Clean Slate

New semester = clean slate. I work with a lot of students right before a semester begins so they can get a strong start. From grade school to grad school, here’s what I do with many students:


Empty it, clean it out. Ask what they use each pocket for. This raises awareness that they are choosing “homes” for things such as books, supplies, folders, money, etc. I don’t necessarily care where they put things, I care that they have intentionally chosen the place, because it’s all about intentionality, conscious choices, awareness.

I’m not a fan of backpacks with a ton of pockets- the simpler the better (invest in good material though). A place for books/folders and a pocket for supplies is my preference, especially if they’re always losing stuff.  This backpack, not this one. If a backpack isn’t big enough, they’re probably using unnecessary 3 ring binders, pushing way too much paper, are probably doing too much busywork and not enough engaged learning. But that’s another story.


We go through every single paper and recycle everything possible-I don’t like the idea of making kids push paper for the sake of pushing paper. We sort remaining papers. I ask why they are keeping them and support or challenge their reasons depending on what would be helpful. Either way, I want them to be intentional regarding their choices.

We often set up an “archive” box for sentimental papers or stuff they “might” need. I make sure folders are labeled with huge letters on front AND back, with name and subject. Finally, color code folders to match composition notebooks for each class, which are also clearly labeled.

3 Ring Binders

If you’re familiar with my writing, you know I’m not a fan of 3 ring binders for most kids who aren’t naturally organized. They require too many steps to manage papers that are often meaningless to the student, which is counter productive and unnecessary. We generally replace them with simple accordion files or cheap pocket folders.


  • Thin it out: get rid of all pages from earlier in the year and all useless pages.
  • Use a highlighter to box out every single day they have off for the rest of the year. This helps students get a better perception of time, helps get a big picture of the upcoming semester and makes everything feel more manageable.
  • Print and post all new syllabi.
  • Transfer ALL info possible from syllabi to the planner, at the beginning of the semester. (By the way, weekly planners are usually ineffective for struggling students. These students are typically global/big picture tinkers who do much better with monthly planners where they can see the big picture. They just need to learn shorthand to fit assignments in the smaller space.)


We set up Google Chrome to automatically open relevant tabs: calendar, school website, online gradebook, email, google drive, etc.. It’s worth taking the time to customize the browser.


Take time to intentionally set up a Sacred Study Space (SSS). Seriously think out how to design the ultimate work space with the student. Music or no music? Bright or dim? What are the preferences? White boards? Cork boards? Minimize clutter, have supplies within reach. Get a timer, digital recorder, extra note cards or any other items that help study smarter not harder.


Help students structure study times, meal times, and other activities at the beginning of the semester when possible. The schedule can be changed, but having a plan makes things a lot easier. It’s also good to post a weekly sketch/schedule for students to reference. It helps them develop a better perception of time.


If there is a class that needs to be switched or dropped, do it sooner rather than later! Same with tutors or other logistics.


Review social goals they have, give guidance when necessary, ask them about their plan regarding social challenges. Again, it’s about intentionality. I don’t need to solve every problem or give “advice” on every issue. In fact that’s often counter productive. I just want my students to have to articulate what’s going on socially because it forces them to raise their awareness. It allows them to make choices rather than blindly jump back into the social environment in school.


I do a temperature check with students about each class, about teachers, friends, organization, etc. to see how they feel about things. I help them regulate emotion in 2 primary ways:

1. Helping students choose an authentic attitude that serves them positively (reframing).

2. Showing them how to regulate stress/their nervous system (you can google grounding exercises, diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, etc.).


We discuss sleep, food and exercise. We look at their wellness goals and see if anything might help learning, focus, overall sense of well-being, etc..


For the next few weeks we make times to maintain everything so students aren’t swimming upstream. We flag important papers with bright post its, eliminate waste, update planners, etc.. We raise awareness in every area so they are learn to make intentional choices, so students are having actual experience writing their own script in life rather than mindlessly doing what they’re told. Good luck and contact me with questions or better yet, post your thoughts below.

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  1. says

    Really strong article, Seth, written with heart and clarity. It is obvious you have the compassion, experience and knowledge to change lives for the better. Your words extend beyond the life of a student (I guess we are ongoing students of life!) to all of us: to live with intentionality… setting ourselves up for success… moment to moment choices that lead to a life of meaning and joy. Thanks!

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