Relationship Building

Six Thoughts for the First Part of the School Year (Ep. 384)

As we start back to school and move through the first weeks of the year, Tim wants to share some thoughts on what he thinks will be important for teachers in the near future. In today’s episode, he talks through six thoughts about challenges that will be facing teachers and what we can do to help ourselves. Listen as he discusses being proactive with organization and management, being flexible and adaptable, ideas for building community, and finding your outlet away from the classroom. Full episode transcript below.

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Tim Bogatz:

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

In today’s episode, I wanted to put together some thoughts on the first few weeks of school. I know there’s a lot of advice out there on what to do to start the year. You see it all over social media, you see it all over our own website because there’s so many things to think about when you’re starting the school year, how to set up your classroom, how to create your bulletin boards, how to make things beautiful, how to get things ready for kids, et cetera, et cetera. And when I’m talking today, there may be a little bit of those same sentiments in the episode, but I wanted to just kind of share my thoughts today on what we should be considering, on what we should be focusing on as we’re going through the first month of school.

Now, on a related note, Janet Taylor and I did an episode for what new teachers need to know starting the school year. That came out a couple of weeks ago, and you can find that in the podcast feed, I thought that was a fun episode, great for new teachers, but good for everybody probably ’cause Janet has so many great pieces of advice on so many things to think about when you’re starting the school year. And I think Amanda and I, well, I know we are doing a mailbag episode next week, but I think we’re going to cover some of those questions in there as well. We’ll really dive into some specifics on things to do to start the year, but today I wanted to think about some big takeaways, some of the things that you should reflect on that can maybe help your year go a little bit more smoothly.

So again, we’re looking big picture, and I don’t know if you want to call these thoughts or ideas or piece of advice, but I wanted to put together a quick episode with like a half dozen thoughts for the beginning of the school year. So number one, I think it’s important to be flexible and be adaptable throughout the school year. Now I know teaching is hard, it always has been, it always will be. And it feels like we are forever getting more things thrown at us, new kids, new procedures, new requirements from the school, new things you’re being asked to do as a teacher. You could have new professional development or behavior management initiatives or one of a million other things that you’re being asked to do, and it’s very easy to sort of fall in the trap of getting frustrated by that and just spending a lot of time and energy complaining about that.

And I would say just adapt to what you’re being asked to do, you’re a professional, you’re going to need to do this. And it doesn’t help… Well, maybe it helps a little bit to complain, but it honestly doesn’t help that much. And so I would say just kind of play it cool, do what you’re being asked to do, continue to be a professional, and just do what is expected of you as a professional. And I think that keeps the mindset off of, oh, why do we have to do this? Why is this so difficult? Why are they always giving us new stuff? Just embrace that it’s part of the job. It’s going to take a few hours, but that’s what you’re being asked to do as a professional educator, so you can do it. And beyond that though, beyond whatever extras you’re being asked to do, I think you need to be flexible and adaptable when it comes to what you are teaching, with your curriculum, with your lessons, with whatever you’re attempting to accomplish in your art room.

So for me, I always like to plan more than what’s needed, so we don’t have a downtime. I hate having downtime, I feel like that’s where a lot of trouble starts when there’s not enough going on in the classroom, when kids are not engaged, they don’t have things to do. And so I always plan more than what I need. And then have your backups too, if what you’re going to do when there is downtime, do you have specific things you want kids to do, things you want them to talk about. If you’re elementary and kids are lining up, what are they doing in line until the teacher comes to pick them up? Just all of those little things, think through your day, make sure that you’re not wasting a ton of time at the beginning or the end, or if there is downtime, how are you going to fill that with something engaging, something educational?

And just over plan, make sure you always have a backup. Make sure you always have something to fall back on. And like I said, be adaptable. Be ready to jump into whatever’s needed depending on the circumstances of the class. And same thing, if not just a single day, but a bigger lesson. Maybe it’s going really quickly when you didn’t expect it, or maybe it’s going terribly and you didn’t expect that. Again, be flexible and be adaptable, and just think about that question, what happens if you need to adapt your curriculum? And what if you end a project early? What if you’re working longer on certain things? Be flexible with that, adapt to what your kids need, follow their lead, see how things are going, what they’re working on, how long it’s taking them and work with them, be flexible. And if you can do that and hopefully doing that will help set them up for a little bit more success. And if you can do that, I think that’s going to make your school year significantly easier.

