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Project Organization Phase 6: Substitute Info

Now that you have created an organized spot for your plans, it's time to focus on plans for a substitute.  Most classroom teachers I know use a binder.  As a substitute my favorite class to sub in was Mrs. Dunn's class.  She taught kindergarten and was well prepared for a sub.  I opened her sub binder and it walked me through her entire day.  For the morning meeting, I had basically a script to follow which showed me how she gets her students focused and the types of questions she asks them during the activities. 

As a resource room teacher, I don't feel that I need a binder explaining all of that.  A folder works well for me.  I chose a purple folder for my sub folder.  It's the only folder in my room that's purple.  I keep it on my desk and it's clearly labeled as my sub folder.  I used double sided tape to add the most important information on the cover of the folder (behavior plan, class rules, location of materials, who to talk to for help).  Inside there is a map of the school with important locations marked, a 1 page summary of what to do in an emergency, How was your day sheets and what to do if there are no plans. 

My emergency sub plans are simple and never have to be updated and here they are: Please follow the schedule on my desk for the correct day of the cycle (1-6) and push into the classroom.  Assist the classroom teachers with their lessons and students with their independent work.  DONE!

Sometimes it's nice to not have a class :)

If you are struggling with what to put in your sub folder, google it!  There are a ton of examples online like this one:

Project Organization Phase 5: Planbook

This project is creating an organized planbook which is really more than just a planbook.  This is something that you should have fun with - make it your own because you should be spending a lot of time with this through the year.
-Binder with view pockets in the front for a cover (2" is probably good)
-Set of dividers
-Page protectors (optional)
-Zippered pouch (optional)
-3 whole punch that goes in a binder (optional)

You can make this as simple or as complicated as you would like.  The first thing you need to do is figure out what you want to keep in your binder.  Create a tabbed section for each item you want to have in the binder.  Here are some to choose from:
-Student birthdays
-Test Accommodations/IEPs
-To Do lists
-Lesson Plans
-Old lesson plans (previous quarters/months)
-Travel Logs
-Meeting Notes
-CSE Agendas
-Lesson Planning Guides (list of goals or state standards, curriculum maps, blooms taxonomy etc...)
-Parent communication
-Staff Directory
-Handy Lists (favorite websites, future lesson ideas, whatever you might what to refer to when planning)

I don't recommend using all of these.  I have 5 sections in my binder (plans, to do lists, travel logs, meeting notes/cse agendas, and calendars) plus birthdays in the front and a blooms sheet in the back cover.  I recommend spending some time on the actual sheets that you are going to fill your binder with.  Put cute graphics on your to-do lists or lesson plans.  Make a decorative cover for the binder.  Put family pictures on the back cover.  The simple act of creating a binder is simple.  Making your own can get time consuming.  Make it however you would like it.  Have fun!

Project Organization Phase 4: Desk Files

Stacking letter tray (5 or 6 slots)
Colorful/decorative file folders

If you think back to phase 1, I had a warning at the bottom.  We end up with piles for a reason.  Unless we change our habits, we will still end up with piles.  Having a stacking letter tray on your desk (I like to have 5 or 6 slots) will make a small dent in this.  I bought colorful file folders from Michael's dollar bins.  Each folder has a label:

Before I leave
To Do
To File
Read and Sort
Keep on Hand

I can fit quite a bit of paper in those files.  That might not be a good thing but it does keep my desk clear of papers, for a while at least.  Pictures to come.

Project Organization Phase 3: Special Ed Binder



I remember sitting in new teacher orientation at my district.  At least 5 times the mentors said, "If you have any questions or you need help with a student or lesson, talk to a special ed teacher."  That's when I knew I was in trouble.  I was just as new as everyone else yet I was expected to be able to fix problems for everyone.  Chances are, you will be a valuable resource to the rest of your building. 

I quickly gathered all the forms that my buildings/district use.  Referral to special ed form, RtI referral form, Aide justification form, Parent input forms for the IEPs, the handbook that is sent to parents from the special ed office, and so on.  Basically, any form that a co-worker may want to see or need a copy of.  All of these forms went in the first tabbed section labeled "Forms". 

The next section is labeled IEP Examples.  This is where I keep sample IEPs.  My co-workers have let me read some of the IEPs they have written.  If I really like the management section, I'll copy and paste it into a word document titled Management.  I print these sections out as well and put them in this section.

Behavior Plans is another section.  Any time I find a behavior plan online that I like, I print it (and save it) and stick it in the binder.  I like having a hard copy of these things so I can find them quickly. 

Finally, I keep my districts handouts/guides about the special ed department in the last section. 

This does not need to be a project that you do all at once.  I would set up the binder and as you come across papers, stick them in. 

Project Organization Phase 2: Student Records

For this project, you need to choose how you will keep student records as well as what you keep.  The what might determine the how.  You will use either binders or file folders to store your students records.  Choose what you are more comfortable with and what you think you can maintain.

Binder and dividers
File Folders and a crate or file cabinet

I currently keep student records in 2 different spots.  Each student has a number.  I have a set of numbered file folders, 2 for each student.  They are labeled with "Student Work Samples #" and "Student Documents #".  This system is easy for me because as I sort through my piles, I can simply toss the students work in their file folder.  Sorry the picture is blurry!

My other system is a binder for reading records.  I have a tabbed section for each student (also numbered).  In that section, I keep a cover sheet (fountas and pinnell running record recording sheets) which give me a quick glance at the students reading level progression.  Behind that I have their cafe menu and then their running records and fluency assessments.  

For some reason having these 2 systems seems to work for me.  Next year when I have to do set probes on a set schedule, I will use the binder system for everything.  From my experience, the items kept in the binder tend to be sequential and are ready to go for meetings. 

