Last year, I had a tough 6th grade group at the end of the day. Out of a class of 32 students, I had 10 boys (TEN!) who consistently created issues for themselves and others; ADHD, ODD, IEP, 504, you name it - we had it in that class! After months of consistent, fair accountability, one by one I was able to win over these rebellious boys BECAUSE I fought to maintain a good attitude toward them NO MATTER WHAT THEY DID (and it wasn't easy...)

My attitude is invisible, but it colors every interaction I have. Nobody can see them, but my thoughts paint a peaceful classroom environment or a stormy one. My attitude is a very powerful thing; it IS the pillar of classroom management. Just like a tree trunk supports all the branches and leaves, so my attitude supports a positive, productive learning environment. Do I have the attitude of a strong leader? Am I consistently, firmly and kindly holding students accountable? Am I speaking positive words, seeking out good things about the kids? 

image credit; pinterest.com
That 6th grade group was a struggle every day, they tried to start fights with each other, they complained about every project, and several defied any and every little instruction I gave. However, the light eventually came on! 

They finally began to settle down and enjoy the class (and me) because I forced myself to believe in them, to see them for what they COULD BECOME. Because I was determined to enjoy that class, and EVERY kid in it, regardless, my group of 6th grade boys began responding positively to me, the previously hated teacher! Finally, after THREE MONTHS of struggling with disruptive and defiant behaviors, the students began smiling at me, joking with me, being respectful, and working hard. Win!

Atti-TOOT-ers, by Jo Noseda, (YouTube); this hilarious video is about how Mrs. Noseda deals with bad student attitudes in her elementary classroom:

Am I focusing on the good in in my students and colleagues? If my day is going poorly, am I choosing to laugh instead of to get annoyed? If the kids are acting up, am I consistently following through with my classroom management plan in a positive, affirming, caring way? Or, am I allowing my irritation to show? 

Failure is inevitable if I allow a negative, complaining attitude to take over. Success follows a cheerful attitude; a cheerful attitude follows positive thoughts. 

Our attitude as teachers sets the tone! 

Fact #1: There is an invisible power struggle in the classroom; students will seek to gain power over other students AND the teacher. Whether this is wrong or right, this "dominance" behavior happens quite often and it can be infuriating! I have learned the hard way not to show that I am upset when this happens. The times I gave in to negativity and became angry or annoyed at the kids, the atmosphere in the room became toxic. Positive words are the antidote to that poisonous air! Finding something, anything, good to focus my mind on is healing both to me and to the kids. 

Fact #2: We give away our power when we get upset. Classroom management expert Fred Jones is famous for saying, "Calm is strength; upset is weakness." Students think it is hilarious when teachers lose their cool, and some kids will purposefully push buttons just to see the show. They do not have much respect for teachers who are easily upset. But, they respect and admire a teacher who remains pleasant and calm even in crazy situations!

Fact #3: We can strengthen our students, and they us, when positive words are spoken. Even when disciplining, remember that we are helping students by holding them accountable. I say, "I care too much about you to allow you to behave this way..." Also, teach kids to speak positive, encouraging words to each other (and to teachers.) Have them practice encouraging each other and their artwork. If I hear kids complaining or being overly negative, I will nip it in the bud! My classroom is a "No Complaining Zone!"

This video by author and speaker Brooks Gibbs sums up the power struggle really well: How To Stop a Bully. It isn't necessarily about the student/teacher relationship, but this kind of dominance behavior happens in the classroom between students and teachers. Students do try to intimidate us; sometimes with blatantly disrespectful language and sometimes with a subtly defiant attitude. 

How can we deal with the power struggle? By remaining positive and calm, no matter what. Also, by refusing to argue with kids and by holding them accountable for their disrespectful behavior. "Having high expectations is part of caring for and respecting someone." Doug Lemov, Teach Like a Champion

So, what is the invisible pillar of great classroom management?

It is simply the teacher maintaining a pleasant, joyful, calm-assertive attitude. 

