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Getting Organised for the Best Year Ever

Getting Organised for the Best Year Ever

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Normally, the posts that I make on Edutopia are about how technology can be used to assist students in their learning. I like to share classroom-based resources and the way that I've used them to do more than would have been possible without the technology. 

I'm conscious, however, that northern hemisphere schools are heading back to school soon, and I thought that I might talk about how I use technology to be better organised for my students - in other words, how does technology allow me to do my job better than before? Hopefully, some of you might find some of my tips and workflows valuable in the new school year. 

Here they are, then, in no particular order:

1. Get rid of paper.

I try not to write anything down anymore. This is partly an environmental thing, but also because I have a habit of losing bits of paper and post it notes, or filling up notebooks quickly, or generally not being able to find something that I wrote down earlier. Instead, I use Evernote to organise the notes I need to make. It syncs across all my devices, and I can search through different notes quickly and easily. I can even, if I have to, take a photo of handwritten note and add it to evernote.

2. Use Reminders

This is a bit of a no-brainer, but it's so important for me. I look after the administration of my school, so people are constantly sending me emails or telling me things that I need to program or add to calendars and so on and so forth. If I didn't use an app like Reminder, I wouldn't have a chance of remembering all of those things. With this app, I can just jot down each one as I come across it. Then, at the start of each week, I prioritise each item on my list. I can even have different lists if I need to - one for school, uni etc. A great feature is I can set deadlines on these reminders, too.

3. Become a pro calendar user

This is my best piece of advice, based on my experience over the last year. Whatever calendar app you use, most people do not get the real value from it. At a basic level, you can use it to plug in events so you know what you've got coming up, but I strongly advise stepping it up and using it for invites, sharing documetns and weblinks to important resources, booking out rooms for meetings/ classes/ putting assessments for classes on there and so much more. For really interesting ideas, have a look a Google Calender's labs facility.

So those are my three tips for being more organised. What are yours?


This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Back-to-school organization is one of my favorite topics! I use Things to organize my to-do list, but my husband LOVEs Putting Things Off (and uses Streaks for some things too). We use iCal as a family (So. Many. Calendars) and it plays nicely with the Google Calendars we use at work and school. Now, if only Siri would take note of the fact that I'm ignoring her reminders to head to my next thing and actually tell me to "Leave. Now. Really. I mean it."

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

This is such a timely post. I am in that terrible in-between place: some paper, some digital, lots of confusion. I'm trying to use Google calendar more consistently, especially since my principal uses it for our staff, but then I also still rely on that trusty calendar hanging on my refrigerator. Not sure where to start to get more organized....

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Laura, I love Things. I find that many organizers/to-do list apps take too much effort to use. They end making more work for me, and I quickly set them aside.

Things is lightweight enough that that's not a problem, but still has enough features to make it useful. The only problem with it is that it's Mac/iOS only. It works fine on my laptop but doesn't play nice with my Android phone. :(

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Guess it's time to come over the the iPhone...

Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY

Here are some things that work for me:

1. Be as streamlined as possible -- have templates for email, have rubrics made far in advance, know exactly where handouts and quizzes will be placed before and after you hand them out, and use the same format every time for lesson planning.

2. Practice the nuts and bolts -- This sis something that Harry Wong and Doug Lemov advocate strongly. Students should know what they should do when they enter the room, they should know how to ask to use the bathroom, they should know how to transition from individual work to group work.

3. Put students to work -- it should not be the teacher's responsibility to put away all the materials of a classroom. Recruit students to assist in returning books, storing art supplies, and handling laboratory equipment.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

Great suggestions, Brian. I agree that the more of a routine we establish in our classroom, the easier it will be for us and our students. If I'm disorganized, the kids sense it, and it gets them stressed out, too. I remember a teacher talking about some prep work that needed to be done, and she said, "That's a kid job." I was so impressed with how many tasks she was able to off-load on to her students. Not only did it make her job easier, but it made her kids feel valued and competent. This year I'm training my students to write the scripts for our school news show, and although it's not an easy process, I can already see how excited and proud they are to be in charge of this task. Can't wait to be proofing their scripts instead of writing them myself!

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

Organized for me is just "Not having a lot of stuff." It's the whole work smarter, not harder mentality. If I'm spending my day organizing stuff, I've got too much stuff. I run lean. I'm a fan of open spaces. My room is not cluttered. I don't have a desk. A small table is sufficient for my needs and It also works well when I invite students to sit with me for the week. I usually rotate volunteers to sit with me.

One good tip that lessened the stress for me was getting rid of daily planner/homework books for students. Do students really need to learn how to write in a planner in third grade? Maybe some of you agree with this skill, but taking twenty minutes a day to write down homework that's basically the same every week is just a waste of time in my eyes.

Here's my new streamlined philosophy: If its in your homework folder and it's blank, complete it and bring it back to school. Read every night for at least 20 minutes (every week, every day). I also give a packet of spelling/phonics/reading homework for the whole week on Monday. Finish and return by the end of the week.

No worries.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

This will take us a little off-topic, but I want to echo what Gaetan said:
"Do students really need to learn how to write in a planner in third grade?"
Bingo. If our kids need to learn something, they should be learning it when it is developmentally appropriate, not a few years earlier in order to "get them ready." Planners make sense when kids hit middle school and have many teachers and homework assignments to keep straight. Let's keep it simple for the kids and have them do what makes sense for their age/grade level/brain development, right?

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