Well, it is August 1, and for many, especially my educator friends here in Texas, that means another school year is on the horizon. Ready to tackle your classroom with a renewed sense of purpose and organization? Wondering how to KonMari your classroom? Well, you are in luck! I’ve decided to share some ideas on this. I spent 30 years in education – 15 as a classroom teacher, 11 as a technology facilitator, and 4 as a media specialist. In each of those roles, organization was always a high priority for me. I can’t function in a mess, and I truly believe that most students can’t either. Even if being organized wasn’t a natural state for my students, they learned to be at least for the time they were in my room. I had systems in place for everything from turning in assignments to selecting the desired lunch item. I could go on and on about ways to keep the kids organized (and I will), but you can’t get them organized if you aren’t organized yourself.
Create a Vision
Before you start unpacking all the boxes and bins that were stored for the summer, I want you to create a vision for your classroom. In your perfect world, what does your classroom look like? What’s on the walls? How are the shelves organized? What systems do you want in place for your students to promote self-sufficiency? Think about the atmosphere you want to create. How do you want it to feel for your students as they walk in each day? Draw a picture, make a list, print out your favorite pins from Pinterest – do whatever you need to so that you have something tangible that represents your vision. Now I want you to tape it to a wall or tack it to a bulletin board so that you see it every day while you are preparing your classroom for the coming year. This will be your reminder of what’s important to you and will help to keep you on track.
How Will This Work?
We’ll tackle your classrooms in a similar way to how Kondo recommends doing your home – sorting by category, discarding first, and using the storage containers and spaces you already have. When we tidy our homes with the KonMari Method, we all know the key question is, “Does this spark joy?” But that question is not as likely to work here – before you know it, you’d have an empty room! But you can still approach it from a positive viewpoint. So while you’re standing there holding a stack of old newsprint, ask yourself, “Is this something I really want to keep?” “Is this still useful to me?” I’m willing to bet that a large portion of what we have in our cabinets is there simply because it always has been. It might have been something that was useful once, but it’s not any longer, and we just don’t take the time to dispose of it. Now is that time.
Don’t Buy Storage Bins
I know you – teachers are lured by pretty bins and tubs and baskets in matching or coordinating colors and patterns. And with back-to-school stuff out now, it all screams, “Buy me!” But I beg you – don’t do it. First of all, the storage bins themselves take up a lot of prime real estate. Secondly, as you are discarding, you will probably free up space in the bins and baskets you already have. Wait until you’ve discarded everything and then see if additional containers are still necessary
Change Your Mindset
This will be toughest of all. Teachers are packrats by nature for a couple of reasons. 1) We don’t make a lot of money, so we tend to keep anything that we think can be of use, and 2) Our frugality makes us industrious, so we are convinced that everything can be used for something. Stop the madness! Eliminate “just in case” as a reason for keeping things. When was the last time you actually did an art project in your classroom? I bet it’s been long enough that you can probably let go of the paint and yarn and craft sticks (at least some of them, anyway).
I speak from experience. Before I retired, I spent weeks going through old files and boxes. We all know things can change in an instant so even though I had been out of the classroom for fifteen years, I kept things “just in case” I had to go back. Well, that never happened and even if it had, much of what I kept couldn’t have been reused. I’m pretty sure a worksheet I made using a Thermofax machine back in the ’80s would hardly be relevant today.
So today is step one – create that vision for your classroom, and display it prominently in your room. Then get ready to make that vision a reality.
So, you’ve created your vision and are ready to tackle your classroom clutter – good for you! I’m convinced that even if you get no further than discarding extraneous paper in your classroom, you will have made a huge dent. That’s because so much of what we have in our rooms falls into this category. I’m not even going to address what is in your file cabinets in this post – that’s a whole other ball of wax -I’m just focused on the paper you can see. So for now when I say “paper”, this is what I am talking about:
- notebook paper
- construction/manila/fadeless paper
- notepads and sticky-notes
- blank copy paper
- chart tablets and chart paper
Decorative and Informational
- anchor charts
- bulletin board border
- bulletin board displays
- old textbooks
- testing practice aids
- professional books
- books in your classroom library
- binders from various conferences, workshops, and training events
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it should get you started.
Let’s start with plain old paper first. Gather it up from all of its various locations – storage cabinets, shelves, your desk – wherever you have it stashed, and bring it all to one central spot in your classroom. This will make it much easier to see how much paper you have amassed, and it will make it easier to sort in to a manageable amount.
I’m going to suggest getting rid of all loose paper – if it’s in a package, great; if not, it’s out of here. Unless you have trays to hold the loose paper, it gets torn, folded, and creased. Send to the recycle bin. Now – if you have a neat stack of 200 sheets of notebook paper, I am not suggesting you get rid of it – that would be wasteful. But random sheets, cheap construction paper that tears easily once out of the package, newsprint with torn edges – those are the things that should go. Keep clean notebooks that have never been used. Notepads and sticky-notes that have only a few sheets left on them – recycle. You want to whittle this down until you are left with neat stacks of various papers, clean notebooks, usable notepads, and charts.
Look at what’s left – what do you have too much of? Construction paper because it’s on the school supply list every year? Sticky-notes because you can only order them in packages of 10? Reduce those piles by at least half, more if you can honestly say you will not use up what’s left in the foreseeable future. Take your discards and set them by your classroom door so you remember that they are on their way out!
Teaching Aids and Informational Display Items
We typically find two different things on our classroom walls and bulletin boards – teaching aids and decorative items. We’re going to tackle the educational ones first. Locate all of your informational display items (posters, anchor charts, etc.) and, just like with the plain paper, bring them all to one spot in your classroom. Are there any that are out-of-date? (Solar system posters that include Pluto as a planet, for example.) If the information on a teaching aid is no longer valid, it needs to go. Are there any posters or charts that are not applicable to your current teaching assignment? Set those aside in a different pile. Torn or faded? Corners so chewed up by years of stapling they won’t even hold a staple anymore? If you can afford to replace them, then recycle the damaged ones. If you can’t replace them, then make the best repairs you can (trim off the torn corners and laminate for added durability?), and place in your “keep” pile. If you have more than one poster or chart representing the same information, do you need to keep them both? Would you hang up both at the same time? If not, choose one to part with.
Continue this process until you are left with the best of the best of the teaching aids, anchor charts, and educational posters. These are the items that, even though you have to have them, fit the vision you created for your classroom. All the items that are damaged beyond repair or out-of-date go to the recycle bin. The duplicate items you just sorted through can be given to another teacher who might be able to use them, so set those by your classroom door since they are on their way out. The items that are no longer useful for your current teaching assignment? That’s a judgment call. If you don’t want to get rid of them (a lot of money invested and you might end up back in that grade level), then it is fine to hang on to them. If classroom storage is an issue, I would take them home. But if you are okay parting with them permanently, then set them by the door as well.
On Their Way Out
If you are really committed to this, that pile by the door should be pretty sizable! These are all items that are in perfectly good condition and could easily be used by someone else. What you do with those items may depend on your school building. At mine, we used to just set things we no longer wanted in our work room or lounge, or even in the hallway for others to take. You know what they say, one man’s trash… Whatever you do, it’s important that you get them out of your room so you are not tempted to keep any of it.
I’m going to stop here for brevity’s sake, and because I’m not sure you could get through more than this in one day anyway. Next up will be books and the papers we use to make our classrooms pretty.