Disaster Recovery Plan: Learning to be Clutter-Free

I have spaces set up… but they are not used effectively!

I am a walking disaster area. That said, I am a fairly high-functioning one, but I am a disaster nonetheless. Allow me to be more precise: my classroom – the space I inhabit the most – is a complete mess 90% of the time. Papers are strewn about in all corners. Tools get placed in hidden nooks and are then forgotten about for months, usually after I have replaced them. Boxes of folders sit unused on the shelves. I don’t like it a bit.

Every summer, I spend several weeks trying to plan new systems of organization. I mount hanging folder organizers, label and color-coordinate class folders, buy dry-erase calendars, color-code my pens & Post-It notes. I plan out how I am going to use these tools. I look like I have my act together. Without fail, this all of this falls apart within the first month.

It could be worse – much worse. I am not a teacher who loses student work. I do have some paper-handling systems in place that really work. I even have people comment on how my desk is less of a disaster than most. However, to me, I feel surrounded by a sea of chaos. I cannot ignore work that needs to be done, and random stacks of paper makes me feel as though there is even more that needs to be done than there really is. I need a better system, and it needs to be one I can adhere to. I need to learn to be more organized in my teacher-life.

I know what I want it to look like: papers – whether student work, assignment handouts, lesson plans, or random “teacher” mail – will not be in multiple places throughout the room. Specifically, I want all types of papers to have their own specific “homes.”

Student folders, numbered magnets, and period rosters with student names & numbers for easy reference.

My student work system is by far my strongest. Student work is collected, clipped, and placed in their class period’s double-sided folder (flipped one way, the folder is pink and the label reads Collected Work; when flipped, the folder is green and reads Graded Work), with the assignment name and date logged immediately onto the class gradebook roster for the week. By the end of the day, the work is sorted by student number (About my use of numbers: since I teach secondary, I have a total of 155 students. Each student has a four-digit number: the first two are the class period – 01, 02, 03, etc. – and the second two is the numerical designation based on alphabetical last name. Once the work is graded, which usually occurs at home, the folder is flipped. Once I return to the classroom, each student’s work is filed into their numbered folder. When they enter class each day, they
move the magnet that corresponds to their class number from Absent to Present, and they check their numbered folder; this is also how I give my ELL and SpEd students copies of my notes or individualized assignments. These procedures help me to take roll quickly by looking at the numbers, saves me time in making sure work gets passed back quickly so students are aware of their progress, and makes it so I do not need to draw attention to the students who need various modifications or accommodations. As mentioned, my process for dealing with student work is definitely where my strength currently is organizationally; however, other forms of organization are not faring as well.

Handouts, absent work, library book checkout, and other teacher paperwork – data reports, mail, bills, meeting notes – just get shuffled around until I have kept them long enough to safely discard them… or frantically deal with when a deadline approaches. I have various spaces and supplies that were intended to address these inadequacies, but they have not yet done the job. I want to have a clear, enduring system in place for managing ALL of the paper that is a part of my teaching practice.

According an article by James Clear, How Long Does It Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science), health psychology researcher Phillippa Lally at University College London, in a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found that it takes on average 66 days to form a new habit. With that in mind, I am setting this goal:

Over the next 10 weeks, I will implement an organization system in my classroom that accounts for all of the paper handling. This includes how I deal with

  • Handouts
  • Absent work
  • My library book checkout process
  • Data reports
  • Mail
  • Club paperwork
  • Meeting notes

This system needs to be functional and ultimately time-saving; otherwise, I know I will fail to adhere to the system in the long-term. Although I know this will be a work in progress for a while, I am confident that I will be able to find a working solution. I look forward to having a place for all things and using them. I know that my levels of anxiety and sense of being overwhelmed with this flood of paperwork will be alleviated when the system is in place and working. As a result, the time feels right to learn a new way of managing my paperwork, so I am eager to start this process!

To help me to create the system, I am seeking input and feedback from a variety of sources:

  • Other teachers on my campus
  • “Friends” on Facebook – some are also teachers, some are organizational mavens, and some are good at knowing what will work for me and what will not.
  • Pinterest – although many of the boards seem more focused on elementary classroom, many of the ideas are adaptable (like how I adapted the use of student numbers to work in a secondary classroom).
  • TeachersPayTeachers – I have purchased some organizational materials in the past that were helpful, and TpT is a great resource for finding inspiration and avoiding the need to recreate the proverbial wheel. This year I bought a teacher binder bundle that has been an incredible asset! Find it at the One Stop Teacher Shop.
  • Blogs: I have found a couple that are inspiring me to get some new systems in place, though I will be adding to this list as I go on, I am sure! Eat. Write. Teach. has an entry about how she has adapted the KonMari Method to her classroom, which is right up my alley! I used the system described in Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” in my home, but for some reason hadn’t considered it for use at school. Though this is an intense process, it is likely to free up substantial space that could be put to better use. Another blogger, the Crafty Teacher Lady, has numerous entries that will help me with this process.
  • You! Whoever you are that is reading this, please comment with some suggestions! I truly want to hear from you!

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