Classroom Management

Calming the Classroom Chaos (Ep. 207)

Classroom management is the neverending challenge for so many art teachers. How do you help your kids find success when there is chaos everywhere you turn? Listen as Tim shares some of his best strategies for organizing your classroom, helping your kids learn (and remember) routines, and calm the chaos in your room. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Now, I know this is a tough part of the school year. We’re getting toward the end of February and it’s difficult, because everybody’s tired, everybody’s worn out, it’s tough to keep things exciting when you’re in the middle of winter, you’re waiting for spring. And maybe the biggest problem, it starts to get a little bit chaotic in the classroom. And that’s what I want to talk about today and actually today and next week as well. I think I’m going to fly solo for a couple episodes, because I have a lot that I want to talk about and I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people on two topics, one, classroom management and two, creativity.

So we’re going to talk classroom management today. We’ll talk creativity next week, but I think I have some suggestions for people to sort of calm the chaos that’s happening in your classroom and just kind of make sure things are in order in your classroom. Now, obviously everyone has a very different situation that they teach in. Everybody has different personalities, different styles of classroom management. So I know not everything is going to work for everyone. So my suggestion would be as you listen to this, just kind of decide what might work for you.

Maybe it’s just one or two things out of all these ideas that you’re going to implement. But if those one or two things are helpful to you, then I think it’s going to be worth your 20 minutes here. So let me just kind of tell you where I’m coming from as far as where I was teaching.

So, my high school that I taught in was a title one school and my average class size was about 28 to 30 students. As an art elective, sometimes smaller, sometimes larger. I think 37 is the largest class that I’ve had. And some people are scoffing at that number because they’re teaching 40 plus students on a regular basis and other people hear that and they’re freaking out, because they’ve never had more than 26, you know. But again, it’s all relative. So like I said, you can take all of this advice with a grain of salt. But I would encourage you to give me like I said, 15 or 20 minutes here and just kind of think about what I’m saying and what may or may not work for you.

So I was thinking through not necessarily classroom management in terms of behavior, but just kind of how you run your classroom, how you organize your classroom, and how you can set things up to avoid a lot of those problems. Because for me, the biggest way to have success with classroom management is to prevent problems before they start. Like think about preventative measures to kind of head off those problems before they begin. And again, I think it works well if your room is a little chaotic. If you feel like there’s too much going on to just kind of step back and think about how things are organized, how you have things going and what you can do to clean things up and make things go a little bit better.

I have a few ideas for you. So number one, I think you need to think about logistics. Just how you’re going to set up, how you go through things every day, how your kids get into routines, et cetera, et cetera, and set everything up. So one thing that is always a big discussion for our teachers, especially at the secondary level, is a seating chart. How you deal with students. Their seats, do you let them pick them? Do you assign them? How are things done? Now for me, I enjoy, especially in my advanced classes, I let them sit wherever they want. With my beginning classes, I usually do seating charts just to make sure we have everything in order. Make sure kids know what expectations are and all that kind of stuff when they’re first coming in.

And I’ve talked about this before on the podcast, but I think a great way to do your seating charts, even if you need to start one back up or you need to change things up in your room is just to have it done and have it projected up on the wall or up on the whiteboard, or even just draw it out on a whiteboard so people can see it as they first come in. Most kids will find their seats, but then you can also get them to their seats if they need the help. And just help them see what it is, where they need to go and get them there. And we’ll talk a little bit more in a minute about sort of the procedures that we need to do.

But you know, that’s a good way to start with the seating chart. But whether you are doing a seating chart or not, just make sure that your kids get to their seats. I love to greet them at the door, greet them as they come in and then just make sure they’re going to their seats. Don’t let them loiter too much, don’t let them wander around, don’t let them stand around and just chat. When they get into the art room, it’s time to get stuff out. It’s time to get working.

And so a big problem I think is a lot of teachers just let kids cluster, let kids talk, which is fine. They’re excited to see each other a little bit and so you can’t crack down too much. But let them chat real quick, but then make sure they’re getting to their seats. Make sure they have their workout and make sure they’re ready to go, because so much time is wasted if the bell rings or however class starts. And then you’re chasing kids around and be like, “Sit down, sit down. You guys need to get to your seats so we can get started.” And that can easily waste three or four minutes at the beginning of class. But if you sort of set that expectation and just kind of get them to their seats when you first start, that’s going to be huge.

And then just a matter of how you run class from there and how do you do sketchbooks? What are your anticipatory sets? Do you do bell ringers? Do you have kids look at art? How do you do Art History, whatever those things are, just think through the logistics of your class. If it’s just going to be a studio day, do kids know where to get materials? Do kids know what the expectations are for that? And just kind of think through all of the different things that may happen over the course of the class. And make sure that you have a clear plan for that and make sure your students know the clear plan for that.

