Classroom Management

Potty Talk: A Flow Chart, a Bathroom Management System, and a Mysterious Puddle

I like to think of myself as a calm, collected teacher, and most of the time, I am. There is, however, one simple question that often throws me for a loop. It has nothing to do with complicated color mixing or trying to recall an art history date buried deep in my brain. The question that stumps me almost every single time is, “Can I go to the bathroom?”

Whether it seems like it on the surface or not, this is often a loaded question. For some students, the answer is obvious. Jumping up and down, sweating, that deer-in-the-headlights look: these are telltale signs of a true emergency. But beyond the obvious signs can lay a labyrinth of deceit. “Can I go to the bathroom,” might really mean “Can I take a break from art?” or “Can I go get a drink at the water fountain?” It can even mean, “Can I go create some mischief where no one is supervising me?” When a student asks to go to the bathroom, my answer always seems to be based on a super-complicated algorithm comprised of the age, demeanor, and trustworthiness of the student, coupled with whether or not he or she always asks to go to the bathroom every art class and what we’re doing at the time. Phew!

I decided it’s time to simplify things. Below you will find the “Can I Go To The Bathroom?” Flow Chart. Enjoy.

In all seriousness, though, coming up with a bathroom system that works was quite a process. At the first school I taught at, the students had to sign out on a sheet, which we then had to hand in at the end of the week. Talk about micromanagement! Plus, it wasn’t very “emergency friendly” if you know what I mean. When I moved to my current school and could develop my own system, I tried a lot of different things including students writing their names on the board, different passes for boys and girls and having students take passes with them to the bathroom, but none of these systems worked well for me.

What I finally came up with is a magnet system. On my whiteboard hangs a magnet that says “bathroom.” Only one student is allowed to be out of the art room at a time. When I allow a student to go to the bathroom (after he or she has asked politely, of course), the student goes up to the whiteboard, grabs the magnet and puts it at his or her table spot. Upon reentering the room, the student places the magnet back on the whiteboard.

This works well because I can do a quick visual check of the whiteboard to remind myself if someone has left the room, and then quickly scan the room to see where the pass is to remember who has left. It’s also great during a fire drill, because amidst the business of lining up to go outside, I know exactly who is missing. I have a hallway pass that works the exact same way for drinks (don’t even get me started), nurse visits, sensory breaks, etc.

How do you handle bathroom breaks in your room?  

Do you have a system that works well?

Any funny accident stories?

* One time during a kindergarten class a mysterious puddle appeared on the floor. Since all of them were wearing adult-sized t-shirts as art smocks, which went past their knees, I never found the culprit!*


Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Amanda Heyn

Amanda Heyn is AOEU’s Director of K–12 PD & Media and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She enjoys creating relevant and engaging professional development just for art teachers.

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