I don’t know what my organizational system was when I was in high school. In fact, I’m not sure I had one.
Can I share a secret with you? Come on, lean forward, I don’t want this getting out.
I have difficulties with organization.
It’s really ironic. Most of my job is about figuring out how to help staff and students become stronger at what ever they do. But I don’t know how I do it. I listen. Then I listen. Then I listen some more, and slowly, a picture begins to form in my head. As the picture takes shape in my mind, I begin to ask questions about the person. As I do this, I start to create a narrative for the person – a narrative of her life, or of her classroom, or of where she wants to go. The person begins to nod or correct me. I sometimes wonder if I’m like a fortune teller, making guesses that are near enough to the truth, then have the people fill in the rest of the truth.
“I’m seeing a man.” The person nods. “He is close to you.” Another nod. “I’m sensing a brother” slight question on the listener’s face, “or brother-in-law.” Listener smiles slightly – and the questioning continues.
But through all of the information I attain, I begin to organize the information – some how – in my head, and together, we create a plan.
But I don’t create plans by myself. There is an amazing teacher with whom I worked in Reynold’s School District outside Portland, Oregon. Tai Quirke was on my team, teaching science. I, initially, was the Special Education teacher, and later, one of the two English teachers. When I started teaching English at this small high school – around 3,000 students – I had a lot of papers to grade. There were eight classes, which added up to exactly a ton of work. One day, while working with Tai, I noticed that she seemed to always have her work done. She showed me a simple folder system. For each class, there was a folder. In the folder, there were two pockets. On the left side went papers that needed to be scored. On the right side, went papers that were scored, but not entered into a grade book. When they left the folder, they were entered into the grade book and then handed back to the students. Simple. Perfect. Genius.
Eight years later, I am working as the Response to Intervention Specialist at Albemarle High School. I am in a meeting where I’m learning various strategies for a student with an Autisim Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I’m there as the RTI specialist (the youngster is not on my caseload), and am observing an amazing ASD specialist in action. One of the ideas she gives to the case manager is a folder.
The folder is for the student. It is for all work that needs to be finished later. Any work that is not completed should go on the left hand side of the folder. When it is completed, it goes on the right hand side of the folder. When the student arrives back in class, all of the work that needs to be handed in can be found on the right hand side.
It’s simple. It’s perfect. It’s genius. What makes it so perfect, especially for high school students? All work for all classes go in the folder. Students don’t have a different folder for each class – there is only one folder. At night, there is only one folder to find. All of the work is in it. When the work is done, it is switched to the other side. When the student arrives in any class, there is only one folder to take out to find work for any class.
It can be expanded. All handouts from the entire day could go into this folder, and the first step of the evening homework routine would be to file notes, then do any work that is not completed.
But, initially, it is simple. Unfinished work in; completed; shifted; returned.
When I was teaching with Tai in Reynolds, I also realized something about working with regular education students – if a technique works for students with a disability, give it to students without one and see how quickly they grow.