3 Tips to Organize Your Classroom by Fred Ende
by Fred Ende, Guest Blogger
While classroom management and evaluations are often at the top of the list, organization and materials management can be every bit as stressful. Particularly at the start or end of a school year, nothing can get the anxiety going as quickly as wondering where everything is going to go, and where that one item you need went to.
While I won’t claim to be an expert on materials management, years of teaching science and department chair work combined with my new position directing a K-6 science program for 68 districts should hopefully at least provide a little “weight” to the “mass” of organizational info I’m about to share (sorry, had to throw a little science humor in there). While there are numerous tips and tricks to becoming a more organized educator, what follows are three “tasks” that every teacher should put at the top of their “To Do” list.
1. Label. No man/woman is an island. And no memory is infinite. No matter how good you believe your recall to be, you will forget where that widget is at precisely the moment you need it. Murphy’s Law proves as such. But, you won’t forget where that widget is if you’ve invested the time to label, and to label appropriately. Labeling is an art, and like every art there are ways to label well, and to label poorly. What’s the difference? Simply that you can choose any labeling method (letters, numbers, codes, full descriptions if space allows) as long as it will allow you to truly find what you need, when you need it. I regularly used a letter and number system (like drawer A4, for example) where the letter specified a location in the room and the number the location above the floor, but a labeling method is only as good as how it resounds with you.
2. Make technology your friend. Spreadsheets and databases are an organizer’s Secret Service. They are there when necessary, and can help avert multiple disasters. But, to be useful, they have to be used. Depending on your comfort level with these tools (spreadsheets are often meant to collect and exhibit data on specific topics, databases allow you to more efficiently “query” an item you’re looking for) will determine just how in-depth you can go with them. I started with a spreadsheet system for organization, and as my grasp of technology increased, transitioned to a database method. However, even the newest user of a spreadsheet can create a data table outlining locations of items, quantities available, and other details to help manage your materials. The key? Invest the time to keep it current. Without updating as materials are used or moved, these handy tools become more burden than benefit.
3. In the world of materials management, there is an important saying, “Your organization speaks louder than your words” (that’s not a real saying, but it is certainly important). As educators, we often lament on students’ organizational skills. In fact, during my early years, I regularly regaled students with advice meant to help their organizational personae truly mature. When I would finish, students would thank me, then look over at my messy desk and smile knowingly. What exactly was I teaching them? I knew that I needed to “Walk the Walk” if I was going to “Talk the Talk” (that’s a real saying). So, early in my career I made sure that I was not only organized for my own benefit, but for the benefit of my students as well. I didn’t simply share tips for student organization, I showed them what I was doing and why I thought it helped. While some students never quite reached the milestone of Organizational Oracle, many did make changes to their methods. Like with most everything else in education, as role models, we have to be prepared to mirror our words with actions.
These three tips, if kept in mind on a daily basis, will allow you to tackle the organization monster that hides in your desk (and potentially the one that hides under your bed as well). Like many changes to our educational methodology, there is much benefit for our personal lives too. Once I became a better organizer professionally, I was able to do so at home as well. Sure, we all have our moments of “intense entropy” (a great science term, by the way), but that’s part of life. While it is true that no man/woman is an island, we can all do our best to keep the islands we inhabit well-maintained.
About the Author
Fred Ende is the Regional Science Coordinator for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES. He also serves as director of the SCIENCE 21 program used in over 60 districts across New York State. Prior to joining BOCES, Fred taught eighth grade science in Chappaqua where he served as middle school department chair. He also has served as a facilitator for the American Museum of Natural History’s online professional development program, and has been published in the National Science Teachers Association’s journal, Science Scope. Find him on Twitter at @fredende, on his blog, or on his professional website.