I'm beginning to notice that the school year has a pretty substantial affect on student moral. Transitioning back into classroom routine after a long winter break can be very difficult for some students, causing them to act out in wild ways. Recently I was asked by another teaching artist for advice on how to properly manage an unruly class. So here is some of the advice I shared:
- Set Expectations - Establish your own set of art room rules that are clearly explained to your class on the first day, keep them visible, and remind your students of these rules regularly. For me, my one and only art room rule is respect. My students know that this means they are expected to be respectful to themselves, to their neighbors, and to the art.
- Offer Options - If you have a student refusing to do the planned art activity challenge them to use their materials in a unique way. Allow your student to experiment with the materials however they want (while being respectful). By doing this they can redirect their energy into art, and even though it may look nothing like what you'd expected, they are able to work creatively rather than throwing a tantrum.
- Focus on the Positive - Don't acknowledge a student who is acting out, instead call attention to the ones who are setting a good example. Rather than saying "Susan get out from under the table!" consider comments like "I like the way Josh is covering his whole paper with marks." If you notice that the student who was acting out becomes responsive to this take a moment to check in with them to see if you can get them back on track.
- Get Excited - Many teaching artists have the power of being a novelty to their students. Use this to your advantage, and capture their attention. You can do this by periodically making exclamations like, "I can't wait to show you the materials we're going to use today!" Pause for them to acknowledge what you're saying, and if they are still acting out remind them that you can only make art together if everyone is following the art room rule(s).
Of course even the most seasoned educators still find themselves in a chaotic classroom, and they are better for it. These tips have served as trusty tools for me over the years, and I'm sure I will have many more opportunities to consider new ways of managing difficult classroom situations. I recently stumbled upon this food for thought in a group discussion on Edutopia: