Monthly Mentor

Susan Silva (August)
Each month, a different member and NAEA awardee is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Susan Silva is currently the Secondary Fine Arts Resource Teacher in Fairfax County, VA. Beyond the classroom, she has served as a curriculum fellow for Engaging the Arts and Museums in Mind for Project Zero, as well as facilitator of Digital Storytelling at the National Gallery of Art. Silva was named 2019 Southeastern Region Art Educator by the National Art Education Association. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Monday 08.12.19

Finding Your Spirit Animals

By Susan Silva

Who are the people that collaborate, support, challenge and celebrate with you?


As the school year gets rolling it is imperative to keep your well full. That is a feat best accomplished by getting to know your campus community. Do you know all your peers? Creating environments where students and teachers thrive is best cultivated by symbiotic energy often created by many people. Having a network of critical friends and colleagues is an important ingredient to your day.  

School buildings are chalk full of talented individuals. Developing relationships with your fellow faculty and staff will enrich your teaching and daily experience tenfold. I know in every school where I taught it was important to know the teachers within the art department as well as other professionals around the building. I would take the time to seek out my fellow spirit animals.

Consider all the amazing people it takes to populate your school community. Harness this energy to create the best team you can for yourself and ultimately your students. The strongest school communities I have ever been a part of respect the individual teachers and use their strengths to enhance the overall learning environment. A strong community builds capacity by growing relationships. Part of growing relationships is recognizing what amazing resources are at your disposal on your school campus. The best resource you have access to as teachers is bar none each other!

There are new teachers on your campus, and just like the new students you are meeting they are filled with questions and curiosity about the culture on campus. There are also teachers who have been on your campus for a while who would welcome the opportunity to be drawn out, it just has not happened yet. Be an ambassador to those teachers who are making heads and tails of the innerworkings of the school. Greet the teachers who are on either side of your classroom or along your hallway. Knowing their names and a little bit about them is as important as knowing your students.


Be humble and kind. Generosity of spirit goes miles. Remember when you were the new kid on the block? Invite another staff member in for a cup of coffee before school, eat lunch together or just be intentional in making eye contact and saying hello when you pass in the hallway. You never know who is struggling, looking for a kind hello or thirsting to connect. As you navigate these adult relationships, you are also modeling healthy relationships for your students. They will see it, and they will ultimately benefit from the community you are cultivating. Teaching is demanding and can be a whole lot more fulfilling when you know your herd.  


Tuesday 08. 6.19

Awkward is the Name Game

By Susan Silva

So…here we are. Another August has arrived and perhaps the annual back-to-school dreams have started making their annual appearance. Or perhaps you are already embarking on teacher workdays to prepare for the new school year or looking longingly at the back to school section in Target.

I don’t know about you…but my dream always starts at a train station. I am there waiting to board, looking around and taking in the calm. It is quiet, slowly individuals trickle onto the platform. We are gathering, the energy building, however no one quite yet willing to make eye contact or break the silence. Summer is ever so slowly eking into the distance behind me…

I will tell you when I am dreaming in that holding pattern at the station platform my thoughts drift to those first precious moments that await me in the classroom. You know it well, the students slowly entering the room, lingering sometimes out in the hallway, looking for a friendly face, someone familiar… the room seems to scream silence. It is a challenge, who will be the first one to break the seal of the new school year? Then the bell rings, signaling the train leaving the station…and I wake up.

But let’s rewind and delve into the first days of school. You know that brief time when the students are so quiet and still taking in their surroundings and an eager beautiful awkward energy hangs in the air. When I am standing in the hallway before each class, the hallways are quiet and eye contact is fleeting. I find myself savoring those moments then embracing them tightly, amplifying the weight of the tension--using it as a vehicle to break down barriers to gather up those students and set a new mood.

I have used a gazillion icebreakers over the years, and I can tell you that bar none the most important icebreaker is the one that allows you and the students to learn each and every individual’s name in that classroom. Is it easy? No way. Is it painful for the students? You bet. Does it require an insane amount of effort? You know it! Does it ever get easier? No! And I would not have it any other way.

During my first year of teaching, I had the pleasure of being a faculty advisor to a theatre company that would come into the school and stage a complete performance in just a week’s time. I volunteered for this primarily out of curiosity, but also as a way to connect with this newly created community. Because how on earth could a play come together in seven days? The value of that experience has stayed with me. Each year when the train is leaving the station much more important than collecting the “tickets” is knowing all of your riders. It will make the adventure all that more exciting and personal.

The time devoted to learning your students names the first few days of school lays the groundwork for all future encounters and learning. You can play an alliteration name game, two truths and a lie about the origin of the name, ballgame build, the story of the name…it really does not matter. Find the routine or game that will make those names stick. Not only must the names stick for me as the teacher, but also for every student in the room. Because this is the foundation to creating your community!

