Starting Off Strong in the Second Semester (Ep. 046)

It’s time for the First Day of School, version 2.0! Whether you had an amazing first semester or an incredibly difficult one, this is your chance to start new. You have a chance to look at classroom management, curriculum, organization, routines, and everything in between. This is also your chance to recharge and redo what isn’t working. Andrew asks Tim about his best classroom management advice (8:00), mistakes to avoid (11:15), and how to go above and beyond with your projects in the second semester (16:00). The guys finish the show with a conversation on enlisting your kids to help things run smoothly. Full episode transcript below.

 

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Transcript

Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education and I’m your host, Andrew McCormick.

If you’re listening to this podcast on the day that it comes out, January 4th, you know for most of us art teachers out there, this is back to school 2.0. It’s the second semester, the back half of the year for you elementary peoples out there. I hope you guys had a wonderful holiday break filled with fun and family, and you were able to recharge those batteries and reflect a little bit on that first half of the year and then even strategize for the remaining year. Some of us have had a fantastic first semester and maybe some of us have had just an average first semester, pretty good. You take the good, take the bad. There are some of us out there who have struggled a little bit. Maybe it’s because teaching is a pretty tough profession. The cosmos just have a kind of way of aligning and showing fellow art teachers that there’s other art teachers out there having a rough time.

I know that I’ve had a pretty challenging first semester and it seems like all that I’ve seen reflected back to me on various social media outlets out there is a lot of art teachers out there are saying, “Man, 2016, this has been a pretty rough one.” A few different strategies out there, right? Heading into this new part of the year. You can hit the ground running and capitalize on a great first half, or maybe you need to pause a little bit and take stock of all the things that you might need to tweak and change a little bit.

Tim Bogatz is going to come on here in a little bit and share some sage advice on how to get mentally and pragmatically ready for the start of a new semester or a new part of the year. If you’re like me, you’re probably looking at this time of the year and saying you’ve got some work to do. I’ve got to look at some expectations, some curriculum ideas, some management, some organization. I’ve got to figure some things out that can improve what I’ve been doing with some of my students. The interesting thing is I have to do this with a new group of students despite the fact that this new group that I’m having, they weren’t even around for the first semester and involved with what wasn’t really going so well. For all you elementary teachers out there, you’ve got the same students, the same classes all year round, but perhaps you’ve noticed some bright spots that you’ve realized that you could push a little deeper with your students as they’re just absolutely rocking it this year, or maybe you’re like me, also, and you’ve got some things that you want to tighten up a little bit.

Things like management, routine, to try to get some better student outcomes or a better environment going. In some ways, I think that elementary teachers, you guys have a tougher job when it comes to restarting the second half of the year. As secondary people, we often get a whole new batch of students with a whole new chemistry and makeup. Recharging at semester, I know that Tim and I are going to be talking a lot about classroom management more than anything else. If things are going great for you and you just want to up your game, maybe you’re thinking about spicing up your curriculum. Even for teachers out there where things are going great, you’re still going to need to teach and reteach some classroom expectations.

When I think about my classroom management, it’s a sliding scale. Sometimes I think I’m just absolutely nailing it and some days I think that my students are absolutely nailing me. That’s why I think AOE’s class, Managing the Art Room, is such a great asset for teachers. Maybe you need to pickup some new tricks or maybe you just need to rekindle that commitment to being transparent and consistent with your expectations and rules. Either way, I think you’re really going to love learning in this class with your fellow classmates.

Reclaim your room and reclaim your sanity. Managing the Art Room is a two credit class and it begins in the beginning of every month. Head on over to theartofed.com and check it out. All right, let’s bring on Tim to see if he’ll have some sage advice on restarting and recharging for the second half of the school year.

All right, Tim, thanks for joining me, man. How are you doing?

Tim: I’m doing well. It’s good to talk to you. Thanks for having me.

Andrew: We’re going to talk second semester. I’ve always thought that starting off the second semester is a little different than starting off the beginning of the school year. Let’s paint the picture here. I know a lot of secondary teachers out there are maybe starting a second semester today or in a week or so, so we’re right at that time. I find, maybe, with a new group of kids they’re a little smarter, a little hip, wiser to the way the school year’s going, but maybe they’re a little more jaded, cynical, burnt out, maybe they’re ready to make amends for a crappy first semester. I find that, the beginning of the school year, everyone’s trying really hard to have a good start. Second semester, it’s a little different. There’s some landmines we’ve got to navigate.

I’ve got to ask you, you’re jumping into second semester, what’s your MO? Do you get right into it or do you ease slowly back into it?

Tim: I like to jump right in. I feel like every other class that a kid goes to, they’re easing back into it and they’re doing boring stuff like going over rules, going over procedures, reading through the syllabus. That’s just terrible, honestly. It’s really boring to do that for the teacher and for the kids. I think it’s important to shake it up right away and starting making some art. We had Janine Campbell on a little while back talking about all the amazing things that she does on the first day. I think that’s a mindset that you need to have. If we want to get kids excited about art, let’s get them going. Let’s start making art.

Like you said, everybody’s ready to start fresh. Whether you’re getting new kids or whether you’re keeping the same kids, just look at it as a fresh start and you can get rid of whatever preconceived notions that you have about the kids in your class, whether it be behavior issues or art making skill or whatever, and give them a fresh start. You do a fresh start yourself, get in there with some knew projects and get started right away. That’s my way of doing it. What about you? Are you along those same lines or do you like to ease back in?

Andrew: I’ve done both and it really, to me, it depends. I like, in theory, about what you’re saying about ditching those preconceived notions and ideas, but at the same time, if you’ve noticed the first semester some things that you want to correct, this is your time to fix and recalibrate and do some of that. This is a long answer, but I think when things have been going well, I jump right into it and I just want to maintain that momentum and capitalize on that, but if I’ve had a first semester where there’s been some big issues, I might ease into it and air some of that out a little bit and say, “This, this, and this, not so much. We’ve got to tighten this up and fix it.”

I think it’s on a case by case, semester by semester, year by year situation. I like to jump in but, sometimes, I think now’s the time to address some of those things. Thinking about that, let’s say that there’s teachers out there who’ve had, maybe, a rough first semester. Maybe you’ve had this long laundry list of things that you want to fix or change, do you start that second semester off with some new goals, a new mantra? If you do create some new goals, how do you go about creating those things for people out there?

Tim: I’ll look at this like you said, if you had a class that did not go so well, look at second semester as a chance to reset or a chance to restart. If you’re talking about goals with what you want to do with your classes, sit them down and talk to them about that. If you’re dead set on making artwork the first day, you can talk about those things while you’re playing with clay, while you’re sketching or doodling or whatever. The important part is, if you want to reset, now is the time to do it. You can say, “Hey, we had issues with behavior. This is a fresh start for you guys. This is your chance to show me that you know how to act, that you know how to take care of materials, you know how to treat each other,” whatever the case may be. Just lay out your expectations for them. Make that a conversation with your class. “What didn’t go well before? What can we change? What do we need to do differently?” Get them involved with that reset.

You can set goals with them like, “We are going to have this many days of good behavior,” or, “all of our artworks will be this good. We’ll have this few missing assignments,” whatever it may be. Talk to them about the goals you want and make your students part of that goal setting process. Like you said, take this opportunity to reset things and give them a fresh start, whether that be for behavior, for art making, whatever the case may be, take this chance to start new.

Andrew: We’re talking strategies to reset and I like the “involve the students” end. I think that’s a huge thing. I think it’s not bad, it’s not a sign of weakness as a teacher to confess to your students … Maybe they’re new and maybe they had no part of a rough semester or we can flip this around and maybe they weren’t part of a great semester, but to share that with them and say, “Okay guys. I had this same class,” this same drawing class, or ceramics class, or 9th grade art. “Last semester this, this, and this drove me bonkers. It wasn’t good. Students weren’t engaged. Kids were screwing around.” I don’t think that that’s a sign of weakness, but here’s my big question. Do you ever feel like, sometimes as teachers, we hold something against a new group of people that was an offense committed by an old group of people? Does that make sense?

