Art Teacher Talk

Student Motivation – How to Spark it in the Art Room

Student motivation – how to gets art kids motivated, interested, creating, and confident, can be a REAL challenge.

The apathy on the art room battlefront is palpable.

This has to be (in my humble opinion) the biggest challenge for any art teacher at any grade level.

We fight constantly against the forces of evil – CELLPHONES, class interruptions, chatting, tiktok, Instagram, bathroom breaks, hormones, I could go on and on (I’m sure you could too).

And now we are fighting post-pandemic fallout.

I have a solution that I promise you, it WORKS. I have heard from so many teachers who have tried it and had amazing results. It never failed me in 13 years of teaching high school.

The goal of this blog has always been to help teachers achieve a productive environment with an attitude of excellence. For all students. Always.

Sound impossible?

It’s not.

“But how?”

There are lots of credible ways to establish this productive climate in your art room. This post will focus on one of my favorites.

I call it, “Hang it up.”

No, not the job. Don’t jump ship no matter how ragged the edge is right now. It’s ragged for all of us. You have lives to influence and joy to share. So hang on.

I’m talking about the artwork.

In the early days of my career I had a VERY small room and VERY large class sizes. There was not room for lots of storage and we were in the room so tight the kids couldn’t move around a lot without crawling over one another. I’m sure it was a major fire hazard.

We usually stopped class early for the “student crawl” to the folders to stash the in progress work. I kept all the work in one big folder. One day we ran late and the bell rang and everyone panicked so I yelled, “pin your work to the white board on your way out!” So they did.

And the next class came in and something awesome happened…the kids were all stopping at the board to view the work. I started hearing, “wow, look at this one” and “I know this person!” and “I need to fix mine” and “these are great.”

Then came the question that would forever change my classroom productivity.

“Do WE get to put OUR work up at the end of class?”

And I thought, “Well, why not?”

And so it went, every day after that for the last nine years. I figured out how to rotate the work so everyone had time on the board (I only had one board at that time). Eventually, I got a bigger room and now I have two big boards. In addition, my walls are covered with ½ inch foam core so my entire room is like a giant art gallery.

Here comes the payoff. The kids are constantly inspired. It’s one thing to put your work in a folder at the end of class and quite another to tack it on the board. For the whole world to see.

We don’t have folders anymore. There is literally no other option than to put work on display. Even from the very first day. Whatever the current project, and whatever the stage, it’s on the board. Once the work is finished it goes up in the hallway. For the whole world outside the class to see.

It’s amazing how the work levels up when kids realize it’s going on display through the entire artistic process. On the first day of the “I AM” Boards and/or the “Family Album” – our first “get to know you” projects – the kids fill out the Questionnaire and put it on the board. I explain the daily process and that we do this because I need the joy of seeing their work as it evolves, and they need to see each other’s progress to encourage one another, because we are a team. This is all the explanation they need.

It’s interesting to see their faces and hear the comments when I say, “All work goes on the board” you can almost see them thinking, “ok I guess I have to step it up now…” Sometimes they even say it out loud….cracks me up.

I also think they appreciate that I value their work enough to award it continuous wall space. I could have anything on these walls. Posters, rules, my work, etc. All I have on the walls is student work. (No rules posted either). In all transparency there are two of my pieces next to my desk, one I did when I was five…ha! My mom had it framed for my room when I got the job.

Added bonuses:

It’s easy to tell who’s absent. Just look at the board. If the work is up there, the student is absent.

It’s a great way for administrators to see what’s going on in your class. If my AP pops in unexpectedly during class I can immediately say, “check out the fabulous work on my board!” No rummaging around in folders – it’s all right there. Administration is always impressed to see work of an entire class on display.

Let’s talk program building. This continuous display is great advertising for upper level courses. Kids in Drawing 1 see Drawing 2 work. Kids in Drawing 1 and 2 see AP work. Every day. I am constantly getting the question, “Will we get to do this in Drawing 2?” or my other favorite comment, “Hey! We didn’t do this when I was in Drawing 1! This is so cool!”

