Organizing Your Classroom: Back to School Organization 101

Summer is slowly slipping away from you, but hopefully you are excited to get into your classroom and start decorating and organizing.  As much as I love my summer vacation, I still (after 16 years) look forward to setting up my classroom for a new group of kiddos.  This post is part of a series of blog posts about Back to School Organization.  In the first post I gave you 4 tips for Decorating your K-1 Classroom and showed some pictures of a few of my classrooms I have had over the years.  I also linked a FREE checklist to help you decide what to decorate your walls with.  If you want to go to that post first, click HERE.

If you're sticking around here for a minute, then I'll get right to it. This post is about organizing your teacher supplies in your classroom.  I'm talking about all the lesson plan materials, copies, office supplies, and just STUFF that teachers need.  After 16 years, I have A LOT of STUFF!!!  But even if you are just starting out teaching, you still might inherit a lot of stuff from the teacher before you and you will need to sort through it all before organizing it all.  I have a few tips to help you do just that.

1. Take everything out and sort it on your tables/desks in your classroom.

I like to sort things by subject area (reading, math, etc) and then by categories like office supplies, teacher tools, guided reading supplies, etc.  Then I go through and decide if I am keeping it or tossing it --- or possibly putting it in the teacher's room for others to grab because one person's trash is another's treasure, right?  

This is definitely an important tip if you are moving into a new classroom and you need to get to know what you have in the room, but this is also something you should be doing even if you've been in your classroom for many years.  As I explained in my last post, I have changed classrooms 8 different times since I started teaching.  Each time I had to get an inventory of what was in the classroom and what I had to add to it.  However, I also try to inventory my materials each summer even if I am staying in my classroom because if it's something I haven't used in a year then I either need to move it to a different location so I remember it's there or get rid of it.  Let me warn you though, taking everything out can become very overwhelming and it will look like your room is a complete disaster.  But I promise you will be happy you did it when you go to put things back into their places.  In my opinion, organization is an endless cycle and is never quite perfect. As you grow, you change in how you teach, your priorities, and what materials are given to you or you purchase yourself.  Summer is a time to assess and reset!

2. Decide how and where you plan to organize your materials. MEASURE your shelves and cabinets to help find the best storage containers for your space.  

This one is tough to give too much direction with because every classroom is different.  Each classroom has a different layout, different furniture, and different cabinets and shelves.  But one thing that is a must is to measure first before you buy storage containers so they will fit in your space.   Here is a picture of some shelves in my current classroom.  They are very shallow so most of the bins that I already had were an awkward fit.

On the left you can see one way I tried to use bins I already had, but then the extra space on the right side of the shelf was pretty much wasted because I couldn't fit much else there and I ended up just shoving things in there.  But once I measured I found that I could use these bins from the Dollar Tree and fit 2 bins on each shelf.  Not as much wasted space and not a very expensive change.

This next picture also shows how I used something that fit my shelf to organize my construction paper.  These are black plastic magazine file holders and the construction paper not only fits perfectly in them, but they also fit perfectly on my shelf.  Now I just need to get a couple more and I will be able to organize the rest of the paper.

I like to scower Pinterest looking for organization ideas and pictures, but in the end you have to do what works in your space.

3. Create a Teacher Corner in your classroom.

Now this tip is something that works for me and my organization, but maybe this isn't your thing and that's ok.  Personally, I like to have my desk in a corner of the room where I can utilize the shelves and counters around me for some other supplies that students won't need to access.  You can see in this first picture (although it's a little washed out because the sun was streaming in when I took this) that I created a teacher corner that utilized the counter under the cabinets and the shelves and counter by the window.  I loved this teacher corner because I had everything I needed at my fingertips!  Some of you might not have a desk anymore or maybe use your kidney table as your desk, but you can still create a corner for your lesson plan materials and copies so they are organized.  I also pointed out in this picture where I would keep my daily copies (those M-F bins are from Really Good Stuff) and my monthly copies or extra copies I have yet to use are in the plastic drawers under the counter.  I keep all of this in my teacher corner along with my laptop, plan book, calendar, and sub bin.  I like having it all in one place and then students don't need to access that area for anything and the rest of the classroom is theirs.

These next pictures are in my current classroom.  The first one shows my teacher corner behind the bookshelf that has the students' book boxes on it.  I can use the shelves and counter behind me.

