Organizational Tips for Teachers from a Disorganized  Mess

Organizational Tips for Teachers from a Disorganized Mess

So I have never been an organized person…like never.

In grade one I wrote an autobiography (with tremendous help from the librarian) titled

‘I Have Nothing To Wear’.

It recounted my morning routine of my parents telling me to get ready and getting frustrated that I wasn’t ready and the title was my excuse while staring at a full closet of clothes.

In high school as part of my student council I had to take a leadership course. Our final project for achieving personal leadership goals was to improve my own organization. It helped but I’m still disorganized.

I now raise my 3 mini me’s … and manage to get us all out of the house in time for school.

Yet my life isn’t a complete mess. At least I don’t think it is.

There are a few strategies that I use to help keep me semi organized and on top of things even if I only pretend to be an organized person.

I felt this was important to share so that if you are a disorganized mess in hiding you can plan around it and learn to compensate for it.

Organize My Environment

I may have less than great time management skills but I can certainly organize my environment. This is one way that I help myself be more organized in other areas.

Colour code

I colour code my notebooks in my classroom. Language is yellow, math is blue, science is green etc. These also correspond with the colours of the corresponding curriculum documents.


I label things … all the things

This is more to do with knowing that inside my head is disorganized so my life on the outside needs to be more orderly.


I have a home for the extra papers and the clutter. In a classroom you always have extras but where do you store the extras. I have a large bin exclusively for extra papers. All my extra papers go in here.


Set timers…use alarms…

My phone is my life line and one of the most used features on my phone.

Think of tasks that happen each day.

Set a timer for this.

My attendance needs to be done at 9:10. So I have set my ringtone to match this time. My ring tone is Work by Rihanna (except I use the Kids Bob version…it is school after all)

I also use Peanut Butter Jelly Time to signal its time to clean up too. When you train your students to do certain things to music this will help them and you to stay organized


I make lists.

I have talked about this before but this still is a strategy that I find very helpful.

There are many different types of lists you can make. But the thing is…you list needs to be put in a place that you will see it.

I particularly like lists because they help me to prioritize what needs to be done.


By far the easiest way to get things done.

If something becomes part of my routine than I am far more easily to remember it.

First, so I don’t have to remember to change my daily agenda each day, I use a weekly schedule. This is posted all the time.

Next I make the calendar date a job for one of my students. This is then one less thing I need to do in the morning.

I also try to time table my week the same or at least the most consistent as possible. This helps me to establish a routine.

I try to do the same things each day of the week. This way I don’t have to remember it I just do it.

Tech in the Cloud

I take photos of things I need to remember.

I take photos of memos, emails and important dates than I can save them to drop box and easily find them on my phone.

I always have all my documents wherever I need them.

I can use Dropbox and Google drive to remember things for me. Or if I forget at least I know where to find it.

Everything I store on my computer is within those two services. I rarely save anything only on my computer. And if I do because all my products are Apple, I can rely on iCloud as a backup.

Secondly, I have set up google cloud print. This means that I can print to my classroom printer from any device, even my phone. This service allows me to make any printer a wireless printer when it is hooked up to a laptop connected to the internet. It also lets my students print to it from any device that is connected with their google account.


I like to plan.

This goes hand in hand with making lists.

In the moment I may not be organized but one of the ways I manage that fault is to plan for it.

I know day to day I am disorganized but I am also well planned. So this is something that I need to work out for myself to function

I make a plan and plan things down in detail. Then as things are falling apart I get help from other the help me carry out that plan.

Support System

You know something that I have noticed is many teachers have a strength in time management and organization.

Maybe this is why I see my own short comings more in this teaching environment. I am a big idea person, a creative, a plan for the future. I am not the detail person in any way.

But also for someone that struggles with knowing the details day to day. I am in an environment surrounded by others who are good at this. So I trade and work as a team.

Knowing my weaknesses and putting them out there has been a good thing for me. It trying to pretend to much that I can do all the things. When you are able to identify your own short comings and tell those around you about it, they rally around you.

This is what teamwork is about.

Have an honest conversation about what you are good at and do more of that. Allow others to do the parts of the job that you don’t do so well. But don’t hide it own it, say it and put it out there.

Age, experience and life so far have taught me that I am not perfect, and not everyone will like me. But putting your true authentic self out there and letting go of the pretending is liberating.

From To Do – To Done: 5 Strategies to Manage Teacher Overwhelm

From To Do – To Done: 5 Strategies to Manage Teacher Overwhelm

It’s an overwhelming time of the year. Well there really are many overwhelming times in the life of a teacher.