Principal Gerry Brooks (on dealing with negative people): Like White On Rice

Stay tuned for next week's article; "What My Dog Taught Me About Classroom Management; Having a Calm-Assertive Attitude for Leadership."

Further resources: 

Doug Lemov, Teach Like a Champion

"As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." Proverbs 23:7

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." Philippians 4:8
"So encourage each other and give each other strength, just as you are doing now." I Thessalonians 5:11

photo credit; pinterest.com

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols



"I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it." Pablo Picasso
What is "Growth Mindset?" This is an idea originally developed by Dr. Carol Dweck, based on the fact that our abilities and intelligence levels are not "fixed;" they can grow and improve with time and effort. When a student gives up in frustration, crumpling up the paper, they are suffering from a "Fixed Mindset" - they really believe that they simply can't draw. However, if we understand that our attitude and work habits determine success rather than our current abilities, achievement can soar! Purposefully teaching Growth vs. Fixed Mindset can help any student from age 5 - 105. Also, it helps when the teacher demonstrates how to turn a mistake into something beautiful. You don't have to start over every time you mess up! For more information, check out this article: "Dr. Dweck’s discovery of fixed and growth mindsets have shaped our understanding of learning."


Art projects that help students realize they "can" do art: 
non-objective middle school marker designs based on line types

  • Non-objective style pieces such as Piet Mondrian designs, scribble designs, or Jackson Pollack action painting 
  • Sculpture based on design, not drawing skills; kids love to build with their hands! 
  • Playing games such as "Exquisite Corpse," where students collaborate to make something that is funny, not serious at all
  • Pure design assignments such as quilts, African textile designs, etc.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain exercises such as drawing upside down or blind contour drawing
  • Have students do a pre-instruction drawing before tackling any kind of realistic style assignment (portraits, figure drawing, landscape painting, etc.). They can compare their pre-instruction drawings to the final piece and see growth! The final piece will not be "perfect," but it will be a whole lot better than the pre-instruction piece!

artwork credit: doodlealley.com

Essential Steps To Turn Art I Students Into Artists, article by Matt Christenson, theartofed.com

Room To Grow, by Anna Nichols, practicing Growth Mindset in middle school through critique

Erik Wahl: The Art of Breakthrough Thinking

The Power of Belief - Mindset and Success, Eduardo Briceno,  TED Talk, Youtube, recommended for high school or middle school

                                                              Embrace the Shake, Phil Hansen, TED Talk, Youtube


Photo credit: Kim Brodie

Craftsmanship takes time, patience, and effort and is part of what goes into making our artwork look great. However, all the little imperfections are what give the piece character and make it interesting! There is no such thing as perfection in art; to err is human. 
Making Art Fun For a Perfectionist Kid, arthistorykids.com, article by Lotus Stewart

Class Dojo Growth Mindset Episode 1: A Secret About the Brain, Youtube (to view all 5 videos of this excellent animated series, click on this link)

Regina's Mistake; Reading Rainbow, Youtube (features a reading of the children's book as well as interviews with 3 artists)


Beautiful Oops, by Barney Saltzberg, children's book, (for middle/upper elementary.. faster pace narration)  Beautiful Oops, by Barny Saltzberg, for PK-1st, much slower pace)

The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds, children's book, (narrated by American man, slow) The Dot, (narrated by English woman, more animated)

Ish, by Peter H. Reynolds, children's book


Zootopia, Try Everything (Shakira), Youtube


               Salt in His Shoes; children's book about Michael Jordan as a boy, by Deloris Jordan, Youtube

               The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes, by Mark Pett, Youtube

credit: lightbulbs and laughter



Clean Up!

students from my previous school show off their artists' hands
This past May, I left behind my middle school classroom of 13 years at a large public school to be the art teacher at my son's very small private Christian school. I am closer to home, I get to teach all grade levels K4-12th grade, and I am only a few doors and one flight of steps away from my son! It is my dream job, but there have been a few surprises! I have a whole new respect for elementary classroom teachers, as well as elementary art teachers. 

