What does the beginning of the school year look like in your classroom? What should it look like? Classroom management is key, but how we go about establishing it is different for everyone. The guys share what happens on the first day in their classrooms (3:45), Andrew talks about his two tenets for classroom management (10:00), and finishes the show by stumbling into a possibly brilliant idea for a new project to start the year (16:45). Full episode transcript below.
Welcome to “Art and Radio”, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz. When I first started teaching, I was all about rules, regulations and expectations on the first day and that’s all I would cover, nothing else, just drill that into them. And I always thought that if I didn’t do that, my class would fall apart and I’d be fighting battles the rest of the year with my kids. I’ve talked about it before, I think last year around his time with Jeannine Campbell, if I remember correctly, on an episode here. And we discussed why we need to get past going over rules and consequences and getting through syllabi, all of that. You need to think about how you’re gonna get your kids engaged, get them seeing how cool art class is gonna be, get them building and making and creating. And so, when we talk about this today, and I want you to think about your class, our idea here this week on AOE is all about trying something new, trying some new ideas as you start this school year.
This podcast is part of that. So, think about why you can let your kids start making, start working, start creating on that first day because when you do that, you show your kids what your class is really like and you can set the tone for an entire semester or an entire year. And that approach, it helps kids buy into what you’re doing, what you’re trying to accomplish and when your kids are engaged, when they are motivated, you’re gonna have so many fewer discipline problems and your classroom management is going to be so much better. Taking that proactive approach, I think is absolutely vital. You can build culture, build community, build a classroom where kids want to be. It just helps your classroom management so so much.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that fun and games is the way to successful classroom management. There is a lot you need to do as a teacher. You need to develop an environment that is conducive to building a community, conducive to kids being engaged and when that happens, that’s when you’re gonna have a classroom where learning can happen. You’re setting yourself up for a successful and engaging semester when your kids are buying into what you’re selling from the very first day. So, I want to talk today about how we need to start the year in order to make it effective, to make your classroom management as good as it can be and as we go through this discussion, think about what you can do differently and what you can improve. What’s new this year that you can try that’s going to make your classroom management even better. How do you start those first days to make them the best that they can be? And I want to talk about a lot of those ideas with Andrew, so I’m gonna bring him on right now.
All right, Andrew, welcome back. I know you’re headed back to school soon but first, how are you?
Andrew: I am good and yeah, I’m not there yet but I’m starting to kind of get serious and prep and plan and wrap my brain around the upcoming year.
Tim: All right. Well, before you get to the whole year, we need to talk about the first day of school and theme week this week on The Art of Ed is all about classroom management and just kind of how to start the school year off right and new things that you want to do this school year. So, as teachers are either getting back to school or thinking about getting back to school, I want to talk about how to start the year off right with expectations, rules, consequences, all that kind of stuff. Very beginning, on the first day, kids walk into your classroom, what does your room look like?
Andrew: Well, it’ll be probably the cleanest it will be for the entire year, I mean, that’s first and foremost. I don’t know, pretty typical art room. I’m in an unusual situation this year in that I will be back to being split between two buildings. I haven’t done that in a while. I’ll be like quarter time in the middle school building and then three-quarters time in the high school building. The high school building is like brand new new, like no one’s ever been in it before and the middle school is a refurbished, it’s the refurbished old high school, so it’s new to me and it’s new to my students. They’ve never been in there. So, I would say a fairly typical art room, one of the things that I cannot get myself to believe in is seating charts so, I mean, I just kind of let kids pick where they want to sit, where it seems natural and then we just jump right in to some expectation type stuff.
Tim: Okay. Well, I want to talk about that seating chart thing in just a second.
Andrew: Okay. Yeah.
