Education Teacher Leaders Network

Teaching Secrets: How to Organize for Learning

By Marti Schwartz — August 12, 2009 4 min read

Organizing a classroom in a way that works for both the teacher and the students is a daunting task. But, oh so worth it. Putting structures, routines, and procedures in place allows a class to run more smoothly, which means more learning can take place. Helping a class to learn the routines may be time-consuming, but it certainly pays off in the long run.

Exactly how does it help? Peek through the door:

Possible Scenario #1:

Luckily, I got in early today, so I have plenty of time to get ready and put this morning’s start-up work on the board.

But, first there’s a note in my mailbox to call a parent, so I do. I spend 10 minutes confirming the field trip arrangements for which I’d already sent a note home.

Time to pick up the kids waiting in the cafeteria. As we leave for the classroom, a colleague asks if we could switch preps (my kids will go to art first today) because she has to attend a meeting. Sure. I’ll write it down when I get upstairs.

But upstairs, I discover that I never did write the start-up activity on the board, so I begin to do that. Then, Mikey interrupts me because he has no pencil.

On the way to get him a pencil, Kelsey gives me a note from her mom, and then I go back to writing the start-up on the board.

Mikey again: Oh — right — you need a pencil.

On the way to get him a pencil, Albert comes up to me and tells me he doesn’t have his homework. We have a little chat.

Looking up, I notice that the kids haven’t started their work. I go back to the board to finish writing the day’s first assignments. I see that Joseph is still unpacking — Joe, do you need my help? Let’s put your backpack away, homework folder out, and get the day going!

Mikey, why haven’t you started your work? Oh — the pencil.

As I walk back to my desk for the pencil, I’m seeing that most of the kids have their homework out, which is good, but Angela is talking to Jenna instead of working. Angela, what’s up?

“I don’t feel so well,” she says. And then up comes breakfast.

I dash for the wastebasket, hit the intercom for our janitor, and look around for those gloves I’m supposed to be wearing when bodily fluids are in play.

Hmmm … I know there’s something I’m supposed to write down, and something I’m supposed to get for someone, but I sure don’t know what they are …. The kids have been in school for exactly 20 minutes, and I’m exhausted already. Unfortunately, I doubt anyone has learned much yet this morning!

OR…Possible Scenario #2:

I get to school early, which is always a good thing. Even after a few weeks here, I’ve come to see that you never know what unexpected events may derail you.

My eyes do a quick check of the room: the start-up I wrote on the board before I left for the weekend is still there. Pencils are in the pencil can, homework book and problem book are on the table. I set tonight’s homework in the spot where two kids will pass it out (along with any parent notices that arrive during the day) at 2:40 p.m. Everything is in place.

I look at the Monday bin to be sure I have all the materials I need for the day. Filling the bins on Friday afternoons really makes the next week go a lot smoother.

When the intercom buzzes for a parent phone call, I sigh and head down to the office. I spend 10 minutes confirming the field trip arrangements for which I’d already sent a note home, but I can spare the time — and I’m appreciative that the parent is coming along with us.

Time to pick up the kids. On the way out of the cafeteria a colleague asks if we could switch preps because of her meeting.

Once we get upstairs, I greet the kids at the door, and notice Angela looks a little pale. Kelsey has a note for me, and I advise her to have Zoe explain where it goes. I watch the kids unpack, set out their homework, and put their belongings away.

Our classroom routines are well-established, I can see, as Mikey gets a pencil, Albert signs the homework book, and the kids pick up their start-up papers and get to work. Joe needs some help getting organized, so I stop by his desk for a minute.

Glancing around I notice that Angela hasn’t started working, so I move toward her. “I don’t feel so well,” she says. And, sure enough, here comes breakfast. I quickly move a wastebasket closer, while grabbing my plastic gloves which are hanging next to my desk (along with band-aids). Then, I move towards the intercom to call the janitor.

Happily, everyone else is pretty occupied, though admittedly the kids around Angela are a little grossed out. Nonetheless, I can see the value now in having routines — the class practically runs itself!

Oh, and here’s Karen from downstairs, with a note from Mrs. Martinelli, reminding me of that prep switch. She knows, as I do, how hectic mornings can be!

Lesson learned? Imagine the first 15 minutes of your day as a play: putting coats and backpacks away, handing in homework, getting necessary materials, starting an assignment, handing in notes from home, even heading off to the bathroom. How can 25 kids accomplish this without conferring with you each step along the way? Script the actions you want to occur, set procedures in place, and TEACH them, so that your students will be able to follow a routine independently, no matter what comes along.