Fred Jones: "Never make a rule you are not willing to enforce every time. 
When we're consistent, we train children to accept that 'no means no.' When we're inconsistent, we train children to test us constantly to see if we will 'crack.' Ultimately, our ability to be nurturant will be a function of our ability to be consistent. To summarize; if you are consistent, you can use smaller and smaller consequences to govern misbehavior.  If you are inconsistent, you must use larger and larger consequences to govern misbehavior." 

The following discussion on rules and procedures is not in any way meant to be a statement on what should happen in any art teacher's classroom. This is simply what has worked for me (Anna Nichols). Much more wisdom can be found in the book, The First Days of School, by Harry K. and Rosemary T. Wong.  Every teacher is different, every student is different, and so is every class. Find what works for you!      

In addition, please check out Michael Linsin's website, - it is absolutely the BEST resource classroom teachers have for managing behavior, regardless of subject area. (It is free, btw, and Michael Linsin answers your questions promptly!)

When I first started teaching, no in-depth, specific examples were available to me in this area, (especially as an art teacher) probably because my professors knew that it is a mistake to think there are short-cuts, easy "fix-its," and tricks in the way of discipline strategies. Good classroom management and discipline takes on a variety of forms, depending on the personality of the teacher. 

I am setting forth on this task of "making the invisible visible" in the hopes that it might help someone out there. Forgive me if it is too "verbose," and I welcome any and all feedback!

My middle school art classroom rules
      Clearly communicating to students what my expectations are, the rewards and consequences of their behavior choices, and the joys and privileges of art has been a high priority for me. Many years ago, my teaching was revolutionized when a Jefferson county art teacher led myself and a small group of fellow art teachers in a classroom management workshop. This teacher made it clear how important it is to "spell out" rules, consequences, and even procedures at the beginning of the year, making the invisible visible. Ever since, I have spent 3-5 days at the beginning of the grading period teaching and modeling my rules, procedures, and safety. I admit that I was delighted (and a bit surprised) to hear from several other middle and high school art teachers who have similar plans! It is a lot of fun to demonstrate to the kids what "bad behavior" looks like!
    First of all, I try to teach my students that the rules are there to keep them safe and to protect everyone's right to learn.  I have a handout and worksheet for rules, procedures, and safety and I require my students to complete them as well as a true/false quiz. Depending on the maturity of the group, I have them work together in pairs or individually to fill out the worksheets. I have even had them role-play right choices and wrong choices (If you are brave enough, that is a lot of fun!) Also, after going through the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" workshop, I started leading students in writing personal academic and behavioral goals for the semester or year. At the end of the year (or semester, depending on the group) I will sit down with each individual and talk to them about their goals and whether or not they were met. I used to award prizes for the boy and girl who made the highest grade in the class, but now I reward everyone who meets his/her goals. Sometimes the student wants a tangible prize, and sometimes they tell me it is enough that I recognized and praised their accomplishments. (I love it when they are wise enough to see that good behavior and good grades are rewards in themselves!) (Michael Linsin, for whom I have the highest respect, strongly discourages teachers from using tangible prizes and rewards with few exceptions - see his article, "Why you should never reward good behavior" on

Lindsay Mouyal has shared a photo of her elementary classroom rules. She says that these 3 rules: "Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and Be Resourceful" are school-wide.

Lindsay Mouyal's elementary classroom rules.

My school does not have a set of school-wide rules, but in my experience and with all the reading I have done I have found that it is pretty much accepted that good teachers prioritize teaching their students to be good citizens/people first, by teaching them to be respectful, responsible, and resourceful. 

Here is a run-down of what I do the first few days of school: I have included 2 handouts I give the kids, but I have at least 6 more that we cover.

 The first day of school in my (Mrs. Nichols') class, students write their answers to the question, "How can I be successful in art class?" and fill out the rules worksheet as an "exit slip." They also write their academic and behavioral goals, and they view my power point presentation that features past outstanding artwork from their grade level and explanations of all the recognition/awards they have the potential to receive while they are in middle school. The third day of school we discuss safety and procedures for fire/tornado/lock-down drills. Below is an example of the worksheet my 6th, 7th, and 8th graders fill out on the second day of school as well as the parent letter I send home: 

Procedures Worksheet

Directions: Fill in the blanks after you read “Procedures for Mrs. Nichols’ Art Class”.
a. Come in _quietly__.
b. Get out your __visual__ __journal____ from your cubby hole.
c. Do the daily __warm___-_up__ exercise.
d. If you were absent, leave your excuse on Mrs. Nichols’ ___desk_____ for her to sign.
Wrong Choices:
1._Sit_down and wait to be told what to do. This is breaking rule # 6.
2. Come in making a lot of noise, then hang out in the back of the room so you can _talk_ to your friends as long as possible. This is breaking rule # 4, 6_.