Tim: Yeah. It makes it difficult, because you need to get those things out there for your students so they know what expectations are, but at the same time, they don’t want to be compared to other classes. They aren’t other classes. It makes it difficult. You’re putting them in a difficult spot when you start to compare them to other classes. I don’t know. I think it’s good to have that discussion with them, but at the same time, I think it’s important to still let them know, “Hey, I’m still in charge and these are the things that I expect from you.” I think it’s really going to put you in a difficult spot if you say, “These are the things that annoy me. Please don’t do that. What do you guys think the rules should be?”

You’re handing over a little bit too much to them. Like you said, I think it’s good to have kids involved in that discussion, whatever goals you’re trying to set, but at the same time you need to lead that.

Andrew: I think this is a moment where, as a teacher, when you’re recalibrating at the semester, resetting some goals, thinking about what you want to fix, you have to be a linguistic acrobat. What you say and how you say it is really important because if you say, “Man, all of my kids last semester did this and this. You guys, I don’t want you to do that.” You’re really starting off on a negative tone and that’s where kids are going to feel like, “Man, I’m getting yelled at for something that I wasn’t even a part of or involved with.” But you don’t want to just sweep that under the rug and not acknowledge it, so I think that’s where the gymnastics are.

You could say, “Listen, guys, my goal for myself as a teacher is that you all …” Spin it to the positive. “… are super engaged with your artwork.” Maybe you don’t even have to say that like, … Because, last semester, all those jokers, they weren’t into it. I had this class, not good.” You don’t have to go there, it can be more about you as the art teacher and less about you, you, you, you, you, when you don’t even really know these people yet. Does that make sense?

Tim: Yeah, it does. I was just going to say, the way I approach this with my classes was that I would always go in and just start, “Hey guys. You know how we always reflect on our artwork, on our art making process, and talk about everything that we do to get to a certain point?” I just tell them, “I like to do that same thing as a teacher. Over break, I was thinking about this, this, and this, and I realized that these are the things that I want to do better in this classroom.” Lay it out for them. “These are the things that I want to get better and in order for those things to get better, I need this, this, and this from you.” That just opens up a big discussion on, like I said, whatever it is that you need to talk about.

I think if you can model that reflective approach for them … A, it establishes what we’re looking for here with the reset, the restart, or whatever new things you want to do. B, it really, like I said, models for them and shows them a good example of how the reflective process can work, not only in art, but in other areas as well. I think that’s a good way to approach it.

Andrew: There’s not a teacher out there, the most awesome, amazing teachers out there amongst us who think that they’ve ever had a semester, and had a class, that went absolutely, 100% perfect. There’s always little things to tweak and fix. This procedure, this routine, this project, etc. I can get a little uptight or upset about the way things are going. I think, as teachers, we always have to spin it to the positive. There’s this old adage that you’ll attract more flies with honey then vinegar. You’re going to get more positive results from your students when you can reframe it in a positive way then this negative, naggy, “You kids never clean up your brushes well.” Just the simple rephrasing of, “You know what I love about this class? You guys always do such a great job of cleaning up at the end of the day.” Even if that is just a bold faced lie, the kids who are not doing a good job will be like, “Huh, I better do a good job.”

Maybe out kids are savvy enough to know you’re being a little sarcastic, but boy, it sounds so much better than just airing out all these grievances in a negative way.

Tim: That’s just a basic classroom management thing that I think is really important, spin to the positive. As a student, you don’t want to hear, “You’re doing this wrong. You’re doing this wrong. You’re doing this wrong.” “How about you tell me how I can do it right?” Show your kids. “This is how I’m expecting you to clean up brushes.” When they do it, reward them, praise them. Show them how things need to be done instead of just yelling at them about how they shouldn’t be done, or how they’re being done wrong.

Andrew: We’ve been focusing a lot on how to fix all the negative things and all the things that have gone wrong. I think for the savvy listeners out there, they’re like, “Man, Andrew’s had a really rough first semester.” They probably aren’t too far off the mark, there. Let’s flip this up a little bit, switch it around. You had an amazing semester. All your classes are clicking and firing on all cylinders and doing some good work, how do you build on this? How do you keep that momentum going because that’s a little bit of a different thing, different set of strategies than we’ve been talking about.

