A Better System for Managing Your Time (Ep. 049)

Cassie has been receiving a lot of questions lately on how she makes everything run with such limited time. So today, she’s diving in to exactly how she spends her time both inside and outside of school. Listen as she talks about how she handles classes with no time in between (5:15), how effective routines can eliminate wasted time (10:45), and why call and response is one of your most effective tools (15:45). Full episode transcript below.


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Recently, I received two messages on my Instagram back to back. First one sounded like this, “Help! I teach first through sixth grade art in a portable with no sink, 30 minute classes, and no time between the classes. And as one class leaves, the other class enters. I’m struggling to know how to provide any kind of a quality art experience before I throw in the towel and replace art with drama. Do you have any advice for me?” That was question number one, immediately followed by this one, “Hey Cassie. I stink at managing my time. I would love to know how you manage your time. What is a typical day, week look like? When do you prep for classes? When do you plan? When do you clean up? It would be interesting to hear about a week on an art teacherin’ schedule. Thanks.”

Let’s address time management in the art room today, shall we? I mean, obviously when I get two messages like that, back to back, I know it’s on the forefront of a lot of people’s minds. And it’s something that I definitely struggle with on the daily, both in my personal life and totally at school. But, it’s something that I’m managing. It’s a managing problem, one that we have to, I feel like, continuously tweak, look at, re-examine, and refine. Let’s talk about managing time in the art room. I’m Cassie Stevens, and this is Everyday Art Room.

It has been just about a month and a half shy of a year since I started sharing with you on this here podcast, Everyday Art Room. I really cannot believe that, number one, you guys are still here. And number two, I’m still recording because I can’t stick with anything, y’all. But that being said, my first several podcasts, episode one probably through 10 were all about how to kick off your school year, how to establish routines, and managing your time in the art room. We’re readdressing that today, but I definitely feel like taking a re-listen or listening to some of those podcasts might kind of expand on some of the things I’m going to touch on today.

Let’s talk about managing time in the art room. Before I feel like we can address that, we need to talk about what are the time sucking culprits in your art room? And I decided to divide this into two parts. One part being where my time goes during my prep. And then the other part being how time manages to slip through my fingers during my teaching time. Let me just share with you a little bit of my schedule so you kind of understand where I’m coming from.

My schedule is not a rotation basis. Mine is every class that I see on Monday. I see the same kids every single Monday. I see the same kids every single Tuesday, all the way from Monday to Friday. If it’s a Wednesday, I know what my Wednesday is going to look like because it was the same as last Wednesday. However, because it changes every single day, I do have to look at my schedule every day just to remember, “Who am I seeing today? And what’s happening with my life? And why did I make the choices that I did that got me to this place?”

But anyway, I teach kindergarten through fourth grade. Listen very carefully as I go through my schedule. It’s a little cray. Changes every day. I have 30 minute art classes. That’s right, I said 30. For my kindergarten, first, second, and fourth graders, I see them twice a week, which is how I managed to get an hour “of art time with them”. But if you’ve ever tried to teach art in 30 minutes, you know that it’s not the same as having a full hour because the time that you have to spend introducing something and cleaning up is doubled because you’re having to do it twice.

Now, my third graders, I see them … This is new this year. This is a slightly different schedule change. I will be seeing my third graders once a week for 60 minutes. In order for me to get that nice chunk of time with them, I have to double up my third grade classes, meaning I will be seeing two of them at a time. It’s a full room. It’s action packed, but at least my students have an hour. Last year, I did that with both my third and my fourth grade students. I doubled them up and had a full hour. It’s just not going to work for me this year.

Now, my students do have PE every single day, which is amazing. It’s something that’s established in my school district. And for that reason, my students are either coming to me from PE or leaving my room and going to PE. So I have absolutely no time in between that classroom transition. As my students are leaving, I’ve got another group walking right down the hall to me. Or if I’m gonna be honest, they’re usually standing outside of my door because somebody named Cassie is late.

So that’s my schedule, just to kind of give you an idea of what it looks like. My prep time also changes every single day, but I usually every day have a hunk of time, about an hour each morning. And then sometimes throughout the course of the day, I’ll have 15 minutes there or 30 there. It’s not a bad schedule, it’s just action packed and a little confusing. It’s something that I’m constantly having to look back at my schedule at.

Where is my time going? Let me first address prep. I do have a prep time, which is wonderful because I know a lot of us don’t. But I have found that sometimes my prep time, I don’t get as much done as I could. And here’s why. Here’s where my time goes during my prep time. I have a communal coffee pot in my art room. I love having a giant coffee pot in my art room, especially since my buddy, the music teacher, comes in and gets to school before me and makes the coffee. So my room smells like Starbucks right when I walk in. How amazing is that?

However, having the communal coffee pot can mean you get lots of visitors. And that can be distracting. I’m very chatty. I love to visit with my buddies when they come to see me, so it often throws me off my prep game when folks are dropping by and asking me how I’m doing. I also have a habit of checking my messages, either that be on my phone or my email, especially when I have the sound alert on my email. And it would ping every time I got a new one. It was like a Pavlov’s dog kind of thing. It was like I immediately found myself walking over to my desk.

That was zapping my time and as well as just looking for things. I spend a crazy amount of time trying to find, not even kidding, my coffee. 99% of the time, I find it the following day in the microwave where I placed it to heat it back up because I had lost it previously. I have contests with the kids. Everybody stop, drop, and find Ms. Steven’s coffee cup. It’s terrible. I’m always on a constant quest for supplies, trying to figure out where I placed them. And kids projects, please tell me I’m not alone in losing not just one child’s work of art, but an entire class. “How do you lose a mountain of artwork?” Which is exactly what my students say when I’m getting ready to pass it out. And I’m like, “Oh snap. I forgot to get your guy’s stuff out.” And then we all go on a little hunt not only for my coffee, but also for our artwork. That’s where my time goes during a lot of my prep time.

How am I going to manage these things so I can get some of my time back? One thing is I’m going to definitely keep the coffee pot this coming school year, but possibly cut the chatter. I’m pretty good about continuously working while people are talking. Maybe that will help me kind of silently communicate to them that, “Hey, it’s fun chatting with you, but I’m gonna need you to now scoot because I’ve got stuff to do.” I have already turned off the alert on my email. Well, I would say, “Don’t tell my principal.” But she already knows I don’t really check my school email. It’s full of just stuff that doesn’t apply to me.

This sounds so terrible. I really shouldn’t be giving you this advice, but I’m telling you since I’ve stopped checking my school email, I actually communicate a lot more with my coworkers and my admin because they know that I don’t have a clue what’s going on. And they’ll often come and chat with me and tell me. But it also just makes it so I’m not stopping in the middle of whatever I’m doing, and going over, and looking at an email that doesn’t pertain to what I need to be doing at the time, which is prep time.

I have been working this summer. And at the end of the school year … You guys, if you follow me on Instagram and social media, you know that I’ve been struggling with this all year. And I’m still working on it, chipping away, and getting organized, trying to have a place for everything and knowing where those things are, and making them make sense, not just stacking things as I normally do or tucking them in cupboards without labeling them, which is usually what I do. This year, I’m gonna try really hard to not only be organized, stay organized and encourage my students to do the same.

And I’m just gonna have to start saying “no” more often. A lot of my time is zapped by requests for supplies, for favors. And I’m not just talking about in school, I’m talking about outside of school too. I have really gotten pretty good about saying “no” to things, but I need to get better. If what you’re agreeing to do doesn’t somehow fill the goals or take those boxes of things that you want to accomplish, then you really need to rethink them. My husbands always telling me that I need to do a better job of helping myself achieve my goals and not so much helping others achieve theirs. I mean, you have to keep yourself at the forefront. And that will really help you, I think, manage your time a little bit better.

Now, let’s talk about time management during art class. Because, I feel like with those two questions from those lovely art teachers, that was the biggest concern. I think that the best solution for preventing time wasting in the classroom, in your art room, are establishing routines. Establishing routines can seem like it’s taking forever, especially in the beginning. And it’s just such a drag. It’s not always fun. But I’m telling you, in the end, the pay off is there. Eventually, even if it doesn’t happen until Christmas, eventually they will get those routines. And things will start to go a little faster, a little smoother, and you’ll start to have your time back.

Let’s address all of those time zappers, time wasters that happen in your room and the solution to getting your time back with those. Greeting your students at the door. Like I said, my students come to me from PE a lot of times. Or sometimes the teacher’s dropping them off. Sometimes the teacher will want to have a chit-chat with me at the door. Often times, the kids want to ask me 25 questions about either what I’m wearing or what we’re doing today. That can take up more time than you can imagine, especially with 30 minute art classes where every, not only minute counts, but second counts. I have nipped all that jibber jabber in the bud by having a greeting.