I myself have been searching for strategies to help me manage the overwhelming feelings I get around this time of year.

For me I never realize that I am being impacted until it hits me.

I was driving home to other week from the garden center and I couldn’t catch my breath. It was only shallow breaths that were occurring.

I told my husband and his guess was that I had had a panic attack. I don’t remember this happening before and don’t know for sure if this is what happened but it was enough for me to slow down and really get myself organized and together.

I am fortunate that I do not suffer from debilitating anxiety but as more is added to my own plate managing my mental health has become more of a concern.

When I feel overwhelmed I find there are a few strategies I use to help me manage this anxiety and stress so that I can get done what needs to get done.

I wanted to share this because teacher mental health is important and we need to acknowledge that behind every perfectly posed Instagram or Pinterest post is a teacher that is just as stressed out and overwhelmed as you might feel.

Make a List

When you feel overwhelmed make a list of all of the things you need to do. Brain dump everything you can think of.

Look at your list and number them one to five. One being things most important that you need to do now and 5 being things not so pressing or can be done last. To help prioritize this think about the consequences of what will happen if you don’t do something. This will help you to put things into perspective those are the things that.

From the things that you rate a 1 or 2 decide which one is your frog. Eat your frog first. Get it done and over with.

  • Grab a notebook to make your list
  • Ask for help
  • Rate and colour code your list
  • Eat your frog

Jump In

Stop procrastinating and get started on that list.

Many of us myself included will do just about anything to avoid the thing causing us stress.

Sometimes we just need to get started.

Set a timer for a manageable amount of time and work just for that length of time.

Amy Porterfield calls this Tiger Time. Find a time in your schedule that you can dedicate to to checking things off your to do list.

  • Make a Schedule
  • Stay Focused
  • Avoid distractions
  • Set limits
  • Reduce Disruptions

Work Out

Take some time and burn some energy.

Getting physical will burn some much needed energy resources.

This helps me to break my stress loop. I stop thinking about my to do list and can only focus on lifting those 25 pound weights above my head without them crashing into my face.

  • Schedule a date at the gym
  • Take a walk or run
  • Download a video
  • Close your rings

Change Thinking

They say stress is manufactured.

I hate that it is, but this means that we are in control of how we see the events in our life.

There are definitely stressors. Those are real but how we perceive them will shape how we react to them.

Listen to your voice telling you how you feel and actively change the story and time of your stressed out voice

Think of the size of the problem. Often the problem is not what we can control and we just need to think practically and not make our small problems big problems.

  • Gratitude Journal
  • Positive affirmations
  • Surround your self with positivity

Have Fun / Be Happy

Who or what makes you happy?

Don’t loose sight of this.

Do something everyday that makes you happy. Spend five minutes doing nothing. Meditate, do yoga, hide in your closet, go for a walk or take a bath.

Play with your kids or hang out with your friends and don’t feel guilty for this. Schedule this time for yourself.

  • Don’t feel guilty – taking care of you is important
  • Do what fills you up
  • Use it as a reward
Student Goal Boards

Student Goal Boards

What is a goal board?

A colourful picture of a classroom bulletin board that has student writing goals on it.  Writing goals are organized into categories that align with the writing process.  This would be used in Ignited Literacy or with Writer's Workshop.

It is a visual guide used for students that helps them keep track of what their individual goals are for a particular subject area.

On and off I have used goal board in my classroom. I first started using goal boards with Daily 5 and Cafe but quickly realized that what they presented just didn’t really fit with how I was teaching. It was like fitting a square peg into a round hole. It was good but just not right.

I have had student groups that have used it and student groups that have not.

As I move through the year with my students I realize that setting clear goals and making path to achieve these goals will be paramount to helping the achieve success.

So a goal board will be going up in my classroom very soon to help my students set and acheive goals.

Where are goal boards used?

Goal boards can be used in any subject matter but I do think that it is important to start small and stick with one subject area. This then can be moved into other curriculum areas as students are ready and get the hang of the whole process.

For my classroom I will be beginning with a goal board for writing. This is a huge focus of student voice and choice in my classroom and an area where students can begin to take on more ownership of their own learning. Together we have conferenced many times about their previous writing samples so they are familiar with where they need to go and what they need to do.

Why the goal board then?

Well the specific purpose of this is to make learning visible and to have a visible board that serves to hold students accountable and keep students organized.

If you have students that are

  • visual learners
  • struggle with organization
  • have executive functioning difficulties
  • struggle to respond to feedback to make improvements
  • want more autonomy and control over their learning

If you as a teacher want

  • your students to keep track of their own learning
  • students to be responsible for their own learning and progress
  • a simple visual way to track students (status of the class)
  • to show student voice and choice in your classroom
  • to not be the only one tracking all the data in your classroom

Yep that is exactly what I want and need. You?

What do you need to get started?

To make a goal board you need some of the following materials.

  1. bulletin board space or a tri-fold board
  2. coloured paper
  3. printer
  4. sticky notes

1st Choose your subject area.

I have picked writing as a good place to start.

Now look at different categories that students can work on within this subject area.

Math: Solving Problems, Choosing Strategies, Computational. If you follow the Ontario curriculum using the process expectations here would be great categories to follow. They could be combined and reduced to 4-5 categories as goal areas. Alternatively you could select the 4 most needed areas for students to focus on.

Science and Social Studies: Look at the overall expectations of your curriculum or the big ideas. These will be great goal areas or areas to focus on for a goal board. Alternatively you could use the categories of the achievement chart that include Knowledge and Understanding, Thinking, Communication, and Application.

Language: You can look at writing goals such breaking apart the writing process into sections and have students focus on one area specifically of the writing process. For reading you can look at areas such as fluency, decoding, and comprehension.

Use I Can Statements

For each of your goal categories, you will want to put them in student-friendly language.

Using I can statements to frame your specific goals will help to make these relevant to your students.

Think like a students and try to avoid teacher-speak. Unless you have made teachery phrases part of the language of your classroom then you should avoid putting these on the goal cards.

Track Student Progress

So you post the goal board and students look at it once and never again…

This is what I try to avoid. If I am putting it up then I want it to be used because I feel that it will be valuable.

So how do I do that?

It starts with routine. For a while now I will conference bi-weekly with students on what they are writing. Before they conference with me they fill out a feedback form. This form asks them for their goal. So in part they have been making goals all along. But this hasn’t been a focus.

With the goal board, we will physically identify which goal they are working on. We use a marker, like a sticky note, magnet, etc. that has the students name on it. This name card will go next to the goal that that student is working on. If you are lacking horizontal space this can also be done by putting an area below your goal cards for students to put their name. This will signal which of the goal areas they are focusing on instead of the individual goal card.

Ready to make your own?

Are you ready to try a goal board in your classroom?

If you would like to try the pre-made one that I have for my Ignited Literacy Language Program you can find that here

Report Cards Made Simpler

Are you writing your report cards right now?

Is it taking you forever?

Yep me too!!!

With a busy life and no extra time I need ways to make writing these simple.

I hear the nightmare stories of ineffective report card programs that only make this harder and more difficult than it needs to be.

I also here how teachers are writing these on their own software and think there must be an easier way.

Let me share some of the time saving hacks with you that help me to save time and just might help to save you time when writing your report cards.

Use Curriculum Checklists

There are some great checklists I found here on this site. They are a great way to keep track of what expectations you have covered. I have been keeping these in my plan book and check them off about once a month. This has saved me some time when trying to wrap my head around what I have done.

It has also helped to keep my assessment focused on curriculum.

Hanging File System Assessment Portfolios

Under my desk is a black crate with hanging files. Each student has a file and in here I have kept student assessments. I keep the originals and send home copies if needed. This is a simple assessment portfolio system that I use and can pull out student folders when K need to assess student work.

My google drive also has a great organization tool thanks to google classroom that allows me to see student work from any device. This means I take less work home in piles to have to sort through.

Don’t Mark Everything

I know you feel guilty if you don’t then you get hard on yourself for being behind in your marking.

I give you permission to let it go!

You don’t have to mark everything.

If you are behind pick and choose what will be the a good representation of their skill and mark that. Look at their other work but focus on 2-3 pieces to really mark and provide feedback for.

Also mark during the day. Conference with students talk about their learning journey and participate in small group teaching. Make notes of these small interactions with checklists. I like Idocieo for this digitally. Or just a class list works too.

Tracking sheets and feedback checklists help to make this quick and easy.

Err on the side of caution

Don’t mark too easy. Really look at exemplars from the ministry or EQAO, DRA or OWA. These exemplars will give you good examples of what a B should look like.

As teacher we tend to give B’s to our middle students and A’s to the ones who just get it. C’s go to those that try hard and then there are D’s…

Be fair but be honest and compare kids to examples. Consult with colleagues and reach out to other teachers.

