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How to Declutter Your Classroom

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Are you finding yourself wading through reams of paper in a cluttered classroom? Read on for Prospero Teaching’s guide ‘how to declutter your classroom’, including reasoning on why keeping a tidy classroom is so important for teacher and student wellbeing.

Returning to school to a mountain of ‘stuff’ and clutter can be very overwhelming. “Do I need this file from three years ago?” “Will we use these laminated Mr. Potato head body parts again?” You may find yourself elbowing everything into the stock cupboard and cracking on with the day at hand. Out of sight out of mind, right? Unfortunately, wrong!

For many teachers, the lockdown has been the perfect time to reflect on the key components needed to make classrooms thrive. If you have been teaching online, you will have become adept at creating learning opportunities without worksheet printouts, physical resources, or wall displays. With this in mind, many teacher’s worst nightmare is a return to a build-up of all that clutter and ‘stuff’.

Make a Plan to Declutter

If you are feeling overwhelmed by a cluttered classroom, do not fear! With our simple guide to decluttering the classroom there is no need to stress. It is really just a case of knowing what to keep and what to lose. And having a plan. Always having a plan. When giving her wardrobe a clear out, Marie Kondo says if an object doesn’t spark joy, then dispose of it. The classroom equivalent could be, ‘if an object doesn’t stimulate learning, then do we need it? Recycle or repurpose!

Why Do You Need to Declutter Your Classroom?

‘Being Organised means being in control’

Organisation is vital for any teacher. Having too much stuff or an untidy desk means you have a disorganised classroom. Clearing your space and providing the things you really need with their own place is the first step in taking back control.

It’s a time saver

If you break a lesson down in to a series of 5 minute chunks, each of these chunks has the potential to hugely benefit the learning and wellbeing of your students. Most lessons consist of between eight to ten of these chunks. If it takes five minutes or more to dig out the glue sticks or locate the laminates, then learning time is being wasted chunks of your lesson are lost forever… A cluttered classroom can also result in working much longer hours, as it takes that extra time to find assessment checklists, files and student workbooks.

It’s a money saver

If I had a penny for every pound spent on every replacement resource that was either considered lost (‘Oh no, here it is under this mountain of books!’) or broken (‘Oh no, it’s been crushed under this mountain of books!‘) then I’d be the UK’s richest teacher. You’d be amazed by the amount of really useful things you forgot you had that turn up when clearing out a classroom.

Declutter = de-stress

As mentioned, the time saved by having a clear, organised classroom has a positive effect on your wellbeing. More time to get the important jobs at school done; more time to spend on hobbies, exercise, and that forgotten pursuit known as socialising. This of course reduces teacher burnout, allowing you to focus on the reasons you got into teaching in the first place! Although they may not vocalise it, a messy classroom will also have a negative impact on your students. The distractions and anxiety caused by the clutter are likely to lead to off-task behaviour and decreased learning. Can we honestly moan at our students in class for not using a ruler to underline the learning objective when our book corner is in such a state?

Professional perception

Classroom clutter can also be a big factor in how you are perceived as a professional. You may be beloved by your students and the most passionate and effective teacher in the world. However, parents, caretakers, the admin team and most other teachers aren’t in your lessons every day. Therefore, what effect might a cluttered classroom have on others’ perception of you as a teacher?

Stumbling Blocks when Decluttering a Classroom

First things first, we recognise that classrooms cannot be completely stripped of clutter. There will be resources that you have purchased with your own money that you will want to keep; curriculum folders and historical assessment data of your students that will need to be kept. In some schools, resources can feel like gold dust (‘these are the last of the glue sticks, protect them with your life!’) which is why many teachers can develop a ‘scarcity complex’ and develop hoarder tendencies. To beat this mindset, we should start by reflecting on the above reasons for why it is important to declutter. Is this pile of old worksheets a distraction from learning time? A source of stress for students? Could it be the cause of some of the low-level disruption that’s flared up recently? Suddenly, the once-coveted pile can be seen as clutter to recycle.

How to declutter your classroom

A vital first step would be to create rules for yourself that you strictly stick to. This prevents you from ‘umming and ahing’ about each individual item. For example, our rule would be the aforementioned, ‘if an object doesn’t stimulate learning, then get rid!’ Then, once you’ve decided on which items of clutter you can lose, make a quick decision on how to get rid. Your options are:

BIN IT

Broken, unusable and too out of date to use items can and should be thrown away.

RECYCLE IT

Put any papers or recyclable items that are of no use to you straight in the recycling bin – such as that towering box of excess toilet roll tubes collected for making periscopes last term.

REPURPOSE IT

Decluttering could be a fantastic opportunity for a recycling awareness project for your class. You could involve them in evaluating and gathering unused resources from the room before repurposing materials for an art project (toilet roll periscopes, anyone?) Ultimately, the last image you want to leave with your pupils at the end of a long day is of a stressed-out teacher rampantly throwing reams of paper straight into the bin.

GIVE IT AWAY

While you want to avoid lumbering other teachers with your rubbish, in some cases the saying, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” rings true. It might be an idea to invite staff to visit your room to choose from a designated ‘give away’ pile. Make sure you keep to an allocated time slot and area to take objects from to avoid arriving in school to find your chairs and whiteboard pens have been pilfered!

DONATE IT

If you don’t have anyone in mind to give it to, consider donating it. You could team up with other teachers and arrange for a company to pick up donations. Thank you for reading this week’s blog, we hope you found our tips on ‘how to declutter your classroom’ helpful.

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