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Where to Get School Supplies

Back-to-school season is the second most profitable time of year for retailers. (Behind Christmas, of course.) Advertisements, “special deals,” and in-store displays are designed to lure you off course, tempt you to spend more money, and specifically prey on your desire to “finally get organized!”

But, “back-to-school” organization is much more about systems than it is about stuff, so it does not matter *where* you go to buy school supplies. What matters is that you do not get tempted by the “loaded” new binder or “pretty” new notebooks. There is usually a very high correlation among school and paper-management supplies: the more features something has, the more expensive AND ineffective it tends to be. Below, you will find a list of supplies, broken down into three categories of systems: Time Management, Supply Management, and Paper Management.

All of the items below are inexpensive and available from most retail and on-line locations.

**Time Management**

Time Management is an issue for students AND for their families; it is very difficult for a student to manage his time well in a family that does not. Ten minutes a week can resolve this issue. Grab the family calendar and have an informal “Sunday Summit.” Coordinate schedules for the week: upcoming sports practices, after-school activities, scheduled appointments, test and project due-dates. Have your children make notes in their planners.

The key to an effective Sunday Summit is to make it a conversation, not an interrogation. This means you must share your schedule, too. Do you have a big deadline at work? Are you planning to finally get to the gym to do a workout? Share you deadlines and your goals with your kids. You may be surprised how receptive they will be! At the very least, you will all start your week on the “same page.”

Supplies Needed

  • Family calendar (basic monthly calendar)
  • One academic planner for each child (The best planners are slender -not bulky- spiral books with a monthly calendar and space for daily assignment entries. Planners are often supplied by schools.)

**Supply Management**

Most households have a “silverware sorter.” This is a tray with slots that are designated for spoons, forks, knives, and server ware. In just about any home, you can quickly determine where to put the spoons based on the organization of the silverware tray.

This common house-hold item inspired what I have called the “Silverware Sorter Theory.” This theory states that items will remain organized if there is a designated location to place them and they are easily accessible.

How Does the Silverware Sorter Theory Apply to School Supplies?

Supplies should have a specific storage location in the bookbag and a designated place at home.

In the bookbag, students can use a front pocket of the bag or a supply case to store pens and pencils. If students cannot carry a bookbag during the school day, they can snap a 3-ring pencil case into their binder (see Paper Management).

At home, a designated bucket or basket for common household school supplies (pens, pencils, scissors, stapler, tape, markers, etc) not only keeps items neat and organized; it also helps students manage time better. With an established storage location, students will no longer have to romp all around the house to find needed supplies.

It is best to have a container with a handle so it can easily be moved one-handed. This allows students to do homework in different locations around the home, as needed. Establish a specific location on a shelf, desk, or in a cabinet to store the supplies at the end of the day. These designated locations help everyone keep things in order because everyone will know where things belong.

Supplies Needed:

  • Front pocket of a bookbag OR a pencil case
  • Bucket or basket for household school supplies (Chances are very good you already have the perfect container somewhere in your house.)
  • Standard supplies. (Back-to-school season is a great time to take advantage of deep discounts and stock up on the standard supplies, but don’t overbuy…then you create another organizational nightmare for yourself!)

**Paper Management**

Paper management is one of the most frustrating elements of school organization! Students are often required to have separate folders and notebooks for each of their classes. The average student has 12-16 different folders and notebooks they are expected to manage. That would be like us trying to keep track of 12-16 different email inboxes each day!

The traditional practice of maintaining several different folders and notebooks also violates the Silverware Sorter Theory because items become inaccessible. Since folders and notebooks look alike when sandwiched in the locker or bookbag, students commonly bring the wrong materials to class, or home for homework. With so many supplies, it is easy for them to leave a folder or notebook at home…along with a completed assignment.

The sheer volume of “stuff” sends students into a downward spiral of missing supplies and assignments, which then leads to poor grades.

To resolve this problem, students should keep only ONE binder for ALL classes. Believe it or not, they can trim a stack of 8 folders and 8 notebooks down into one 1-inch binder. Simply replace two-pocket folders with plastic folders inserted into the binder. Swap out spiral notebooks with loose-leaf notebook paper, using folders as subject dividers.

To keep the binder manageable, establish a Paper Station at home. The Paper Station is a specific location to file graded papers, old notes, and other materials that will be helpful resources for unit tests and final exams, but do not need to be hauled around on a daily basis. The Paper Station can be updated during your weekly meeting on Sunday.

Note: Students who see only one teacher throughout the day (typically K-4 students) only need one folder to go back-and-forth from school to home every day.

Finally, another very important paper-management system is a routine called “Take Two.” Students take the first two minutes of their homework time each evening to clean trash out of the bookbag and organize papers in the binder.

Supplies Needed

  • 1-inch binder
  • Plastic binder folders, one for each class
  • Looseleaf notebook paper
  • Box or crate to leave at home for the Paper Station


Use these tips to establish a few systems for yourself this back-to-school season. Then, when you are in the store and you see a beautiful display of new-fangled school supplies, you can trust that it is your systems, not your stuff, that keep you and your children organized!

