Monthly Mentor

Olivia Gude (February)
Olivia Gude’s research focuses on developing new paradigms and new projects for art education in schools. Gude is a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and is an award-winning artist for her murals and mosaics created in collaboration with intergenerational groups. Her current participatory artmaking explores the social practice of art education in which teachers playfully push back the conventional parameters that constrain them as educators and as artists. In 2014 Olivia Gude was awarded the National Art Education Association’s “art education article of the year” Manuel Barkan Award for New School Art Styles: the Project of Art Education. Gude is also the recipient of the NAEA’s 2009 Viktor Lowenfeld Award for significant contributions to the field of art education. Gude frequently gives presentations and workshop at universities, museums, school districts and art education conferences throughout the U.S. and Canada as well as in Denmark, Korea, Vietnam and Singapore.



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Sunday 02. 1.15

Seeing “Someones”

From: Olivia Gude

This is a fragment of a poem composed by high school art student Jessica Gonzalez in the Spiral Workshop. I re-read this poem occasionally to help me renew focus on what I believe ought to be the core values of art education.

There are many ways to describe what we do as art educators—we identify big ideas and choose content; we articulate student learning objectives; we select learning strategies; we map curricula; we adopt and adapt standards to our particular contexts; we assess student learning. As we responsibly make use of the multiple vocabularies and methods of contemporary education, it’s possible to lose sight of our students. In being reasonable and responsible, it’s possible to drift away from our vision and our core ethical responsibility to the young people we teach.

That’s why Jessica’s poem is so important to me. It reminds me to really look at each student—whether in pre-K or college—and to see each person’s idiosyncratic individuality. Jessica declares that she is a “someone” with a point of view, a way of being in the world, maybe even a mission, but she reminds us that she is “in need of more.” She is unique and has interests and capacities forming into a “someone,” but for this someone to fully develop, to clarify her vision, to manifest her possibilities, to be the most interesting and amazing version of herself possible—she is in need of MORE. This isn’t a greedy girl; she’s a young person who senses clearly that she is in the process of becoming and needs more to fully become.

We advocate for arts education for each student because we believe that through the arts students will become acutely aware of their experiences and of their capacities to shape experience. It’s not possible to be a good art teacher unless we take pleasure in our students’ unique “world-making” experiencing capacities. This means that we have the capacity to notice each student’s emerging unique ways of noticing, experiencing, being, making and acting in the world. Great teachers see each “someone.”

I know that this may sound like an almost impossible task given how many students many teachers see each day and yet most of us have experienced these almost magical educational moments (as teachers and as students) in which idiosyncratic individuality was seen and shared through a brief conversation, sometimes just a quick comment about a color, a form, a way of thinking, an observed interaction. It’s these fleeting moments that help us to see ourselves, that tell us that what we experience and make matters. It reinforces the desire to become that self that each one of us can be.

Great teachers provide the needed “more,” the stuff in which students find what they need. This may be the creative space of the classroom—kooky and chaotic or serene and contemplative. It may be projects that introduce heretofore unknown materials and methods. It may be peer-sharing and critique in which nuances are noticed and discussed. It may be a project that suggests how personal stories might become the basis of artmaking. It may be open-ended studio time to find one’s own artistic questions. It may be artworks that are initially maddeningly incomprehensible.

I ask myself, “What do these students need to know to make meaningful and joyous lives?” My core mission as a teacher is to create conditions in which students ask these questions for themselves.

This collage poem was created during the Headline Poetry project at Spiral Workshop. For more examples of student artwork and the complete project plan visit Spiral Art Education,  Go to Cool Curriculum: Headline Poetry.

Friday 01.30.15

Passing It Forward

As I get older, near the end of my career, doing what matters takes on an even greater importance. I have been preparing to go to the VAEA Annual Board Retreat this weekend in Richmond and am excited about the possibilities. We are all busy and taking a weekend is a significant investment for everyone - but, even after all of these years, I always take away something new and have the chance to make new relationships. Personally, it also allows me to give back to my profession and to help support the next generation of art education leaders - something which is very important to me.  

