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What Do New Teachers Need to Know About Organization? (Ep. 309)

In the third of an ongoing series of podcasts for new teachers, Janet Taylor joins Tim to answer new teachers’ questions about organization. Listen as they discuss the idea that organization goes far beyond just supplies, student work and classroom storage, and why good organization can help you with your evaluations. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Transcript

Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show’s produced by the Art of Education University. And I’m your host, Tim Bogatz. Over the past couple of months, Janet Taylor and I have been working to put together a series of podcast episodes and other resources for new teachers. We’ve done one episode on curriculum, one on classroom management, and today we are going to be talking about organization.

Now, on top of these podcasts, other people at AOEU have been working to put together a first year teacher guide on the magazine side of things, as well as a few episodes of the first year teacher series on YouTube, that have been really well received. So if you’ve not checked those out and you think they would be worthwhile, definitely give them a look. And as I’ve said in previous episodes, I think Janet and I are both excited to make these episodes and share these resources for the new teachers, beginning teachers, that are listening to podcasts and looking for resources, because we know that those teachers are thinking about how they can become better teachers and thinking about how they can get better at what they do.

So if you know any first year or any new art teachers or even pre-service teachers who are thinking about or worrying about the topics that we cover, please send them our way. Okay. AOEU how PRO Packs, FLEX resources, these podcasts, articles, YouTube series, guides, so many other things that can really, really help. So I’m going to go ahead and bring Janet on, we’ll talk organization, we’ll open up the mail bag, answer some questions from listeners, and as we always do, spend far too long talking about all of it. Janet Taylor, welcome back to the show. How are you?

Janet: I’m good, Tim. It’s a crazy Chicago spring as usual here. It’s freezing cold today, it was 70 yesterday.

Tim: Right. So beginning of this week, or I should say over the weekend, it was 70 and now as we’re recording, there’s snow on the ground in Omaha.

Janet: Oh, no.

Tim: Not a lot of it, but I woke up this morning and I was like, what happened?

Janet: It’s like every year this happens and somehow it’s still shocking to me.

Tim: Right. Like, why do we still concern ourselves with it? I don’t know. So anyway, we are going to talk about organization today and I don’t know how you feel about organization, but I feel like I should start with the caveat that I did not get this figured out for a long time as a teacher. I was a mess for the first few years and then I got a little bit better. And then maybe about a decade into my career is where I kind of turned the corner and then I finally felt organized. It took me a long time to get everything organized. So are you the same way or have you always been organized? Where are you coming from here?

Janet: Oh my gosh. I will admit that I was a little hesitant when we were going to cover this topic, because I was like, really? You want me to talk about this? Because I really never felt like I had… How do I say this? So like you inherit your space, whether it’s a classroom, you might share a classroom or whatever it is and the classrooms never had appropriate storage, I didn’t know the type of materials or type of classes that I served within that classroom always changed from like 2D to 3D and then all of a sudden we were building a jewelry program and like, how do you organize anything? And then of course the classroom is oddly shaped and there’s random, weird cabinetry from the ’60s or earlier, and then cabinets that never fit anything, just all of that.

I just always felt like I was constantly tetrising my classroom. So I will say this though, after I thought about this topic a little bit more I will say that the first thing I just want to share with everybody is even though how self-conscious I was of my classroom and making it work, my students would often tell me how it was their favorite room in the school. And I think it’s really about the systems and the procedures and how we manage it for their needs and for ourselves that makes it their home and so that’s okay. It’s okay that it looks a little like garage sale, thrift store, whatever, right?

Tim: Yes.

Janet: But kind of also the same front, it’s like I’m working with the student teachers and we’re talking about things like classroom management and it’s like, this is what it’s all about. It’s like organization of your space, your materials, but like everything, right?

Tim: Yes.

Janet: Organization is so much bigger, right?

Tim: It is, and that actually is the perfect segue into the first question in the mailbag that I wanted to ask. But I would say just as everyone is listening to this today, keep that in mind, organization is not about just getting your chalk pastels in the correct color order and making a cute sign for where your glue is, it’s so much more than that. And so I think we should probably keep that in mind as we kind of go through this whole discussion today. So anyway, first question comes from Hannah in Michigan, dealing with exactly that. And she says, “My colleague keeps telling me organization isn’t just about supplies, but she refuses to elaborate on that. And I’m kind of racking my brain trying to figure it out. What do you think she means and do you agree?”

