Classroom Management

The Catalyst Approach (Ep. 133)

The Catalyst Approach is an approach to professional development and classroom management that can help every teacher. Today, Nic talks to two teachers about the approach and how it can help in your classroom. Listen as they discuss how you interact with students, how you interact with the curriculum, and how you are able to adjust your own behavior to be in service to the students that are in front of you. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Nic: You know when you find a new recipe and it rocks your world? Yeah. You know. You eat it, you make it for your family a couple of times. Then you invite your friends over and you make it for them. Then you’d take pictures of it and you post it on Instagram. Then you give everybody advice on how to make it in their own house because it’s going to be so awesome and I will make their meals so great. Well, I’m not a cook at all. I think we’ve talked about this a couple of times on this podcast. I don’t know why that keeps popping up again. Anyways, what I am is an educator and when I find something that I’m really excited about, something that changes my world, I want to share it with everybody. I want to tell them about what I have just discovered and why it is good. That is why we are going to be talking about The Catalyst Approach today.

We are going to bring two Catalyst Approach team members, Jacki and Jamie. They’re going to talk to us about what The Catalyst Approach is and give us a couple of tips of how to use that in your classroom, why it’s good for art educators. This is Nic Hahn, and this is Everyday Art Room.

You guys, thank you so much for being here on Everyday Art Room. I’m so excited to have you guys present what I know to be an amazing system for the classroom management and much more. Will you first start by introducing yourselves and giving us a little bit of a background of who you are?

I’m Jacki Brickman. I work along with Jamie. All of my teaching experience was in Minneapolis. All in high poverty schools. Right now what I do is I own my own consulting firm and Jamie works with me.

Jamie: I also started teaching, this is Jamie, in North Minneapolis in a high poverty school in the same school that Jacki once worked in. That’s how I was introduced to The Catalyst Approach. Now I am an educational consultant working for Jacki.

Nic: Okay. We are bringing both of you on to talk about something called The Catalyst Approach. Can you first just give us an overview? What is that? How did it become what it is? Let’s talk about The Catalyst Approach.

Jacki: The Catalyst Approach is really a way to approach comprehensive professional development in a way that supports teachers in making change happen in an accelerated way. We do a combination of training, coaching, systems work in schools. The thing we do most common is work directly with teachers in their classroom, helping them to make change. While it is seen as a classroom management tool, Jamie likes to say it’s really about managing yourself and how you interact with students, how you interact with the curriculum, and how you are able to adjust your own behavior to be in service to the students that are in front of you. The approach was developed by me and my teaching partner, Nancy Burns. We both own separate companies but we do everything collaboratively. We write our curriculum together. We create the systems and the approach. She also was a teacher in North Minneapolis.

Together we’ve observed in about 50,000 classrooms and collaboratively our teams, we are in about 7,000 classrooms a year. What brought us together was our love for children and especially how do we create a more equitable environment, especially in our world today. Really what our focus is now when we’re in classrooms and seeing things that are either frustrating for teachers, frustrating for students or a combination on both, what can be done to disrupt that pattern and create an environment where everybody feels empowered and thrives.

Nic: You said that very well because yes, I did mention that this is a management classroom management system, but you’re right, it is so much deeper than that because I know that I have changed the way that I teach and I approach teaching because of the training that I’ve had under your guidance.

Jamie: When I was first introduced to The Catalyst Approach, my first year of teaching wasn’t anything. It wasn’t anything like I thought it would be. I was a teacher at like a puddle in the back of the room. Like the janitor would come in, he would say, well, why are you crying? I was like, well, I’m just giving myself a time out. I’m not even a crier but I did there. I was just drowning. It wasn’t the curriculum that was challenging to me. I loved the curriculum, I knew my stuff. It was the management that was really weighing me down and where I really needed, I really need a lot of guidance. Then when Jacki was able to come in and not only teach training but she was able to coach a lot, and so she would come into my classroom and I would invite her in over and over and over for lots and lots of coaching.

Every time she left I felt inspired and equipped with new skills that I could implement right away that changed my practice and also changed my perspective about teaching in general. It just brought a lot of joy into my classroom that I thought it would just naturally be there and then when it wasn’t, it was really upsetting as a first-year teacher. But then by the end of that year I really felt like I had my feet under me because of the skills that I got.

