Classroom Management

Keeping Them in the Classroom (Ep. 113)

It can take time to develop your classroom management strategies, but new ideas can always be brought in to improve what you do in your art room. Listen as Nic discusses behavior management strategies, specifics for your own classroom, and how she continues to refine what she does with professional learning. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: I work in a kindergarten through fifth-grade school. It’s called Hassan Elementary, and I currently have roughly 750 students, I suppose, maybe a little bit less this year, sometimes a little bit more. This school that I work at has a new theme for the teachers, and it’s called keeping them in the classroom. Who are them, you might ask. They are the kids that often disrupt, destroy, cause chaos. These are the kids that often you have to ask to leave to protect the education of the rest of your class.

So when I heard the idea of keeping them in the classroom, I was first a little bit turned off because my first thought was we have large class sizes. Our fifth grade is sitting right around 32 to 35, our kindergarten at 25. I have majority of the school, and I just can’t imagine adding one more thing on trying to keep these kids in the classroom. But through a lot of professional development and education that I have been providing for myself as well as the school has been providing for me, I’ve been able to change my mindset a little bit more every day to try to keep them in the classroom. This is Everyday Art Room, and this is your host, Nic Hahn.

In starting down this path of keeping them in the room, I decided that it was important for me to inform myself as much as possible with trauma-informed care. I went to a couple of professional developments last year on suicide and mental illness, and then this year I recently went to one called ACEs, or it was informing me about ACEs, which means adverse childhood experience studies. Now, there is a whole chart of ways to identify if someone has ACEs or not. There’s 10 things that you can answer yes or no to. And the more ACEs you have, the more likely it is that you will have adverse effects for the rest of your life because of the experiences that you have had in your past.

Now, I want to inform you before we even go into this portion of the podcast that in no way do I sit down and analyze a student or ask them these questions. This is just one way to inform myself of possible reasons that students might be acting out in my classroom or acting certain ways. It is also a really good way to just identify for yourself what may have had adverse effects on you throughout your life or maybe the ones that are most close to you as well.

So here are the 10 questions that you would ask a person to identify, probably a person who is 18 years or older talking about their past. So number one, did a parent or adult in your household often swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? This is when you would give yourself a yes or no, or the person that you’re identifying, your loved one, around you. If you receive a yes, that is one point, and that is one ACE point against you, I guess we could say.

Number two, did a parent or other adults in your household often or very often push, grab, slap you? Did an adult or person five years older than you, at least five years older than you, fondle you or touch you in a sexual way? Did you often or very often feel that nobody in your family loved you, or cared for you, or felt that you were special? Number five, did you often or very often feel that you didn’t have enough to eat, or you wore dirty clothes, or that you weren’t protected by the people in your household? Number six were your parents ever separated or divorce? Seven, was your mother or stepmother often pushed, grabbed, slapped? Eight, did you live anywhere with a person who had a problem with drinking, or alcohol, or street drugs? Number nine, was there a household member in your house that had depression, or mental illness, or attempted suicide? And then number 10, did a household member ever go to prison?

Okay, you can tell that these are extremely heavy concepts to consider when dealing with our students and ourselves or our mental health. But the reason that you would identify yourself or others close to you is to protect yourself because more ACEs you have, the more likely you are, according to these studies, to have alcohol abuse problems, depression, heart disease, obesity problems, sexually transmitted diseases, a likelihood of smoking, or attempts for suicide, et cetera, et cetera.

These are causes for high-risk behaviors later on in life. It often will show up with our young students coming into our classroom as disruption or just pulling back, being away from the adults that are trying to connect with them. And as I mentioned before, I don’t know the backgrounds of every one of my 800 students. I have no idea, and I don’t need to know that. What I do need to do is rely on the teachers who know that information, so the social workers in my school, the EBD teachers, or the special ed teachers that are working with these kiddos as well as the homeroom teachers. That is giving me the information I need, the very minimum information that I need, to just know who has been identified as a high needs or a trauma kiddo so that I can treat them in certain ways that we have discussed would kind of potentially keep these kids in the classroom as much as possible.

When our students come to us, we often have a variety of abilities that come in with every class. We often as educators think about differentiating our instruction. We will make sure that students that have the information already and can obtain and perform out of a certain skill level or concept they can move on to this higher-level thinking. And students that are unable to obtain even the lowest measures of that concept, we then reverse and go back and teach them the building blocks that they’re missing. So we differentiate instruction for our students so that they can be successful in class.

