I must confess that I have a touch of compulsive organization in me. I think it comes from my mother, bless her heart, who used to correct me at age 6 when I wrote out shopping lists that weren’t correctly ordered by aisle. I like to think of myself as being detail oriented, although others have called me everything from obsessive compulsive to a pain in the butt. I usually take it as a compliment, although I have gotten better over the years. I’ve learned that if the organization takes more time to do than it saves you later, it might be a step too far! What kinds of organization help you keep everything under control? Do you ever take it too far?
I’ve had to make a lot of decisions like this during this past week. As the file cabinets for my office were delivered, I was warned that there were drawers full of old gifted and talented “junk.” I was told not to worry too much about it, as most of it was years old, and the current student files were in another cabinet. Perplexed, I left the drawers alone for awhile, content with the explanation. Eventually, the compulsive organizer in me couldn’t handle it anymore; it wasn’t that I needed the extra space, or that my boundless curiosity drove me to know what was in the drawers. I just couldn’t leave three drawers of messy things when I knew that everything else in my office was perfect! Others snickered as I began sifting through pages and pages of old binders and memos, books and lesson plans. I grinned at them, content to finally put my unease to rest.
I was astounded at what I found! In addition to several boxes worth of papers to shred, I found a brand new copy of the Iowa Acceleration Manual, which can be used to test whether students are good candidates for full grade acceleration, and would have cost us several hundred dollars to buy! I also found several copies of a tool that can be used to help identify gifted students who speak English as a second language or come from families in poverty! Does anyone else have trouble with the identification process for underrepresented groups?
Our school had been investigating different tools for the past two years, which made the find even more exciting. I was especially grateful to find a copy of a GT teacher’s manual from one of the years before we had changed districts. This manual gave me many ideas as to how I could set up a similar manual for our teachers. Anyone else have other ideas that could help me?
Later this week, tasked with the overwhelming process of creating our new Early Access Program, a program required by Colorado law that allows highly gifted 4- and 5 year-olds to start kindergarten and 1st Grade a year early, I did what any red-blooded American raised in my generation would do; I did a Google search! As I was doing research, I came across one district in particular that had a stellar program with everything laid out in impeccable detail. I pieced together a program from our district Web site, the Colorado Department of Education, this district’s information, and, of course, several brilliant ideas of my own that satisfied all of the unique needs of our school, district, and state.
Before I started to type up the forms, I called the GT representative at this awesome district whose work I found so useful, to ask permission to use elements of their program and paperwork in ours. The woman thanked me for complimenting her program, and told me that the entire site had taken her two years to build. She said that most people simply copied it without permission, and while there was little she could do about it later, cooperation between those districts often grew icy once she found out… and she always found out.
On the other hand, taking the time to call earned me permission to use anything published on the Web site, so long as I gave them credit, as well as a whole bunch of additional material that she hadn’t published! She told me to call anytime I needed advice or a helping hand. I feel like I’ve made a great new ally!
It is strange that being willing to reach out isn’t always our first instinct, even in school culture. Yet making a concerted effort to do so has really helped me, even if my friends think I’m a little goofy. I’ve learned that a willingness to be friendly to the janitors will get you first in line when you need something right now, and if you think administrators are the most important people to make happy, you’ve never been on the wrong side of your school’s administrative assistant or the IT department. I’ve made amazing new allies this year just by making a point of saying hi to people who looked like they were having a bad day. One day, this included our amazing volunteer coordinator, who has been instrumental in helping me to start our Odyssey of the Mind program. It also makes the school a friendlier place to be!
I still can’t believe that just three years ago, I was being asked if I knew anything about gifted and talented, and if I might consider being the high school coordinator as a part-time addition to my teaching duties. I remember wondering for days why the random third-year math teacher had asked me. I finally looked at my predecessor as she handed me the official flash drive, and asked, “But… why?” She laughed, and said, “Don’t you remember? Last year, after the GT talk we gave, you asked if I needed any help. You had your plate full enough as it was, so I didn’t ask for any, but I never forgot that you were willing to step up. I knew you were the right person.” One question. One random offer of assistance changed my life forever and gave me direction, purpose, and meaning.
Occasionally, it’s good to sweat the small stuff.