Now, before I answer this question, let me just say, I will edit myself and say what in the world? Help out your colleagues, okay? You don’t need to leave them with these mysterious nuggets of wisdom, tell people what you mean, help them when they need help. And you don’t need to play games like that. But I would say luckily most teachers are not like that and I would say a vast majority of us are willing to help our colleagues and new teachers. It goes the same way for them, new teachers, you need to be willing to ask for help as well.

Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know about this. I need some help with this.” and people will be happy to help you. But to answer the question, I would say yes, I agree. Like I said, organization is more than just making things look pretty in the right order or giving them the right cabinet to live in, it has to do with how you structure your lessons, how you set up your classroom, the processes you have for everything, from passing out materials, to cleaning up, everything in between. Even your teacher desk which we should probably talk about later too, all of those things go into organizations, not just about supplies. So anyway, I talked about a lot of random stuff there but Janet, what are your thoughts here? Like, is it more than just supplies for you?

Janet: Yeah. This is such a big topic. Okay, so it’s about the artwork, it’s about the tools, it’s about the materials, but it’s also about your students’ desk arrangements or table grouping or how they’re able to access materials when they need to access materials. So that also plays into how you’re organizing your agenda for the day, the activities, how you are organizing your lessons, so that things scaffold and you have certain materials that play into other materials, and when are you going to use that?

I guess ultimately, that also plays into how you’re organizing your own personal schedule when you’re not even in the classroom and how are you working and how are you managing your digital systems too not just physical systems? I’m not really sure why somebody wouldn’t help you out, except for the fact that maybe they don’t really know how to articulate all of these things. And new teachers don’t even know what to ask, when to ask it, right? You wouldn’t know until you’ve kind of gone through the experiences to say, “Oh, this isn’t working or…”

Tim: Right. Like with new teachers, they will have a day that doesn’t go well and they say, “Oh God, that didn’t go well.” but they can’t pinpoint it. They don’t have the experience to know whether it was how you organize things, how you presented stuff, how much time you gave kids, how you didn’t wrap things up at the end. There are a million different ways for things to go sideways and you don’t know what you don’t know, if that makes sense…

Janet: Yes.

Tim: … and so, yeah, I think that is exactly the case. You really are just not sure where these problems might be coming from and it could be one of a million different things.

Janet: Exactly. And it’s not always like you might think it is. You might think your lesson flopped, like you said and it’s not the lesson itself, it’s the other pieces that work together to flow or to manage it.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. All right, hopefully we can dive into all of those things as we go through these next few questions. All right. So next one, this comes from Nadia in Tennessee and she says, “I never seem to be able to keep student work organized. It’s all over the place, it’s just a hot mess.” which I think is a phrasing I used in the intro so we’re with you Nadia. And she also says, “I’m so afraid I’m going to lose their work.” So the question is, how do you have students turn in work and how do you keep it organized once they turn it in? Janet, do you want to take this one first?

Janet: Sure. It’s different depending on your situation as is with every one of these questions, right? Yeah. But in a pre-digital world or pre-heavy digital world, it looked different than now. Then I think most of us are pretty heavily digital accessible because of the pandemic. I’m not saying that’s always the case. So I would say the first thing that’s really been helpful for me in my practice, and again, this took me years to figure out, is making the students accountable for their own organization and to follow our classroom routines and procedures with that. So anything students can do themselves is going to help you manage the rest of everything else that’s going on, but you need to make sure that you’re teaching it explicitly, modeling it consistently and repeating all the time. I cannot say that enough. We joked with Lindsey Moss about the B analogy, right?

Tim: Yes.

Janet: Like the hive, right?

Tim: Yes.

Janet: And it looks like they’re kind of all over the place doing stuff, but it’s because you set up these routines and procedures for them to do that. And so for me, I use digital portfolios but I also have physical places for them to turn in work or to keep their work in progress so that they know how to access that. So a lot of times I’ve turned in… Again, you have to get really creative with your space and I think I’m going to talk about this more later, but I’ve turned in some old drafting tables we had in the room, use the drawers to have students kind of pair up together to store work along the way, that kind of stuff.

Janet: I often have them photograph their work, because they’re going to then put it on a digital slide or a digital space of some sort and then I have them make sure that they’re tagging their artwork, so it depends on if it’s 2D or 3D, but always tagging it with their name, you could do like class codes, et cetera. And then I have like a finish bin or some sort of identified space for that class to turn it in. So even if that means that they can’t house that finish bin there all the time, so like maybe a bin that I can pull out for the class period, they put their finished works in as they finish and I can put that bin somewhere else later, or have a student pull out the bin that’s even better so that they’re accountable for that and you’re not the one always having to do that.

But then the idea behind that is that when it comes to grading, then I can look at the digital portfolio and so I don’t have to physically have all of those pieces. However, I do have also boxes not just for finished works because I do like to look at that. I like to get a feel, especially if it’s 3D, sometimes it needs be tactile or you need to turn the piece around or the photo wasn’t great, but I also like to have a space for art shows. So like a box that I know that I can toss in finished works, put it into that space and then know that I can hang it up later, it needs to be matted or I need to do so. A lot of those kinds of bins, I just want to toss out a couple of practical ideas so if you don’t have any storage or funds to buy that kind of thing, my colleague Matt and I used to do a lot of pizza boxes, you can get those donated from pizza. Have you done that, Tim? Have you done pizza boxes?

Tim: Of course.

Janet: I love them because they’re big. They’re big enough and you could literally label it like this is class period five and all the students and then you can stack them, which is really nice.

Tim: Yeah. It’s also fun to just carry a stack of sketchbooks home, but it looks like you’re carrying a stack of pizzas, that’s way more fun than just carrying work itself.

Janet: Okay. Wait, you put sketchbooks in the pizza boxes? You put the sketchbooks in there?

Tim: Sometimes, depends on-

Janet: Oh my gosh.

Tim: … what we’re doing, but yeah.

Janet: Those are some hardy pizza boxes, I have to say. I used to have crates of them and that was super heavy.

Tim: Yeah.

Janet: Tossing all of those in there.

Tim: Well, you were probably better at getting your kids to actually turn their sketchbooks in than I was…

Janet: Maybe.

Tim: … so that might be a part of it.

Janet: I don’t know. So yeah. So those are some of my practical tips on that, I’d say,

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s good. So I would say if you can avoid actually physically handle their work, I would do that. I think we’re to that point where kids do digital stuff enough in all of their classes that they’re used to turning things in that way but if you’re not ready to get to that point, there are a lot of options. Like when I first started teaching, I didn’t even have pizza boxes, I literally just had a table that said… I put a period one sign, a period three sign and like, “Period one, put your work on the table there. Period three, put it there.” And then I cart it all home and graded at home and it worked, I guess, but then I was like, “There’s got to be a better way to do things.”

And so I eventually got to doing one-on-one critiques, I’d have kids fill out a self-assessment and then on a studio day, I would just call kids back one at a time, bring their assessment back. We’d sit there, we’d talk about the piece together, go through their rubric, go through their assessment and I would just grade right then. And then they do whatever they want to do with their work. And so I was never responsible for handling it or holding onto it. And…

Janet: That’s a great idea.

Tim: Yeah.

Janet: And then they get their feedback right there too.

Tim: Right. It’s immediate feedback, it’s quality conversation, it’s a good time with them and then we’re all done with it and I don’t have homework. I don’t have to bring things home. So that always worked out really well for me and I’ve also done grading during critiques. If you just have small group putting work up on the wall and you’re talking about it, you can mark down grades during that time too and then just kids can leave it hanging on the wall, they can take it home when they’re done with it, whatever they want to do with it.

So I think those are some good ways to do that if you’re not ready to go digital with things, but if you are, I think the sooner you can get to… Like you said, kids doing it themselves after you teach it, after you model it and after you reteach it, because you will need to reteach it, once you get kids responsible for documenting and turning in their own work, I think that’s easier for everybody. And so I would encourage people to work toward that as they’re going with organizing and grading.

Janet: And can I just add on to that question, the concern about losing student artwork?

Tim: Yeah.

Janet: I’m sure you’ve had this… Well, that’s an assumption. I’ve had it happen where a piece has gone missing or you couldn’t find it or another student has swiped it as their own or something like that has happened or when I used to bring work back and forth, how many times maybe spilled coffee on it or I crumpled something and it makes you feel really bad but I do want to say things happen and I know it’s heartbreaking. I think that’s the other reason to always tell students to constantly be taking photos of their work so they have that there. And it’s also great if students do try to swipe somebody else’s [inaudible 00:18:28] and you’re like, “Look, this student has evidence that this is their work.”

Tim: Right, yeah.

Janet: So, yeah.

