Professional Practice

4 Specific Things to Do to Set Your Subs Up for Success

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Unless you’ve been a sub yourself, it’s hard to imagine what might be going through your substitute’s head when they walk into your classroom.

They might be wondering:

  • What are the students going to be like?
  • Will the teacher have lessons plans ready for me?
  • I wonder if I have an extra duty today?

As teachers, we need to take responsibility for our classrooms when we are not there. It’s up to us to make sure we inform our substitutes how to effectively teach our students. We need to lay out everything, from our lesson plans to our classroom routines, in a clear concise format.

Here are 4 ways you can set your substitute teacher up for success in your classroom.

1. Give your substitute a warm welcome.

There is nothing like feeling welcomed into a new place. When I am absent, I make sure to inform my entire team, administration, and the grade level teachers who have art that day. I also have chosen a point person on my team who checks on my substitute in the morning and throughout the day to make sure they are ready, know where the closest restroom is located, and have all their questions answered. It is important to inform school administration so they can pop by to say hello as well.

You can remind grade level teachers to let students know you will be gone. Giving students a “heads-up” mentally prepares them for seeing a different face in the art room. Plus, it’s a great time for the grade level teachers to remind students of the school and classroom expectations when there is a substitute teacher in the art studio. Any nerves and worries may begin to disappear once your substitute feels the support from the school staff. This is a good start to set your substitute up for a successful day. I even like to leave a bottle of water and a bag of popcorn for a snack with a note letting them know I appreciate them taking care of my classroom for the day.

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2. Have a substitute folder prepared.

A substitute folder or sub tub is integral to your substitute having a great day. Just seeing a new face in the art room is enough to throw some kids off track. If a sub can use the same routines, procedures, and management plan you use on a daily basis, they’ll be much more successful teaching your students. Kids thrive on consistency.

Here is a list of things to add to your sub folder.
Remember to make sure everything is clear and concise.

  • Welcome Page
  • Classroom Management Plan
  • Seating Charts
  • Lesson Plans for the Day
  • Daily Schedule
  • Routines/Strategies
  • School Drill Procedures
  • Map of Emergency Exit Routes
  • Important Extensions
  • Morning and Afternoon Duties
  • Emergency Lesson Plans (great when you get sick and can’t plan lessons)
  • A Sub Report Sheet

sub folder

3. Use a Sub Report for documentation.

A great way for your substitute to feel heard and to see how your students behaved in your classroom is to provide a sub report for your substitutes to fill out. There’s a great example you can download and use in the article, “The Best Way to Tell What REALLY Happened While You Were Out.”

Or, you could use Microsoft Word or Canva to create your own simple form that can be filled out after each class. Prompting subs to fill out a report will allow you to see what the day looked like for your substitute and see if you need to speak with any students about their behavior. When students are held accountable during your absence, it makes them think twice about their behavior the next time a sub is in your room.

4. Consider a positive reinforcement plan for your students.

If your students consistently give subs a hard time, consider adding a special positive reinforcement plan to your substitute folder. For instance, I let my students know they have a chance to earn five stars when they have a substitute. If I know in advance I will be gone, I remind students about this positive incentive.

In your sub folder or on the classroom behavior report, add an area that allows the substitute to give each class up to five stars. Using a scale, weigh the stars to reflect certain behavior. Here is an example.

  • 1 Star = Needs major improvement
  • 2 Stars = Mostly poor behavior
  • 3 Stars = Good behavior after several reminders
  • 4 Stars = Good behavior with minimal reminders
  • 5 Stars = Excellent behavior throughout the class period

You can choose a variety of rewards for those classes that receive four to five stars. They could vote as a class on their reward based on a list you create. A few ideas for the list could be a free choice day, a dance party, or drawing outside. The reward should be something your students love to do.

Overall, making your substitute feel welcome and giving them the tools to successfully run your class in a clear and direct manner will be helpful in making their day a success.

What do you do in order to set your substitute teacher up for success?

What else would you add to the sub folder?

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.


Wynita Harmon

Wynita Harmon is AOEU’s Chair of Faculty Development and a former AOEU Writer and elementary school art educator.

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