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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
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:


Art & Technology

Congratulations to the many students, and their teachers, recognized at the Technology+Art=NOW reception yesterday evening. The artwork is stellar, and you should be incredibly proud!

I also want to thank — and congratulate — Arts Herndon, the organization that organizes this program. I want to thank them for recognizing our artists for excellence and for providing monetary scholarship awards to encourage these students in their endeavors. That may all make sense but it may seem less clear why I would want to congratulate them as well. 

I want to congratulate them for their vision.   Arts Herndon recognizes that significant advances in creativity and innovation are happening at the place where art and technology intersect. The Technology+Art=NOW program is a clear demonstration of this belief, but the really impressive part is that they have been doing this for ten years! Kudos, my friends, Kudos!

Fore more information about the program, go to the ARTSPACE Herndon website, or read the FCPS news release

Meaningful Choices

Born of a disagreement, this group of art educators came together to address different approaches to choice in art education. The question comes down to this: Should we have “projects” in art instruction and if so, why and how should we do this that provides an appropriate amount of choice to our students. 

Each presenter shared some of their own experiences and approaches. Katherine Douglas presented her experience as a teacher in a primary choice-based art classroom. 

Anne Thulson made an analogy to the Prime Directive from Star Trek in which the crew of the Starship Enterprise were not to interfere with cultures of the planets they visit. She argued that the art teacher should interfere and intervene with the students as they learn. She shared a collection of Dérive strategies to engage with spaces which she uses in the School of the Poetic City summer project.

Olivia Gude provided a number of approaches to presenting conceptual projects without making art seem too important.  The subject of ordinary life is used through concepts such as mapping, telling stories, being dirty, awkward silence, punishment, weirdness, and lies. 

Sharif Bey shared approaches to exploration of material process to find unique entry points into learning. He points out that discovery can’t happen in the absence of circumstances that allow for it. 

Each of us probably has an approach that we feel more aligned with, but I believe all of our students will benefit from opportunities to engage in a variety of approaches and practices in making choices for the artmaking process. 

Designing the Future of Schools

Education is often criticized as being stagnant, but new ideas — new designs for schools are being developed and tested around the country.
Grants such as those through the XQ Super School Project are allowing a few great ideas to be implemented and tested, including the design-thinking-based school ideas shared this morning. 

The challenge of designing a new and different school is valuable, and the need is real, but it is a far different and monumental task to redesign our public school systems. Integral to the challenge is the need to provide equitable education opportunities to all students across the country. 

Professional Development

A session by Patrick Fahey and Laura Cronen addressed the challenges of PD for art teachers.  We know –and research shows — teachers want PD, but there is a major disconnect between what teachers want and find effective and what administrators and PD developers think is most important. PD should be relevant by being different in every content, and delivered by someone who understands what they do. 

The K-12 art workshops they shared focused on the concept of Identity and included artmaking techniques and practice to meet these expectations. 

More information about their workshops can be found at

Display Durability

There’s a little frustration that I deal with every year when we hang the regional Scholastic Art Exhibition — mats that fall apart! How do you like this lovely artwork? Very avant garde, right?!

I will concede that most matting applications do not require the durability that this show does. Most mats just need to hold together well enough to be placed into a frame which then holds everything together. Not so here! We hang the whole show without frames, and the work is suspended from its backing. 

Inevitably, a few mats and artworks fall off the wall and backing leaving behind something like the picture above in their spot on the wall.  I’m happy to make repairs, but the artwork and mat are often damaged in ways I cannot fix. 

If you have a similar show set up, ever, here are a few tips. 

  1. Don’t use masking tape. At all. For any of it. 
  2. And that definitely means no painters tape. 
  3. No scotch tape. 
  4. No double sided scotch tape. That doesn’t work either. 
  5. Don’t connect the backing with tape loops. Doubling or tripling the number of tape loops does not make this work better. 

I realize this is one of those “DO NOT” lists, but the ones that fall apart are the ones that inform my list. Maybe I should see how the really good ones are put together. I think there’s a little irony in there.