Tim: No, that’s really good advice. I think that’s a good addition there. All right. Our next question comes from Jeff in Ohio and it’s super simple. “What are your best tips for keeping 2D materials organized? What about 3D materials?” Janet, what are your best tips for either 2D or 3D or both?

Janet: Okay. Again, maybe this goes back to my classroom set up, like I mentioned. And I feel really uncomfortable talking about great tips for organizing all of that, except for the… Okay. I can tell you some overarching things to consider. How about that?

Tim: Yeah.

Janet: Can I do that?

Tim: Yeah, let’s do it.

Janet: Okay. All right. So things that I’m thinking about when I’m in my classroom, I’m observing other student teachers or teachers’ classrooms, I’m thinking about how are you wanting your students to access your tools and materials? So materials that you want students to have open access to, materials that you want them to have no access or maybe limited access.

Tim: let’s stop right there. Can you name some things that you don’t want kids to have access to or have limited access to?

Janet: Right. I know we talked about this before in the elementary, you don’t want them to necessarily have access to sharp objects…

Tim: Yeah. Like torches.

Janet: I say that because in high school, there’s a lot of dangerous I have and they still could have had access to it if they wanted to. But yes, like torches and kiln access is another example, blades of any sort, even Sharpies sometimes those can run awry, spray paint, anything that could considered dangerous. The other thing that you don’t want them necessarily to have access to are expensive materials.

Tim: Yes. I was just going to say that, like the really nice paints, the really nice brushes or like the fine point brushes for super tiny detail work, I can only afford so many of those and then when kids take them, they just disappear forever. You need to keep a close eye on those things.

Janet: I would say like any sort of micron or any of those kind of more expensive, limited items. I know we’ve talked about this before, but that is a huge piece into classroom management and, or organization. Is like in my classroom, I might have drawers or access for scissors, glue sticks that kind of thing, let’s say, but I might not have all of my scissors or all of my glue sticks because then it’s like they’ll think, “Oh, there’s more in there. I don’t have to worry about putting it back necessarily.” So you do need to think about that. So I say like, how are your students accessing it? Not just what are they accessing? So if I know that my students are, for example, in a more choice situation or an advanced level where kids might be working on different types of artworks, let’s say, and so they need different 2D materials or 3D materials.

So I don’t necessarily want all of my kids on that one day to run and gather around all the scissors and glue sticks because they’re all in the same spot. And so you need to think about that too and if you’re doing an assignment, an artwork project where all of the students need to access that, you can think about taking those items and putting them on a table for that day or for that week or whatever it is. Or maybe you have little [carts 00:22:33] that can go to different tables and so students can share, and maybe those have your pretty typically used or commonly used scissors, glue sticks, whatever. And so I think that’s a big, huge piece to organizing materials, is you really need to think through your own teaching style and your curriculum and how it is that you want your students to access that, I think that’s a big, big piece.

Tim: Yeah. And I was just going to say, I’m not sure this probably goes into what you’re going to say before I so rudely interrupted you. But the big thing for me was I always wanted kids to independently be able to find things, but also independently be able to put them away. And for me, the biggest help with that was labels. Just labeling everything-

Janet: Everything.

Tim: … like glue bottles go here, your scissors go here. I even labeled my container like 2B drawing pencils go in this part of it, 4B go right here, 6B go right here. And all of our colored pencils, like warm colored pencils, orange, yellow, red go here. Cool go in this container and then neutrals go in here. It seems kind of crazy to just break it down that much and create a label for every single thing, but it’s so incredibly helpful and I’m the biggest proponent of labels because A, they look very nice when you’re all organized and you do that well. And B it helps kids be independent, it helps them find things, it helps them put things away and it helps them sort of work independently without having to ask you, “Where does this go? Where can I find this? all the time and so it’s better for you and it’s better for your students.

Janet: And I say this all the time, but teaching, teaching, teaching, modeling, modeling, reviewing, doing that over and over again. I think what’s really exciting is when you can say, “Hey, we need…” We’re doing collage today and a student comes in here early and you can say, “Hey, we’re doing collage today.” And they know, okay, every table needs X amount of scissors or glue sticks and they can help you because they know where those materials are. Right?

Tim: Right.

Janet: Yeah.

Tim: That’s a huge help. All right-

Janet: Oh, sorry. Can I add one more? A biggie?

Tim: Yes. Go right ahead.

