Category Archives: supervision & leadership

It’s amazing what you can do with the help of an art teacher.

“It’s amazing what you can do with the help of an art teacher” is an overly-long title in my opinion, but I was considering, “It’s amazing what you can do with the help of an art teacher, and other quotes from our superintendent.”

Tonight we held our Regional Scholastic Art Awards ceremony, and we were honored to have Dr. Scott Brabrand, Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, join us to offer some opening remarks and his congratulations to our student award winners. And yes, he actually said, “It’s amazing what you can do with the help of an art teacher.”

He was sharing a personal experience and experiment. He wanted to see if he could learn to draw at the age of 49, and just one hour with an art teacher allowed him to make significant strides.

Dr. Brabrand went out of his way to recognize the art teachers at tonight’s event. He also acknowledged how important the arts are in our schools and recognized that the arts are supporting the very skills the school system is striving to instill in all graduates including communication skills, creativity, and critical thinking.

I couldn’t be more proud to have a superintendent and leadership team who are so supportive of the arts. Thank you, Dr. Brabrand, not just for saying it, but for showing it by making time to join us for this special night!

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Courage & Joy

Add to my recent post that educators need to have courage! Principal Dawn Hendrick and her staff at Woodlawn Elementary certainly demonstrated courage when they decided to dedicate an entire day to CARDBOARD!


A few of the teachers, including art teacher Angela Noland, started playing with the idea of doing Imagination.org’s Global Cardboard Challenge with some students at the school, and before they knew it, it was a whole school event. That’s right! Every student, in every classroom, grades K through 6 spent the entire day building with cardboard and then had a fantastic time sharing their creations with the school. 


While there was a great deal of flexibility, upper grades were challenged to design games that others could play. This required them to think creatively and critically, collaborate with others, and be goal directed and resilient. There was a lot of talk, too, about how this challenge really called on the students to apply their understanding of STEM disciplines, and there is certainly no denying that Art was involved. 

Where’s the A in STEAM? At Woodlawn, that’s where!


Many schools and teachers would balk at the thought of dedicating a full day to cardboard and play, but the day was not only successful, it was absolutely JOYFUL! 

Kudos to the staff at Woodlawn for having the courage to give your students an experience they learned from, and will not soon forget. ​​

What It Takes

I have been visiting and supporting a number of new art teachers at the start of this school year. This work always seems to shine a light on what is most important. Here’s my most recent conclusion…

There are six things you need to be a successful teacher. These are not the ya-have-em or ya-don’t-have-em sorts of things. These are understandings, abilities, and characteristics of teachers, all of which can be developed and refined. No one starts teaching with even most of these areas well-developed, and some of us who have been teaching a long while may still need to work on one or more of them. (This is what they mean by a lifelong learner, right?) As you read on, think about what areas you have developed well, and which could use some work.

Let me start with a set of three that are a little more concrete than the next: Content Knowledge, Pedagogy, and Classroom Management. Perhaps because they are more concrete, these three are often addressed to a fair degree in teacher preparation programs.

Content Knowledge is knowing your subject. In the art world, content knowledge and skills are infinite and ever changing. Few of us are truly proficient in a full range of media, and even those who graduate with advanced studies in Art History can very quickly become out of touch with trends in contemporary art. New teachers are often faced with a harsh reality when they realize they are expected to teach content and processes that they, themselves, don’t yet know.

Pedagogy is about having a tool kit of strategies for HOW to teach content, and knowing which of these are highly effective methods. I consider pedagogy to include a full cycle of planning, teaching, and assessing practices, as well as an ongoing reflective practice which includes the teacher as researcher. Like content knowledge, pedagogy is a constantly changing field with a regular influx of new studies. Teachers should take every advantage of professional development opportunities to continue learning about best practices in teaching. New teachers often have a few tools, and must work to develop and refine their practices through experience and continuous learning.

Classroom Management is frequently a barrier to being able to even consider content knowledge and pedagogy, and despite the best efforts of our friends in higher-education, there will always be a need for more practice and more experience managing student behavior. As much as I would like to meet with new teachers and talk about the content and pedagogy in their classroom, there is often an urgent need to develop classroom management skills first. Only after some semblance of order and routine is established do I start to focus attention on what is being taught and how.