When my students walk up to the door, before anybody can pop a hand in the air, before a teacher can ask me question, I simply say, “Hello, my most amazing artists.” And we’ve worked on it. That very first day, I trained them to respond, “Hello, my most amazing art teacher.” And then, I kind of use my hands to show them to go in. I hold open the door or get a door holder, and I kind of move my hands, allow them to enter. And as they’re entering, I say, “How are you today?” They respond, “Ready to create.” By the time they get finished saying, “Ready to create.” Most of them have started filing, and they’re sitting down on the floor, and I’m in my chair ready to get rolling.

Now, let’s talk about getting them in and getting them seated quickly. My first year teaching, I would often have my students, like many of us do, walk in and go straight to their tables or go straight to their desks. What I learned very quickly as a first year teacher is that was super distracting for them. If the supplies were on the tables, they were gonna touch them. They were going to fiddle with them. And it became a case of the stop, quit, don’ts. “Stop touching that. Don’t do that. I need you guys to listen to me. Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.” I learned really fast not even to engage in that struggle, to just remove them from that situation, plant them right at my feet, and start instructing that way with zero distractions.

How do you get your kids in and seated quickly and efficiently? For me, I have no carpet. I don’t love the idea of carpet in my art room. For me personally, I think of it as a germ sponge. I don’t have a carpet. But if you do, and you have little spots on the carpet, you might want to consider assigning spots so your kids can go in and sit on the carpet very quickly. Instead of a carpet, I have tape that I’ve put on the floor. There’s a kind of tape that my PE teacher’s use all over their gym when they’re creating games. I don’t know what it’s called, but I guarantee your PE teacher has some, knows what it’s called, and may be willing to share if you swap them out for some chocolate. That’s what works for me.

I put lines of tape on the floor. I have about four rows of tape on the floor. And my students know to file in quickly filling the first row first, going all the way down to the end of the row just like you’re at a theme park, and sit. Second row, and sit. And the best way to really motivate your kids to get in and seated quickly and quietly is not only for them to know that they are about to experience an amazing art class because hello, you’re teaching it. But sometimes, that’s not always the motivation. I have what I call “the happy sad board”. It is simply a dry erase board with a vertical line right down the middle, one of the little dry erase boards, propped up on an easel with a happy face on one side that you can either draw, or I have little magnets that have happy faces and sad, and a sad face on the other.

If they come in quickly and quietly, I start drawing lines under the happy face. Look at that first row, they’re sitting so awesomely. Good job. You just got us a line under the happy face. Uh-oh, somebody’s talking in the second row. I don’t know why. I’m just gonna have to draw a line under the sad. This really helps them know, “Okay. She’s watching us. We got to get in here quickly. And she’s monitoring our behavior.” That will reinforce behavior. And also doing it that way will make it so you’re not calling out certain students, but you’re addressing them as a class. They’re a team. They all have to work together. If you want a visual of my happy, sad board, on my blog I’ve got a video all about it. You can simply search “happy sad board” on my blog.

Now, when it comes to directions, a lot of time can get wasted. When you’re done giving your instructions, sharing with the kids what they’re going to be doing today because as you know, there’s the constant, “What? What’re we doing? What do I do next? I don’t know what to do?” I don’t know why I give my poor students a country accent. They honestly don’t sound like that. To actually help your students retain the information and prevent them from asking 20 questions when they get back to their seats, I do a little something called “call and response”. There is an entire podcast all about call and response. Just search my podcasts, and you’ll be able to find it, where I go into a lot more detail.

Essentially, call and response is the biggest element of how I teach. After I’m done going over instructions, I clear my throat like this. My students know that whenever they hear me clear my throat, they are to clear theirs and repeat after me, saying and doing whatever I do. After giving instructions, I will clear my throat, and then I will say something like this, “First, I will …” They respond with, “First, I will go shopping at the store for three thingies.” And I’m doing hand motions this whole time. They’ll repeat after me. We go over what supplies they are to gather at the cafeteria style table that I call “the store”. What they are to do once they get to their seat, write your name on your paper, start creating. And I even cover clean up. We talk about what we’re doing from top all the way to bottom right before the kids go and get started.

