Susan Riley | August 2017

Makerspace Classroom Management

Are you trying out some arts integration or STEAM lessons this school year? Struggling with makerspace classroom management? This episode shares specific ideas to help you make the most of your lessons!



Believe it or not, reviews are pretty important to iTunes and the more reviews we receive, the more likely we’ll be able to get more creativity into more classrooms. I’d be extremely grateful if you left a review right here letting me know your favorite part of this episode!


Welcome to the Teaching with Creativity Show – an insiders guide to using Arts Integration and STEAM.  I’m Susan Riley, your host and the founder of

When it comes to a maker-centered classroom, whether its arts integration, PBL, STEAM, or STEM, classroom management can make or break your lessons.  It’s really the bedrock for everything we want to do with our students.  It can also be one of the trickiest things to figure out – how much flexibility and freedom do you give?  And what if our classroom management skills just aren’t working in situations like this – what then?

You know, we get told in college and when we enter the classroom that if you do not have good classroom management, you are somehow a failure as a teacher.  It’s not necessarily stated to us directly, but it’s definitely implied that only the greatest teachers have the best classroom management.

This is simply not true, my friends.  We all have moments or years when our classroom management is not the best. It changes based on human interactions.  Because we work with HUMANS, not cogs in a wheel.

So when you’re thinking about classroom management and you get that little flutter of nervousness, take a breath.  Know that you are in good company – we all have classroom management things we can work on.

So what is classroom management?  First off, it’s positive and structured.  And those two things are not mutually exclusive.  You don’t have to be negative to have a structured classroom.  And just because you’re positive and fun, doesn’t mean that structure goes out the window. These are in relationship to each other.

Classroom management is also purposeful – you’re doing it with specific outcomes in mind. And it is not punitive.  It’s not “if you do this, this will be your consequence”.  This is what is so often perceived as classroom management, when in reality, you’re just utilizing a punishment model.

So…let’s take a look at how you can achieve these two basic classroom management components for your maker-centered classroom.

Key #1 is to keep it positive.  Start with something as simple as greeting your students at the door every single class.  Not just at the beginning of the year, but rather every single class, you should be the smiling face that is greeting them.  Whether or not we’re having the best day ourselves, it’s our job to set the tone right from the beginning.  Making it a point to greet your students face-to-face is a big first step in setting that positive tone and creating a personal connection with them right at the start of class.

Another idea is to point out the positive behaviors rather than the negative ones all the time.  It is so easy for us to immediately say “I saw that – you’re doing something you weren’t supposed to do”.  But, it takes us much longer to identify and recognize students who are doing something positive.  And often, when we do identify the positive, it’s as an afterthought or as a way to get classroom management back on track.  Like when we say “I like how Sally is sitting today” or “I like how John is using his best listening ears”.  We often use these as a way to get the class back on track.  Instead, try flipping that.  Identify the positive right from the beginning, as many times as you can.  And you won’t have to pull that out as an afterthought – it simply becomes an expectation.

Finally, end the lesson with something that your students did that you and they enjoyed.  Even if it was the very worst class you’ve ever had.  Find something of value that you can recognize and do so as part of your closing.  This leaves them with the knowledge that you are seeking out ways to help them. That you are on their side and want to build a relationship with them.

Key #2 is to step up the structure. We all thrive on structure, whether we like to admit it or not. It is something that we as humans really crave.  Now, we don’t want to be so boxed in that we can’t move, so this is not stiffling.  But it is like a framework.  In your classroom, what kind of a framework do you have set up?  Think about instructional delivery, the way that your students hand out materials, and how students transition from one area to the next.  That’s all part of a smooth classroom management and it’s also part of structuring your classroom management.

So again, this goes with that intentionality piece.  Being thoughtful about these pieces before your students even walk in the door will yield huge dividends on the backend.

