Art Teacher Talk

Tips for a Successful School Year

As art teachers, we know that managing a classroom full of young artists can be a challenge. That’s why it is so important to streamline your classroom management in the art room. This is crucial to having a successful school year. In this post, I’ll share some effective art room classroom management tips that will help you create a positive and engaging learning environment for your students.

Student Behavior

How do we cultivate a classroom atmosphere where good behavior is a given?

A guaranteed constant where every day we walk in and the students are ready to work hard and treat us and everyone in the room with kindness, support and encouragement.

Sound like Utopia?

It’s not. It can easily be your reality every single day.

I’m no Behavioral Specialist, but one thing I do know for sure is how to create and cultivate an attitude of productivity, commitment and excellence in a classroom full of kids.

Building Art Skills as an Art Room Classroom Management Tool

There are several methods and mantras that I use to achieve this Utopia, but today I am going to address only one. Art skills.

Building skills is a sure pathway to Utopia.

Skills lead to confidence.

Confidence leads to student engagement.

Student engagement leads to commitment.

Commitment leads to an attitude of excellence.


The dream classroom.

Let me clarify something first.

I didn’t start out in this dream classroom. I started just like everyone else not knowing what the heck I was doing or how to do it. With 36 kids in a classroom and no experience whatsoever. With constant cross-talk, apathy, napping, projectiles, destruction of materials, you name it. I saw it.

What I decided after that crazy year was that the dream classroom existed somewhere and I wanted it – and fast. I couldn’t survive another chaotic year. I did some research. I saw it in action down the hall from me. So I said to myself, “If it exists, then I can have it too.”

“But how?”

I spent that first year and the following summer reflecting on my teaching practice and watching master teachers communicate with young people. I also had that gifted co-worker down the hall who gave me the most invaluable teaching advice, “Break it down.” (see previous blog posts).

As I reflected, I noticed that one thing had been lacking – art room classroom management.

We had no goal.

No mission statement, if you will.

We were bouncing from concept to concept with no real purpose.

Quite frankly, it felt like we were bouncing on choppy waves.

What I had going on that first year was a hodgepodge of projects that were stand alone experiences with no connection to an overarching purpose. At the time we had an Art 1,2,3,4 program with no AP Studio Art. I taught mostly Art 1 and a section or two of Art 2. There was no official art curriculum (as is often the case) and no pacing guide.

I am a very regimented and logical thinker (if you’ve purchased my curriculum you can attest). I need a plan with goals.

With no groundwork and a random variety of projects from the last teacher that were completely unrelated (to each other or to the Elements and Principles) I felt very lost. I quickly realized the kids did too. The more outspoken ones would say, “why are we doing this?” or “what does this have to do with what we just finished?”

Quite frankly, they were right.

Here’s the way it would usually go down…36 kids come into the room and the ones who naturally “got it” would do well – let’s say 5 kids. I had another 5-10 that would try their hardest and have marginal to good results. It was the other 15-20 (kids who did not want art to begin with or just didn’t care) that made the entire experience grueling. The behavior issues mounted as the project progressed. I went home every day exhausted wondering what the heck I was doing wrong.

The common denominator was simple. The kids were frustrated. I was putting them to task without the proper foundation and no clear direction forward. Their natural response was to act out.

That’s when the “Break it Down” conversation with my co-worker happened. I learned the value of building skills toward an end goal. Mastery. (see previous blog posts) Thankfully, she convinced our administration to consider a change in our class structure. This change has taken our once fledgling program to one that has over the last 10 years submitted almost 160 AP Portfolios with a 100% pass rate.

When I came in for that second year, the revamped program was one that aligned with a college model. Everyone has to take Art 1. But now the progression is Drawing 1, Drawing 2, Painting 1, Painting 2, AP Studio Art. Our 3D program has the same track.

This makes it possible to FOCUS on skills. Drawing 1 is the class where the Elements and Principles taught in Art 1 can be honed to improve Drawing skills all the way from contour line to shading to creating gorgeouis works in colored pencil. Painting class moves from basic color theory to mixing and blending that develops alongside technical skill to produce amazing paintings. (see Acrylic Painting page)

Side Note/Slight Diversion:

 I also decided that I needed to publicly declare a tone of excellence. We are fabulous and we are capable of amazing work. The bar would be high, and the person in charge will be a consistent calm presence. Every day. Not high expectations one day and low expectations the next. Not calm Mrs. Fox one day and lunatic Mrs. Fox the next. I decided that an inconsistent teacher makes for a nervous and anxious student. Kids who are nervous or anxious often act out. Especially if they don’t know who they’re gonna get when they walk in the room from one day to the next.

This is obviously a challenge because there are definitely some days where it is difficult (for a variety of reasons) to be consistent. Be consistent anyway. This will create secure students. Students who are secure will have less anxiety (especially in the beginning) and the tone in the room will be calm.

For as relaxing as art can be, it can be just as nerve wracking. It’s an intimidating atmosphere for some students. A steady calm tone can diffuse even the worst anxiety.

Ok, back to skills.

Kids want to learn. But for them to value the learning, they need to know WHAT they are learning matters – there’s an end goal. They also need to know WHY they are learning it.

In the case of building drawing skills, it’s as simple as this. When presented with a new concept, skill, or media, kids know that this skill is foundational for the skills that follow. Example: “We need to learn how to scale up an image properly before we can tackle shading. You can shade all day long but if you are shading a poorly drawn contour line then it’s all for nothing.”

We just finished up my Portraiture 101Unit in Drawing 1. The kids had never done a realistic portrait in graphite pencil prior to this lesson. Had we tackled this prior to extensive lessons on contour line, scale, proportion, negative space, and shading, the results would not have been this positive. The kids were completely confident because they had all the tools necessary to complete the task. No complaining. No anxiety. No talking. No off-task behavior whatsoever.

In fact, they finished in 6 class periods. Six quiet, focused, calm 90-minute class periods.

Here are a few examples of the finished drawings and you can see more on our classroom IG @mrs_tfox or my Pinterest MrsTFox Resources

When it comes to painting, kids learn quickly that the Value Scales and the Impossible Shape set them up for all future mixing, blending and endless color creation. They see the value in foundational lessons because the paintings from former classes are hanging all over the school. The evidence is everywhere. The word on the street is if you take this class you can paint just like this. Or better.

Below is a progression of skill building exercises from Painting 1. You can see how quickly students progress from basic mixing to beautiful blending. We only use the primary colors (one warm and one cool of each) and Titanium white. Paint is Blick Studio Acrylics. (details on painting lessons can be found)

Please don’t get me wrong.

Building skills is not the only component of the positive, productive and excellent attitude in the art room.

Art room classroom management is way more than that.

A community of mutual trust needs to be built.

Goals need to be set.

Consistent structure established.

**(more details on setting up an Art Room of Excellence )**

But this you can be sure of…if you build those artistic skills in your students, you will naturally grow student confidence and that confidence will transcend to a calm environment committed to excellence.

I promise.

Thanks so much for stopping by and checking out this week’s post.

I hope you are well and safe.

If you’ve tried any of the above lessons please comment below and let me know how it went – I would love to hear about the success in your art room classroom management!

Have a wonderful day,


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