Susan Riley | October 2011

The Organized Classroom

As I have been traveling to various schools over the last few months, I have seen some really wonderful ways that classrooms have been organized to provide high-quality, efficient learning for all students.  Then again, I’ve also seen some rooms over the years where things have just been shoved to the closest corner and kids have to pick their way through the junk to get to the teacher’s desk.

Part of what makes our students (and ourselves) successful is being in a space that is conducive for learning.  That means organization.  So today, I’m going to show you some ideas from classrooms that have gotten really creative with how to organize their small spaces.

Baskets and Labels

I’m loving the small things that can get teachers started.  These plain-Jane, plastic baskets can be purchased at any retailer (Dollar Store, Wal-Mart, Target, etc) for very little money and the labels can just be printed out, attached to construction paper, laminated and taped to the containers.  I have seen this used countless times with varying success.  The trick is to provide enough containers that you can have a small set of items to go into each container.  Also, I find that those teachers who try to categorize with the word and an associated picture have a much better success rate of sticking to the “bin system” than those who don’t.

 Simple, Uncluttered Walls

I know that most classrooms that I walk into (especially in Elementary School), have so much STUFF on them that it’s hard to know where to begin.  For learners who have sensory issues, or even those who have attention issues (which is most children at some point), this is really distracting.

Having so much stuff on the walls almost negates the reasons that you have it up there in the first place.  Instead, it’s much better to be thoughtful with what you need to put up, what you want to put up, and how to categorize them on your walls.

Try to keep things simple, clean and straight-forward.  This kind of setup is still bright and cheery, but students have a very clear expectation of where they can find essential information.

Another wonderful example could be utilizing folders on the walls for students to access information.  You could easily update this to be for secondary students as well.

I LOVE this example from ClutterFree Teaching’s blog.  It’s still bright and friendly, but items are carefully chosen, spaced accordingly, and she utilizes color to highlight important information.

Clean and Clear and Under Control

A teacher’s desk can be one of the messiest places in the whole classroom!

I know we’re all busy and at some point, each one of us has a desk that looks like a tornado just touched down.  It’s an indicator of our hectic profession – papers to grade, projects to begin, lesson plans to write. BUT – we are the models for our students.

We need to show them what we want them to learn.  Every time I have gone into a classroom where the teacher’s desk was a constant mess, the students all had the same thing going on inside their own desks.  Let’s model for our students how keeping a clean desk can help them be more efficient, detailed learners overall!

For me, I find that colored folders work really well.  A huge box of file folders in a variety of colors will run you $16 at office depot and be well worth your time.  I label mine based on the subject area, topic, grade, etc and then put them in my accordion file holder on my desk in alphabetical order.  This just makes things so much easier to find.  Finally, I have five bins labeled Monday-Friday.
Since I’m on the road a lot and traveling to many different schools, I simply pull out whichever folders I need for the week on Monday when I get to the office, place them in the appropriate day and then as I have supplemental materials for that visit, I put them in the appropriate day’s bin.
When I leave to go out to a school, I just pick up that day’s folder, put it in my briefcase and I’m ready to go.  By doing everything on Monday, I get a clear picture for the week ahead, as well as remember what all happened the previous week that I need to follow up on.
I hope these classroom organization tips were helpful today.  Try just one of them and see if it makes a difference – even if it just makes you FEEL better.

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan