Staff Development

Classroom Management Strategies

CMA has identified research-based best practices for Classroom Management and Positive Behavior Guidance.

A practitioner with inclusive practices respects the social-emotional skills development of the entire community of learners. They create a space that supports independent emotional and sensory regulating skills. At the heart of all inclusive initiatives is socialization.

Positive guidance is crucial in community-based work because it promotes children’s self-regulation, teaches responsibility, and also helps in making thoughtful choices. Encouraging appropriate behavior is a complex, multifaceted task learned over time through self-reflection, learning from colleagues, and most importantly from students themselves. Developmentally appropriate curricula, tools, and expectations are essential in the art class, as is fostering an open environment of mutual respect and understanding.  

Effective guidance focuses on the development of the child and preserves the child’s self-esteem and dignity. Actions that acknowledge the child’s efforts and progress are likely to encourage healthy development. Encouraging children to learn self-regulation in the art class is one of the benefits of art. Art requires patience, thoughtful attention, problem solving, and cooperation.

Ask yourself the following questions:

“Am I…”

  • Providing developmentally appropriate experiences?
  • Validating feelings?
  • Asking open ended questions?
  • Encouraging problem solving?
  • Respecting children’s choices?
  • Using praise and positive reinforcement?
  • Talking with children – not at them?
  • Circulating throughout the room?
  • At the child’s eye level?

Function of Behavior

Watch the video: “Tips for Managing Challenging Behavior in a Group Setting featuring Christopher Garofalo, Behavior Analyst. This video will help you understand the functions of behavior and strategies for supporting your students through challenging behavior.

Every behavior has a function and should be viewed as an attempt to communicate. Listed below are potential reasons why children may exhibit inappropriate or challenging behavior in a classroom environment:

  • Medical: They can be tired, hungry, or ill. They may also be demonstrating a symptom of a diagnosis (i.e. trouble focusing because of low sugar, shaking leg taps the table while working because of hyperactivity disorder).
  • Refusal to Participate: A child feels he/she is not good at drawing so he/she says the sketching assignment is stupid; or he/she wants to assert himself/herself and his/her independence so he/she asks to use the restroom in order to leave the class.
  • Attention Seeking: They have been previously “rewarded” for their inappropriate behavior with adult attention. A child may call out, make inappropriate jokes, or bully a classmate. (By engaging in an argument with the child, the Teaching Artist may not be aware that he/she is contributing and sustaining the inappropriate attention seeking behavior).
  • Access to a Tangible: A child wants to have an item and gets up to retrieve it without asking, potentially interrupting the class discussion or demonstration.

For students in the inclusive community, interaction with tactiles is sometimes recommended to help with their ability to focus in class.

Steps to Support Positive Behavior

Often, children experience different sets of expectations between school and at home. There is a chance that a child may not understand the rules, or is being  held to expectations that are beyond his/her developmental levels. Challenging behavior is impossible to prevent completely. Children, usually curious and endlessly creative, are likely to behave in ways that educators do not expect. Educators can take positive steps to support the behavior desired. Such steps can include:

  • Set clear, consistent, and positive rules. (i.e.: walking feet; gentle touches)
  • Make certain the environment is safe and worry-free.
  • Show interest in the child’s activities. (i.e.: participating in activities with the children so they stay interested for longer periods)
  • Validate feelings by saying phrases like, “I understand that you’re upset…” “It’s ok to be frustrated…”
  • Encourage self-control and independence by providing meaningful choices.
  • Focus on the desired behavior, rather than the one to be avoided. (i.e.: “Ashley, please remember to use your inside voice”)
  • Build children’s image of themselves as trustworthy, responsible, and cooperative.
  • Share a general visual schedule/agenda for every session. This is crucial in managing student expectations and flow of time.
  • Give clear directions; in sequential order and one at a time. For some students, it is helpful to provide visuals (i.e. Drawings)
  • Say “Yes”, whenever possible.
  • Check for understanding. (ie. “Raise your hand if you can remind us of how many frames are in a second of a movie!” This will help you identify if students are absorbing the class content and/or if anyone needs additional support).
  • Notice and bring positive attention to children when they do things correctly and successfully. (ie:, “Joey is working so nicely. I like it when you focus and take your time.”)
  • Encourage children often and generously. Provide positive reinforcement.
  • Set a good example. (ie: using a quiet voice when children should be quiet. Unrelated conversations should wait until after class for TAs as well! Be present and in the moment with your class.)
  • Help children see how their actions affect others.

