Confessions of a Piano Teachin’ Hoarder

Confession time. Sometimes I reorganize my lesson materials just to see which system works best for me. I LOVE organizing …. But am often guilty of reorganizing things I’ve already moved around, instead of moving onto areas that desperately need the attention. So this year as the shutdown happened, and I took a good long look at what I could attend to with my extra time, I realized that I had some of my teaching supplies really well organized. But then I had enormous piles and stacks of materials that I could be using if I knew where they were rather than leaving them to sit on the sidelines.

As I dug in deeper, I realized that a lot of my best materials were in the sideline category. Even if I remembered I had them, I often couldn’t find them, or didn’t have them instantly on hand for the student when I needed it. And then came the realization that I had doubles of a whole bunch of stuff. So I had to confess to myself that I either needed to get rid of things or reorganize in a way in which I would use them!

So today I’m here to tell you that I did both. I trashed and gave away a whole lot of stuff. And since I decided to tackle this project, I’ve started three times – each time putting into place a more effective system! Will this project ever be done? Not really … I’m a piano teaching hoarder, which means I will need to forever be getting rid of the excess and using what really matters and works. But I am now in a place where keeping up with it is as easy as breathing.

I thought I’d show you the three main parts of this organization project that I’ve been working on – in hopes that it inspires you to do some of the same! I realize that each teacher has different students, different curriculum, and different needs. So whether or not my methods work for you, I encourage you to give an honest look at your own supplies and implement what works best for you!

First though, I realize that this is a long winded post. So if you feel organized and want the free stuff, skip to the end. You’ll find some monthly binder covers to help you take your organization to the next level! If you’re interested in how I have managed to take tight control of an unruly part of my teaching life (that was seeping into all areas of my life), keep reading! 

My goals going into this project were to

  1. Feel more organized. Drowning is never a good feeling. Even if you’re drowning in good things!
  2. Use the material I have. I know myself – if it’s not easy to get to, it won’t be used, and then is a waste.
  3. Make it as easy as possible to effectively add new material into what I already have. No more questioning which student could use it, or handing it out too early out of excitement.

The biggest parts of this project were

  1. To organize my most used curriculum by units.
  2. To have extra material as easy as possible to access.
  3. To have holiday activities at my fingertips.

So here goes!

  1. To organize my most used curriculum by units.

A little bit of background – I use multiple methods. To read more about my philosophy on this, check out my article on the perfect method book here. But I of course have my favorites that I love to teach and use with any student that it will accommodate. So I took my favorite method, put it into binders, and bought lots of binder dividers.

I went cheap since I knew I needed a ton of the dividers and purchased them on Amazon here. I don’t recommend going cheap on the binders. But you may want to vet some of your components first. I had to change the size of a couple of my books because they needed a bigger binder.

I then went through and noted exactly what concepts were being taught in each unit. My goal is to have a game, a worksheet, sight reading and ear training, and extra reinforcement/supplementary music for each concept for each unit. I am not there yet! But I have also noted exactly where I need to add what is missing. This way I can decide if I need to create it, search other blogs for it, or choose to review a past concept for that unit.

Now here’s what I found – some units had 8 games, 4 worksheets, and the perfect sheet to match if there’s needed reinforcement. Other units had nothing. Doesn’t sound very helpful now does it? So I worked to spread things out in a way that everyone gets added reinforcement where it’s needed most, and there is always something a little extra available for when there is a hiccup in the learning process for a specific student.

The best part of this binder situation is that when a student arrives I can easily grab the binder that has their book in it, flip to the unit they’re working through, and have all of my core supplements at my fingertips.

Now remember that I mentioned not all of my students work through the same method. That is okay though, because now that I’ve spent so much time organizing one method and understanding the sequential basis of concepts, I can very quickly find exactly what I need when teaching through any other method. Preparing based off of one method has actually set me up to teach better through any method I might pick up!

The final step to the binder project was the game pieces and cards. Keeping the game cards in the binder was not working …. My binders were huge and overflowing! So I tromped to the dollar tree, grabbed a couple boxes of envelopes, and bought some photo boxes from the craft store. For under $20 everything was labeled and easy to find!

2. To have extra material as easy as possible to access.

Repertoire books, sightreading, extra games or worksheets for repeating concepts, etc. I wanted these to be easily accessible whenever I needed them, but I also didn’t want these to clutter the core of what was happening. Every student has a concept here and there that will be more difficult for them. This is where we should pile on the extras so that the problem does not grow bigger as they push forward!

I once again pulled out a binder (I know, at this point we’re at a ton, and growing), and made sure to organize everything by level. I also took note in my curriculum binders of exactly what resources I had in excess. This way, I don’t forget I have them, and I also know where to easily grab them if needed 🙂 I left the game cards and extras in the photo boxes under the correctly labeled unit. Just another way I ensure that I remember what all I have to make learning fun and exciting!

3. To have holiday activities at my fingertips.

Finally we arrive at my holiday stash. Confession time again (I think this is confession number 3?). I was cleaning out my studio “junk drawer” in July, and found my Halloween manipulatives and game cards. Ugh. Not only were they taking up valuable space, but I don’t think I would have found them come this October. So what did I do? You guessed it. I grabbed more binders. And I made you guys some free binder covers! (Kudos to you for making it this far through my organization saga 😉 ).

My recommendation is to do this a month at a time for the next year. So today, you’d gather all of your November resources (think fall and Thanksgiving), and put them in order by level. Stick them in the November binder, and you are all set to go when it comes time to plan thanksgiving themed lessons! You will thank yourself – because next year you will have everything at your fingertips, and it will be incredibly easy to add any new themed activities that you may come across 🙂 I also gave my holiday game cards their own photo box … I figure if I get to the point of needing more than one box for the whole year, I need to scale back and either give away, throw away, or stick with what I have 🙂

Now that we’ve made it through the entire project, I feel more organized (because I am!). This instantly takes a load of off my mind. Lesson prep has never been so easy! I am now set up to use my resources as much as possible. If not used, they must be cleared! Adding new material will be a cinch, and I now have a very deep understanding and awareness of what I have available to me and how it should be used.

Here’s a quick materials recap before we get to the free stuff 😉

Binders, binders, binders (what you need will change based on how much organization you are tackling, and how many resources you have in any given level/month/etc.)

Binder dividers (I went cheap and used almost all 100 of them – I purchased on Amazon here)

Laminator/sheets (why laminate? Kids are hard on materials. Ink and paper are expensive. So is my time. Print and cut once. Laminate, and have forever!)

Sheet protectors (same concept as laminating … your supplies will last longer! These have held up very well for me.)

Photo box (I had my envelopes in baskets, but it looked messy. Here they are neat and easy to stack and tuck away! I got these on sale for half off.)

Envelopes (yes, I’ve tried the rubber band system. It is much easier for me to match the title with the game when in an envelope.)

Not everyone will find my way of organizing to be the most useful. And that is okay! My goal today is to inspire you to start somewhere, get to know what you have and how to make it work best for you.

To finish off I have created some binder covers to get you started on easily creating your monthly binders! Here’s to those who dream of organization and need a little nudge to get started 😉 the best time to start is now!

Happy Organizing,

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