Smart Classroom Management Interview



We all long for the ultimate art room experience: a classroom full of respectful students and hitting the sweet spot between artistic expression and a controlled environment. Can this happen on a regular basis? If you asked me on Monday, I would have said absolutely, but after a few high-energy classes yesterday that left me a bit drained, I’m here to say that classroom management is an on-going pursuit.

But there is help.

I’m a big fan of Michael Linsin and his website, Smart Classroom Management. His no-nonsense approach to classroom management is not only appealing to me, it really seems to works. What I love is his practical advice for interacting with children without the complicated rewards systems that people like me find hard to remember and keep track of.

I emailed Michael and asked if he would answer a few questions that I’ve been wondering about. As an art specialist, I feel I have a unique set of classroom concerns. Here’s what we talked about….

Patty: Can you tell me a little about your background and your blog, Smart Classroom Management?

Michael: My first inkling that I might want to become a teacher was in high school. I worked at a sports camp during summers and had just about the best time of my life. When I eventually became a teacher, I was able to put my finger on what I enjoyed so much about working with children. It was the relationships and my role in affecting their behavior. I became fascinated with classroom management and creating a learning environment that caused students to want to behave.

I’ve spent much of my career both as a classroom teacher and a PE specialist testing and honing the classroom management skills I needed to take any group of students, no matter how unruly, and transform them into my dream class. I started the blog about five years ago to share the principles, strategies, and solutions I learned along the way. I now consider helping teachers create their own dream class to be my life’s work.

Patty: Art teachers have an interesting job. They see many classes per day, often with little transition time and with varying dynamics within each class. Is there a one-size-fits-all approach to managing multiple classes?

Michael: I think the core principles of effective classroom management, when applied faithfully, will work for anyone regardless of your personality type, how many classes you teach, or who shows up on your roster. That isn’t to say, however, that the exact same approach would work for both classroom teachers and specialists. There are differences between the two.

Although the Smart Classroom Management philosophy of creating a classroom your students look forward to (combined with faithful adherence to a classroom management plan) would be the same, some of the strategies and methods to get there may look different. I’m currently at work addressing those differences in a new book specifically for art, music, and PE teachers. If all goes well, it should be ready in late spring/early summer.

Patty: Many art teachers struggle with finding the balance between a calm yet inspired flow of art-making and chaos.  How does an art teacher allow for a creative environment (which is often characterized as standing up, moving around the classroom to select art materials and interacting with others) without it becoming chaotic?

Michael: The key is to picture precisely what you want your class to look like—behavior, noise level, movement, etc. Chaos isn’t an option, so what is the best, most optimum environment that allows for the greatest artistic expression? Once you’re able to visualize what that is, you must teach it to your students in the form of routines. Anything and everything you repeat from one week to the next—which is what creates the smooth, efficient, and peaceful feel and flow to your classroom—can and should be made into a routine.

Routines are a cornerstone of effective classroom management, but most teachers don’t teach them thoroughly enough or with as much detail as is needed. To create the calm, inspired environment you’re looking for you must show your students in a highly detailed way exactly what you want, from how they sit while working to how they ask a question to how they get up to choose materials. It takes time, but here’s the thing: Done right, you only have to teach routines once, and in the long run you save weeks of learning time and a mountain of headaches. There is a lot more on this topic, which you can find in the SCM archive.

Patty: What’s your opinion on using music in the classroom during work time?

Michael: I like it, and I think it helps creativity—but only in well-run, well-behaved classrooms. Otherwise, it can be just another layer of noise. I use it as much as I can while teaching my own classes. I also listen to music when I write. I do, however, think it should be instrumental and low enough in volume that it adds only a small element to the creative environment.

Patty: I’m not a fan of using visual aids or devices to reinforce my expectations because they don’t feel natural to me,  but many art teachers love them. What are your favorite classroom management tools? (devices, charts, etc).

Michael: I don’t use them. That isn’t to say that they can’t be helpful, depending on what they are. But for me, and for what I recommend, I like to keep it simple and doable. For many teachers, part of the reason why they struggle with classroom management is because they’ve made it too burdensome and too involved with the many incentive programs, charts, contracts, strategies, etc. The power to create the class you want comes from your relationship with and to your students and your ability to create a learning experience they look forward to.

