Do you think I did the right thing?


I am an art teacher at an elementary school. I have three 4th grade classes that are usually difficult to manage. I have recently asked a guest artist to come and do a Jackson Pollock lesson with them. She is supplying all the paint and canvases for this lesson, except one. I also have one very large (6 X 8) canvas that only one class will get to paint. The other two classes will have to work on smaller individual canvases. This lesson requires the students to be on their best behavior and be good listeners as we will be “splatter” painting. I told the classes they could “earn” the big canvas.  I said that the class with the best behavior for 4 weeks (overall) would get to do the big canvas and the rest would do individual canvases.  There was one class that truly worked hard on their listening/following directions/behavior skills. I let them do the big canvas. Was this right or should I have chosen the class based on a “pull a class name out of a hat”?


I’ve never been in the exact situation that you mention, in other words, trying to share something special between three unrelated classes of students, so I’m only guessing at what I might do based on my understandings of Marvin Marshall’s approach. I have had similar situations with my own class though–that is, having to share something special within the class group.

One of the three principles of Marshall’s Disicipline without Stress approach is “reflection.” In other words, getting the students to do the thinking (about responsibility) instead of the teacher telling them exactly how to take responsibility.

In this case, I might honestly explain the situation to the kids:  “Kids, we get to do this great art activity with a guest artist. It’s going to be really fun. Everyone will have a chance to do this special project but not all the canvases I have are the same size. I have individual boards for everyone but I also have just one bigger board. One solution is that we could simply put this one big board away and have everyone use the same size boards, but it seems a shame not to have someone use the bigger board on this particular project. What do you think? Can we find some way to decide which class will use the bigger board?”

Then I’d listen to all their ideas and help them “tweak” one (if that was necessary) to find an acceptable way to decide who should use this special canvas. Kids are very smart!  I find they often come up with ideas that I would never have thought of myself. It’s possible that they may come up with an idea exactly like the one you used; they might have suggested that the best behaved class get the board. Or they might have suggested that the board be won in a draw, or they might have suggested that the big board be put away this time and not used at all…or who knows!  Like I said, my experience is that kids can think of creative solutions, once I open the platform for discussion.

I find that if I approach situations from the perspective of getting the kids to solve a problem like this one, there are no bad feelings at the end for anyone. Not for the kids (who suggested themselves how to share the board) and not against the teacher (who didn’t impose a solution but merely followed the suggestion of those directly affected.) Although some kids might feel sad about not getting the big board, it wouldn’t be the same kind of feeling they would have if they felt they’d been unfairly treated.

I’ve learned a lot from the Discipline without Stress approach. For one thing I realize that I don’t have to be in total control when it comes to finding solutions for every little problem.  I’ve come to a place in my teaching that my goal is to be as honest and as positive as I can be with kids. By developing that type of relationship, I find I gain the cooperation of my students much more readily and so discipline issues are fewer.