Strategies to Manage Behaviour in the Art Room.

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I’ve written this for J.  She’s told me that she’s an NQT who’s really struggling with managing behaviour 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.

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 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.

Praising 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.

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.

Christmas Art Activity

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.

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.

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

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