Classroom Management

Finding a Management System that Works for You (Ep. 017)

If you’re looking for more stress in your life, the fastest way there is to let your classroom management go downhill. But if you want to make your life a lot easier, the management system Cassie shares in this episode is a great place to start. Join her as she talks about controlling the noise level in her class (6:00), helping kids take more responsibility (14:45), and rewards for good behavior (20:00). Full episode transcript below.


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I’m the proud owner of many gray hairs. And I say proud, that’s sarcasm because I don’t know what to do with these things, but I do know the cause of them. It’s the same cause that inspires that deep crease of a wrinkle that runs right down the middle of my forehead, right in between my eyebrows where if my face relaxes just enough you can’t tell if I’m really irritated with you or just old as the kids like to tell me. And you know the cause of these gray hairs and that big old wrinkle in my forehead? It’s those aforementioned children. Both. Of course I could blame the children, but let’s be honest, it’s years of lack of good classroom management. That’s right. You want a surefire way to sprout gray hairs and get wrinkles. Try lack of classroom management on for size.

Well today we’re gonna talk about a new system that I’ve been using. Now granted, just for the past month and a half, but I’m here today to share it with you because it’s really working. In fact I hesitated even mentioning it here or on my blog because I wanted to make sure that A, it was something that the queen of not being consistent, I think that’s called inconsistency, could stick with, as well as something that’s actually going to work. So let’s talk about it, let’s get rid of those wrinkles and possibly some gray hairs and talk about classroom management. I’m Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room.

Okay, before I start chatting with you about this new amazing system that I’ve been trying out for a whole month-ish in my art room, I have to first give all the credit where all the credit is due. I first discovered this classroom management idea by following the amazing Kaitlyn Edington on Instagram. Her Instagram is artwithmrs.e. I’ve been following her for quite some time, and she’s so wonderful about sharing all of her fabulous ideas. And I also started watching a lot of her Instagram stories. And when I did I noticed that her students were always working so calmly and so quietly and with such amazing laser focus. And so much so that I started asking her questions. “What are you doing? How are you getting your kids to work so stinking quietly?” And Kaitlyn, I wasn’t the only one asking her this, was so great about sharing her method with me and with other friends on Instagram.

In fact, I was so excited about her ideas of classroom management that I had her join me in one of my Facebook Live chats. I have a Facebook Live chat nearly every Wednesday at 8:00 P.M. Central Standard Time on my official Cassie Stephens Facebook page. In fact, our chat is still archived there and I would strongly recommend that you give it a listen, because there’s nothing better than hearing about somebody’s teaching method straight from that person.

Now when Kaitlyn was sharing her method with me and with the listeners during that Facebook Live chat I was thinking the whole time, “How can I get this to work in my room?” Often times I’ll share ideas or methods or things that I’m doing in my art room, and a lot of times people I feel like kind of come up with excuses as to why it might not work for them. “I like this idea but this won’t work for me because of X, Y, and Z.” Well sometimes you have to think about it like this. This might not work for me as I’m being presented the idea, but if I put my own spin on it and think about how I can make this work for me, my students, and my setup, this might be something amazing. So as I share Kaitlyn’s idea with you, and as I share how I have kind of changed it up to make it work for me, you might want to keep an open mind. At least maybe take away a couple of nuggets and information on this classroom management plan where it might work for you.

All right, so let me get started. Kaitlyn, and I’ve basically copied this idea completely, has what’s called the blabber brush. So before … I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I get started too deep, let me just say this. This is a four part system. Okay. Part number one, the blabber brush. So the blabber brush is basically a way for students to know that noise level that they are expected to have during their art time. And here’s what it looks like in Kaitlyn’s room. She’s got a drawing that she has made, a large drawing of what looks like a watercolor tray. And in the watercolor tray there’s a red pan, a yellow paint pan, and a green paint pan. Just like a stoplight. In my room I’ve done something very similar. I bought three square canvases, and on those three square canvases I painted three cans of paint. And you could probably guess the color. One is red, one is yellow, and one is green.

So what does this mean? In Kaitlyn’s room she has a little paintbrush that she’s drawn, and on the back of that paintbrush is Velcro. Wherever she puts that paintbrush, whether it’s on red, yellow, or green, is an indicator to the students of the expected noise level. If she has the paintbrush, or as she calls it the blabber brush, on red, then that means to her students that they are not supposed to talk. They are working quietly and mindfully. And she really emphasized in her chat with me that this was not a punishment, but working silently is a way for them to get lost in their thoughts and in their ideas, mindfully. If the brush is moved to yellow then that means they can talk softly to their friends at their table. And if it’s moved to green, well it means that they can use inside voices, which is great if they’re doing a collaborative where they actually have to chat and work together.

