SPED Classroom Foundation: Organization
Updated: Sep 5, 2021
There's a saying that goes something like this: If you don't have a plan, a plan will be provided to you. It certainly rings true when it comes to facilitating a successful learning environment. Time spent organizing the physical environment of your classroom sets you and your students up for more success than when compared to a classroom with no organizational structures and systems in place.
Classroom organization is one component of general classroom management. Still, for this particular post, I am talking solely about the structural and procedural organization of the environment, not management systems.
An organized classroom will complement and strengthen the overall classroom management and conveys several things:
First, an organized classroom models organizational skills in action. Organizational skills can be a struggle for our learners with special needs (and many of our learners without special needs). Not everyone is Type A, and THAT'S OK! What's not ok? Passing students along without teaching them ways that they can help keep their own selves organized. Self-organization is a true life skill that all students should possess. It looks different for everyone, but if you think about real-life employability, there's great value in a person being able to organize themselves in a manner that allows them to produce the desired product. Things like prioritizing tasks, adhering to timelines, efficacy to complete non-preferred tasks, etc., are just a few ways
organizational skills can impact a student's real-life employability.
Modeling structure and organization is one way to help show students various strategies to help determine whether they can keep a job when they graduate. In my opinion, the ability for someone to organize themselves is far more important than applying the Pythagoras theorem & rattling off a bunch of historical facts. Organization equals productivity, and productivity is what keeps people employed. If we're in the business of facilitating student success in the long run, there needs to be an emphasis on the art and skill of organization. As the people that spend 180+ days a year with groups of students, we have a major influence in this area.
Next, an organized classroom conveys that there is a purpose for your students being there. It lets your students know that you've taken time to sift through everything to set up learning experiences that are not only valuable to them but are also the best use of everyone's time. If students show up to a class where there are no expectations, no systems, no structure in place, they're quickly going to come up with their own expectations, systems, and structure, and once you've laid that as the "norm" for the learning environment, it's tough to undo.
When thinking about classroom organization, there are generally 3 things to consider:
Structural organization (what things look like physically)
Procedural organization (how things happen)
"The one thing that you have that nobody else has is YOU. Your voice. Your mind. Your story. Your vision." -Neil Gaiman
I hope I'm not making a ridiculous leap here, but you likely got into education to make an impact. Also likely is that while you were doing your coursework to become an educator, you had a picture in your mind of what your classroom would look like. This vision probably ranged from decor ideas, functionality, classroom outcomes, thematic units, instructional approaches, etc. Your vision is unique to you, though definitely inspired by experiences, specific classroom dynamics, and watching others.
Before any organization can occur, take a few minutes to think about what vision you have for your classroom this year. Having a vision of your desired outcome will help all other areas of organization fall into place.
First things first: start with the layout of your classroom. Structural organization refers to the physical layout of the classroom. After taking a full inventory of your furniture options, available space, and vision, consider what the physical layout needs to look like to assure functionality and access for all learners.
Do you need desks, tables, or other seating alternatives?
What about a teacher's desk or work area? What do YOU need?
How can furniture be arranged so that it's functional, safe, and accessible?
Is the arrangement conducive to the learning of your students & the vision you have for your classroom?
If you're walking into a classroom for the first time, there's an excellent chance that you're inheriting a classroom of a former teacher, which means you're probably inheriting some....um...stuff. Just because you inherit your classroom looking a certain way doesn't mean it has to stay that way, especially if it doesn't align with your classroom vision and the needs of your students!
A tip I learned years ago was to sketch a scale floorplan of your classroom and then draw in the pieces before you begin any heavy moving. This will allow you to intentionally plan your classroom and visually see it, shuffle it, and tweak it before moving a single piece of furniture.
Materials & storage
Another logistical piece of structural storage in a classroom consists of how your materials and resources are stored. When thinking about materials and storage, it's important to keep in mind accessibility and frequency of use.
Keeping items accessible allow you to not only be aware of what you've got but also increases the likelihood of use with fidelity. Is (insert whatever item/resource/etc.) going to be used daily? Weekly? Does it need to be accessible in a grab-and-go fashion?
When organizing materials and storage, a huge component to consider is the frequency of use. How often will you need to utilize (insert whatever)? Daily? Weekly? Each grading period? Where will it need to be, physically in the classroom, so that you can utilize it with ease?
To organize your materials and storage, here are some of the more common strategies I've seen implemented successfully:
Labeling items & their homes; everything has a home
Color coding materials
Removing clutter: If it's not for functional use, what's it doing? Excessive busyness is distracting for learned with inhibited executive functioning skills.
Keep THE most important things, THE most important things: What's necessary? That comes first. What's jazz, fluff & bonus? That comes way later.
There's a TON of organization strategies and tips on Pinterest. A quick search will leave you scrolling for hours and will surely inspire you!
Procedural organization looks different for every classroom because this type of organization is derived from the needs of each specific classroom environment and dynamic. Think of procedural organization as the customized operating manual for your room: it explains how different processes occur.
Because procedural organization varies among classrooms, there are many variables to consider. I'll share some of the more common areas that need some clearly stated procedures to flow successfully.
Procedural organization can cover many things, but the categories below are some of the more broad areas that would require specific, established procedures. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list.
Staff and student schedules
Rotations, lunch, electives, etc.
IEP schedule of services
When to plan
What to plan
How much to plan
Progress monitoring (IEP data collection)
Methods of evaluation
Schedule of data collection
Still feeling overwhelmed about where to start?
Let me help you out.