With trauma-informed care, or trying to keep them in the classroom, there is also a differentiation that could occur. I like to think of this as a variation of expectations. Socially, students are coming to you at all different levels as well. Some kiddos definitely know social norms. Some kiddos are absolutely gifted and they even get your inside jokes or that extra body language. They understand when you’re feeling sad, or mad, or happy. They can figure that out.

Most kids are just in your classroom doing what you ask them to do, and that’s great. But we do have a group of students who socially maybe are lower than most of their peers. So having a variation of expectations for your students is an okay thing. You can’t expect every student to act the same way, be the same way, do the same things because they’re coming at us at all different levels of social abilities.

When differentiating our instruction, oftentimes we’ll have written out directions for students who need that little extra boost or we have different adaptations that we will do for those students, maybe breaking down the instruction into smaller bits. I use this idea for variation of expectations for some of my students that I know I’ve struggled with the last, let’s say, three weeks in art class. They’ve come in, and I’ve had to give constant reminders.

By week four of kind of the same behaviors, I decide that they are going to have a little note given to them at the beginning of my class. Oftentimes, I’ll have the students come meet me on the carpet as they enter my classroom. I might have a little video that I have them watch or some students are out using the restroom so there’s a little bit of talk time. This is the minute, minute and a half, that I pull certain individuals over to me and I have them write their name at the top of a note.

Now, on that note, I have a smiley face and a sad face, and this definitely depends on what age group I’m working with. But right now, I’m thinking about my K to maybe even third grade. And I pull them aside and I say, “Hey, today you get … I’m going to give this note to your teacher as you leave art. This note is going to be a smiley face note or it’s going to be a bit of a sad face note, and you get to make the decision of what kind of note they’re going to get. So, let’s go through this. Look, you can get a smiley face if you’re listening to Ms. Hahn. If you’re not listening, this part might be checked and you may get a sad face. Or you can get a smiley face if you’re keeping your hands to yourself. Or if you’re having a hard time with that, you’re not going to get a smiley face this time around.”

So I have four different, four or five depending on what I’m really working on or focusing on, different social cues that I’m trying to reinforce with this particular student. And they can get some sad faces by the end of the day or some happy faces or all of one or the other. This is what it does. It allows them to have the expectations as they walk into the classroom. You’re going over these are the social cues I want to see from you today. Then, you’re saying, and I’m going to communicate this with your classroom teacher. That classroom teacher then has the opportunity to praise that student or it helps them reinforce some of the things that they’re working on in their classroom too. Because most often, what we’re dealing with in the art room, they are also dealing with in the classroom.

The third thing that it does is I have the classroom teacher then give that to the student to bring home. Now, sometimes this does make its way all the way home and sometimes it does not, but this is an extra way to communicate with the families at home sometimes will go with. This note is very powerful because I can see the student actually working on those concepts as they walk into class because now we’ve just gone over it. And I give them little whispers throughout the classroom like, “You are definitely earning that smiley based right now. I’m so proud of you.”

Then at the end of the classroom when all students are lining up, I again pull them over for the 30 seconds conversation where I said, “How did you do on this? Oh, I agree. I think you got a smiley face for that. I saw you working really hard on that. How about in this area? How did you do there? Yeah, it kind of was a … or a sad face today, wasn’t it? Okay, so that’s something we will work on next time. Let’s try to work on this part next time.” Again, I’m reinforcing what I want to see in my classroom, and it gives students a goal. They get to choose what information goes to the classroom teacher and then eventually home. This is a great way to give motivation and to support the social cues of the classroom. That little note idea is for our kind of general antsy pants in our class or whatever you want to call them, the kiddos that maybe aren’t trauma care students by any means, but they take a little extra energy out of your classroom that needs to be dedicated to them. So that’s for that population.

But when we go back to those ACEs students, when we think about the kiddos that are dealing with so much in their life, I, again, have a variation of expectations. This has been worked on with my EBD teacher in my school as well as just some of the professional development that I’ve received in the past two years.

So as a student comes into my classroom, a lot of times they’ll come in late or they’ll come in at a different time so that … Maybe they were taking a break right now from their classroom. Maybe they just are trying to avoid that time where they have to sit down and listen to the teacher and hold still. Maybe they’re just coming in a little late so that they have the ability to just start working right away to kind of avoid that, whatever it is.

The start time is not important to me either. At one point it was. I was irritated when students didn’t come with everybody else because these are the kids that need the information and they need it two, three times. But you know what? Sometimes that general information they just can’t focus on. So a one-on-one conversation after you get everybody else going is probably more beneficial and powerful and creates relationships, which is then going to create more of a buy into your classroom anyways.

I’m going to tell you a story about one particular kiddo, and we’re going to call him Mario. That is not his name, but this is part of his story. Mario came into my class this year. He did not attend my class at all last year. He spends most of his time in the EBD room and does not mainstream himself very often.

He came into my classroom and was pacing back and forth in the back of my classroom and saying, “I am not going to like this class. This is not where I want to be.” He was kind of mumbling as I was presenting to the class. When we started working, he hadn’t heard any of the message that I gave to the rest of the students, so he was quite taken back and he didn’t know what to do. So he walked out of the classroom. I gave a phone call upstairs and said, “Hey, Mario is coming upstairs.”

The next week Mario came down, and this was after a meeting that I had had with the EBD teacher. We had come up with a plan where he comes into the classroom and has a special place to sit, which is a little bit away from the rest of the class and he can be on his iPad pad the whole time. He has an audiobook on his iPad. He had headphones on. The goal was just to get him in the classroom. So I said, “Let’s give it a try.” He comes walking in. I pointed to a seat that he could sit at, and it was very discreet. He sat down, was listening to his book on CD as … or on his iPod, iPad, and I continued to teach the class. As everybody got to their seats, he continued to listen to his book but was just present in the room. By the end of the day, he walked out with the rest of the class. He had successfully stayed in my classroom the entire hour. He did not do any art.

The third week, he comes into my classroom. He has the iPad again. He is sitting down at the spot that he feels safe at. It’s actually my demonstration table, so it’s away from the other students, and he sits down. As the students start to work on their tissue paper bleed this time, he starts showing a little bit of interest. He’s looking over my shoulder trying to figure out what is happening in the rest of the classroom, still listening to his book. I looked at him, and I said, “Do you want to do this?” He said, “No.” I said, “Okay, that’s all right.”

After all students were actively working, I put the name Mario on a back of a page. Then, I flipped it over. I brought over some tissue paper and some water and my brush, and I started to work on a piece of paper that said Mario on the back. He is not actively looking at any other students, but he is looking at my hands. He is still listening to his book.

I start placing down two pieces of tissue paper with some water, and then I looked at him and I said, “Do you think I need to put blue or green next?” He pulled his headphone off and he goes, “What?” I said “Blue or green? Which one should I put next?” He looked at me like I was a moron and he said, “Well, blue because you already have green.” I was like, “Oh, okay. Thank you.” I put down some blue, and then I put down some blue again, and then I put some blue, and he said, “No, no. Now you should do green.” I said, “Ah, you know what? Actually, can you put down the green next? I’ll put down the water, but can you put down the green and help me out with this piece of paper?” “Yes.” “Okay.” So he starts putting down the paper. I’m putting down the water. Then, I faked it, and I looked across the room and I said, “Just wait one minute. I’ll be there.” He said, “What?” I said, “Oh, so-and-so needs my help over there. Can you help me? Can you continue to work on my piece of artwork here? Can you help me? You need to put the water down and put the tissue paper down.” “I know.” “All right.”

I walked away, and I started assisting other students. Really, I was just observing, seeing what they’re doing, doing the regular teacher thing where you’re walking around the room and making sure everybody has what they need. As I walk back, I notice he’s continuing to work on his own piece of artwork. I came down and sat down next to him and I said, “I can do that for you now. Thank you.” And he said, “No, no. I’ve got it.” I said, “All right. Well, I just need the rest of this to be filled up with the tissue paper. I need to go help the rest of the class.” We continued this way until the class was finished. At the end, he had completed his piece of artwork by himself, walked out of the classroom with the rest of the class, and the class was successful. Wow.

This last time, we added a hand on the artwork, on the tissue paper bleed. And as he sat in the seat that he was supposed to sit at, without an iPad this time, I asked him if he wanted to draw a hand. He did not. I said, “That’s fine. Do you want me to trace around your hand?” “Yes, that’s what I want you to do.” “Okay, perfect.” I placed his hand down and then I asked him, “Is it okay if I touch your hand as I trace?” He said, “Yes.” I was able to make physical contact with his permission, touch his hand, trace around it, and then he proceeded to cut that hand for the entire hour. He did an excellent job. He was not frustrated. I didn’t care what it ended up looking like, but he ended up with a final product by the end of week four.

