Man, I don’t think I’ve ever given a post such a gripping title. I mean. Positively titillating. But if you’re here, then you, like me, get a tad giddy at the thought of filing cabinets, lists, and neat, organized spaces. It’s ok. We’re all friends here. You can admit that you alphabetize your spice cabinet. I do.
Many of my friends would call me organized. Anal retentive even. Perhaps borderline OCD. I do like my life clean and organized – it keeps my mind calm and allows me to see the forest along with the trees. When things get out of hand, I get stressed and distracted and can’t keep thoughts in my head long enough to follow through on them. I have a terrible working memory; I am one to go down to the basement on an errand only to forget why I went in the first place. I misplace my keys a dozen times a day, and don’t even get me started on my cell phone. When my life gets cluttered and disorganized, I am less likely to do things to take care of myself, because I can never get the mental space to identify what those things would be. This leads to further dissatisfaction and makes me less effective in my life and as a teacher.
That’s why for me, New Year’s is a Gwyn Holiday. It is the one time of year that culturally supports my obsessive need for an uncluttered life. I purge our family’s belongings, I create goals and objectives for me and for school. I get my ducks in a row. I reflect. I find moments of quiet.
Because this is such a need of mine, I have developed quite a few strategies to help me dump the contents of my brain and then sort through them visually. A former grant writer, I am trained to identify needs, create goals to address those needs, and then objectives to help me carry my goals out. These skills are applicable to many aspects of my life, both personally and in the classroom. I’ve listed some of my favorite organizational tools below; if you have tools that you use but don’t see here, please add to the comments! I would love to hear your tricks of the trade.
I love love love me some white boards. I have about a half dozen scattered throughout the house. One large one installed on my bedroom wall allows me to dump out things I think of at night that I’m scared I’ll forget by morning.
This saves me lots of sleepless nights.
A large board in the classroom holds every dry erase marker color ever invented, in multiple widths. I write up our daily schedule here, and it also serves as math work space and doodle area. Sometimes I use it for history too (it makes me feel Teacherly). The board is installed next to a clock. Though we often alter the schedule as we go, it helps us all remember the topics we want to work on and ensures that we won’t miss any activities that we need to get to in town; the kids also appreciate knowing their day is going to look like. And it helps me record our activities each evening.
The next white board is one with weekly calendar lines that I keep on my fridge. I have a master family calendar that hangs near the white board. Each Sunday I transfer the next week’s events to my fridge calendar. This has saved us many missed appointments. It also puts my mind at ease as I can stop trying to remember all the things that we need to get to in the coming week. In addition, it has a handy to-do list which serves as a further brain dump!
Two more lap white boards are located in the classro0m. Sometimes the kids like doing their math on the classroom white board, and sometimes they like to curl up in a chair by the fire and work there. Both kids prefer writing on the white board rather than on paper, so I allow them to work out their problems on the board and then record the answers in the workbook. I’m in the room with them, so I check their work before they erase it. That way I don’t lose the ability to double check their process. And Eva does love all those marker colors.
2. Keeping Records. I mentioned that I record our activities at the end of the day. Our school district requires nothing of me as a homeschool teacher except semi-annual passing standardized test scores. Other than that, I have absolute freedom, so for now the records I keep are for my benefit alone. However, the power of looking back over our activities at the end of the year is astounding. At the end of every year, I pull out my personalized teacher planner and create a summary sheet of what the kids have worked on and accomplished. These summary sheets are filed alongside the teacher planner in a cabinet. The experience is like working on a painting or model or puzzle – something that requires near-sighted vision – and then rewarding yourself by backing up and taking it in as a bigger picture. It’s very satisfying.
3. Setting New Year’s Goals. Notice I don’t say “resolutions” here, because in my mind “resolution” is synonymous with “future failure.” But “goals” is a word I can get my mind around. I ask the kids what their goals are; in fact, we had this conversation just this morning. I let them know that I have my own educational goals and objectives for them, but I invite them to bring their own to the table. I offer to incorporate their interests into the educational game-plan, and often I serve more as a manager than a teacher, simply identifying tools and resources to help them achieve their self-identified goals.
4. Research. This is also a time in which I hit the books. During the six weeks preceding the holidays, we worked on Rube Goldberg projects. But because of the life distraction creeping in (conferences, trips, special events and contests that the kids were in, the ailing family dog), I never had the mental space to back up and take this unit by the horns. I want to continue with our work in physical science – forces and motion, simple machines, Rube Goldberg – over the next nine weeks. But this time around I want to be more intentional about mixing the hands-on problem solving work with more structured learning units.
To do this, I hit the library and checked out some great science books on forces and motion that are chock-full of experiments and explanations. Yesterday I combed through all the resources I brought home and chose my favorites. We’re going to work through Forces and Motion Science Fair Projects by Robert Gardner together. I also discovered that I owned the Cartoon Guide to Physics. I didn’t even know I had it. Fabulous. That will assigned reading for Ian as we work through the experiment book. I have also selected What’s Physics All About? as Eva’s reading assignment. And I’ll pick up The Manga Guide to Physics. Love that series.
5. Analyze and Modify. This is a continual process, but more important at the semester marks. It helps that Jamie works at the university, and so his class schedule changes with the semesters. Our lives are on occasion altered by these changes, sometimes positively, sometimes not. This spring, Jamie has a later start to his day and has committed to doing an alternating PE and literature class first thing in the morning with the kids. This will at long last provide the quiet planning space I’ve been so desperate for this year, while allowing him to give the kids the benefit of his literature and racquetball expertise.
The other major change we’ve settled on is pulling Ian out of his 8th grade earth science class. Although we love the teacher, the class itself just isn’t providing the academic challenge nor the social enjoyment we were looking for. We ultimately decided that there were a lot of things like composing, science, and math that we could make more time for if he wasn’t in earth science. He’ll remain in Science Olympiad with that same teacher, and we feel that will serve him best.
And now I have one request for you. As part of my own 2012 goals, I want to grow this blog, both in readership and in relevance. If you’re so inclined, would you let me know what kinds of topics are most helpful to you? What works for you out of this blog, and what would you like to see more of? Thanks as always for reading and sharing this journey with me. It’s so nice to know you’re there!
Happy New Year!