This year I turned my desk against the wall and was able to move my kidney table closer and gained a little more space.  I have lesson planning materials and copies on the shelves near my desk and then I have all my guided reading materials right next to that and behind my kidney table.

4. Organize as you go throughout the year.

When you are just starting out or maybe changing grade levels, it's tough to keep all your new materials organized.  When I switched to Kindergarten a few years back I decided to go with binders to keep my copies in for each month.  Prior to that I used files in a file cabinet.  I must say, I really like binders!  The best thing about migrating over to binders was I got rid of my file cabinet in my room so now I have more space.

I got these binder covers from Haley O'Connor.  I place a master copy of every paper we use in the binders.  This way I can just grab a binder and head on down to the copy machine or send out for copies when I'm ready.

I also have these (picture above) clear plastic Rubbermaid bins where I keep things like seasonal crafts, centers, pocket chart pieces/sentence strips or activities for that month that can't fit in a binder.  Looks like I need to step up my label game with those bins though. :-0  But sometimes you just slap on any old label because it's all you have time for -- am I right?

Here are a few pictures of my closet where I keep my binders and monthly bins---BTW this is the first classroom where I have had a closet and I think it makes me waaaaaaaay more happy than it probably should!  :-)  But just look at the space!  Every teacher DESERVES a closet!!

You can see the binders with monthly papers, but I also have binders for Math, ELA, Science, and Social Studies on other shelves in the closet.  

The picture above shows the bins and next to them are my monthly themed books.  If you look really close you will see a red heart hanging from one of the bins.....that was placed there by my oldest daughter when she was in my classroom one day.  It says: I love you Mommy so much!  I keep it there because it makes me smile everytime I see it.  :)

You can also see in the closet under my monthly binders I have these paper size snap bins with centers in them.  This is one of the results of taking everything out and doing an inventory of what I had before I moved into this classroom and what was left for me.  After taking it all out and sorting it on my tables, I measured and found these bins to store them.  

And just a couple more pictures of some of my cabinets.  I have most of my office supplies in my desk area, but here I have whatever I don't use on a daily basis but still need.  I know lots of people have those really cute Teacher Toolboxes with cute labels, but I have never had a classroom where I would have space for something like that so I use these small plastic drawers because they fit almost anywhere.  

Putting the time in during the summer and then throughout the year to get organized and STAY organized in important.

I have one more little tip to share with you ----- If you place bins on a shelf or baskets on a shelf and don't want them to be pushed over by one of your kiddos as they are leaning, then cut up those Contact paper Grip shelf liners and place them under the bin so they don't slide easily.  It really works and you don't even see them underneath the bins.

I hope you were able to find some helpful tips to get organized in your own classroom.  If you are looking for more tips for Back to School and Classroom organization.....check back to see more posts in this series.  Sign up to receive emails when I make a new blog post. 

Happy organizing!!! :-)

Classroom Decor: Back to School Organization 101

Hey, hey teachers!!!!  It's summer and you are loving life, relaxing, enjoying all the free time you have.....except, let's be honest, all you are really doing is scowering Pinterest and Instagram to find pictures of classrooms and thinking about how you will decorate your classroom when it's time to go back to school.  It's one of the best and worst things about being a teacher -- we love our time off, but we just cannot turn off the teacher brain.  As much as we try to check out, it's still so exciting to plan and prep for a new school year.

If this is your first year teaching....Congratulations!!!  Such a huge accomplishment to now have your first classroom.  And if it's your 30th year teaching....that too is a HUGE accomplishment.  Whichever point in your career you are at, decorating a classroom can still get very overwhelming and also very costly.  Personally, this will be my 17th year teaching. 😳  It's so hard to believe it's been that long because I still remember setting up my first classroom like it was yesterday.  And since that first one I have been in 4 different schools and 8 different classrooms, so I have had to start from scratch 8 different times.  It is certainly exhausting, but to be honest, I really love having a blank slate to work with and changing things up from time to time.  I see a new classroom as always so full of potential.  Having said that, I am suuuuuuper relieved that I am now in a classroom that I think I will be staying in for a while and I don't need to start all over again (unless I get that itch to move again). 😉

So my purpose for writing this post is to share some of the things I have learned over the years and through the many classrooms I have decorated.  This post is dedicated to deciding how to decorate the walls and bulletin boards of your classroom.  I will have more posts in this series about organizing teacher supplies and students supplies, so check back to see those.