However, there are still some of my friends who don’t remember everything. And in which case, another time management thing you might want to consider using is Art Teacher’s in Training. I also have a podcast about that. Basically, it’s a student that you pick, one from each table. You can either wear a badge … In my room, they wear a tie dyed apron. And when they are an art teacher in training, if anybody has a question at their table, they are not to ask me, but they are to ask their art teacher in training who will remind them of the steps of what to do.

Now, let’s talk about hand raising. Aye aye aye, my lovely divine first graders whom I have, like I said, for 30 minutes, love to tell me stories. And I’d love to listen, but I ain’t got the time to hear about your loose tooth, or your lost dog, or what you had for dinner. I’m so sorry. And you know, when one child raises their hand and tells you a story about a loose tooth, what’s gonna happen? 25 other hands are going to shoot up. And if one child raises their hand and tells you they have to go to the restroom, 25 other kids magically have to make pee pee also.

I have a sign in my room, got it at the Dollar Tree. It’s one of those signs that stores put in their front window when they are open or closed. And it simply says “open” on one side, “closed” on the other. When I have my sign flipped so it says “closed”, that means it’s a listening time only. There are to be no questions. And I remind them, “If you’re going to ask me a question about instructions, don’t raise your hand because there is a very good chance I’m going to address that concern when I’m talking about the directions.” Then at the very end, I will remind them what a question is. It’s not a story. It ends with a question. It needs to pertain to what I’m talking about.

And then I rotate my sign around. I usually limit those questions to three. That’s a good way, I feel like, to kind of nip that in the butt. I will tell you, I always get dinged during my evaluations for, guess what? Questioning. It probably has a little bit to do with the fact that the kids aren’t allowed to ask questions. I’ve got 30 minutes. So yeah, that is an issue. That sign idea might not be for you, and that’s okay.

Now, let’s talk about gathering supplies. There’s several ways in your room that you can go about distributing supplies to your students. It really does depend on your space, I feel like, and your management style. In my art room, I always have my own students gather their own supplies. And then I also have the basic supplies at each table. At each table, I always have glue, pencils, scissors, and then whatever supply we might happen to be using, whether that be paint, oil pastels, color pencils, you name it. That’s usually already there for them. When my students go “shopping at the store”, which you can see a video about that on my YouTube channel, they are gathering things like paper, paint brushes, things that they individually will need. And they go about that cafeteria style. That’s how I have my students gather supplies. It works for me.

Well, I know some of you all do jobs. And some of you have things prepped at the table. Some of you guys even have your students rotate from table to table. Find what works best for you. And you might even want to, as crazy as this sounds, time it. See what’s the quickest way to go about having your kids gather those supplies. I have found one of the biggest wasters of time is my students kind of hunkering down and getting started on their work. If my students were left to their own devices, they would attack my store like a group of vultures and run to their seats, and then spend the rest of our class trying to figure out what it was they were doing or what they plan on having for lunch. I can only imagine. These are the kind of things that I have nightmares about before school starts. I can only imagine what they would do.

Because I know that my students are, like most kids, are gonna have a hard time going to their seats and just getting started calmly and quietly. I encourage them to do that my setting a five minutes of silence timer. After I give my call and response directions, I start calling my rows of my students to go gather their supplies, get to their seats, write their name on the back of their paper, or whatever it is we’re working on, and get started. And I set a timer for five minutes, and I expect them to do that either very, very quietly or silently. And this really helps them remember what they’re doing, what they’re gathering at the store, kind of contemplating quietly what they plan on working on, not forgetting to write their name.

It helps to have a soft kind of music playing. Sometimes during those first five minutes, I’ll even dim the lights, lowering my voice, making sure that I’m being quiet because I have a hard time being quiet. And I’ve noticed when I start talking, so do they. Essentially, the five minutes of silence is for all of us. It really helps my students stay on task and focus. When the timer goes off, then it just depends on where I have established I want their tone of voice to be. In one of my podcasts, I chatted about how to get your students to work quietly and a behavioral system called “the blabber brush”. You can hear all about that in that podcast.