The next three are a bit more abstract and a bit “deeper,” if  you will. To be a successful teacher Passion, Philosophy, and Mindset are every bit as necessary as the concrete classroom skills we have already discussed.

Passion can come in a variety of forms, but without it, you won’t last long as a teacher. Some are deeply passionate about their subject area (common in art), others for children, or for teaching itself. No matter what passion brought you to  teaching, one is a must. You must love children. I give props to Dr. Brabrand, our superintendent, for reminding us all of this regularly.   New teachers rarely lack passion, but we need to support them in other areas so this passion does not suffer.

By Philosophy, I mean to suggest that a successful teacher must have a philosophy of teaching. An idea of what is truly important to them in the classroom, what they really want their students to learn, and how these ideas come together to form instruction that aligns with that philosophy. Many teacher preparation programs address philosophy or at least encourage their graduates to write one. Many schools and divisions promote a philosophy of their own. It’s not important where the philosophy came from. What’s important is that the teacher knows what it is.

Mindset refers, here, to the teacher’s mindset about teaching and learning. How can a teacher possibly be successful if he does not believe that his students can learn? How can a teacher possibly be successful if she does not believe that her actions are what makes that happen? A teacher must believe BOTH that ALL students are able to learn, and that the teacher’s planning and implementation are what allow the learning to happen. That’s how this works.

There you have it folks. My take on what it takes to be successful, after spending time with a number teachers helping each make progress in one area or another.

Which do you need to work on?

Expectations

I have had the privilege of attending our local leadership conferences for years and have always felt that it was a shame that all teachers in the division couldn’t be there to hear the message that would drive so many decisions in the coming year. That feeling is compounded when we have a new superintendent. It may not compare, but I hope some of you can appreciate those messages shared here through my mental filter. 

Photo borrowed from @ehmukai on Twitter

Dr. Brabrand shared his expectations of all of us. Not just the leaders in the audience, but every last employee of the school system. His expectations are:

  1. Love kids
  2. Love teaching
  3. Be professional 

LOVE KIDS

Even those employees who don’t work with kids must love kids. Kids are why we are here. 

LOVE TEACHING

I especially appreciate that he clarified that this means loving learning as well. Teachers must love and seek out opportunities to learn more about teaching to continually improve their craft. 

BE PROFESSIONAL

Dr. B has a high standard for professionalism. He will hold us to that standard, and he expects us to hold him to that standard as well. We are role models for kids!

Check out the first Leadership Conference post for more. 

Art and Our New Superintendent

A Leadership Conference marks the beginning of each new school year for the school and central office administrators in our school system. This year’s conference was our first real opportunity to hear from our new superintendent, Dr. Scott Brabrand

https://www.fcps.edu/news/fairfax-county-school-board-confirms-scott-brabrand-fcps-superintendent
One of the prominent ideas he spoke about was mindset, which he illustrated with a personal art example. Dr. Brabrand shared his efforts to challenge his own mindset regarding his drawing ability. Any artist or art teacher has probably had to listen politely to hundreds of people explaining that they can’t draw. (Read a related post HERE.) Dr. Brabrand recognized his own mindset on his ability and set out to challenge it. 

First, he spent 15 minutes drawing a cat, with unimpressive results. Then he asked an art teacher to help him for one hour, and drew another cat. This time, the results were quite impressive. With only an hour of instruction, he was able to grow from a child-like line drawing, to a well-defined, natural form of a cat including value, shading, and texture. Well done, sir!

So what’s the point?! 

As educators we must consider our own mindset around teaching and learning. That means we must, first, recognize our mindset, and second, be willing to challenge and change that mindset. We cannot expect to be successful, as educators, if we don’t believe in the human ability to learn. And we won’t meet our mandate to reach every child if we have anything less than this growth mindset for each and everyone of our students. 

If you’re interested in reading more about mindset, check out these posts: