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

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.

Gradual Release of Responsibility

Gradual Release of Responsibility

How do you get kids to learn?

Learning happens gradually over time. We know that content that is revisited over time has a much larger impact over content that is delivered in a ‘one and done’ style.

So what does it mean to gradually release responsibility.

This means that we are moving students from needing us to not needing us. We are moving them to independent tasks.

So what does this look like in the classroom.

Well it looks at 4 different levels of support that you move students through to teach a concept.

It means that we don’t expect students to do anything independently before we get them to do it with us. Now that doesn’t mean they don’t try. But it does mean that we don’t assess them until we can get work them through the learning.

The four different levels are

  1. Modelled teaching
  2. Shared learning
  3. Guided learning
  4. Independent learning.

So what does this look like in the classroom?

Modelled Teaching

In this phase students are introduced to learning about something.

The teacher is teaching the students are watching. There is a lot of talking through what you are doing to make your thinking visible. This is like show and tell of teaching.

The teacher has 90% of the control over the learning.

In Writing – you are walking them through how you do something. You show them and talk them through your thought process.

In reading you are doing the reading. You are sharing the thinking. You are the only one with the book.

In math – you are showing students how you do something you are making your thinking visible. Say it, show it, do it live.

Shared Learning

In this type of learning you are learning along side your students the teacher is less in control.

You may lead the learning but the students have all of the materials in front of them.

They are starting to use this as a way to follow along as you do it with them. You ask them for more input as this is less of a passive experience.

Think of this as a 60/40 split. Where the teacher is still doing most of the heavy lifting. Teachers create anchor charts and learning objectives here for students to follow.

In Writing – you may write together. Whole group teacher asks for input but leads the discussion. More interactive with students.

In reading – everyone has a copy of the text and you work though it together. You ask questions and get answers but the teacher is still leading.

In math – you may work through a problem together. Students share what they learned and you help to walk them through the learning.

Guided Learning

This is small group learning

Targeted instruction

Easy assessment opportunities.

More work done here by student.

Teacher as a guide not a leader.

Independent Learning

Student on their own without support.

Students lean on examples and previous support

Use anchor charts from previous lessons.

Here is where you assess

Can they apply what they have learned to do as you ask.

Students also do not pass through this in a straight path. Sometimes it is two steps forward and one step back.

This is why time is your friends and revisiting concepts over and over helps

Give small goals and take baby steps.

What is driving you crazy focus on that. Do that. Fix that. Show them how, do it together, let them try.

Just don’t do too much for them.

Students will not do it all all at once. It will be one step at a time.

6 Routines You Need For Inquiry

6 Routines You Need For Inquiry

As we think ahead to back to school we begin to plan out the rules, routines that are essential to set us all up for success.

But what routines are essential to teach at the beginning of the year that will set you up for success if you plan to use inquiry in your classroom.

Calls For Action

Throughout our day we need to get the attention of our class. These type of routines are signals. Some of the signals I need to establish include

  • Signal for attention
  • Transition signal
  • Gathering space
  • End of day signal
  • Signal for Attention

  • These are words, sounds or phrases that signal to my class with little input from me what to do next.
  • For years I have used the call and response routine of CLASS-YES. When I need the attention of my whole class and I need them to stop, look, and listen I use this call out.
  • When I say CLASS CLASS my student s respond with YES YES. Now however I say class class is how they respond yes yes so to keep it interesting I say it in a variety of ways….like underwater.
  • There are so many phrases that can be used. So use what works for you and your personality. What matters is that you are consistent that when you call out students stop, look and listen quietly. This routine is practiced very often in my first weeks of school.
  • Honestly it is a routine that is constantly reviewed.
  • Transition Signal

  • Sometimes this one is overlooked and the previous call and response is used for both.
  • What I have found is that having separate signals for these events is important.
  • Think of the main transitions that you may have in a day. If you have daily tasks that require a series of steps to complete using a separate transition signal will help with this often chaotic time.
    Get to work quickly
    Join me on the carpet
    Move between centres
    Line up at the door
    Home time

All of these transitions happen daily in my classroom so to have a plan on how we transition and what I expect makes these times more structured.

