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Easy Classroom Organization & Systems with Kristen Donegan [episode 17]


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Hey teacher friends! If you’re anything like me, being organized isn’t one of my strong suits, but it’s something that I value, especially in the classroom. But I usually get overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin or what to do. So on today’s episode, I have guest Kristen Donegan who will be sharing some easy classroom organization and systems that you can implement in your classroom in the fall. 

Kristen Donegan has been an elementary school teacher and Reading Specialist since 2005. She founded Easy Teaching Tools that has helped over a thousand busy teachers implement classroom hacks to save time, implement research-based practices to meet the needs of their students, and focus on work-life balance.

What’s funny is, as teachers, organization seems to be the last thing on our minds or our to-do list, but it’s really an essential aspect to running a smooth classroom. Most people think of organization as keeping things together or putting items in a bin, but it’s so much more than that. Organization can also be systems and routines that help provide a purpose for that particular task. 

Everyone wants to achieve the perfect work-life balance, and having the right classroom organization will help you with achieving that goal. It doesn’t matter if you’re a novice or veteran teacher, there’s a classroom organization tip that will resonate with you. Kirsten helps easily identify areas of improvement for more efficiency in your classroom. 

Throughout the episode, Kristen gives a variety of easy classroom organization tips, tricks, and hacks that will ultimately make your classroom run smoothly and your life simpler! 

Next week is our virtual summer event: Educate & Rejuvenate. This is an event we’re hosting and it’s going to be so fun! We have sessions including life coaching skills, talking teacher burnout, and learning amazing teaching strategies that you can implement in your classrooms. Another bonus is you can get PD credit and tickets are only $5! Check out the links below for more information!

In this episode on classroom organization, we discuss:

  • An easy step you can take if organization doesn’t come easily to you
  • Insight into what the disconnect could be with your organizational system 
  • A mindset tip for veteran teachers that will help with classroom organization
  • Why setting up effective classroom organization helps provide work life and home balance
  • Kristen gives a sneak peek at what she’ll be sharing at Educate & Rejuvenate

Resources mentioned:

Meet Kristen Donegan from Easy Teaching Tools:

Kristen Donegan has been an elementary school teacher and Reading Specialist since 2005 in both California and O’ahu, Hawaii. She has enjoyed teaching kindergarten, first grade, a 1/2 combo, and second grade before resigning officially last year to continue Easy Teaching Tools Inc. and raise her daughter & son. Kristen also presents at professional development conferences such as SDE Nationals and Teach Your Heart Out.  Founded in 2010, Easy Teaching Tools has helped over a thousand busy teachers implement classroom hacks to save time, implement research-based practices to meet the needs of their students, and focus on work-life balance.

Related episodes and blog posts:

Connect with Kelsey:

Read the transcript for episode 17, Easy Classroom Organization & Systems with Kristen Donegan:

Hey, teacher friend, I am so excited because Educate & Rejuvenate is in three days, only three days until the event that my team and I have been pouring our heart and souls into for months since January. And it’s finally coming and I am so excited to see it. It has been coming together so well. I just can’t wait for you to attend if you have a ticket or if you’re a Club member. I can’t wait to see you there. If you do not, It is not too late to join us. It’s happening next week on Tuesday, June 27. And Wednesday, June 28. And let me just tell you a little bit about what’s going to be happening at the event in case you aren’t familiar with it. Educate & ejuvenate is our virtual conference. And our keynote speakers are Bri Richardson from Honest Teacher Vibes. You’ve probably seen her on Tik-Tok and Instagram and I interviewed her a few weeks ago. And then Amber Harper from Burnedin Teacher. She is a burnout expert and I interviewed her on the podcast as well. And with those keynotes, they’re going to be doing them live. You’ll be able to interact with them in the Facebook group during their keynotes. It is going to be so much fun. We will also have live coaching with our coach Chrissy Nichols. I’ve interviewed her on the podcast a few times and shared some of the coaching she’s done in our group on our Ask a Coach episode. And if you would like to get a bit more of a taste of this coaching this event is a great way to do it. We will also have workout classes and each of these individual things is worth more than the ticket cost the ticket is only $5. And we’re going to have over 20 amazing speakers such as Bryce from the Teaching Texan, Kristen from Easy Teaching Tools I’m interviewing today, Kirsten from Kirsten’s Kaboodle, we’re going to have Megan Polk, we’re going to have Sarah Marye from the Stellar Teacher, we have so many amazing people who will be at this event, Alexis from the Afro Educator, so many amazing teachers who are going to be a part of this event, I just can’t wait. There will be original music written for teachers a certificate you might be able to use for professional development. It’s such a no brainer, it costs less than a latte. You’ll have a full 24 hours each day to pick which sessions you’d like to watch. And also hop into the Facebook group and join the live panels with presenters. We will also be having a panel of classroom teachers who are in the thick of it with you who will be talking all about differentiating and student behavior and all of the current problems in education right now and their solutions for it. So it’s going to be a great time. Join us. Like I said you have a full 24 hours to watch each day of sessions with your ticket if you would like there’s an optional upgrade where you can have at least six months of replay Access Plus podcast versions of all the sessions and panels and everything will be loaded onto a private podcast feed to make it really easy to either re listen or just listen to the episodes if you would like to consume the content that way since you’re here I know you’re a podcast listener and I love having podcast replays as well. So you will have that available if you choose that upgrade. That is with the platinum pass. So for more information, you can go to the show notes or head over to to grab your ticket.

