Category Archives: advocacy

Thankful for What We Have

I don’t usually talk directly about where I work, but today I am feeling particularly proud to be part of the Fairfax County Public Schools art program. I have been communicating with an art teacher who left our school system a while back to live in another part of the country. She is excited to finally have a Fine Arts Supervisor in her division and has been talking with this supervisor about some of the wonderful things we have been doing here in FCPS.

She wrote:

Our new fine arts coordinator shared several goals she has for the future of our program. They all aligned with what FCPS is doing or has done. She was thrilled to hear more about my FCPS Fine Arts experience.

This supervisor is especially interested in supporting new teachers, and would like to emulate some of the resources we provide to our new teachers and the way we share resources to all art teachers through our blackboard organization. Nothing of that kind currently exists in that school system.

Another common interest was found in an art teacher exhibition. Many of you have read about our annual Artist Teacher Exhibitions through this blog.

Another big change for this year is a Art Teacher Exhibition, which she was unsure if/how it would work but wanted to give it a shot. I told her I know that it would work because I have seen it and showed her an article and youtube video of your last FCPS Exhibit that solidified her vision.

While it’s wonderful to think of all of these supports and programs being emulated, it was especially good to hear her views on our curriculum.

She also noted that all FCPS curriculum and lessons I use and have shared with her are very rigorous and I shared that it is easy to teach with rigor and many moving parts when you aren’t creating every single piece on your own. The resources, training and support make all the difference.

She repeatedly told me that she couldn’t wait to meet “these amazing people” and is curious to learn how they built this program and all of these resources… I am inspired by her hopes and vision for our program.


Working within a system like FCPS can make you hyper-aware of its challenges and shortcomings, but notes like the ones from this teacher are a great reminder of how good we have it. Despite any criticism we may have or hear, FCPS is still providing a world-class art education for its students, and other school systems are trying to get to where we are. I’m proud to be a part of it!


Art is Joy

I am extremely  lucky to work in a school system where we don’t need to worry much about whether or not student’s get art instruction or have art supplies. In fact, I am often focused on raising the level of instruction to be more conceptual and challenge students to think at higher levels — to not simply focus on media and technique, but also teach creative problem solving skills.

The video below, however, is a wonderful reminder of the power of art to bring joy to others, even when it’s just a portrait from a photograph.

Students in one of our high schools participated in the Memory Project by creating portraits of children in orphanages and refugee camps. To learn more about the Memory Project, go to

What does your art room say?

I am lucky to be able to visit many art classrooms. As I travel around to our different schools, few things are more obvious than the  way the art rooms are set up and the message they send to our students.


Without a conversation, I can walk into a classroom and begin to know what is important to that teacher. (On occasion I walk into a classroom and begin to understand what was important to the teacher who retired ten years ago.) The physical space we create (or fail to create) communicates a huge amount of information, intentional or not, to our students and can have a significant impact on the way the students feel about being there. If you are thinking, “that could impact enrollment,” you are absolutely right!


If you haven’t thought too much about the FEEL of your classroom, you should! I could share many great examples, but today I will share images from just one teachers space.

A welcoming doorway, rugs and playful ligthing do so much to make this an inviting space where kids love to be. It doesn’t hurt any that there is enough extra space in the adjacent storage room that it could be converted into a student lounge where students are welcome to gather for lunch, or sit in a comfy old couch before or after school.



Think about your space and how you can make it more inviting! In a future post we will get a little deeper into what your classroom says about what students learn. Stay tuned, and I look forward to sharing more of our awesome art rooms.

NASA says ART!

NASA director Charles Bolden was at a local high school today giving a talk to the astronomy classes. One of the art teachers, Kenny, jumped on the opportunity to take his advanced photography and computer graphics students to listen. Kenny shared his opening thoughts:

“He began his talk, addressing the importance of art on advancements in science and how all that NASA does would not be possible without the creativity of artists.”

NASA's Charles Bolden speaking at a local high school
NASA’s Charles Bolden speaking at a local high school

Thanks for sharing, Kenny!


Cultural Proficiency

I received a fantastic little note from a teacher recently that reads:

Lithium Rose by Denise Corcoran, art teacher
Lithium Rose by Denise Corcoran, art teacher

Just a quick note to let you know I attended a Cultural Proficiency workshop today at my school and the underlying theme was A Sense of Place! The workshop highlighted the necessity for students and staff to understand Culture and Identity. I shared with our Administration that our elementary Art Curriculum is already based on A Sense of Place and three of our Big Ideas are aligned with Culture and Identity. I have offered to act as a resource to the staff for ideas and info on developing these Big Ideas in their classrooms.

Hats off to the Fine Arts Department!
Denise, Art Teacher

Well, hats off to you, Denise, for advocating for the value your art program and offering to help further the work. I am going to have to disagree with you on one point, though. First, let me explain to our readers…

As Denise suggests in her letter, the elementary art program in our school division is designed around an enduring idea of A Sense of Place. Each year, kindergarten through sixth grade, there is a different Big Idea that acts as a conceptual basis for art making. Each big idea is developmentally appropriate, aligned with the grade level classroom curriculum, and designed to help students gradually develop a sense of their place in the world. They are:

Kindergarten: Self
Grade 1: Family
Grade 2: Community
Grade 3: Culture
Grade 4: Time
Grade 5: Globalization
Grade 6: Identity

I assume when Denise said three of these concepts “align with culture and identity” she was probably referring to self, culture, and identity. These do align, but where I disagree is limiting that to just three. I believe that ALL of them align. This conceptual framework is designed to help students understand what makes us who we are through a progressively larger lens each year until coming full circle to an understanding of identity, in the sixth grade, that (we hope) is much deeper than that understanding of “me” (self) in kindergarten.

Cultural Proficiency is important work in our schools. I’m excited to hear about how it is being addressed in schools, and super proud that our art curriculum is aligned!

Denise, thanks for the note! Readers, if you’d like to read more about how we use big ideas in our curriculum, you can start HERE.

A Show with Punch

And I don’t mean cookies and punch! I want to give props to the Westfield Pyramid for the excellent art event they put  together this week. This is certainly not the only group that puts together an outstanding show, but I want to share some of the things they do to make it so. Let’s count ’em down.

Continue reading A Show with Punch