Tag Archives: collaboration

What are you working on?

I ask this question frequently when I visit an art room, “What are you working on?” I even ask when I already know the answer.

Recently I went into two art rooms at the same school. The classes happened to be the same grade level and I was excited to see the two art teachers were collaborating. In this case, that meant I saw the same lesson happening in both classrooms.

I asked my question in both classes. I one room I got answers like these:

  • Just drawing
  • Just doing a contest (it was not a contest)
  • We are doing this (points to paper)
  • We are doing… (reads title of paper)
  • (shrugs)

In the other classroom the response to my question was an enthusiastic explanation of the project, and each person at the table wanted a turn to describe their ideas to me. 

Now, this was not a thorough study. I asked just a few students in each room, but the difference was astonishing! In the latter example, students were clearly more engaged and using higher order thinking skills. In the first, students barely knew what they were doing, let alone what they were learning. 


What can you do, as a teacher, to make it more likely your students will respond to, “what are you working on?” with enthusiasm, awareness, and evidence of thinking and learning?


What is your purpose here?

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?


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. 


Here, in a nutshell, is our school division’s research-based vision of the work of teachers related to instruction and assessment (and collaboration):
Teachers evaluate the readiness of their students and work with their collaborative learning team (CLT) to analyze the data and plan instruction to meet student needs. Instructional plans are implemented and additional assessments performed to measure student progress toward standards and learning goals. The CLT continues the cycle by reviewing new assessment data and refining plans to ensure that all students make progress.

It was awesome to meet with 34 Art CLT leaders last week. These are the folks who make this kind of collaboration possible, even for art teachers who are singletons in their school. Thanks to all of you for facilitating this work with your teams and  for support best practices in art!

Art and Science

I had the pleasure of attending a celebration and exhibition of a great collaboration at one of our local schools. Through a residency sponsored by the Arts Council of Fairfax County, Artist Rebecca Kamen worked with middle school art students to explore how art can help us visualize scientific concepts.

Students applied — and I dare say, refined — their own scientific understanding of concepts such as cell structure and  astronomy. Guided by Kamen and their art teacher, they transformed simple art materials to represent these complex and abstract scientific concepts.

Artmaking is all about communicating ideas. Making scientific ideas visible is just one example of this. What a powerful approach to learning and understanding! Congratulations to all of the students who did such a fine job of demonstrating the power of art education! And many thanks to the Arts Council of Fairfax County, Rebecca Kamen, and art teacher Janet Lundeen.

Art Teacher Leaders

The world of education needs more art teachers who are instructional leaders. I had two brief opportunities recently to stand on this soap box, most exciting of which when a good sized group of art teacher colleagues chose to come to an evening leadership training session.

Nevermind... I've Got It by Emily Muha, art teacher
Nevermind… I’ve Got It by Emily Muha, art teacher

Continue reading Art Teacher Leaders