To get my students to get to work quickly I will often use a key phrase that is recognizable with my students. We discuss this signal and practice this over and over. This phrase is never the same year to year.

  • Minds on? Go on
  • And go…
  • 5…4…3…2…1…go!
  • Whatever you use it really doesn’t matter. Just practice and consistency.
  • To get my students to gather I love setting a timer for their work period. At the end of the timer I love to play an alarm that is usually meant to help people wake up. A sound that starts softly and builds is a great way to ease people into this transition.
  • When the sound is done all students should be on the carpet or gathering space. Because we have knowledge building circles frequently having a gathering place routine is essential.
  • Plus it save me a lot of instructional time not having to explain what I want done every single time.
  • Sometimes we are working in centres or different learning tasks. When I want student to move from one to another it is helpful to have another sound for this too. A quick beep signal works great here.
  • Finally home time is another routine that we need to have a routine to make sure we get it all done.
  • Come up with a little saying for your students that reminds them of what to do. Or even try an acronym. What are the tasks they need to do.

Well that spells out FACT so try to come up with a cute saying. “It’s home time that’s a FACT” when they hear this they know what to do.

Another phrase that could work is “Tidy, Tools, Table, Chairs”

They practice it, you review it, you rehearse it, you time it, you do it again.

These routines are tedious but so worth your sanity in the end.

Teachers Busy Routine

Other routines you can practice involve planning with your students what to do when the teacher is busy.

You could use cups to signal that help is needed.

You could use a clip system that students sign up for help and you will get to them.

Or you could implement an ask 3 before me system with student leaders helping out.

I personally use the ask three before me. I want them first to solve their own problems followed by asking me for help.

Many teachers signal to students that they are off limits with a light or sign. This is a great idea if you have a class that regularity lines up wherever you are.

Make sure however that you talk to students about this and explain that you want them to build their own problem solving skills. Explain to them why you are unavailable and be aware of certain personalities that will struggle with this. Being too black and white or rigid with this rule can be quite problematic.


Movement is chaos! Students need to be still and quiet….

Well we are all recovering control freaks so let’s work together to let this one go a bit.

Movement is okay

But let’s teach them how.

When should you move, why should you move, and how you should move.

These are all important questions to ask students when planning out this routine.

I like to start by playing the what-if game. You know the “but what if I have to…?

Well work through these questions. Lay it all out there.

  • Think about how students enter the classroom
  • Where do they sharpen pencils
  • Where do they grab and plug in their tech
  • How do the get from one place to another.
  • All major traffic areas should have 2-3 feet in between them for a walkway. Try to avoid the bottle neck that happens in classroom where you have placed things in inconvenient places.
  • Also try to avoid placing high traffic areas in the centre of your classroom.
  • In the first month of school you want to start with a plan but also assess along the way of your placement of things gets in the way.
  • If so move it.
  • If you want a more detailed walk through and plan to help you plan through your routines grab this freebie here.
Flexible Seating

Flexible Seating

Have you heard if it?

Well unless you have been under a rock how could you not see this as a wave that is slowly taking over Pinterest.

Everywhere teachers are proclaiming they are using flexible seating.

But without repurchasing brand new furniture for your classroom how can you dip your toe into this idea. Or how can you jump right in?

I have been slowly moving towards flexible seating.

It all started with a girl named… well let’s call her ‘Ava.’

Ava was a great student one of my best. But Ava always stood when she worked. In fact, Ava did her best work while standing at her desk.

Now I could have told her to sit down, the line I had told countless other students throughout my career.

But I didn’t.

And that changed the game for me.

It was that realization that some kids, even our good kids want flexibility and choice in how they work.

Not every student works best sitting in a chair in front of a desk.

