It’s a new year! Whilst you are busy making resolutions about your health, diet, food, and spending habits, consider your workplace. You probably spend more time at work than at home, and if your classroom clutter is getting you down then this challenge is for you!
(Disclosure: Some of links below are affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.)
The Classroom De-Clutter Challenge consists of 25 tasks that you can spread over as many weeks as you want to try and organize your classroom BEFORE the end of the school year. Most tasks should take one hour, although depending on your clutter, they could take longer! Some do need longer, and would be better achieved on a workday. Here is a breakdown of the tasks. I have a free checklist for you to download when you sign up for our newsletter that you can use to track your progress. One or two tasks a week and you will be finished by summer! Adapt it to your own needs and share your successes here!
Set up a Dream Reading Table
Quickest job – great place to start and feel a sense of accomplishment. Yours might already look great, but by mid-year my guided reading/small group teaching table was a mess. These Storex Classroom Teaching Caddies are a great way of keeping books, pointers and pencils contained in one spot. Get your Clorox wipes and sanitize that desk, chairs and supply containers. Be honest when you are clearing – do you need six post-it note pads? Won’t one suffice? Put the others in your desk drawer. Spoiler Alert: We’re dealing with your desk later.
Set Up Your Coffee Station
Whether you have a coffee pot, Keurig, kettle, this fabulous lunch warmer or microwave, I am sure you have an area in your classroom where you grab a coffee, store your lunch and keep your snacks. Take 30 minutes to wipe it down, find some pretty storage canisters and arrange it so it makes you smile. Don’t feel guilty for making one spot of your classroom all about you. Add a picture, flowers or a quote. You spend time here every day – make it a place of quick respite!
Clear Out a File Cabinet Drawer (x4)
Depending on how many distractions you’ll succumb to and whether you inherited the file cabinet from a teacher who kept everything from when she started teaching in 1981, this could take anywhere from an hour to half a day. Shut your classroom door, decide what you want to be in that drawer, and work quickly, emptying the drawer first and organizing into trash and sort piles.
Warning: only attempt one drawer at a time.
Attack the Posters
Not so much de-cluttering as dealing with shabbiness. Those three words that are half hanging of the word wall? Glue those suckers back. The five words that have fallen behind the tech cart? Dig them out and get them back up on the word wall. If you don’t take care of the word wall, why should your students think it is an important resource? Same with any posters, number cards, labels, ‘I can’ statements and alphabet charts. Is it time to repair or replace? Lose them or use them. Just don’t leave them half-hanging.
Update Your Parent Contact Information
By mid-year two students have left and three have joined. Two children go home a different way, and one has moved house. Contact emails and telephone numbers change. Chances are all this information is now scribbled on post-it notes or the old information sheets are scratched out and you have to decipher the new information any time you need it. Take an hour to sit down and reorganize this information. I liked to put mine on index cards and secure with a metal ring. I also like the app scannable for taking photos of pupil data sheets – the app crops and cleans them up and they are ready for you to store on your phone. Check out this blog post for the 5 apps you should be using.
Organize your Arts and Crafts Storage System
This could be a big one, so make sure you set plenty of time aside. Track down all your arts and supplies. Hint: they won’t be in one central location. Buttons will be in your desk drawer. Glue will be in several locations, including on the tech cart. Popsicle sticks will be in one cabinet, googly eyes will be in a tub. Yarn will be on the highest shelf in the classroom and the glue gun will be on top of the cabinets where you can’t reach without violating health and safety rules and standing on a chair. Take a deep breath. My feeling is that all arts and crafts supplies (other than construction, writing and craft papers – I will get to them next) need to be in a relatively spacious cabinet with shelves. You need labeled shoe boxes or containers and you will need time to go through everything and organize it so that you can find everything when you need it. I think this is a workday job.
Organize Construction Paper
Arrgh. You open the cabinet because you need one piece of black paper only to find it is at the bottom of the pile. You pull on it and all the other pieces come tumbling out and in your frustration you throw everything back in and slam the door shut, only it won’t stay shut because a piece of forest green is sticking out from the ‘stack’ at a strange angle. Read this ingenious tip on how to organize your construction paper and keep your sanity.
Clear one Cabinet, Shelf or Big Tub (x as many as you have)
Whatever main storage you have, do one part at a time. Decide what you want that storage space to hold, keep your eye on the ball and don’t lose sight of your end goal.
Clear Your Desk Top
Much like your reading table, this can be completed quickly. Keep an in-tray on your desk that you promise to clear out every night before you go home. Maybe post it notes and a pencil jar. That’s it. You need the rest of the space so you can actually work on your plan book or lap top. Like your coffee station, this is your space, it’s where ideally you would sit after school and get planning done. Make it somewhere you want to be, but keep it minimal.
Organize a Desk Drawer (x3)
Be ruthless. How many black fine tip markers do you need? I know supplies are scarce and we feel we need to squirrel things away while we can, but extra markers, pens, pencils, brads and liquid paper need their own storage areas and it should not be your desk. Find another spot – maybe your arts and crafts storage cabinet, and use your desk for things you need on a daily basis – as a place to store your plans and books you are using this week.
Teacher Bookcase Shelves (x3)
I had a bookcase behind my desk in every classroom I ever taught in, full of teacher manuals, professional development notebooks and outdated teaching ideas. I never referred to it. Take a good hard look. Talk to your principal about what you should do with outdated manuals and if s/he gives you the go-ahead, donate them to Goodwill. A homeschooling parent might love them. Keep only the current handbooks and manuals there (and be honest, if they are just dust trappers, then they are wasting space).
By this I mean textbooks and consumables. I had nowhere to keep them and I ended up storing them in the kid’s cubbies. If that’s all you have got, then go for it, but make sure that the same books and series are together. And get the low-down on what to do with the old textbooks – don’t let anyone tell you that they are a great resource if you haven’t used them. 1999 was 20 years ago. Donate and get rid.
Dry erase boards, glue sticks, markers, whatever your students share and have access to need to be sorted, organized, labeled and stored. This is a great activity for those rainy recess days – students are ruthless at sorting bad supplies from the good.
Clear your teaching area
Whether you teach your whole groups from a rocking chair next to the easel on the carpet area, or up by the white board next to the smartboard or projector, chances are there are sentence strips, magnets, dry erase markers that do not work, papers and books that need to be put back home. It’ll only take half an hour if you stay focused.
Clean Your Tech Area
This is one of the few de-cluttering tasks that volunteer parents can do, because it is more cleaning than sorting. I bet every time you reach to turn on the projection system you wrinkle your nose at the dust and debris that has settled there. Roll your sleeves up and get dusting. Grab any strange cables that belong nowhere and tell your tech person that if they don’t know what they are for they are going in a plastic tub that they can keep in their space. Sanitize mouse pads, wipe down screens and use the squirty air canister thingy to blow away dust from between letters on the keyboards.
Take Charge of Your Digital Space
I would need at least half a day for this because I am so bad at just saving everything to ‘My Documents’ instead of spending a few extra moments find the right folder to save it to. Make new folders on your computer and sort your documents into them. Whether by subject, month or standard, whatever works for you is the best way. Then back everything up on the cloud and on a flash drive.
Don’t forget to download you checklist here. Happy de-cluttering!