Patty: What’s the best way to get a student from talking while you are presenting instructions to the class?

Michael: You absolutely need a rule that enforces the practice of hand-raising. If you don’t have one as part of your classroom management plan, you’ll be frequently interrupted—which is grossly unfair to the rest of your students. It’s also remarkably frustrating and stressful and will severely weaken both your ability to inspire your students and the effectiveness of your lessons. Along with your routines, this is something you would teach thoroughly during the first two or three weeks of the school year.

Patty: How do you feel about seating/table assignments?

Michael: Although I believe seating should be assigned, I don’t think where regular education students sit is terribly important. I think it’s fine to sit a particularly difficult student with those you feel would encourage acceptable behavior. I do it myself, but it’s not something that in the long run will make a big difference. I place it in the same category of things teachers tend to spend a lot of time on that in the end has little to do with effective classroom management.


Patty: Okay, big one here…I find that classroom management becomes easier if you truly know why you are teaching. My purpose and fondness for teaching grounds my interaction with my students. If I’m frazzled because of an external issue, it often reveals itself in the classroom and makes for a stressful class. If I’m completely in synch with my students, the classroom experience is positive for everyone. How does a teacher let go of outside issues in order to focus on the students?

Michael: Yes, so true. This is a huge factor. One of the biggest causes of misbehavior is excitability—which your students will either bring with them to your class or be created by you and the tension you bring to your lessons. Either way, your calm presence and focus on the subject matter you’re passionate about is the antidote. A simple thing you can do is to make sure you’re prepared. If you’re rushing around or stressed out, then your students will pick up on it and start climbing the walls as result.

Another easy technique, used by Olympic and professional athletes, is to simply decide before your students arrive for the day that no matter what happens, you will not lose your calm composure—internally or externally. A herd of buffaloes could stampede through your classroom, but you will remain as peaceful as a mountain lake. And you know what? You will. It seems unlikely, but it’s remarkably effective.

As a PE teacher I’ve noticed that some classrooms, week after week, arrive for their hour with me unable to sit or stand still or focus on me long enough to give a short preview of the lesson. I’ll meet them outside of the PE room, which I do for all my classes (and recommend you do the same), and for the first minute or so I won’t say a word. I’ll just stand calmly and breathe, letting them pick up on my easy presence. Soon, they begin to relax. Their shoulders drop. There heads stop swiveling. I can feel the energy in the air change. When I do speak it’s in a soft and soothing voice. By the time we enter the room their excitability is gone. 

Patty: Many art classes are combination classes with homeroom classes mixed with inclusion children and their aids. Sometimes, an inclusion child will cause a disruption that many art teachers find hard to handle and manage. What advice would you give teachers who are in this situation?

Michael: The key is not so much the inclusion student, but the rest of your class. When they (the rest of your students) are well behaved and attentive, any disruption will be isolated—and not so much of a disruption. This underscores how critical it is to have spot-on classroom management skills. Everything is easier as a result.

Also, similar to the question above, your calm presence makes a monumental difference not only with the inclusion student, which can be substantial, but also with how well the rest of your class responds to disruptions. If they see you carrying on normally and speaking as calmly and confidently as ever, they won’t give an occasional, or even frequent, disruption a second thought. It’s only really a disruption if you let it affect you and your instruction.

Thank you so much, Michael! I love your answer to my last question. It’s so true that disruption can be an isolated experience and that children really do handle this well. I saw this play out on Tuesday in my art class and after reading your perspective, it allowed me to consider the situation differently.

I hope you all head on over to Michael’s amazing site. Its is dense with information (but no pretty pictures!) and I know you will find the solution to your classroom issues.

Now it’s your turn art teachers….what’s your biggest management issue?