Thought number two, I think it’s important to be proactive with behaviors and classroom management. Now, I’m obviously hesitant to discuss classroom management because everybody’s situation is different. We all teach in different environments, we all teach different kids coming from different home lives, everyone’s situation is different. And so just think about what I say here, if it works for you, please use it. If it doesn’t work for you, if it doesn’t fit your situation, you don’t need to use it. So just kind of think about what might work. But I want to share a couple things that have worked for me. And I think, like I said, being proactive is the way to go. I think it’s very important to teach routines and procedures and then go back and reteach routines and procedures over and over again until your classes can get them.

They know how you want them to get their sketchbooks at the beginning of a class or come in and start working or clean brushes or organized materials or whatever the case may be, how they’re picking things up to get started, just think through all of the different procedures that you have in your classroom for turning in work, for putting things on the drying rack, for just everything that will be done on a day-to-day basis. Just kind of think through there, think about exactly what you want kids to do, teach them how to do that, and then reteach them how to do that. So again, all of your routines and your procedures can run smoothly. And I love to model the right way and also model the wrong way, that’s obviously not groundbreaking, so many teachers do that. And I would say it’s important to do though, it’s effective. And little kids laugh when you’re doing things the wrong way. They think it’s hilarious, it’s a great teaching moment.

And obviously you’re not going to get that reaction with secondary, but if you can just change your tone a little bit, I don’t know, I always add a little bit of sarcasm with it, but again, show them the right way to do things, the wrong way to do things. And you won’t get the outward reaction, but they will pay attention and they will be a little bit entertained by what you’re showing them. And so I think showing them the right way and the wrong way to do things can be incredibly effective. And then beyond routines and procedures, just thinking about behavior, again, this runs the whole gamut and everybody’s coming from a different place dealing with different kids. But I think one thing that’s universal, just be consistent throughout with whatever your expectations are, whatever you need kids to do, just make sure that you’re consistent with those expectations and make sure you follow through with those expectations. If you’re seeing inappropriate behavior, address that before it gets out of hand, don’t let the little things escalate into big things.

Just make sure that you’re on top of those small behaviors and don’t let them turn into big ones. And, obviously, that’s not a foolproof plan, obviously, you’re still going to see big behaviors throughout the year that are not always easy to deal with. But I would say do what you can in the moment, have a plan for what needs to happen then, and your school probably has advice for you on procedures, when to call the office, when to get additional help from outside your classroom, and just kind of follow that. And I think beyond that though, a big thing that I think is helpful is just make sure that every day is a fresh start, whether you’re seeing little behavior, big behavior, whether you’ve had issues, whether you’ve had a blow up, and just let it be a fresh start each day, like, welcome kids back into your classroom and make sure that it’s still a place that they know that they’re welcome, they know that you want them there. And I think that goes a long way to sort of creating an environment that minimizes a lot of those behaviors.

Thought number three, we talk all the time about building relationships at the beginning of the school year, but that building goes on past the first few days of school. And so I guess to succinctly put it, thought number three, continue to build relationships throughout the school year. Now, I’ve talked on here a lot about what I do at the beginning of the year, I love the quiz about the teacher where they kind of guess at some of my habits and my likes and dislikes and how I run my classroom and they learn a little bit about me, I think that’s a really good thing. I love seeing everyone’s ideas for… Like all the teacher’s ideas on Instagram, on social media, for all of the design challenges and games and artworks that people do that tell something about the artist, have kids create something that tells you about themselves and you can learn something.

The first day or two, with my drawing classes, I love to do a name shading project, which helps me learn their names and also helps them with blending and shading with graphite. Where I have them just take a small piece of paper like four by six or six by nine, and then they do a couple lines going across like three lines going up and down. So you just have different lines creating all sorts of triangles, different shapes on top of there. And then over the top of that, I have them do their name in block letters or bubble letters. And so you’ll see their name and then it will also divide up with those lines that they had drawn across there. So do the lines first, do the name over the top, and then you have all of these different sections.

And then what I have kids do is in each of the sections, like let’s say for me, Tim, my T at the beginning is divided into five sections. And then each of the sections should be shaded a little differently, maybe it’s a gradient from light to medium or medium to dark or light to dark, or maybe something is just all sort of a medium value or a light value, and we just kind of change it up so you don’t have the same value as touching. And you can create different gradients with shading, different smooth values with shading and just work on that, and so we teach them some basics of shading, but also it’s a great way for me to kind of learn their name, for kids to learn each other’s names. And it’s a simple two-day thing, but it’s a real fun and easy way that also teaches them some skills, which I think is good.

I also love learning names. I do seating charts with pictures, that’s really helpful for me to keep things organized, give kids a specific spot so they don’t have to worry about that when they come in. And again, help me take attendance, help me do names when we first come in. So I’m a big proponent of seating charts, especially if your LMS or whatever else can give you some pictures to go along with it. And I love doing, I do index cards to have kids write down a little bit about themselves. A lot of people do interest inventories or just whatever the case may be, it’s a real easy way to build relationships, make connections with kids, and just talk to them about what they like about art, what they don’t like, what they want to get out of class, but also what’s going on, what do you do besides art? What are you interested in besides this? What are your other favorite classes? What other things are you involved in? What are your favorite movies or music or TV or whatever else?

And if you ask enough questions… I mean, don’t overdo it, it doesn’t need to be like an essay test, but if you can ask a lot of questions, you can probably find those connections. And then once you read through them and you have some conversation starters as you go, oh, hey, I love this show too. Or, oh, did you hear this new album? And just give them something that you can chat about with them, a discussion topic, a conversation starter. And that’s a great way to build kind of relationships and that can continue throughout the year. And I would just say all throughout the year, just kind of be authentic, be yourself, don’t be afraid to tell stories, don’t be afraid to share things because those stories and those things that you share can help you connect with your kids.

And there’s all of the advice of just talking to your kids, learning about them, and even sitting down and working with them I think is great. If you can spend some time sitting down and drawing and conversing, then that’s huge when it comes to building relationships. And you can even do that with other classes too. If you have other people that you teach with, you can go in and sit in with their classes, like say you teach advanced stuff, go to the other teachers and hang out at the intro classes, sit and work with them for 15 minutes, 20 minutes, and just say hi and kind of build those relationships with kids who might be coming up and take the long-term view of things. And it can be difficult to give up that time now, but it can definitely pay off well into the future.

And I guess all of that leads me into thought number four, which is the importance of building community. I think it’s so important to make the art room a place that kids want to be, a place where kids want to hang out if they’re feeling comfortable, they’re going to be willing to share, they’re going to be willing to open up when they create their work, they’re going to be creating some really good stuff because they feel comfortable there. And I think a lot of that goes back to just being authentic, being yourself, being welcoming and letting kids know a little bit about you and so they can kind of feel like this is a place they belong, feel like this is a place that they want to hang out and they want to create.

And there are a million small ways to do that as well. I love to get kids talking, whether that be through critiques, whether they’re working together on collaborative projects or even just give them some conversation starters and just ask like, “Hey, what is your favorite class? Or your favorite teacher?” And you can talk to them about it, you can have them discuss amongst their themselves at their table, best cafeteria food, worst cafeteria food. Check out what I’m wearing today and just ask them, “How’s my outfit? Rate it one to 10.” Just dumb stuff like that that can be funny, but can get a conversation started, I think all of that can be really good. The best thing that you’ve watched in the past six months, a movie, a show, something that’s streaming, like whatever, get them talking about that. And if nothing else, just do a quick bell ringer assignment and have them share their work, have them show the fun drawing they did and get started with that.

And a couple quick shout-outs, I think that are good ways to build community, Jen Russell came up with this idea, or was at least the first one to share it with me, just putting together a class playlist on Spotify, ask kids to give a suggestion for what song they want to add to the playlist, and then she does a separate Spotify playlist for each of her classes, and then she will play that during work time when they have time for music, she’ll put that on, kids will hear their own song come on. They’ll also hear what their classmates want to listen to. And it’s a good mix and hopefully enjoyable for all of them.

