I Teach NYC

Evolve Your Classroom Organizations & Systems

By Erika Bogdany, Brooklyn Bridge Academy

Starting the school year needs to feel organic for all educators. Throughout the years, I've come to realize that how we set the school year in motion truly defines and shapes the journey we all embark on together as a community. Each year presents unforeseen opportunities and obstacles, and regardless of how many years we’ve been teaching, it is the initial interactions we create with students that shape our upcoming year.

The authenticity I have found in educating my students shapes and inspires how I start each new school year. I challenge myself to find success unique to my students. I hope that the power of the following three elements, which I find essential to creating a classroom environment in which our scholars can thrive and strive for excellence, guides you on your journey.

Element One: Create the classroom you've always dreamed of!

Try to look beyond the four walls, desks and chairs. This is your canvas, so paint it. Change it around. Turn things upside down — whatever it takes. Students know when we've invested our time and energy into our shared space, and they’re more inclined to become a part of a class community when they know educators are creating a space that lends itself to learning and makes them feel welcome.

[Want more information on how to create systems and evolve your classroom organization? Visit ARISLearn and search for the “Organizing Your Classroom for Learning” or “Video Resource: Implementing Classroom Routines and Procedures” learning opportunities.]

Element Two: Engage your students in learning!

Introducing literature and non-fiction texts into non-ELA courses can help engage students. Reading can help some students process what they're experiencing in their lives; for others, it’s simply a way to explore new worlds or cultures beyond their own. And try to engage them with material relevant to your class. Teaching science? Why not include books like Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone or Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture? You never know what will strike their interest.

[Want more information on how to engage students and connect your lessons to the world around them? Visit ARISLearn and search for the “An Introduction to Engaging Students in Learning” or “Video Resource: Making Use of Unexpected Events” learning opportunities.]

Element Three: Trust yourself!

Every year at this time—just as I'm about to focus on and plan for this year's organization, structures, and procedures—I remember my first day as a teacher …

Eight years ago, I found myself standing in front of my very first class of young men starting their journey as high school freshman. My introduction was underway, lips moving and words flowing, yet once I finished, I looked up and saw one particular student's hand raised. "Yes? You have a question?"

"Why should I trust you?"

Even all these years later, this moment—this innocent, yet profound question—resonates with me. Every year presents a new set of unforeseen opportunities and obstacles, so before I know who my students are, or how our community is going to function as a whole, I question myself endlessly about how I’ll guide us to success. I will probably always do so, yet I always come back to the same revelation: in order for students to trust you, you need to trust yourself.

[Want more information on how to keep students engaged and creating a culture of learning? Visit ARIS Learn and search for the “An Introduction to Establishing a Culture for Learning” or “Did You Ask A Good Question Today? Using Questions to Create Critical Thinkers” learning opportunities.]

Inspiring Students to Inspire Each Other

As educators, we face challenges every day. We grapple with riding the waves of a “teachable moment” or tossing aside our planned lesson. But when we allow ourselves to make decisions we are giving ourselves permission to trust ourselves. And when we model our own decision making, students start to follow our lead; when we exhibit our ability to be independent thinkers and change agents, students are inspired to do the same.

Before we know it, students are showing us the way.


About the Teacher:
Erika Bogdany is a high school ELA teacher at Brooklyn Bridge Academy in Canarsie. Erika is beginning her ninth year in the classroom. During her two years at Brooklyn Bridge Academy, 85 percent of Erika’s students have passed their Regent Examinations, contributing to a 35 percent overall improvement in passage rate for the school’s ELA department. She is one of eleven recipients of the inaugural Big Apple Awards, recognizing teacher excellence in New York City. Erika and her fellow awardees will serve as Big Apple Ambassadors during the 2013-2014 school year. To learn more about the Big Apple Awards, please visit our webpage. This fall, the I Teach NYC newsletter will feature information on how you can nominate your colleagues for next year’s Big Apple Awards.
Teacher Student TEA

Additional Online Resources to Support Classroom Organization:
  • The Together Teacher provides you a comprehensive guide to getting your classroom organized by combining a website with free online resources, a free daily blog, a book and workshops.
  • Checklists is a free and simple tool that allows you to develop and provide project-based learning checklists for students.
  • TrackClass is a free tool that enables students to take and organize class notes and keep a calendar of assignments, exams and key dates.