Nic: I think that is the story of many, many first-year teachers, so I thank you for being honest and sharing that story with us. I really appreciate that. When you’re thinking about The Catalyst Approach, who is this for? What’s the target group? Why do people take this training? Why is it important?

Jacki: It’s really for anyone who has to communicate with another human being. The whole group leadership class is specifically designed for educators who interact with groups of children. The other classes that we offer are all around communication. Either having a system of communication within a building, strategies that you can communicate differently with students. How to give academic feedback in a way that feels empowering, how to adjust and be in tune with your own body, and how we might unintentionally be sending a message that is confusing or frustrating or creating dependence with students. Depending on which of the courses people are most interested in, it really is different than a strategy we might use one time. All of our work really helps people change how they go about their work.

Nic: Yes.

Jamie: I think that art teachers or specialists in general often we’ve all been in that experience where like, okay, we’ll just throw you into the kindergarten math team and sit there. You’re like, okay. Like we can talk about perimeter in art. It was really refreshing taking this whole group leadership class because it did apply to art teachers and specialists because even when you see lots of students throughout the day, you’re still able to implement these skills right away. Whereas, especially in elementary, it can feel as an art teacher that you’re on an island and that the strategies that a classroom teacher, well, they have those kids all day long. Some of the things that they do don’t feel as practical in an art room. Then the other thing that it feels like management classes are often about the volume of a classroom.

This work is really about empowering students in bringing joy into the classroom. The idea that volume is really a byproduct of collaborative versus independent or productivity versus social. That permission that the art could be loud sometimes, it could be sometimes. There was a time that my principal, she ran down the hall and burst into my room and I could tell because she was kind of out of breath, but she stopped for a moment at the door. She rushed in thinking something must be terribly wrong in the art room. Then when she stood there and watched, she looked around and she saw it was just children really excited. They were really excited about painting and they were talking together about their artwork and they were just creating with joy. With that came a lot of noise, but it was really productive noise and everything was happy and in control and full of joy. That it doesn’t always have to be that silent, it doesn’t always have to mean that your classroom was managed well.

Nic: Right, right. That’s one thing I hear in taking the trainings through you guys is you can be your own individual. You can continue to teach the way in the style that you teach because there’s room for all styles with The Catalyst Approach.

Jamie: Absolutely. Especially art teachers are such creative, exciting people. We teach this exciting content, and so to be able to be yourself while still managing the classroom makes it feel more genuine to your students.

Nic: Absolutely. We are just touching what the Catalyst Approach is about, but if there’s a couple of little gems that you could give people that they could implement into their own classroom, what’s a couple of things that you could suggest?

Jamie: The very first skill that I put in place in my art room was that idea that sometimes, especially when our teachers do a demo. They show the students what to do and then they try it. That idea of like demoed it and then they tried it. When the teacher just demos it, sometimes the students go off and they have no source in terms of what was I supposed to be doing? I don’t remember this step. Then I found myself reteaching and teaching and teaching while the students were already working. Then it felt like throughout the day that I was actually just teaching from the start of the day till the very end of the day. When I started to write down the direction, the materials that are needed, what they should do, how to do it, where to put the materials and their work when they’re finished.

Then the most helpful part was a next activity or step for students who finished early. Not forcing students who actually are done to keep working, but actually appreciating the fact that in a staggered way students were finishing actually helped in terms of the flow of washing hands and all the cleanup and all that kind of stuff that needs to happen in the art room. It was nice to have that when finished activity that allowed students to go wash their hands and clean up a few at a time. Yes, and then I was no longer the source of all of the information that needed to happen. When all of this information was written out clearly in the same spot in my room every single day, then they could look there first.

A lot of times that was all they needed. That really freed me up to go help individuals, build relationships, and do all of that fun stuff. That skill is called adapt the directions visually. That really took, instead of just verbal directions, really adapting those directions in a visual way. It created a lot of independence in my room so that the students were no longer reliant on me for every bit of information.

