Friday, June 17, 2011

Organizing the Classroom: Routines and Procedures

Organization... Organization... Organization...

Do you have to be super organized to be a master teacher? Probably not.

Will it help you stay sane, get your school year on the right track and make your life a whole lot easier? Yes. Most definitely.

I've always been a fairly organized person. But it takes a completely different level of preparedness and organization to efficiently teach middle school students.

You literally have to plan out how everything will be run in your classroom, from how students will get papers (do you have one student hand them out? Do you hand them out?) and sharpening pencils (when are they allowed to sharpen pencils? Do they raise their hand or just get up?) to lining up for fire drills (no, it's not okay to run, screaming from the room) and dismissal from your classroom. If you're lucky, you'll have a team that you work with, and there's a good chance that you will have some common procedures.

And the best part about figuring out all of this stuff, is you have to effectively teach, and have your students practice these procedures. After enough practice, they will become routines.

And you have to keep teaching those routines and procedures. Just learning them once at the beginning of the year is not enough. They probably weren't listening the first time anyway!

In preparation for the beginning of new school year, here is a check list of things to do. I will post specifically about successful and not-so successful routines and procedures that I practiced in my classrooms.

1) Figure out your classroom set up.

Groups, rows or pairs? Seriously, this is important. The first step to getting your routines and procedures set up is knowing the physical layout of your classroom. And this can be tricky. Make sure that you have enough room in between desks. Make sure that you have an area for students that have a harder time staying on task. And make sure that you have an area for you to pull students for individual conferences. Individual and detailed feedback is extremely important for student success. Draw out your classroom map on a piece of paper in pencil. Ideally, you should draw a new map every time you move desks or your room around.

2) Give yourself a budget and make a list.

Make yourself a list of any supplies that you need for the school year. If you're lucky, and the school pays for you or provides you with all your supplies, then you don't have to worry too much about a budget. Some of the things to keep in mind for helping you and your students stay organized are folders. The folders that were found in my classroom were: file folders, hanging file folders, portfolio folders (with the pocket on the inside), and binders. Also, pencil boxes, baskets and/or boxes are wonderful to have for organizing supplies, such as scissors, coloring pencils, crayons, glue sticks and index cards. Crates and boxes are wonderful for holding folders containing student work, class folders, absent or make up work and graded work.
Most stores have AWESOME back to school sales in the summer. Keep an eye out especially for Staples ads. They used to have Penny Sales when I was teaching. Other good places to shop for organization supplies are: Target, Wal Mart, and Dollar Tree.

3) Start writing your procedures and routines.

Honestly, write them out. Don't just say "I'll just remember to teach the kids that they need to come in quietly." Write it down as a note for yourself so you won't forget. On the first day of school, most teachers are as nervous as their students. You're bound to forget it if you don't write it down. When you start writing down your routines and procedures, start thinking of how you're going to teach it to your students and ways to enforce the routine. I would also consider prioritizing your list. Which procedures will take longer to teach? Which ones are the more important routines? Which routines can students wait to learn about?

4) Ask other teachers for help.

Teachers are really good at copying each other. And most teachers part willingly with the things that work for them. But what may work for one teacher, won't necessarily work for another. We all have different personalities, and I know that there are some things that I see people do really well, that would have been a complete disaster in my own classroom.

The key is consistency. We should be constantly improving ourselves. Be consistent in your routines and procedures. If something is not working for you, don't be afraid to ask for help. A lot of teachers don't suggest ways to help struggling teachers because they're afraid that they'll offend said teacher.

Don't be too proud. When it all comes down to it, it's really about the students, not you. And if you're not teaching what you're supposed to because the students haven't learned the procedures or you haven't enforced them enough, you are at fault. I've been there, and it's tough. But keep going and remember the better prepared you are before the first day of school, the easier your school year will be.

Tomorrow I will be posting a list of the procedures and routines that I used in my classroom. Enjoy!

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