I have been fortunate, initially as an elementary art teacher, to have been mentored and given amazing opportunities by art educators who, in both VAEA and NAEA, have been accessible and willing to give of their time and expertise. These types of connections, which are taken for granted in our associations, make our profession and our ability to make a difference in our students’ lives stronger. The commitment we make to learn, grow, and take on leadership roles makes us better art educators.

The challenge then is, as we gain more expertise, to find ways to make sure that those coming along after us are also given the same – or better - opportunities. “Passing it forward” was a phrase my mother used. Choosing a mentee and doing everything possible to support that person professionally was a strategy that a fellow art educator used. We are in challenging times for education and often for art educators and our students. However each of us chooses, connecting to our professional community, learning all we can, and finding ways to bring along others can only help us make our strongest contributions to art education and ultimately to our students.

-Barbara Laws
Senior Coordinator for Art, Norfolk Public Schools, VA

Wednesday 01.28.15

More about Our Professional Journey

In the last blog, I talked about our departmental approach to professional learning and how we, together, worked to improve the quality of visual arts teaching and learning. I thought it might be helpful to have a few concrete examples of what we have done:
• In the beginning, we needed to develop common language and understandings as we shifted our instruction away from isolated activities and technical exercises to that which had assisted students in applying knowledge and skills to create personal meaning and understand content and using the artistic process from kindergarten to Advanced Placement. We used Art Education in Practice books on meaning, assessment and aesthetics and teacher-developed guiding questions to frame our discussions and agree on commonalities of effective practice. Teachers developed guiding questions for chapters and discussion centered around application in the classroom.
• We examined student work. Sample groupings (e.g., drawing progressions from kindergarten to Advanced Placement, Advanced placement examples across media) were developed to provide starting points to talk about student growth and what kind of teacher behaviors would support high achievement.
• Did I say we examined student work? On a semi-regular basis, art teachers are encouraged to bring samples of work to meetings – perhaps, a single lesson in a range of achievement levels, examples of particular media, or the work in response to our student growth/teacher evaluation performance assessments to build inter-rater reliability.
• It’s about student work – and building complexity. We take the opportunity at exhibitions to look at student work and photograph interesting exemplars. Sometimes the sample is a group of works which have interesting processes. At other times a common thread, like interesting treatment of surfaces, arises from the work itself. Teachers responsible for the lessons then discuss how they were able to scaffold student learning to achieve the results. Additional teachers add to the discussion with different approaches while others who might have had difficulties with the media or concept feel comfortable to ask questions and get advice.
• We also like for our professional development to tap the knowledge and skills of the entire art department and to result in something tangible at the end where possible. Working together – at times in K-12 groups and others by elementary, middle and high school levels – we have…
   * Unpacked big ideas, identified concepts, developed essential questions, and added supporting artists per elementary grade level with content deep enough to be resources for upper levels.
   * Reviewed piloted curriculum, developed pacing guides, unpacked grade level benchmarks.
   * After identifying some difficulties with the progression of 3-D work across the district, as a K-12 vertical team, planned backwards from Advanced Placement to kindergarten.
   * Identified beginning of the year activities to hook students.
   * Developed, piloted and reviewed a common district assessment for our art foundations course.
   * Developed a list of ways to connect with other curriculum areas in ways that would support our artistic goals.
   * Developed a list of performance assessments strategies used in art classrooms across the district.
   * Feed our artistic and educator souls on our professional learning days by taking a balanced approach with a concentrated adult-level studio workshop, art education discussions, and local artist presentations.

This list is just a small part of our professional journey. We are always on the lookout for ideas to improve what we do and would be interested in what you are all doing in yours.

-Barbara Laws
Senior Coordinator for Art, Norfolk Public Schools, VA

Monday 01.19.15

Building a Learning Community

In the many years I have been in education, I have experienced all kinds of professional development – often being done to me rather than for or with me, sometimes at the level of the elementary students I taught.  Many of the most meaningful experiences were the opportunities I had to engage in deep conversations about content and teaching practice with other professionals, both within and outside of art education.   

Two other factors have also guided the way I have thought about and have approached professional development.  When I started in the district visual arts coordinator position 13 years ago, art education had moved toward a more content and personal meaning-making focus.  As our art department began to make this curriculum shift, we needed to become a community of learners engaged in ongoing conversations about effective teaching practices and student learning.  Following are some of the strategies we have used to accomplish this.

• Treat the curriculum as a living document and review and revise frequently based on teacher feedback and new needs or understandings.
• Provide opportunities for teachers to work vertically across grade levels as well as with their grade-level or course peers.
• Build a safe learning community where teachers are not afraid to ask questions or seek help.
• Ensure frequent structured opportunities for teachers to collaborate and share expertise.
• Look at student work to assess professional learning needs.
• Ask teachers what their professional learning needs are.
• Set up conversations about effective practice by asking questions, focusing on a goal or collaborating on an instructional resource.
• In addition to regularly scheduled professional learning times, offer other opportunities for teachers to self-select.
• Focus on student work.
• Tap teacher expertise.
• Balance the discussions about curriculum and teaching practice with studio sessions and discussions by outside artists.
• Provide professional learning opportunities which are at the level of the adult learner and then make sure there are collaborative opportunities to identify classroom practice.
• Design professional development activities which assist teachers in translating district level initiatives into effective art instructional practices.
• Provide special support for struggling teachers, beginning teachers and those new to the district.
• Offer peer mentoring and observation opportunities.

As we have worked together over the years, the routine of looking at student work and teaching practice for areas that we need to explore further and then addressing them has become a part of our department’s culture.

-Barbara Laws
Senior Coordinator for Art, Norfolk Public Schools, VA

Thursday 01. 8.15

The Importance of Exhibitions

Every year about this time I chart out complete exhibition information in my office for quick reference. Completing the task earlier this week combined with being asked yesterday to provide a listing of how student progress is monitored made me think about the importance of exhibitions for measuring and raising the quality of teaching and learning occurring in art classrooms.

To begin with, displaying work and receiving feedback from viewers is a part of the art making process - so much so that “Presenting” is one of the 4 major organizing categories for the NCCAS Visual Arts Standards. In addition to the skills developed by students as they participate in exhibition processes, conversations, perhaps prompted by the way the work is presented, can take place among parents, families, students, and the teacher about learning represented in the works of art and the benefits, value, and purposes of art education. These connections can also be made with the community, decision makers, and other stakeholders and so the exhibition becomes a point of advocacy.

On the other hand, student exhibitions can serve as powerful learning tools for art educators.  I am thinking about the role it has in our district. We avoid isolating work by schools and, with major shows, hang collaboratively. These occasions become important professional development opportunities for teachers. While hanging and looking at work – their own students and others’ – they self-reflect, have discussions, and feed themselves with ideas for their own instruction. New teachers can begin to fill the empty files in their heads with examples of student work thus becoming more familiar with what quality is and what reasonable expectations are for their students. Because our curriculum, beginning in kindergarten, is based around using the artistic process and applying skills and techniques to make personal meaning, rather than isolated activities, student solutions are individual and there is always much to see and learn from in any exhibition.  

-Barbara Laws
Senior Coordinator for Art, Norfolk Public Schools, VA

Friday 01. 2.15

Happy New Year

The beginning of January is often touted as a time for self-reflection, an opportunity to examine what we have accomplished and where we have fallen short, and to make resolutions based on our assessments.  While self-assessment is an ongoing process for us, as art educators, we are well into our “new year” and the time is right for us, too, to take stock of where we are, where we need to be over the course of the next months, and what we need to do to get there.

In addition to the usual “where are my students now” and “where do I want them to be”, there are larger questions which can be helpful in thinking about instructional goals and direction and effective practice:
•    Am I teaching art, not just “having art?”  
•    Does my teaching support students in using artistic processes to create works of art with personal meaning?  
•    Rather than isolated activities, have I set up rich learning experiences which will give students knowledge, understandings, and skills to tuck into their proverbial artmaking toolkits to be used independently at a later date?
•    Am I helping students to become more thoughtful in responding to works of art, including their own?
•    Finally, to build support for rigorous instruction in the arts, how am I effectively communicating what students are learning in my classroom to parents, administrators, decision makers, and other stakeholders?

