Talking about visual literacy at the secondary literacy symposium. Not only do art students engage with traditional texts like books and articles, they are also learning art language to develop abilities to decode and encode the visual world.
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!
Kudos to the staff at Woodlawn for having the courage to give your students an experience they learned from, and will not soon forget.
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?
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.
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:
- Love kids
- Love teaching
- Be professional
Even those employees who don’t work with kids must love kids. Kids are why we are here.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
I hope when you read, “What is your purpose here?” You can fully envision the scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest. If not I think the image, below, is linked to a gif. (Hit me with a comment if you know the response to the question from the movie.)
I suppose it’s fair if you are wondering what this has to do with art education…
I met with art collaborative team leads recently and posed a question about the purpose of art CTs. Some quick answers included “to collaborate,” “to share ideas,” and “to share best practices.” Yes, these are reasons we get together, but why do we do these things? Why do we collaborate? Why do we share ideas?
TO IMPROVE STUDENT LEARNING!
I am surrounded by this language all the time in the instructional services department. If a similar question were asked of a group of my central office colleagues we would probably all respond in unison.
This interaction with my art instructional leaders helped me realize that this is a message that I should work harder to promote. It’s a mindset that can impact how we interact with our work. Everything we do should be with the goal of improving student learning.