Packing Up Your Classroom with Intent

5 tips for packing your classroom with an eye toward back-to-school.

By Rachel Wilser

It’s May. Everyone is likely feeling weary, and looking towards summer break. It’s really tempting on the last day of school to just throw away all the last-minute papers, lock the door, and say you’ll deal with it in August. But if you can take a bit of extra time at the end of the school year to sort and organize, you’ll head back to school more organized and better prepared.

Here are 5 tips you can use to channel your inner Marie Kondo, and pack up your classroom this year so you’re ready to head back to school in August.

Sort reusable supplies.
Every classroom has consumable supplies, from preschool to high school; things like pencils, crayons, markers, highlighters, pens, colored pencils, and the like. At the end of the school year, sort through these items to figure out what you can reuse for the next school year. This also has the upside of allowing you to get the supplies you actually need for the following school year. Did you request 24 red dry-erase markers, but never use them? Ask for blue or black next year. And in the interest of reusing and keeping unnecessary waste out of landfills, some companies have recycling programs where you can reuse or recycle materials by sending them back for free, as Crayola does.

Go through the closet.
Listen, I hear you. This one is THE WORST. Going through the closet is a terrible time suck, but if you go through your closet and toss all the extra stuff that accumulated during the year, you’ll be more organized and have more available storage in August. Now, if we’re being totally honest, depending on your level of packrat tendencies you could potentially do this once every two years. But I would encourage you to not put it off longer than that. And I would also encourage you to purge the closet any time you take over a new classroom. Extraneous buildup in a classroom closet is almost inevitable, even if you’re being intentional, so it’s worth a few hours every year or two to clean it out and reorganize. As a courtesy, I usually ask if other teachers in my grade level band might want the things I’m ditching (if they’re worth saving), but otherwise basically everything goes into a giant black trash bag and out to the dumpster. Instead of asking yourself “Does this spark joy?”, ask yourself “Did I use it this year?” If not, get rid of it.

Organize materials.
This will happen concurrently with most of these other activities, but it will require a bit of intention once the other parts are done. As you’re sorting reusable supplies, and going through your closet, among the trash you’ll inevitably find things that are still functional and worth keeping. Once you have these items put aside, you’ll want to organize them so that they’re ready for use next year. Maybe you want to sort by the time of year you’ll use items, or thematically. Maybe you have a supply station and you want to organize reusable supplies there. Just don’t take the time to go through everything, and then stuff it in your closet! Make sure you give yourself time to organize everything you’ve sorted through, otherwise all this intentional Marie Kondo-ing is less than useful in the end.

Create a (teacher) supply list.
We all know there are certain supplies that make teaching easier. For me, it was always having like three sizes of post-its available all the time. And a stapler within reach that worked. And a few Ticonderoga sharpened pencils in my pen cup if I needed to write on a student’s work. So when I was intentionally packing up my room, these are things I’m going to note that I need for the next year. I always kept a pack of Mr. Sketch markers under my easel for charts, so if those were used up I’d add another pack to my supply list for the next school year. I find that one of the best ways to make my teacher supply list is imagine the general flow of my day and what materials I would use throughout the day. I also usually sort between essential and “nice to have” items, and then I will watch sales during the summer like a hawk (especially at Target, Costco, and Staples).

Make a pro/con list.
This is a little more abstract than the other tips on this list, but what I mean here is to think back on what worked for you this year — and what didn’t. For example, did you need to frequently use dry-erase boards, but didn’t have a great way for kids to erase them? Then try something else out next year. There’s no reason to repeat procedures that didn’t work for you. If having a sharpen/sharp pencil jar worked really well for you, do it again. But think about all these procedures and supplies you used and get rid of the one of the ones you didn’t like or didn’t work well.

The end of the school year is always a stressful time, but with a bit of additional intentional time and channeling your inner Marie Kondo you can pack up your classroom and have it ready for next August.

Rachel Wilser has spent the better part of a decade in classrooms around the country — in private, public, charter, elementary, and middle schools. Now, she chases twins and drinks coffee while planning her return to the classroom.

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