And now I would like to introduce today’s guest who is Kristen Donegan, and she will be at the event during a session called 3pm Teacher clutter, at Educate & Rejuvenate and she is also the guest on today’s episode. Kristen has been an elementary school teacher and reading specialist since 2005. In both California and a Oahu, Hawaii. She has enjoyed teaching kindergarten first grade A one two combo and second grade before resigning officially last year to continue Easy Teaching Tools and raise her daughter and son. Kristen also presents at professional development conferences such as STE Nationals and Teacher Heart Out. Founded in 2010, Easy Teaching Tools has helped over 1000 busy teachers implement classroom hacks to save time, implement research based practices to meet the needs of their students and focus on work life balance. Now let’s get over to the interview.

Kristen I’m so I’m excited to have you here on the show today. Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited.

I’m so excited to have you here on the podcast and that you are a presenter, Educate & Rejuvenate. It’s going to be such a great time. So Kristen, can you introduce yourself to our listeners?

Sure. My name is Kristen Donegan. I began teaching elementary school I’d say back in 2005. Back when we all got laid off during the Great Recession, through remember that 400 of us were laid off tenured teachers in my district. So I move over to Hawaii, and I lived out my dream teaching there. And then I’ve had a sweet little baby, actually two babies in the last three years. And so I’ve been home with them, being a mom and then getting to support teachers in the classroom with my business

That’s great. And that leads right into my next question. So can you tell us a little bit about Easy Teaching Tools?

It’s so funny how that all came about, I think I was getting my Master’s at the time in reading and I wanted to be able to monetize writing my thesis, but I didn’t really know what that meant. And so I’m like, I’m just gonna create this funny little website. And I used to create resources for teachers, before I knew about Teachers Pay Teachers and I would burn them on a disk and mail them out to people. So that’s how it came about. I did all my little tiny netbook before I knew anything about business, but where we’re at now, that was back in like 2012. Now we’re lucky enough to get to support teachers to try and make their lives easier, because you guys, teaching is really, really hard. And no one shows you, you know, like the behind the scenes, like how to, I don’t know, create effective systems and routines in your classroom so that you can actually teach, you know, they show you how to teach writing and how to teach math and all that, but no one actually shows you how to, like manage all the other stuff. And so that’s what we’re lucky enough to do with Easy Teaching Tools.

Yeah, that’s so true. Because like in all the classes you take in college, nothing really prepares you for that. And then especially if you’re like me, like, I’m not the most naturally organized person. So that’s why like, that was actually really a challenge for me as well. And I’m so excited to have you on the show to kind of share more about systems and everything in your classroom. So how did you feel about classroom organization as a new teacher?

