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Character Education

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Digital Learning

Classroom Organization

OK, so I have known about this post for a few weeks now, and just have not been able to write it. I'm linking it up with my wonderful "Sharing is Caring" blogging buddies, and yet I have never been able to get past the title. Classroom Organization. Organization.

Organization. My whole life is a "before" example. What on earth would make me think that I have any tips to share with teachers about getting organized? Nothing. So I have written nothing so far, and today is the day I promised my friends that we would link up. Yikes!

The picture above? It's how I imagine my life: neat and tidy rows of rainbow colored containers, organized, accessible, and beautiful. The picture below? Just another example of how it really is. This is just one of the countless boxes I brought home from school when I retired a year ago. I go through a box or two every week and try to discard or give away as much as possible, but it's really, really hard.

Trash, you say? Get rid of it all? Sorry. Can't. Every box holds a treasure. At least one and sometimes more. Here are a few that I can not bear to part with. Ever.

A Valentine's quilt made for me by the sweet 4th graders in my last class ever. Look at how much some of them wrote!

A hand-painted (hand. painted.) brick. This was made for me by a very special mom. She didn't trust me at first with her very special child, and soon changed her opinion. She painted every single little line on there herself. Every line. I love, love, love her and I love her son. Isn't it the cutest thing ever? You know you want one!

A brick retrieved for me by a mom who became a special and lifelong friend. She went to the site of our beloved school where I had taught for 24 years and captured this brick from the exact space where my old classroom once stood in all its disorganized glory. She wrapped it and brought it to my retirement party. A brick from the birthplace of Rainbow City. Discard? No way! I once heard an overweight clothing designer on a shopping channel advise that, "If you can't lose it, decorate it!" Well, I can't lose this brick. Not ever. Notice the fairy garden decorations I've placed around it. Hey, I'm trying! The brick stays. It stays right there. Do. not. touch. it.

I have recently read a wonderful, inspirational book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, an expert in letting go of stuff. I thought she must have written the book just for me. I love ALL my stuff. Marie tells us to let each item know that we have loved it, thank it for its service to us, and let it go. I have tried it with cleaning out my closets. (Yes, plural. Closets.) It sort of works. I wasn't in love with most of the clothes anyway. My friend takes them from me and makes sure they all find new and good homes. But Marie also advises that if an item brings you joy, keep it.

In every box I unpack, I find things that bring me joy. I put them gently into another box and stash them in the basement. Or decorate my living room with them. Depends on how much in love I am.

Are you still with me? "What?" you say. "How can this disorganized person who can't let go of things give me advice on classroom organization?" Here's how:

As a teacher, I always had (and probably still have) a reputation for caring much more about the kids than about maintaining a neat and orderly room. We put our hands on everything, dug in, explored, got messy, and didn't always do the best job of cleaning up. I did know however, especially in recent years with all the data collection and performance evaluations tied to whether you can find stuff and PROVE IT, that some kind of organization is necessary. The open classroom, whole language, and huge integrated, open-ended project based learning are gone. (But not for long, heh-heh. If you've been teaching for awhile you know that they will all be back with new names and hordes of educators acting all like they just discovered it! Project based learning is already back. The rest will cycle around again. Wait. You'll see!)

Anyway, organization: Necessary, but I don't believe in overdoing it! That should be obvious by now!
The single best tool that I have ever found for organization is BINDERS! I wish I could put my clothes and shoes into binders. Shoes. Oh my. We will not even go there in today's post!

I participated for several years in a little program for interventions called ICT, where the classroom teacher invites another trained teacher into their room for coaching and support in providing interventions to kids who need them. Our meetings always happened at lunch time. After teaching nonstop all morning with no bathroom break, I needed to be able to go to the bathroom before that meeting rather than trying to root for the materials somewhere on my disorganized desk. So I designed binder covers and dividers to help me organize my handout materials, data, and training manuals. I stood those two binders up in a rack on my desk, and could grab them in a second on my way back from the bathroom, peeling kids off of my arms as I went to the lunchtime meeting. (Peeling kids - you know! No explanation needed. Right?)