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  • laurarice247@gmail.com

    My biggest issue is with classes who have more than two unruly students who can be warned and placed in “their private studio=time out” isolated desk.The most difficult classes are those that do not have procedures in place with their homeroom teacher and have a school-wide reputation as “out of control”, so when they come to Specials for one hour a week, it’s hard to break their pattern. All the students are too chatty when they sit near friends, and uncooperative when they don’t: “I can’t get along with him…”.
    Another difficulty is when half the class is inclusion students who need constant redirection and the rest are used to chatting while the teacher tries to help them, it’s hard to “get started”. They only need to be quiet for the first 15 minutes of class to hear the intro and watch the demo and then they can talk to their friends during the art-making, but the sad thing is those classes chat and blurt out and interrupt so much that it’s impossible to give the whole class instructions and I feel for those students who really want to learn and create.
    I like Michael Linsin’s strategy of greeting every class outside the room and waiting a couple of minutes (!!!!!) for them to settle before they come in and sit down. I also like his advice to visualize the climate we want and stricty adhere to it!

    • Lorraine Jolley

      I have found that inviting the students to be partners with the inclusion students works wonders. Most of my students were eager to assist and already had a relationship with them. Then I could check for understanding as I roamed the classroom during work time. It was also true for the non-English speaking students to have partners.

  • costan83@gmail.com

    Hi Patty, this is a wonderful post! This is my second year teaching and everything that was said is very insightful and relevant to my everyday routine. I did have one more question for you…when the studio time in class is coming to an end and it’s time for clean-up some of my students have a hard time stopping and cleaning up. It could get very chaotic quickly. What strategies do you use to keep everyone cleaning up and calm while doing it? This would help me very much. Thank you and I love all that you do!

    • Patty Palmer

      If anyone saw my art class in the last few minutes of a lesson, they would be shocked. I’m the worst one to ask for advice as I push the art-making time to the last moment–and every kid knows it!
      I’m so bad that I just make a joke out of it and the kids seem to respond. We all work together to do the following:
      1. Kids walk their artwork to the drying rack or I go around and pick them up individually then…
      1. The kids put the art supplies that are on their tables back into the proper storage container and then take them to the side table in the art room. I’ll put away the supplies after class, then…
      2. The kids stand behind their chairs for final table inspection.
      This all takes place in 3-4 crazy minutes!

      • Mrs Gladieux

        I have clean up responsibilities for each student grades 3-5 and will be starting soon with grade 2. It’s a lot of work up front but it’s a routine that runs itself in 5-7 minutes. I walk around just to make sure students are doing their jobs and answer questions. I usually put a timer on the board so students know how much time they have left to be sitting in their seats ready to line up. I also give a few minutes warning before cleanup is to begin.

      • Lorraine Jolley

        I’ve found that a fun musical alarm set five minutes before cleanup time allowed them time to put finishing touches. Then another for the actual cleanup time. The routines we had in place were extremely helpful too. Getting supply’s out to 30-35 students and returned again ready for the next class within a 45 minute time span had to be choreographed or we wouldn’t have time for creativity in the middle.

    • cwiltse@comcast.net

      Try giving a 5 minute “heads up”. In other words, announce, “We’ll be cleaning up in 5 minutes, so get to a stopping point”. It works well.

  • Kimberly

    This was a breath of fresh air and a very helpful interview. I am a homeschooling mom of five and I am so tired of the chaos. I have some tools to try starting with me. My inclusion students are a cute curious 9 mo old and a typical two year old boy. :-D.

  • Mrs. Art Lady

    This article is great, and I love that Michael is a specialist – what a breath of fresh air!!!

    To LauraRice247 – I work in an alternative school for kids with mild to severe behavior problems. I will tell you that CONSISTENCY is my key with multiple disruptions and distractions. I see my kids only once a week. Regardless of their homeroom teacher, if I am consistent about MY expectations and the rules during MY time with them (I teach K-6 on a cart and MS/HS in my own classroom) regardless of where we are learning, they get used to my routine. I think they associate it with my presence. Even when I cover a room for a meeting or other time the kids know what I will expect. This consistency was a habit I had to form, but it was worth re-training my own behavior.

  • Amy Kavanaugh

    I would like to pose a question regarding time management. My students and myself get so involved at times with their art project that, time is up before I know it. I am then scrambling to get kids to clean up quickly and ready myself for the next class. Often, a project that should be completed in two hours takes three, etc. I don’t want to hurry my students along, as they are deeply engaged at times. The class session is one hour. Any suggestions, would be very much appreciated.

