5 Habits of an Organized Teacher

August means it’s time to face reality: My 8:30 in the morning quiet trips to Walmart are coming to an end. *sniff sniff*


I’m in full-on “get my classroom back in shape” mode which means: I’m an organizin’ fool right now!

In general, I’m a fairly organized person.

Or was it a very organized person?  I forget…

Okay, okay, Organization and angelic choruses are synonymous in my book! 😉

But seriously, I LOVE organizing stuff.  It’s a hobby for me.  And it’s one of my basic needs.  I can’t survive with chaos.  Ask my husband.  Just this week I was enjoying a normal nap time for Cooper/quiet time for me when I was overcome with the need to reorganize my pin boards on Pinterest.  Seriously.  I just started deleting pins and moving them around like nobody’s business.

So, while I’m sad {so sad…so very, very sad} to not spend all day every day with my sweet boy, I’m thrilled to have the chance at organizing and reorganizing my classroom.

Here are my…

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#1 {{SORT}}  “There’s no place like home.”  Everything has a home.  Everything.  Being the Type A, OCD, overbearing weirdo that I am, I like for things to be in a predictable spot.

So, in my classroom, I sort. Everything.

Sorting is something the brain naturally tries to do–whether we want it to or not.  The brain is constantly trying to find a “home” for the new information we are learning.  Having a predictable spot for that information in my classroom, helps my kids know where to look when they are stuck.  Interestingly, I see kids every year that look in specific spots in our classroom during standardized testing…even though our walls are covered with bed sheets…they are trying to jog their brain about what was on that hidden anchor chart!

Sorting also keeps things looking neat and orderly.  Which I LOVE!  A few years back, I added these group shelves to help my kids keep their things sorted and to keep them from having so much *stuff* in their desk. {Honestly, little people are so messy!}

The less they have to organize on their own in their desk, the better.  So I sort it for them on these group shelves.  And they maintain it.  Really well. No, really.  They do a fantastic job.  Organization is taught and my kids learn quickly that everything in our room has a home and everything on their group’s shelf has a home.  They take pride in these shelves and it’s a great opportunity to teach responsibility.

My teacher materials are sorted by unit.  I teach 6 Common Core units during the school year.  Everything I need for a unit is in my unit binder.  It has my road map {a 6-week glance at my unit}, copy masters, objectives, and group labels.  And it’s where I keep my weekly lesson plans during that unit also.

Moving from 127,463 manila file folders and reorganizing into unit binders changed. my. world.  For the better, ya’ll!  It is so easy to plan each week now and so easy to find what I need!

All those teacher dry erase markers? They have a spot too…in a cheap shower caddy with ribbon hot glued on!

When I come across a stash that needs some organization, I always sort the stuff into categories first…and piece by piece they find their home!

#2 {{TOSS}} Less. Is. More.  If I haven’t used it in 2 years, it’s gone.  Bye-Bye.  No second thoughts.  That goes for decorations and for materials.  The more you have, the harder it is to organize, sort and store it. And the more you have on your walls {authentic anchor charts don’t count…} the harder it is for kids to focus.  And in the true spirit of this rule….I shouldn’t have to say anything else about this one.

#3 {{LABEL}}  “If you like it then you better put a label on it…” Wuh, uh, oh, uh, uh, oh, oh, uh, oh, uh, uh, oh…  Yeah, you’re welcome.

But, for real!  It’s gotta have a label.  This seems sooooo obvious, but how is one supposed to know what is in there if it doesn’t have a label on it???

Storage tubs for Common Core Unit books…I used chalk markers to add the labels!

My first year teaching, I invested in a substantial amount of $1 shoe box clear tubs.  Pretty much everything in my cabinets gets stored in those or these small, clear crates.  With a label.
And, clearly, these labels were made 9 years ago…comic sans font and all! Maybe I should make new labels…there’s always next year, right?? 🙂

{{And before you ask…yes, those are bed sheets…for testing season.  You can read about that HERE.}}

Even my students catch on to label fever each year.  Their group shelves have math manipulative tubs on them…with labels, of course.

