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8 tips for cutting classroom clutter in 2012

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Staying organized is a daunting task for anyone, let alone a teacher who is trying to juggle so many things. But cutting down on classroom clutter and reclaiming the clear space on your desk just might give you the jolt of energy you need to tackle 2012 head on. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Staying organized is a daunting task for anyone, let alone a teacher who is trying to juggle so many things. But cutting down on classroom clutter and reclaiming the clear space on your desk just might give you the jolt of energy you need to tackle 2012 head on. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Before you begin, try this four-step preparation exercise:

1. Take a deep breath. Just looking at overstuffed cupboards and paper-strewn desks can be enough to send you screaming from the classroom. But instead of putting off the task even longer, take a deep, cleansing breath (remember that circular breathing thing from yoga?) and remind yourself that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Or remind yourself that if you finish this project, you'll reward yourself with that decadent treat/luxurious article of clothing/coveted book or magazine you've been hankering after.

2. Make a prioritized list. You may not be able to finish all your organizational tasks in one day, but a prioritized list can help you know where to start. Plus, checking items off a list can be a great motivator. Pick one high-priority area to work on at a time, and then start working your way down the list.

3. Set a project completion goal. Some people like to accomplish tasks in long, marathon sessions; others prefer to spread the work out in small increments over several days. Decide what works best for you and set an obtainable goal. Remember that you don't have to frame your goals in terms of tasks completed--you can simply commit to spending 10, 15, or 30 minutes at a time tackling a larger project. Once you start working, you'll find that you're willing to spend a few more minutes than you'd planned to finish what you started.

4. Grab your favorite tunes. Get jazzed about organizing -- be sure to bring some of your favorite music to play while you work. Great music can help you keep your mind occupied and your hands moving.

Once you're prepared to take on your most important decluttering tasks, get started with some of these helpful hints for staying organized:

1. Go digital. Eliminate as much paper as you can. Scan papers and store electronically whenever possible, and create and save lesson plans and assignments on the computer -- just make sure to back everything up on your school server or an external hard drive. You might even want to try your hand at creating electronic assignments for your students to complete in the computer lab. Some programs will even score your assignments and send you a report, freeing up time you would normally spend grading papers so that you can do other things. Inquire with your school administration to find out if these types of programs are available for your use.

2. Find a place for everything. Survey your classroom, identify the areas where you use certain tools the most, and place the tools near those areas. For example, choose a container just for dry erase markers and place it near the dry erase board. Organize homework assignments, craft paper, etc. in file folders and plastic bins, labeling the containers so you know exactly what's in each file, box, or bin. Then stash everything in an easy-to-access place. You can also use empty mayonnaise jars to corral pens and pencils or put empty cereal boxes to work storing magazines and newspapers. And clear plastic containers are great for storing art supplies and keeping closets organized -- you'll love being able to see exactly what's in each box without having to remove the lid.

3. Hang an updated calendar in the classroom. A calendar is an excellent way for you and your students to keep up with upcoming events, so find a large 2012 calendar and hang it in a place where your students can see it too. As a class, work together to stay organized and plan ahead for future events.

4. Get your students involved. Once you're organized and ready for the New Year, ask your students to help you stay on top of decluttering tasks. Let your kids know that you're making an effort to keep the classroom organized and tidy, and that they are expected to help. You may want to provide 20 minutes each month or so for students to spend cleaning their desks or tidying closets. Or you could simply allot a few minutes at the end of each day to have students put classroom items away. Get the whole class involved in cleaning as you go, and you'll eliminate the need for massive organizational overhauls in the future.

Have you found other organization techniques that work well in your classroom? If so, please share them with us!

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