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excerpt from 14 Ideas About “Classroom Management”

1. Consider never using the term “classroom management.” It implies that creating a good learning and working environment is a discrete skill and to us the term equates what educators do with what corporate managers do.  Consider thinking in terms of collaborating effectively with students on learning and art making.  Or, where necessary, effectively asserting control over a group of students in the interests of organization.  That seems both a more accurate and honest way of talking about this part of teaching.

2. Ninety percent of a good learning and teaching environment has to do with curriculum.  If your curriculum is based on engaging study of engaging material, students will be…engaged. By “curriculum” we do not mean just a syllabus or lesson plan.  While these things are important they are only a small part of successful curriculum.  What we mean here is that if you have something real to teach, some clarity about what it is and how to teach it, and some genuine enthusiasm about it students will almost always respond and engage with the work.  If any of these things are lacking, engaging students will inevitably be difficult.

3. You do not need to expect the same norms of behavior as are appropriate in other contexts. 

--You need to establish an environment that serves art making in your medium with your students.  If you are in a classroom it is OK, and even necessary in many cases, to allow students much greater freedom and spontaneity than may be possible during academic classes. 

--One of the most important things we bring to schools and other institutions is a different environment for art making and learning. 

--If it’s OK for adult artists to talk a lot, mess around some of the time, and even create some controlled chaos in their workspaces, then it must be OK for young artists to do so as well.

4. You should be extra collaborative with teachers and staff around this question. 

--If you are working in a school or other institution with specific norms and rules of behavior you should seek to modify or suspend these as necessary in order to create a space for art making.  But you also should seek to work as collaboratively as possible with teachers and staff to explain your needs and the needs of the work and determine what is possible and acceptable in a given situation and what may not be. 

--If you cast the question as one of creating an art making space, and not one of “superior teaching methods,” you may often find that teachers are not only willing to work with you but may even be enthusiastic about creating a “de-schooled” space. 

--Confident and capable teachers understand that students are perfectly able to work in different ways in different circumstances.  Just because a teacher allows noise, movement and even some chaos during art making does not mean he or she has to accept these things at other times.  Kids in particular are also very aware of the fact rules and norms are contextual.  Consider how differently kids behave on a playground—where often they have their own quite elaborate and developed systems of social and physical norms—and in even a loosely run classroom.  It makes sense that a studio, physical or metaphorical, should have it’s own rules and norms that fit the work being done in it.

5. Make your own rules, but make as few as possible.

You have to find the rules that fit you, your medium and your students. 

--With teenage or adult students we almost never impose “rules.”  We simply explain safety norms and technical practices that relate to properly handling equipment.

--In many teaching contexts with kids Nick has only one rule:  don’t be a jackass.  This is generally understood by kids of all ages to mean don’t be rude, disrespectful, destructive, obstructive or dangerous. 

--Sometimes we are more explicit:  either make work or stay out of the way. 

--When there are students who, for whatever reason, find it hard to not obstruct the work of others we sometimes designate a corner as “the play area.”  If you don’t want to work you can either watch others work, or you can go to the “play area” and do whatever you want to as long as it’s not dangerous.  You might be surprised at how few kids will take you up on this offer.  No one really wants to be seen as trivial and excluded on that basis.