Well after this experience with Ava it grew.

I began to let more students sit or stand at their desk while working. I let some stand at the back counter. I let others sit or lie down on the carpet. I let one student sit under my desk.

With every new “can I work here??” question that I was asked I kept saying she’s to most of them.

Always with the response “will you work best there?”

And for the most part, they did.

It didn’t take new tables, yoga balls, fancy chairs…

all it took was my ability to say yes to alternative workspaces within my classroom.

Now jump ahead, and I now have a few alternate spaces for students. A few new chairs and options for seating.

I add a few more each year (and take some away if they don’t fit)

So let me walk you through what flexible seating looks like in my classroom.


I wanted more alternative spaces for student work. I didn’t need or have extra room for desks. So I swapped the desks for tables.

Tables seat 6 per table group and each person in my room does have a home base. A place to call their own.

I am also not concerned about “seeing the board” from these tables. This means they can be placed anywhere. All of my whole group instruction is done from the carpet in my room, so the layout of tables is less of a concern.

My students eat in my classroom for lunch so since I find it grow to have food on my carpet or other soft furniture. Food is only consumed at tables.

All my tables are the same height.

I am lucky that I have a back counter that is standing height, so I do not need any standing height tables.


I teach 10 – 11-year-olds

Some think that they are too old for the carpet.

But they are not.

If I don’t baby then when they are on the carpet then they are okay with it. I also am not concerned if they don’t like it. It is expected you join us there for whole group instruction.

It’s non-negotiable.

The carpet also serves as the main location for flexible seating. Students sit together, share ideas, work and read in comfort.

It does become the hub of the classroom.


For some students, they like to work in isolation.

For these students providing locations for them to hide is essential. Hiding under a table covered in a tablecloth. Hiding under the teacher’s desk, or making a fort out of finding objects.

All of these easy makeshift ways are options in my room. Options that don’t cost me more than a few dollars for tablecloths and picnic clips.

For these students, you do need to check in on their work completion more than others, and if they take advantage then they lose the privilege (and return to their desk)


Over the years I have collected a few chairs for my room.

I have two ottomans that I picked up at the second-hand store value village. I also picked up some shower curtains and sewed two covers for them. The ottomans don’t match in colour, but they are the same size. When covered the ottoman looks the same. I also threw in a bed bug cover in between the layers and the sheets themselves are removable and washable. I am not great a sewing, but I figured it out.

I also picked up two Muskoka chairs at Value Village. I guess someone messed up when trying to put them together because


there were pre-drilled holes in the wrong spots.

But that didn’t matter to me. I grabbed them for $12, and my friend Sarah put them together with me one August. They have stood up well to all of the wear and tear kids can put them through.

Finally, I picked up some kids white plastic outdoor chairs from IKEA.

These chairs are stackable and easy to move around the room.

They wipe easily and are the perfect size for a junior student.


To start flexible seating you need to have rules.

And routines

To start, I never start the year with flexible seating open and available. This is something we work our way up to.

We start by talking about the rules

#1 Wherever you sit. You need to work.

We review what this looks like

  • Stay in one place
  • Avoid distractions
  • Work the whole time

We then look at the four different areas in our classroom for flexible seating. We discuss the benefits and negative attributes of each step.

We look at what needs each student has as a learner.

  • Is it a quiet workspace
  • Are they easily distracted
  • Do they work better sitting or standing
  • We then choose two spots for each student to try out. They then try each place and rotate through the list we made. We evaluate what works and what didn’t.
  • We review the list and make a final one that we use.
  • However, this isn’t the only way we have organized this.
  • Other years I have numbered the table groups and simply rotated each group through the flexible areas.
  • Both ways worked for each group of students. Sometimes some rules work better than others.
  • Flexible seating doesn’t have to be fancy. But it is worth it.
  • Give it a try, dip your toe in.
  • Let Ava remind you that some students work better with a bit more choice and flexibility. It might even make management in your classroom easier.