How to Cope When your Management Plan Fails

I pride myself on my classroom management. Maybe not always success with my management but my effort toward consistent classroom management. Because it’s something I feel I am always improving and working toward, I might get a little stubborn when things don’t go the way I hoped they would.

You can read more about my CM (Classroom Management) philosophy right here.  I have a simple, straight forward and to the point plan.  I honestly believe that any student can and should follow this. Here is where I get kind of stubborn. The 1st grade group (you know, the one that sent me into labor) just isn’t cooperating with the management plan. I tried every tactic, I got to the last step of my plan each and every class period and none of the kids seemed to care. I knew I had a long-term substitute on her way for the next three months and I just didn’t want to leave her with this mess. It wasn’t fair. What is a teacher to do?

Me, being not only stubborn, but as I look back, maybe a fool, decide it would be a great idea to call my principal in and have her observe me with these students to try to get some pointers. Lets just say I was downright embarrassed. It took about 5 minutes to get all of their eyes and ears. They JUST KEPT TALKING.

Here is what she told me: My management plan was great, but it wasn’t working for these kids. When something isn’t working, what do you do? MAKE A CHANGE.  Oh I did not want to hear this. In my mind the kids should make the change for ME. I was the teacher. I am in control and I run my class the way I want. They don’t get to dictate it. Oh do I sound mean now?  But as I thought more about it I realized she was probably right. Good teachers adapt to the needs of their students and put their pride aside.

So here is what I did.

I use the letters ART for GROUP voice level and eyes and ears and good clean up.  Students lose letters if they don’t follow one of my three simple rules as a group. Instead of losing letters, with all of my 1st grade classes, I decided to have them EARN the letters, which goes in accordance to our Positive Behavior initiative at our school.  Students in 1st grade ONLY start with no letters. WHen I notice them listening quietly, coming into the room quiet, following direction the first time, I make a big huge fat deal about it and put up a letter and give tons and tons of praise. As they work, I give lots of praise and give out character slips. Everything I can do boost up the class. Needless to say this is exhausting. Does it go against my philosophy that kids should just DO the right thing and not be rewarded at every turn? Maybe.

Did it work?

Yes, I did notice a change in behavior from the students. It was not perfect, but it was better. Instead of waiting for them to do something wrong and reacting, I was praising them when I saw them do something right and being proactive. In general positivity is important to me and I do agree with this new plan for 1st grade.  On a side note, I don’t think you need to put on a dog and pony show just to get kids to listen. I think their job at school is to learn and I am not an entertainer. My job is to teach art.

Oh to feel so torn.  In reflection, I think the answer is to make changes as you need to adapt to student needs. You as the teacher need to know when you might be giving in or when the change is necessary to get the desired result.

Want more Classroom Management conversation? Check out all the posts on the blog on Classroom Management, or by clicking Discover More on the side and finding CM in the pulldown. Enjoy!


What do you do when your classroom management plan fails you? 

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • I hear you Jess!! I don’t do rewards for classes unless I have exhausted every single other possibility. Here are some more ideas that might help you without feeling like you are bribing them to do the right thing:

    1) I have been doing this with my 2nd graders – as they are the most talkative group on the planet. I know 2nd grade is just a social grade level – but this was to the point where I was super frustrated- they just wouldn’t stop talking over my instruction!!! I started to put tally marks on the board. Each tally mark was one minute they owed back to me with silent work time. This isn’t exactly a positive or a negative solution as it is much more a natural consequence. I have never really understood having a kid sit out at recess and not do anything – generally they are serving time for not doing anything. Anyway – after a few tally marks the side conversations quit. Once work time started I set a timer for their tally marks – each time I heard a voice I restarted the timer. It took them 3 restarts to realize I was serious and then it was over. The next time they came I told them I was going to do it again – NO TALLY MARKS!! wahoo!

    2) A version of the above is to just write tally marks on the board each time someone blurts out or is talking – then next class try and get less and less. Sometimes just the visual is enough.

    3) This other idea only really works with older kids – so it won’t be a help with your 1st graders. Make a chart for your room based on how the kids sit – in my room their tables have colors. On this chart groups earn points by not only doing the right thing – but they get points when other teams are off task. So if one group is putting the markers end to end and karate chopping them apart – all the other groups on task get a point. When ONE group fills the chart they get a small reward – a pencil, fun eraser. The whole class does not get anything – just that one table. This works really well for the older kids in the spring when they get all loopy.

    I hope this gives you some more ideas or sparks something else you could do – because I’ve been there and it just doesn’t feel right to bribe for good behavior.

    • Amanda, as always I know why we always worked so well together. Great minds think alike. I really appreciate some of your tips and I am definitely going to try them when I go back to work. I like the tally (and I think whole brain teaching uses this) idea because it’s simple, quick and easy and doesn’t require a thousand stickers. The competition thing sounds interesting, too, especially when other kids get the points, not the off task table. I can see using this for only the classes who really need it. Yay for flexibility and thank you for taking the time to comment.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think you were being too strict at all, just pretty pragmatic. I have 40 art classes, and most of them run just great. I am very strict and it works for me (the kids also tell me they like it too). A couple classes are disrespectful and chatty, so I changed my plan for them. If they go to time out, they stay in time out and complete an alternative work packet that goes over the same concepts (like we are learning analogous colors right now), but they don’t get to participate in class. One day, after two kids received packets for the day to work on , the rest of the class went REALLY well. Maybe it is going negative, but after doing this I praised and praised the rest of the class for their behavior AND their work. And that’s what it really should be about- a focus on their artwork!

    • Vivian

       Oh Spring fever! I need some tips…What are some things you do that reinforce working quietly in the classroom? Many of my students get really chatty during the time that they are working, and I am often reminding them to use quieter inside voices in art class.

      • Before spring break I had a similar problem and my ART Method wasn’t working. (I take letters down as the room gets louder, if we loose all the letters, we loose the privilege to talk.)
        I put each table up against each other in competition. If they were doing a nice job, the table got stars up on the board. Table with the most starts got a character slip at the end of the art class (a program at our school that promotes good character). The competition worked really really well!
        Good luck!