Here’s a couple of ideas for how to do that:

  1. You can create dedicated sections of the classroom in your space.  So this is extremely helpful for those of you who are going with the flexible space model in your classrooms or with a maker space model.  Both are popular right now, but the problem comes with that structure piece. It can sometimes feel a bit chaotic in these kinds of set ups.  Instead, if you’re going to go with these kinds of innovative models, consider creating dedicated sections within that space.  We all thrive knowing where things are located and not feeling lost.  Make sure your students know where materials are located and what areas of the space are dedicated to specific purposes. Even if you’re middle or high school level, this kind of structural support still works.  Centers are a great example of this, as is a research area or a place to “tinker” and experiment.  You can even have a presentation area in the room where students can share their work.

2. Go easy on those visuals in your space.  Classrooms that contain visuals everywhere can be hyper stimulating for students.  Instead, it’s better to create specific, strategic visuals that are high-impact but are purposeful for specific tasks or information.  So that means if you have an anchor chart posted, that chart is helping students to understand your expectations of them for a specific task or tool and is also visually cohesive.  You don’t need for every space on your wall to be covered.  Negative space is helpful for everyone so that we have a place to relax before moving to the next idea.

3. Set up a routine and stick with it.  So often we start with the best of intentions and then we end up relaxing a bit, and then something unexpected happens and we really relax those routines.  Before you know it, the routines are out the window and our students have forgotten our expectations.  Instead, set up a routine and stick with it no matter what.  Pick a routine that reflects you and how you teach best.  Use the routine each and every class, so that students know what to expect. Even if you are in the midst of making and creating and innovating, you have those transitions and routines set up to help save time and to ensure everyone is on the same page.  It also allows you to introduce and establish new routines, transitions or expectations with ease because students already know your current flow.  One of the ways I like to do that is with a written plan.  I like to write things down, but whatever works for you is fine.  You can sketchnote this, create a really nice anchor chart, whatever.  The point is to write down the plan/routine and then post it so that it becomes a part of your everyday classroom.

What goes on that written plan is the purpose and alignment of classroom management for my students – why this is an important part of my classroom. This is followed by a list of procedures and routines.  What is my opening, closing, materials that we’ll be using, transitions for each part of my lesson?  Then, include the rewards and consequences for both individual and classroom evidenced behaviors.  Taking just 15 minutes to jot those things down, really helps to clarify your classroom management plan, expectations and follow through.  I’m including a sample plan in today’s show notes that you can download and use for yourself.


Now that you’ve got the basics down, let’s move to the second part – procedures.  Developing routines and procedures is monumentally helpful when it comes to classroom management. These are separate to strategies, which can be a PART of procedures, but are not routines in and of themselves. Procedures provide students with a sense of calm: they know exactly what to expect and what is expected of them. To help remind students of these procedures, having visuals in place that show the routine expected as well as text that describes it is often helpful. Memes are great for this, as are images of students modeling the routine.

Also – I can’t stress the importance of consistency in implementation enough. You can’t have a different set of expectations for each class. Develop procedures that are followed across the board. And whenever possible, model through actions, rather than words!


Materials of instruction are expensive and sometimes hard to replace. Here are some routines for distributing and using materials with students that helps them to respect and care for these items.


Providing students with responsibilities help them feel like contributors to your classroom. Change up the jobs, depending on the seat they are sitting in or the color at their table. You can create jobs for material distribution, collection and monitoring so that students are policing themselves.


Create a blueprint of what your room/cart should look like with photographs that students can reference. This alleviates students from asking where things go, or from simply dumping their materials in a general area.


Swap out an item of theirs for an item of yours. This is particularly helpful if your markers keep “disappearing” or if rulers or mallets end up broken. Exchange the item for something that the student has (like a notebook, shoe, or bracelet). It’s pretty hard to walk out of class without a shoe!

I hope that these tips and tricks for classroom management have been helpful to you today.  Remember that this is an area where all teachers need a refresher every once in a while.  Even if you knew or used some of these tips already, I hope today’s show sparked a reminder or an ah-ha for your own practice.

And if you liked what you heard here, you’ll love our Managing the Arts Integration Classroom online class.  It is packed full to the brim with even more ideas to help you keep calm and maker on in your classroom.

Thanks so much for watching and I’ll see you next time on Teaching with Creativity.

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan