Managing an Art Classroom

green and white leafed plantsBeing a good art teacher means much more than being a good artist. A characteristic common to good art teachers is proper classroom management. So, what does a well-managed classroom look like? What does a well-managed classroom do?

The formula for a well managed classroom has many variables. A few characteristics common to well managed art rooms are . . .

A safe environment for learning and creating.

Established studio procedures.

Challenges students without discouraging them.

Clear disciplinary procedures and expectations.

One way to ensure that these characteristics describe your classroom is to plan around S.O.S. – Safe, Orderly, and Specific. Use S.O.S as a checklist when planning for a project, for a unit, and even for an entire year. Unlike the Morse Code distress signal, this SOS won’t leave you feeling stranded.

Safety in the Art Classroom

The art classroom is one of the more dangerous classrooms in any school building. Solvents, cutting tools, and kilns are the stuff dreams are made of but can quickly turn a student’s dream into your nightmare if used improperly. What can a teacher do to decrease the likelihood of an accident?

Be conscientious and aware!

Most accidents are avoided by simply slowing down. In the fast paced course of the school day, things can get messy. Work deliberately and slowly enough to avoid creating dangerous situations. Simple things like keeping the kiln area clear or locking the paper cutter blade down make all the difference.

Take a look at the kiln area below. The first image is cluttered and filled with flammable objects right next to the kiln. This is an accident waiting to happen! Be sure your kiln room is free of clutter and fire hazards.

As an art teacher, you should always be one step ahead of any accidents. This means that you must foresee any potential accidents before they happen and take steps to ensure that they don’t.

Prepare for an emergency

Show students where the fire extinguisher is located. Have bandages and alcohol wipes on hand for minor cuts. Post important school phone numbers (school nurse, the main office, etc.) by the classroom phone. An emergency could involve the teacher, in which case a student may need to call for help.

Consider Safe Use of Tools and Equipment as Part of the Student’s Grade.

Most students are conscientious of their grade. Use this motivation to ensure safety by including safety procedures as part of their grade.

Many sculpture and printmaking tools are sharp. Demonstrating how to properly use saws, hobby knives, and carving tools is not enough. Give students a chance to demonstrate their understanding one at a time to ensure they proceed safely. This gives you the confidence that they are using the tools correctly. The time it takes to check each student is worth the peace of mind that no student will hurt themselves.

Keep the Art Classroom Orderly

An orderly and neatly organized classroom is essential. This organization not only applies to the materials the students are to use but also to the instruction that is delivered.


You can’t fly a plane while building it and you can’t teach students while you’re cutting paper, looking for erasers or any other task that should be done before instructional time begins. In upper level classes, a teacher can train students to retrieve and return supplies where they belong. The images below show art supplies grouped by class.

For younger children and lower level classes, all materials and tools should be available at each table. This will guarantee that students use the correct supplies and reduce the congestion in the classroom by keeping students in their seats. Containers with multiple sections are ideal for organizing supplies on each art table in a classroom. Collect as many containers as possible. Ask for containers from colleagues/faculty.

Organized Art Instruction

It goes without saying that lessons should be planned and the teacher should be fully prepared to deliver instruction. Making lesson plans isn’t always fun, but it’s essential. When presenting a lesson for the first time, make sure you have written down everything you want to communicate – perhaps even rehearse your delivery. Be sure to plan every minute of instruction – you cannot over plan.

Try to foresee any questions a student may have and include this in your presentation. Take note of questions that are asked when you deliver the lesson the first time. This way, you can refine your lessons so that they improve each time you present.

Be sure to include exemplary examples of the finished product. Three examples are optimal, while five or more is perhaps overwhelming. You may also include examples of what not to do, so that students are aware of any potential pitfalls.

When presenting a lesson for the first time, you may not have any student examples. This means that you must create one. In fact, every assignment you give students should be completed by you first. This gives you the chance to experience any challenges that a student may face in the process. When you present your lesson, you can address these challenges. The quality of the work your students create will be noticeably stronger.

In a perfect world, all students would listen to their teacher’s directions and then follow those direction without deviation. The world is, however, not perfect. Sometimes students are distracted, absent from school, or simply don’t understand the first time through. A written handout that restates the directions/process as demonstrated by the teacher is a great way to avoid answering the same questions over and over.

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