Hi, my name is Erin and I like to shove stuff in cabinets to make my summer start faster. It's true. Even with all the good intentions in the world, when it comes down to those final moments before the warmth of the summer sun shines down in glorious beams of pure joy, I look around at all the items scattered around in my classroom and inevitably think,
"This looks like a task for my future self."
I should also share that I am a procrastinator of the highest degree when it comes to mundane tasks that seem like they'll take too much time... especially if summer is just moments away. After years of being considered a temporary teacher and having to pack up my classroom and store it in my garage each summer, I felt a sort of bliss the first time I was able to store my items in my classroom and pull them back out before school started. Along with that, I picked up the habit of putting off for August what I could do in May.
It's kind of like cleaning your house before you go on vacation. We all know how nice it is to come back to a clean home, rather than one that shouts "Hey, welcome back to reality! You were really exhausted before you left, but guess what?! These piles of laundry are still here!" But still, it's easy to be tempted, so I've put together ten quick and simple organization tasks that will get you prepared for next school year before the final bell rings.
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1. START YOUR LIST
I am a total fan of the Google Doc. I start up a document in May and title it something simple like "2021-2022 Ideas." On it, I list my current thoughts on the following topics:
Start up activities
Back To School Night/Meet the Teacher
Subject area lessons to start the year
To Do List
The nice thing about a Google Doc is that you can easily pull it up year after year and make edits to it as your curriculum and teaching style changes. I also love that you can link to products, blog posts, Pinterest pics, and resources and everything is in one place... easy to find when you're ready to start thinking about school again.
2. RECORD WHAT WORKED WELL
I always make an end of the year slide show for my kids. As I take pictures and videos throughout the year, I save them to a folder on my phone then upload them all in iPhoto and make a simple slideshow. What I love seeing is how students respond to everything we've done. It's also a reminder to me of what worked well. What made my day easier? What created a positive classroom culture? What must I do again next year? Did the timing of a unit hit at just the right time of year? Was there a specific activity that was especially impactful? Then I jot it down before it has the opportunity to drift away over those relaxing summer days.
I also use a digital planner. As the school year winds down, I start looking back through the year and adding links and additional "notes" (which I am usually too busy to do when I am actually teaching). Next year, I'll be able to check my pacing and have direct access to my favorite resources.
If you're a paper planner person, grab some post its and mark up that well-loved book! I also tend to make comments on the inner cover of my file folders as I file papers away throughout the school year and then again at the end of the year. Regardless of the type of organization system you have, your future self will be so thankful that you've dropped yourself a few hints.
3. REFLECT ON WHAT NEEDS TWEAKING
In the same vein of recording what worked well, this time of year is always a good time to reflect on what could be revamped? Was your classroom management system too cumbersome? Do you need a new way of organizing and collecting missing and late assignments? Did certain concepts just not click? Did your teaching feel "clunky" in any specific subject matter? Record your thoughts now, because as soon as the bliss of summer rolls in sometimes those challenges are trickier to remember.
This reflective process is also a great way to set some "learning goals" for yourself for summer. Maybe it will provide some focus for your personal PD projects (see step 10). Personally, I find the process of looking back at the year an pinpointing areas for improvement totally refreshing. It reminds me of one of the things I love most about our career... we have the opportunity to start fresh each school year. There will be another set of kids ready and waiting come August and we get the opportunity to make our classroom even more awesome.
4. TAKE STOCK OF SUPPLIES
Simple enough, right? As a ten-year teacher, I've finally built up a pretty good stock pile of supplies for my classroom, but I still like to write down a list of things that I can be looking for during the summer. Amazon prime day anyone?! Super awesome deal on glue sticks? Always buy. Fresh sets of watercolors on sale? Grab them!
I'm not going to harp on this one... just make a list. Sometimes its hard to remember what's behind those cabinet doors and it might be helpful to make some purchases gradually over the course of the summer as opposed to the week before school starts when your bank account may be hitting its lowest point of the year.
5. RECORD WHAT RESOURCES WOULD BE HELPFUL
Are there resources you wish you had to make your life easier? Do you wish you had a digital planner? Would morning work or bell ringers be a good addition to your day? Jot down some ideas that would de-stress your planning period. You can keep an eye out for them over summer and perhaps add them to a wishlist so you can just click "Add to Checkout" (especially when a summer sale kicks in).
6. ORGANIZE YOUR FILES
No joke, just days ago, I found a stack of papers shoved in the back of a closet that was "end of the year filing" from THREE YEARS AGO. Hello storage space that would be much better used for actual supplies! Take ten minutes chunks of time and file as many of those bad boys as you can... then move onto other things because, well, because it's boring. Break the task into smaller chunks to make it seem like less of a mountain to climb.
This is also a great time of year to organize your digital files. Learn the power of making Folders inside Folders inside Folders (Mac Tutorial, PC Tutorial). I have one folder on my desktop for each of the following:
To Be Filed
I like to keep these folders right on my desktop, but you could also lump them all into one "umbrella folder" on your desktop if you like things to look more streamlined. If you teach (or have taught) multiple grade levels, you could make a folder for each grade level and put everything else inside.
Within the folders, you can make another folder for each unit, and within that unit, you could even make folders for each lesson. Place documents and samples of resources in the folder. Setting up the structure of the system will take the most time, but then you're all set! Each time you download a new document, save it to the appropriate location instead of cluttering your desktop. I recommend also having a "To Be Filed" Folder that you can send things to, then revisit at another time to move files (drag and drop) from when you have time.
