Classroom Management

Teachers vs. Students (Ep. 192)

In today’s episode, Nic again solicits advice from expert teachers around the country–this time on the topic of mindfulness. No matter where you are in your school year, it can be helpful to bring some calm to your classroom. Listen as Nic shares ideas and listens to ideas from a number of teachers on mindfulness practices that work well in the art room.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Nic: I do like a little competition in my life. I’m not one to get mad or upset if I lose a game, but I certainly like to win. I know that this is true for a lot of people in this world, including our students. So, today, we’re going to talk about a game called teachers versus students. It’s a classroom management tool that I use in my classroom every once in a while, when I need to just beef up that classroom management, making sure that students are on task and doing the best that they can so that they can get the best experience in my classroom. I’m your host, Nic Hahn, and this is Everyday Art Room.

In a recent podcast that we did here a couple of weeks ago, I was able to interview Cassie Stephens and just catch up with her, see what’s going on in her life. And boy, a lot was happening. One of those things was a new book that she just released. This is her third book, and this one was a love letter to art teachers. It basically was what works well in her classroom, and maybe some of those things you could implement into your classroom. I have since purchased the book and it is absolutely adorable. I love the size, I love the texture, and the message inside does focus mostly on classroom management. It reminded me that yes, I have some classroom management tips that I would like to share as well. And like Cassie, I have a hard time sticking with the points or the sticker charts, or even the seating arrangements and so forth as we spoke in our conversation the other day. That’s really hard for me.

So, the simple list techniques are really the best for me. We’re going to talk about a game that I like to play called teachers versus students. Oh, I got to tell you, even in that title, the kids perk up. They get so excited to potentially beat their teacher. I mean, they are the underdogs. They’re the people that have to listen to the rules, “But what? Are you saying I can compete with you and possibly even beat you.” Mm-hmm (affirmative). They’re all about it. They are so excited to hear what I have to say. When I say, “Oh, have I talked to you about teachers versus students?” They want to listen. So, this is the game I recently introduced on Instagram, on IGTV. I talked about it. So, if you want to go ahead and actually see a two minute clip talking about this, demonstrating how it’s done, it will be up there as well.

But it was received so well by so many different people that I thought, you know what? Let’s do a little bit of an episode on this, because I think it’s something that anyone could implement into their classroom. So, let’s get started with what you need. Someplace to write something, so a piece of paper, a whiteboard, just really, those are the two things that you could use in the front of your room. Something that makes it visible for all students to see. And then you need a writing utensil, a whiteboard and marker or a Sharpie, if you’re using a piece of paper or something that can be seen from across the room. You need two squares on this writing place.

So, I’m using my whiteboard. I put two squares up in the corner. They’re, I don’t know, six inches by six inches, not too big. And on the top of one of the squares, I write the letter T, and on the top of the other square, I write the letter S. Pretty simple, nothing too extravagant here. T for teacher, S for students, two boxes below, and I am ready to play the game. Students, when they come in and I say, “Oh, have I explained this game to you?” And I point up to the board and they look at me like, “What? No, what is that? A game? That doesn’t look like a game.” And I say, “Okay, the T stands for teacher and the S stands for students. We’re going to play a game where either you or I will win by the end of the hour.”

Again, highly interested in this fact that we can be in competition with each other. “Well, how do we play the game, Ms. Hahn?” “I’m so glad you asked. This is how it goes. You have all walked into the classroom and sat on your spot, just like we have done for every day in this school year.” That’s what I’m currently dealing with. I have these students that are coming in, they are used to the routine, but perhaps forgot the routine a little bit, or maybe less intrigued with following the rules than they once were. I mention, “You’re all sitting nice and calm.” Their bodies adjust to be calm. “You’re all facing forward.” Their bodies turned to face forward. “Your eyes are on me.” They start looking directly at me. “Your hands are calm in your lap.” Their hands immediately go to their lap.

“You are doing your job right now, so guess what students? You get the first point.” I put a point in their box. Oh, so they’re getting an idea of how this Works. Someone starts saying, “Oh, I get it. This is how we do it.” And someone else goes, “Yeah, yeah, I guess we do that. Oh, wait, what do we get for it? What’s going on?” And the class starts getting excited and then they start blurting and blurting. And I say, “Oh, see, one of our rules that we’ve talked about is blurting. We know that we need to raise our hand in order to have our thoughts heard. So, guess what? Teacher gets a point.” And I put a point underneath my T.

Absolutely, many students’ hands go up. Their voices are quiet and they have questions, but now they’re asking it in a very appropriate way. This is how the game goes for almost every grade, kindergarten through, I have done it with fourth grade. I haven’t even attempted it with fifth grade, I have other ways of working with them right now. But this teachers versus students game, I suppose, could work for up to fifth grade. I’d say elementary for sure. Every class has the same kind of reaction right away. They’re excited, they want to blurt about it, that gives me a point right away. So, we can demonstrate how students get a point, how teachers get a point.

