Late spring is a time when teachers typically wrap-up and pack-up classrooms for summer break. The school year has been a whirlwind (I’m 100% sure about this) and students are buzzing with energy for “movin’ on” with their lives. Teachers begin to feel a faint sense of relief tinged with a hint of hope that all their Herculean efforts to instruct and inspire have impacted their beloved students. Soon year-end testing will be checked-off the list, report cards will be completed, and then it’s “School’s out for summer!” But not until classrooms are cleared and cupboards and closets filled with materials and random left-overs from learning….
And here’s exactly where extra teacher-stress can sneak-up just when you thought it was finally time to take a summer breath. Ahhhhh, yes, the dreaded piles of papers, books left-behind, half-used or brand new school supplies, the very cool (but random) collections of stuff that just might inspire or support a learning activity - all or any of which adds up to another mountain to climb before “checking-out” for the school year.
I volunteered to write this particular blog post, but not because I have any classroom organization skills whatsoever. (Full disclosure: I am a human that views any book as my friend.) However, I do have great empathy for teacher colleagues and friends who struggle with classroom clutter. In my 25 years of closing down a classroom, my best success was the last - one great move out of school and into life beyond teaching.
So here’s what I have for you - how I decluttered my classroom by:
- saving important items for myself and memories;
- sharing materials with only true potential;
- recycling paper to save precious trees;
- filling a dumpster with junk collected over many years of storage “just in case”
(One other side-note of importance: rely on organization and decluttering experts OUTSIDE education! Teachers have been brainwashed by budget deficits to believe that any “free” thing has potential and possibility for creativity and learning in the classroom. But all these treasures will overtake the space and freedom you need to hold on to the things that serve you and your students best.)
Below are ten tips on how to organize a classroom (compiled from one positive personal experience and learning from many previous flops):
- Reserve some dates (maybe 2 or 3):
- Emptying closets, cupboards, desk drawers, bookshelves, bins.
- Dumping, donating, and storing all saved items.
- Sharing and giving to colleagues - make an event and stick to it.
- Close your classroom door - after school or a weekend day (if possible).
- Alert your school custodian: ask for extra garbage and recycling bins on your decluttering dates.
- Borrow or buy some bins - best ones are “clear” so that you can view the contents and manage them for give-away and/or re-storage.
- Notify your colleagues and any future teachers you might know that you will be having a one-day-only terrific teacher give-away. Tell them you don’t know exactly what will be there, but give an idea: books, posters, materials, etc. Allow for a two-hour window after school on one day.
- Ask (bribe) a friend - someone who is organized and is NOT a teacher to help you:
- Empty cupboards, closets, desk drawers, book shelves, bins, etc.
- Sort into categories: Save, Toss, Donate
- On the designated day, teach with energy and conviction inspired by the feeling of hope that decluttering inspires. At dismissal, say goodbye to your students and hello to your helper who has arrived to “save” you from your things.
- Dive in and do it!
- Save- put away and store in classroom space
- Toss- or recycle any paper items
- Donate- place in bins for the great "give-away!"
- Hold the “great teacher give-away” by placing items on “display” throughout your classroom or in a pre-planned school space approved by your principal and/or custodian. (If you need to clear out and can’t make it happen in a school, this can be done at home more like a normal garage sale. However, it’s best at a school for other educators to be inspired by these items on school grounds…it has something to do with the ambiance and ease of transfer and transport!)
- With your classroom decluttered and your stress-level significantly reduced, close the cupboards, lock the closets and desk drawers, cover the bookshelves with paper, and shut out the lights of your classroom. (Turn on your summer sunshine inspiration and rejuvenation.)
For extra insights on this topic, check out this playlist for Best Decluttering Podcasts. There are experts who can help with this professional and personal dilemma. Try listening “on the go” in your car as you drive to work - I’ll bet you’ll grab an idea that will inspire some single action by the time you reach that cluttered classroom of yours!
I have to be honest, there are still 8 bins in my basement at home - items that remind me of special teaching moments, files I may need to access (possibly forever), and of course, all my book friends. But with this decluttering project, I gained a sense of goodwill about the “gifts” I gave to some future teachers and colleagues still collecting classroom materials. And, I’m pretty sure I saved a tree or two.
Decluttering is more easily achieved with a minimalist mindset, by not collecting all that stuff in the first place. But if you are like me (and 99% of our teacher colleagues), reserving a couple dates and making the commitment to yourself and your peace of mind will be more than worth the time on task. The extra space - in your classroom and in your head - will set you free!
While setting aside time to declutter your classroom can help save your sanity, better classroom organization can also be helped through better classroom design. Before the start of your next school year, check out these 5 Tips to Consider in Designing Your Classroom because a well designed classroom, can lead to a well organized classroom.