And we’ll talk more about like I said, procedures and transitions and get a little bit more in depth with that in just a minute. But I think it’s good for you to just kind of think through the logistics of how your class is set up and how your class is run on a day-to-day basis. Now, number two, I love to have cues for kids as far as when it’s time to listen. There are some teachers that will take time off like, “Oh, if you guys don’t stop talking, I’m going to keep you after the bell. I’m going to have you come back in at lunch.” And to me that is never effective. I feel like it’s this very sort of trite punishment and if you’re making kids late to their next class, like that’s, I don’t know, that’s really inconvenient for that teacher. And I think it just causes a lot more problem than it’s worth.

So again, just kind of stepping back and going to a preventative idea with getting kids attention. Letting them know when it’s time to listen I think can be huge. And there are a lot of ways to do that. For me, I’m not up in the front of the room a lot. And so just that visual cue of, “Hey, I’m going to step up in front.” A lot of kids will pick that up and realize, “Oh, it’s time to listen. It’s time to talk.” Other times I’ll just kind of be walking around the room and tell the kids, “Hey, I have some directions for you soon. Be ready for that.” Rather than just expecting everybody’s attention right then, take 30 seconds and walk around the room and say, “Hey, I have some directions. Can I get your attention upfront in just a minute.” And just say that to a few different groups of kids and that will make everybody aware that you’re going to be talking.

And then once you do get up to the front or wherever you’re going to be speaking from, it gives them the idea that, “Hey, we need to listen. We need to pay attention.” And just giving them that heads up is huge. And I know it seems weird to do that. I mean, but it makes it a lot more simple I guess when you are ready to talk rather than standing up there and going, “I’m waiting.” Or you know, “I like how this person’s listening.” I’m not a big fan of that. So again, I like to just give kids some warning and just kind of let them know what’s happening, prevent those issues before they get too much worse.

And then just one other thing, just kind of a low level thing is I don’t mind having just like some classical music on a really low volume when kids come in the room. I think it sets a good tone for what to expect and just know that it’s not going to be a wild and chaotic class. But just some kind of low key music, low volume can kind of set the tone or set the mood. You know, we talked to Elizabeth Peterson last week about all of her ideas about soundtracking your art room and that’s another one that I think is worth exploring too. Again, if it’s just like I said, some low key music that’s kind of relaxing. It gives the kids the idea that they’re going to come in, they’re going to kind of work. They don’t need to get all worked up, they don’t need to get all fired up. And I feel like it calms things down and kind of sets the tone or sets the mood a little bit as well.

So, just giving kids some cues about when it’s going to be time to listen and how they can behave and making sure that they’re not too wild when they come in. All of those ideas again preventative and kind of setting the tone before they come in can be really helpful. Number three, ideas on how to reduce chaos. Making sure that your room is organized how you want it to be. Now, this can take a lot of forms and I realize every art room is different. So I think the best thing to do is just kind of sit back at your room, reflect on how it’s organized and make sure everything is working well. Make sure there is some flows. Kids need to move through the classroom, make sure things are organized.

I’m huge on labels for drawers and cabinets and materials for a couple of reasons. Number one, you don’t have to answer that question of where’s the glue, where’s the colored pencils, where are the rulers? Because there are labels everywhere. Like you’re still going to have to answer it, because kids are kids. But it will cut down on things a lot if you have labels. And secondly when it’s time to clean up, it’s so much easier for kids to clean up when things are labeled. And I’ve seen people even put pictures of how things should be organized inside of their cabinets and that can be a huge help for kids. So they can see how things need to be put together, rather than just trying to remember where they got something from or trying to remember how this goes back in the drawer. That’s a huge, huge help.

And then I think the second part of organization besides just where all the materials are going, is making sure that you have your room organized for how kids are going to be moving through before and after they’re doing their work. So what does that type of organization look like? I think it’s as simple as making sure there’s some flow. Things should not be in the way of each other. Wet painting should not be bumping into kids who are going to wash brushes. Just think about how you set up your room. Make sure kids can come in and grab pencils and grab paper. And then let them go through and do things the right way, both as they’re getting materials and as they’re putting them away. However you decide you want to set it up, just make sure that there’s some flow to it.

Make sure you don’t have kids going opposite directions. Make sure you don’t have kids running into each other. And just as they are moving, especially if they’re moving in mass, make sure that they are all going the same direction. So that we rinse our brushes and then put them away and if we are going to the drying rack first, where do we go afterwards? And make sure that that’s not contrasting. Just make sure, like I said, there’s some flow to your room and make sure that they can get where they need to go without causing any issues, without running into each other, without creating any more chaos or any more commotion.

And then next up, I think it’s important to talk about procedures. If it’s something that you didn’t do at the beginning of the semester or the beginning of the year, you can do that now. You can do it any time. And we’ll talk more about that in just a little bit. But I think when, it goes back to how you run things, you need to teach kids how things are done. If they’re going to take work to the drying rack, they need to know that procedure. If they are going to the bathroom, okay, they need to know that procedure. If they’re turning in sketchbooks, they need to know that procedure, et cetera, et cetera.

