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Elementary Art Behavior & Classroom Management?

Elementary Art Behavior & Classroom Management?

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I just started my 4th year teaching art in a rural school. This year our k-6th grade school has added a pre-k program. I am noticing that there are certain classes throughout the school that struggle with behaviors, despite having rules to follow and retraining sessions. I am looking for advice on classroom management to reach really difficult classes. These classes are a challenge for their regular classroom teacher as well, and I only see them for 40 minutes every 4th day in our rotation. My principal doesn't want specials teachers sharing reports with classroom teachers concerning behavior and suggested using a sticker chart. I want to be self-sufficient in handling behaviors in my room, and be more effective. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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Mary's picture
Fourth Grade teacher in Napa, CA

Let them know at the start your expectations (have them help write the rules) and hold them to it. They get it. The ones who can't should know the consequences. I have had some tough classes and they get it.

I find that transitions are hard for all kids. If you could have a certain song or verse (even for the older kids) that you do to start the class, they realize that the class has begun.

Mrs.ArtsyLady's picture
Elementary Art Educator from Central Arkansas

Thank you everyone in this post, it has been helpful it was created/ commented.

Lindsey Meyers's picture

Unfortunately many public school teachers are not supported enough in their teacher education to be effective managers of behaviors in the classroom. As a Special Education teacher, I highly recommend you do some research into the basic principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis. It can definitely help you better manage both individual students, as well as the classroom as a whole. My general advice? Most behaviors' purpose is for attention. Ignore the disruptive students (it is difficult at first, but if you're consistent, I promise it gets better!). This means no pointing them out, making an example of them, raising your voice, etc. Simply ignore their disruptions, and enthusiastically praise and reward the students who are acting as you would like them to. BE SPECIFIC AND IMMEDIATE in your praise. "John, I really like the way you're looking at me while I'm speaking." "Rachel, great job quietly raising your hand to participate." These are research-based strategies that can help to reduce unwanted/negative behaviors, and increase desired/positive behaviors. If EVERY teacher received training in ABA we would all be much more effective classroom managers and teachers!

Lindsey Meyers's picture

And it's great that you're previewing expectations and desired behaviors with them at the start of class. I definitely think some reward system paired with praise of those students who are complying can help you better manage these students that you see infrequently.

Ashley's picture
K-6th grade art teacher in rural Pa.

I have read a lot of helpful and a lot of interesting comments connected to the original post. I have taken some golden nuggets and applied them and things are getting better, but until there is more administrative support there may be a struggle for awhile.
Some have shared (via facebook feed) that art class shouldn't be about sitting still and listening, but just letting them make art. My district has expectations of specials that disagree, including incorporating more writing in our classes, assessment, specific lesson plan templates, and pre/post testing. As Dr. Seuss would say, life is a great balancing act, and I am doing my best.
Thank you to those who have contributed to this post and offered suggestions. It's been much appreciated and most helpful.

Amy's picture

Read Rick Morris's books New Management, Clip Charts, etc. Free ebooks online. Also, check out

These are really great resources! I teach inner city at risk youth, and these tools have helped me for some VERY tough classes.

Amy's picture

Read Rick Morris's books! New Management, Clip Charts, etc. He has ebooks, too.

If you can go to any of Rick Morris' workshops, GO!!!! Even if you have to pay, it is WORTH IT!
Also, read great articles.

Clara Galan's picture
Clara Galan
Former Social Media Marketing Assistant for Edutopia


As a former resource teacher, I know that some classes can be especially difficult to manage in short periods of class time. I was a K-8 Spanish teacher that had some of the younger grades only twice a week for only 30 minutes at a time! In my own experience, working closely with the classroom teachers to continue specific classroom guidelines during my own class time was key. One class had a points system towards a class party, I could add or take away points for the whole class. Another class gave individual students tickets towards a homework pass that I could also give and take away. Sometimes it's fun to have a type of system for only the resource teacher...perhaps you could make it art related that the students would enjoy. We went ahead and put out your question on Facebook:, and here were some of the responses we received:

Diane Warstler: Commit to memory the book by Harry Wong: "The First Days of School". It will change your life as a classroom teacher, regardless of how many years you've been in the profession.