In my room it’s the same idea. So I have an actual paintbrush with Velcro on the back of it, and again, for me in my room, when that paintbrush is on red it means level zero, working silently. Yellow, whisper. Green, inside voices. So that’s phase number one.

Now I will tell you this, I for the most part keep that paintbrush on red, especially for my classes that I only see for 30 minutes. That’s right, I’ve got some 30 minute art classes. My first and second graders have art for 30 minutes. And let’s be honest, by the time they get in my room and hear directions and get all the supplies needed, they basically have 17 if I’m really lucky, but if I’m being honest probably more like 12 to 15 minutes to work. So in those precious few minutes I want them to be laser focused on their creative process, on their thoughts, and on just making. So for me I have that blabber brush most of the time on red. And like I said, it’s not a punishment, it’s just an encouragement for them to work mindfully.

For my older students I have a tendency to start them off on red, because I want them to settle in right away and get the ball rolling. But about half way through the class the silence tends to get to me a little bit, and I’m a little bit of a talker. I start talking with the kids, I try to talk softly, but to kind of have them know that this is the tone we’re going to be using. But I’m a loudmouth so eventually I do move that brush to yellow so they know that they can chat softly with the friends at their table.

Now that’s step number one. Let’s go on to number two, how do you maintain that noise level? Because I know what you’re thinking. “Well that’s well and good to tell them, “Hey guys, we’re gonna work silently today,” and then they just work silently.” Yeah, there’s no magic wand. There is a second phase to this system, so let’s talk about that. How do you encourage them to work at that noise level that you’ve picked out? So for this you’re gonna have to either imagine this in your mind’s eye or hop over to my blog where I’ve actually got some of the photos for what this looks like posted.

So on all of my tables, I have eight tables, that where I have four students per table. For my smaller classes of about 20 kids not every table is full. But in order for me to have hour long classes, which I have for my third and fourth grade students, I have doubled up my classes, meaning I have two classes in there at the same time. Every seat if not more is taken. So on each one of those tables, each one of those eight tables there is a team of four kids per table. And it’s important to really emphasize the word team, because the whole idea behind this next step is that the kids are working together as a table team.

Each one of my eight tables is color coordinated. I’ve put a big band of duct tape around each table so they know which color their table is. And at the Dollar Tree, I swear I mention the Dollar Tree every single podcast. Where’s my royalty check Dollar Tree? At the Dollar Tree I purchased dollar caddies. What do you know, something was a dollar at the Dollar Tree. And I love these caddies because A, they were a dollar, and B, they have an awesome handle at the top and they have just the right amount of compartments for what I’m about to describe. I did have to spray paint the caddies to get them to be coordinated with my table since they didn’t have every color in the rainbow. So these are also matching caddies.

All right, so now you got the visual that my tables are color coated, probably like a lot of y’all’s, and I have a color coated caddie, say that 10 times fast, on every table. Now on that caddie I have placed red duct tape and green duct tape on the lip of one side of the caddie. Red and green. On the green side I have placed five clothespins that have also been spray painted so they’re color coated. All five clothespins at the beginning of every art class begin on green. And the goal for each table is to keep all five clothespins on green. “Why five?” You may be wondering. Well five because A, that’s what Kaitlyn did and it seemed like a good idea at the time. B, when you’re tallying up the score, which I will get to next, it’s a lot easier to count by fives.

And the most important reason is this. I didn’t want there to be four clips and have four students at each table because I didn’t want the students to associate the clip with them. Meaning, “Well Casey was talking at her table so we had to move a clip. Oh, that’s Casey’s clip.” No, it’s the team, the team moved a clip to red. Okay, so it’s a team effort and I just didn’t want them to be associated with a clip.

So what are the clips all about? If a table team is working hard the whole time, maintaining that expected noise level, and if they clean up as expected, then they get to keep all five clips on green. That’s the goal, keep all five clips on green. If I have to remind them more than once time, they only get once, that their table is above a level zero is what we refer to it, or if they’re talking in my room above a whisper, or whatever the blabber brush is indicating, and they’ve done it more than once, then they have to move a clip. And here’s the beauty of it. I ask them to move the clip. And they always do it. I haven’t had a single table argue with me about that at all. They just usually look at the person is responsible for having them move the clip. They don’t say a word, they just kind of give them the stink eye, and then they move the clip. Now they only have four clips on green and their score is lessened. And they will not be moving that clip back to the green side, sorry, I had to think for a minute, because once it’s on red it stays on red. And perhaps next art time they can work on improving last week’s score by improving their behavior.

So the clips are essentially a way for them to kind of self monitor. I love this notion of putting the clip moving in their court because A, it means I’m not walking around and having to touch clips and move clips, I will just say, “You know what orange table? I’ve chatted with you once about lowering your noise level. I keep hearing your voices on. Please move a clip.” And they do. So that’s phase number two.

Let’s talk about number three. What does it mean with the clips? How do you keep track of the score, and what does that look like? Okay, so like I said, the goal is for them to keep all five clips. At the end of art class I will ask their score, and of course every table wants to be able to say five. So how do I keep up with that? Trust me, I don’t like keeping up with this kind of stuff. So once again I place the ball in the kid’s court, and here’s how that works. Phase number three are table folders. And I know tons of y’all probably have table folders in your art room. I have been teaching for one million trillion, okay, 18 years, hence the wrinkles and the gray hairs. And I cannot believe I have never used table folders. I’ve seen art teachers do this, and I was just like, “Eh, that’s not gonna work for me.” Another one of those things where I was stubborn about something and just didn’t think about how I could make it work for me.

So here’s how table folders look and work in my art room. I simply took construction paper that’s color coordinated with the tables in my room, folded that piece of construction paper in half like a folder, and boom, now I have a table folder. This has been a time saver for me when it comes to passing out artwork. When I’m done giving directions I simply say, “Red table, I have your table folder.” It has all of their artwork in it. I simply hand it to one of the kids at that, who happens to stand up, who sits at the red table. They go gather their supplies. And because they know the blabber brush is on red they distribute the artwork from the folder silently. And then because there’s a nice perfect slot in that Dollar Tree caddie for that folder, they simply then place their folder inside their caddy on their table. It’s amazing. Why have I never thought about that.

I did, now this is just a little bit of a side note about table folders since I’m going on and on about it, jus a couple of tips. Table folders are only gonna hold artwork that’s 9 by 12. And let’s be honest, a lot of us make artwork with our students that’s a lot larger than that. And that’s okay. It’s okay if their artwork is sticking out of the folder if they’re simply going to be taking it out of the folder while they work on it. Also, if it’s artwork that’s complete then you can take that out of the table folder and either hang it on the wall, pass it back to your students, or if you’re and artwork hoarder like me because you have an art show at the end of the year, simply stash it away for safekeeping.

If you have students that are painting and they’re gonna end up putting their artwork on the drying rack and not back inside the folder, how are you going to figure out whose artwork belongs in what folder? Especially for those giant classes? Here’s a tip from a friend of mine. If you have students at the red table keep a stash of red color pencils at the red table, that way the kids write their name and teacher code, or whatever information you have them write on the back with that color pencil. That way when you’re taking artwork off the drying rack you can simply know, “Oh, this is somebody who sits at the red table.” Yellow table, don’t nobody want them to write their name with a yellow color pencil because let’s be honest, we’re never gonna see it. Simply have them circle their name with a yellow color pencil.

Okay, now let’s go back to our classroom management and keeping score. On the cover of their table folder is simply a square of paper that I hot glued to the front, and that square of paper has nine smaller squares in it. Again, you can find these visuals on my blog. Those nine small squares is where they keep track of their art class score. At the end of art class I will say, while the kids are all standing behind their pushed in chairs ready to go and we’re all cleaned up, I’ll say, “Which tables had a score of five?” Those tables raise their hand, I’ll say, “Awesome job guys. Go ahead and write a five in the next empty square on your folder.” Now if you have students who are going to fuss about who’s going to write the five, then you can simply make that job and art room job. My students know if they fuss about something like that then that five is going to magically become a four. So we don’t need that kind of foolishness. So they simply write their score on their folder, they bring their folder to me and they line up.

Then I’ll say, “Is there any table that had a four?” They raise their hands, they write their score, we have a little chat about how we’re going to work on improving that score next art class, and they bring me their folder. I usually don’t have many classes that have a three. I’ve never had a class that had anything less. So once all of the kids have brought me their folders and lined up I simply put their folders in their teacher bin. I have literally done nothing as far as moving clips or tallying scores, it’s all been on them.

All right, the final chapter of this classroom management plan is this. “This all sounds fabs, Stephens, but what do you do when all nine squares are filled?” Okay, so this is a new system for me. And I’m about four art classes for all of my classes away from having scorecards filled. So I’m going to share with you what Kaitlyn does, and I’m going to tell you what my plan is. So Kaitlyn does this. When her students have filled up their scorecards the tables that have all fives get to have their face painted. So she simply goes around the room while the kids are working in progress on the current projects at hand, and to those tables that have maintained awesome behavior and top scores she lets them pick from a sheet of face painting ideas, and she paints a little whatever they pick on their cheek. Which I think is fabulous. How awesome is it for them to now walk around with this amazing face painting that she’s able to do? She is able to crank that out and able to get to all those tables, and I love this idea so much.

