Tuesday, August 22, 2017

3 Back to School Rules that will Change the Way You Start Your Year

I can almost smell the optimism when I set-up my classroom each year.  There is something magical about a room that is completely free of missing homework assignments, looming test dates and cold and flu germs.  None of those things are going to happen this year. Not in this room.

This room will be filled with cooperative, highly-motivated students, three-dimensional science experiences and innovative teaching strategies.  How do I know?  Well, for starters my plan book is a color-coded masterpiece and I have an amazing Growth Mindset bulletin board.  Oh, and my book shelves look  A-MAZ-ING!

This is how I feel.  Every. Single. Year.

I'm pretty sure my 6th graders would be just fine with last year's bulletin boards, but somehow I think that by reorganizing and redecorating I'm sending a message to myself and my students that this year is going to be EVEN better than last.

Before kids I would to spend countless (unpaid) hours in my classroom before school started.  I still put my fair share in these days, but things have changed a bit since my boys were born.  As a parent, I realize that saying yes to one thing means saying no to another.  Being an excellent teacher is right up there on the list with being an excellent mom, so in order to do both I've had to adapt! Being a teacher-mom means being insanely efficient from the moment I step foot in my classroom.  Which...is really, REALLY hard.  Have you seen the adorable lime green plastic bins in the Dollar Spot at Target? Stay...Focused!

Here are 3 Rules I have for Back to School:

1) PLAN first PLAY later
Bulletin boards and room organization are fun, but you will feel a lot better about your first month back if your lesson plans are well-designed.  Flexible seating looks great, but it won't fix behavior issues as well as a lesson plan that has EVERY student engaged.  Your school district didn't hire you because of your decorating skills....right? 

2) Build Relationships
Teachers work in isolation much of the time.  Bring coffee to the new teacher across the hall.  Offer to pick up another teacher's copies.  Ask the cleaning staff about their kids and the secretary about her mom's surgery.  Stop and talk to parents and kids who wander the halls.  Networking and collaborating with teachers and support staff can have long-lasting benefits. (Or you could lock yourself in your room and label all those new markers...your choice.)  No! Get out of your classroom.  Radiate positive vibes and they will come right back at you....All Year Long.

3) Let it Go

Ask yourself "Will this REALLY help my students learn?" If the answer is NO, then don't feel bad about heading home at the end of the day and not getting it done.  So, maybe the tattered bin labels from last year will have ONE more GO.  Nobody ever said on their death bed "I wish my classroom was more stylish." Go to your son's baseball game, last summer swim lesson or just get home before dark so that you can be there for bedtime stories.  You'll be glad you did.

After a tough week last school year, a dear friend said this to me:  "You know what makes good mom? A good teacher.  You know what makes a good teacher? A good mom."

Balancing this teacher-mom life is not easy.  I'm pretty sure I'll be going a little crazy by October, but looking at my empty classroom today...well...I'm pretty optimistic.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

30-Minute File Cabinet Makeover with Free Template

File cabinet makeover in 30 minutes for classroom organization

I'm really working on classroom organization.  It improves my productivity with students, so I know it is time well-invested. However, I have to admit that for the longest time I have been avoiding my paper file cabinet!  Until recently, it was in need of a major makeover.  I tried filling out those little plastic tabs that come with hanging files, but they never lined up neatly when I moved files around and they were just a pain to pinch into the little slots at the top of each folder! So, then I switched to manila folders, but they slump down and make it impossible to flip from folder to folder.  Lesson learned.   

Messy file cabinet before organization

I did a few things to prep for this project.  

1) Get hanging files and make sure they fit in your cabinet. With a little adjustment, most file cabinets can accommodate the hanging-style folder.  

2) Buy a 50 pack of bright, sturdy card-weight paper.  

Here is how I beautified my file cabinet in 30 minutes.  It worked really well for me, so I'm sharing my template below for you to use in your classroom.   Hopefully you already have most of the items you need in your classroom.  If not, now you have a good reason to go to Target for bright colored classroom supplies....like you really need a reason to go to Target right?

I decided that I needed two categories of tabs for my classroom (science topic tabs and a set of tabs for general classroom management).  I printed the science tabs to match the topics for middle school listed in the Next Generation Science Standards.  This really helped me weed through papers because if they didn't relate to an NGSS topic,  I didn't feel guilty about tossing them!  For classroom management tabs, I made a list of items that I regularly find on my desk and made tabs that match those topics (exams, sub plans, meetings etc.).  You can alternate paper colors or group them by topic.  (EX: All science files green)

The tabs each teacher needs will vary so you will notice that the free download has a few pages that you can edit for your needs.  You will need to have Adobe on your computer to edit this.  So be sure to open the file in Adobe on your desktop before editing!  Warning: If you only open it in Google Drive and start editing it will Not work or Save!  Be sure to download and open it on your desktop so that your changes save.

bring colored file dividers for classroom organization

Stay focused! Don't stress over or read EVERY paper in your file cabinet.  If you only have 30 minutes, skim and scan papers to determine whether they fit a topic or not.  You might want to create a "Review Later Box" where you toss any item you find that doesn't fit your new labels/tabs and you are not ready to throw away until you take a closer look.  This will allow you to focus your time on the task of adding the bright file tabs and tidying up your existing files without getting sidetracked by worksheet nostalgia!   You can always block off additional time later to sort those papers more carefully.  (Chances are you will find out that stuff wasn't as important as you thought!)

attaching your printable file tabs to your file folders for a more organized file cabinet

Staple each piece of colored card-weight paper to the front (or back if you prefer) of each hanging file folder.  Be sure to measure how much room you have above the folder in your cabinet so that your pretty new tabs don't get squished when you close the door! 

Free template for bright file folder tabs to organize your classroom file cabinet.

Ready to have a colorful, clean and organized classroom?  Click the image above to download a pdf of my (editable) template!  Remember, if you want to make custom tabs you will need to download the pdf to your desktop and change it using Adobe. 

Thanks for visiting Kate's Classroom Cafe!  Happy Organizing... 


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