New Year, New Beginnings

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Getting (and staying!) organized in 2015!

The start of a new year means new beginnings ­– a time to get organized and tackle new challenges. Many of us begin each year with ideas about amazing organizational systems we are going to try, which go right out the window once our students arrive. As I’m sure you all know, organization can make or break a classroom – especially in special education, and is even more crucial after a holiday break! In keeping with the theme of the New Year, I thought it might be fun to review some of my favorite organization systems I’ve both used and seen others use.

  1. Schedules, schedules, schedules!
  2. Schedules are pivotal for everyone – including students enrolled in special education. Not only do they keep a classroom running smoothly, but they teach students a truly valuable skill! Learning to follow a schedule (be it a simple first then visual schedule or a detailed written schedule) will help students gain independence and learn valuable life skills (schedules are required for many skills in life including using public transportation to being successful at work). Knowing what to expect during the day (or knowing about any changes in routine) might also decrease the occurrence of problem behavior in the classroom.

    • A Special Sparkle has a wonderful post full of examples of schedules and visual supports to support organization for students with special needs. Check out the Autism Classroom News post on setting up classrooms to learn about collecting data on IEP goals. The blog is geared towards working with students with autism, but the strategies can easily be applied to students with a variety of needs and abilities.

  3. Plastic Shoe Boxes, for the win!
  4. This is an inexpensive way to get organized & condense teaching materials! I have used these handy boxes to organize classroom materials; they are an excellent way to keep all of those loose crayons or markers in one place, and also prevent losing so many of them. Just tape a colored index card with the name of the item on the front of the box to clearly label each one. Students who cannot read can still easily learn the red box is for crayons and the blue box is for pencils. If they need an item, they can get up & retrieve the item from the correct box – increasing their independence, which is fantastic! It also helps students learn to sort items into the correct boxes. This is a great organizational skill to teach our students from a very young age.

    • Breezy Special Ed has great ideas on using shoe boxes to create Work Task Boxes. These boxes are a fun, creative way to organize lesson materials while increasing independence in your students. Each box contains specific items related to a skill. The students can pull a box from the shelf and work on a skill independently. My favorite has to be the french fry counting activity! Using yellow pipe cleaners to create the fries, you can obtain some french fry bags from a local fast food establishment, and viola! The goal is to place five fries in each bag. Simple and engaging! You can check out this (and other awesome Work Task Box ideas) in this post.

  5. Binge on Bins (and Folders)!
  6. Bins & folders are something you can start using right away! Simply place all lesson materials (and data sheets!) in the folder or bin. Use different colors, images, or words to differentiate each bin. Assign a bin to each student or to each lesson (i.e. a math bin or reading bin). Many of the teachers we work with here at Rethink use bins on a consistent basis. Our November and December posts highlight two teachers who have had great success using this system. Check out the articles to see these teachers in action!

  7. Let’s Not Forget Technology!
  8. Ok, we all know paperwork in special education is overwhelming. I remember sitting in my office one day and my shelves collapsing under the weight of my data and goal books. The sight of all of those papers flying everywhere still makes me shudder! The tremendous weight of that paper, physical AND emotional, can be eliminated with technology. Simplify your lives by collecting electronic data. Eliminate the clutter in your classroom; you will never need to panic again about losing a piece of paper!

    The calendar or schedule feature on tablets can also support your students. This skill is easily transferred to cell phones outside of school (great skill to share with mom and dad!). This teaches your student to stay organized, but is also less stigmatizing than a paper schedule for older students (especially when outside of the classroom). Teaching Special Thinkers provides several ways to use tablets to keep students organized. Even the use of a simple timer on the tablet can help students stay on task and know what to expect.

To learn more about things you can do to organize your classroom for success in 2015, join us for a FREE webinar on January 21st, Setting Up for Success: Best Practices for the Instructional Environment.

I can’t wait to get organized for the New Year! How about all of you? Use the comments section to tell us how you manage to stay organized throughout the year – we’d love to hear about it!

Jennifer Bessette is the Director of Professional Services for Rethink’s Small School Support Program. She has the pleasure of serving small and rural school districts across the United States. Jen has 15 years of experience in special education providing direct services, professional development, and research. She is excited to present at the national ACRES conference this March!


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