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Focusing on social-emotional learning (SEL) can provide opportunities for self-expression and produce beautiful works of art. However, SEL isn’t just about providing students with conversations or creative prompts. Creating a safe space where students can explore their experiences and learn about others starts with intentional classroom management practices. There is no better time than the beginning of the school year to set those expectations.
SEL is an umbrella term that unites broader conversations about student well-being and our role as educators. According to CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, SEL is the process through which students “… develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” To learn more about the intersection of art education and SEL, check out The Art of Education University’s podcast, The Art of SEL.
When students enter the art room, they are entering a new space. Even though it is a new environment, they bring the weight and activity of the rest of their lives with them. For instance, you may not be aware of an incident that took place in the cafeteria. Or, earlier that morning, another educator may have reacted to them in an impactful way. The beginning of class is a time to start fresh. It is a time to welcome students into a safe space so they feel free to be creative.
The limited amount of time we have with our students may make us frantic. Or we may start the class period spinning because we are still cleaning up after the last class. The start of each new class can be a fresh start for you too. Prioritize the first few minutes in the art room to set everyone up for success.
Here are some strategies you can implement to make your classroom more welcoming:
When students are empowered to be active members of the classroom community, they can become more self-aware of their potential. This can lead to responsible decision-making. For example, teach students how to take care of supplies and where to put them away. This will allow students to take ownership of their experience in the art room. It will also positively impact those who enter the space after them.
Let’s take a look at some confidence-building strategies that will set your students up for success:
Apologies may seem odd to include in a discussion about classroom management, but they are an action that students need to see modeled by an adult. They need to see that it is okay to admit when something goes wrong and it is okay to be vulnerable. Clearly apologize when it is necessary and do so without excuses. When you do this, you will model self-awareness and responsible decision-making.
Looking for a good book to spark this conversation? Check out How to Apologize by David LaRochelle.
It is critical that we recognize the experiences of our students. This includes how their lives may be impacted by their time in the art room as well as how their lives can affect future students in the art room.
Lauren Suveges, a middle school art teacher in Florence, OR, uses her sense of humor to prompt students’ awareness of their experiences and resulting responses. When her students self-identify that they are having a “bad day,” they can request the Bad Day Cat Day. This is a goofy sweet cat figurine Lauren has available to keep a student company at their desk. Something so small, like Bad Day Cat Day, can help students identify their emotions. It can also turn their feelings and experience around in your class.
If we want to know about our students, we have to ask them.
If you are looking for some strategies that invite students to share how they are doing, check out the following:
Just as welcoming students into a creative space provides opportunities for SEL, so do procedures for leaving the room. The conclusion of the class is the last thing your students will remember from your time together. Ending class positively will encourage students to look forward to the next one.
Some ideas for SEL-inspired exit activities are outlined below:
Back to school, especially post-pandemic, is hard for both students and teachers alike. Hopefully, whether you are starting from scratch as a new teacher or are looking to rethink and reimagine protocols, these six strategies gave you new ideas. Regardless of your situation and teaching experience, consider your students and their unique context. In doing so, your classroom management practices can support SEL competencies. It can also positively drive artmaking experiences and transfer valuable life skills beyond the art room walls.
What is one management strategy you already use to get to know your students?
How can you modify a current management practice to shift focus to student well-being and awareness?
How have you used a mood meter to track feelings and experiences?
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.