Every teacher struggles with organization from time to time and the challenge of keeping everything under control—from supplies to paperwork to students. And every teacher knows that even the best lesson or greatest instructional skills will not help if kids act out, the glue stick goes missing, or transition time turns into the Wild West.
The good news is that any teacher can get it together and keep it together, even those who are not blessed with natural organizing skills. While managing clutter and setting up bins is part of it, as important is laying a foundation of rules, routines, and procedures that convey to students in no uncertain terms that excellence is expected.
The Elephant in the (Disorderly) Room
We hear teachers say all the time: There’s simply not enough hours in the day. I have too many students to teach. That misbehaving student is wrecking my day. It’s around here somewhere—give me a minute. Complaints like these are as old as the teaching profession itself. But a closer look may reveal an underlying problem—a failure to organize.
A chaotic classroom wastes precious time, causes stress and frustration, sets a poor example for students, and distracts them from learning, especially those with attention challenges. A well-organized classroom practically runs itself and it isn’t all that difficult to set up. But it does require some thought and effort.
On the Road to Organization: 6 Big Ideas
Getting organized boils down to the consistent use of a handful of simple strategies. Let’s take a look at how to implement six of the most important:
1. Establish Rules: Setting behavior and organizational expectations early is essential to year-long success. Rules should be set the moment a child enters the classroom at the start of the year and reinforced throughout the year as necessary. They should eliminate any doubt as to how students should enter the room, what they should do immediately, how they should pull out and put away materials and supplies—every behavior that left unaddressed can cause a ruckus.
2. Set Up Routines: Students crave predictability, especially special needs students. Teachers who are able to plan, establish, and enforce daily classroom routines are better able to head off misbehavior, reduce anxiety, and improve the learning experience. Routines can help students navigate the uncertainty of a variety of situations—such as transitioning from room to recess, turning in homework, walking in line, and breaking into groups. Rules calm and focus students who might otherwise feel scattered and distracted.
3. Engage Students: The key to managing a classroom of diverse students is to engage students immediately and keep them engaged. A bored student is more likely to misbehave and send the whole class into a tail spin. Lessons that are appealing and student-centered and materials that are ready-to-use contribute to the impression that learning should be enjoyable.
4. Positively Reinforce. Praise is an effective behavior management tool, but one that is often neglected. A specific, sincere, and timely comment like “Way to go” or “That’s the way to share” can be used to build good behavior and phased out as it becomes a habit. Although students may not be consciously aware of it, praise is a super motivator.
5. Enforce Consequences. Students will not always follow the rules. Teachers must realize this and be on top of things with a plan. There will be slip ups and teachers must be prepared to apply consequences—from removal from an activity to isolation to a parent-teacher conference.
6. Manage the Physical Environment. How will the room be set up? What about flow? Can all students be seen at all times? What’s the best way to group students to keep them engaged? If teachers properly set up and organize their rooms from their start, they won’t have to do it again for the rest of the school year.
Classroom management and organization are intertwined. Together they lay the foundation for a learning culture that everyone—students and teachers—will enjoy and benefit from.
For a more detailed look at how to organize and manage your classroom, check out SDE’s webinar Organization Tips for an Amazing Classroom! (Gr. PreK–1) by classroom teacher, blogger, and organizational expert Palma Lindsay.