I Trust You.

“I trust you,” I told one of my students when she explained what she wanted to create in response to a project prompt.

I am proud that I have built a culture of mutual trust and respect in my classroom, and I would not have been able to do that without building relationships with my students.  I genuinely enjoy learning about my students’ families, cultures, after school activities, likes and dislikes… I even refer to them as “my kids” when I tell stories about my classes.

Relationship building is an essential foundation for a culture of trust.  Because I know my kids the way I do, I am able to trust that when they want to try something new, veer a little from the path I was planning to take them on during a lesson, or even use completely different or nontraditional materials than what I have prepped, I let them travel that road.  I trust that they are making creative decisions to express themselves and taking risks because they want to learn more deeply.  I even trust that, for the most part, they will clean up after themselves.  It’s a simple thing, but knowing that they will take care in their use and organization of shared materials is paramount in an art room.

This trust has led to many incredible class discussions about the world and our place in it.  It has led to inspired products that would have never been created if I didn’t trust my students.  We’ve had great debates about what art is, is not, and can be.  Kids are comfortable asking for guidance from their peers, and kids are comfortable giving guidance respectfully and constructively.

I’m okay with things not going according to my plan all the time, because it means I’m empowering my students to take ownership of their own learning paths.

#IMMOOC Week 4


Workshop Days and Removing the “Big Table Demo”

What is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in?  Why the change?  #IMOOC Week 3

I try to mix up the projects we create each year so that the students aren’t just doing the same ol’ thing.  I also try to mix up the way I deliver the content, skills, and techniques to students each year so that I am always keeping current in my practice and working towards continually meeting everyone’s needs.

My absolute favorite thing that I’ve done new this year was to get rid of large group demonstrations.  *gasp!*

I wanted to workshop a few skills to help create choice for our first art project this year, and in order to do that, I would have had to teach 14 different techniques to 6 different classes.   Feeling overwhelmed at the thought, I took the idea of a flipped classroom and filmed short videos to demonstrate each technique.  We called it “Workshop Day.”  Kids watched the videos of me teaching; they could pause, fast forward, and rewind as needed.  At first, I felt like I was cheating a little, because although I had technically “taught” all of these lessons on camera, I wasn’t having the whole class meet together to watch me do it live.

Then, I observed something really amazing.  Kids who either already knew how to do something, or picked up a technique very easily, could skip ahead.  Kids who needed things repeated could re-watch, and I was able to work more one-on-one with anyone who might be struggling a bit.  As a result, each student in my room felt that they were able to master most of the techniques, appreciated learning at their own pace, and retained much more.

I’ve since found ways to incorporate this strategy into many of our projects, and so far it has been extremely successful.  It has allowed me to introduce more student empowerment of choice in either materials or concepts, and kids just seem to be “getting it” more when we cover some of the more difficult topics.

I still use whole class demonstrations from time to time, but only when it feels appropriate for what my students need at that time.

School, Take 2.

If you were to start a school from scratch, what would it look like?

I am a part of a committee this year that is in charge of revamping our master schedule.  Everything needs more time, but aside from adding time to the day (no thanks!), where does that time come from?

I went on an interview last year at a local high school where the principal and I had a great conversation about how education-as-we-know-it needs to change to really meet the needs of our students.  But what that change looks like hasn’t been invented yet, and we need to be the ones proactively making that leap into the unknown.

I’ve talked before about how in my classroom, I try to deliver my visual arts content as cross-curricularly as I can for various reasons.  This week’s prompt got me to thinking… what if the whole school day is taught like that?

My very idealistic school includes all of the things that you would expect: kid’s basic needs being met, everyone is happy and harmonious, the rooms are decorated with color-coordinated and comfortable furniture (like those IKEA design rooms I love so much!).

Oh, and there are no discipline problems either, because why not?  It is my ideal school, after all.  But the way my students would learn looks a little different.

Content-wise, students would still be learning skills from each of my highly-qualified teachers across several subjects.  But how students apply those skills would bring the contents together in hands-on projects where students not only are showing mastery of these skills, but are applying them to real-world issues and problems.  They would see how they can use their learning to make their community, their and other’s lives, their world, and beyond a much better place.  They would be taking ownership in what they do, because the decisions they make through their learning have real applications to real things.

Perhaps the first step to making this happen in schools now is to create a period where a more inclusive teaming structure can take place.  Or taking a few days each month where students can work on some culminating project “PBL” style that combines what they have learned across each of their subjects.

Or, it takes one school to throw the norm of what we do now completely out the window and revamp the school day to become the new model for education.

In any case, we are on the horizon of change.  I want to be the one leading it successfully, not trying to catch up to it.

#IMOOC Week 2


Why I Embrace Change #IMMOOC

I teach middle school art.  In 6th grade, students are all required to take art.

And I am quite cognizant of the fact that for some of them, to put it nicely, I am not exactly their favorite subject.

So I start every year with a little speech.  I tell them to throw away all of their preconceptions.  I talk about growth mindsets.  I tell them that we are going to make mistakes.  A lot of them.  I tell them that I purposefully do not buy things like whiteout.  (This usually gets some murmurs of disapproval.)  I let them know that they will learn much, much more than visual art during our time together.  That they will grow as artists and citizens and humans.

Some of them won’t believe me yet.

We start our year.  Inevitably someone asks me for whiteout, and I show the class how to change a “mistake” into something new and purposeful and creative.  I am excited to do something new to enhance a lesson, and it completely bombs in fifteen different ways.  I stop the class and acknowledge it.  And I show them how I turn around my own failures.  And we talk about what could be done differently next time.  And we do it, and it is so much better after.

We grow.

I have learned to embrace change.  Every year it seems that we have a new district initiative, a new tool, a new acronym.  And I’ve been around in education long enough now to see a lot of those new things quietly disappear the following year, replaced by the newest new.

And guess what?  Every time, I still jump in wholeheartedly.  I try new things.  I fail at some new things.  I succeed at some new things.  I learn more about myself as an educator.  I learn more about what I like to use and do and share and what works best for me and my classroom and my students.

My students see this.  We grow.

The kids who don’t really like art will tell me at the end of the year that they enjoyed their time with me.  The kids who are nervous about expressing themselves so openly will gain more comfort and confidence.  Students who were afraid that they would mess up will take more risks, and will know what to do if the risk doesn’t work out as planned.  We grow.

So I embrace change.  I embrace innovation.  I take risks, I make mistakes, I adjust, I grow.  My students see this.  And I think my year is all the more exciting and successful because of it.


The Power of Peer Observation

Sometimes the best way teachers can learn and improve is by observing each other.  So why aren’t we doing it more often?

When someone enters a classroom for an observation, even the most veteran teachers can get nervous.  No one wants to feel scrutinized or appear less than at our best, especially in front of our colleagues.  To ameliorate this reluctance towards peer observation, the first step is to make the practice commonplace.  We must foster a community of open-doors and low-risk observation to truly create a positive and productive learning experience for both observer and observee.  (The bonus of this practice is that it makes those higher-stakes evaluative observations seem a little less nerve-wracking too!)

To begin this transformation, try recruiting a few teachers who are willing to invite others into their classroom hold “open houses” where other teachers can come and observe.  Hold professional development sessions to create observation protocols so that teachers know what to expect, look for, and reflect upon throughout the observation process.  Teachers can take the first steps by asking trusted peers to observe specific lessons for certain objectives – classroom management, student engagement, learning group dynamics, etc.

Does your school foster peer observations?  What can you do to help create this within your school community?