Tim: Yeah, I think it’s the same thing, though, in a lot of ways, where you can still talk to your kids and say, “Hey, these are the things that went really well last semester and here’s how I want to build on them.” Again, involve them with that discussion about, “Hey, how can we take our artwork to the next level?” Or, “You’ve shown me that I can trust you guys with x, y, and z, what kind of new things would you like to try?” I think it’s important to be willing, if things are going really well, to be willing to open up new ideas, new media, new projects, or even just pushing your existing projects to the next level, and pushing your kids to the next level.

If you have things that are going really well, think about how you can do that even better. Again, it still goes back to that reflection piece, but instead of figuring out what you need to change, figure out how you can make the good even better.

Andrew: I like that idea of stretching above and beyond. We’ve mastered this, what else is out there on the horizon? Let’s get back to talking about the negative stuff for a change. Worst semester, worst class you’ve ever had, picture that class in your mind. Even in that, did you do a whole, drastic overhaul, or did you pick like, “Boy, I’ve got to pick two winnable battles. I’m going to try to fix this and this.” Have you ever done a drastic overhaul? Or do you just pick a couple things?

Tim: I’ve done both. Honestly, the drastic overhaul, if your class is that bad, it can really be too much. With my very worst classes, I think trying to change absolutely everything is a battle that you can’t win. There’s 14 things wrong with this class, you’re not going to fix all 14 of them. Maybe you pick. “These are the three things that annoy me the most. Side conversations are a problem. You guys are not working during class. We’re not getting any work turned in on the due dates.” Those are the battles that I’m going to fight this semester.

Don’t go to your kids and say, “I’m fighting with you on this,” but go to them and say, “Hey, here’s what needs to change. When I’m demonstrating, talking needs to stop, etc.” Just get into that conversation about what behaviors need to change. I think there are times that you can make a whole overhaul work. This is the time to do it. If you are going to try that, that semester is the time to go for it.

You can get into a little bit of trouble if you bite off more than you can chew. If you just lay out your priorities and say, “We’re going to fix these two things first and then slowly build from there,” I think that’s a better way to go about it then just coming in being like, “Guys, we’re changing everything.”

Andrew: Right. “Everything’s being changed!” I can get into the long, laundry list of things I’d like to fix, but, to me, everything comes back to keeping it simple for the students and just saying, “Listen, no one signed up for this class to make really bad artwork. Can we all agree to that?” Then, everyone’s like, “Yeah, yeah.” “No one signed up to make embarrassingly horrible artwork, so this behavior, this behavior, this, this, this, those are all things that are preventing us from making the best work possible. This is why I call you out on it, I remind you of it, I demonstrate it. Case closed. It’s just about making really awesome, quality, meaningful artworks.” Let’s switch gears just a little bit here. We’re assuming that everyone is halfway through the year, right around Christmas break, getting all new kids, and new semesters, and we’re all secondary teachers.

There’s plenty of elementary teachers out there and there’s even secondary teachers who keep their kids all year long. Are there some tips and tricks for teachers out there who are dealing with that? “Okay, I’m coming back from Christmas break but I know I’m going to see the same group of kids.” How do those teachers reset?

Tim: I think it’s good, at that point, to, again, go back to that reflective piece and just think about your classes and think, “What went well with these guys? What can we build off of here? What are the strengths of this class? What do they enjoy doing and how can we take that to the next level?” You have some 4th grades that absolutely love doing weaving, for example. Think about, “Hey, what are some new projects that they could really dive into? How can we extend some of those projects that they love?” You have some 2nd graders that love painting. Maybe if they did water color before, show them some tempera now. They love doing these sculptures? Maybe you get them some clay.

Just think about those kids. You know them well from a semester of work. Think about what they do well, what their strengths are, and think about, like I said, how you can extend those ideas, how you can build on those things, and really take things to the next level. Because, like I said, you know what kind of behaviors you’re going to be getting. You know what the kids enjoy. You know what the kids are good at. If you can build on those things, then you’re going to have an even more successful second semester.