Janet: Okay. So because you know I love to talk and share. But I want to say too, it’s really important for you to consider… We’re talking, Tim and I, of people who’ve had their own classrooms and maybe we’ve been the only ones in our classroom or the bulk of the day is, but we share classrooms all the time and we share materials and tools and I think it’s really important that you talk with your colleagues and have those conversations of what’s working and what’s not working. You don’t want students to just access… In your class, they can access all the glue sticks… And I’m using this as a terrible example, but let’s say glue sticks and they use up all the glue sticks and your fellow teacher is coming in, who doesn’t have that same system in place or expectation and then there’s no glue sticks available for their lesson.

They might be like, “What the heck?” And so it’s really, really important… I would say a big one is like paper, oftentimes you have a stack of 9 by 12 sulfite paper, some like that, like a huge order of that and we use that and then all of a sudden the other teacher who was planning on… Because they had ordered X amount and all that paper’s used up or whatever it is, I think that’s really important to make sure that the systems in place are working for everybody and that you’re managing those materials together.

Tim: Yep. And I want to just add one last thing, probably not the last, I want to add one more thing, which will probably lead to one more thing and on and on. But Jeff asked about 2D and 3D materials. I talked a lot about 2D, did not talk about 3D. So projects for 3D, I feel like that’s very dependent on the space you have, the shelving you have, how you do that. But I would say the idea of labeling works for tools in the 3D room as well. Just like for ceramics, I had little buckets and what I did was I typed out whatever goes in like sponges and then I got a picture of a sponge and printed it out, laminated it, put it on the bucket, same thing for rib tools or needle tools or whatever else you have.

And each thing was labeled and laminated because it’s a mess in there and then you’re able to wipe it off, but then you had a bucket for each different type of tool and that makes it so easy for kids to just wash off their stuff, put it back where it belongs. And again, just labels and images and making it easy on them, definitely want to do that for tools when you’re working on sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, whatever else, same thing applies there.

Janet: Yeah. So, okay. I did not talk about this either, the 3D materials, but my classroom is often sculpture, we do ceramics as well, we do all of the AP so they’re all doing all different stuff, right?

Tim: Yep.

Janet: Jewelry metals, that’s another one because you’ve got metals dust to have to clean and things like that you think about. So I just want to reiterate that it took me so many years to finally or slowly kind of work through by trial and error what was going to work for me as this multimedia room and for my students. And so every year I would ask for something from our capital outlay. I would ask, “Can we please get new tables?” “No.” “Okay. Can we please get a cabinet?” No. “Okay. Can I please…” And then it was like, okay, then I will make my own stuff or get some help from the tech department or whatever.

And so I had this hoarding closet, I call, it was always a hot mess. I changed those cabinets into open shelving so I had more space to stack things or to see what was in there. I think also I often, as a sculpture teacher, had a lot of weird random stuff. I had like tubes upon tubes that I collected somewhere of like PVC tubes, cardboard tubes, I had these old blinds, like window blinds where we had pulled the slats from them, there were plastic or whatever. And so how do you stack all that stuff? So you have to get really creative and I found somebody had donated some library stand, it had like dividers in it but it was upright and so all my tubes then sit inside those and there’s upright and against the wall. In years I was like, maybe I can rig, I don’t know, cable system where it’s hanging from the ceiling…

No, no. And just at some point you just have to pick what you can and so I would say another big piece for me was getting rid of my teacher desk. And I know you mentioned this earlier, but I never sit at my teacher desk in the classroom and I asked my colleagues like, “Are you going to really use this? Do you need to use this?” And so I said, “This is just taking up valuable space in our classroom.” And so we built a giant work table on castors, which was amazing because you could move it if you needed to.

Tim: Wheel it around wherever you got to go.

Janet: Yeah. And then I had a bunch of really old flat files that were kind of janky but I would put those underneath the giant work table and so that work table became a place where I could project from, I could work with students, I had big layout space to maybe mat artwork, but then I had flat files underneath that students could access different things that they needed. It’s all about getting creative with your space and I would say my biggest takeaway has always been researching things like… That’s really big now, Pinterest home organization hacks, Ikea hacks, online stores that feature garage organization or tool art organization. I could never afford the furniture, but it gave me ideas on how I could actually maximize my space.

Tim: Right, yeah. There’s so many sources of inspiration too. And I want to talk out the teacher desk thing, but I’m going to hold that because we have a question on paperwork coming up and… Sorry to drop that on you but I want to talk about how I use my desk for that one. But moving on to our next question, this is from Kelly in Arizona and she says, “I just got my evaluation back and my principal told me that the class period didn’t seem organized. Not the kids or the class, but the class period. He suggested bell ringers and exit tickets. Do you always do those things? How do you organize your class period from beginning to end?”

