‘Now where did I put that…?’ Raise your hand if you’ve asked yourself this question AT LEAST a hundred times in the past school year. You’re not alone if you have both hands raised! As teachers, it’s totally normal for us to misplace items among the many resources, documents, books, folders, lesson plans, stationery etc. etc. ETC. we have in our busy classrooms! There is definitely not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to organising a classroom and what works well for one teacher might not be suitable for another.
I consider myself an ‘organisational enthusiast’ and nothing excites me more than matching labels and tubs (am I right?!). Over the past few years as a teacher I have tried and tested many systems to see which work for me. Some systems I have stuck with and others have failed miserably, but it’s all about trial and error, right? In this blog, I will share my best organisation and storage tips to help keep your classroom tidy in the new school year ahead!
Start With A Tidy Desk
A tidy classroom starts with a tidy desk. We spend a lot of time at our desks planning lessons, grading students’ work and preparing resources and it’s very hard to concentrate on getting all the jobs done if your personal workspace is a mess. As a busy teacher, I find it challenging to keep my desk clean and often use my desk as a ‘dumping ground’. Lately, I have had a lot more success with keeping my desk clean as I am now utilising a better organisation system. I now have shelves above my desk as well as these beautiful rainbow drawers that help my desk stay neat and tidy.
I used to have paperclips and bulldog clips EVERYWHERE until I discovered this ‘Teacher Toolbox’ system. I now store all of the little bits and bobs teachers always need handy in these drawers and they help keep my desk (and classroom!) organised. I love being able to easily pull out what I need, when I need it.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, these drawers have been absolutely LIFE CHANGING! Not only are these drawers rainbow (#rainbowobsessed), they have played a crucial role in helping to keep my desk mess-free. These drawers help to keep my paperwork all organised and OFF my desktop. Depending on my organisational mood (is that a thing?), I organise my documents in these drawers by day, week or even sometimes by subject. They are just perfect for my classroom.
Organise Resources Effectively
If resources are not organised effectively, they can quickly make your classroom seem very unorganised and messy. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about… you know, the shelf in your classroom that has resources shoved on it, none of them in containers and you don’t even know what half of them are? We’ve all been there. To avoid shelves like this, I like to keep my resources in a variety of matching containers and baskets. In my Prep classroom, the resources that we use most often are kept in matching open baskets. This means they are easily accessible from the shelves and can quickly be put on the tables and carpet area when needed. Matching baskets effortlessly make the shelves look organised too.
Seagrass Storage Baskets
Not all of my classroom resources are kept in open baskets like this. For resources that are used less, I keep them in matching stackable containers. Finding containers that can stack up on top of each other has been a major game changer for me as they take up so much less space. I keep these containers on shelves in my office and can easily locate what I need, when I need it.
This is one of the first organisational systems I set up when I became a Prep teacher due to the enormous amount of laminated/paper resources we use and it’s been a system that I’ve found really useful. Each game or resource is kept in a clear plastic wallet and then these are all kept in book boxes. At the moment, I have the book boxes separated into ‘Literacy Resources’ and ‘Numeracy Resources’. For the 2020 school year, I plan on updating these book box labels to include subheadings such as ‘Sight Word Resources’, ‘Alphabet Resources’ etc. to further organise this space and make resources even easier to locate.
Magazine Book Boxes
In any classroom, there are certain parts of the room that can look like a bomb has hit it and the art area is one of them. We do lots of arts and crafts in Prep and need many resources to be able to do all of these wonderful activities. I keep our plethora of collage items readily available and effortlessly organised by storing them all in these Handy Storage Containers.
1 Litre Handy Storage Containers
It’s a Joint Effort!
Keeping a classroom tidy and organised should never be solely up to the teacher. It is a joint effort and students must be taught how to care for and take pride and ownership of their classroom and their belongings. At the beginning of each school year, it is imperative to set clear expectations and model to students how resources need to be organised. I also like to take pictures of what spaces should look like and how things should be organised and keep these pictures nearby for students to refer to when tidying up. In our construction area, I made black cut-outs of the block shapes so students easily know which blocks go where when tidying up. These cut-outs keep our block area tidy and students can take full ownership of caring for this area.
Another way I encourage my students to keep our classroom organised is by setting up systems that are age appropriate and achievable. We keep our workbooks all together as we do not have individual desks. So, at the beginning of the year, I set up a coloured label system so students can easily identify that their workbook with the yellow label needs to be put away in the yellow book box. This system easily keeps our 150+ books neat and organised.
We keep all of our other stationery items together too and my students have been explicitly taught how to care for and organise these shared resources that we keep in stationery caddies. We have pictures of what our caddies are expected to look like after tidying up and I even assign “Caddy Cadets” which is a special job where students tidy the caddies, if they are looking like they need a bit of extra love.
Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
You know that saying “Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail”? Well, it’s totally true! Planning is a major part of keeping a classroom running smoothly, not to mention keeping teachers SANE! My number one recommendation on how to be organised as a teacher is to invest in a quality planner.
I love this Teacher Planner from Modern Teaching Aids as they have included anything and everything a teacher could ever want in a planner. One of my favourite features of this planner is the plastic storage pockets for notes and loose papers. I feel like I’m going to be a lot better at not losing important bits of paper and tax receipts thanks to these! There are also plenty more pages to keep track of everything like passwords, a professional development log, assessment trackers and notes. Everything important can be kept in the ONE PLACE!
I like how this planner has separated each of the school terms by colourful tabs, making it easy to flick between terms and note down important dates and reminders. These are adjustable too!
Another one of my favourite features of this Teacher Planner is how it has a section for goals and overviews for each term. I use these pages to plan ahead and set goals and reminders for each term and it is really helpful to see at first glance how the term is going to look. The planner also includes 53 double page week-to-view pages so you can plan each week in more detail. I find it really useful being able to easily refer back to my Term Overview and Goals as I plan each week in more depth. Each week also has a spot for your weekly to-do list, which I LOVE as I am a list-making addict!
This planner has considered so many aspects of teaching life and I like how it includes a space to plan your classroom layout. Setting up the classroom at the beginning of the year is one of my absolute favourite parts of being a teacher so the fact that this planner gives me the opportunity to draw where everything is going to go first is amazing!
Last but not least, the thing that makes this planner that extra bit special is the 53 weekly inspirations to support your teaching program. These pieces of inspiration are written by fellow primary school teachers and cover topics such as mindfulness, mindset and wellbeing, cooperation and team building as well as seasonal activity ideas! I think these are super helpful and inspiring, especially on those hard days when you need a little extra pick-me-up!
What is your best tip to keep your classroom organised? We would love to hear from you!
Heidi Overbye from Learning Through Play is a Brisbane based, Early Years Teacher who currently teaches Prep, the first year of formal schooling in Queensland. Heidi is an advocate for play-based, hands-on learning experiences and creating stimulating and creative learning spaces. Heidi shares what happens in her classroom daily on her Instagram page, Learning Through Play. See @learning.through.play for a huge range of activities, play spaces and lesson ideas.