Tag Archives: arted

Who should make the art?

So, here’s a little quiz: Who should do the art making in the art classroom? The student! Of course! Did anyone at all have a different answer? I doubt it… But do we really mean it? Let’s give this question some thought.

Let me apologize to those who have seen parts of this story already. You see, it started on social media so some of my comments below have seen the light of day already. But this deserves elaboration!

Like many of you, I have made some attempts at connecting with other art educators online. I have followed some blogs and liked some art teacher pages, only occasionally finding some like-minded individuals. More often, I encounter what I would call (at great risk of offending) the unfortunate state of art education in our country. You can recognize posts in this category because they include phrases like…

…so excited to have my kiddos try this new product…

…love these [artist name] paintings by my students…

…found this idea on Pinterest…

…this is what my students will make…

A recent post that suggested something like this last sentiment went past me recently with four variations of the same painting made by the teacher. The text went something like this:

“I’m starting this lesson soon and made several samples to think it through. Which is your favorite?”

The paintings really were nice looking, each a variation of a swimmer’s face under water with a diver’s mask and snorkel. Cute idea, really! (I would show you the images, but it just doesn’t seem fair to use the teacher’s pictures in this post.)

Teacher samples are good, and “thinking it through” is good too, but if this is all that is said about the lesson you will start soon, what are we to believe except that you intend to guide your students to make their own variation of the self-same painting? I just couldn’t ignore it. I had to comment. I wrote:

You’ve worked really hard to design something. You tried some different variations and even gathered input from an authentic audience. All important skills for an artist. Teach the children to be artists. Don’t be the artist for them!

So, let’s go back to my original question. When you answered, were you thinking only about who is pushing the pencil or moving the paint brush? Manipulating media is only a tiny part — albeit the most visible part — of what an artist does.

Fellow art teachers… (No… Let’s make it bigger…) Fellow teachers, if we are to teach our children to thrive in the 21st Century, we cannot go around solving problems for them!

Any artist-educator worth her salt knows deep down that the visual arts are the perfect place for students to learn those skills that, by now, nearly all of our schools and districts have written into their mission statements. If we are to teach our students to be resilient problem solvers and creative and critical thinkers, we must give them problems to solve.

Art education is not what they do at those paint and wine nights! Sorry if I have crushed your dreams, but while I’m at it let’s try to clear up a MAJOR misconception.

(Image borrowed from www.paintandwine.com)

Art education is not about teaching children to create artworks!

(Did I blow your mind?) Honestly, it never has been. Even before all this “21st Century Skills” stuff, art was about teaching things like working with your hands, experimentation, play, communication, self expression, and understanding visual culture. Art students develop their art skills at the same time, and that is also a valued outcome. But, (and I am going to take another risk at offending) any teacher who thought artmaking was the sole or primary purpose was sorely misguided.

Let me step off my soap box and get back to this teacher that I called out.

I get the teachers inclination. Providing a sequence of steps that results in reliably attractive artworks can have its benefits. Administrators love pretty artwork in the halls. Many of your colleagues and parents who don’t know better will be impressed by you. And some of your students will even feel a sense of pride for making something that still doesn’t look quite as good as the one the teacher made. But how can we reframe the idea to create a foundation for a lesson that allows the children to solve the problem?

As I described above, the painting samples represented a snorkeler. So if the assignment should not be, “make a painting of a snorkeler,” then what should it be? It should, instead, be a challenge that could have many possible solutions. It should be a challenge that allows the students to find a personal connection, and it should expect them to practice specific art skills related to media and/or subject matter. There are several different ways to go with this, but let me suggest just one:

Create a portrait of you doing an activity you hope to do someday.

Do you think this fits the bill?

I invite you to share your thoughts and comments.

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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!

Day 22: Thankful for Art Teachers

Day 22: Thankful for Art Teachers

“Day 22…” is not the usual way I would start a blog post, but this month I have been trying to share daily gratitude through social media. Today, I wanted to go a little further in an attempt to express just a fraction of my gratitude toward the art educators I work with day in and day out.

FCPS Art Teachers at the National Portrait Gallery

I have said, many times, that in my job I have “the great pleasure of working with 380 amazing art teachers.” It’s not just talk. I mean it. I am  frequently over-credited as “being in charge of” or “running the entire” K-12 art program in our school district, but in fact it is these folks who make it all happen. While I do my best to develop and provide helpful resources and facilitate some fidelity in the programs, the amount of work we are able to do in the fine arts office is dwarfed next to the work this army of art teachers do every day.

I don’t just mean this in a numbers sense. Sure, 380 art teachers can put in way more hours than a couple of us in the instructional services office, but these teachers are committed! Every day I see or hear about another way they are going well above and beyond to make a difference in their students lives. They are supporting students through difficult situations, life coaching, staying late to support clubs and activities, taking student to museums, traveling with them to New York City, meeting them for evening artmaking events… The list goes on, and many of them are practicing artists to boot!

I want to share one specific story that I hope will be illustrative.

Recently a new central office project manager was named for the STEAM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). The team has existed for a few years now, and turns regularly — as they should — to specialists in the Science, Math, Fine Arts, Career and Technical Education, and Instructional Technology offices to support and inform their work. I admit, though, that from its inception, I have struggled with how I can support from my role.

Naturally, the new project manager, getting acquainted with her new role, wanted to meet with me to discuss how we might work together and I am certain that I sounded a bit lost as to how I can support in a meaningful way. I didn’t want to give the impression that the Arts didn’t have a place in this work — and I definitely didn’t want the ‘A’ in STEAM to be what some have called the POS approach (paint on stuff), but I couldn’t yet grasp how I might help.

Not long after, the STEAM team asked for input to identify schools where they could see STEAM instruction in practice in our schools. Now that I can help with! And this starts to get at my point… Even as I am unsure of my role in supporting STEAM as an initiative, I know that there are many art teachers who are deeply engaged in the work in their schools.

I was able to recommend several teachers and schools where this is happening through the arts, and as the STEAM team has started making school visits, they have been duly impressed by the work of the art teachers.

And that is what I mean. The magic is happening on the ground, in the schools, and the magicians are the art teachers.

I am so grateful for each of you!

 

 

 

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VAEA – Northern Region

Having the annual VAEA conference in Northern Virginia this year really shows in the large turn out for the Northern Region Meeting. 


I am so excited to have so many of my local colleagues here, and especially excited that they were all here to recognize Susan Silva who received the secondary educator of the year award for the Northern Region. 

Thank you, Andrew, for putting her name forward. She is so deserving!

Congratulations Susan!

A Simple Reward System

Here’s another quick strategy I saw used with great effect recently… Do you know what that glowing purple object is on the table?


It’s a Bluetooth speaker!

The teacher has a playlist on her own phone and places the speaker, at a low volume, on tables that are showing that everyone is on task. The students really enjoyed having the reward of listening to music while they worked, even if the speaker had to move to another table after a few minutes. 

Thanks again to Bethany for sharing this idea!

It’s Only Fair

Learning can be challenging — frustrating even. With a little experience, an art teacher can predict pretty accurately what the frustration level will be with the new content and skills. So why not warn your students? It’s only fair!

Thanks to art teacher Bethany Mallino who plans to include this and many other gold nuggets in a future publication called SmART StART in ART. (I’ll let you know when it’s available.)

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?