The art room is a bustling space. There are work areas, clean-up areas, laptop carts, maybe even a darkroom or a light studio. Taking advantage of that precious time on the first days of school to create a classroom culture of knowing each other’s names and pronouns--it’s instrumental to the learning that will occur in that sacred teaching space for the rest of the year’s journey. Students feel valued and connected when we know their names and pronounce them correctly.

My name is Susan Silva, silly Susan Silva smiling sweetly, if we are playing the alliteration name game. (say that five times fast…) I am your monthly mentor for August! I hope your back to school dreams are filled with wonder and excitement with who you might meet this year in your classes!


Monday 07.29.19

Looking Forward to the Year Ahead

By Rachel Valsing

As an art teacher I have centered my career on what is happening in the art world and finding ways to connect it to the classroom. A traveling exhibit at a local museum could be the next mentor artist I would share in class. An opening at a local gallery could lead to meeting an artist who might agree to visit my students. This connection to art, particularly contemporary art, continues to inspire the materials, processes, and techniques that inform my lessons and units. Earlier this summer, I was lucky to attend the dedication of a new mural by Amy Sherald at 11th and Sansom Streets in Philadelphia. The mural, a multistory portrait of a young woman gazing out into the center of the city, is of Najee Spencer-Young, an art education student. The painting communicates the signature style of Ms. Sherald’s work: care and intention with the smooth brushstrokes that render the vibrant colorful background, the tonal grey skin, serene expression, and uniquely styled dress. Public art does not always present a material or technique that can be replicated in the classroom, but it is powerful in defining place, reflecting values, and telling stories. It is an incredible gift to have a future art teacher, a person of color, represented in a monumental artwork.


This experience caused me to revisit my notes from the NAEA 2019 Convention in Boston. I had been fortunate to attend a session presented by the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Task Force, led by Dr. Wanda Knight. The recommendations developed by this group provide a road map to bringing greater diversity in the art education community through many strategies including: the creation of an Equity, Diversity & Inclusion commission in state organizations, revising payment structures for professional opportunities, and developing targeted programming. You can learn more about the ED&I Task Force and its recommendations here.


In my role as VP Programs for the Maryland Art Education Association, I have found these recommendations vital to creating better professional development and am encouraged by the possibilities for implementing them as I continue my involvement in the organization.  In the classroom, I have created my own recommendations for teaching with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the coming year. This is by no means an exhaustive list and hopefully it will continue to expand as I work with my department over the next year:

  • Ensuring that art classes provide students have choice and opportunities to express their ideas through instruction and the classroom environment
  • Considering the mindset of our students walking in the room when planning lessons. Could they be nervous to try new things, already identifying as an artist or non-artist, bored or engaged with art based on past experiences?
  • Developing good questions to help students unpack their identity in ways that complement the lessons and units we are covering in class
  • Finding more ways for students to lead in art lessons including demonstrating techniques and critical dialog
  • Exhibiting art made by every student taking an art class
  • Participating and leading professional development that is focused on diversity, equity, and inclusivity
  • Continuing my education in equity and culturally responsive instruction

- RV

Friday 07.19.19

Summer Art Challenges

By Rachel Valsing

Every summer our art department provides summer enrichment assignments for the students who are advancing into AP art courses. The assignments are designed to keep students engaged in making and working independently with prompts for sketchbooks, material investigations, and creating finished work. This year we have invited all of our students to return with a personal collection of items that will be used to create a series of artworks when we begin school this fall. We are using our art department Instagram account (@towsonhighschoolart) to regularly post updates throughout the summer and keep the conversation going about creating and engaging in art throughout the summer.

Instagram has become a favorite platform for teachers and students to share their work. Here are two impressive assignments developed by my colleagues that use the app in different ways to share prompts and keep the creative conversation going through the summer months:


Rachael Hulme



Edgewood High School, Edgewood, Maryland

The tradition began with Edgewood photo teacher, Craig Llewellyn (@llewellynsc), in the summer of 2015 and was continued by Rachael Hulme, when she took over the position that year, “because it had become something that kids really looked forward to doing. Now five years in, siblings of former students are participating, along with district administrators, and teachers from other states including Kentucky and Massachusetts.” Hulme, who follows the challenge herself (you can see her posts @balloonsatbreakfast) continues,  “I love how the exercise puts me back in the shoes of my students, by receiving, interpreting, and turning in assignments. And it’s been especially exciting to see the participants interact with each other as they post photos. Natural critiques form and students begin to follow each other.”


Be sure to follow @ehs_photo and some great art educators who are also in on the challenge including Gino Molfino (@oniflomonig) and Caro Appel (@appelrhhs) in Howard County Public Schools.


Heidi Miller


Robbinsdale Cooper High School, New Hope, Minnesota

“After my IB students noted they would miss having their art community over the summer, I decided to post 12 challenges, one for every week of vacation, on our Instagram and Twitter pages. Students helped come up with the prompts- ranging from Land Art to trying a new medium to using their clothes as a canvas. Challenges are 100% optional and don’t have to be completed in a certain order, but give students a way to challenge their creativity and continue to be part of our art community over break.”


Wednesday 07.17.19

Creating Connections in and out of the Art Museum

By Rachel Valsing

Greetings from Milwaukee, Wisconsin! I am just wrapping up a fantastic road trip with my family to the midwest. In our travels, we made a quick stop to the Milwaukee Art Museum. I say, “quick,” because this is a place in which you could really spend a full day appreciating the large collection of artwork and unique architectural design of the building. Unfortunately, we only had a few hours to take it all in, but during that time, I was struck by how much the variety of forms in the artwork captured my attention and continued to make an impression as we walked and biked around the city. In this post I am including a few diptych photos based on these discoveries.

The first artwork that stopped me in the museum was Two Discs by Stepan Pala. Often artwork is displayed with so much emphasis on isolating it from the environment, but in this case the piece was a means to engage its surroundings as the circles of glass were placed in front of a window and had a kaleidoscope effect on all of the straight angles surrounding it. On a walk through Lake Shore Park the next day, I found this unique framing in the design of one of the many bridges throughout the park.


The Milwaukee Art Museum includes a piece by one of my favorite artists, Robert Gober. The suitcase in this piece lies on the gallery floor and when looking closer reveals a street grate that leads you to the installed sculpture that lies below it. This artwork felt like I was spying on someone’s dream and it kept me looking down for clues to unravel this narrative throughout the rest of the day.

As I had mentioned the museum itself is a magnificent artwork designed by architect, Eero Saarinen. With soaring angles of steel forming a structure that is at once a bird, a ship, an airplane, and so many other possibilities, the building continues to surprise visitors with the timed movement of its giant steel “wings” at noon every day. As I joined a small crowd to see this spectacle, I also noticed a blue stripe of the highway overpass adjacent to the museum. Investigating the space under the overpass, I found there was an inherent connection and was excited to document and compare both structures.


The excitement in making visual connections reminded me so much of the experiences that our students have when encountering a new artwork or aesthetic experience. Field trips are truly my favorite events of the school year as they are so packed with discovery and excitement. I hope you all get a chance to have some time to take an art field trip of your own this summer and surprise yourself with new connections to your making and teaching!

- RV

Monday 07. 1.19

Art in the Outdoor Studio

By Rachel Valsing

As the school year ends for many in our community, I would like to wish everyone a happy summer vacation! This is a great time to rest, reflect, and make time for creating artwork. And what better way to get in the groove of working on your own work, than to spend a day with your colleagues exploring the natural environment? This year two plein air painting and drawing workshops were offered to Baltimore County art teachers in the first few days of summer break. I was fortunate to join one of these trips at the Days Cove Nature Center, an environmental education facility for Baltimore County students and teachers. Equipped with sketchbooks, canoes, and paddles, our group toured the Cove by water, taking a break to draw and observe the landscape that was active with many birds including bald eagles and ospreys.

This year our AP Studio and Intermediate art students painted landscapes on the school campus. The unit took place during AP testing and provided students a welcome break from the classroom during the beautiful days of early spring. Having two different levels of studio class work on this assignment provided great opportunities for co-planning and students to give each other feedback on their works. The teacher workshop at Days Cove left me reflecting on that experience and wondering about ways to engage other disciplines through art making. The workshop included prompts based on Keri Smith’s How to be an Explorer of the World, and we had a long conversation about connecting art and science through observation and recording sketches. I think there’s great potential in having art students join our environmental science classes on their annual trip to Days Cove in the fall. Working outdoors can be challenging in terms of choosing the right materials and being flexible with all the variables that nature can provide. Visiting the Days Cove site and getting the chance to create, prototype, and explore the space was a great way to prepare for teaching students.

I find that in the summer I can fit more time to complete the creative projects that may have gotten started throughout the school year, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. A change in scenery with time to sketch and connect with fellow art teachers was a perfect way to jump start a summer of making art and planning for the school year to come.



- RV

Monday 06.24.19

Starting Strong

By Sarah Krajewski

No matter how long you’ve been teaching, you know that feeling of a new school year approaching. Each school year is a brand new fresh start. I always love the beginning of the school year. I’m refreshed, the kids are excited, and I’m full of new ideas! Starting strong can change the entire course of your school year. I always tell my students “Each new day is a chance to start over. If your class had some trouble focusing last art time, we can try again from a clean slate next class!” The same goes for the beginning of the year.

Ask yourself a few questions before you sit yourself back down into the same routine.