So just a few that I think are worthwhile. Number one, when kids come into the classroom, I want them to check the board and make sure they know what we’re doing for the day. So if it says, Art History, okay I do Art History Fridays, they know to grab their sketchbook and be ready to take notes. If we’re doing a sketchbook assignment, same thing, make sure that they grab their sketchbook and they are ready to work. If it’s just a workday or a studio day, they know that they can grab their projects and get started.

And that’s not something that just happens, okay? They don’t automatically know how to do that, which I think a lot of teachers assume. And what you need to do is you need to teach them those procedures and you need to teach them that, “Hey, every Friday we’re doing Art History. When we’re doing Art History, I need you to grab your sketchbook and something to write with and sit at your seat, be ready to listen.” And so you practice that a few days in a row.

Sometimes I’ll practice it on Thursday saying, “Hey, tomorrow is Art History day and I’m going to expect you to do this. Let’s practice that now.” Hey, are kids annoyed? Yes, but it’s worth it and it’s going to make not only the next day run a lot more smoothly, but every Friday after that run a lot more smoothly. So it’s okay to model procedures for the kids, teach them the procedures and get them into those routines. And so, and it goes beyond just starting class. If you want kids to go to the drying rack and put their stuff on the bottom and work their way up, show them how to do that and model that procedure. Teach them how to do what you need them to do.

If you want them to turn in sketchbooks in a specific place, model that, have them practice that. Whatever the procedure is, just make sure that you spend a little bit of time practicing that, modeling that, so kids know exactly what they need to do. And I think that’s the biggest mistake that a lot of teachers make. They don’t want to practice, they don’t want to model things because they feel like it’s a waste of time.

And sometimes it feels like it, sometimes taking 10 minutes out of your day to figure out how kids are going to turn in sketchbooks, it’s not ideal. But you save that 10 minutes a million times over the rest of the semester or the rest of the year. So when you have a procedure, don’t be afraid to model it, to have kids think about what they need to do. Show them what they need to do and just practice it, let them do it and it’s going to calm a lot of the chaos that is them.

Okay, I think that’s a lot of advice. Hopefully, like I said at the beginning, one or two of those ideas are things that you can use, things that can kind of improve what you’re doing with your classroom. And like I said, just kind of calm the chaos. Now, before we go, I do want to tell you that we had a really, really exciting Art Ed NOW Conference just three weeks ago and it was spectacular. And we had a great time, a great day of PD, and we’re already planning the next conference. And right now it is as cheap as it’s going to be. So if you enjoyed the last conference, if you are thinking about coming back to the summer one, it’s going to be on July 30th this year. That’s a Thursday. Hopefully it’s before you have to go back to school, because I hate seeing teachers having to go back to school in July. But we’re trying to time it so that everybody can make it.

But like I said, it’s as cheap as it’s going to be right now. You can go to We do not have any presenters or presentations listed yet, but let me tell you, they’re going to be amazing. We’re working really hard behind the scenes to get a lot of good teachers put into the lineup and a lot of good ideas that like I said will be perfect for you as you begin your next school year. So if you go to you can register for the Summer Of 2020 Art Ed NOW Conference and it will most definitely be worth your time, especially as you are beginning your next school year.

Now, just to kind of wrap things up, a couple more pieces of advice. Because people are always asking me when to implement these new ideas, and my answer is always, “Right now,” okay. People feel like with any sort of classroom management things, with new procedures, with new routines, they feel like you have to have a certain break like, “Oh, after this weekend we’ll get it started. We’re going to wait until spring break and then when kids come back from spring break, that’ll be the perfect time.” No, like today is the perfect time. Tomorrow is the perfect time.

Things are not going to magically work better, just because you’re doing them as you come back from a break. You might have a little more attention from your kids, but you might have a little less as well. You just, you don’t know what it’s going to be. So I don’t think there’s a magic bullet there or a perfect time to implement any ideas or implement any new procedures. Just do them when it works for you, okay? If you’ll feel better personally waiting until after spring break, that’s fine. But if you want to start calming the chaos right now, do it right now.

If you have new plans for bell ringers, start them tomorrow. If you have a new way to organize, you can organize any time. You can make labels anytime, those things can go up whenever and just point them out to your kids next time that they’re in the classroom. And so anything you want to do with classroom management, with seating charts, with procedures, with organization, that can all start right now. You don’t have to wait for the perfect time, because there is not a perfect time.

Anytime that you’re looking for new ways or new ideas on how to calm that chaos, how to get your room running a little bit better than it can be, just go ahead and do it as soon as you are ready.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Proctor. Thank you as always for listening and I will be back next week talking a little bit about creativity and some simple strategies to get your kids’ creative brains and their creative thinking going. We’ll talk to you then.

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.