Strategies to Manage Behaviour in the Art Room.

By The Arty Teacher - December 2, 2018

I’ve written this for J.  She’s told me that she’s an NQT who’s really struggling with managing behaviour in the art room at the moment and feels like giving up.  She feels unsupported which isn’t right.  During my teacher training, I worked in a really tough inner-city school and felt really isolated and unsupported.  I cried into my pillow but gritted my teeth and soldiered on.  The Art room offers an extra set of challenges to teachers as students are no longer facing the front in rows and are often given more freedom.  Later in my career, at a brilliant high school, I was lucky enough to have a truly inspiring head of department who always gave me new strategies to try.  Having a new strategy always made me feel positive and able to cope.

Greet Your Class

Stand by the door and give a friendly greeting. ‘Welcome to the Art Room’ or a cheery ‘Morning’, or ‘Hello Artists!’.  Even if you are ignored, force yourself to do it.  This is your classroom, your space, you are in charge.  Own it.  Blast them with positivity.

Learn their Names

If you teach many students, learning all their names is a challenge.  Knowing their names is essential for good classroom management.  Using their name makes you more powerful.  It’s far more effective to say ‘James, stop doing that’ than ‘Stop doing that’.  If you are lucky enough to have a system where you can look at student photos next to their name, sit down and revise their names.  I’ve done it and it helps.

A Zinger

A zinger is a striking, enthusiastic opening statement. Start your lesson with a zinger to immediately strike a positive note and spark your students’ interest in the topic. Use an upbeat tone of voice.  This lets students know that you want to be there, that their past behaviour hasn’t beaten you, and that you love teaching art.

  • ‘This is going to be a brilliant lesson because…’
  • ‘I love teaching this lesson because…’
  • ‘What really fascinates me about this is…’
  • [Name] is my favourite artist/movement because…’

Asking yourself how you can start each lesson with a zinger is a good habit.

Addressing a Table

Place your hand in the middle of the table and state ‘This table is doing brilliantly’ or ‘This table has got it’ or ‘This table is on task.’  You are praising the table that is doing well.  You are saying ‘This is my space and I own it’ with your hand.  You are setting a positive tone in the room.

Conversely, put your hand in the middle of the table and quietly say ‘This table is too noisy’ or ‘This table needs to focus’.  You are directing the instruction where it is needed and not at the whole class.  You’re owning your space.  You’re in charge.

Whole Class Praise / Owning the Room

Walking around the room giving whole-class-praise is a great way to give a positive vibe whilst walking near students who might not be as engaged as they should and maintaining pace and asserting your authority all in one go. What? You can do all that just by walking around the room giving praise? Yes, you can. Useful phrases might be:

  • ‘There’s a good working atmosphere in this room.’
  • ‘Brilliant, most of you are moving onto the second step.’

It might not even be true, progress might be poor, but if students think everyone else is making good progress, they will want to do the same.  If students aren’t on task and are too loud, still do it, but perhaps say:

  • ‘I’m seeing accurate/detailed/analytical/thorough work.
  • ‘There are some talented artists in this room!’

Seating Plans

It’s an obvious one but easy to forget if you are feeling overwhelmed.  Plan a seating plan that splits up students who struggle to maintain good behaviour or focus.  Move students to areas where you spend more time.

art room display signs

The Broken Record

The broken record technique is a classic.  Decide what your phrases are.  They should reinforce your rules.  I hear myself saying ‘When I’m speaking, you’re listening’ frequently.  Think of the problems you’re having with behaviour.  E.g. Too much chatting.  Think of a phrase to combat it.  ‘Less chat, more work’.  Don’t be frightened to hammer home your rules.  Never let your standards slip, keep on and on with your rules.

The Whisper

Shouting makes you sound out of control.  You are punishing the whole class when it’s most likely only a few individuals.  It’s been proven that a deeper voice has more authority.  Walk up behind a student, come down to their ear level and really quietly say one of the following strong statements:

  • ‘I would like you to focus on your work. That’s what you’re here for’.
  • I’d rather be having a cup of tea at break but I’m happy to spend it with you, helping you catch up, if you don’t make enough progress today.
  • I know you can do this. I want to see progress.

Again, use their name.  ‘Alicia, we don’t do that in here’ whispered can be really effective.

Getting the Bigger Picture

Sometimes it’s a particular class that behaves badly and you dread seeing them.  Find out which other teachers teach them, and then meet with them.  Find out what strategies they use that work.  Use the same broken record phrases.  Hearing that other teachers find them difficult can make you feel better.

 Managing Materials.

You need to minimise the need for movement about the classroom if behaviour is poor.  This means being ultra-organised.  Have things out on tables or in easy reach to hand out yourself.  Use more trusted students to hand things out for you.  One of your rules needs to be that students stay in seats unless given permission to move.  It’s ok to remind students of this when you start your lesson.  Every lesson if needs be.

Materials as Rewards

Some materials are tempting to students.  Glitter glue and gold paper spring to mind.  I remember drawing fish with some particularly challenging students and dangling the carrot of adding some gold collage.  They really wanted to get onto this stage of the process and this could be used as a tool to encourage better work before they were allowed access to it.

 Thank you, not please.

‘Stop that now, thank you.’ This phrase assumes the student is going to do as you ask.  Using please would be a weaker phrase and indicates that the student has choice.  Always thank you, never please.

Dismiss the Class Table by Table, not all at once.

Dismissing your class table by table means you are in control.  ‘This table is tidy, you can go’.  Walk around the room making sure things are up to your high standards.  ‘Put that in the bin’.  ‘This table worked really well today – you can go first.’ Reward good behaviour whenever you can.  If you don’t normally do this, tell the class at the start of the lesson, and then make it routine.

Use Humour / Building Relationships

This is tricky if your students have created a ‘them and us’ atmosphere, but being able to laugh with your students makes them see you are human and builds relationships.  I’ve found watching the same TV programs can give you something to talk about.  Chipping in ‘Oh I saw that wasn’t it awful/sad/ridiculous’ can build relationships.  Listen out for what they watch.

Telling them a little bit about yourself at appropriate moments can also help build relationships.  Tell them about your dog or leaky roof, whatever it takes for them to see you as a human being.

Ask for Help

Your employers have a responsibility for your welfare in the workplace.  They don’t want you to quit.  You have to be brave and ask for help.  All NQT’s should be supported, especially if you’re in a school where behaviour is a challenge.  Your head of department should be your first port of call.  Demand help.

Be Fighting Fit

If you are tired and run down, you are not going to be able to cope.  Your physical and mental wellbeing is more important than your job.  Make sure you get enough sleep, drink enough water and have some R&R.  I know that is difficult but make it a priority.

The Good Bit

It gets easier every year.  If you get your Yr7’s under control, when you have them as Year 8’s the following year, it will be that little bit easier.  You will know your students and learn what makes them tick.  Another positive as time goes by is, often (not always) older teachers seem to command more respect.  When I look in the mirror (I’m 47) and bemoan my wrinkles, at least I can think my older face and presence make my job easier.

Positivity Attracts Positivity

I really believe if you are positive, positivity will come straight back at you.  Write down 3 good things that have happened every day. (Maybe reading this blog post could be one.)  Do this every day.  It could be a kind word from a colleague or a great bit of work by a student.  It could be a spectacular sunrise on the way to school or a phone call from an old friend. Buy a beautiful notebook and use your favourite pen to write these down.  There is something important about committing them to paper.  It will work, like magic.

If you have more behaviour management techniques to share, please comment below.

Further Reading

Education Support Partnership – Managing Pupil Behaviour

Register on The Arty Teacher

Enjoy this article, Drop it a like


Or Share it

The Arty Teacher

Sarah Crowther is The Arty Teacher. She is a high school art teacher in the North West of England. She strives to share her enthusiasm for art by providing art teachers around the globe with high-quality resources and by sharing her expertise through this blog.

More Posts

32 responses to “Strategies to Manage Behaviour in the Art Room.”

  1. RDavis says:

    I love this, thank you Sarah! Particularly changing please…to thank you when demanding attention. I do find I have my class in control, but find it highly insulting when I see a student smirking across the room after I have just spoken. It really riles me….any suggestions please….and thank you.

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      That’s a difficult one to address. Two things spring to mind. One is to use humour to show you have noticed e.g. (with a smile) ‘Hey, share the joke, what’s so funny?’ This shows you have noticed but isn’t a threatening response. The second is to target that child during the lesson and try to relationship build and, if you can, praise. Decide to bombard them with positivity. If you try to think of this insulting behaviour as a signal to relationship-build, it might be less riling.

  2. Hala says:

    Great words , I will start teaching art class tomorrow :)) , and I hope become postitve as your words tomorrow
    Thank you

  3. Jessica says:

    This came at just the right time! I appreciate your suggestion about three positive things from the day (and this blogpost is definitely one of mine).

  4. Jenni says:

    Thank you for the great article. Some excellent tips.

  5. Ronald kalyesubula Bukenya says:

    Very useful article…I should Implement this for sure when I get back to Uganda… thanks dear

  6. Laura Dalta - Viota says:

    I’ve taught at 3 different schools in the past 3 years on short term contracts and it’s been very challenging . This is now my Second year teaching middle school at the same school and it is getting a little easier . These tips are fantastic ! I feel like you have armed me with new weapons going into term 4 ha ha . Thank you for the great tips👊🏼

  7. Jj says:

    Thanks! First year teacher and working hard to have consistent routine and follow my rules. But some days I just feel so beaten down by select classes. This article really helped pick me back up and made me feel like “I can do it”!!

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Jj, Yes, it can be tough. I always find having a new strategy to try can make you feel positive. I’m glad to hear the article helped. Sarah

  8. SARAH says:

    Thanks alot for sharing this useful informations ,but i want to ask you a question, sometimes the majority of the class were talking together; if i used the whisper technique no one will be listening, keep in your mind that shouting is not the solution, how can i grab their attention if i am dealing with a bad situation like that.
    Thanks alot

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      It’s really difficult if the whole class is talking and you want their attention. You are going to have to speak loudly in this situation. Still use a lower tone of voice so that you don’t sound squeeky. I like the phrase ‘I’m speaking so you are listening’ – use the broken record technique. You can repeat it without shouting until the class goes quiet. I also like ‘I’m used to people listening when I speak’. Will they work in silence? Some classes struggle with working quietly but can work in silence for short periods of time. If a particular group are noisy, use the hand on the table – ‘This table is too noisy’. You just have to keep trying different techniques to see what works with that class.

      • martine van Es-Vleming says:

        From experience I can tell you that if there’s too much noise to make yourself heard to whisper, singing your message does the trick.

        • The Arty Teacher says:

          Humour is always an effective tool for classroom management. I’ve been known to sing myself!

  9. Cathy says:

    Some great reminders here . I have been teaching art for over 30 years but I had forgotten the whisper strategy- so will use it next week ! With classes getting larger our job is getting more demanding, you certainly don’t know everything even if you have been around a while ! Best subject to teach and key is to stay positive.

  10. Jo says:

    I have 30 really lively grade 3’s in a very small (not built for purpose ) art room. Feel out of control, very loud! Cant think. Any ideas

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Thanks for reaching out. If you feel out of control you really do need to reassess. It’s your room and you’re in charge and I think you need to go back to basics.
      Can you line them up outside the room before they come in? Insist on them walking in, in silence. Tell them this is a new start for a better working atmosphere.
      Do you take a register? Insist on silence when you take it.
      Insist on silence when you speak. Use the broken record technique. Make your instructions calm and firm. Lower your voice, don’t go high pitched. “I’m used to people listening when I speak” “When I speak you listen”
      A seating plan can work wonders. Are some students loud when they are together?
      If you do choice-based art you might want to have a few lessons where they are all doing the same, quiet work. This might go against what you feel you should be doing but behaviour must come first.
      Do you have them all day or just for a lesson?
      Have a period of time in the lesson where they are working in silence. They do this in academic lessons, they can do it in art.
      Reward quiet behaviour. “Whoever works the most quietly is going to get the (gold pen/gold paper/glitter glue/special scissors/first choice of paintbrush) first.”
      For those who are the noisiest use ‘The Whisper’. Go up behind them, very close and say quietly in their ear. ‘You are too noisy and I am watching your behaviour. Don’t give me cause to contact your parents’ (or other appropriate sanction)
      Dismiss them a table at a time. “That table worked well, you can go first”. This is especially powerful if you have them before a break. You can also more easily keep a noisy table or child behind to have a word with this way.
      Use lots of positive whole class comments “This table is working well.” “Great progress here”
      Can you observe them in other lessons? Sometimes some groups can’t cope with the freedom that the artroom gives and they need that freedom taking away until they learn how to respect it.
      Hope this helps.

  11. Susan says:

    Thanks. My third year teaching art in middle school. My 22nd year teaching. I love it. I never would go back to teaching regular elementary. BUT. I found this read very helpful and reassuring. Middle sxhool. QTIP. Quit taking it personally. Every day is a new day and a smile at the door. That does really help.

  12. Jane says:

    I really needed this right now, I’m not new but behaviour seems to be getting more and more challenging these days. This has reminded me to have a more positive outlook especially for the majority of pupils who do behave! Thank you

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      It’s hard to stay positive when things are tough but you almost have to be an actress! Yes, try and remember the ones who do behave – they need you!

  13. Mariza says:

    REALLY found this helpful, especially having to teach different cultures and commanding in a second language. Thanks

  14. Lkort says:

    Thanks for sharing this. So much good advice to think about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More Resources you might like...

Subscribe & save in any currency!

Basic Subscription

Register and you can download 3 of the Free Resources Every Month!

3 Free Resources

Premium Subscription
$9.99 Per month $99 Per year


Save money and get 10 resources of your choice every month. The yearly subscription is the best value.

Save over 66%

School Subscription
Free Per year Free Per year Free Per year Free Per year Free Per year Free Per year Free Per year Free Per year Free Per year


For departments with 2 or more members. Subscribe for a total of 2 teachers to download 10 resources each month.

save over 5% save over 5% save over 5% save over 7% save over 7% save over 7% save over 10% save over 10% save over 10%