7. MAKE A "BACK TO SCHOOL" COPY BOX
We all have documents that we know we're going to use during that first week of school... perhaps a welcome back letter, copies of your "getting to know you activities," placement tests? Heck, just last week I saw our kindergarten teacher prepping next year's homework folders. I got this idea from the fabulous Miss DeCarbo (who you NEED to be following... go ahead, I'll wait). She makes copies of everything she is 100% positive she will use in the fall.
Doesn't that sound refreshing?! It's like a treat you're providing for your future self, instead of another task. Do you parents who volunteer in your copy room? I'm envisioning a very full box of papers wrapped up like a little present for fall.
8. "KONMARI" YOUR CLASSROOM
You know who Marie Kondo is, right? If not, I highly recommend "Tidying Up" as a binge-worthy summer watch.
So, let me ask you this... Do those 42 teacher mugs #sparkjoy? How about the magazine rack that you grabbed because it was on clearance and you've never used once? And what about those old bulletin board letters that have staple holes in them that you haven't used in at least two years? Scraps of construction paper, anyone?
By trade, teachers tend to be hoarders. We know that everything has purpose and we have limited supply budgets. I get it. I am sure that 6-yard length of ratty purple yarn could be put to good use, but I want you to think about this... When did you get it? And when did you last put it to good use?
Now, I 'll be the first to admit that I don't like to just throw things away, but here are a few things you can do with those extra items:
Create a craft bin/maker space with remnant materials
Hand off surplus supplies to newbie teachers... my first year, a teacher in my grade level retired and gifted me her classroom library. Every time I see a student reading one of her books, I am so grateful for her generosity.
Put a box in the staff lounge for others to grab from.
Save some materials such as pencil cups, posters, etc... for teachers you know might be joining your team at the last minute or long term subs. Again, we all know how limited cash flow is at the beginning of the school year and this could be a lifesaver for a newbie teacher.
Have flexible seating options, shelves, or other big items you no longer want to use in your classroom? Make some cash by putting them on Facebook Marketplace or a similar app. My guess is there is another teacher out there looking for just the items you have.
Do you have "Teacher Books" that you've read, but really don't use as a reference anymore? Check with your team to see if they are interested, or you can post them to ebay or another seller's site. Personally, I buy a lot of my books from Amazon and I've had a lot of success "trading in" books with them. Check it out!
Donate extra mugs to the teacher's lounge supply, Goodwill, or other donation opportunity.
Start an "Up For Grabs" Google Doc and share it with the staff. Encourage your teammates to add anything from excess glue sticks (not that anyone would ever have those) to larger items like rocking chairs and podiums that people may be hoping to purge before the end of the year. Maybe even offer to make a trip to the Salvation Army with larger items that don't get picked up.
Extra copies of paper products? Save some for scratch paper... the rest hits the recycle bin.
9. CLASSROOM THEME REFRESH?
Are you feeling a classroom refresh coming this summer? Personally, I tend to live with a "theme" for about two years, then I get the itch to change things up. Typically, I try to fill my classroom with items in neutral colors (mostly black and white), then I add in pops of color for a supporting role. This makes it easier to switch things up when I'm feeling antsy.
In my middle school classrooms, I usually go for bright neon tones, and my elementary classrooms have had more of a kitschy "theme" to them. Most recently, my classroom has had a "Big Apple" NYC theme, complete with the New York skyline covering the back wall. Even though I've loved the look, I want to create something a little more "laid back" for next year.
One thing I do always consider are my students. I want all students to feel like our room is OUR room and that includes each individual that walks into the room each day... not just me. Yes, I love sparkles, I love pink, I love ultra-feminine touches, but not all of my students will. In my opinion, a classroom's style should include a bit of the teacher's personality, but really be filled with opportunity for the students to make the space theirs with work samples, anchor charts, encouraging words, etc...
If I decorated my room in soft pink florals (that I might decorate my personal office with, if I had a personal office), my sixth grade Fortnite-obsessed students might walk into my room the first day and have a hard time considering the room as "theirs." Just my two cents...
If you're in a primary classroom, themes are everything! My daughter's 1st grade classroom had monkey's everywhere and they earned "banana chips" that they turned in for prize raffles. Every kid loves it! I feel like themes work really well for our little guys. But what should you do with all those monkey items that you spent plenty of hard earned cash on, if you're itching for a refresh? Well, just like the suggestions for #8 above, I recommend getting a filling a big bag and saving it for newbie teachers, long term subs, or post it to an app like Facebook Marketplace. There will be a lot of new hires that will happen over the summer that will be looking for ways to fill their classrooms. A "theme in a bag" could be exactly what their looking for!
10. SET YOUR "PERSONAL PD" FOR THE SUMMER
As an elementary teacher, I often feel like that phrase "jack of all trades, master of none" sneaks into my mindset when I think of everything I want to change and improve in as an educator. I am GREAT at buying teacher PD books... but do I ever have the time to study them and plan to put them into practice? During the school year, I usually end up flipping through pages, searching Pinterest for quick tips that are easily digestible and are minor improvements that just make life easier in some way.
A few years ago, I starting setting a "Summer Personal PD" goal. Focusing on one area to improve allows for time to deep-dive into a specific area whether it be classroom management, guided reading for upper grades, math talks, morning meetings, or data analysis. It has benefitted me to set one goal and if there's time for a second topic, well, that's just icing on the 'cake of inspiration'!
This summer, I plan on finally sinking my teeth into these Reading Strategies and Writing Strategies books by Jennifer Serravallo. I can't wait to finish up Go See the Principal by Gerry Brooks (a hilariously accurate perspective of schooling with tips for parents, teachers, and administrators) and I am going to re-read Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire by Rafe Esquith, one of my favorite teacher books of all time.
As the year comes to a close, I hope you find small moments for reflection and enjoy a summer filled with relaxation and rejuvenation.