Andrew: Just like all teachers want to do well, I sincerely think that all kids really want to do well. If we keep that in mind … If there have been little things, classroom management, or focus, or engagement things, just remind them about that. “Listen, we had a little break here. This is a little opportunity for us to think about the fact that you really do want to succeed in art and have a good year. Let’s think of some ways,” again, enlisting them to help you think about that, could be a nice way to reset for the rest of the year.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely, that’s a great idea.

Andrew: We’re right at that time of year where we’re restarting, and I know we’ve got to wrap this up, I feel like you are just this treasure trove of inspiration for those of us out there who are trying to reset and rebuild and reboot. You got any last gems of wisdom to get our minds right on this upcoming second semester or second half of the year?

Tim: I would say just two things. Reflection is huge, that’s the biggest thing. Spend time thinking about, like I said, each of your classes. What has gone well with them? What hasn’t? Second thing, more than anything, is just keep a positive outlook not only with yourself but the way you’re dealing with kids. Like I said, if things are going well, embrace that positivity and make sure you keep things going well. See if you can get them to be going even better. If things have not gone well for that first semester, keep that positive outlook and tell yourself, “This is my chance to reset. This is my chance to change.” Tell your kids that. “This is how we’re going to fix that. This is how we’re going to get back to making the successful artwork,” like you talked about. Show them the way to do that. Don’t just tell them everything that they did wrong, but tell them, “This is what I want to change. This is why it’s going to help. Here’s how we get there.”

Keep that positive outlook as you reteach those expectations to your kids and, like I said, this is the perfect opportunity. If you put the amount of time in that you need, with reflection, and you deal with things the right way with your classes, with that positive outlook, you can really embrace this opportunity to reset and really start off that second semester strong.

Andrew: All right, man, thank you Mr. Sunshine. I’m going to do all those things. I’m going to reflect and I’m going to keep positive. I’m going to do this. I’m going to whip those kids into shape for second semester. We’re going to have a great second semester.

Tim: I think this is the first time in 40-some episodes that you’ve ever thought of me as bright and sunny, so that’s pretty exciting.

Andrew: You better cherish it, man.

Tim: That’s a good note to go out on.

Andrew: All right, we’ll see you later.

Tim: Thanks, man.

Andrew: Despite the fact that Tim doesn’t see himself as a ray of sunshine, I absolutely loved his tips and wisdom that he shared. Be reflective and honest with yourself in how things went, what things you want to change and improve upon, but I think, most importantly, remember to always keep it positive. If things haven’t gone well, what can you realistically change and fix? There’s this saying out there about systems and results. It goes something like this: that every system is perfectly designed to get the results that it gets. The classrooms that we currently have in all of its intended or unintended consequences, we’re largely responsible for creating it.

Of course, there’s always going to be some outside mitigating factors, but most of those things are things that we can’t change anyway. Stay positive and focus on what you really can change. While I know that this is a grandiose quote that I’m about to drop next, and it gets misattributed all the time and tagged on everything from sleeve tattoos to bumper stickers, you really can be the change that you want to see in the world. Thinking globally, this means that, as art teachers, we really do affect change as we shape creative minds. Thinking more locally, the positive attitude that you display can make for an awesome second half of the year.

Go get ’em, tiger.

Art Ed Radio is developed, produced, and supported by the Art of Education with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. You know, AOE’s Art Ed Now conference is just about a month away. While you might have missed the early bird pricing discount, there’s still time to head on over to theartofed.com and register to join this online conference. Join a few thousand fellow art teachers for some ridiculously relevant PD. I know the holiday season has come and gone, but I still think there’s enough festive spirit left out there that I can encourage you to go on and treat yourself. I guarantee that you’ll love this conference that the good folks at the Art of Ed have put together. As always, new episodes of Art Ed Radio will be released every Tuesday, and additional content can be found under the podcast tab on theartofed.com. Thanks for listening.

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