While these questions are phrased to apply directly to primary, elementary, and secondary art teachers, most of the rest of us should reflect on how effectively we support and assist teachers, through professional development and preparation experiences and the development of learning communities and other opportunities, in their quests to provide quality art education in schools. 

-Barbara Laws
Senior Coordinator for Art, Norfolk Public Schools, VA

Saturday 12.27.14


"If I could turn back time, if I could find a way," Cher sings with a conviction about having the power to change the past. My husband and I are doing just that. We have travelled 5,000 miles to hike the Napali Coast one more time, say our vows one more time, and enjoy the beauty of Kauai one more time since 1999. All with a new perspective and amazing dreams. December, for art educators and many, marks the time to rework, rethink, and refresh what they have practiced in the past with a confident brush to repaint the future. Will the future hold new lessons, new viewpoints, new methods, new media, new? We owe it to our students to "find a way" to prepare effective learning opportunities for them. Attending the National Art Education Association National Convention or your state conference is an awesome way to re-ignite your teaching skills. This past October I presented at the Wisconsin Art Education Association Conference, Summit Artists+ Public Art= Art is Long, Life is Brief (pictured below), and will present at the NAEA National Convention, so please join me in finding a way.

All-School Summit Nature and Fitness Trail Mosaic Labyrinth

Summit Librarian, Alyssa, teaches all students about other Little Free Libraries throughout the world...
 Collaborative Art and Musix Wassily Kandinsky Inspired Mural

-Jill La Grange

Thursday 12.18.14


We pulled up in front of an old Texaco station, painted white, gas pumps removed, and a cantilevered overhang, much needed in the winter storm tonight. Without being asked we blurted out, chocolate, mint chocolate chip, banana, strawberry, and black cherry, my mom always ordered the same. Through the window and bright, blinking, illuminated business signs we watched as each scoop was perfectly formed, placed perched on an ice cream cone and gently secured to a cardboard tray. My father appeared with a huge grin next to my mother’s window, she swiftly cranked down the window of the 1969 white Pontiac station wagon.  First placing her cone on the open glove box door, and then passing each cone to the back.  One by one, all of our hands became clenched with napkins, our tongues catching all the drips and bliss.

You can imagine my delight when I realized my memories aligned with artist, Wayne Thiebaud (CBS Sunday Morning). His art depicts the array of food served at picnics of his childhood and his memories as a restaurant employee. His work brings smiles to my face and smiles to the faces of my students. What better way to get students excited about art and explore how to read images and understand the meanings carried by objects, learn that throughout history experiences are recorded in a variety of visual forms, including fine art, folk art, designed objects, movies, television, and multimedia images, that document their time and heritage, and reflect upon the nature of art and design and meaning in art and culture.  

Project description by works of art
Ice Cream Sundaes by First Grade

Logan's ice cream sundae

My first grade students were inspired by the work of Wayne Thiebaud and created their own ice cream sundaes. Utilizing drawing skills, oil pastels and their own memories of favorite toppings.  Gummy Bears, ice cream flavors, sprinkles, caramel topping, chocolate topping, maraschino cherries were discussed in detail and stories of their own trips to the local ice cream shop. We displayed their work and to create more memories and inform our parents, grandparents and friends of the value of art we celebrated with an Ice Cream Sundae with a Wayne Thiebaud Spirit Exhibit and Ice Cream Social following our first grade holiday program. I wonder (know), when my students are all grown-up too, they will have a story to tell, one filled with joy, art and ice cream. Bliss!