    • Patty Palmer

      Hi Amy,
      If most of your students take 3 hours to finish a project to their satisfaction (and yours, too), then that’s how long a project takes. Let go of expectations that are set by other art teachers (like me!) to say that a project should be completed in a certain amount of time. Timing a project depends on so many factors (class size, detail of project, teacher style, etc.). You need to be in charge of the timing. Not all projects should be so detailed though. Try to balance your curriculum with different mediums and difficulty level.

  • Ms. S

    I agree that consistency is the key to having a smooth and positive art environment. The key to consistency is practicing routines, procedures and expectations. My struggle: I see students for 45 minutes a week, it is so hard to balance the practicing of routines and actual art making. It is so difficult to make the routines salient with them when they spend less than 4% of their time in my classroom. Thoughts?

  • xoxsteffie@gmail.com

    I have been using his classroom management strategies and I’ve seen a huge difference!!! I teach from a cart (three on three different levels of the school) at an inner city Title 1 school and I tell my students what I expect them to do and they do it. I don’t give incentives, just consequences for not meeting my expectations. I have one particular class with 5 difficult children in it and I used to dread going to it. I knew that one of them would randomly start yelling while I was presenting material and the other 4 would copy. Now I just calmly go through the consequences and for the most part class goes smoothly.

  • Hetty Petre

    Dear Colleagues, research has shown that it takes 28 practices for a student to remember a rule. So, spend 5 minutes before each lesson reminding the kids about your expectations. It’s worth the effort because everyone’s happy. It’s better to have 30 minutes of sain art making than 40 minutes of pulling your hair out. You may be one of those teachers who makes a difference to one of your students. Great student learning comes from awesome teaching.

  • paula

    Hi Patty,
    I am a big fan of your work!
    Thank-you for sharing and inspiring all of us through your site…..
    Next year I will be beginning my career as an art teacher, (I was a fashion designer) and how on earth do you remember 400 names? I will have to remember 600 plus! If you have any suggestion, please share!

  • Patty Palmer

    Hi Paula,
    Remembering names is my achilles heel. I simply don’t do it well. But…others have offered awesome tips: take a photo of the entire class on the first day and then write the children’s names on their bodies (in the photo!). Before a class comes in, peruse the names and faces. It actually works well.
    Or, you can have the home room teachers get the kids to wear name tags, or you can have a seating chart that you can refer to when teaching.
    Hope this helps….and welcome to the art world!

  • paula

    Thank-you for the tips! I will try the photo one, plus the seating chart!!

  • Teresa Mihaylov

    I have a question about student work. Do you keep all their work till the end of the year? If so, how do you handle distributing the work? Do you use class time for this? Or do they take home art as it is completed each time?

  • roz fisher

    I’m wondering what to do with talkative middle school students that I see once a week? They love to have lively conversations about any and everything while they complete their projects. I do not give art grades. They really seem more focused with flirting than their projects. I am tired of repeating , “get quiet” for them to only return to the same noise level. I should be dishing out conduct marks but have refrained from it. I haven’t learned all their names yet so writing down names would be difficult. The majority of the class does seem to follow the rules. It’s just those 5-6 that are annoying. Plus I teach in the gym. The acoustics are terrible.

    • Patty Palmer

      Hi Roz,
      In your class you might be better off establishing some behavioral rules. This doesn’t mean you have to start grading for conduct but it does mean that the unproductive kids won’t be able to do art. I just read the book, Classroom Management for Art, Music and PE Teachers by Michael Linsin and it’s wonderful. It’s a short read but it covers everything you asked about. There is an underlying quality in all of our classes that dictates how our students behave. This book helps you examine what your style is and how to improve it. Good luck!

  • Marion Hickman

    Hi Patty–Could you share what music and songs/chants you use?? Thanks–can’t wait to get started. Marion

  • Leta

    Could you please share how do you deal with students having vastly different finish times? How do you occupy those who finished early, and how to encourage late finishers?

  • Jessica Akins

    Thank you!

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