Being an elementary "specials" teacher has opened my eyes to some unique challenges! I was used to seeing my students every day, but now I don't have much time with them. If there are any behavior issues, it takes much longer to iron out the creases. There is just a completely different dynamic to the elementary art classroom, especially when you are the new teacher!  

One of the biggest changes in dynamic has been the clean up routine. At my previous school, I didn't allow anyone to leave until the room was restored to order, dismissing the first ones to clean up thoroughly after I did my "inspection." The kids were highly motivated to go see their friends between classes, so they desperately wanted to be dismissed... sometimes I would hold kids after the bell if they didn't do a good job. Middle school kids also didn't want to be marked tardy to their next class so this was a pretty effective motivator. 

Elementary kids? Now that's a different story! They want to STAY in Art class as long as possible, and will pretend they don't hear the teacher at all when clean up time is announced. Getting little kids to put away art materials is a challenge, to say the least. They are enjoying art, happily gluing or drawing or coloring. They are loving it so much that it has been necessary to figure out a variety of ways to motivate them to stop! Attention getters are great ("Classity class class!" ... "If you can hear my voice, clap one time," etc.), but kids need a reason to actually put down the materials. External motivators, here we come! 

Since it is a small school, the classes are manageable. I know about whole class reward systems (star charts, clip charts, etc.), but I really wanted to focus more on individual or small group behaviors at the beginning of the year. So, I relentlessly documented behaviors for each student, carrying around a clip board and making a list of kids who were doing the right thing so their classroom teacher could award them a Dojo point for "Great Art Classroom Behavior," and talking to individual students about their behavior. I did this for every class, from day one. However, I didn't want the classroom teacher to be the one responsible for what happened in Art! I am more of a partner with the classroom teacher than I was at the middle school, but I take full responsibility for managing the class while they are in my room! The kids need to learn to respect the art teacher's authority just as much as they respect their classroom teacher's. 

A third grade group cuts up a patterned square after viewing The Perfect Square, a children's book by Michael Hall (on Youtube). The assignment was to use all the pieces to make something new, just like the square did in the video. The square of paper was patterned with the frottage technique one day, and then made into something new the next class period. I called this project, "Frottage Collage!"

One of the first strategies I tried was having the cleanest table group line up first - being first in line is a coveted privilege, right? For some groups it was effective, especially K4, K5, and 3rd grade. For everyone else, this plan bombed. They ignored me completely when I announced, "I am looking for the table group who is cleaning up the fastest!" Then, when we finally got in line to wait for their classroom teacher, the kids argued about lining up in number order, or who was supposed to be line leader, or door holder, etc. Every classroom teacher has their own method for lining up the kids; any other arrangement is met with protest! 

The second strategy I tried was using my "teacher voice" to call out individual students who were not following instructions to clean up. This strategy was pretty effective, but one second grader piped up, "We got in trouble just because we didn't clean up?!" In my mind, I was thinking, "Really?" But I leaned down and calmly told him in a low voice, "You need to do what the teacher tells you to do; not following instructions is disobeying." (Things that make you go, "Hmmmmm...")

Next, at the beginning of class everyone practiced the clean up routine a couple of times until we got it right. I dumped out a box of supplies at each table, coached them to work together as a team to put them back, and we practiced lining up calmly and quietly, sometimes repeatedly. You would think that the kids would do a better job at cleaning up after that, right? They did, but only for that day. The next time we met for class the routine spiraled down into chaos, again. I see all my elementary classes twice each week except for 5th and 6th grade who only meet once. They should have remembered what to do! Positive motivation and repetition can only go so far, sometimes a firm consequence is in order.

