Tag Archives: conference

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!


NAEA: Writing and Art

There are dozens of presentations in the catalog addressing a relationship between art instruction and another discipline: Art and Writing, Art and Science, Art and Math, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). 

Bettyann Plisker’s presentation, Spark Creativity: Merge Writing and Art, included a message that I hope is being reiterated in each of these. 

Keep art instruction at the forefront. 

Bettyann did a great job illustrating how writing supports art instruction, not the other way around. Several specific examples were shared that showed how using writing in art instruction served to meet art standards and happened to, at the same time, meet writing standards. 

Writing in art supports and improves student learning. That’s why we do it — not to validate our curriculum by teaching a “more important” subject at the same time. 

I hope this is the message you are hearing at the other Art and… sessions. 

NAEA: Community Art


The NAEA convention always seems to offer a number of opportunities to learn about community art. I understand that many artists and art educators have a deep interest and passion for engaging with the community, but I have always struggled with the implications of community art in the context of art education. Even after attending a couple of seasons on the topic today, I am left with more questions than answers.

I imagine an individual teacher, with a specific school community in mind, would not struggle with this as I do. The teacher can connect knowledge of her community with the ideas presented to develop new instructional ideas relevant to her students (I hope). My challenge comes from my perspective.  As an art supervisor, how can I promote the benefits of community-based art practice to many schools across diverse communities? How do I provide training, support and resources to teachers when the reality of each community is distinct from the next?

I am reminded of what I believe is the challenge with Problem/Project-Based Learning. PBL is getting a lot of attention in my district, but it is successful only in pockets. Those pockets form where there is a particular teacher or group of teachers who get excited about an idea and work to develop and deliver it. But the nature of PBL is that you can’t just write up the lesson plan of an authentic problem that worked in your school, and expect it to work someplace else. Likewise, the nature of community art is so place-specific and dependent upon the personal knowledge and passion of the teacher.

I don’t know if it is scaleable, and I don’t know if it is shareable. From my perspective, that means there is little that can be done to ensure it is done in a way that is both appropriate and aligned with best practices.

NAEA: Artists for Arts Sake


Jesse Reno is a prolific artist who presented his work today in a session in which he shared his philosophy, his process,  and the important role his work ethic played in his success. His message is all fine and good, and I rather enjoyed his artwork, but I have lingering questions about this presentation in the context of art education.

Jesse is a self-taught artist. With this as context, what message does his work bring to us as educators? He works prolifically and applied great ambition to get where he is today. For many years, this meant working to get his art career off the ground in addition to a working a full time job. How does this apply to those of us working in a school environment?

I’m going to say something very unpopular here: I don’t believe art education has anything to do with being an artist. (Ok, I will qualify that to refer to K-12 art education.) In K-12 schools, art instruction is not about how to become an artist. Art is a deeply-human way of learning, understanding and making connections. Art practice teaches valuable and transferable thinking skills, process skills, motor skills, and the ability to handle complex challenges without one correct answer. The things students learn in K-12 art classrooms help them to become better humans. If any of us think we are training future artists, then we are clearly not thinking about the success of ALL of our students.

I am thrilled that Jesse found his own practice and was able to develop these skills in himself to such a high level, but how does this help an art teacher? The NAEA conference always includes presentations by artists. Maybe that’s all this was meant to be and I should just leave it there, but I have come to be cautious of the unspoken message.

NAEA: Olivia Gude on Color

Anyone who has had the pleasure of listening to Olivia Gude knows that it often involves a nearly continuous flow of great quotes — sometimes her own and sometimes attributed to others. It’s hard to keep up with, but I want to share a few of the big ideas from Chromatopia. (Let’s not pretend these are quotes, they would surely be misquotes.)

  • SET COLOR FREE! Stop making students paint color wheels. Art involves “surrendering to unanticipated possibilities.” Painting color wheels does not relate to this!
  • Teach SOPHISTICATED ways of using color. Making paintings in monochrome and analogous color schemes is not sophisticated. In fact, it rarely even works well!
  • Spend less time painting (color wheels and color scheme paintings) and more time actually learning about color by RESEARCHING COLOR through exploration and experimentation. 

NAEA: Jean Houston


Dr. Jean Houston, who seems to have known and learned from a who’s-who of the greatest minds of the past century, shared her experience meeting Albert Einstein on a fourth grade field trip. Fourth graders being fourth graders, a student asked, “How can we become as smart as you?”

He replied, “Read more fairy tales.”

Art educators know that we contribute to the development of creativity in our students, but this story begs to ask whether we really give them ample opportunities to use fantasy to imagine, dream, and create. 

Dr. Houston shared many stories and preached the value of arts education that rather literally MOVED the crowd. As this photo may show, there were times I felt like it was a church service.  

I will be worshipping at the alter of art education for the next few days, so stay tuned for frequent updates and highlights from #NAEA2016.

The Cost and Value of PD


Across the country, there are art teachers making final travel arrangements, packing bags, and printing boarding passes in anticipation of the 2016 NAEA National Convention. While many of them are sharing rooms and skimping where they can, most are feeling heartburn, nevertheless, over the money they are spending to travel to Chicago for a few days of professional learning.

There is no better place to be challenged to think deeply about the direction and future of our profession and how we can contribute to the success of that future.

It is an unfortunate reality that, although this conference is a professional development opportunity of the highest order, most art teachers (including myself) are left to pay their own way. Some are even left with no option but to use their own personal leave or sick leave to do it.

School system budgets are tight, and ever shrinking it seems. Some are certainly spending money on professional development of one kind or another (I know mine is!), but that rarely means that every teacher who wishes to attend a professional conference is granted support to do so. It’s unfortunate, but I get it. It’s a numbers game. If you help pay for a conference for every teacher, it would cost a small fortune — there are a lot of teachers after all.

Continuing professional learning, however, goes a long way to retain teachers. The ability to gain training, and not that school-wide, same-training-for-everyone-no-matter-what-you-teach training, but training that meets your needs– that kind of training leads to job satisfaction. I challenge the school leaders out there to begin thinking of professional development as a benefit on the order of health insurance and retirement. One that should be built into the compensation package for all teachers. It’s one small step toward showing how much teachers are valued as professionals.

In the meantime, those of us who can will continue scraping together enough money to go to our professional conferences as often as we are able, because we know they are important… And we know, by the end of the conference, we will not regret it one bit.