Oh, gosh, that was not even a thing. I was in survival mode. Say honestly, probably, at least my first four years like organization wasn’t it wasn’t a thing. I was just trying to figure out how to be the best teacher, I could be trying to figure out how my teaching style and my management. I do remember though, looking back, like specifically like at our ELA centers, every week, trying to like come up with a better way to get them to work for my students to make it more manageable, to have like the least amount of interruptions as possible. Like I was always trying to improve that way. But I don’t know if I would call it organization at the time. It was just like, how can I make this better? Yeah, I feel like it’s teaching you just evolve over the years on you know, what’s working and what’s not. Obviously, you have new group of kids every year new parents, new curriculum, all that kind of stuff. But if I found a system that worked that made all those other changes a lot easier to deal with, for sure.

Because you at least had that like is kind of a constant and like a starting point for yes. When you have those changes. I love that like everything’s I’ll add a control. At least that part wasn’t control in my classroom. Yeah, yes. It’s one thing you have control over when there’s so many factors that we don’t have control over. Right? I love that. Okay, so you went from feeling kind of overwhelmed as a new teacher to now you’re like a classroom organization lover, like you have courses and all kinds of things about organization. So tell us kind of how you got to love classroom organization.

It sounds so natural and easy that that path I took it was not actually like that. My first probably eight years I was so happy to be in the classroom. It’s like all I ever wanted to do. I had my master’s degree I was presenting PD for my district. But I found myself being so consumed with teaching that I lost a big chunk of myself. I don’t know if you guys can relate at all. And it wasn’t you know, I wasn’t working out I wasn’t you know, going on surf trips or hanging out with my friends. I would just come home super late, like have a bowl of Lucky Charms with like my computer on my lap. That was the year like common core was being implemented. And I just got hired to teach like a one two combo. So every day I was just like, trying to stay caught up. So it wasn’t like I turned into organization just because I loved it. It was more of like survival. But what happened is I ended up in the hospital with an anxiety attack because I was doing too much as a teacher and I didn’t know how to stop because I’m like, Well, this stuff has to get done. And so that was like my big wake up call where the doctors are like you need a lifestyle change you need I need to get this under control because it can be a lot worse next time. And so that was like my big aha moment where I was like, I need to figure a way out to still be like a really good teacher to be effective, but to where it’s not consuming my life. So I needed to set better boundaries. And there was a lot of learning along the way, lots of trial and error. But that’s kind of where I, I’d say, my eighth year into teaching is where I kind of figured out I need better systems and routines is kind of what it came down to. So that I can still be a great teacher, but I can have a life outside of the classroom, which I know so many teachers don’t have right now.

Yeah, I mean, I hear it all the time, like teachers are just feeling more and more overwhelmed. And I think especially now with the pandemic, and all of the changes that has added on, really use all these systems and tools that you have to teach.

Well, no one sets you up, they just give you more and more stuff. And you’re expected to figure it out. That’s why so many amazing teachers, pre pandemic are leaving the classroom, but why so many are right now because they don’t know how to how to fix this.

I know and I feel like teachers they need more support, or it’s really going to be a crisis with like more and more teachers leaving because they’re overwhelmed. And that’s where, you know, hopefully, we’ll be able to try to help these teachers give them what they need. So they can be successful. Yeah. What tips do you have for teachers where organization is not necessarily their strong suit, like they don’t even know where to begin.

So I feel like that’s a lot of teachers who come to us, we have a program called Easy Organization Tools, where we show teachers who are like, so stressed, overwhelmed, they want to get started, but they don’t know how. And so what we do with teachers is there’s a million areas in your classroom and things that need to, you know, get a little extra love, are there systems that just really aren’t working. So I always have teachers do a brain dump, you know, pick like 10 things that could be going better. So maybe it’s like your turn in system for papers, maybe it’s simply just transitions in your classroom, or like what a students do, you know, if they finish work early, like then what make a list of like 10 things. And then rather than jumping into all of those, just highlight or circle one of those, that’s going to have the biggest impact right now. So for me, mine always went to just coming to the carpet, I know, you’re probably like well hammers that mean of organization, but like when I need them to come to the carpet for a whole group lesson so we can get started, it can be really chaotic. And that just kind of sets the tone of the lesson and it loses a lot of instructional time. And so for that I’m like, that’s what we’re going to work on. That’s the routine we’re going to get good at. And then slowly work on some different routines that we’re doing often throughout the day. So if you if you try to take on too much at once, that’s why it’s overwhelming. And that’s a big reason why, you know, people humans in general procrastinate, because it’s like, I don’t know where to start. But if you don’t start, you’re going to stay stuck. And things aren’t going to change. So it’s just taken a baby step and just trying.

