Sharpie Wielding Six-Year-Olds

I really believe students will live up to your expectations – if you expect great things, they will show you that. If you expect a room full of chaos – they will show you that too.


A kindergartener using a sharpie


A sharpie wielding kindergarten artist

With this in mind, I took a chance and used permanent markers with kindergarten and first grade. And they rocked it!

We read the book, Look! Look! Look! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace. After showing students step by step how to draw a cartoon mouse (and explaining it was ok if their mouse looked different from their neighbors) in pencil, they outlined them in sharpie and finally added watercolor. I dread the cookie-cutter, pinterest-y perfect art project. To avoid this I let students add any accessories – clothes, glasses, fur, food, etc. to their mouse. They also chose their own colors.


Superhero Mouse


Yay watercolors!


Students painting their mice.


Exploring with watercolors


This mouse had bat wings


Ok, ok, there was ONE class that just wasn’t ready for sharpies or paint – no matter how great my expectations were.

Check out my responsible artists!


Maternity Leave in the Art Room

A short seven weeks ago, I was running around my classroom finishing up prepping for maternity leave. Frantically photocopying, finishing power points and furiously organizing supplies. This is partly because I am a notorious procrastinator and partly because I wanted everything to be perfect. I left that evening with the cleaning crew – pretty satisfied my kids (and classroom) would survive twelve weeks without me.

A few days later my daughter Maya was born.

I made this!

Mommy and Maya

It was an emotional whirlwind of exhaustion and joy. As each of my friends asked how motherhood was all I could come up with was a lame, “everything is different”. Trying to describe the first few weeks of parenthood is like trying to describe the color blue to a person with no sight. I recently read a quote by the artist Sarah Walker in an article about motherhood changing your brain that came kind of close. She said, “becoming a mother is like discovering the existence of a strange new room in a house where you already live”. So, it’s kind of like that. And like being in love while severely sleep deprived.

So for the next few weeks, this love-struck, bleary eyed parent will be sharing fabulous art projects we did in the classroom  but that I never got around to posting.

Iyanla Fix My Classroom

It turns out that being pregnant, teaching 750 students a week AND updating a blog at least once a week is a lot of work- because I haven’t been doing it. This summer, as I envisioned my organized classroom full of eager students deeply engaged in meaningful art making, I was sure creating a world-class art education blog would be no problem for Ms. Shirley a.k.a. amazing woman.

Amazing Woman

This is me. In school I button up that shirt and put on pants of course.

I was completely unprepared for the overwhelming exhaustion that comes with pregnancy. For the last few weeks of school, seemingly small tasks like updating the bulletin boards, creating handouts with examples on them and washing paintbrushes at the end of the day – turned in to life challenges so monumental I considered calling Iyanla.

The other thing weighing on my swollen, sneaker-clad feet (farewell cute flats) is that Florida will soon be implementing standardized testing for visual arts. This means all of my kindergarten through fifth grade students will be taking a standardized test, regardless if they have stepped foot in my classroom or not. Many students, if they are English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) or receive Exceptional Student Education (ESE) services, get pulled out of art for extra help in academic areas.

The test is still in the works, but has obviously been a source of heated controversy and high emotions at every arts meeting. How do you “test” for art? How do you measure those complex habits of mind like risk taking and engaging and persisting? My biggest fear is that this test will suck all the passion and exploration out of art. Instead of tailoring lessons to student interest, I’ll be forced to drill them with vocabulary and art history facts.

bored students pic

With pregnancy and standardized testing on my mind, staying flexible and looking for the positive in each day (The Secret has been on repeat) has been my mantra. And nothing tests that mantra like paint and six year olds.

photo 1

Types of line

photo 2

More Lines

photo 3

Straight, zig-zag, wavy and spiral

photo 5

Practicing lines and painting procedures with ONE COLOR

photo 4

My “Sally the Snake” Poster

With my kindergarteners, we’ve been focusing on line and color. We started with the line sculptures in the previous post, and moved on to creating lines with colored pencils. Next we practiced painting lines using only one color, so students could get familiar with painting procedures.

We’re slowly working up to using THREE primary colors and mixing them to make secondary colors.

Six Year Olds + Wet Glue = Triumph

My greatest accomplishment for the second week of the new school year: successfully using wet bottled glue with kindergarten and first grade. This from the teacher who, last year, spent two full classes practicing procedures for painting WITH NO ACTUAL PAINT. I’ve learned the importance of song, repetition and anthropomorphism when teaching new skills to youngsters. Here’s a few pictures of the beginning stages of our 3-D sculptures, inspired by Cassie Stevens.



We are doing this  project as part of a bigger unit on lines and shape.  In addition to discussing valuable art terms like line, sculpture, 3D and flat, it also helps us practice classroom procedures for the “mini-lesson” (I explain what we are doing for the say and show any techniques), “artists at work” (their work time), and clean up (weeks of reinforcement go in to orchestrating 30 six-year olds to clean up on time and properly).


But mostly, we are doing this project for the joy I get out of seeing the shock on their teacher’s face when I let them know the whole class just used wet glue…at the same time…independently 🙂


It’s Almost Here!

The first day of the school year is right around the corner! It’s been a busy few weeks setting up my classroom, preparing lessons and attending meetings. Here’s a peek into our soon-to-be messy classroom:

Where students sit is also how the order they line up in

Where students sit is also the order they line up in

Whole Class Behavior Tally

Whole Class Behavior Tally

My new invention for tracking behavior in grades K-1.

My new invention for tracking behavior in grades K-1.

Students can see as soon as they walk in what we are doing that day.

Students can see the “Do-Now” and “Daily Activity” as soon as they walk in.

Embracing Change

Embraces Change!

My new mantra: Don’t panic, EMBRACE the  change!

This school year I will be embracing change like it’s a long-lost sister (I will also be having mini panic attacks about it). I came across the 5 Habits of an Effective Teacher while idly browsing Facebook and realized just how much #2 relates to me. Besides the millions of ways I’ve thought of to improve my routines, lessons and management, I’m also going on maternity leave in December. During the first few weeks of school I’m planning to focus on classroom procedures with the intensity of this cat:

Ms. Shirley Focuses on Classroom Procedures

Ms. Shirley plans and rehearses classroom procedures with laser like focus.


Two more changes I’m making are how we store artwork and how we start each class. Last year, I used simple manilla file folders as portfolios. They were affordable and easy to re-use (just flip them inside out) with our transient student population. However, artwork often fell out and students had trouble finding things as there were no pockets to organize papers. This summer I had the BRILLIANT idea to order folders with three prongs in the middle to hold loose leaf paper.  So I now have 700 bright, new, multicolored folders sitting in my living room.

Boxes of new, squeaky clean folders

Boxes containing 700 glorious folders


How does this tie in with how we start class? When students come in to my class, they have a “Do Now”, which is something they get started on right away. Sometimes it’s an open-ended question, sometimes it’s a quote to think about – a hook to get them invested in what we’re about to do. Now, thanks to the loose leaf paper in their folders, they can keep their answers organized, in chronological order – we can even incorporate more art vocabulary. Paper in the folders also solves the conundrum of where to store 700 spiral notebooks. I’m pumped!

The Do-Now

The Do-Now

Rocky Balboa and Glitter Showers

Tracking Class Behavior


Behavior management – I’ve tried to think of a clever metaphor to capture the magnitude of this in the classroom. If done right, effective behavior management can provide a mutually joyful and relaxed learning environment for students and teacher. My day goes by smoothly, filled with engaged kids and meaningful routines – on days like these I feel like Rocky Balboa running up the steps and punching the air in triumph while glitter rains down around me (the glitter part didn’t happen in the movie but that’s how it plays out in my head).

On those inevitable bad days, I wallow in my crumpled confidence for a little while, eat unnecessary amounts of chocolate and figure out what I can do differently tomorrow.


This past school year, my system of tracking and redirecting whole class behavior worked OK.  I had three letters that spell out  A R T and a stop sign. The class received three warnings – I took away a letter for each warning, then I moved the arrow on the stop sign from green to yellow.

Tracking behavior by taking down letters one by one

Tracking behavior by taking down letters one by one


If I moved the arrow down to red, the result was silent art (this was excruciating to enforce – it was more work for me than the students).  If a class kept all the letters up, and it still spelled A R T at the end of class, I colored in a square for their class on the Good Choices Chart.