Be careful of inflating marks for trying.

Use Student Evaluator

This program has saved my bacon every time I write reports.

Hours and hours of time has been saved by using this program. #notanad

The comment variety is great and beats my own repetitive comments that all sound the same after writing more than five comments.

Don’t Be Wordy

Less is more they say.

So don’t write a novel.

My simple formula is this.

Comment-Example-Next Step

I like to follow my unions lead here. Use your professional judgement here and write them how you feel they need to be written.

Use a comment bank

Many teacher will first write out there comments in word.

Please for all things teaching stop this.

This process is a time suck and you are wasting endless minutes scrolling, typing, copying and pasting.

Instead try Excel. Place your comments in a spreadsheet in a grid.

A few reasons…

Your report card program might be able to import excel files and upload these as a comment bank.

Two you can actually use formulas to input the correct comment for a student based on a grade you enter. HLOOKUP AND VLOOKUP formulas will do this for you depending on how you structure your comment bank.

It’s just a better built program for report cards and beats word hands down IMO.

You can also save time by stealing my own comment bank here.

Things you should try in your classroom…and some you shouldn’t!

It’s a new year so it’s a new you

You make a personal resolution but do you make a New Years teacher resolution?

What are some of the things you need to change, want to try, or what are you going to do more of.

Today I’ve compiled a list of New Years resolutions for teachers

  • Things you can try in your classroom
  • Things you can change to get more of a work life balance
  • Things you can change to boost engagement and motivation
  • Things that you need to stop doing right now.

Try Flexible Seating

I know if you haven’t already heard…flexible seating is this new trend…

But beyond it being a new trend, flexible seating works for me because it encourages movement, variety and comfortable work spaces.

It helps the fidgety student blend in. It helps students to dig in, get comfortable and work. It’s also a great carrot to give and take away when it is not used appropriately.

Flexible seating doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive.

I’m on Facebook often so I will check their marketplace for good deals. I scored my class couch for $20. My ottomans and Muskoka chairs came from Value Village and were recovered with my basic sewing skills. Other yoga mats and floor rugs came from Dollarama.

Try Google Classroom

If you have any tech or students with tech accommodations then google classroom is essential to the management of your digital organization.

I use this to organize and distribute all tech resources for my students simply and easily. It is intuitive and easy to use. Integrates seamlessly with other apps and google products.

With more and more tech coming into the classroom. Management of these devises is essential.

I still have traditional methods to hand things in but this supplements our resources and reduces some of the paper overwhelm that happens in most classrooms.

It also makes taking marking home simple. No huge marking bag. You can mark things on your phone or tablet.

Try Inquiry Everywhere

Inquiry isn’t just for science and social studies. Inquiry based teaching practices work everywhere.

Ask students to solve a real world problem in math and have them figure out what they will need to learn to make it possible.

Try Inquiry in language by giving more voice and choice in what they read, write, spell etc.

Let them write what they choose. Expire the writing forms that they are most interested in.

Try Inquiry in art? Give them a choice on a famous artist and have them explore this and learn more about this. Have them share what they learned by creating an art project that is inspired by the artist to show their style.

Do Less Planning

The person doing most of the talking is the one doing most of the learning

This quote relates well to this point. If you are doing all of the planning without input from your students. They are less engaged in the learning.

Encourage active involvement from your students in their learning.

If your students help to make the decisions about what they will learn, how they will learn, and how they will be assessed this reduces a lot of what you need to do to come up with creative and engaging activities.

The most engaging activities I have done are those that my student come up with themselves. They also don’t often need much in terms of supplies or extensive prep and resources.

Next time you are wondering what final project you will come up with…stop doing it yourself and simply ask your students to be involved in the decision.

Leave Early More Often

Up until this year I rarely left before 4:30. Want to know how much more I got done? Not much.

Three days a week I leave at 3:30-3:45 that is 15 to 30 mins after our end of day bell. Do I get less done?


I get no more done now than when I stayed until 4:30

However I have also come to realize that I waste a lot of time doing things that don’t ‘push the needle’. I would do things that were not essential to the most important things.

So leave earlier

Go to the gym, run an errand, grab coffee date with your friends, be with your own family.

Give Up More ControlHas anyone told you you might be a control freak?


Well then this one might be hard, but worth doing.

We are educating students. Students that want autonomy and choice. Not because they are entitled and privileged (even if many are) it is the world we live in. It is the only world our students know.

