Systems and Forms

Being the only math teacher in a high school teaches you a lot of things.

One thing I've learned without realizing it is that creating systems is a way to fix problems. And fixing systems is the easiest way to fix problems.

I read about having bell work/bell ringers/warm up work before I ever started teaching and I guess that's the one thing I've truly done consistently my entire career. Each year I change it to meet the needs I feel like the students have. It may seem like a little thing but it is an easy place to address gaps since I already have a system in place. Students always know they will be doing some kind of bell ringer so it doesn't matter what I throw up there, the expectation is already set. This year we are working on mental math, talking points, estimation, patterns, and error analysis. I'm already thinking ahead to next year on how to incorporate measurement and probability.


Students wanted a way to improve their grades but I don't believe in extra credit. So I decided to let them retake quizzes. I try to create a second version of a quiz (especially when I've seen a lot of bad scores) right away and ask students in class if anyone wants to retake it right then. I used to ask students to come in and retake it but they didn't have time, I didn't have time, and they didn't know what to expect. Now I have a much higher percentage of students that actually do retakes.


I could never keep up with missed work of students who were absent. I bought a file folder holder (I don't know the real name) and labeled one slot for each class period. All missed work goes straight to the slot with their name on it. So right after I pass out papers to the class, I write the names of the absent student on it and put it in the slot. I also labeled a section of my whiteboard Quiz/Test and wrote down students who were absent on the day of a quiz or test. After passing them out to the class, I write the absent student's name on it and hang it on a clip behind my desk.


On test days I would get overwhelmed by students who didn't finish in time and I would have piles of tests in different places all over my desk. So I created a Finished basket and a More Time basket so that everyone's test has a place that is NOT on my desk.


Super frustrated at students who can't bring a pencil to my class when they don't have to bring anything else! So I created a system of pencil borrowing...which changes every year but hey, I don't give up easily, :)


I had a lot of different supplies I wanted available to students but didn't want a lot of students up and down all the time. I ordered carts to keep supplies organized and within arms reach.


When doing study guides to review for tests I was overwhelmed by half of the students asking for help and half of the students just wanting to know if there answers were right. I started hanging up answer keys on the board so students could check their work which freed me up to answer questions from those who really need my attention.


I got tired of listening to the thoughtless and mean comments students make to each other on a daily basis. Enter the Two Nice Things rule where students must immediately say two nice things to the person they just spoke rudely about (even if that person is not in that room or even if they say it about themselves).


Basically when something frustrates or annoys you, it's time to create a system/routine/procedure to address it. And if the results don't make you happy, then fix/change/update your system.

Anything that you repeatedly say or questions you repeatedly answer should have a form. Any paperwork that you do repeatedly should have a form. If you find yourself jotting down things on post-its, napkins, and the back of papers lying around, you probably need a form.

We do bell ringers every day at the beginning of class so they have a bell ringer form that they use every week. It's in the basket on Monday, they use it all week, and I collect it on Fridays.

As cheerleading coach, there are certain expectations and rules that I have so I have a contract that parents and students sign.

I get a lot of the same personal questions asked over and over (age, college, high school, where do I live, my family, music I like, etc) so I started the year with a powerpoint about me to answer those ahead of time.

For our evaluation we have to have a binder with different artifacts or evidence of things we do. So I make forms. It's an easy way to keep yourself more organized and accountable. For me, it take the stress off of my brain trying to remember everything when I can create a system or form to do the thinking for me.

Even the INB is a form of a system, It's used in all my preps, it replaces textbooks and notebooks, promotes engagement, and is used as an organizing tool. I'm thinking about pages to include at the beginning of next year to address some gaps I'm seeing this year like percents, changing decimals to percents, prime vs composite, perfect squares, and less than vs greater than.

And when you are the only teacher in your 'department' you have to do evvvvvvvvvvverything.

Forms and systems are your new work besties for life.


  1. Love this post. Thanks for sharing your excellent strategies and wisdom.

  2. Hello! This post was recommended for MTBoS 2015: a collection of people's favorite blog posts of the year. We would like to publish an edited volume of the posts and use the money raised toward a scholarship for TMC. Please let us know by responding via email to tina.cardone1@gmail.com whether or not you grant us permission to include your post. Thank you, Tina and Lani.