                       WHAT TO DO DURING CLASS –
a. Work at your assigned __seat____ quietly.
b. You can get up to sharpen your pencil or throw trash away as long as Mrs. Nichols is not ___talking to the whole group___.
c. When you finish your work, ask Mrs. Nichols for her _opinion____. If you finish early, you may get out an art book to look at and/or "free-draw" paper.
d. Write your ___name_____, ___grade___, and   _period______ on the back of every artwork.
e. When you need to use one of your 3 passes, __wait__ until Mrs. Nichols finishes teaching and then ask for ____permission____ before you fill out the pass log.
f. If you misuse materials, you will not get to ___participate___ the next day.
g. Raise your __hand___ if you have a question or a comment and ___wait____ to be called on.
h. It is polite and respectful to __speak_____ when you are spoken to.
i. Find something __positive___ to say about other people’s artwork.
j. It is respectful to __stay______ where you are when someone is speaking to you.
k. Never give up! 99% of success is ___hard work______
l. If you are asked to sign the discipline book, quietly do so without __arguing____.
m. If a _visitor_____ enters the room, be quiet and wait to ask questions.
Wrong Choices:
1.Have a conversation while the teacher is _talking__. This is breaking rule # 1, 4.

2. Pretend you are Michael Jordan and _throw___ your trash across the room. This is breaking rule # _2, 3_.
3. When you finish your artwork, stare into space, do your homework, or go to your friends’ table to __talk__. This is breaking rule # 6, 4.
4. When you need to use a pass, disappear without letting __Mrs. Nichols___ know where you are going.  This is breaking rule # _2_.
5.__Walk_ away when the teacher is talking to you. This is breaking rule # 1_.
6. Complain, saying, “I _can't__ do this stupid project!” This is breaking rule # 1_.
7. Tell another student that their artwork is dumb, ugly, or __lame/anything negative___. This is breaking rule # _1_.
8. Argue, slam your books, roll your _eyes__, and make a lot of noise on your way to sign the discipline book. This is breaking rule # _1, 4_.
9. Interrupt the ___teacher____. This is breaking rule # 1, 4_.

              WHAT TO DO AT THE END OF CLASS –
a. Keep __working____ until Mrs. Nichols announces it is time to clean up.
b. Stay in your _seat____ until Mrs. Nichols tells your row to get up.
c. __Clean___ your area while the art aides pick up the supplies.
d. Students do not use the sink without _permission_ (unless there is an emergency).
e. _Sit__down when you’re done. This is not the time to stand around and socialize.
Mrs. Nichols will dismiss the class when everyone is __seated___, __quiet__, &_clean_____!
f. Push your _chairs__ under the table and have a great day!
Wrong Choices:
1. Put your artwork away 15 minutes early and go to _sleep__ This is breaking rule # 6_.

2. Leave all your paints, dirty brushes, and artwork on the _table__and go hang out in the back of the room to talk. This is breaking rule # _2, 4, 6_.
3. Splash water on people and _play__around. This is breaking rule # _3_.
4. Put all your things up and then stand in everyone’s _way__. This is breaking rule # 2, 6_.
5. Continue talking when the _class__is waiting to be dismissed. This is breaking rule # 1, 4_.

I also send home a letter for parents to sign that outlines the class expectations:

6th, 7th, and 8th Grade
Mrs. Anna Nichols; Art Teacher
Dear Student and Parents,
            Welcome to Art! Throughout the grading period, students will learn about many aspects of art, from art history to aesthetics, criticism, and art production. They will be drawing, painting, printmaking, making sculpture, and learning basic design principles. It is my hope that the students will develop an appreciation for art and its importance in our daily lives.
            Art projects will be graded according to craftsmanship, creativity, and effort. Since each student has a different ability level, they cannot compare grades. Students’ grades will also come from daily assignments, quizzes, and participation.
            In order to provide every student with an equal opportunity for success, I will use the following discipline plan in addition to the rules and procedures outlined in the student handbook. Please read this plan with your student, sign below, and have your student return this contract to me.