I continue with the conversation. “Now, in a little bit, I’m going to give you some instructions or show you a video. If your eyes where they’re supposed to be, and your body is doing what it’s supposed to be, you can earn a point for the whole class. If they’re not, or if you need reminders, that’s when I get some points. In a little bit, we’re going to start working on our project. My expectation is that you are at your spot, your hands are moving, your voices are quiet, and only focused in on what the activity is that we will be doing. If you’re doing this, you hit a point. If you’re not, I get a point.”

The first time that I play this game with students, I lay on the points thick. There is a lot of reward, a lot of just that instant gratification with the points going both ways, definitely highlighting the rules of the game. As I continue this game, week after week, I start reducing how many times I go up to the board. So, for me, it seems like a lot to begin with, but I reduce that high need for the students slowly as we continue to play the game. And if I notice as a class is just having a rough day, we implement a few more points, that’s for sure. Almost in every class, the question comes up, what if we get a tie? Most often, we are going to get a tie at the end. Not always, I have had students that absolutely rocket. They end up with all the points, I end up with none. We don’t have anything to worry about, but I still say at the end, you have this many points right now. You have five points. That is really good, but six, man, that’s even better. Let’s see how you line up.

This is the same thing that I do for a tie or if a class is one point behind. “Right now, you are one point behind me. I am winning. Cleanup was hard, but you have the opportunity to at least tie with your teacher. Here we go. In a moment when I say go, you’re going to line up in the straightest most quiet line that I’ve ever seen in my life. If that happens, you earn the point and we become tied or now you have one.” So, I say, “Go ahead and line up.” Students push in their chairs, calmly go into the line, and stand there like they’ve been little angels the entire hour. This happens on a very regular basis. They want their teacher to be proud of them.

I go to the outdoor where I let the students leave my classroom, and I open it up. A lot of times the homeroom teacher is standing there. And instead of saying, because our communication this year has been very brief, how was the day? I say, good, I say bad, they head out. Now I don’t say bad. I hate saying your class is bad. So many homeroom teachers actually take this offensively like I’m putting down their personal children. That is not the case. And you just asked how they did. I’m being honest. But instead of saying good or bad, now I can say, “Actually, teacher won the game today, so we have some things to work on next time.” Or, “Students won the game, they did well.” Whatever it is, just saying teacher won or student won has communicated how the class goes. That’s also how I speak to the students about it when they ask the question, what do we get for winning? The society right now. I can’t even…

What do we get is always a question. They want a tangible thing that they can hold in their hand. They want a little ribbon or something. If you want to, you can give the class a sticker and then keep track of those stickers. That might be a way to do that, but I’m not good at that. I just cannot get it together to keep organized on 25 sections of classes, to make sure that I remember the sticker or didn’t put the sticker on. I’m just not good at it. So, instead, I just say, “Your teacher gets to see who won, your homeroom teacher.” Almost every teacher in my building has a system in their classroom. They have some kind of classroom management going on and every one of them is different.

So, how do I remember that this class gets little fuzzies and this class gets peace person points? It’s just impossible for me to remember all of these things. So, instead I say, “Teacher wins, students win,” whatever it is, and then they can go back to their classroom and give the puffy fuzzy thing or whatever they’re giving it in their classroom. They can give it to their class, give them the point for extra recess, whatever it is that they’re doing in their classroom to support me as the specialist. So, this has worked really well in my classroom because it communicates to all teachers and it communicates to the students. It’s visual, we can see what’s happening throughout the hour. Students know where they’re at or when they need to change their behavior with just one little tally on the board. It’s wonderful.

Here is a catch, quite often, I have students, let’s just say we, once upon a time, I heard this phrase of cat in the dog house. So, if you look at our school, we have mostly dogs. They want to do what you want them to do. They listen, they perk up. If you tell them to stand in line, they stand in line. They smile back at you. Most students are the cute little puppies in your life, but cats have a different attitude, maybe would even be considered by some to be oppositional. So, if you happen to have a cat in your classroom, who is just looking at this game going, “Oh, you want me to earn points? No, I’m going to blurt just to blurt. I’m going to twirl on the carpet, just to twirl on the carpet. I’m going to throw materials, just to throw materials so this class loses.”

Well, I’ve got a way to combat against that as well. I explain to the students on day one that sometimes I’ll have personal games. I will have one student’s name with my name on a little piece of paper, and that person and I will play a personal game. This is what I do. I ignore the behavior when it’s instruction, and then once students are released to go get whatever materials, I have a one-on-one conversation with that particular student. I have the piece of paper in my hand and I write their name and my name next to each other. I said, “Hey, you know what? Today, you and I are going to play a personal game. When you’re doing your job, you get a point. When you’re not doing your job, I get a point.”

