Raise your hand if you’re looking for creative classroom management tips! As a teacher, I know the importance of establishing a strong classroom management practice from the start of the school year. However it can sometimes be difficult to strike the ideal balance between corralling chaos and encouraging creativity. Here are ten tips to help you manage your classroom in a way that helps foster imagination.
- Establish a Rhythm – If you caught my session at the Summer Conference, you know I am a big proponent of rhythm over routine. One way to establish a flexible classroom rhythm that allows young artists to thrive is to set up a Visual Journal which will be used for entrance and exit tickets as well as for illustrated and written notes at the start and end of classroom learning. Visual Journals can serve as to-do lists, agendas, sketchbooks, and notes pages all in one. I recommend starting each day with an artful thinking activity that is directly connected to what students are specifically learning in that day’s lesson. Students can draw a quick sketch of a work of visual art or write a thoughtful reflection on a dance, theater, or music video. Students can then complete an artful thinking routine about that specific art “text” as the teacher transitions into the lesson for the day (highlighting any artistic principles that might be relevant in both the artwork and the direct instruction). The artful thinking activity can act as an entrance ticket into the lesson for the day and can be completed directly in the student’s visual journal as part of an established page setup. Dividing each page of the journal in the same way everyday to create sections for different activities allows students to become accustomed to the visual breakdown and learn to set up their pages independently upon entering the classroom. Students can also take note in their journals of upcoming assignments and activities that will take place over the course of the upcoming days and months. Rhythm allows teachers to reap the benefits of flexibility in the classroom and to support students’ interests as much as possible.
- Create a Monthly and Daily Log (to help students stay organized) – In addition to having students create notes in their visual journals regarding upcoming events and assignments- it might be helpful to have an established location in the classroom where you keep a large-print list of upcoming tasks or assessments, as well as any scheduled holidays or alternate schedule days. If you as a teacher keep a date list or calendar posted in the classroom it makes it easier for students to mark changes to their own agendas when they see you remember to make those changes on your own public calendar.
- Talk like a Yoga Instructor – Have you ever been to a yoga class? Yoga teachers know a trick that most educators are never taught. Use language that encourages students to do small, specific, actions instead of asking students to do multiple actions at once. For example instead of saying “Please be quiet and and open your books to page 47” a yoga teacher might say “Focus your eyes on me and relax your hands in your lap. Sit up straight and tall and stretch the top of your head towards the ceiling while your hips feel rooted into your chair. Great! You are all doing an excellent job listening. Now let’s take out our History books together. You will see I have written the page number on the board for you.” These instructions allow students to concentrate on small individual “bite-sized” tasks instead of trying to digest a large number of directions at once. It offers students the opportunity to succeed at smaller requests so that their confidence is established when it is time to complete a larger scale project.
- Define Self Space vs. General Space – Personal Space or Self Space is the space directly around your body. Students can physically identify Self Space by reaching their arm out and drawing a sphere around them with an “invisible piece of chalk”. The space where their arms can reach without moving their feet is a student’s self-space. General space is the space in the classroom you share with other students. If your classroom has a carpet where students gather to do group activities or participate in morning circle, this carpet is an example of general space. The hallways, the cafeteria, the gym, can all be examples of general space. Directly teach students the difference between personal space and general space and have students practice moving through different types of space in different ways. “Can you raise your hand at your desk in your self space? Can you walk quickly to the carpet without bumping into anyone as you walk through general space? Can you skip, hop, or spin through general space in a straight line? In a curvy line?” Giving students the opportunity to explore movement allows them to have a greater understanding of what movement is actually appropriate for different times and spaces in the school over the course of the day.
- Practice Transitions – In addition to teaching students the difference between self space and general space- it is a great idea to specifically discuss transitions in the classroom and in the hallway and practice making those transitions. In the classroom one arts integration tip is to number the corners and walls of the classroom in accordance with the Russian Ballet Numbering system so that you can specifically describe where you would like students to move. “Please place your backpacks on the hooks on wall 3.” In the hallways prompt students to think about their movement in an appropriate but creative way. Can we transition to the cafeteria moving silently as a fox?
- Create Vision Boards and Set Goals – The beginning of the year offers an opportunity to reset the tone of the classroom and to help remind students of their personal and academic goals. Vision boards are a great way to establish SMART goals in a creative way and to get to better know your students. They can use collage, colored pencils, markers, and construction paper to create visual reminders of their goals that can be posted around the classroom and referenced by the teacher as a classroom management tool.
- Teach and Practice Warm-Ups in all Art Areas – Students would never be expected to perform a dance in a dance studio without stretching and warming up their bodies first so why would we expect them to do this in the classroom? In an arts integrated classroom students will be making music, dancing, singing, drawing, acting, and working with technology as avenues of learning curriculum content. To help students get into the correct mindset for producing art, they should be warming up in whatever artistic area they will be exploring that day in the lesson. Practicing established art warm-ups is one way to prepare students to learn through that art form. Eventually students should be so familiar with warm-up activities that the teacher could choose a student to lead the rest of the class in their artistic warm-up activities!
- Greet Your Students At The Door – If your school allows it, try greeting your students individually as they enter the classroom for the day. Look in their eyes, give them a genuine greeting or handshake to let them know that they are valued and that you are excited to have them in your classroom today. If you don’t have time or aren’t allowed to have your students line-up in the hallway before class, give them a warm group greeting as you start your lesson. Try saying something like “I’m so glad you are here today. I’m excited to have you in my class.” Little actions like these help to show your students that you care about them and foster the positive teacher-student relationships that are such a crucial part of classroom management.
- Use a Variety of Attention Grabbers – This is a small and easy way to include arts enhanced learning in your classroom. Think about the way you get your student’s attention after a period of discussion. Do you count down from five? Do you do a ASL hand signal? What ways could you make this little action more creative? Could you play a musical instrument? Could you ask students to give you their best “Mona Lisa Smile”? Could you ask students to start mirroring your movements as you move through low, medium, and high, non-locomotor movements?
- Use Engaging Curriculum! – Finally, and perhaps most obvious- use engaging lessons! The best way to limit student behavior problems is to have them excited to participate in your lessons. How can you integrate art and STEAM learning so that students look forward to your class and the activities you do together?
- Bonus Tip: “Good News, Fun News” – This is something I picked up from an amazing college professor I had when I was in my MAT program. When we were all in our seats and ready to learn our teacher Katy Arnett would begin every class by asking her students “Who has good news? Fun news?” It was a little action that allowed us to share positive events that were happening in our personal lives ranging from getting a new puppy to being in a wedding. This little habit allowed us to become closer as a class and also to strengthen our relationship with our teacher. I have used it in every class I have taught since Mrs. Arnett used it with me and it has always helped to foster a positive classroom environment.
Consider integrating these ideas into your classroom as you begin to purposefully organize your creative classroom management system and build positive personal relationships with your students. Cultivating a safe and trusting classroom environment is a cornerstone to the success of arts integration and STEAM learning and can help shape the way your lessons are received. Best of luck as you start the 2017-2018 school year off strong and foster creativity in your classroom!
Still looking for more creative classroom management tips and strategies? Check out some of our past articles!
The ABCs of Classroom Management – Dyan Branstetter
The Key to Classroom Management – Typhani Harris
Laura Wixon graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2012 with Bachelors in Art Studio and Art History and English Language. In 2013 she stayed at SMCM and completed the Masters in Teaching Program with endorsements in elementary education, special education, art education k-12, and secondary English education (6-12). She taught as a Language Arts teacher for two years at Bates Middle School before moving into their Arts Integration Specialist position, which she has held the past two years.