Let’s talk Social Media for a minute. If your district allows, (make sure you check first), set up a classroom Instagram or Facebook Page and start posting work. I have parents sign a release stating their student’s work will be displayed on my social media. I have never had a parent refuse or have any issue with it whatsoever. This is a great way for grandmas, grandpas, aunts and uncles to see Susie’s work no matter where they live.

And when it comes to kids working hard, they will work HARD if they know they may get featured on the feed versus the story. It’s amazing how motivating it is. Just make sure you get all the prior approvals first from admin and parents first.

Display Ideas:

  • Magnetic Whiteboard – Bulldog magnets are my favorite
  • Foam Core Wall – ½ inch foam core – clear push pins are my fave
  • Bulletin Board – I have a 15 x 15 foot cork board – push pins to hang
  • Classroom Wall – Good ‘ole masking tape for hanging

Cinder Block walls in your classroom keeping you from a fabulous art display?

Check out my newest find – The Peel and Stick 12×12 inch cork board! (click real quick and check it out, it’s awesome!) Each piece is 1/2 inch thick and the adhesive on the back is amazing – so is the density of the cork board!

Bonus: You can customize it and have any shape bulletin board you want! I have one behind my desk, if you’ve been to one of my virtual art educator workshops you’ve seen it. 😀

Side Note: The kids are never unwilling to display in progress work. A safe haven has been established at the beginning of the class that supports everyone displaying their work confidently as a group.

This haven functions as a supportive environment (an art support group of sorts) and the kids are always kind to each other. This is one of my four foundational class rules that the entire culture is built upon. We establish this foundation in the syllabus presentation (no printed syllabus – just a presentation).

I plainly tell them during this presentation that this is just not who we are. We do not treat each other poorly because we are a family with a common goal – fabulousness. I also tell them that my main goal is make sure they have a fabulously successful experience in my class. I plan to do everything humanly possible to teach them to draw and paint successfully, and that we are all on this journey together. It’s us against the world, forging ahead toward greatness. (seriously, I say this. It may sound corny, but I mean it. For realz.)

As a result, there are no issues with students treating each other unkindly. Ever.

Extra Added bonus – No Lost Work.

During quiet studio work days, the daily routine consists of students coming in, getting their work from the board and getting started. No chaotic searching for work in the folder like in the old days, no wasted time searching, nobody accidentally wrinkling someone else’s work while getting their own, nobody “losing” their work. We all know the dreaded sentence, “…I can’t find my work!”

If it’s on the board every day at the end of class there is no mistaking where it is and no misplacing it.

If you would like additional information on setting up your art classroom using this foundational blueprint, feel free to click on either link below: (#2 is the unabridged version complete with supply lists and extra management details)

“What I Learned in the Art Room Trenches” 

“Classroom Management: Art Teacher Survival Guide” 

Looking for relevant Art PD Credits? CEUs? Act 48?

I got you,.

Check out my growing collection of over 20+ Art Educator Online Workshops – complete with ready to use classroom resources – AND a Certificate of Completion for each one – click, download, turn in to your admin for approval. Easy.

Thanks for stopping by, as usual, I sincerely appreciate it.

Have a wonderful day and Happy Teaching!


student behavior, art classroom, classroom, tiff

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  1. Abby Patterson says:

    Are you afraid of ruining artwork with push pins?

  2. Aqsa Nauman says:

    Hello mrs fox.. huge admirer here but i have one question what can be done if you are art on cart type of teacher that you have to go class to class to take your unit… please suggest something…
    Thank you 😊

    • Tiffany Fox says:

      Hi Aqsa!
      I would get a few of those tri-fold foam board displays and have kids put the work up at the end for everyone to admire – I have a teacher in this same situation and she loves this method of display, it’s portable and the kids love it 🙂

  3. Kellie says:

    Bravo! This is so true. I didn’t do this last quarter due to space, and so many students didn’t draw to their full potential. I am making space for it this semester for sure. The majority of my students will up their game if they know someone is going to look at it. Thanks for the tips!