Why is this happening? Well, it’s a lot because I had different expectations for him to begin with. I didn’t need him to be like everybody else. And guess what? Some day he’s going to walk into my classroom and he’s not going to be able to handle it again and he can leave, or he can stay in and not participate. That’s okay. Wherever he’s at at the time is going to be fine. I have a different expectation for Mario, and sometimes we need to do that for other students as well.

For a majority of our students, a little bit of relationship, it can go a long way. So in order to prepare for this, you might go to the Art of Education University PRO Packs and actually watch Abby Schukei’s Management of the Classroom or maybe Rhonda Spight’s Building Positive Relationships because both of those ladies have a lot to say about building relationships in the classroom.

This next thing, actually, comes from some training that I’ve received recently, and it’s called a relationship flip. What happens is if a student is doing something that you need to redirect, there’s two ways that you can direct them back to what they should be doing. One is called a curriculum flip. That is where you just go up to the student and instead of saying, “You shouldn’t be poking the eraser. I have told you a hundred times not to poke the … Give me the eraser. No, give it … ” Instead of going down that path, you say, “Hey, did you know that when you add these lines back to this one point it really does make it look three-dimensional? Look at how we did that earlier up on the board. Do you see that? I wonder if you could add that here.” That’s a curriculum flip. That is taking the behavior that they are currently doing and just refocusing it into actually what you want them to be doing.

That is one tip that has really helped me in my classroom. But one that goes a little bit farther for me, and if you have a student who is just keeping in the room, just staying in the room, you might do a relationship flip. So when a student is poking that eraser, we’ll use the same idea. They’re poking that eraser, and you want to just go grab that out of that little guy’s hand, instead you could try to just say, “Hey, tell me what you had for lunch today. Lunch, I don’t know what I would’ve chose, if I would’ve chose the pizza or the spaghetti. What did you end up … Oh, spaghetti. I love spaghetti, too. That is really … I like it when you put cheese on top. Did you have any cheese on top?” Now, what you’re doing is you’re just relating to them, just creating that relationship in order to get them focused off from the behavior that you are asking them not to do, even though I never used my words to ask them not to do that, and you’re creating a bond between you and that child.

There is one kiddo, since we have a Mario, let’s call him Luigi, that came into my classroom recently. He just did nothing as well. He comes from the EBD room, and he just comes down for the specialist. That is it. So he’s sitting down at the table, and he goes through the day. We have had relationships, a relationship in the past. I’ve had him for several years. Luigi, at the end of the day, gets in line with the rest of the class. He did nothing for the whole hour. I gave him options. I said, “Hey, if you want your sketchbook, here it is. Here’s a pencil. I’ll just set that by you,” and just kind of walked away and let him make the choice.

As they lined up, he ended up in the back of the line, and I was walking in the class out. The homeroom teacher had them gathered at the front, and I always try to take and walk the students out as they leave. It was just me and Luigi in the back of the line, and I was having that same conversation. “You know, I watched … I stayed out last night because I was watching my son play football. Do you like football?” “Yes, I like football.” “Man, I really like this team, and it’s so great and I love football.” We get to the door, and I give him a big smile, and he takes two steps to walk away from me and then turns around and he said to me … And it just broke my heart. He said, “Ms. Hahn, I really did try my hardest today.” I just responded with, “I know you did,” and he walked away.

I know it took everything in his body to come down to my classroom to sit through the hour and be with his peers and that was enough. That was enough for today. I’ll continue to build that relationship with him, and the other students like him, and the other students not like him until I’m not doing this job anymore. That will be my main focus. Because if a student feels loved, and safe, and important, they are more willing to work for you and for your class.

In no way am I claiming to be an expert at any mental health issues. I am learning as I go, and I continue to learn, and I continue to seek new professional development so that I can understand more and more every day. I also work very hard to change my mindset so that I can be as successful with all students as possible, and that does take a mind shift, or it did for me.

We all have students with ACEs, every single one of us. Some of us have a lot of students with ACEs. Concentrate on one or two kiddos that you want to keep in the classroom. Think about what adaptations you can do, how you can vary your expectations for them, how you can get them to feel safe and comfortable in your classroom, and then celebrate what you achieve. Celebrate the 15 minutes that that kiddo made it into your classroom. Celebrate the smile that that kiddo gave to you in the hallway. And as always, we will talk to you next week on a new topic revolving around art education on Everyday Art Room.


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.