All you need to do is gather the work/documents you have now and file it into one of these systems.  This project isn't as visually pleasing as the first one, but the next time you have a meeting about a child you will feel the benefits of this!

Project Organization Phase 1: The Piles!

I just spent the past 3 hours reading another teachers blog which promised to organize me.  It wasn't helpful.  I did get a new behavior chart idea that I may use for next year but overall this wasn't a good use of my time.  I liked her concept: giving everyone assignments each day to complete projects (ultimate plan book etc...).  Here is my quick organization guide:

1. Get supplies.  You will need file folders - hanging and the ones that go in the hanging ones, pens - markers - sharpies or whatever you want to label file folders with.  I don't recommend labels because you need to print them.  The goal here is to quickly start your filing system and keep it organized.  If you have to print a new label just to file a piece of paper, it won't be filed. 

2.  Gather the piles of papers you have laying around.  You know you have them and you know how they get there.  You run to the copy room to get stuff ready for the next 3 months.  You spend your whole prep copying and then you realize you have to go get kids - like now!  And so the stacks are born.  Those papers get thrown on your desk and they stay there until you get frustrated, overwhelmed, or ambitious.  I had a ton of stuff printed out that I ended up recylcing today because the papers ended up getting lost in my piles and my plans for them had changed. 

3. Armed with your filing cabinet (mine is plastic from walmart), file folders and markers/pens/sharpies/labels, begin sorting through the stacks.  Don't organize the papers first - that wastes time.  Pick up 1 paper at a time.  Decide whether or not you need to keep this.  If you do, create a file for it.  Be smart about your labels.  Don't mark one folder "Reading" because you know that folder will be filled in about 2 minutes.  I have a folder for visualizing, making predictions etc...Breaking the labels down by skill will make planning easier.  I can also jot down lesson ideas on the folder itself.  If I have an activity that has many papers with it, it gets it own folder.  Continue doing this until your piles are gone.  You may also need to create some more piles in this process such as a Need to do, need to grade, need to send home, need to take to the office, hang on the wall etc...try to keep it to a minimum.  Congrats!  Your filing system is well on it's way to being organized!

4.  Now that the bulk of your piles are recycled or filed, you MUST tackle the remaining piles.  Start with what can be taken care of in your room.  Today I found a reading level chart that I wanted to hang by my desk so I hung that up.  Next, I organized my "send home" papers into piles per child so I can quickly hand each student a pile when I see them.  Papers I needed to take to the office I set by my door so the next time I went down to the office I could take it without making an extra trip. 

Steps 2-4 need to be done in the same day.  It's not impossible and you don't need to stay after school for hours. You don't have time you say?  Here are some activities you can give kids to do while you sort piles: Practice state tests, center games (!), independent writing activity, independent reading (I do this every once in a while and am always surprised at how many kids can't read on their own.).  It's not a waste of instructional time because these are all things that kids need.  What is a waste of instructional time is being unorganized. 

5.  Relax!  Enjoy the view of your pile-less desk. 

*Warning: To keep piles away, you will need more organizational systems in place which we will work on but until then, you can continue to sort the piles that you accumulate. 

I just found this analogy that I thought might help you so I'm sharing it here:
From Merlin Mann: “Lose the shells”:
The idea here is that you probably don’t have a place in your home or office where you store the shells from every peanut you ever ate. If you did, you’d definitely want to organize them by the year in which you ate them, perhaps keeping separate jars per-month or per-location where you ate the nut. You know. For posterity. But you don’t do that. It would be insane. Once you eat the peanut, the job of the shell is done. So lose it. Ditto dead email. Never organize what you can simply discard; and if you can’t discard it, throw it onto one big pile.

Group Names

I was giving practice ELA exams all day today and it gave me a lot of time to think.  With my new planbook format ( I've had to name all my groups.  I now have several groups that could have the same name 3rd Grade Reading Group for example.  I've decided that I want to give the groups names, just as you would reading groups.  Most teachers in my schools use colors for group names.  A few use shapes.  One teacher uses science terms (suns, planets, stars).  I found a set of graphics that has 12 animals in it.  I'm going to use those as my group names next year. 
1. Jelly fish
2. Gorilla
3. Cat
4. Bear
5. Bumble Bee
6. Whale
7. Butterfly
8. Turtle
9. Walrus
10. Kangaroo
11. Bat
12. Penguin
(Pictures from
The first week of school each group will decide what they want to be.  I'll do a mini lesson on alliteration and have them spice up the names.  Their animals image is going to go on their cubby (magazine file).  I will identify the groups by their animal names in my planbook.  I'm currently in the process of adding more center type activities to my collection. I'm going to get bins for each group that will hold center activities that are appropriate for them. Each quarter I'll re-evaluate the activities in their bins. 

I also plan on using the group names as part of a positive behavior plan.  If a particular group is having a lot of behavior problems, I'm going to cut their group sign into X amount of pieces (x will be determined by age).  Each day the group will have the opportunity to earn the pieces of their sign back.  When the sign is complete, they will earn a prize (game day, reading outside, computer lab day).  I feel that this would be too much to manage for every group so as stated earlier, I will only be doing this with a group that has behavior problems. 

Depending on how you plan and organize materials that are coming up, you could also create folders with the group name/image on them to house future or daily materials for the group.  To me, this is easier and more fun that just colors.  If I like it, I'll be making permanent folders with the group images on them.  Make sure you have enough group names to fill all your time slots.  Currently, I am allowed 1 prep and a lunch.  There are 13 thirty minute time slots in my day where I can see kids.  When I take out my lunch and prep, I'm down to 11 time slots.  12 group names is enough for every group to be able to choose their name (even if they are only deciding between 2). 

I hope this gives you some ideas to think about!