Classroom Organizing Challenge: February, Week 2: Teacher Desk {Piles & Files}

Welcome to the second month of my Classroom Organizing Challenge!

Each month this year, we're going to focus on a specific part of our classroom to get rid of clutter, organize, streamline, and make our classrooms more stress-free!

Below is the list of topics and months, so you can join in and/or catch up anytime.

If you haven't read the Getting Started post, I recommend reading that first for some simple tips, a fun playlist, and a big-picture view of 2019.

You can always catch up on the Classroom Organizing Challenge Page HERE. Here's our yearlong overview:

Getting Started
January: Student Desks
February: Teacher Desk
March: Visible Storage
April: Hidden Storage
May: Technology/Digital
June: Classroom Library
July: Student Life
August: Class Routines
September: Teacher Life
October: Home-School Link
November: Mom Life
December: Maintenance

. . .

Piles & Files

This is a big one: How do you keep paperwork organized in your classroom?

Specifically, I'm talking about the papers that ends up making a small mountain on your desk by the end of the day. With the amount of paper we come across, having some solid systems in place is imperative.

I think the first question to ask yourself is, "Do I organize in piles or files?" And maybe you're a mix of both!

I Organize in Piles

I am a piles person, hands-down, so my systems are in place to help keep me as organized as possible in the way I naturally arrange papers-- in piles. Lots of them.

In the past, I have tried to work with a filing system, but that was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, so I had to let that one go, along with some lovely filing cabinets that had remained empty.

When I finally acknowledged that I function best with piles, I had to look for organizational furniture and systems to support that. While it wasn't as easy as finding filing supplies, I was able to discover some great items.

One of the first things I invested in were multi-colored binder clips. I organize every subject by color (read more about that system HERE), so buying color-coordinated binder clips helped me set up simple systems quickly.

I also use a small class list for each and every assignment (find more info and a free template HERE). These are printed three to a page, so they are small, handy, and used daily for pretty much everything.

These lists are placed on the top of the files and I check off students as papers are turned in. Then, I attach all of these together with a binder clip and, using a Sharpie, write an abbreviation of the assignment on the top and/or front of the clip.

Teacher Tip: When I am done with that assignment, I cover the Sharpie with a dry-erase marker and wipe off to be able to reuse these over and over again.

These piles can then hang out in one of my drawers behind my desk or accordion file (which really is just a fancy pile-holder) to be taken home to grade.

I'll be diving deeper into my drawer system next month when we work on visible storage solutions, but these rainbow drawers are my lifeline as a "piles" organizer. I use these labels to help me keep them organized. There are some for grading, filing, upcoming assignments, sub plans, and more.

Another option I have been loving recently are these color plastic envelopes with velcro closure. They are color-coordinated as well and allow me to keep several piles, masters, activities, etc. all in one space that is easy to find and carry.

Something I have to stay disciplined about is making these stacks as soon as they come in. I go so far as to tell my students that if they hand in something randomly and I don't have a checklist, it will disappear and be lost forever. I wish I were kidding, but that's what it feels like if I don't stay organized.

I also use these clips with permission slips, notes to the office, or things to be copied. For copies, I will attach a copy slip or sometimes just a sticky note, but the clip and system remains the same.

I Organize in Files

I love this system only because there are so many amazing tools to help you succeed!

The ease of filing, the availability of color-coded products, the pre-made labels, and the multitude of storage options allow you to have a lot of flexibility in your classroom when it comes to staying organized.

One of the important questions to always ask yourself, though, is whether or not you need to file that paperwork?

For example, if it is a unit on TpT that you really enjoy and use year after year, do you need to keep the entire product printed out? Or can you recycle the credits page, the versions you don't use, and really narrow it down to your main set of master copies?

Better yet, if it can be stored digitally, why not keep it in Dropbox or another cloud-based storage site? That way, you don't have to take time to file it and it can be available anytime you need it.

The other consideration for filing, like piling, is how to keep things organized. Will you sort by month, unit, standard? Keeping a consistent system will not only make it easier to find later on, but it will take the guesswork out of filing today.

Having a place with files ready-to-go can help streamline your organizational system and I am loving this hanging unit with colored folders. You can extend this color-coding system to hanging files and/or file folders, too.

A new product I am currently loving when it comes to filing are the multicolored Post-It tabs. These are adhesive enough that they work well for filing, but are completely removable and repositionable. You can write on the colored tabs, or just leave them blank as a visual cue.

One of my favorite filing systems I use is for our weekly Friday Folders. This is a schoolwide system that sends all assignments and school notes home every Friday in a folder, to be returned Monday.

To keep this organized throughout the week, I use a portable hanging folder box with each student having a folder. I like how this can be moved around the room and doesn't take up extra space.

On Monday, they will return their Friday Folder to their hanging folder. Throughout the week, I will return the piles to the front folder of "To Be Filed" or file them right away into their spot.

On Friday, I can collect the papers in their hanging file and put them into their Friday Folder to be passed out at the end of the day.

When Do I Have the Time?

Great question. The answer is, we have very little time, so we'll need to maximize what we have.

For me, daily maintenance is key, so I recommend you check out my Week 1 Zones post HERE if you haven't already.

Dedicating 5-10 minutes each day to sorting, organizing, clipping, recycling, and filing these papers that come our way makes all the difference.

I also have students take the lead and assist in these systems. If you don't have a centralized location for students to drop off papers, I recommend a Turn-In Bin (read more about that HERE). This can be for assignments, forms from homes, late classwork, and more.

As you can tell, color-coordinating is a system that I have found works for me and makes it so much more efficient to organize piles and files with the quick visual. Matching up all of the yellows, greens, and blues not only keeps me organized, but cuts down on the time dramatically.

If color-coordinating doesn't work for your subjects, think about how it could work to streamline your systems. Could colors represent different groups of students? Standards? Months of the year? Units? However you choose to organize, don't forget this important visual element.

With these supplies, a daily maintenance checklist, and a visual system in place, your piles and files won't need to remain unorganized and the mountains won't get the chance to start forming at your desk.

How do you keep your piles and files organized?

Share below in the comments, as I know we can all benefit from each others' experiences!

. . .

This Week's Think Abouts:

  • Do I organize best in files? piles? a mix or both?
  • What materials will I need to maximize the style of organization I'm drawn to?
  • How do I address the visual element of organizing?
  • How could I color-code? By subject? Class? Another way?
  • Is there a clear "drop off" space in my classroom for student work? parent forms/letters? things to go home to all students? things to pass out to students? etc.
  • What is my weekly system to get paperwork home to students?
  • Where are the storage areas in my classroom for papers? Drawers? Files?
  • Are these areas clearly labeled to assist in organizing?
  • How are papers organized that need to be graded? filed? passed back? recycled? copied?
  • Do I have a student checklist system in place?
  • How do I label each stack?
  • Is there a daily chunk of 5-10 minutes I can dedicate to pile/file management?
  • How can students help to take ownership of some of the paperwork? 

* Would you like these Think Abouts in a handy PDF? Click HERE

Be sure to follow along with me on Instagram @3rdgrthoughts on both my feed and my IG Stories throughout the year.

Tag any of your before & afters, progress, or projects using #ClassroomOrganizingChallenge. Together we can finally tackle the visual clutter and stressful spaces!

Join me next week when I dive into more of February's challenge!

Happy organizing,

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