Nic: I’m glad that that was one of the tips that you brought up because I think it’s, actually to be honest, during training it was the one that I was most afraid of as an art teacher because how can you write down every material, every step, every place that it needs to go and the finishing. How do you do that? Once I started just concentrating on one aspect of that and then introducing a second and a third, it became much more simple for me and my students consistently know where to go to have their questions answered.

Jamie: Yes. Writing down the information actually help chunk up the information. Maybe if it is a two week long project, well, only the things that we need to worry about today need to be put up visually today. That helped me chunk up like, okay, what are we actually doing today? Rather than throwing way too much information at one time.

Nic: True.

Jamie: Kind of pace my lessons too.

Nic: Yeah. Do you have another little tip for us?

Jamie: Of course, I do. When we think about adapting the visual directions that applies to the whole class and the second skill applies when approaching individual students once you’ve gotten them into their independent work. That idea of the student who is off task, so maybe they’re supposed to be drawing but they’re drumming with their pencils instead. I changed that because it’s a personal pet peeve [inaudible 00:14:53]. Our first instinct is to go off and say, what is your job? What are you supposed to be doing right now? Just please stop. That’s annoying. Any of the things accidentally come out of our mouths. The idea is if as teachers we go and focus on the behavior, then the thing that the student is focused on is also their behavior.

Whether it’s I shouldn’t have been doing that, or this teacher is being unfair, like why shouldn’t I be doing that? All of those kinds of thoughts. Whereas if the teacher approaches and talks about the curriculum, well, then the student’s mind can also be focused on the curriculum. Going up and saying, what are you going to draw next? Or which part are you working on? Or any of those types of ideas in terms of their artwork. Then they can also focus on their artwork and it has the byproduct of not breaking or fracturing that relationship that we work so hard to build with individual students. That skill is called curriculum flip.

Nic: Again, one of my faves. I don’t know. I think they’re all my favorite, but I do use this every hour, every day with multiple students. When I’m finally feeling myself kind of bubble up inside because of an action that I’m seeing, I am constantly thinking, how can I talk about the curriculum rather than the behavior. It’s one that I practice on a regular basis in my classroom too. Thanks Jamie for explaining that one.

Jamie: You’re welcome.

Nic: All right. We’ve given people the smallest little scratch into what you guys provide and what you’re about. Can we go deeper into just where can I find out more information? This is intriguing to me. I want more information. Where can we find that?

Jamie: The thing that’s coming up soonest is at NAEA, on Saturday, March 28th. I will be doing a session called Calm in the Chaos, creative classroom management strategies in the art room. That is Saturday at four o’clock at NAEA.

Nic: Nice. I’ll be there. Yes.

You can book on our website, That is where we post all open to the public courses that are coming up where people could attend in person and get even more ideas. There is a mailing lists that people can sign up for on the website as well. Then we send out tips about once a month where people can just get a little snippet. For example, curriculum flip. What is it? How do you do it? When should you do it? What impact is it going to have for people who maybe aren’t able to come attend a class or just want to get their feet wet? What’s some ideas might be?

Nic: I didn’t know that. I will have to join it. Then, you’re based out of Minnesota. I know that you come to my school and present and I know you have public presentations. Are you ever invited to other sites?

Jacki: Yes, we will go anywhere that people want to learn how to engage better with students or each other. Because these strategies help you engage with other adults in a way that’s helpful as well.

Nic: Yeah, that’s actually very true. Interesting. I know that your team is spectacular. I have not met one person that I haven’t been truly impressed with. Inviting you out and having you involved in any kind of programming is not going to be a miss by any means. You have a wonderful team.

Jacki: Well, thank you. Nancy and I feel very, very blessed that these amazing people have chose to leave a profession that they were all really, really successful at and enjoyed in order to make a difference for other educators and hopefully impacting even more students so they can have even more joyful experiences and maybe become teachers themselves.

Nic: True. We’ve covered a lot about The Catalyst Approach, but is there anything that you would just like to talk about as far as leaving the classroom, what you’re doing, where your inspiration came from for The Catalyst Approach?

Jamie: For me, leaving the classroom specifically the art room was really, it was a really difficult choice because children are hilarious. They’re so fun to be around and they gave me so much energy and excitement in my day and always inspired me. I love nothing more than children’s drawings. That always made my day really happy to be able to work with all of the little artists that I loved every day. It was a really hard choice to leave the classroom. However, if you get a chance to meet Jacki, then you know that she has a way of both making you feel like you already have all of the answers and that you’re already doing amazing things and then somehow still pushing you to do greater things.