Janet: I know I’ve talked about bell ringers many a times and my loathe for them now so I will tell you this. Okay. As someone coming in and watching student teachers and observing, I think it’s really clear on that side what this means and I see that because you’re talking about your evaluation and what they’re looking for. So the bell ringers and exit tickets are always what administration wants to see, as an observer and an art teacher, I say that to my students all the time, you need something and what I really am looking for or what an administrator’s really looking for in the organization is that you’re engaging students from the moment that they walk in your door and somehow connecting that to their learning.

So sometimes bell ringers, I know I’ve talked about this where they can be a get to know me question or something that… how was your weekend? And a lot of times they’re used in that way to settle the classroom, get the kids prepared, get their minds into that space. If you can connect it to the learning that they’re about to do or something that they did from yesterday, that’s ideal because you’re basically… I think about this all the time, we teach our five classes or whatever classes, seven classes, whatever it is throughout the day and a lot of times there’s overlap in those classes, but students are moving from period to period.

Do you remember being a high schooler? How did we do that? Transition from one… like science into math, into PE into music, how do our brains manage that at that age? But clearly, it’s meant for younger people and not older people like us, so I think that’s really important and that’s what they’re looking for is that students are walking in and they are engaged right away, somehow. And then what they’re also looking for on the closure side or the exit ticket, you had Chelsea on and she was talking on the, what was that? Student engagement?

Tim: Yeah. We were just talking about engagement strategies.

Janet: Yeah.

Tim: That was last month.

Janet: Okay. And so she did a great job in that episode talking about what that really means and what that really looks like and the idea she was saying in that episode about wrapping up your learning from the class period, kind of summarizing it, bringing it back, but also like that cliffhanger or that piece to get them to think about it beyond your classroom and into tomorrow or excited for tomorrow. And so a lot of times we say, “It’s time to clean up.” because we want to maximize our studio time, I get it.

And so the principal, the administrator, the observer is looking for very clear expectations and then ways to check in with your students learning that has occurred and how to connect it into maybe tomorrow. So for example, a lot of times if they cleaned up early, I might have a question that I would pose to them and check in like, “Hey, what was your goal today?” And they would announce it to the class and say, “How did you do that? What was the progress? What kind of questions did you get asked.” Whatever.

Bringing it back into what’s happening keeps it kind of real and authentic. And then I will say that anything in between the organization, because I know the question was like, what does it look like from beginning to end? And I think what an observer is looking for too, and at students need, I don’t want to say it’s like you’re just doing it for the evaluation. This is truly best practices, students need very clear transitions from one activity to another. And I cannot say this enough. That it’s not just, “Okay, these are all the things we’re doing today, go.” And then kids are like, “Wait, what?”

In some classes, advanced classes, they might not need much because they are used to that routine but especially in the younger years, especially in the early stages, they really need very clear expectations, “So right now we’re going to this” Okay, then they do this. “Okay everybody.” Bringing the class back together, how are you getting their attention? How are you then moving onto the next and connecting that? And so they’re looking for how are you facilitating all of that learning and connecting it, not just with the content, but also with their peers, right?

Tim: Yes.

Janet: That was a lot. Does that make sense?

Tim: No, that is a lot. I’m going to try and sort of echo what you said and just sort of succinctly share how a class would go for me. Like, let’s say we’re having a studio day, which can be tough for observations, I know, but what I would do is just make sure I’m greeting most of the kids at the door, as many as I can talk to and just tell them, “Hey, we’re working today, go ahead and grab your stuff and get started.” And so not all of your kids are going to listen to that, but a lot of them will, they’ll get their stuff out, they’ll get started. And then once the bell rings or once class starts you can just talk about, “Hey, we’re working on our projects today. If you haven’t gotten stuff out yet, do that as soon as I’m done talking.” and then you hit the points that you need to hit about you should be looking at these things with your projects, et cetera, et cetera, and make sure you keep this in mind as you’re working.

And then let them do their thing for a little while and then maybe you have one of those transitions where you say, “Hey, let’s discuss.” What’s going well for somebody who wants to share or, “Hey, we’re going to take a quick break.” walk around the room or, “Hey, we’re going to take a quick break and talk to your neighbor about one thing that you’re kind of struggling with right now and see if they have any suggestions for you.” whatever the case may be, but just have a few transitions in there. And then toward the end of the class say, “Hey, we’re going to clean up in two minutes. Before we clean up, let’s talk about these things.”