Tim: I want to ask you about something else first and I will say, I want my room on the first day to be as clean, as organized as possible and I always had my labels out, I have the seating chart, we’ll talk about why in just a little bit. Do you hang up posters or prints or artwork on that first day? Do you leave your walls blank? ‘Cause I know a lot of teachers want the room to be decorative, they want it to look like an art room. But other teachers say, these walls are blank, I want to fill it with your art this upcoming year and give kids a little bit of incentive to see their work up on the walls. Where do you stand on that? What do you-
Andrew: Okay. Sometimes on this podcast, I think we tried to find the middle ground and kind of say, “It’s okay, your way, my way, everyone’s got a way”. I’m definitely gonna fall into the camp of I want my room to be a visual explosion. I want my students to be even a little bit disoriented. I want them to feel like, “Whoa, this doesn’t feel like school”. Because by the time, I mean, I’m a middle school and high school secondary teacher. By the time kids come to me, they’re so burned out and disenfranchised with school that anything that smells or looks like school, immediately it’s like, “No, I don’t want to do this”. So, when I have comic book posters and movie posters and crazy stuff and big things and old vintage toys, I want my room to feel more like a funhouse or like, I’ve said this before, but I want it to feel like the Island of Forgotten Toys in the Rudolph movie. I want them to have an experience visually. And I know that there’s going to be listeners out there and even students who are like, “I don’t like this, it’s too much”.
You know, I try to be accommodating with those kids and maybe like get them a spot where they’re not looking at the visual explosion that is my room but that’s kind of how I do things and that’s true to me and true to my nature. I’m, when it comes to my room, I’m a more is more kind of guy.
Tim: Okay, nice. Yeah, and I’m exactly the opposite.
Andrew: Who would have guessed?
Tim: But one thing I don’t talk about a lot, but I’m very influenced by, is sort of Montessori approach to education and I love having a clean, calm environment and so that vomiting of color all over the room that you love I think is just really stressful for a lot of kids. And so, I think when you can provide a very clean, simple atmosphere, the kids can just come in and feel comfortable, they can feel relaxed. I think that allows them to concentrate a little bit more on what’s going on and allows them to feel a little less stress where, I see where you’re coming from as far as this needs to look different from school and I think I’m going for the same sort of approach but just doing it in a different way, where I want this room to stand out from a lot of the rooms where it’s not necessarily sterile but it’s clean and relaxing, if that makes sense. I feel like we’re gonna disagree again ’cause we just talked about this but, how can you not have a seating chart on the first day?
For me, I feel like it’s an absolute necessity to have kids come in, sit where they need to sit and just kind of show them that this is gonna be a well run classroom, I am very efficient in what I do, here’s where you’re gonna sit, let’s get to work, and just getting that, I guess, feeling of precision and efficiency, not necessarily like assembly line type stuff, but just we’re not gonna be wasting time, there’s not gonna be a lot of chaos, there’s not gonna be a lot of confusion. This is how things are gonna run. I think that’s a very important feeling for the first day and you’re not on board with that.
Andrew: Well, I’ll be the first to admit, I think there’s pros and cons to the way that I do things. And I’ve tried to be on board with seating charts but it’s not in my nature and then I just end up feeling not authentic to myself, I feel sorry for the kids that they’re not where they want to be and then they hate class and da-da-da-da-da. And it’s the same with the posters thing, like I’ve tried to be a little bit more clean and minimal but it’s just not me and then someone gives me a piece of artwork that’s like, “Hey, here’s Harley Quinn as a zombie”, and I’m like, “That’s amazing. I’m gonna put it up in this sprawling vomitus stuff that started in the corner of my room and now is spreading”. So, to some degree, it’s like, when it comes to classroom management, you have to do what’s true to yourself.
But I think I’ve tried … I was thinking about this when you told me we were gonna have this conversation. Oddly enough, I think if you were to say what are my two tenets of classroom management? They are excitement and empathy. I want my students to be excited, I want them to want to be there and I think if that is true, that curbs a lot of the sort of the behavioral stuff. And the other one is empathy, that I want them to be treated not even as I would want to be treated, but also as they would want to be treated. So, not having a seating chart shows them that I trust them to make good choices, I’m building rapport with them ’cause I’m not going to be the teacher who is so teacher-centric that I don’t trust them to sit somewhere, and I liken it to this. We’ve all been to professional development meetings where we are not being treated as professionals and as teachers the way that we would want to be treated. Right?
Andrew: And I’ve often said that when PD is done poorly, the main purpose of professional development is to build empathy in our teachers for how miserable our students lives must be like. Shut down your computer, don’t look at your phone, we know that the wealth of knowledge in the universe is on your phones but don’t look at it, look at me, I’m going to be talking to you over something that’s not relevant for the next 45 minutes. And I just think I want to treat students the way that I would want to be treated and I don’t want to go to a professional development meeting and be told, you’re going to be sitting by this guy who you don’t like and this girl who you have nothing in common with and it’s just like, trust me to make good choices and I think we can extend that to our students and, I don’t know, I think that’s why I do it.
Tim: No, that’s good. You make a very convincing argument. But I do need to push back a little bit. I want my kids to know that they’re in good hands and so when they come in and up on the board is the seating chart projected and at their seat is a little color coded name tag with period three and their name on it and they can come in and in 10 seconds find their seat and we can get to work like they know we’re gonna get down to business. They know that we’re focused and we can immediately move on to more things, more important things. I think it’s a good idea to be able to establish the fact that they are in a place where they can be comfortable, where the teacher’s in charge, we know what’s going on and it may be a little more teacher-centric like you said. But I think it’s important to establish that for at least my teaching style.
Andrew: Can we just establish that the first day of school totally sucks whether you use a seating chart or don’t use a seating chart and I think about it in an empathetic way again, from our students’ perspective. “Hey, school’s starting. Yay”. And the whole first day is rules and regulations and it’s so God dang boring and then it’s like, I just feel so bad for them that that’s why I want it to be exciting and I just think … You know, I’ve tried ice-breakers and I remember last year I’m like, “All right, so make this list of this, this, this, and this. Now go find someone who the question one answer …”. And this kid just goes, “Bro, no”. He was so over the ice-breaking activities and the get to know each other stuff. I’m like, okay, maybe we should just like jump right into it. I’ll treat you like a kid who’s been in the school system for nine years ’cause that’s the situation, and let’s just get going. None of this fake, artificial, let’s get to know each other stuff. I don’t know. Maybe there’s people out there who can pull that stuff off better than I can.
Tim: Yeah, well, it’s just, it goes back to that idea of authenticity and I just think those sorts of activities are inauthentic. So, let me talk to you about, I mean, two things I guess that you’ve brought up that I want to ask about. First, if we’re thinking about empathy and we’re putting ourself in our kids’ shoes, you don’t want to be boring but yet you still need to go over rules, you still need to talk about expectations. So, how do you approach that while still keeping a sort of empathetic feeling in mind?
Andrew: Well, you’re right because I do think on that first day you go set the tone and that is why I think it’s important that you not be boring on that first day but you’ve got to talk about what am I not okay with you guys doing and what are my expectations? I think, to make it as streamlined and as quick as possible is really important. One of the things I’ve started doing is, I encourage kids, I actually tell them I want them to do this, while I have to talk for the next 20 minutes over here’s this, here’s that, here’s how I run this, I want you to sketch, I want you to draw, I want you to take plasticine clay and just fidget and mess around because I know that they’re getting talked at all day long and to have sort of a class that’s a little different and has even the most simple creative release of like doodle, fidget with some clay or something, is a little bit different and I think that that’s worked pretty well for me. That’s kind of my go to.
Tim: Yeah, same here and I think it’s important to make art on the first day. The beginning of last school year we talked to Jeannine Campbell about what she does with making art on the first day and all the things that go along with that and so I think that’s something that you want to jump into right away because we are trying to establish that idea, like we’ve talked about repeatedly not only in this episode but other episodes as well. The art room is a unique place, it is a special place, it’s different than everything else that’s out there and that’s an easy way to sort of get that feeling established on the first day. Let kids draw. If you’re brave, left them paint. Get out some modeling clay. Maybe just letting them work with their hands, letting them do something different.
I’ve done things even where I’ll say, “Guys, there’s a lot of rules and expectations that need to be done, a lot that we need to go over, but we can get to those tomorrow, ’cause I know you’re burned out from the first six classes of the day. So, let’s go outside and draw”. And there’s nothing wrong with going outside for half an hour and just letting kids draw on the first day and that’s a memorable experience for them. That’s something that’s going to establish that idea that, “Hey, this class is fun, this class is different”, and it starts to build that rapport, it starts to build those relationships like you were talking about and so I think that’s a good idea.