Classroom decor

Now let's get started with a few things to think about when searching for decor to put up on your walls....

1.  As much as I love cute trends like pineapples and unicorns and would have so much fun filling my walls with all the adorable decorations that are out there, my first tip is to keep your decorating PURPOSEFUL.  What will you and your students refer to throughout your days?  What resources will help you teach?  What resources will help your students learn and complete their work?  If the only reason you're hanging it up is because it is pretty....don't!

2. You DO NOT need to fill every inch of wall space that is in your room.  Do not make your walls so busy that your students are overwhelmed and can't find anything they are looking for anyway.   Use the bulletin boards that you have and some of your wall space, but plan for some "white space" to let the eyes rest and to break up the different areas of your room.

3. Let your curriculum help guide what you hang on your walls, but don't try to put everything they will be learning on the walls from day 1.  Leave an area where you could hang anchor charts you create together or vocabulary for a unit you are doing when you get to it.  Allow your students to have some ownership over some things that go up.  In my district we do not have to post standards or  daily objectives, so I don't do that since my first graders (now my kindergarteners) can't read them anyway so who were they really for.

4. Don't forget to make spaces that will make the students feel that they are a part of this classroom and the classroom was made with them in mind.  I hang up a birthday chart and a Star of the Week bulletin board.  I also try to leave spaces for student work to be displayed.  They will be spending about 1,000 hours in this classroom throughout the year --- you want it to feel like a special place to be!

Here are some of the items that I know I personally need in my classroom when I have taught Kindergarten and First Grade along with a few pictures of some of my previous classrooms.  Click HERE to download a FREE K-1 Classroom Decor checklist to use yourself as you think about what you will hang up in your classroom.

  • Calendar bulletin board that includes: monthly calendar, days of the week, months of the year, number of days we've been in school, and some other math resources that we use during morning meeting like number posters and a 100 or 120 chart (or sometimes I used a 180 chart if I had the room to count all the way through the year).  I try to keep this bulletin board right at my carpet area so we can go through it each morning together. 

Calendar bulletin board

This next classroom was very limited on bulletin board space.  I only had two small bulletin boards in the front of the room, so I had to split up my calendar and math resources.  You can also see in this picture that I hang up a visual schedule for the day as well.  We go through the daily schedule each morning.

100 chart

This is my current Kindergarten classroom.  You can see I moved the number posters off this board and added in some ten frames that we use along with the straws to count how many days we have been in school during our morning meeting.  I will show you where the number posters have gone when they are not on my calendar board.

Calendar bulletin board

  • Word wall - I have had to get creative with my word walls over the years.  In some classrooms I would have a large bulletin board where I could put my word wall, but in my last 2 classrooms I have not had the space so I used the cabinets and some bright laminated cardstock.  I actually like the cabinet word wall the best!
Classroom Decor

Classroom decorword wall

Here is my current classroom.

word wall Classroom decor
  • Alphabet - Depending on the letter formation you are responsible for teaching, it is important in a K-1 classroom to have an alphabet posted.  I like to have mine right in the front of the room above the board.  
Alphabet posters

Classroom decor
  • Math resources like a Number line and Number posters - I find that K-1 students need to see lots of different representations of numbers and how to use those to help count.  I hang up a classroom number line that I made that is color coded by tens so students can visually see each group of ten.  
Classroom decor

Number line

And here are the number posters I hang up.  This first classroom had a large space on the wall that I used.

Classroom decor

This is how I had them the last two years -- on part of a bulletin board in the front of the room.
Number posters Number posters

And for this upcoming year I have moved them below my board in the front of the room so children can come right up to them and count on them.
Number posters

  • Rules - I do like to create a classroom constitution in the beginning of the year, but inevitably these are the main rules we all come up with together anyway.  The reason I think it's important to post rules is because I refer to these often when there is a behavior problem.  When I speak with a student, I remind him/her of the rule that he/she is having a hard time with and what can be done to improve.  It's always easier when there is a visual to refer back to.  Remember though, you want your decor to be things you refer to and use, so if you post rules then try to refer to them from time to time so they have a purpose for being on your wall.
Classroom decor
  • Lunch count and/or attendance - This varies from school to school, but here is what my lunch chart looks like.  Students use clothes pins to make their choice for the day.  I do not have an attendance chart on the walls because I use the lunch chart as a way to quickly take attendance.
Lunch count chart
Star of the Week bulletin board

  • Space for student work - I don't have a bulletin board in my classroom for student work, but I do have them in the hallway.  Typically I will hang student work from the ceiling (if I'm allowed because of fire code) or on the windows in my current classroom. 

