I get a lot of teachers telling me how organised my classroom is, or telling me how they “wish they could make their classrooms as tidy” as mine. I’ve never thought about my need to keep things orderly; it’s always just been a habit for me. My father is an absolute neat freak, so maybe my desire to keep things neat and tidy comes from him. Similarly, my mother always kept our house clean. Everything just felt comfortable, and I always liked coming home to a fresh house.
Admittedly, there are days when the classroom is extremely messy. This is usually due to the students having participated in a messy activity such as Art or D/T, or a Science experiment that got out of hand. I am so lucky to have students that are so proactive and helpful when it comes to tidying up their mess. Without any prompting, they look up to see the clean-up timer counting down (I usually give them about 5 minutes to tidy up, possibly more if we’ve made a big mess!) and just get on with it, delegating tasks to each other and working cooperatively to make the room tidy to my standards (which hopefully have now started to become their standards too).
But I find that my mind becomes most scattered when the mess isn’t child-inflicted. My concerns arise when I look at my desk, my storage cupboards, my side cabinet, or my display boards, and find disorganisation; this can be stray papers, felt tips without lids, scattered scraps of paper, work to be stuck on my working walls, forms that need to be handed to the office – the list goes on and on.
I’ve boiled down my strategy to 3 main points. Note that these are merely suggestions; things that have, and continue to work for me.
1. If it doesn’t have a purpose, it doesn’t have a place
When met with a cascade of papers (forms, letters, miscellaneous homework, extra copies of paper, etc) I like to sort it straight away. Obviously with time constraints, this doesn’t always get done in a timely manner.
I like to first gather every loose bit of paper onto my desk and begin sorting. I generally sort into piles like “Work to mark”, “Work to tick”, “Extra copies”, “Unfinished projects” – things like that. Once I have sorted my work, I paperclip it so I can see neat piles in front of me, and instantly my brain becomes a bit more decluttered.
If I have made too many extra copies of something, or if the sheets are not likely to be used again, or if they don’t provide evidence of a child’s work, I tend to rip it in half and store it in my bag of “scrap paper” for children to write on during morning work, incase their whiteboard pens don’t work (which happens quite often). I find it nice to know that these sheets can have a purpose after their initial use (just simply have children write on the back of them).
If, after sorting, there are sheets of paper that are simply not needed anymore, and they’ve been written all over and are unable to be reused, it gets tossed in the recycling bin, again emphasising “if it doesn’t have a purpose, it doesn’t have a place”
2. Do regular checks and tidies of your storage compartments
I know this may seem daunting or time-consuming to some teachers, but if you dedicate 5-10 minutes a week to this, I guarantee you will feel less stressed and work with a much clearer head.
I like to have a quick scan of my top desk drawer (where I keep my pins, pens, confiscated unclaimed trinkets, sticky notes, etc), storage shelf (right next to my desk), art cupboard, and general storage cupboard. Anything that isn’t needed, or doesn’t work, gets tossed in the bin. Over the years I’ve learned to simply let go of things that serve me no purpose. Things like assessments, success criteria, children’s work, reading logs, parent notes, etc need to be sorted, of course, but don’t confuse 3-week old spare copies of homework with something that really matters. The longer you leave things unchecked, the worse off you’ll be when things REALLY start to pile up.
3. Enlist the children to help
At the end of every day, I make sure they know how important it is to keep the room tidy. This means shifting the desks so they are tidy, putting pens upside down in the pots to keep ink flowing, and picking up bits from the floor. Not only does this give the appearance of a tidy classroom, it instills responsibility in children, and encourages them to respect not only their learning environment, but also respect the cleaners who spend hours cleaning the rooms at the end of the day.
This doesn’t just apply to their tables and the floor, but also the walls – usually just before the end of the half-term, I ask different children which “jobs” they’d like to complete before the holiday. These can be:
- Tidying the bookshelf
- Sharpening the pencils in the spare pencil box
- Picking wanted tack off the walls
- Washing art brushes and pots
- Organising the supplies drawers
- Pulling old work off the displays to go home
- Tidying the art cupboard
- Making sure there are enough supplies in each table pot
- Sweeping away crumbs and scraps off the floor with the small dustpan and brush
Some teachers might disagree with me on this, but I think it’s imperative to give children tidy-up tasks, even in junior school, so that they feel a sense of ownership and responsibility towards their classroom. A cluttered room is a cluttered mind, in my eyes. (Plus, the overwhelming majority of them love to help out anyway!)
I hope this post gave you something to think about, and inspires you to do a bit of tidying up of your own. Your kids (and your sanity!) will thank you in the long run.
How do you stay organised in the classroom? Leave your comments below; I’d love to read them 🙂