And their buckets with the shared supplies have labels too.  They learn from day one to, “put the tubs away with the label facing out.”  Seriously.  You know you’ve said it a lot when they start telling each other, “Hey! Label facing out!”

With our counting collections shelf, our labels are color-coded depending on what group level they are working on, so it not only looks better for the labels to face out, but it’s absolutely necessary so that partners know which tubs have collections on their level.

And, of course, our classroom library is labeled for neatness and necessity also.  You can find my book tub labels {in 4 different themes} HERE.

Labels not only look neat, but they are utilitarian–for teachers AND students.  Plus, they are easy to….

#4 {{COLOR CODE}}…

Omiword, I’m obsessed with color-coding!  I get all Jr. High School girl giddy when I realize I can color code something!  I wish I were kidding.  I color code in my teaching life and my personal life.  When we moved into our tee-niney apartment last month, we color-coded our moving boxes…yes, my husband is as bad as I am in this department!  We rented a storage area and typed out labels for each box on colored paper.  Each room was assigned a color.  And each box was assigned a number.

That way, we can easily find boxes for certain rooms.  And when we {eventually} move into our new house, the bright colors will make it easier for our moving help to know which boxes go in which rooms.  And, of course there is a coordinating spreadsheet that is color coded with everything that is in each storage box so we can locate things quickly!

Go ahead, be jealous, people!

*ahem* back on topic…

In my classroom, most everything is color coded.  My classroom library book tubs are color-coded by fiction or non-fiction.

My kid’s pocket folders are color-coded.

My intervention groups are color-coded so my kids know what color they are in reading, writing and math.  Those same colors are used on my data sheets and on tubs of materials that are specific for a group of kids.

I know it’s most likely because of the way I think, but I just don’t know how people differentiate without color coding.  No. Freakin’. Idea.  I differentiate…I color code.  Not only does it help me identify who is working on what, but it also helps kids find materials quickly and keep them organized.  Even to the most chaotic of minds {!!} a red card will easily stick out in a stack of yellow cards.

When I have a set schedule for groups I conference with, I also order my colors in rainbow order.  I know.  I know.  Go ahead.  I make fun of myself, too.

In writing, I have a mixed group of kids that I conference with each day.  Each kid has a colored dot on his or her journal which tells them what day I conference with them.  Monday is red, Tuesday is orange, Wednesday is yellow, and Thursday is green. {Friday is my choice of who I meet with again.}  Rainbow order is really just for my sanity.  If they were in a random order, it would take me until February to learn what color was on Monday! {Read more details about this HERE.}

When we share student work in writing and in math, I color code parts of their work with highlighters.  So, for example, in writing I might highlight all of their punctuation marks in one color, capitals in another, sight words another, etc…  In math, when we are sharing 2-3 kiddos’ thinking, I might highlight the 3 different ways the number 59 was built by each student.  That way students can see that each shows the same number because it’s colored the same, but they built it in a different way.

#5 {{REPEAT}} “Anything good is worth repeating.”  Organization isn’t a fling.  It isn’t an event.  It’s a life style.  And it has to be kept up.  So part of my end of the year routine is “repeat.”  Go back through and SORT, TOSS, LABEL, COLOR CODE, REPEAT.  And then after I’ve had the summer away, I come back to my classroom and “see” things I was too tired to see at the end of May and so I SORT, TOSS, LABEL, COLOR CODE, REPEAT again. And randomly throughout the year I REPEAT.  That’s the only way my classroom stays organized.  That’s the only way my kids stay organized.  We REPEAT each Friday with their personal spaces (desk) and community spaces (group shelves) by sorting and tossing.

SORT, TOSS, LABEL, COLOR CODE, REPEAT….How do you stay organized in your room?

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