We can share our personal stories easily, connect with others, order food from just about anywhere and have all of our questions answered in a millisecond.

Yet when students come to school most of them are passive participants in their own learning.


Because they can’t handle it? Or because teachers are not comfortable with losing control of every little detail.

It takes some getting used to be able to just go with it. Push yourself beyond your comfort level. Disrupt your own thinking about what teaching and learning looks like. Adjust your expectations.

Build Better Relationships

How well do you know your students? How well do they know you?

Do you have a special unique ‘thing’ with them. I’m not talking about standing at your door and having a different handshake for each student (it’s great if you do but not necessary)

Do you know their strengths, hobbies, interests. Do you take the time to listen, watch and give positive attention to your students.

These times most often happen organically as students are getting ready, outside on duty, during transitions, or in those moments where you show them that you see them.

It is where you also show them you. Your quirky, silly, fun side.

They know there is get down to business you that has high expectations and is demanding. But there is also the silly side that encourages them to get ready for recess while singing crazy made up songs in the hallway. Or stops in the middle of a lesson for a 30 sec dance party. Because…well why not?

Stop Comparing to Someone Else’s Highlight Reel

It’s hard not to

We are bombarded every day with perfect classrooms, cute decor, shiny objects etc

But remember we are teachers. Unlike mommy bloggers teachers can’t share the blooper reel.

If I have a bad day I need to be careful about what I put out there. Because the cause of that bad day is someone’s child. So I choose not to share that part. Not because it doesn’t happen but because it’s not fair to that child if I do.

I also rarely post about my own children as we have made a conscience effort to keep some things private.

Trust me!

My day is never all rainbows and sunshine.

I don’t have everything together. You can’t see the team behind me that makes what I do possible.

But that team is there and I am here because I get it. Teaching is hard and if I can save you time and energy and stress by giving support, encouragement or resources then the time I put in it is worth it.

Helping Students Solve Math Problems

Are your students struggling to understand, work through and correctly solve word problems? Does the method you are currently using fall short of actually finishing the problem or only get your students to understand parts of the problem but not actually how to solve it.

This was the problem that I was facing with my students.

There are many problem-solving strategies out there but I found that they simply dealt with comprehending the problem.   Sort of like a finding Waldo within a word problem.  But one of the biggest problems was not finding the information but in communicating ideas and making a plan on how to solve the problem.  I needed more than simply circle….underline…and box some words inside a word problem.

Circle the Question

This is a key step was defining what the actual problem was and what it was asking a student to do.  This step was still important to me as I wanted students to understand what the question was asking them to do.

Hunt for the Clues

Unlike previous strategies I had used, I didn’t want students just to look for specific things within the story I wanted them to pull them out and list these out.  Moving beyond keyword hunts and other shortcut strategies.  I didn’t want students to just memorize the patterns that most problems follow but I wanted them to think critically about the facts that were presented inside the question.

This is also important as you begin to add irrelevant details to the questions being asked.

When real life problems are presented they are ways so nicely organized in a way that can be easily solved by looking for key words on a nice neat package.

Now this is where most solutions finish.

Assemble An Action Plan

One of the biggest difficulties is not identifying the first two steps but that students don’t know how to choose a strategy or make an action plan.

In this stage student combine two things.

First they need to ask themselves a few questions.

– How will the facts help me answer the question

– What do I not know

– What do I need to do first…second…etc

– What strategy do I need to use

I often find students get easily overwhelmed thinking they need to do everything at once. I often ask them “If you had a pool party would you grab a sandwich and jump in the pool at the same time?” This idea grosses them out. This works for this example. Students need to realize that there be multiple steps to solving a problem and that they should do these things one at a time.

It is important for them to make a plan of action to solve the problem one step at a time.

Solve the Problem

Another decision they need to make is how they will solve it.

Clearly and explicitly showing students different ways to solve problems is important to help them better understand strategies to use when solving problems.

  • Students will choose what operation to use
  • Students will also have to decide which strategy or algorithm they will use.
  • Finally students will need to show

This is also the time where the dreaded debate with students on showing work. This year I am not using the phrase “show your work” instead I am using “make your thinking visible”. I am finding that this is helping students to realize that I want all of the great math being done in their heads somehow represented or explained on paper.

Justify Your Answer

Finally students will summarize what they have done and answer the word problem by explaining what their answer is in the context of the problem.

This is a statement of their answer using the keywords from the question.

I use this strategy regularly in my classroom with students to remind them of the steps they can follow when solving a problem.

Want to try it for yourself?

Try it here