Activities that Engage

I have spent some time this school year looking at engaging activities and how they impact instruction. I especially enjoyed an opportunity we had to share and play with a number of such activities with a cohort of new art teachers to our district. Most recently, though, I learned of a clever idea that was used to engage a different audience, families!

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The Effect of Classroom Strategies

Every classroom strategy has an effect. Action = reaction. That’s the point, right? As teachers, we try out strategies to get a desired effect, but beware! Some strategies will have unexpected consequences as well.

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Leadership, Trauma & Cultural Proficiency

I may be inappropriately mixing topics in the title of this post, but with an honest intent to honor the powerful messages shared in two presentations by FCPS art teacher and VAEA Secretary Libya Doman.

In her presentation, The Journey to Being a Trauma Sensitive Art Educator, Libya guided a full room to a better understanding of trauma and how it impacts students and educators. She discussed (in more detail than I will) a few ways teachers can support students with trauma including:

  • Stay calm
  • See the need
  • Meet the need
  • Don’t quit
  • Perhaps the most powerful messages from this session is this:
  • The number one most powerful impact on students with trauma is an adult who cares.

  • In another session, Leadership, Art, and Grappling with Cultural Differences through Visual Literacy, Libya guided attendees to think deeply about what it means to be a leader, both in title and as a de facto leader – one who acts and serves as a leader even in the absence of title or compensation.
  • Cultural proficiency was woven into the discussion through the lens of leadership and Libya warned against the perils of “business as usual” when we might otherwise make steps to include underrepresented populations. In other words, when new members join a team and make that team more diverse, it is a disservice to that diversity to continue operating as you always have.

    She included it her recommendations for culturally proficient leaders including:

    • Learn more about affinity bias
    • Audit your group (where 30% makes a critical mass)
    • Hold people accountable for “othering” and inappropriate behavior
    • Recognize your privilege
    • Contemplate pathways to success
    • Be deliberate in mentoring and supporting diverse populations.

    I am so excited to see that art educators are getting the opportunity to explore these complex issues through our conference. It is great to give art teachers an opportunity to make art and share lesson ideas but we must continue to think deeply about the broader context of our work.

    Thank you, Libya!


    What in the world is cura-culum?! Well, it’s a made up word, and notably NOT a word that Marilyn Stewart used. It’s my word to summarize the ideas from her presentation Curatorial Practice and Curriculum: Creating Pathways Toward Art and Understanding.

    Cura-culum, then, is a carefully CURATED CURRICULUM. Marilyn points out that teachers must consider their curriculum like a curator. Let’s think about some of the things curators do.

    A curator must know their collection.

    A teacher must know each individual part of their curriculum: each lesson, activity, strategy, project, and assessment. We must know how each piece belongs in the whole collection, it’s importance, and the purpose it serves. In addition, the teacher must know the overall purpose of the whole collection.

    A curator selects, arranges, and interprets.

    With that purpose and goal in mind, we must take full responsibility for how we arrange and present each piece. Just like a curator arranges an exhibition, we must carefully arrange each piece of our collection to present our instruction with intentionality and our audience in mind.

    A curator must make tough decisions about what to keep and what not to keep?

    The curator perspective also forces us to confront what may be very difficult to some of us – getting rid of things. Teachers are continuously exposed to new ideas through professional development, but like a curator with limited storage space at a museum, teachers must carefully select the pieces to keep. There is only so much time in a course and that time limitation is equivalent to a museums storage limitations. It can be very difficult for some of us to stop doing things we have always done, but this doesn’t leave room for bringing in something new that may more effectively meet the goals of the collection.

    Try to think from a curators perspective. What might you do differently to better curate your curriculum?

    Colleague Presenters

    Super proud of all of the FCPS art teachers who are presenting to their colleagues from around the state this morning at the VAEA conference.

    Kudos to:

    • Greg Skrtic who talked about breaking bad habits like drawing stick figures
    • Beth Smith who shares a plethora of ceramics projects and strategies
    • Adam Hatchl and Susan Silva who shared photoshop instruction included in their photo courses
    • Amber Westphal who presented an extended unit that guides art students in learning and breaking the rules of art

    More FCPS presentations to come.

  • Totally Engaged

    My colleagues, Carol and Jean-Marie, presented Equity through Engagement, a session that explored how engaging learning activities provide an equitable opportunity for learning to students of all backgrounds.

    Not only did they address the important issues of equity, they also presented and allowed participants to try out a number of engaging activities… and boy were they!

    Everyone in attendance was totally immersed in the activities and didn’t want to stop to go on to the next part of the presentation.

    What a great demonstration of how a well planned activity can pull students into the learning!

    A structure that was used (and I appreciate) organized the description of each strategy in terms of task, tools, and talk. The Task is a description of what will be done. Tools describe the things the teacher prepares for the activity. And Talk is a description of discussion strategies or a list of essential questions.

    Think about the ways that you deliver content to students, and switch it up! How can you design an engaging, active learning activity that allows students to explore the same content?

    From the DOE

    It was a pleasure to join other arts supervisors from around the state to hear updates from Dr. Christine Harris from the Virginia Department of Education. Our discussions ranged across topics including updates to standards of accreditation and standards of quality, the broader education priorities of the Governor, and some of the recent curricular projects in other disciplines that will influence the future work in the arts.

    The range of topics reinforces what I have come to feel about the state of education.

    It’s a good time to be in the arts in education.

    The pendulum is in a good place. At the state level there is emphasis on teaching the soft skills employers are seeking such as communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and citizenship. Arts educators know how well we develop many of these in our classrooms.

    We discussed the expansion and development of performance assessments and related resources. Like the 5 C’s above, this is an area that we do very well in the arts.

    The state standards of learning will be revised this summer, and some of these other resources will follow. I look forward to supporting this work in an exciting time for the arts!

    Bridging the gap between Art and Education