Yeah, absolutely. Like, I feel like taking one thing at a time just makes it so much more manageable. Because if you look at that whole to do list everything at once, it’s going to be just way too much. Yeah. And I love what you said about coming to the carpet, you’re like, well, that’s not really necessarily organization. But I feel like in a way is it’s like creating systems is organization organization isn’t only like putting things in bins or whatever. It’s the whole system and how you run your classroom.

That’s what it comes down to this originally when I started really focusing on organization is way more than organization like that’s the end goal that teachers want. But really to get there. It’s like training your students on your systems and routines in the classroom, it all comes down to that so that your classroom can run smoothly. So that like you can pull guided reading groups without a million interruption so that you guys can really, actually teach, which is so many teachers don’t get enough time to do and actually enjoy teaching, instead of feeling so rushed to get through your checklist, because your students know what to do. And it gives you more more time with their students.

Yes. Okay. So we talked about new teachers and how to help them like get started with all these organization systems and routines and everything. What tips would you have for veteran teachers who feel like they know what they’re doing already, but they’re like, maybe there’s something I could be doing better?

Yeah, it’s interesting, because we have teachers who are like brand new to the profession, and then teachers who have been teaching like 20 years and they’re like, I wish I had a program like this or someone show me something like this early on in my career, because I think veteran teachers still have the same problems. They run into the same dilemmas that new teachers do. I think what’s harder for them is that they’ve been so stuck or set in that way for so long. That to them, they’re just like, Well, my kids aren’t going to know where works gonna go. And I’m going to constantly have missing work from students. And they just haven’t found that right way yet. So what I would say with veteran teachers, is to get out of your own way a little bit and look and reflect on what’s working well in your classroom. And then we all can do this, like, what do we want to be working better, and then look at that. And typically, I’ve found and with research, and everything is there’s some sort of disconnect, if things aren’t going the way that we want them, or our expectations aren’t being met, there’s some sort of disconnect with how we’re communicating it to our students. So I would look back at that and say, Where am I maybe not being clear, and really get better with that. And then whatever transition routine, you’re you’re trying to teach your students, that should get easier.

Yes, I so agree with that, just being super clear about expectations, like you really just need to be even clearer than you think you need to write. And these are children we’re talking about. So being super clear, I 100% agree that that’s a huge thing that I feel like all of us can always work on, I feel like you can always improve.

I always think I’m being clear. And then I look back at like what I typed to like a team member. And I’m like, That is not what I was thinking in my head. But that is, that’s what came out.

When you’re working with students, or you’re working with like, you know, fellow team members or whatever, it’s the same thing you need to be clear otherwise, like, you know, sometimes, like you said, like, I’ll like see something I sent to a team member or whatever. And what they do, I’m like, Oh, they did follow that. But that’s not what I meant. You know, I wasn’t clear enough. I think a lot of it is taking ownership of that to like not getting frustrated, like, Oh, that wasn’t what they were supposed to do. It’s like, oh, I didn’t explain that well enough. Let’s try that again.

Exactly. And the big thing I would say, to add to this, and this is like the biggest piece, I think that a lot of teachers miss me included when I was on the classroom, is that we sometimes give up too early if it’s not working, or we let things slide that aren’t meeting our expectations, because we’re like, I’m just gonna let it be, we need to get through this lesson. So the biggest thing I recommend to teachers is being consistent. If they’re not meeting your expectation with how you know, maybe they’re turning their papers in, it’s gonna take time in the beginning, but like, stop, and point out, you know what you observed and do it again, and continue doing that until your expectations are being met. Because your students can do it. My kindergarteners could do it. Like if they could do it. Anyone can do it. So it’s like, my mom used to tell me like the first six to eight weeks of school. She’s like, you complain about this every year, Kristen, but I’m like, it’s so hard. But that’s when you’re teaching all those, you know, routines to your students. So stick through it, do whatever you need to do, and it’ll pay off for the entire school year.