Watch the video: “The Inclusive Classroom” featuring Jennifer Candiano, Museum Accessibility Consultant, which includes strategies for creating an accessible and inclusive classroom environment. Visual Tools such as rules, schedules, visual vocabularies, and instructions can help communicate expectations to your students. Click to learn more about elements of The Inclusive Classroom.

The Rules

Positive Behavior Support (PBS)

Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is a research-based method used in educational settings. The essence of PBS is praising student behavior a practitioner seeks to increase while ignoring the behaviors looking to decrease. In other words, educators should focus on “catching students doing something good.” When an educator realizes the only behavior they can control is their own, they are able to identify the function and motivation for student behavior. PBS recommends providing positive reinforcement for desired behavior, “raise your hand to ask a question,” “sharing materials” or “try something new.” Click here to learn more about using PBS in community settings and in the art studio.

Here are some positive Museum Rules for all children:

  1. Please walk nicely.
  2. Keep your hands by your side.
  3. Use your inside voice.
  4. Stay with your adult.
  5. Explore art making in the studios.

Whenever possible, involve children in making the rules for the classroom. Below are guidelines for creating classroom norms:

  • Place rules where everyone can see them and refer to them often. For students with disabilities pair the rules with a visual.
  • Written rules should tell children what they can do. (i.e.: “Share your ideas by raising your hand.”)
  • Build in time for transitions in your session plan, especially when moving from preferred activities (art making) to less preferred activities (clean up).
  • Let students know how much time they have for a task and provide a clear warning, (i.e. “You have 2 more minutes for your finishing touches.”)
  • Consider other ways besides your voice to help with transitions, such as nonverbal cues, (i.e. flicker lights to indicate transitions or clap your hands when you want their attention.)    
  • Be consistent and warm so that students understand that you are not upset with them, but you believe they can make a better behavioral choice. Help students understand their choices.

Redirecting & Refocusing

Redirection and Refocusing: These strategies are most commonly needed when working with young children.

  • Refocus: Return the student’s attention to the task at hand.
  • Redirect: A student needs a new activity or task to prevent from distraction or complete inactivity.

Logical Consequences: These are structured consequences that follow specific behaviors. The child should be able to see how the behavior and the consequence are directly related.

Participate in the Solution: If a child damages something, he/she needs to help in fixing it or in cleaning up. If a child causes someone distress, he/she should help in relieving that. The Teaching Artist should facilitate this interaction and circle back to classroom rules whenever possible.

“Take a Break”: In some instances, a child may need to be removed from a particular situation in which he/she has become overwhelmed, overstimulated, or aggressive. The child should be instructed  to “take a break” in order to to get space and self-regulate. This strategy gives the child a chance to calm down away from the group. When a child can identify when they need space, they are self-advocating.

*Under no circumstances are should educators touch, grab or physically remove a child from a setting, unless it is apparent she/he is about to harm him/herself or others.

Language Matters

Do not disclose the diagnosis or assumptions of the life-situation of anyone in your programs to another patron or child. Speak about people, as person first and then describe the behavior you are managing. Be mindful of words and descriptors you use casually that disrespect the dignity of people with disabilities, are socially exclusive, or culturally biased.

The following phrases are useful when problem-solving with children. Tell children exactly what the appropriate behavior looks like. For example, if you want children to stop running tell them, “Please walk.” Phrase directives clearly and positively. Refrain from wordy directives that require interpretation, or bold phrases such as:

INSTEAD of: “No” or “Don’t”

  • TRY: “Please stop”, “That’s not OK”, or “That is not a choice”
  • “That’s does not seem nice”, “Please use gentle touches”, or “That hurts Jordan”

INSTEAD of: “No running” or “No touching”

  • TRY: “Use your walking feet”, or “You may run only when we get to the park. Inside, we are walking.”, “Walk carefully and quietly with your hands by your side” or just “Hands by your side, thank you. Tell me why you are excited by this artwork.”

INSTEAD of: “Stop crying”

  • TRY: “I need you to use your words to tell me what is wrong.”

INSTEAD of: “Can you put away your materials?” (If it is not a choice, do not pose it as a question)

  • TRY: “Help me put away your materials”, or “Please help Alyssa pick up the pencils”

INSTEAD of: “I said yes” (when a child tells you “no”)

  • TRY: “No is not an option right now. I need you to…”

Learn More:

Visit CMA’s Vimeo Channel for all of our Training Videos

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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