Works of art displayed for exhibit

Parents preparing a sundae for their child; Palette of toppings for Ice Cream Social

Parents and grandparents view works of art

Holiday Program prior to Ice Cream Sundae with a Wayne Thiebaud Spirit

-Jill La Grange

Wednesday 12.10.14


Good Chaos, the day of an art teacher. A before school meeting, an all-school assembly, kindergarten-fourth grade classes, taught several modified lessons to accommodate special education students, a Parent Teacher Meeting (P.T.A), a letter to the Milwaukee Art Museum to arrange visiting artists, made rodeo hats for the holiday program, loaded the kiln, prepared clay for a project, uploaded art to Artsonia and of course write this blog post. I believe all of us would agree this is a typical day for an art educator, Good Chaos. So with all of the good chaos how do we instill within students the importance of art and offer them opportunities to aesthetically transform their own environment. Keep it simple! Three simple career transforming words of advice I received from a phenomenal physical education teacher colleague.

Keeping with the theme, keep it simple, one of my student’s parents shared an amazing idea of having our students make a Buddy Bench for our playground and she sent me this link. So during a follow-up discussion about the project she offered to secure wood, a carpenter, paint to create the bench and to also approve the project with the principal! By simply collaborating and welcoming project ideas from parents, our students will benefit and large scale community projects will be more doable.

Buddy Bench being delivered by carpenter

Buddy Bench in process

Buddy Bench Project details:
* Idea originated in the United States by a second grade student named Christian
* Christian’s father explained to him that Buddy Benches are in Germany
* Buddy benches are for fostering friendships

Summit Artists use their ARTISTIC FLAIR to create their own Buddy Bench!
* Create maquettes
* Entire school votes on the best designs
* Top 12 designs of 16 are selected
* Each side, back splat, seat are designed by different students and combined to create one bench
* Design is transferred to wood by students
* Carpenter cuts wood and assembles
* Parents, students and teachers are invited paint Buddy Bench during Open House
* Art club completes Buddy Benches
* Funded by P.T.A.

Buddy Bench Maquette

Buddy Bench Maquette-4-in.x 6-in.

Buddy Bench Project Essential Ideas
* Artists can transform the environment aesthetically to reflect the interests and values of its inhabitants
* The quality of human life is affected by environmental and cultural interdependencies
* Involvement in art develops aesthetic awareness which can improve the quality of life
* Creative behavior involves divergent thinking, problem solving, and extension of the imagination as evidenced in both the general learning process and observable behaviors

Left: Students entangled with their work of art | Right: Students painting Buddy Bench

Last week was the unveiling of the Buddy Benches, so during our all-school morning meeting time each classroom teacher discussed with their students how the Buddy Bench is a place to meet a friend during recess. Samuel, a shy kindergarten student whispered in my ear at the start of art class (good chaos) on Friday, “Ms. La Grange, thank you for the Buddy Bench, I found a new friend!”

Buddy Bench Ready for Creating New Friendships

-Jill La Grange

Tuesday 11.25.14


As Thanksgiving approaches, it seems appropriate to think about the word "thankfulness." According to the thesaurus it may mean gratitude, appreciation, or recognition. In previous posts, I have written about the museum as another place for learning about art, the importance of instilling a growth-mindset in our students, and how I have learned to get high school students talking.

The topics I have considered this month are all different aspects of our profession. In this, my final post, I want to tell you about a few things for which I am thankful:

I am thankful for the opportunity to have been the November Monthly Mentor as it has allowed me the chance to slow down, if just for a few hours, to reflect on some of the things that make our profession and my job important.

I am thankful to work in a field such as ours where I really feel like I am making a contribution. In this day of high-stakes testing and emphasis on math and science, to the (almost) exclusion of the humanities, the arts play a key role in helping students learn how to think critically about, and connect personally with, content that gives meaning to their lives.

I am grateful for the opportunity to work in museum education and to share art with high school students. Every once in a while, they remind me, with that spark in their eye, of what turned me on to art. Their enthusiasm for art keeps me striving to keep it fresh for them.

The element of surprise is also something I appreciate as I slow down, wonder, and connect with the art alongside my students. How wonderful for me to be reminded that studying the same work of art again and again can offer a different perspective when looking at it through the lens of different students.

Finally, you don’t have to be the Monthly Mentor in order to reflect on your practice. Try to take a few moments just once a week to consider your work and how it impacts your students. Being more reflective has energized me as I think of new ways to reach my students. I encourage you all to give yourself this gift.

Happy Thanksgiving!

-Elisa Patterson