And then you can just have kids discuss a little bit about what happened that day like you said, share your goals, what’s going well. See who wants to share and just engage them with a little discussion that gives you one last chance to put in those reminders about, “These were our objectives, hopefully you did these things today, remember this and tomorrow we’re going to do this. And then that allows you to get all of that information in and then tell the kids to clean up.

And then if there’s still time at the end, you can go back to any of discussion questions or any other points you want to hit. But even if you don’t feel like there’s a lot going on, because it is a studio day, there are a million things that you can do all throughout the period to engage kids to like you said, facilitate those best practices and hopefully get a better evaluation the next time it comes through. So anything else [crosstalk 00:39:18] you want to say on that?

Janet: No, I was just impressed at how you just basically packaged all of my, “Well then this and then that.” and you just cleanly made it so thank you for-

Tim: It’s important because you’re going much more in-depth on why we do these things and I’m just trying to do the simple, here’s how I would do it because I don’t think about them nearly as deeply as you do, I don’t.

Janet: And as an observer it’s a little different, you’re thinking about all that stuff. And I will say, don’t shy away from doing a studio day on your observation from an evaluator, and even as a teacher when you’re being evaluated, you tend to worry like, “But all I’m doing is a studio day, the students are just working.” First of all, they’re not just working, right?

Tim: Right.

Janet: That’s not all that’s happening and as a trained observer and a veteran art teacher or an administrator we know what good teaching and authentic learning looks like even in a studio day.

Tim: Yep. And just one more point, I don’t want to make this all about evaluations, but there’s a couple benefits to studio days on evaluations. Number one, ton of opportunities for you to sit down with kids and talk to them one on one, which observers generally love to see. And number two, you’re probably going to have a chance to go over and talk to your assistant principal or principal or whoever’s observing you and just explain to them clearly, “This is what we’re doing, here’s why. Do you have any questions about what we’re doing?” And then things that maybe they weren’t sure on or maybe things they’re worried about, you can give them an explanation, they’ll know a little bit better about what’s going on in your classroom.

Janet: Yep.

Tim: All right. Janet, last question, promised you all about paperwork and the first sentence of the question is, “Oh, paperwork.” Okay.

Janet: That’s how I feel too. Yeah.

Tim: Yes. This is from Libby in California and Libby says, “Oh, paperwork. I hate it. I don’t want to do it and it piles up and then I end up losing stuff.” I feel like she’s ready to rant about it. But second part of it says, “I know you can’t fix my procrastination, LOL, but can you help me fix my desk? How do you keep paperwork organized?” All right. Janet, I’m going to make you dive in first here.

Janet: Oh my gosh. This topic is like my hell, I’m just going to tell you. Talking about all of this organization, I’m just so terrible. Okay. All right. So I will tell you what actually helped me get organized and you should not have this happen to you in order to do that, but okay. So I actually was also a section 504 coordinator and so I had to do a lot of paperwork and keep it very organized and also not just organized but super safe. And so that actually really helped me get my life kind of… and cure when it came to paperwork because otherwise there’s like 70,000 sticky notes and I don’t know. Okay. And my desk in my office, the art department office always just had piles. It was just terrible.

So I will try to give you some tips. Okay. So the other piece of my schedule, not only did I have the 504, but I was an art teacher and my classes were combined. So I had like three class periods where I was teaching, but nine preps and so trying to keep all of that organized was just… This is why I joke that it’s like my nightmare to talk about this. But the biggest thing that was helpful for me was to have a binder with folders, like dedicated folders. And I would carry this binder around with me all day long. Everywhere I went, I had this binder and then each folder had like a class period, and also the binder included maybe a notepad or some paper that I could always jot things down on when I needed to, I had sticky notes in there because I do love the good sticky notes.

And then I also had a folder that was specific to department needs. So maybe things that I needed to think about as a holistic how does this impact my department? Or I went to a meeting and I wanted to make sure I took that nugget and didn’t lose it so I would toss it in that folder or stick that sticky note in that particular location. And then what I tried to do, which I also was not always successful at, by the end of the day or by the end of the week, I tried to go through that binder, those folders and kind of weed through and organize that. So taking 15 and just saying, “Do I need this paperwork? Do I not need the paperwork?” That was really helpful to keep my own self organized. Also, if you notice a kid’s behavior and we want to log that or you talk to a parent, of course there’s all this digital stuff now, but we often don’t have time to open up a document jot it in the moment so sticky notes are really helpful for that.

