The Best Four Tricks That Will Keep You Organized For Good
Feel like you’re drowning in paperwork and classroom materials? Can’t find important resources when you need them? Utilize these four simple tricks to simplify your teaching life and stay organized for good.
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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 comes 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
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, manipulatives - everything. Go through each item and sort into three categories - keep, donate, and recycle.
In order for a resource to be placed in 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 multiplication fact sheets if you've been teaching English Language Arts 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 good-sized 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, which aren't cheap. 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.
Invest your money in resources that matter - student supplies, classroom library books, technology - anything that will improve your success as an educator or that of your students.
Instead of using binders or paper files, 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. Save a copy to a personal flash drive so that you have your resources with you at both home and work.
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.
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. Using Google Drive allows updated access to files anywhere without having to carry a flash drive. Take advantage of free software such as Classroom Organizer to catalog your classroom library.
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!
4. Store Similar Materials Together.
Once you’ve whittled your belongings down to what really matters, store similar materials together so that they’re easy to find and use.
Organize center materials by content or theme and place in clear containers. Designate contents with specific labels so you’ll easily find what you’re looking for.
Group mentor texts in one location only you have access to so there’s no worry about a text going missing when you need it.
Here are the tools I use most to keep my resources organized:
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?
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