Because when you stick to it, I feel like I do this too, like you give up really easily. And you’re just like, No, we got to keep going and be consistent. Because if you aren’t consistent, if you let things slide, kids will know what you let them get away with. And then they’ll know it’s not really an expectation because they can get away with it.

Yeah, they’re testing you one. But two, they’re also checking to see like, do you really mean are you just suggesting it because we’re teaching them how to treat us and how to treat the class or when I do this with my daughter too, or I have to be like, just breathe Kristen. And just because I want to just give up you like no, I’ll put your shoes on for you. We gotta go. You know, it’s, you just got to stick it out.

Yeah, and like you said, it’s not even like malicious per se. It’s just human. They’re just seeing like, oh, like actions speak louder than words kind of, you know, it’s like, it doesn’t actually matter.

Yeah, they want to know if you mean it. But the really cool thing is when they start seeing that you are being consistent and that your integrity is there and what you say that you mean that in other areas and it helps build that trust relationship too, especially with your students, you know, maybe who have more challenging behaviors, that’s a really quick and powerful way to kind of support them with that.

That is so perfect. Okay, so next question is What is your favorite organization hack? Or this could even be like a routine or just your favorite one?

Can I do too but like really quick? Yeah, so you can do okay, one super simple I think my teacher back when I was learning how to teach did this is just numbering your students I know it’s not like mind blowing. But when I number my students it makes it so much easier to sort their work to turn in their work because everything’s number order. cubbies are number order files everything bulletin board so it makes it really easy at the end of the school year. I’m not having to like change out nameplates. It’s just numbers are there so that saves time really helps in a fire drill like number order when we’re on the carpet number order to eliminate arguments and all the things. Second thing end of the day used to be really stressful in my classroom because I was always like, we have a couple of minutes till the bell goes off. We still have to do scholar the week and we’ve got to clean up. And so what we do is we picked a song that would go off It was about three minutes long. And my students knew when that song went off, it was time to fill out their behavior chart, put any work in their folder, put it in their backpack, and then they start their job. And I found myself not nagging, like I used to like reminding them of all the things, you know, this took practice, of course, but it just made for a much peaceful afternoon because you’d see everyone doing what they needed to do. And then when the song was over, they knew, like, even if you aren’t done with your job, we would come to like our library area and scholar the week of starting, and it just made it a really nice way to end of the day, instead of me being a little bit irritated, or, like flustered. It just it made it easier. And then I saved my voice because eventually, you know, they tune you out.

Or it’s like a different sound cue and music. I love any way to incorporate music into the classroom. So like, even if it’s just like, you know, a song that you play, I love that.

Yeah, we use it for all transitions. But that was a good one for the end of the day. And a tip with this, just so you know, in case you have ever sub, don’t have the alarm go off on your personal phone, because I did that. And then I was sitting in a PDE with my phone going off. And I’m like, Oh no, they don’t know how to clean up. So if you have someone who has like an old iPhone or something, that’s what we would use in our classroom for that. And it just stayed there.

I love that. Yeah, you could just use your like old phone for that. Yep, well at Wife Teacher Mommy, we’re all about looking at like the whole teacher and not just like, you know, in the classroom, but also like, you know, your home and your whole life. So how do you feel like classroom organization and routines can help teachers feel less stressed out, save time, and be more present not only in the classroom, but also at home and in other areas of their lives?

Oh, my goodness. So that’s our promise with our program, easy organization tools is showing teachers how to consistently leave at 3pm so that they can be present in their amazing lives. And so I wholeheartedly support that I think I’ve mentioned before, as teachers, we lose ourselves, and we don’t always get to be present at home, because you’ve got a stack of papers to grade or whatever that may be. So I know many teachers right now are like that is not possible, Kristen, there’s no way you don’t know my class, you don’t know my principal, it’s entirely possible, you just need someone to show you that and you haven’t been shown and you don’t have time to be figuring it all out on your own teachers are really short on time. But there is a solution, it is possible to have more of that teacher balance. And I think the biggest way to do that is really having simple and effective systems and routines in your classroom. So that you can actually teach and then be done at the day because you’re prepared and ready to go. And then shut off your teacher brain, I know easier said than done. And then you’ll pick up your kids from daycare, go to softball practice, where you actually get to be watching, you know, instead of sitting there, you know, filling in report card comments or grading a million essays,

Such a game changer to be able to like just leave it in your classroom. And I really think this can translate to like, you know, you can take what you’ve learned from doing these systems and like, you know, create systems in your home, like with chores with your kids, or we do a lot of that. So I mean, really, once you learn it can translate into other areas, too.