Finally, I printed out some tickets on colored paper. The green tickets have a picture of a bear with his paw raised up in a "High Five," and a caption that says, "I did grrreat in Art class today!" (I got this idea from Kim Brodie Metro - thank you, Kim!) The red tickets are smaller and printed with captions such as, "I need to practice following instructions at clean up time," or, "I need to practice obeying the first time," etc. (idea from Maggie Moschell - thank you, Maggie!) I told the kids (1st grade - 4th) that they would go home with either a red ticket or a green ticket that day, that the choice was theirs. Finally, they began taking things a little more seriously. 

3rd grade student's new creation after cutting up his "perfect square;" work in progress
The music teacher saw the tickets on my desk and thought they were a good idea - she asked if I handed them to the kids or to their teacher. I give the red notes directly to the teacher, who staples the note inside the child's planner. (For more severe behavior issues, I call or email parents directly. I don't want to rely on a written note that could just be covertly thrown away by the child.)

The next strategy I will pull out of my toolbox will be a whole class reward system where the group can earn points toward a Free Art Day. Finally, if there are any kids who continue to act up, I will pull out my discipline assignments. I think by the fourth week of school and four, five, or six art classes there has been plenty of opportunity for the kids to learn the ropes! 

I know it will take time for me to establish the structure I want; it's only been three weeks after all! It has been really interesting to see how well my new elementary students do at the beginning of class and during the lesson. The issues seem to always arise during clean up! As the new teacher, I know that I need to be patient - kids are testing me to see exactly where the art classroom boundaries are. Rome wasn't built in a day! It will take consistent discipline on my part, a balance of positive motivators as well as consequences for misbehavior, and developing good relationships with my students. 

Classroom management is extremely important, and worth all the extra effort it takes to provide a safe and structured learning environment. The structure just has to be built one little bit at a time. 

"Note Home:" document was printed out on green paper (idea from Kim Metro)

"Note Home:" document was printed on red paper (idea from Maggie Moschell)

Author's note: I have not yet used a whole class reward system. Instead, I look for a mystery artist during clean up, watching to see if this particular student does all the things required. If so, that kid gets a special note home along with a small prize! This is the most effective strategy yet - the kids have no idea if they are the mystery artist or not and it motivates all the kids to do a good job! 

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols



Here is a compilation of some of the best ideas I have found on the Internet for ways to keep kids of all ages engaged even on the last day of school! (Scroll to the bottom of this post if you are looking for award ideas and resources to write positive and effective report card comments.)

a note about end of the year behaviors:
My plan for the end of the year madness fits right in with the ideas for developing intrinsic motivation in this edutopia article by David Palank. If one of my middle school students acts up, I pull them aside and tell them that they will not be participating in the sculpture project until they write a one page essay about HOW THEY PLAN TO BEHAVE from now until May 25. ("Self Persuasion")
I ask them, "What are you going to DO? What are you NOT going to do in my class?" Then, I look the student straight in the eyes and say, "If this happens again, there will be a discipline assignment and a parent contact. Do you WANT that to happen?"
I know, I know - consequences are technically a form of extrinsic motivation, but the above strategy works because it lays responsibility for misbehavior squarely on the shoulders of the students. There is no reason for ME to get upset with their behavior and lecture and scold. The one who should be getting upset with the behavior is the student!
I have divvied out several of these quick essays in the last few weeks: students understood exactly what they were doing that was inappropriate AND they outlined specific ways to behave that were better choices! (There have been a few students who went home with a discipline assignment to be signed by their parents - they lost art participation time as well in order to write the discipline assignment.)
So far, the end of year misbehaviors in my middle school classroom have been very mild - the kids have been respectful to me, are working hard, and are taking responsibility for their actions.
I had been dreading these last few weeks of school because of the wild behavior I have seen in the past; not anymore! Mischief managed!