Attendance: Success in this class is dependent on the student being present for demonstrations and daily activities.

Tardies: Students are expected to be in their seats and working when the tardy bell rings. Any student who is tardy will sign the tardy record book. An excess of 3 tardies will result in a visit with the principal.


  1. Be courteous and polite.
  2. Be responsible.
  3. Keep your hands, feet, and all objects to yourself.
  4. Speak quietly and at appropriate times. Do not cause distractions.  
  5. Do not eat, drink, or chew gum in the classroom.
  6. Work every day!
All students who disobey a rule will sign the discipline record book. Any student who signs the discipline book 2 times will be assigned extra work, and the second and third time his/her parents will be called. If a student signs the book for the 4th time, s/he will be referred to the office.
I am very much looking forward to working with you and your child! If you have any concerns about your child, please contact me immediately by calling _phone #_.  My planning period is 1st  period, from 8:00 - 8:50 a.m. E-mail: 
Sincerely Yours,

Mrs. Anna Nichols
Student signature                   Parent signature                            
Parent phone # and email address: ____________________________________________
Please list any physical or medical conditions that Mrs. Nichols needs to know about:

     I explain to my students that there will be immediate consequences if they break a rule, but the procedures are different for my class than other classes they take so we will be practicing them. After the first few weeks they are in my class (and we have practiced, practiced, practiced the beginning, middle, and end of class procedures), I do begin issuing consequences if they fail to follow my procedures. For example, if they play at the end of class instead of cleaning their area, they do not leave until their area is cleaned up. Or, that particular student who let others clean up for him/her will have to clean the entire table/room the next day. I also make it a point to acknowledge and praise the ones who are working hard, paying attention to the details of cleaning up and making sure they haven't left any supplies out.

     Many times if a student forgets "how to be respectful" I will just remind them not to walk away from me while I am talking (it is rude), or I will say, "Eye contact!" if a student has trouble looking at me. I remind my students that when they make eye contact it tells other people they are not afraid, that they are confident and secure, and that they are respectfully listening to the speaker. I have learned the hard way not to fall into the trap of arguing with a student if s/he insists innocence. I will tell the student that we are talking about his/her own behavior choices and no-one else's. If s/he disagrees, I am available to discuss it further after class. I try to employ the "warm-strict" attitude so students understand that I care about them too much to allow them to misbehave.

     Eventually, I sometimes need to make the consequences a bit heavier if students habitually  fail to follow my procedures. Coercive discipline strategies are not as effective as they once were, however, a combination of these strategies have worked for me:  loss of art privileges, assigning sentences/essays about respectful behavior, discipline write-ups, and parent phone calls. I have rarely needed to turn one of those discipline forms into the administration because most of my students do respond to my attempts at correcting their behavior.

          On occasion, I do have students who refuse to settle down and behave, regardless of my efforts, and I have needed to ask administrators for immediate help. In the 11 years I have taught at this middle school, (primarily blue-collar with roughly 60% poverty in the Birmingham-metro. area) I remember pressing the "call" button 4 times, once because a student refused to leave my room, once because a student was being so disruptive (dancing, singing, etc. to entertain everyone, ignoring me) that I could not teach, and twice because of fights that broke out in my room. I had a student earlier in the year who would not settle down until he entered the mentoring program sponsored by one of our assistant administrators (nothing I did made any difference with him). Also, I remember asking an administrator to help me with a difficult class (one 7th grade, one 8th grade) at least twice in the last 10 years, just as a visible help with reinforcing my classroom rules. Both times, my principal and assistant principal were more than willing to pay a visit with the wild group and have a "little chat." I am so grateful to my administration for backing me up! It really does take a team, a community, (including teachers, administrators, students, and parents) to make this work. None of us is in this alone!

        One of the best pieces of advice ever given to me (it might have been handed to me on a figurative silver platter) was this one: "It's not YOU, it's THEM!" The wonderful person behind that statement was Elizabeth Ware, former AAEA Secondary Art Teacher of the Year and retired high school/middle school art teacher. She took me under her wing when I was a new teacher and listened well. She encouraged my efforts, always reminding me that not all the responsibility was mine.

