5 Reasons Your School Is Disorganized

Too much on your desk?

Based on Leading With Intention

We both love concerts and attend them often. We recently compared notes about summer concerts we attended, and it was interesting how different our experiences were. One concert was well organized with many entrances open, plenty of places to buy food and drinks, and a highly visible staff that was attentive and ready to assist. Overall, the event felt safe, controlled, clean, and organized. In another city, a similar event felt very different. There were limited entrances open, with long lines to get inside the venue and even longer lines to get food and drink. Event staff were difficult to locate, and it generally felt chaotic.

As we compared our experiences, it was easy for us to make the connection to schools. When organization is not of the utmost concern in schools, a situation similar to the chaotic concert experience can ensue. How can school leaders engage in practices that increase a sense of order?

A good way to begin is to examine the current status of everyday routines and practices and whether or not they enhance a sense of order and organization in your school. Review areas of your school or times of day that cause the most frustration for teachers and assess the current systems or protocols in place. Evaluate whether additional protocols or practices should be in place to increase organization and order.

For example, are all of your students asked to enter the school through one door in the morning, creating crowded hallways, or is the lunchroom chaotic because there are more students eating at one time than you have room for? Assess whether there are more efficient and effective systems for entering the school and for lunchtime. Could this be reviewed for improvement? Do you have a stairwell that students typically congregate around without supervision? Is that where many fights or other incidents occur? Is there a better way to handle this? Are there too many students in that hallway at one time? Is there adequate supervision?

In our principal coaching work, it has become clear that the following behaviors contribute to a lack of organization in schools:

  1. Unclear expectations of students, staff, or both

    Leaders have not taken the time to work with a guiding coalition to consider the overall expectations for students and staff. This may also indicate that school leaders have not reflected and considered their own overall vision for the school. The lack of clarity may be because what the expectations should be is not known or that they are known by the leader only, indicating more of a lack of communication rather than decisions about what is expected. Taking the time to discuss the expectations that are important to student success and how this should be made clear to all is necessary work.

  2. Lack of opportunity for students to self-regulate behavior

    School leaders and staff have not recognized or not given students opportunities to own their learning. This may indicate a staff’s lack of understanding of the importance of student ownership. It may be necessary to provide professional development with staff to deepen their understanding of the impact of student ownership on success. For example, teachers may need to understand how the use of rubrics and scoring guides can help students see what they must do to be proficient and how to score their work based on these expectations. Modeling lessons for staff that include student rubrics and self-reporting of grades is helpful when working to build stronger understanding of these instructional practices.

  3. Inconsistent application of expectations by the adults

    Too often, we work in schools where the leaders have stated the expectations—and even worked to create a common understanding of what is expected—but implementation still falls short. For example, when walking from classroom to classroom or hallway to hallway in a school, it is very difficult to understand what the behavior or academic expectations of the students are in that school.

    In some classrooms, students are wearing whatever they want, listening to music with their earbuds in, and they have their hoods up over their heads. In another classroom, the teacher clearly expects the hoods off, the school uniforms visible, and there are no phones or earbuds visible. The same is true in the hallways. Some hallways seem to have rules, and others do not. It is very hard to understand what the expectations are for all students in all areas of the school.

    In this case, the school administration must have accountability and monitoring expectations for staff implementation of the expectations. As important as it is to determine expectations and build understanding, it is critically necessary that leaders follow up and monitor what actually is happening in the school.

  4. Lack of adult visibility

    One common problem we see in many schools is just a lack of adults supporting noninstructional time. For example, when students are moving from class to class, is there an expectation that teachers are out in the hallways, supporting the safety of students? Do the adults in the building see their responsibility for “all students, all the time” as part of their role, or does the school have more of a culture of “I take care of my students in my classroom and do my duties, but that is as far as my responsibility goes”? From time to time, leaders should review supervision schedules, ensuring that adequate supervision is being provided in all areas of the school. By looking at where discipline issues come from (for example, at lunch breaks), it may be clear to you where more supervision is needed.

  5. Too many students in a small, confined area

    As simple as it sounds, there are times when schools are disorganized and chaotic just because of traffic flow. For example, having only one lunch break for the entire school when the cafeteria space is too small or the food service is not able to manage this is a recipe for disaster. If your school has narrow hallways, how many classes you want to transition through them at one time is worth considering when you think about order and safety. Or having all students wait for buses in one small bus area can cause unnecessary havoc. Reviewing your space and transitions through the eyes of school order and safety is a good practice from time to time to make adjustments as needed.

Overall, what we are describing is a lack of system or protocols. As with our concert sites in the opening example, your school can have the same outcomes as others. However, without attention to how things work (traffic patterns, crowd control, supervision, clear expectations, communication, support, and visibility) it is difficult to create organization. Leaders who take the time to be aware and respond to the needs in the school with systems and protocols provide greater opportunities for both students and staff to have a safe and orderly environment to learn and work. As schools open for the 2018–2019 school year, it is a great time to examine your practices with an intentional focus on creating organization.


For more on this topic and other ways to lead with intention, see our new book:

Spiller, J., & Power, K. (2018) Leading With Intention: Eight Areas for Reflection and Planning in Your PLC at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press

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