However, I know it can’t work in my room, especially not with 30 minute art classes. So in my room I’m toying with the idea of having an arty party. I have a lot of centers I want to open up to my students that I really want them to explore. I think an arty party would be a great day for them to do that. I’ve toyed with the idea of having them make their own clay. They really want to make slime, I’m really not wanting to do that. But you know what? I have a couple of weeks to kind of figure it out. But what to do with those kiddos who don’t get to participate in the arty party? That is a to be continued. I will definitely share that with you. It’s going to be pretty torturous for them to have to watch the rest of us having a great time while they are not. So maybe for my longer art classes it’s a last 15 minutes of art class party. Like I said, I will keep you posted.

But I will say this. This system of the blabber brush, of the clips, of the scorecard, is working so wonderfully in my art room that I just had to share. So thank you for sticking with me and listening to me share this very elaborate-ish. Not really if you think about it. Every time that I thought that this was going to be something too elaborate I just thought, “How can I put the ball back in the kid’s court? Have them be responsible for moving the clips. Have them be responsible for keeping up with the score.” That’s how it’s working for me, so you might want to think about how you can make it work for you and your art room. Thank you so much for letting me share this process with you guys.

Tim Bogatz: I hope you’re enjoying this episode of Everyday Art Room. If you’re looking for even more in-depth learning about classroom management I want to recommend The Art of Ed’s Managing the Art Room online graduate course. It is a great way to develop your classroom management skills so you can run the art room with confidence. In the course you will review comprehensive management plans and work with other art teachers to identify and turn around your struggles. Managing the Art Room is a two credit hour course that runs for four weeks. New sections will be starting on December 1st, which is tomorrow, but also in January, February, and March. And you can see more about the course or register at Now let’s hear what Cassie has to say as she dips into the mailbag and finishes the show.

Cassie: And now it’s time to take a little dip into the mailbag. This question comes from Gerry. She says, “I have a question about using teachers in training.” She’s talking about art teachers in training, which is something I’ve chatted about on this podcast and both on my blog too a couple of different times. She says, “Like many teachers I see many many little ones during the course of a day, let alone in a week. I have an idea about how to track who gets the privilege of being an art teacher in training, but do you have a criteria for choosing those helpers, or do you just rotate through the kids? Also, do you have some kids who never make the cut?”

Those are great questions. When I’m choosing art teachers in training I try really hard to be fair, but let’s be honest, I really want them to be able to do the job of helping out their friends. So here’s what I do. I will usually pick somebody who I feel like hasn’t done it, or I pick somebody who I feel like might otherwise be overlooked for such a task in other classes. And I just quiz them. I’ll say, “Hey, so and so, I’m picking art teachers in training. What supplies are we supposed to be using right now?” And if they can rattle them off without a little bit of my help I’ll give them a, “Okay, okay.” And I’ll say, “All right. What are we supposed to do when we’re finished?” If they can tell me where everything goes and where everything is being put away then I know that they’re up to the task.

While I’m quizzing that student it’s also another way for me to make sure the other kids in the room who are hoping to be picked as an art teacher in training are listening in. Especially if you say, “I’m looking for some people, one person per table to be an art teacher in training.” And then I just start badgering a couple of kids with questions just to see if they’re up to the task.

Also, this is how art teachers in training works. If an art teacher in training is asked by somebody at their table what they’re supposed to do, if that particular art teacher in training doesn’t know the answer, then they’ve been trained to find another art teacher in training and ask them, and keep asking art teachers in training until they know the answer. Their last ditch effort is to come to the big momma, that’d be me. And I’m too busy drinking coffee, I don’t have time for all these questions. Just kidding. The whole point of the art teachers in training process is so that the kids are much more independent and reliable on one another. Like I said, I dig really deep into that and how it works in my art room in past podcast and blog posts. Gerry, that is an excellent question. And as I’ve mentioned before I am no good at keeping up with things like scores or tallies or who’s done what. So basically I just go off of kids who I feel like might be looked over, or friends that I feel like, “Hmm, that kid might actually do an awesome job at this task.” I hope that helps.

Guys, if you have any questions for me please feel free to send them my way at

So while I have no cure for wrinkled foreheads or gray hairs, I will say that maybe one way to lessen it is getting a firm grasp on your classroom management. I’ve chatted about a lot of methods that work for me on this podcast, the happy/sad board, which I shared the very beginning of this podcast, like in the first or second episodes where I really did dig deep on classroom management. I’ve also shared things like art teachers in training which is a great way to save your sanity and way of keeping yourself from repeating yourself. And speaking of repeating yourself, I’ve also shared with you my amazing, which I think is amazing, call and response. I do call and response with my kiddos all day long to help ensure that they retain information, vocabulary, and simply the steps of what they are supposed to do during that art class. But this new management plan I’m super stoked about, and I’m so glad to share it with you.

So thanks for hanging in there, I’d love to hear from you if you give it a shot. And please feel free to shoot me any questions if you have any. And also, don’t forget to give Kaitlyn Edington at artwithmrs.e a follow on Instagram. Again, she’s fabulous. And a big thanks and hugs to her for this amazing idea. Thanks guys.

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.