Yeah, it makes it far more more peace at home. And a lot of teachers tell me they’re like, this has saved my marriage. This has made me a better mom, because you know, I’m actually getting to hang out. And I, you know, my family is feeling the love from me, because I’m not constantly pulled in a million different directions, which is what it’s like, is the teacher.

Absolutely. Okay, so you will be speaking at Educate & Rejuvenate, and can you give us a little sneak peek about what you will be sharing at the event?

Yeah, I’m really, really excited, we’re gonna be talking all about clearing the clutter in your classroom. And it also does apply to home life. So we’ll talk about that too. But really how to, you know, go through because I know the last few years and pre pandemic, but you know, everything literally just has been piling up. And so many teachers have been in survival mode. And so I’m going to show them how to get rid of all those paper piles. And you know, teachers have a tendency to hoard all the things, you know, like the target erasers, and the popsicle sticks and all that stuff. And then you have all this clutter. So I’m going to show teachers how to easily go through it, manage it and keep it clutter free. And then we’re going to talk a bit about like the root of, of the issue is like, why do we hang on to things so that next school year, you don’t end up with all of those piles again. So I’m just gonna show you guys an easy way that worked in my classroom with 1000s of teachers I’m working with so that you can get a fresh start to your school year.

Oh, I love this. I cannot wait to hear your session and I know everyone who attends is going to absolutely love it. And I love what you said about like, you know, you’re really going to show how they can make this change before the next school year because you can’t just be like, Oh, next school year is going to be better but not do anything about it. You need to do something about it.

Yeah, everyone’s always so hopeful. They’re like no this year was like this because of it. But I mean, what’s going to change? If we don’t, you know,

I’m so glad that you’ll be there guiding our attendees on this area is going to be really amazing. So what would you tell those who are on the fence about whether they should come or not?

Oh, gosh, it’s a no brainer. To me, I would say, look at your current situation where you’re at with teaching. And to be honest, like pre pandemic, what was life like for you as a teacher? And if you’re like, 100%, happy where things aren’t great. But if you’re not, and there’s areas you want to improve, like, why not? And if you’re sitting here thinking, and I get this as a mom of two little ones, like I don’t have the time. Probably the fact that you’re saying you don’t have the time right now is like why you need this so that you can learn ways to be more efficient in your classroom so that you can have more time at home.

Absolutely. So you have shared so much amazing wisdom here on this episode, and I’m sure our listeners are going to want to know where to connect with you. Now that the episode is, you know, ending. So where can they find you?

Thanks. Well, I’m Kristen Donegan over at Easy Teaching Tools. So you can find us on Instagram, our website, easyteaching And then we just launched our own podcast as well called Real Teacher Talk that you can find on all your podcast streaming platforms.

So exciting. Launching a podcast is so fun. And actually, I was into your first episode. I think it was just your first episode. And I really loved it all. Thanks. Okay. Well, thank you so much for being on the show today. I’m so excited to have you at Educate & Rejuvenate. And thank you for being here today. Thanks. Can’t wait for it.

More about Wife Teacher Mommy: The Podcast

Being an educator is beyond a full-time job. Whether you’re a teacher or a homeschool parent, the everyday to-do list is endless. Between lesson planning, grading, meetings, and actually teaching, it probably feels impossible to show up for your students without dropping the ball in other areas of your life.

Wife Teacher Mommy: The Podcast is the show that will bring you the teacher tips, practical strategies, and inspiration that you need to relieve the stress and overwhelm of your day-to-day. Your host, Kelsey Sorenson, is a former teacher and substitute turned homeschool mom. Tune in weekly to hear Kelsey and her guests cheer you on and help you thrive as a wife, teacher, and mommy. Because with a little support and community, you can do it all. For access to every single Wife Teacher Mommy resource, join the club at

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