The topic of minimalism has been popping up all around me the past few weeks. I have listened to people talking about applying this concept to their homes, lifestyles, and businesses. I have heard the dramatic impact this movement has had on people, allowing them to get rid of clutter and bring in more of what is important in their lives.
According to the website, The Minimalists (www.theminimalists.com), “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” I think we could all agree that this could be a goal worth working toward. As more and more people expressed this story of declutter, destress and general happiness, I started to think about how applying minimalism to our classrooms and teaching lives could impact us in generally positive ways.
So this is simply a theory of what this could like in our classrooms and schools. Feel free to apply some of these principles to your classroom and let me know how they are working.
Minimalist Classroom Theory…
If we rid our classrooms of excess stuff, add systems of efficiency and evaluate how we spend our daily allotment of time at school we, as teachers, will be less stressed and create spaces that allow our students to grow, thrive and learn how to be the best versions of themselves they can be.
Rid Your Classroom of Excess Stuff
This is easier said than done, especially if you teach a myriad of courses and have been teaching in the same classroom for decades. But the idea is to really pare down what you have in your room to make some space. Start with a cabinet, a closet, a bookshelf. Each week go through something and honestly assess the likelihood of your ever using it again. Making room in the closet or the filing cabinet doesn’t mean you need to find something to fill it with. It may just mean that some day you will have space when you do need it.
What about all of those photocopies you’ve been filing away? Start right now with moving everything to a digital version (and digitally filing in a sensible manner) as you make your copies. Slowly, you will no longer need to pull from the filing cabinets because it’s all online.
Maybe you have everything on your computer already but your filing cabinets are still full. Really ask yourself if you will ever need these photocopies and see if you can let go and start recycling some of the older classes. Always start with the oldest stuff first, and move to the most current. This way you are more likely to get rid of something, just maybe not everything all at once.
If paperwork isn’t your cluttering problem, perhaps it’s all the stuff that is hiding in the nooks and crannies of your room. Try to look at your classroom with fresh eyes and see if there aren’t things that could be pitched, donated or given to a new home. Do you have dust collecting items on shelves and old books that you are keeping “just in case”? Make it a goal by the end of school year to really start to clear out some of the things that have taken residency in your classroom. Try to have all the objects have a purpose and a home. This will take some time, but I guarantee you will feel a lot lighter as you move the old out. Your students will more than likely feel it too!
Add Systems of Efficiency
Our school started one-to-one computers a few years ago and I’ve come to realize that through this technology I have the potential to become a much more efficient teacher. As a school, we use the platform called Schoology which allows us to run all of our classes from one hub. We have the ability to store documents, grade assignments, update calendars, converse with parents and communicate with our fellow teachers and administrators through this lovely tool.
If you don’t have a platform like this at a district level, maybe there are some other tools available to create your own systems of efficiency. Remind is a great communication tool to communicate directly with students and parents. Google Classroom may be an option for a free resource to begin creating your own systems of efficiency. Of course, there is a learning curve and it takes some time to initially get these systems in place…but once they are, you will never have to do that part again! Think about how much time you spend on making copies and packets each year?
If you use an online platform to create systems, you will have that extra time to be doing those things you want to be doing. Also, our students are coming to us as technology natives. Many of them understand and appreciate the flow of how technology can help them stay organized. You may be surprised how quickly they take to and appreciate more of these efficient systems being put in place.
Another simple system of efficiency is to put in place routines for things you do all the time. Many people think that routines are boring, but routines actually allow us to save our brain power and energy for things that arise throughout our days.
Our students appreciate routines too. It makes our classrooms predictable and with the abundance of trauma that our students experience, routine is a welcome thing. Some places to add routine are:
Evaluate How You Spend Your Time
If you declutter and create efficient systems in your classroom that make some of your tasks more automated, simpler and only needing to be done once, you will automatically create more time in your day. Now, look at the way you are using the rest of your time during your school day.
How can you make this time more productive? One thing I’m trying this year is to stack functions. Before I would just “do what needs to get done each day” but this year I’m designating certain days to certain tasks. On certain days I’m grading papers, on one day I’m planning for the next week and two of the days I’m leaving open for those “extra” things I need to do. By grouping the tasks in this way, I hope to be able to get more done because I’m focusing on one thing.
So, how can you maximize the time you have so that you can leave school work at school and enjoy the rest of your days guilt free? First are there any things that you are involved in that you aren’t feeling passionate about anymore? Perhaps you no longer feel the drive to be the head of a certain club. It’s very possible there is someone else or a new teacher who may be looking for an opportunity to serve in some way. You’re actually doing everyone a great service by letting go of this obligation that you no longer feel passionate about and giving it to someone else. So, do a little inventory of those kinds of responsibilities that may be time to let go of and pass on to someone else.
Next, look at the major tasks you have to do each week and try to stack them, much like I did in my week. It won’t work perfectly each week but it’s a starting point to focus your attention. Finally, are there things that you are worrying about or spending time trying to fix that are out of your control, or could be better left to someone else? Only you can answer those questions, but consider checking in with your habits to see if there are any places you can let go of some of that control. By cherishing and spending our time on things that are truly beneficial, our students will get to experience having teachers in the classroom who are well-rounded, fulfilled and generally have a more positive sense of self. By advocating for ourselves in this way, we will be better role models for our students!
So, this is my little take on applying minimalism to our classrooms in the hopes that by doing these things we will create not only a less cluttered classroom environment but we will also begin creating room in our lives for the things that matter most! Let me know how applying the rules of minimalism have helped you become less stressed and create a greater sense of well being in your classroom and your life!
Our classrooms can certainly use some efficiency and minimalism can help find us our lost time. If you’re wanting more help with how to create efficient systems and minimize your daily tasks, check out this free guide 4 Solutions for a 40 Hour Work Week for a Balanced Teacher Life.