This year, after the art supplies were put away and the kids helped me clean the room, I showed them the below video and they went to town! All my middle school kids loved it, even the ones who said they "didn't want to do a friendship bracelet" wound up making one:

How To Make a Friendship Bracelet With a Cardboard Loom, Youtube

40 End of the Year Cleanup Jobs For Your Students, by Jennifer Borel, theartofed.com

How a Student Survey Can Improve Your Classroom, by Suzanne Capek Tingley, wgu.edu

Mascot Mural For School: Grids, by Eric Gibbons, artedguru.com ... this is a low-mess collaborative drawing that could be adapted to upper elementary, middle, or high school

4 Engaging End of the Year Projects To Keep You Sane,  by Tracy Hare, theartofed.com, middle or high school

Feeling a Bit Like An Artist Magician, by Peter Sansom ... upper elementary, middle, or high school (this blog post is about repeated drawings in a pattern...)

5 Legitimate Reasons To Take Your Students Outside, by Lindsey Moss, theartofed.com ... upper elementary, middle, or high school

6 Innovative Ways To Use Up Leftover Paint, by Abby Schukei, theartofed.com ... upper elementary, middle, or high school

How To End the School Year In Peace and Harmony (Or How To Keep Them Engaged Until the End!), by Amy Zschaber, artfulartsyamy.com ... middle or high school

5 Super Fun End of the Year Projects, by Michelle East, createartwithme.com ... middle or elementary school

End of the Year Activities, Cassie Stephens, Youtube ... elementary school

Floating On to _____ Grade!! End of Year Project!, by elementaryartfun.blogspot.com ... elementary school

Scrap Paper Art, by Sheryl Depp, primarilyartwithmrsdepp.blogspot.com ... elementary school

6 Activities To Make Your Art Room Even More Fun, by Alicia Eggers Kaczmarek, theartofed.com ... elementary or middle school

Pre-K - K End of Year Art Projects, by Audra Wallace, scholastic.com 

Save The Best For Last, by Jessica Balsley, theartofed.com ... elementary school

Other ideas for engaging, low mess projects for the last few days of school: 

  • Stations: Have a variety set up for kids to choose activities such as drawing books, puzzles, games, Legos, etc. 
  • Origami
  • Flextangles
  • Weaving
  • Photography - alphabet scavenger hunt outside
  • Texture rubbing contest outside - all you need is paper and crayons; who can find the most textures?
  • Paper Airplane contest; students can throw them at the teacher on the last day of school!
  • Pop Up Cards or Books (link takes you to the Pop-Up channel on Youtube)
  • Flip Books
  • Art Games - link takes you to a listing of a variety of art games
  • Drawing Games (Exquisite Corpse, etc.)
  • Sculpture Games (Sculptionary with modeling clay, marshmallow challenge, etc.)
  • Paper Dolls or Characters: directions on craftsy.com or directions on jampaper.com (use patterned paper, wrapping paper, wallpaper samples, etc. for clothing and for younger children cut out templates to trace for shirts, pants, etc.)
  • Youtube playlists; here is mine on sculpture
  • Roll a _____ Games: (Below is a design by art teacher Hannah Smith - more designs can be found on Pinterest)
  • Scrambled Art Grid Puzzles: more examples can be found on Pinterest


Handmade awards; gold spray-painted palettes, paintbrushes, mannequins, wooden candle sticks, and wooden plaques by Francisco and Janell Matas (for high school outstanding student in photography, ceramics, sculpture, drawing, painting, digital art, AP studio, adapted art artist, adapted art, jewelry/metal, and outstanding senior)

Certificate Designs by Leanne Godbee:

Abby found these plastic party favors in the party supply section of Hobby Lobby. She painted them gold and added the jewels.

Click on this link, Art Award Template, to download a DIY paper template to make this nifty art trophy! The design is from Leslie Gould at heythatsmyartteacher.blogspot.com 


    101 Report Card Comments To Use Now, by Genia Connell, scholastic.com

    100 Report Card Comments, educationworld.com

    Comment Ideas For Report Cards, by Chantal Latour, teachnet.com

    "Wait... That's All?" Why That End-Of-Year Art Portfolio Isn't Thicker, by Mrs. Joanna Elliott, mrselliottart.blogspot.com

    article by Mrs. Anna Nichols