How can teachers make classroom and papework organization more manageable?

Find out in this Q&A with the author of The Special Educator's Toolkit: Everything You Need to Organize, Manage, and Monitor Your Classroom


About the author

Dr. Cindy Golden

Cindy Golden, Ed.D., is a psychologist and the principal of an educational and therapeutic program serving students with severe emotional and behavioral needs and autism. She has served as special education supervisor in the public school system, supervising the county Autism and Emotional/ Behavioral Disorders programs.

During her 28 years in special education, Dr. Golden spent 13 years in the classroom where she was twice elected Teacher of the Year. She has worked as a psychologist in a large metro Atlanta school system and in a special center that served students with severe emotional and behavioral disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders.

Dr. Golden was recently chosen as Doctoral Student of the Year. She is editor of the online Special Needs Resource Magazine.


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Q: What is the OMAC system?

A: The Organization and Management of a Classroom, or OMAC, system is an organized approach to the management of a teaching environment for students with all types of special needs. This system basically organizes the best practices used in the field of special education into six foundational components. These components are organized into layers so as each layer is completed, the teacher moves closer toward the creation of a model classroom.

Q: What are the six layers of the OMAC system?

A: The six layers are organization of the

1. classroom environment
2.
communication and visual supports
3.
teaching methods and materials
4.
behavioral interventions
5.
paperwork and data, and
6.
classroom staff and home supports

Q: Do you recommend that these layers be implemented in order?

A: Yes. Since, the OMAC system is a layered approach to the implementation of today's best practices and the creation of a model classroom, it is important that each layer be firmly set into place, building on each other.

Think about it this way: It is much like decorating a room. You begin by choosing a color scheme, move on to paint the walls and put down carpet, then hang drapes, and move in the furniture.

If you follow a plan step by step and layer by layer you will look back at the end knowing that you have created a space that is complete, having not missed vital elements.

Q: You new book is called "The Special Educator's Toolkit" but really it's a toolkit for anyone who wants a step-by-step guide for effective classroom management. What are the particular challenges of classroom management for special educators?

A: The Special Educator's Toolkit is a step-by-step guide that can be used by special educators and regular educators alike. All educators have challenges but teachers of students with special needs have particular challenges.

Special educators are bombarded with paperwork and deadlines. In addition to writing standards-based lesson plans, special educators are also required to write individual educational plans for each student. If the students are those with behavioral challenges, teachers will be required to write functional behavioral assessments and behavior intervention plans. All of this paperwork is a logistical nightmare if not organized.

The tools in The Special Educator's Toolkit will help educators create a system that works with these challenges. As more students with special needs are included in general education environments, general education teachers will need to begin using some of the same strategies to manage the space that special educators use. They will find many of the forms and creative ideas included in The Special Educator's Toolkit very helpful.

Q: What sort of setting can the OMAC system be established in?

A: The tips and tricks included in the toolkit can be used in any setting. These may include general education classrooms, inclusive settings, co-teaching classrooms, small-group special education classrooms, private schools, daycare settings, and even homeschool settings. Any location that is implementing strategies for students with special needs could use the management ideas included in the OMAC System.

Q: Many educators come out of their training programs with a strong theoretical foundation but are overwhelmed walking into their first classroom. Is this system designed for them?

A: Absolutely. The OMAC system was designed for first-year teachers coming into the classroom with a great deal of theoretical knowledge but without the organizational skills needed to manage the classroom space. As future educators they took courses on teaching strategies, behavioral strategies, theories of learning, and the specifics of disabilities, but no courses on how to put into practice the things they learned. Teachers need a simple way of organizing and managing all of the responsibilities of their teaching day.

This holds true for veteran teachers as well, who have years of valuable experience. They face the same challenge of increased data and paperwork demands. The OMAC system will make it easier for them to manage those demands as well as keep up with the latest research and implement best practices in their classroom.

Q: Can you provide an explicit example of practices from one or two of the categories that teachers can put into place for more effective classroom management?

A: One of the first practices that OMAC recommends is to clutter clean your space. This practice goes for new and veteran teachers. Use the old "clean the closets" trick of creating three piles: One to keep and use; one to share with others; and one to throw away. Start with a clean space. If you don't clutter clean first then you will be, in essence, moving your junk around, creating newly organized piles!

Another of my favorite layers is the "Organization of Paperwork and Data." The management of data will not be overwhelming if you develop a method to the madness. You have to take some time up front to get organized. My three favorite tools to use when organizing data include the use of: clipboards, crates with hanging files, and 3-ring binders. Used creatively, these tools can help you create a very simple way of gaining control of data.

Q: How did you come to develop the OMAC system?

A: When I developed the OMAC system, I was working as a psychologist for a specialized program serving students with autism and severe behavior disorders. Having been a teacher myself, I began to notice the stress that teachers were under in having to juggle data management, all of the required paperwork, and the implementation of the newest research-based best practices.

Teachers would come out of wonderful trainings but, because of feeling overwhelmed, they never implemented any of the material they learned in the training. I also began to notice our newest teachers were coming right out of college programs and assuming the leadership role in their first classroom without the skills needed to manage and organize the space. I knew that they needed a simple management system to get organized, and OMAC was developed.

Q: How does the OMAC system reflect changes in the field of special education, particularly when it comes to education of children with autism?

A: The field of special education has dramatically changed over the last 10 years. Special education teachers are not only required to teach but have had to become accountability specialists, diagnosticians, educational technologists, and data analysts. These changes in the field have layered added stress onto today's special educators.

The OMAC system includes tools to assist special education teachers in juggling the newest responsibilities of their jobs. These tools include data collection forms, functional behavior assessment forms, and behavior intervention plans. The toolkit also includes the most recent strategies based on the newest empirical data.

Q: Establishing an organizational system like this takes time up front—how can already stretched teachers trust that the investment is worth it?

A: Teachers who work through the layers of the OMAC system will be able to look back and see the dramatic change they have made in their classroom. In particular, they will find:

  • an increased level of independence among the students in the classroom as a result of creating a structured, predictable environment

  • a decreased level of stress on the staff trying to manage the classroom as a result of cleaning and organizing the space, and

  • a decreased number of inappropriate behaviors by students in the classroom as a result of having created a safe, predictable environment that meets the needs of the students

The payoff for teachers' investment will be a new setting that runs more smoothly, is less stressful, and helps students make positive gains in their level of independence.


The Special Educator's Toolkit: Everything You Need to Organize, Manage, and Monitor Your Classroom


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