Parenting Management

“Most children are raised by amateurs, not professionals.”
- Bryce’s Law


Want to know what to expect of the work force in the years ahead? Look no farther
than our schools or homes. Let me preface my remarks by saying that in addition
to all of my other responsibilities, I was very active in my local Little League for a
number of years where I served as coach, umpire, and on the local board of
directors. Further, I have been very active locally in offering Masonic scholarships to
High School students. In addition, my wife has been active in the local school system
for the last ten years at the elementary, middle, and high school levels (this also
included PTA and SAC). Although we probably won’t win an award as the world’s
best parents, we made a point of becoming an important and influential part of our
children’s lives. We didn’t take any special courses in parenting, we just got
involved. But we are the exceptions as opposed to the rule.

Prior to World War II, the country was immersed in an economic depression which
put a strain on families and disrupted our society. Everyone in a family was expected
to pitch in and do their part in order to survive, this included going to school and their
place of worship. Some families suffered severe hardships during this period causing
children to drop out of school and go to work. They didn’t drop out as some form
of rebellion or protest, but to simply earn money to help support the family. Consequently,
many earned nothing higher than a Junior High diploma which was prized by many
families. The point is, there was a sense of family back then and the people’s hunger
built character. They understood the value of a dollar, worked hard and squandered
nothing. It was this generation that got us through the war and propelled the country
towards economic success in the latter part of the 20th century.

In the 1950′s and 1960′s, as the country was experiencing an economic boom, a parent
normally stayed at home to manage the family, usually the wife. If a child
had a problem, a parent was always home to tend to their needs. Children no longer
had to drop out of school to support the family and our High Schools and Colleges
swelled with students. The “baby boomers” were considered well adjusted
and readily adapted to the work force. This generation saw us through the space
race and the technology revolution which changed the face of corporate America.

But in the last three decades, we began to lose faith in our economy and our
standard of living. As a result, both parents began to work inordinate hours and a
generation gap began to emerge. Exhausted by their work, the parents
would return home where the last thing they wanted to hear was their child’s
problems. Consequently, children became social outcasts in their own homes and
often had to fend for themselves; they simply couldn’t relate with their parents. Sure,
the parents would sign their kids up for Summer Camp, Little League and Soccer, but
this was viewed more as baby-sitting services as opposed to taking a true interest in
the child’s development. They would also give their kids television sets and video games
to occupy their time.

Today, school teachers have become surrogate parents by default, something
they weren’t trained for, nor inclined to accept. Talk to a teacher and you will hear
stories of lack of respect for authority, poor manners, and dysfunctional social
intercourse. Children today no longer learn their values from their parents
but rather from Hollywood. As young adults entering the work force, their work
ethic, values, and behavior are noticeably different than the prior generation. There
is no longer a sense of quality, service, or craftsmanship; just put in your time and
collect a paycheck. This is all having an adverse effect on how we conduct
business and the corporate culture.

Now, let me give you a the scary figure: probably 20%, or less, of today’s
graduating High School seniors are socially well adjusted.

Knowing this, what should you do as a manager?


In the past, if you were a new employee, it was assumed you knew how to manage
your personal life and you were expected to adapt to the corporate culture. This
is no longer true and presents a problem for managers. Younger employees today
have problems managing money, dressing appropriately, and interpersonal relations
and communications, not to mention alcohol, drugs, and sex. They are raw and rough. But
are they salvageable? They better be, for your company’s sake, as they represent
tomorrow’s work force.

Perhaps we can take a lesson from the military services here. The military is
well aware they are not getting the “cream of the crop” when they take on new
recruits. Many are social misfits coming from broken homes. As such, the
military’s initial role is to break the individual of bad habits and impose a new
system of discipline and work ethic. Individualism is replaced by teamwork and,
in the process, a sense of belonging and family is imposed. This is either readily
accepted by the new recruit or they are drummed out of the service. Discipline,
organization, teamwork, and a strong work ethic can have a dramatic affect on a
drifting soul. By doing so, it can bring order to lives and a sense of purpose,
something that perhaps was neglected at home.

Today’s Drill Instructors and junior officers also find themselves as surrogate parents
and are now instructed in counseling young soldiers. The boot camps of today are
a lot different than what the country experienced during World War II, Korea, and
Viet Nam. Yet, we are producing a fine class of soldiers which makes our country
proud. In other words, they must be doing something right.

If we have learned anything from the military in this regard, it is that the
times have changed and our employees today have different needs requiring
a new type of manager who can adequately tend to them. And like today’s
Drill Instructors and school teachers, managers are finding themselves in the
role of surrogate parents, like it or not. Managers bristle at this notion. After all,
they want to get on with their business and do not want to be regarded as a
baby-sitter. But the fact remains, home parenting skills are at an all-time low
and to overcome this problem, someone has to assume the duty to compensate
for this inadequacy. Again, the military readily understands this and has adapted
accordingly. But can business?

