Stop Reinventing the Wheel

Why and how teachers should get organized with technology.

GUEST COLUMN | by Adam Schoenbart 

CREDIT Adam SchoenbartIt’s 2 p.m. on a weekday and the end of the day is near. You review tomorrow’s lesson and realize that the activity from last year would be perfect for these goals. Now, if only you could remember all the details. You open up a new Power Point, Smart Notebook, or maybe even a Google Doc, and try to reinvent the magic, sadly knowing that you may only come close. You frown, wondering if the old work would have been better, and knowing that it definitely would have been easier to adapt than to recreate. Sound familiar?

Whether you’re in your filing cabinet filled with overhead transparencies or navigating your Google Drive, it’s important to be able to find things. It seems like such a simple and obvious idea, but for many teachers (and people), online file organization is hard to grasp. Instead of reusing, adapting, and sharing, we often find ourselves reinventing and recreating, and it’s a lot of work.

The bottom line is that we are talented professionals and with a system in place we can make sure that our time is used as efficiently as possible.

While many teachers are making leaps and bounds with meaningful edtech implementation, some need help getting organized–both on their hard drives and in the cloud.

Why Get Organized Online?

  1. There isn’t enough time to not be. Our time is valuable and shouldn’t be wasted. Let’s make the most of it by focusing on students and learning, not reinventing the wheel.
  2. Computer and cloud storage isn’t going anywhere, and information is being created and shared at a rate higher than ever before. Whether you’re all about Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, or something else, you need to prepare yourself for the future.
  3. Don’t we want to model the skills of 21st Century learners? WIth APPR, Common Core, and #FutureReady, teachers need to help students develop strong online skills. Many of our students may have a solid basic technological familiarity, but this doesn’t necessarily transfer to strong skills. Let’s prepare ourselves so we can better prepare them.
  4. Online organization helps create digital records. Need a copy of class notes? Worried about accountability? Want to collaborate with colleagues? Whether you are cloud-based or not, using technology makes it easier to share work and maintain good records.

The bottom line is that we are talented professionals and with a system in place we can make sure that our time is used as efficiently as possible. Time spent without organizational worries is more time to focus on the most important thing: student success and learning.

How to Get and Stay Organized

  1. Develop an organization system. No matter your preference–Google, Mac, PC, etc.–use files and folders to keep things organized in a way that makes sense to you.

clearly named foldersClearly named folders with organized sub-folders and files are the way to go. Establish a hierarchy in your file storage.  



  1. Use naming conventions. Be consistent in how you name your files, folders, lessons, and activities. Name everything! There’s nothing worse than a dozen Untitled Documents.

naming conventionsNote the naming conventions in these screenshots. I’m a fan of the numbered assignments and folders. Start with 01 and move forward; the work will then be alphabetized and chronological.

  1. Learn to use your device’s search When in doubt, a search by “Date Modified” or file type is a great tool. Also, take advantage of the sort by feature to reorganize by name, file type, date modified, etc.

note last arrowNotice the arrow on Last modified? This means that the files are organized with the last modified document first, and in chronological order afterwards. Both Windows Explorer and Mac’s Finder have the same option.

  1. Stop reinventing: copy, adapt, and reuse. Good teachers evolve and grow, but we also adapt from what already works. Use your organization to help improve your workflow and teaching.

Use Tech to Make Life Easier & Do Better

Being organized in the cloud is a great skill to have, for your own sanity and to make the most of your time and efforts.

Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be teaching Jane Austen’s Emma to a group of really smart 10th graders and use your own college essay on the novel as literary criticism. With a good online organization system, it could happen. And for a handful of students of mine a few years ago, it did.

We can use technology to stay organized and to help us be better teachers by using all of our hard work in the past to do better in the future.

Adam Schoenbart is a high school teacher, technology coach, Google for Education Certified Trainer, and EdD candidate. He teaches in New York in a 1:1 Chromebook classroom. He can be reached through e-mail at and would love to connect on Twitter @MrSchoenbart and on the Schoenblog at

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