Way back when I did more paperwork when it comes to with students has been… Maybe there were bell ringers or exit tickets or reflections or something like that where they were actually writing and physically turning that in, I would have a turn it in folder with a class period number and a hand it back folder. I would put that folder out, I’d say, “Make sure you turn it in your work to here.” They’d toss it in, the end of class take that folder into my binder, take it home, whatever I needed to do. And then as I graded, I just moved it right into the I hand it back folder and toss that folder when I walked in the classroom that day so that they knew to pick it out of that.

That was really helpful as far as paper stuff. And then the last thing I will say is about digital organization, which again, I am not much better at. I love your cackling about that, but it’s so bad. It’s like I have multiple folders. I have these folders that say to organize and then like two weeks later, another one to organize and then those just get shoved into another folder. And I will tell you, it is important to maybe schedule time into your schedule, to make a date with yourself to actually clean and organize that because in the long run you’re going to kind of pay for it. I’m still going through all of my student artwork and I’m trying to sort it into which… I had so much and there was never time.

And so sorting it into jewelry metals and sorting it into sculpture, whatever it is so then I could access it easier when I needed it, it’s just horrible. It’s horrible. So those are my things to keep track of, I guess.

Tim: Yeah. I think that’s all good. I would echo a lot of that advice, I think it’s very similar in the things I would say. The one thing I would add, I’d mentioned earlier my teacher desk and I had the epiphany once upon a time that my teacher desk needs to be used just for paperwork because I would try and just have all of my administrative tasks, this paperwork, this other stuff that you need to fill out there but then over the course of the day, all of a sudden, like a couple sketchbooks pile up and then you get a bottle of paint and a couple of pencils and then a book that you had out for lesson planning plus your own personal work and then like an exemplar that you’re working on and then part of a kid’s lunch and God knows what’s on your desk by the end of the day. And then-

Janet: It’s like the curse of the horizontal surface.

Tim: Right. Exactly. And then that’s when all the stuff gets lost. And so I guess I try to just sort of keep it there with those folders per class, for attendance, for whatever notes you have to take, whatever things you need to do. And then I would have my to-do list, I would have my stack of paperwork that also needs to be done and try and just keep that as what’s on my desk and leave everything else off of there. And then I would just dedicate some time, 15 minutes, half an hour, whatever you have either after school, before school, during your plan period, whenever you have time and just try and knock that out every day, just so things don’t build up.

And for procrastinating people like me, that’s much easier said than done, but if you can create the environment in which you have an easier time doing that, I think that can be incredibly helpful. So if you can stay on top of paperwork, not let it build up, not let things get lost. It sucks to do every day, but no bones about it but it’s part of your job. And if you’re going to be a professional, you need to do those professional tasks as much as you hate to do them. Just spending some time each day will definitely be beneficial for you. All right, Janet, anything else you want to say before we wrap things up?

Janet: I just hope that our conversation has made people feel so much better that you’re not alone in the organization.

Tim: We both failed for the better part of a decade on organization.

Janet: Yes. And then it just takes time. A lot of it is trial and error and reflection. I say this all the time, reflection on your own practice, what’s working what’s not and really trying to identify. It’s a work in progress forever, I feel like. Yes.

Tim: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s one of those things that you’re not ever going to conquer, but I think it’s things that just need to be addressed one at a time. And I think once you can start to solve one problem, it kind of snowballs in a good way because things will continue to get a little bit better piece by piece. And I think that’s a good way to think about it, a good way to approach organization. So all right, Janet, I appreciate your conversation, your time as always. It’s always wonderful to talk to you and we’ll have to put together another one of these episodes next month, hopefully.

Janet: Sounds good. Thanks for having me.

Tim: Thank you to Janet for all of her ideas and just for that entire discussion, I hope it was worthwhile for you to listen. And going back to that first question that we answered today, organization can take so many forms and there’s so many things to think about, but you don’t need to solve all of those problems at once. And you can work on things piece by piece, solve one problem at a time and slowly get yourself organized. As I said, it took me years to get to that point and that’s okay, but the sooner you start to solve some of those organization problems, the better it’ll be for both you and for your students. Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening and we’ll talk to you again next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.

6 months ago
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