When you listen to that podcast, you’ll see that establishing how you want your students to work, what kind of volume you want them to work at can be wonderful for them to work contemplatively, quietly, and with great focus. Quiet art rooms, I think, sometimes get a bad rep for not being fun spaces. I have my moments where I love a quiet art room. And then I have my moments where I love a loud art room where we’re singing songs and the music is blaring. It really is just dependent on you, what your students are needing and craving, and maybe just what you think your projects call for. But having that established, especially on the front end, getting those supplies quickly and quietly, hunkering down and getting started calmly, that will maximize their creative time.

Now, let’s talk about when the doo doo hits the fan, otherwise known as clean up time. O-M-G, I don’t know why, probably because I’m nuts, our clean up time is a little bit wild. And I kinda love it that way. We kick off clean up time by a signal. We play what I call “the clean up gong”. I have a very large gong in my art room, but you could have any kind of noise maker, something that signifies to your students that it’s time to clean up. Again, I have my timer set, so my timer for the time of our duration of art class will usually go off a little bit before the gong. That’ll let the kids know that clean up is on the horizon. Somebody will hit the gong, and then it’s the official clean up contest.

I establish the clean up contest a while ago because I noticed that some of my students during clean up, they don’t want to clean up. They’ve only been working for 30 minutes, not even. And they really just want to keep creating, but ain’t nobody got time for that. It’s time to stop and clean. With the clean up contest, what that means is this. I play a song. And while the song is playing, the kids have to work as a team, there’s four students to a table, to get everything put away, get their tables wiped down if they have time with baby wipes, and to give me their signal that their table is ready to go. They all have to stand behind a pushed in chair with a zero in the air, which is our school’s signal for silence.

When I see most tables looking that way, I will stop the music. I call one student to be the judge of the clean up contest. They stand on a little foot stool next to me. They ask for a drum roll in which case the kids tap really loudly on the back of their chairs until my judge gives the signal to stop. And then they call the best, tidiest tables in the room. The only way they get to hold that spot as best table in the room is if they line up silently. If they line up and talk, they are disqualified. That’s how I do clean up. It’s really fun. It gets everybody motivated to clean up. It’s a little wild, but I kind of like it.

Now, lining up, aye aye aye. We, at my school, have this rule with all of the specials teams because as you know, like I said, all of my kids are going to PE or coming from PE. PE establishes that all of our kids line up in alphabetical order so there is never ever an argument about where they stand in line, who’s the line leader, who belongs where, I’m the door holder, I’m the caboose. No. That’s for your classroom teacher. When you’re in your specials, we are in A-B-C. That’s what we call it, alphabetical order forever and ever at Johnson Elementary School. Trust me, we say that all day long. “Are we in alphabetical order?” Always and forever at Johnson Elementary School. That’s what’s really helped me.

This podcast went way longer than I’d established. But I felt like these two questions being back to back like they were, they’re vital. They’re important. And it’s at the forefront of everybody’s minds. Time management, like I said, is something I’m continuously working on, but hopefully a little bit better at it than I was 20-something years ago, my first year of teaching. Thanks guys for letting me share my routines in my art room.

Tim Bogatz: Hello. This is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. I wanted to tell you about our upcoming conference, the Art Ed Now Summer Online Conference on August 2nd. It is the perfect way to get your summer PD. Joining two thousand other art teachers to see some of the most current and most innovative ideas in the field of art ed that are happening right now. The highlight will be our featured presenter, contemporary artist, Jen Stark. If you’re interested, you can learn more at ArtEdNow.com. And if you want to register, we have a special code for podcast listeners. Enter “YOUSAVE20NOW” to get $20.00 off the conference. That’s Y-O-U-S-A-V-E-2-0-N-O-W for $20.00 off at checkout. Go to ArtEdNow.com to get registered, and we will see you on August 2nd.

Cassie: I will have you know that, um, while it may sound as though I have kind of sort of figured out the time management of my art room, I definitely have not figured it out in my personal life. I get a lot of questions about how I get so much done and how I manage to accomplish all that I do. You guys, that’s very sweet of you to ask, but if you knew the actual truth, that it’s like 11:00 in the middle of the week, granted, it’s summer, but I’m still in my jamas and I’m thinking about a nap.

So there you have it – time management advice from the worst manager of time ever. Thanks, guys so much for joining me today. By the way, I skipped mailbag today just because I answered a couple of mailbag questions and I talked so dang dong long, but if you have a question for me, please feel free to send it my way. You can find me at everydayartroom@theartofed.com.

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.