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June 1, 2013
Vol. 70
No. 9

Commit to Becoming Type A

Read about how educators declutter their learning environments and remain organized all year long.

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Organization Is a Daily Discipline

With a hectic day as a teacher, sometimes it's impossible to find my desk. I try to make time to organize every day. First and foremost, I make a place for everything so that when it's time to clean the desk off, nothing is shoved into a junk drawer. Second, I try to set aside time one day a week to file and categorize everything, from mail to handouts. The most helpful thing I've committed to do this year is to set aside 15–20 minutes at the end of the day when I'll do the simple task of removing 10 things off my desk. Sometimes I get so into it that I end up removing more than 10 things!
—Jessica Nascimento, biology teacher, Chula Vista, California

Planning Makes the School Year Flow

As a principal, I keep myself organized by planning ahead as much as possible. During the summer, I fill out my calendar for everything that I know will happen during the school year—meetings, concerts, parent–teacher organization functions, or any regularly occurring events. I also prepare all paperwork and digital information for the upcoming school year and leave blanks to insert the appropriate information closer to the event. I do this for newsletters, memos announcing regular occasions, agendas, staff appreciation items, class parties, or anything else that I know will happen. With this advance preparation, I simply can wait until the time comes to make the appropriate announcement, fill in the information that might be missing, and go with it. This frees up time to spend with staff, students, and parents.
The other thing I do is make sure I don't overschedule myself. I only schedule a half-day's worth of tasks each day. That way, I have another half-day free for last-minute things that pop up. It is hard to stick to that standard, but maintaining it allows for greater flexibility every day and helps me keep my stress level down.
—Ellen E. Mauer, principal, Highland Park, Illinois

Do It Now!

My best strategy for staying organized is to deal with everything just once. After I read an e-mail, I reply, discard it, print it, or put it in a file to save. When paper crosses my desk, I do the same—respond, file, or recycle. That way, anything that needs immediate action gets done right then. What I can't do right away gets flagged, printed, or tagged on my to-do list. I've saved multiple hours weekly for more than 20 years using this strategy.
—Joanne Curran, learning consultant, St. Louis, Missouri

Student Handout Strategy Prevents Interruptions

My strategy for dealing with student handouts helps me keep track of the teacher copy, maintain student time on task, monitor attendance, and enable students to pick up makeup work efficiently. To eliminate misplacing the teacher copy of a class handout, I draw two, large yellow horizontal bars with a highlighter across the top of this copy. When I distribute the handouts to students, I place a handout on each student's desk—including students who are absent. While giving instructions, I return to each absent student's desk and write his or her name on the handout. I repeat this with successive handouts.
This process guarantees minimal to no disruption in teaching and learning. If a student enters class late, I don't stop. The student just reads the handout on his or her desk or waits until I have finished with instructions. At the end of the period, I collect all the absent students' papers, use them to record my period attendance, and place them in the makeup work bin for that class period. The next day, students who were previously absent pick up their makeup work from the bin when they enter class. Not a bad strategy for accountability from every angle.
—Dennis O'Connor, lead teacher and ELA coach, Sicklerville, New Jersey

Physical and Digital Folders

I use different colored folders for each class. When students turn in an assignment, it goes into that class's folder, on its 11-inch side. After I grade or record the assignment, I turn it up on its 8.5-inch side so that I know it goes back to the student.
I also keep a folder for each unit of instruction on my computer so that from year to year I have resources I can pull from. Naturally, every year I change things and add to the folder. My folder is shared on our server so that anyone else teaching the same class that I teach can also access what I have done.
—Connye LaCombe, teacher, St. Paul, Minnesota

Folder System Makes for Organized Meetings

I have a folder for each day of the week in my desk drawer. As I create agendas, gather data, or come across materials needed for upcoming meetings, I drop them in the folder for that day. For regularly occurring meetings, I keep a subfolder within the appropriate daily folder. (For example, the leadership team meets each Tuesday, so I have a subfolder for that meeting in the Tuesday folder.) For other meetings, I just clip the materials together in the folder. This keeps my desktop uncluttered and keeps my items organized and ready to bring to the meeting.
—Ann Dettmann, educational coordinator, Shakopee, Minnesota

A Zone Defense Gives Students Responsibility

I organize my classroom into different zones for different purposes, such as a writer's workshop area, a literacy center area, a math manipulatives area, and so on. Within each zone, I teach my students routines and procedures for using the materials and the expectations for clean-up. With clear, consistent directions and ample practice, even the youngest students can maintain an organized classroom. The students maintain the workspace, which frees me up for planning and instruction.
—Julie Webb, reading specialist, Davis, California

Keeping Track of Finished Work

Each student in my 2nd grade class has a personal compartment in which he or she stores finished work. That way, I can quickly see which students have handed in their work already and which students still have unfinished work. A parent volunteer puts each student's completed work for the week into his or her Friday folder, which goes home to parents at the end of the week. Not only does this system keep papers organized, but it also keeps parents up-to-date on their child's work.
—Joanne Homestead, 2nd grade teacher, Boulder, Colorado

Administrator's Rule: Everything in Its Place

Although digital files are beginning to replace hard-copy documents, most administrators still need to manage printed materials for hands-on committee work and professional development. My primary rule is that every resource has a designated space, place, area, or section in my office. This designated space can range from a simple three-ring notebook on a shelf, to a shelf, to an entire bookcase, depending on the size and storage needed. Clear-view notebooks are my first choice for organizing materials because the project, committee, or graphic materials can be inserted as the cover, making them more readily available and professional in appearance. Color-coded labels (for example, green representing budgetary and funding sources and yellow representing teacher professional development) also help.
I've found that this strategy is a life saver for organizing my duties and responsibilities as facility and events planner and coordinator; test coordinator; mentor teacher liaison; university liaison; faculty instructional supervisor; parent–teacher association executive committee member; and safety committee leader (just to name a few).
—Lynette M. Angeloni, consultant and teacher supervisor, Canton, Ohio

Digital Sharing

I keep all my science unit and lesson notes in Google Drive, and I keep these live notes open on my laptop all day. When new ideas, questions, or thoughts come up in the classroom, I add them to my notes immediately. Also included in these notes are photos I take of lab materials, equipment setup, whiteboard notes and drawings, and student exemplars as well as links to supplementary resources such as websites, video clips, and animations. Having a year (or more) of these daily notes forms an invaluable archive for future years. Because they exist on Google Drive, I can easily share these notes with colleagues and create separate lab notes to share with my students.
—Jack Ganse, science, teacher, Boulder, Colorado

The Move to Paperless

The key to organization is to get rid of the clutter. The most common clutter is paper. No matter how organized you try to be, the reams of paper always build up. So a commitment to becoming paperless makes the most sense. Start by getting all your books in their digital versions. Convert whatever paper documents you have to digital files by scanning them. Then it's a simple matter of keeping all your files on your computer in an organized folder system. The fringe benefit is, you save trees!
—Steve Leung, vice-principal, Vancouver, British Columbia

Technology Team Goes to the Cloud

Evernote is a tool that helps me stay organized. Our technology team uses it for to-do lists and project management. It's with us wherever we go to provide tech support, and it has helped us serve as an example to our schools so they can see what cloud storage can do for them.
—Valerie Mercer, chief technology officer, Forsyth, Georgia

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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