Andrew: All right, I’m gonna go off on a weird tangent here.
Tim: It wouldn’t be a good podcast episode without an Andrew McCormick rant.
Andrew: So, I feel like I watch … I’ve gone through periods in my life where I don’t watch hardly any television and then I go through phases where I watch a lot of television. The only two TV things that I really like right now are sports, like real, honest to God, like baseball, football, [inaudible 00:17:08] ’cause it’s real and then reality TV shows that are like game shows. So, Chopped, Project Runway, American’s Next Top Model, all that stuff. I think that those shows have some of the greatest insight into what education should look like; fast, quick fire challenges, challenges that give people weird obstacles, like, “Hey, you’ve got to make a this”. So, as you were talking and I wasn’t listening, of course, I’m thinking, “Okay, what do I really want to do on my first day?”. What about this? Listen to this. This is like two birds in one stone.
What if at every table I have a bin of different materials? Collage material, drawing material, painting material, ceramic material. And then I just tell kids, “Hey, sit where you want. Look at the stuff on the table and think about where would you want to sit?”. And then on that first day, while I have to talk about some things and I know kids can listen and also work, there’s just little mini challenges like a little written description that says, “You and your table mates must blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah”. Right? And then at the end of the periods it’s like, “All right, let’s look and see what you did”, and it’s run kind of like those reality game show, obstacle, test kind of things that they have to do. I think that that could be both memorable, it also gets them to think about their own agency and choices and then they’ve got a table that they’re sitting at that’s not completely random. So, I’m gonna, I think, test that out this year. And I’ve never done that before so you just got me to think of an idea that I’ve never done.
Tim: There you go. There’s something there. I’m glad you could ignore me and come up with something brilliant for your first day. So, you’re gonna have to report back and let us know how that goes.
Andrew: It’ll probably be a just absolute failure but it’ll be fun.
Tim: It’ll be something new to try. It fits in with our theme week. And that’s the perfect place to close the show. Thanks for the awesome idea and thanks for joining me and we will talk to you soon.
Andrew: Yeah, my pleasure, man. Thanks.
Tim: I think Andrew’s on to something there. He may have accidentally stumbled across a great idea right at the end of our talk and I really hope he follows through with it. We’ll have to hit him up for some updates in the near future.
Now, before we end the show, I want to tell you about Art Ed PRO, the newest professional development offering from The Art of Ed. It is the essential subscription for art teachers. PRO is a service that offers video trainings, tutorials, downloads and resources and flat out PRO is a great way to do your professional development differently this year. It’s ongoing, those videos, those resources are available any time you need them whether you are working with specific media or assessment or classroom management or just anything that you want to do better in your classroom, PRO has it for you. Check out the entire library and start your free trial at theartofed.com/Pro. If you love it, you can subscribe or even better, get your school to subscribe for you. So many teachers are sharing Pro with their administrators and getting their entire team signed up. Now, your school probably has professional development money just waiting for an opportunity like this. So, if you’re interested, make sure you check it out. It’s just a better way to do PD and it is absolutely worth your time to check it out.
Like we said, this week on AOE is all about trying something new. That’s what theme week was all about. And I hope this episode encourages you to do exactly that. Maybe you take some ideas from us on room set up or classroom management or what you’re doing the very first day of school. But even if you don’t take any specific ideas, at the very least, I hope this episode causes you to think about your routines, think about what you can do better, think about what you can do to improve what’s going on in your classroom, which is something we should always be doing as our teachers. And most importantly, I do hope that you’re inspired to try something new this year.
Art Ed radio is produced by The Art of Education with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Remember that you can sign up for our email list at artedradio.com. We always love to hear from you so send us questions, comments, anything else you want to share at RadioGuys@theartofed.com and finally, don’t forget to check out AOE’s newest podcast, “Everyday Art Room”, which will make its debut on Thursday. Don’t miss it.