It is the students' responsibility to learn and respect the teacher. As much influence that we teachers have in the classroom, many times there are situations that are simply beyond our control. Have you ever had a student eat glitter to see if it would come out in his poop? How about another kid who decided to snort pixie-stick powder in front of you, or a disturbed young man who once drew highly realistic pornographic pictures all over the table, or a student with an ankle bracelet because he was awaiting trial for shooting a friend? I have experienced all these in my little suburban classroom!

     If you are having consistent trouble with a student or group and everything you have tried has been for naught, ask for help! Talk to other teachers and ask what they have done under similar circumstances! I do not mean to encourage over-use of the "call" button, but one of the reasons our administrators are there is to support us and protect the students' safety and right to an education. If they know you have a great classroom management plan and you have already done everything you can do to deal with a situation, it has been my experience that they are more than willing to help! There is no shame in seeking answers. We are all part of a team and a community, after all!

Editor's note: Managing student behavior involves far more than discipline techniques. In order to create an environment for student success, the teacher needs to provide quality instruction as well as appropriate motivation. Most importantly, the teacher needs to have the right attitude for leadership in the classroom. Finally, having a solid classroom management plan with rules and procedures set up from the beginning of the year is also extremely important - students need to be very clear about what the teacher's expectations are.

disclaimer: These are a set of ideas about being proactive in teaching based on classroom experience as well as various education authors. Many times there are circumstances in the classroom that are beyond any teacher's control, especially when serving at-risk populations or in environments where those in administration fail to provide effective leadership in a school. Sometimes, regardless of the prevailing theories about teacher responsibility, the teacher is not to be blamed for out of control students. Finally, we do NOT recommend that you put any of these strategies into practice if your administration disagrees with them. 

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols


Casey Walker said...

Can you provide some information on what the "discipline book" is and how you use it?


This is just a 3-ring binder with the discipline forms inside - I don't actually use it any more. I probably need to update this page! I used to have the kids sign their discipline form in the book when they were acting up after being warned. Now, they fill out a "Think Sheet" the first time, then I just write them up if it continues and call their parents. The "Think Sheet" is available here:
I will say that Michael Linsin disagrees with me about having students do this kind of writing while in time-out, but I have found it to be a valuable reflection for the kids to work on. It also helps that they temporarily lose their art privileges to have to sit in the "Isolation Desk" and are separated from the group for a bit. I hope this explanation helps!

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Thanks for all the helpful information! I was wondering since you mentioned above about students breaking classroom materials (crayons/pencils etc), what exactly did you do about it? I work in a very urban area (81% are on free breakfast/lunch) and teach K-8th grade art. This is my first year teaching and I am really struggling a lot with disrespect in the classroom. My administration at the school has not been very supportive and I do not have a mentor. My middle school classes (6th-8th) have been the most difficult, and been the ones who have been breaking my art materials. Any information you could give would be greatly appreciated!


If students are being disrespectful to you, they need a firm consequence. Also, if they are breaking art materials they need to take a "break" from the privilege of using them! What consequences have you tried already? In my classroom, students who abuse supplies will write instead of using the materials. Depending upon the scenario (and if the students have already been warned), I will assign essays about respectful behavior and/or sentences. I also have a lengthy discipline assignment that goes home with the kids if they break the classroom rules more than 3 times in quick succession.
Finally, the most important thing to remember when disciplining students is to remain calm, be kind, and be consistent. The students need to be reminded that the rules exist to protect them and their right to learn, and that we as teachers are not "out to get them!" When we enforce consequences we do it because we care. Middle school kids need a lot more structure than they will ever admit, and they respond positively to caring teachers who hold them accountable. I have found that kids need to know that we care about them and that building relationships is extremely important. I am sorry to hear that the administration is not supporting your efforts, hopefully that will change soon! Good luck! Email me at if you have more questions.

Laura Fiore said...

Can you please explain what is/how the 'visual journal' is used? Thank you!


Hi, Laura!
The visual journal is basically just a binder or a sketchbook where my middle school students keep drawings, ideas, designs, bellringers, class notes, etc. Some years we make our own sketchbooks, and some years I order them for the kids to use. All the students keep a visual journal, but of course some kids have a LOT more content in theirs if they enjoy drawing. My students get out their visual journals at the beginning of class most days in order to complete their bell ringers. They sometimes use these for the entire class period when planning for a project, also. I hope this helps!