hole punching so that when I made copies of a resource the following year, it wouldn't leave grey hole marks on the new sheets. (It's ok, you can laugh. I have to laugh myself.)
During my first two years, while in a self-contained classroom, I had at least nine binders per year - one each for homeroom materials, ELA, reading remediation, math remediation, social studies, science, handwriting, poetry, and meetings. Many times, by the end of the year, I had more than one binder for subjects like math where one simply wasn't large enough to hold a year's worth of resources. At the end of two years, I had 20 binders. Twenty.
When I moved into a departmentalized setting, I did a little better. I organized my resources by quarter and had two additional binders for student information and meetings. But, after three years of this system, I still was left with nearly 20 binders. That's 40 binders for the first five years of teaching. If I kept this pace, I would end up with over 200 binders when I retired.
Soon I realized three problems with this little system of mine:
- I don't have space for it all. Clearly, there's no room for 200 binders in a classroom, which means that some of that hoard has to come home. And while I live in a comfortable, middle class home, I don't have room to dedicate a wing of it just to binders.
- It's ridiculously expensive. First, there's the price of the binder. Because I wanted them to last, I bought name brand, heavy duty, D-slant binders (because heaven forbid the papers don't lay flat!) with plastic coating so that I can insert covers and spine labels in each. Then there's the cost of dividers. The pretty pastel colored tabs never held up, so I began investing in the heavy duty plastic dividers with pockets. And last, there's the page protectors. I would burn through at least two boxes of these beauties a year - easy. When I started adding up all that I had spent on this little system of mine, I realized that I could have doubled the size of my classroom library instead. (That was sickening.)
- I reused maybe a tenth of all those resources I had saved throughout the years. So, what was the point of saving it all?
If you're using the binder system - stop. Just stop. Invest your money in resources that matter - student supplies, classroom library books, technology, etc.
Instead, set up digital files. On your computer, create a folder and name it with this school year. Then, within this main folder, create a separate folder for each type of resource you would normally save as a paper file. Scan the resources that pass the test from number one and save each into its appropriate folder. At the end of the year, burn that year's folder to a CD so that you have a permanent copy.
In my example above, you'll see that I have folders outside of my yearly categories and at least one that looks like a duplicate. These contain resources not specific to one school year, but were used year after year. For example, I developed the curriculum maps used by my grade. In the first "Curriculum" folder are master templates and resources used to create our annual curriculum map. In the second "Curriculum" folder are completed maps and resources specific to the 2011-2012 school year. If there are resources you use every year, create a main folder for them rather than several yearly files. It will help reduce the overall storage used and save you time when looking for specific resources.
In the image at the top of this post, you'll see the end result of this step. One binder at at time, I've purged the pages that are neither necessary nor the "best of..." and scanned what's left. I still have more binders to go through, but I'll take that stack of discs over an expensive collection of binders any day. Take the time to set up next year's folders now so that you are ready to go before school begins. If you don't have access to a scanner during the summer, you can still sort through your paper resources and label categories now.
3. Use technology. Don't stop at using technology just to create digital files. Create Excel spreadsheets for keeping track of mentor texts used in your lessons. Use free software such as Classroom Organizer to catalog your classroom library. Incorporate services like ScootPad and ClassDojo to provide extension activities and monitor behavior. Rather than send weekly paper newsletters to parents, text them instead. Look for tech tools that simplify necessary work in your classroom and help reduce even more paper. There are dozens of free resources for teachers. Use them! (I'll be detailing a few in a separate series coming soon!)
4. Don't recreate the wheel. I'm preaching to myself here. I'm fiercely independent and just a little picky about the resources I use. And not just in the classroom, but throughout my day. If a teammate gave me a resource to use in a lesson, and I didn't like the font she used, I recreated the whole thing myself totally negating the point of sharing resources in the first place. I admit it - it's ridiculous. I have a problem, I know.
After you go through all of your resources and keep only those that are absolutely necessary and the "best of" what you've got - USE THEM! Don't recreate the wheel every year and make everything from scratch. If a peer gives you a quality resource, but you hate the colors - USE IT ANYWAY! If you buy something off of Teachers Pay Teachers and everything looks wonderful except for that one question on page eight - USE IT ANYWAY! Just have your students cross out question eight. (I know, friends. I know. I'm preaching to myself too, remember?)
You're never going to be disqualified from earning the "Teacher of the Year" award because your teaching resources weren't all designed in one cohesive color scheme. Your principal isn't going to assign you a low score on your yearly evaluation because, heaven forbid, you used one sheet with Comic Sans. (OK - I draw the line with CS, but you get the point.)
Your teaching resources are just tools, friends. They don't supersede quality instruction or research based pedagogy. It's ok if they aren't perfect. If it's a quality resource that helps bring success in your classroom, then keep it and use it.
By utilizing these four steps, not only will your resources be organized, but also you will find yourself with extra time on your hands. No longer will you spend hours looking for resources to use in your lessons, you'll know exactly where to find quality tools that are sure to bring success.
Next week we work on organizing your time and creating routines. What tips or systems do you have for keeping your teaching resources organized?
Looking for more on organization? Visit the Organizational Tips and Tools Linky over at The Primary Peach!