The Good Choices Challenge Chart

The Good Choices Challenge Chart


At the end of each semester, if a class had a certain amount of squares colored in, they received a prize. This system had a few problems, the positive reinforcement wasn’t immediate and I saw certain classes more often than others because of holidays or testing. This year I’m SO excited to try out a different system I came across on Pinterest from teacher Katie Jarvis.


In this whole brain teaching method, the class gets tally marks for positive and off task behavior. At the end of class, if there are more points on the positive behavior side, the class receives a golden paintbrush. If there are an equal amount of tally marks on each side, the class receives a silver paintbrush. Four golden paint brushes earns the class a day of free art (a silver paintbrush is worth 1/2 of a silver brush).


I think this way of tracking whole class behavior is genius because the “reward” is more immediate and tangible – a physical brush they can bring back to class. I’ll let you know how it goes – for now I’m focused on finding 200 chip paintbrushes for dirt cheap.

Move from “Crazy Busy” to “Crazy Creative”

Views from the F.A.A.E. Conference

Views from the F.A.A.E. Conference: window, notes and rocket fuel, awesome rug.


This is what I was promised during a recent session at the Florida Alliance for Arts Education Leadership Summit. Was this tailor-made for me?  I’m constantly running around – switching materials in the two minutes between classes, creating power points, emailing parents, entering grades – before I collapse on the couch at home with the nagging feeling I’ve forgotten something. During the three-day conference, this presentation, given by Eric Smith, was the most useful break out session I attended.

So, what is the secret to being an organized person with time for your own art?

Smith suggests the following 5 habits:

#1 Use Good Tools and Put Faith In Them

  • Whether it’s an electronic calendar or good old-fashioned paper planner – don’t write it down if you’re not actually going to do it.

#2 Create Inboxes

  • Two email inboxes: work and home. Two physical inboxes: work and home. One mobile inbox – the iPhone has specific apps for this.
  • The physical inboxes create a vertical mess. This helps teachers like me who have the constant problem of tornado desk. Ask yourself the following questions when organizing the endless papers on your desk:
  1. Can I do it right now? (a task that takes 5 minutes or less)
  2. Can I do it later? (add it to calendar or list)
  3. Is there nothing I can do with this? (file it or TRASH it)

#3 Make To-Do Lists Based on Location

  • Categories like errands (all the things you can do while out and about), at home or at school

#4 Take Time to Reflect and Make Adjustments

  • Each Friday, Smith suggests asking yourself if you’ve gotten everything done, what’s still nagging you and if you can clear out anything remaining in your inboxes?
  • A Friday calendar review can help you plan. What are you going to do over the next two weeks? What are you going to do over the next two months?

#5 Take Care of Yourself to Have Even More Crazy Creative Ideas

  • Ahhhh, the elusive 8 hours of sleep. It’s important! I haven’t mastered this yet.
  • Be honest with yourself – don’t work on things that get your mind wound up right before bed
  • Exercise – even if it’s just a walk around the block
  • Give yourself mental energy – appoint a time to check emails, don’t do it every 3 seconds from your phone
  • Most importantly, reconnect with your personal art form


I’ll let you know how these habits work for me – I make no promises about the sleeping part.

First Year Wrap-Up



Ms. Shirley wants to sleep

“Ms. Shirley wants to help you learn and she wants to sleep”.

Well it’s June. I survived my first year of full-time, real life teaching! These last 9 months have been some of the most grueling and rewarding of my life. One of my goals this summer was to create a blog about my life as a new teacher. The triumphs and challenges, the ten-hour days, the endless editing in search of the most effective lesson plans – and of course to showcase all the amazing artwork coming out of room 133.

Until school starts again in August I’ll be sharing some of the things that worked this past school year (lesson plans, behavior management techniques) and what I’m planning for the upcoming year (no smiling until Christmas!) as a bad to the bone, veteran second year teacher.

A bit about me – I teach at a Title 1, public charter school in Florida. I see around 650 fabulous kids in K-5th grades a week. When I’m not at creating amazing lesson plans that adhere flawlessly to all state standards while at the same time being relevant and engaging – I’m reading a great book on the porch with a cup of strong coffee, indulging in reality T.V. or (as of yesterday) at the potter’s wheel.