The opportunity to have that all the time, which I got to experience in coaching, the opportunity to work for her was one that I couldn’t turn down on a selfish level. Then on a professional level to try to be that inspiring person and to try to provide skills the way that she provided for me, to do that for other people was an exciting new avenue that I was really excited to try.

Nic: Well said.

Jacki: Well, following that is odd. Well, thank you very much.

Nic: That’s sweet.

Jamie: Look at me when I said that.

Jacki: She did, put her hand right up in my face like don’t you say a word. For me, I was really blessed in my very first school to work around people who were amazing mentors. A lot of teachers get told like just close your door and do what you know is best. Doesn’t matter what’s happening out there. I worked with some amazing mentors really early in my career. I had amazing principals, Bernadeia Johnson, her husband, Reggie Johnson, and Bernice Young. They continually pushed me to become a better teacher, especially around how a young white teacher from a small suburban middle class area could be successful with students who have different backgrounds than they have, who have different experiences.

Jacki: How I could not go in and save anyone because none of those children needed saving from me but how I could go in and really create purposeful opportunities for students that would close the opportunity gap by just being the very best teacher that I could be. They continually pushed me. I had colleagues that were amazing. Kristie Noel like pushed me out of my comfort zone. Every single moment was hard questions. How was I going to adapt curriculum? How was I going to meet the needs of all of my learners? Nancy and I got to learn from our mentor Michael Grinder. He’s the founder of the ENVoY Trilogy. He was instrumental in both encouraging us to not only share what we’ve learned from other people, but to really when we’re in those 50,000 classrooms, look for patterns and things that we could disrupt.

Jacki: What did we notice and how we could help other people implement those very same things. When Vanessa was principal and I had my first job out of the classroom, not by choice, but your principal can tell you to do whatever they want. She put me in a leadership role. What she helped me see was that when you can empower a teacher in a way that makes them love their job, because every teacher went spent all that money and all that time in college not to go get the big rich job because teachers don’t get paid nearly enough. The reward they get is being impactful and being able to help teachers feel really good at what they do more often was just, it’s the best gift in the world that we get to see these amazing people every single day and help them become even better.

Nic: Well, I can’t thank you enough for making that choice, and for all those people being part of your path, because it has definitely benefited me. It’s benefited our entire staff and of course our students. Again, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate everything that you shared. I love that we have resources to give our listeners to just dive into this a little deeper because it has been extraordinary in my life.

Jacki: Well, thank you, Nic. The impact that you have on other art teachers and the fact that someone who is so well-respected respects our work is a huge compliment.

The opportunity to speak to art teachers specifically who are such creative and happy and joyful teachers is a real pleasure.

Nic: I’m so grateful that Jacki and Jamie were able to join me today to talk about The Catalyst Approach. It truly is something that I use in my classroom every single day, every single hour. I’m going to be posting on my blog as well as on Instagram some of the ways that I use The Catalyst Approach in my classroom, some of the tools that I have made to make it easier to maybe write some of those directions, those visual directions on the board and make it easy to communicate with my students what my expectations are for them. Also, keeping in mind that curriculum flip. I love that idea of creating that bond and that relationship rather than getting after those kids who are making those strange noises or being off task, going up to them and talking about the curriculum rather than what they’re doing that might be annoying you.

The reason that I brought The Catalyst Approach to the podcast today is because I know it works. One of the key things that The Catalyst Approach does, it allows you to conserve your energy. You will understand this. Every single day I have five classes that come to my classroom. I walk to one door, let them in, and when one is going out, the next one is coming in. That happens over and over throughout my day. The day that I realized that this was making an impact in my life was when I let my fifth hour go and I went back to my indoor to welcome in my next class only to find out it was the end of the day and I still had energy to teach another course. Yep. That is when I knew I had to scream this from the rooftops and tell everybody that I could about The Catalyst Approach. Guys, check out the links in the podcast. Check out my blog, and my Instagram because I’ll be sharing how I use The Catalyst Approach in my classroom.

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.