Organization, Stability, Independence, and All Good Things

November 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm Leave a comment

An elderly relative of mine passed away recently. She left many friends and admirers, and with good reason – there was a lot to admire about her. But the one memory that everyone shared was surprisingly mundane: She was the most organized person we knew.

I imagine most people don’t think of organization as the thing they’d most want to be remembered by. If you didn’t experience it, you might even think this is somewhat shallow and insulting. But anyone who visited this woman understands that the organization was in fact a remarkable way of communicating love, care, and trust. See, when you came over, you knew exactly what to expect. You knew that all your needs would be taken care of.  The food may have been simple, but it would be there, neatly packaged and labeled. In the bathroom, a towel rack labeled “for our guests.” In the games closet, everything boxed or binned with labels facing out. You didn’t have to ask for things because they were set up so you could find them easily – but that wasn’t cold, because you knew someone had taken the time and energy to set them up for you. You put them back because you knew how they went. You felt confident. That felt good, so you kept coming back. Everyone did – relatives, friends, relatives’ friends, friends’ friends’ friends… she was a popular person. If I had that many guests, I’d probably be going crazy trying to serve them all – but she had it set up so efficiently that everything practically ran itself, which freed her up to spend time with the people: listening, advising, encouraging.

People also remembered how she remembered everyone’s birthdays, anniversaries, and such. You feel loved and cared for when someone does that. I’m not sure if they realize that this was no feat of memory, but really the same organizational principles: Before the age of PDA’s, there was a calendar on the refrigerator, one on the desk, and a daily planner notebook. As soon as they were bought, the important dates were copied down from the book of dates. It was practically impossible to lose track of anything.

In listening to people reminisce about these things, I realized that the same principles can help us create classrooms that are havens for our students, and homes that are havens for our children. OK, at this stage of life and with my personality, this might be an unrealistic goal for my home. But certainly at school, where we need students from all sorts of backgrounds to feel secure and empowered to learn, perhaps this is the answer. It seems so basic now, but I have seen so many classrooms with unclear expectations in at least one major area – be it schedule, materials, or rules. In reflecting upon my relationship with this relative, I now realize the extent to which organization and predictability foster positive feelings and growth. Organization has always been one of my goals as a teacher, but I have just now clarified for myself – and hopefully for you, too – how deep it really can be.

My organizational goals for this week:

  • Explicitly review and clarify lesson routines with all students.
  • Post daily agendas in writing so everyone can be on the same page from the start
  • Chart behavior with [certain] students daily
  • Discuss sticking to schedule with the mainstream teachers so my students can benefit from more predictability in school at large
  • Trust students more to follow procedures instead of answering the same questions with the same answers repeatedly
  • (My materials are already very organized. Still thinking of how I can encourage students to respect that more!)

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