And then another conversation starter, Kyle Wood loves doing with his Arts Madness Tournament, the which is better with artworks, we’ll just put up two artworks and just ask the very simple question of which of these two is better. And you can get kids talking about a lot of things with just that one simple question. And I like to do something kind of similar where I’ll put up three artworks from an artist and ask, which is best and have kids rank them one, two, three. And I think that’s always kind of a fun one to do as well. Good conversation starter, but it ties back to your curriculum as well.

Thought number five, I think organization is key. And Janet and I in our new teacher episode a couple of weeks ago, we talked about what this looked like with labels everywhere on cabinets and cubbies and drawers and everything, just so it’s easy for kids to find things, easy for kids to put away, but labels are huge. And just having spaces for kids to keep their own work, sketchbooks, projects are working on whatever, wherever you can find that I think can be helpful. But then having specific spaces for artwork to drive, for artwork to be turned in, for in progress things to be kept, whatever the case may be, just make sure that you’re organized and on top of things. And one thing that Janet said that she loved is just think about how there’s a flow to your classroom, can students move around easily? They’re not getting bunched up. How do they get supplies without getting crowded? Things like that.

And that’s a work in progress, you can figure out how it goes and you can keep adapting. You can keep being flexible like we talked about. You can keep improving that throughout the year, but keep working on your organization. And if you check out AOEU’s YouTube, Paula Liz has a series that’s going on right now about classroom organization and it’s a lot of fun. She’s got a lot of good advice, so you can check that out as well. But yeah, just the big takeaway there is make things as organized as possible and continue to keep organizing and keep sort of fine-tuning or optimizing those organization systems, how your classroom is flowing, how all of that is coming together as you go along.

Okay, and finally, thought number six. Last thing that I want to leave you with today is I think it’s important for everybody as a teacher at the beginning of the year and throughout the year, to find your outlet, find what else is happening in your life outside of your teaching. And that could take a lot of form, I’m not going to blather on about self-care and why you need bubble baths or whatever, but I do think it’s important to reflect on what makes you happy, what makes you feel good. You can cuddle your cat or take your dog for a walk or cuddle your dog and take your cat for a walk, I don’t know what your pets do, but any of those things outside of school can go a long way. And the important part is you need to get to them.

And so I think it’s very important to leave at the end of the day, it’s so easy to stay an hour past your contract time and then an hour turns into two hours and then you’re talking to yourself, oh, just a little bit more. And I know it’s a lot tonight, but then I’ll feel better the rest of the… Just leave it be, leave it be. You can leave at the end of the school day and you can get on to everything else that is going on in your life, whether that is your pets or whether it’s something with art making. For me, I love taking some time to draw, 15 or 20 minutes in the sketchbook each day. And I’m not even creating anything great, but it’s time for me to just work and let my mind wander and get lost in art. And that’s incredibly helpful to me.

But if you’re not creating artwork, maybe you’re cooking or you’re gardening, or just spending time with your friends or your family, but just spend a few minutes thinking about what that outlet is going to be, what is going to be important to you, and whatever you decide that is, just make sure you do it. And then those little things stop and get yourself a coffee or a tea or a smoothie or a snack, if those are going to be the things that make you feel good or help you get through your day. But just take time for yourself and do what you need to do to take care of yourself. Don’t let school be all consuming, find that outlet outside of your classroom, away from your school that lets you be yourself.

And if you know what that outlet is right now, make sure you do it. And if you don’t know what your outlet is yet, keep thinking, keep trying things until you figure out what that outlet is and what it is that you need. And now, overall, I think it’s important to just do your best to enjoy this school year. We are teachers because we love teaching. And you can think about what it is you want to focus on, whether it’s classroom management or organization, or just creating that welcoming environment. Reflect on how you’re going to get that done and how you’re going to help your students, and most importantly, how you’re going to help yourself.

And that last thought, number six. The last thing I talked about, finding your outlet is going to be most important. All of these ideas, everything that I’ve talked to you about today, everything that we’re going to link to, all of those ideas can help your day-to-day life teaching and make teaching art run more smoothly. But remembering who you are outside of school and what you can do away from your classroom that will keep you in the position you need to continue to be an amazing art teacher for your students.

Art Ed Radio was produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening, and I will be back next week with Amanda Heyn for our September mailbag episode.

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.