This is a great way to have a personal conversation, to give the reminder, to give the responsibility of that student to just themselves. Then I exclude them from the rest of the student behavior game so their behaviors are not affecting anything else in the classroom, which for the rest of the classroom, sometimes that brings down some of their anxiety. So, me and the kiddo, we’re having a personal game. And every once in a while, when I notice that they did one thing right, like, “Oh man, I see you got a pencil when I asked you to do that. Way to go, you get a point. Oh, now your pencil is moving and it’s working, you get a point.” And I walk around the classroom and the next time I come over by him, “Oh, wow, I love how far you’ve gotten on your work. That looks great, you get a point.”

I’m showering them with the points that they are earning along the way. If I do need to redirect, I can give them a little tally as well. Sometimes this helps them. Sometimes they continue to get the tallies and then we have to go to the next level, whatever it may be. Maybe it’s taking a little break in the break time, space, maybe it’s being asked to leave the classroom for today because they needed a little break from art. Whatever it is, this helps document for me, for the student, and often I give it to the classroom teacher. So, I say, “At the end of the hour, I’m going to give this to Mr. So-and-so or Mrs. So-and-so, and they’ll know what type of a day you and I had together.”

After a third-grade class was lined up, ready to head out from my classroom, I was standing in line next to a little sweet pea who looked up at me and said, “Hey, Ms. Hahn, why don’t we start out with 10 points and then every time we’re not doing our job, you can take one away.” And I looked at her and I said, “Well, I guess, but I really like to give points, it’s just more fun. Either I give myself a point or I give you a point, I like to give points.” And she looked at me and she said, “Yeah, Ms. Hahn, I guess you seem like more of a giving person.” That made me giggle. She was really sincere about that. And I think that’s the way that this game comes off, I’m giving them a reward. I’m giving them the acknowledgement of a couple of things.

I’m watching and I see you’re doing your job. I’m proud of you. Or I’m watching and maybe that’s it. I’m seeing what’s happening in the classroom. Or I’m watching, I’m seeing you not meet my expectations. And here’s the thing, I know you can, I believe in you. So, I’m going to give you these reminders of why we need to keep working towards classroom management and making sure we’re doing our job. Every time that I’m making a point for myself, I’m pointing to the rule that isn’t being followed. I only have four rules on the board. Productivity is one of them. So, I might say, “You’re not working right now. Look at one of our goals is to be productive during this hour.”

And so, I have this reinforcement pointing to the rules of the classroom, the expectation, the contract that we decided on at the start of the school year, I’m readdressing those behaviors, because guess what? It doesn’t matter how much it’s been practiced, it can easily be forgotten. And so, readdressing and revisiting is going to be part of your teacher job every day, every hour. It’s just part of it. Where did teachers versus students come from? I don’t know. To be honest, I can’t really remember if this is something that I created because of observation. I know that kids love to play games and so this is just a playful way to do this. Or if it was in one of the millions of professional development that I have done over the years.

If it’s from the catalyst approach or perhaps you’ve done Avid training or who knows, I just feel like I fill my brain so full with professional development, unfortunately, I just don’t remember really where this developed. So, if you’re using it in your classroom, if you’ve even read about it, that’s awesome. I’m just sharing this right now to each of you, just in case you need something new in your toolbox. Maybe you’ve even heard of this before. Maybe you’ve even used it, but you need the reminder of like, “Oh yeah, that was so simple. It really worked, or I think this can work for a couple of days.” Or on Instagram, I had someone reach out and say, “This is the perfect substitute game that we can play with myself and the students. For a sub, absolutely, this is perfect. I love teachers versus student used in the classroom, especially in a substitute situation. It tells the homeroom teacher exactly what happened during the day without giving too many details, it’s just perfect.”

So, give it a try in your classroom. See if teachers versus students is going to fit well into your classroom, maybe at different age levels. Maybe you give it a try for a little bit and decide, “Hey, it just doesn’t fit for me.” That’s fine. Anytime that we can get more things in our toolbox is worth it. So, here was one more thing that I could share with you that’s working well in my classroom. Here’s the thing about teachers versus students. If the teacher wins, you get to say the teacher has won, but if the students win, you get to say the students have won. And guess what? That really means the teacher won. Either way, you get to win. That’s a great thing.

If you’re looking for more management tips and tricks to put into that toolbox of yours, go over to the Art of Education University’s website, because we have a ton. And you can organize the way you search on that website, and one of them is management. You can specifically search articles or pro packs or lesson plans that are based on classroom management. This is a great thing to study for over the summer. I know many of you listening in other parts of the world are using these tips and tricks right now because you’re in the midst of your year. So, wherever you’re at, this is a great source for you. Please head on over to the Art of Education University’s website and check out management.

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.