Interview with Charity Preston from the Organized Classroom Blog
Charity Preston is a teacher, writer and fanatic organizer with a passion for coordinating and categorizing everything from her files and lesson plans to her classroom and students. Her areas of expertise include curriculum development, technology integration into content areas, and data-driven instruction.
She has been teaching for over ten years in every grade level from pre-school to 8th grade in some form, and often speaks at local state and national level teaching conferences.
Preston’s blog, The Organized Classroom, is designed to provide teachers with advice and resources on innovative teaching methods and creative organizational tips that stem from her own experiences in the classroom.
It has since become one of the most widely read educational blogs on the Internet, and Preston has even started up The Organized Classroom Magazine which appears on a monthly basis.
She feels that one of the most important things she has learned from her years as an educator is that what teachers do can and does make a big difference in each child’s life.
“I have learned that no matter what, as long as you are doing everything in your power for the best interest of the child, you are making a difference,” she says.
“You won’t hear it often enough from students, parents, administrators, or even colleagues, but what you do every day DOES make a difference.”
Preston confides that the inspiration for the creative classroom organizational ideas she shares on her blog come mainly from her own experience and trial and error.
“I just draw on what has worked for me really. If I am looking for a new idea, I might also read some household organization blogs and see if there are any ideas that could be adapted for the classroom as well. Just looking at empty containers around the house will give me some inspiration as well.”
When it comes to employing technology in lesson planning, she loves finding online freebies and easily accessible websites to help her get the job done.
Also, reading other teacher blogs in your specific area or grade level will open up a whole new world of collaboration you never knew was there.”
So what have been some of her favorite classroom organization techniques up until this point, and which ones resonate the most with her readers?
“I love using binders, buckets, and boxes to organize everything from classroom libraries to manipulatives, says Preston. “Even student desks have shared supplies, which makes it super easy for the teacher to assess when new supplies are needed without them being all over the place.”
She notes that her most popular blog posts tend to involve making and decorating practical organizational containers, such as data binders, seasonal supply caddies and classroom mailboxes.
In recent years there has been a tremendous amount of research carried out on the potential benefits of using iPads and tablets to improve classroom learning, and most of it has been very positive. Preston believes that such technology can be hugely beneficial in the classroom, as long as it is properly regulated.
“When I was in the classroom, we had iTouches and they were wonderful as long as the ground rules were set and students knew that they were learning tools, not toys,” she says.
“The best way to set the tone for a lesson with technology is to allow the students to “play” with them for 2 minutes. Set the timer and allow them to take a look around. Then, when the timer is finished, it is time to get to work. Works like a charm 95% of the time.”
Social media can also be a valuable tool for educators, particularly as a way to connect with other teachers and share experiences and tips. However, Preston does feel that when it comes to keeping parents up to date with happenings at school, social media may not be the best tool.
“I tend to stay away from social media when combining parents and school. There are too many variables,” she says.
“But, email is a wonderful way to help parents stay connected in the classroom! Weekly newsletters, or even random “for a job well done” emails are lovely to send to parents to keep the lines of communication open if they are not comfortable coming into the school environment.”
When it comes to connecting with other educators, Facebook remains her favorite social media tool.
“Online forums and communities are wonderful, but I really love Facebook as my true love for connecting groups of teachers who are willing to help one another with any questions or situation they may have.”
“I may be biased, but I really like our own Facebook group, The Organized Classroom Blog,” she says.
“Also, Twitter has some awesome twitter chats for teachers and even Instagram is starting to gain some attention because you can actually see into another teacher’s classroom and talk to the person who posted it.”
With research showing that students who are unmotivated are unlikely to benefit from better standards, curriculum or instruction unless their lack of motivation is addressed, what techniques does Preston use to keep her students motivated?
“Personally, I have found that you should find out what the student wants to work for. Many researchers will tell you that intrinsic motivation is the only motivation that needs to be addressed.
I know as a teacher who has to juggle so many behaviors at once in the classroom that you need to do what is best for the class as a whole and for your sanity. If students are motivated by candy (and you are allowed to use that as a reward periodically), then by all means use it if necessary.
Other times, students might just want to be recognized. Motivation does not always involve a tangible item. But it is the teacher’s job to find out just what that motivation really is.”
On the teacher’s end, something many tend to struggle with at some point in their career is burnout. So what does Preston herself do to avoid or cope with burnout symptoms?
“Keep it fresh! Every summer, I will reorganize something. Or read a new professional development idea, which I can then implement in my classroom.
Even changing classroom décor is wonderfully revitalizing for you AND the students. Always striving to learn about better ways of doing what you love will allow you to remain relevant in your field.”