Courtney Jackson: Use kids love it!

Amber Lane: I taught in inner city title 1 for 3 years in grades 6-8. I used a lot of positive praise but also a lot of "stop the class in its tracks to call parents". With those kids it's about the fact they think you won't call home so they'll get away with it. I used monthly incentives for good behavior and scores. One month it was donuts, once it was ice cream sundaes. The key is they want to know you'll do what you say- they all already have trust issues. Take time to get know your roughest ones- takes a while with some but it will work. Show them you have a business side as well as a humorous side. Most of all they want to know you're not going to leave them. They don't have many adult figures who care and stay around. Most of the time their behavior has nothing to do with your behavior management techniques and everything to do with trust and abandonment issues. It took me the first while year of working there and then returning three next school year for a lot of the students to warm up to me. Hope this helps. Good luck!

Sarah Bosch: Being an elementary specialist is very different for me from being a classroom teacher and from being a middle school teacher. For difficult groups, I have created whole class rewards that happen entirely in my classroom - I do drawings for prizes and lunch with the teacher. I've also created behavior point sheets only for specialists where the individual students who need it have to earn their goal points. I also have stations for choice time, and I leave 10 minutes at the end of class for students to clean up and enjoy the activity of their choice. Students who are not done, simply don't get choice time.

Lisa Earley: Try the name in the pocket! Write all the students' names on slips of paper. When they come in class, pull one of the names out of the container. Put it in your pocket or desk drawer. At the end of the class, if the name in the pocket had good behavior for the entire period they get some small reward. If not, you do not reveal the name and the name goes back into the container. Throughout the period, remind students that you have a name in the pocket. You'd be amazed at how much they'll start behaving.

Mrs.ArtsyLady's picture
Elementary Art Educator from Central Arkansas

Hello All,
I too work at a rural school and have behavior problems at times, as Mrs. McKee has described. The students that cause problems are not mean to me, but are disrespectful to each other. Some students are just showing off. Sometimes things are said that I can't imagine that the students even know. Going to the Principal's office, is sometimes a reward (they like it in there), so that didn't work. The classroom teachers would take away recess, but they also were not bothered by it being taken away.

This year, I have seen some improvement, not 100%, and this is what I am doing:

I have all of the seats in a U-shape, and that way I am in close proximity.
My biggest problems are : Getting the students (grades 4 and 5), to quiet down long enough to have the mini lecture, discussion of what we are making, and clean up. Once we start the project, we all work well together, but don't want to stop and clean and often things are just thrown together.

I remind them that they have "incentive" days. At the end of each 9 weeks, if they earn 5 stars, they will get to have their incentive day (sit out of assigned seats, center arranged projects, sidewalk chalk, music etc).
We had some of these last year and it was really fun.

I also remind them that I will be displaying art so they will want to do their best, because I will hang it up.

I also turn the music up first, and when they get noisy, the music goes down, which signals to them to be quiet(er). Sometimes it also starts a bunch of "SHH!!! BEE QUIET!!!" which isn't what I want... it works sometimes.

I have learned to just let go and not fuss when students are fidgeting with materials. If they are not breaking them or throwing them I don't fuss at them (I might look at them and say "Are we supposed to make a marker tower right now?" .

I also find a group who is doing the right thing, and say "WOW! thank you yellow table for working so well".... and I may eve get an artwork and discuss great things about it in front of the class. EVERYONE wants to show off artwork...

Again, though, I have problems with students picking on each other and yelling "Drove" to each other. I usually separate students and try to talk to them and ask "would you like it if..." but when they are in 5th grade my patience for that is pretty slim. Dangerous behaviors or profanity do still go to the office.

I really like the suggestion, "I think we have gotten on the wrong foot", and I will use this in my upper grades. I also will check into the book "The Teachers Pocket Guide for Effective Classroom Management"

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