Understand this, corporate America’s “recruits” come predominantly from the
colleges and universities whose purpose is not to teach social skills, but rather,
to teach people how to learn. A college diploma most definitely does not
mean the graduate is socially well-adjusted, but that he/she has learned to study
and accept new ideas. If anything, the student’s extracurricular activities tell
more about a person’s personality than the degree itself. For example, participation
in team sports, club activities, or Greek life speaks volumes about a person’s
personality and social skills.


In the past, new corporate recruits underwent special training programs to learn how
the company conducts business. Sales people in particular had to undergo rigorous
training to learn how to present products and care for the customers. Workmen
underwent training to learn how to build quality products. However, such programs
have been slashed in recent times as a means for cutting costs (and will be the subject
of a future paper).

There was also a period where mentors were assigned to new employees to chaperone
them on their journey through the corporate world. Mentors were basically a
“Big Brother/Sister” program where senior employees would offer sage advice
to neophytes on adapting to the corporate world. But like the training programs,
mentoring is also being phased out.

Although mentoring and training programs were intended to develop the employee’s
skills and effectiveness from a corporate perspective, neither dwelled on the personal
problems of the employee.

Now that new employees are left to fend for themselves, a generation gap is emerging
in business. Managers from just about every job segment are frustrated with new
employees, and, likewise, new employees are frustrated with management. Whereas
managers lament how little is accomplished by new employees, new employees
complain how much time they are putting in at work. This highlights a significant
difference between the generations: whereas the new employees are watching the
clock, the managers are watching what is produced. The two are not synonymous,
but nobody has taught the young employees this yet. To the “newbies,” their time is
what is important, regardless if they produce anything worthwhile or not; to the manager,
it is just the opposite. Also, young people believe calling in sick is an acceptable form of
behavior. Where did they learn all this? On their own. It is a sad state of affairs when
the media has more influence over the values of our children than parents do. But
when adults abdicate parenting to the media, it is not entirely surprising.

So, what is needed? More training? Mentoring? Nope. Just some parenting. The sooner
corporations realize this, the sooner they can begin to develop mature and responsible
employees. Again, this is why the military now teaches its Drill Instructors basic
counseling techniques, so they can help new recruits find their way through life and become
a good soldier. It is most definitely not “baby-sitting” but, rather, a recognition that parents
have dropped the ball in their child’s development and someone has to pick up the
pieces in order for the newbie to realize their potential.

I do not claim to have a Ph.D. in parenting, but as I see it there are three primary
duties a parent needs to inculcate:

* Role Model – first, a parent has to be a good role model with attributes their subordinates

want to aspire to attain. Role models are respected for their authority and become

a highly credible source of information and inspiration,

* Teacher – second, a parent has to be able to teach, not just academic lessons but

those of life; e.g., morality, socialization, even finances (e.g., balancing a

checkbook, life insurance, etc.). It is the teacher who establishes the rules and

regulations of the classroom and, as such, is also the disciplinarian.

* Guidance Counselor – third, parenting includes guiding others on their path through

life, explaining options and making recommendations.

Very important, a parent has to recognize they won’t have all of the answers, but
should know how to point someone in the right direction to get the answers they need.

Above all else, a parent has to care about the welfare of their offspring. I am not
suggesting corporate parents love their children like biological parents, but they
need to invest time in the person, believe in the person, and motivate them
accordingly, whether through kindness or a good swift kick in the rear. The
corporate parent has to also know when their work is complete and allow the
offspring to move on to the next stage of their corporate life.

The military has the advantage of written contracts and boot camps to
indoctrinate new recruits. Perhaps a corporate boot camp could be devised
and teach the same lessons as found in the military, such as:

* Cause and effect, e.g., if you make a mistake, you know you will be penalized accordingly.

* The value of good workmanship and its impact on others.

* How to give and take an order.

* Discipline and code of conduct.

* Teamwork.


Companies today are at a loss coping with the newest generation of
workers. What they don’t realize is, it will get worse before it gets better. Since
most biological parents are content with allowing others to teach their children
the necessary values in life, teachers, the military and corporations are forced to
pick up the slack, like it or not. The sooner we admit this, the sooner we can address
how to remedy the situation. Whether this involves one-on-one counseling or a
boot camp type of environment, something has to be done to teach our newest wave
of workers the proper values to succeed in business and in life.

Let me leave you with a real-life story on parenting in the workplace. Some time
ago I was visiting with a CIO in Columbus, Ohio who took me on a tour of
his facility. Along the way, we happened upon a young programmer who
was new to the company. Frankly, he looked a little wet behind the ears and
had long hair over his collar. After the CIO introduced me to the young man, he
instructed him to go get a haircut. The young programmer, shot back
indignantly, “You can’t say that to me!”

The CIO turned calmly but deliberately to the programmer, and said,
“Yes I can. Watch,” then pointing to his mouth, “Get a haircut. Now!”

The programmer backed down and, to his credit, dutifully got a haircut.

I had just witnessed a little “Parenting Management” in action. The CIO
exercised his authority and had quickly instructed the newbie on one
of the rules to be observed in the workplace. The programmer’s biological
parents hadn’t instructed him properly, now it defaulted to his corporate

“Parenting Management” – Just remember, you heard it here first.