Before long, everyone on my ICT team wanted binders like mine. I made them for the whole team. You can get them now in Rainbow City Learning in two versions, customizable by me for you, and just for ICT. (Just please buy extra licenses if you make them for your whole team. They're copyrighted. TIA,)

I got all caught up in the system for reading and writing workshop practiced by a couple of lively and adorable sisters a few years back, purchased their books, and bought a subscription to their online system for keeping track of conference data when I'd meet with students. This soon became unwieldy for me, especially when I needed to show a parent or my principal a piece of data about a kid. I made up a system that works for me, tested it for three years in my classroom, and it works! You can have one too! Easy to set up, and easy-peasy to find data when you need it!


Teacher Evals. Please! Can we please talk about those? What a nightmare for the first few. New principal. New system. I show up expecting my usual friendly post-observation chat on the awesomeness of me as an award-winning, experienced educator and the particular magic I had woven into the lesson that was recently observed, and... BAM! I get hit with Quadrant 3, data point 56, and the rubric for whatever little teaching point I was only now about to become aware of. WHAT?!?
Reminding my principal that I was Teacher of the Year in our district and county, and in a six state radius, and that my portrait hangs on the wall in the school board meeting room did not prove to be particularly helpful in our consultation about my rating. Hmmmm... Sigh......

Fast forward to the next post-observation meeting, me with professional looking binder in hand containing data, lessons, photos, samples of kids' work and growth, and specific narratives about how I rank in each lovely little quadrant. When my principal's pencil hovered over a less than desirable ranking in a particular area, I interrupted with, "Let's have a look at this section." Big improvement in scores. No one needed to be reminded of my award-winning status. We had hard evidence in front of us. Yay! Do not start the new school year without an evaluation binder. I know you'll love this one. If you don't, let me design one for you! Don't go to your eval. meeting without evidence in hand! Be organized! (Giant smile and blowing kisses to you here!)

And finally, my teaching girlfriend in the room next door and I got so far into the life-changing magic of using binders (apologies to Marie) that I designed a set of the Cutest Binder Covers Ever so we could file lessons and handouts for all subjects inside. They looked so pretty on our desks! Love!

So my tip for classroom organization for this year is to USE BINDERS! Use them for everything! And, oh yeah, try not to take too much stuff home. It's too hard to let go!

For more helpful tips on classroom organization, please join my super-organized pals in the Sharing is Caring Group: Teacher bloggers bringing great ideas to your classroom!


  1. I love that you've kept those treasures. I have a few piece of "garden art" from past students. I'll never get rid of it. So many memories. Thanks for the great post.

  2. I totally agree. I cannot love without my binders. I have one for everything! Great post!

  3. I love this post, Retta! It's for all the people (like me) who don't fit into the perfect Pinterest-organized world. I almost did not write one because, to put it in a positive light, I perhaps excel in creativity over organization. Then it occurred to me...I organize my classroom with songs!! I am going to try to take binders more seriously now. If you can do it, I can too!

  4. I so agree with you about binders. I hate clutter and this is the perfect way to keep things organized. I'm also for getting rid of things if they're no longer used. Wonderful post.

  5. I laughed and nodded vigorously while reading your post! I too have saved all kinds of school treasures! What a great idea for the evaluation binder. I love that! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Retta,
    I love your treasures...I am sure they bring you fond memories of so many lives you have touched...

  7. Retta,
    I love your binders...they look like boxes almost in the picture..Where did you get them?

    1. Hi Kim!
      The photo is a stock photo that I purchased, but really any 4 inch binder will stand up like that and give you a box-like effect. If you become a binder addict as I am, though, I've found some amazing ones on Zazzle and Also, I have really brightly colored ones from Avery at Office Max( heavy duty ones), and have even found some brightly colored, sturdy ones at Walmart. Try searching for "legal binders with finger hole" if you like the look of the spines in the photo.
      Good luck!

  8. Great idea with the binders. I actually use binders at home to keep myself organized. I also wish I could put my clothes and shoes in one! I wouldn't be able to throw out those treasures either. They are wonderful. My son has been bringing home so much stuff, though, I have to do something. So, I've decided to take pictures of it all, then make photo books. That way, we can "keep" it without keeping it all.

  9. Loved your post, as I am, shall we say, "organizationally challenged"! I have already started a binder where I keep a copy of whatever each class did that day (worksheet, notes from board, activity summary etc). Makes it a bit easier when a parent asks for homework for a student who has been absent for 5 days....