  • Other - Depending on the classroom I have put other things up on our walls if there was space and if it fit with my intentions, like this reading strategy bulletin board I had behind my guided reading table.  I referred to this often as we would read, so it was definitely useful.  Plus, my first graders LOVED the beanie babies!!!

Reading strategies bulletin board

I also had this Amazing Sight Word Race track up in one of my first grade classrooms that had a ton of bulletin boards (and only one tiny window, so that's probably why).  I used this as an incentive to learn sight words throughout the year but since it was going around the track multiple times, the kids didn't always know which lists the other students had mastered - they were only racing themselves.

Classroom decor

And finally, I do like to have at least one space to talk about kindness, character ed, or bullying.  I really like this poster paired with some Melonheadz kids so I have this in a little space on my wall in my classroom right now.  I know what you're thinking - I should have kept it as white space, and you might be right, but I really enjoy watching the kindergarteners throughout the year as they learn to read what this poster says and hopefully put it into practice.  

Kindness poster

I hope this was somewhat helpful for you as you are deciding what to decorate your room with.  If nothing else, it's always fun to see pictures of other classrooms and see how other teachers decorate.  Then you have to find a way to combine what you like with what you see and what you can afford and how much room you have on your walls.  What works for one teacher doesn't always work for another one, so I am just sharing what has worked for me over the years.  If you are interested in any of the decor you saw here, here a few links for you to check out:

Polka Dot classroom posters

Classroom decor

Sight word bulletin board, games, activities, worksheets

Happy decorating!!!

If you are looking for more tips for Back to School and Classroom organization.....check the next post in the series: 4 Tips for Organizing you Teacher Supplies.   Sign up to receive emails when I make a new blog post to see future posts about organization as well.

Get the Most Out of Your Planning Time

Hi there!  I'm here to share a little something that took me 12 years of teaching to fine tune.  It's not something you would necessarily think would take 12 years to figure out, but some of us are a little slower than others.  ;)

So what I'm talking about is this:

In my 12 years of teaching I have ALWAYS brought home work to do.  Every. single. day.  It's not that I haven't been also working during my planning period, but somehow I would spend that time going from one thing to the next, really only accomplishing small tasks while the bigger ones would need to be taken home.  I can't be the only one who falls victim to this.  

So this year it got to the point that I just couldn't be bringing so much home anymore.  Mostly because I would inevitably not have enough time to do it all and have to bring it home again the next day.  My school bags were getting to go for some nice rides in the car.  

Well, not anymore people!

This year I decided to make a schedule for myself in order to stay focused during my oh-so-short 40 minutes.  Here is how I decided to split up my week:
It's not groundbreaking - I know.  In fact, some first year teachers might have already figured this out.  But like I said, I tend to get distracted and really needed something to keep me focused.  

Here's a little more detail for my reasoning in my schedule.  

In my district we send out our copies to a copy center in the district and it takes about 2-3 days for them to come back.  I wanted to be sure they would be back in time so I send them out on Monday and then they are back by Thursday.  

Tuesdays is my day to grade papers.  I had to make one day for this because I really don't enjoy it and don't want to do it everyday.  

Wednesdays is my day for writing out my plans.  I can't do this too early in the week because I need to know how things are going in my current week to get a sense for what I can plan for the following week.  

Thursday is my day to catch up on parent contact or really any communication about students, whether it's paperwork or talking to service providers.  

And finally Friday I am ready to organize my papers and materials into my Monday through Friday bins for the following week.  I switch out my centers too.  

Don't get me wrong, I do still bring home work sometimes, especially when it's cutting out laminating, but this little schedule has helped so much.  

So now it's your turn to tell me how much smarter you are than me how you get the most out of your planning time.  What works for you?  I'd love to hear.  

Thanks for stopping by with me again.