What wasn’t working?

I can always think of a few classroom routines that I want to edit each school year. Summer is the perfect time to sit back and reflect and take advantage of some much-needed research time. With the help of blogs and social media, there is an entire resource of teachers that have suggestions and solutions for your exact issues. As teachers, we are constantly striving to be the best for our students. With that, comes a responsibility to give them the best resources we can get our hands on!

What makes you proud?

Take a moment to celebrate what you have accomplished! Let’s be honest, the work never ends. So, it’s important to take a moment and see the successes of you and your students. What do you want to keep consistent that really makes you proud of your art program?


What do your students need?

Really think about what it is that your students need. It may not be as simple as adding a new classroom management tool or buying a new set of watercolors. Maybe you want to focus more on their mental health or their ability to reflect and talk about their art. What do you feel is lacking for them as artists and people? Keep your goals simple and manageable.

I can’t wait to start strong this next year! I always get excited to add new things and see my students again with fresh faces. They deserve the best art experience possible and as art teachers, we are going to give it to them!

Thanks for reading and keep being your best you!

Follow along with my daily art adventures @artroomglitterfairy on Instagram or check out more at


Thursday 06.20.19

Bringing Positive Self Talk into your Art Room

By Sarah Krajewski

Have you ever recited a mantra? Maybe it was just a sentence you said to yourself in your head during a hard time. Or maybe it is something you say out loud to yourself at the end of each day. I find positive motivations very helpful for me and I know my students benefit from them as well! If you want to give a classroom mantra a try, preparing one during Summer is a great time to do it! You can start the new school year with a fresh new outlook on positive self talk in your classroom.

Our Art Room Mantra goes like this:

“My mantra. I am positive. I am creative. I am mindful. I am amazing. I am an artist.”

There are many reasons to start using a mantra in your art room. As we know, everything gets better with practice, and that includes a student’s positivity and words of self-affirmation. When creating your mantra, keep it simple. You can create a mantra with any grade level! It is especially important for you, as the teacher, to prepare yourself for each day. We chose five adjectives that work for us.

Try brainstorming a list of adjectives like these:


Once you have your words selected, think of some motions or sign language actions to go along with each phrase.You’ll be in awe of how quickly your students learn your art mantra. Their great sense of pride and ownership over the words will change the atmosphere of your entire classroom.

Picture2Photo by Sharon Vanorny at

If you’re interested in taking a deeper look at mantras, check out this article I wrote for The Art of Education University.

Thanks for reading and keep being your best you!

Follow along with my daily art adventures @artroomglitterfairy on Instagram or check out more at


Thursday 06.13.19

Balancing Being an Art Educator and Artist

By Sarah Krajewski

Summer. It’s truly a word that’s packed with happiness. Breathe it in. Not everyone has their summer to recharge and create. I encourage you to take advantage of whatever Summer looks like to you. No matter what your situation is, it is very important to recognize and celebrate the fact that we are art teachers AND artists. I use Summer as my sacred time to do all the things that I’ve wanted to do during the school year. The stuff like...reading a book! Or painting a project for a friend! So much of our energy goes towards teaching. We must remember that it is equally important to make time for ourselves.

So many art teachers got into the field of art education because we love to create. But every now and then, the teaching part takes the front seat and the art making rides way in the back. For the past few years, I’ve created a very simple system to encourage myself to complete the goals that I want during my Summer.

Let me share what I do to focus on three personal accomplishment goals I have! My main three daily goals are Art, Exercise, Read. That’s it. Though, sometimes, it’s not as easy as it seems. And certainly, my definition of what counts as Art, Exercise, or Reading changes. One day, “Reading” can be writing this article or responding to emails. “Exercise” can be a walk with my sister and niece through the park. “Art” can be sketching out new earring shapes or making an art room poster. It doesn’t have to be big and grand each day, but it has to be something.

I create a Summer calendar for myself each year and use shapes to indicate my three goals: Art or “A” is Triangle, Exercise or “E” is Square and Read or “R” is Circle. This way, I can quickly mark which goals I have worked on each day. When I complete one of the goals, I fill in the shape and mark how long I did it for. It’s my visual reminder of productivity!

In addition to charting your goals via shapes and calendars, I also suggest making a mess. I mean it. Make a huge mess and have 16 projects happening at a time. I am often tempted to clean up my workspace at the end of each art-making session but I’ve learned that it’s not necessary. When I get inspired to work in my art space, I can simply scan the area and gravitate towards which project makes my heart flutter. Viewing lots of options at once makes me feel less pressure about choosing what to work on. And, in the end, it’s all about being excited to create.

I encourage you to think about how you can create your balance of art teacher and artist this Summer. What daily goals would you have? What would you love to focus on? Remember, don’t beat yourself up if you miss a few days. Celebrate the days you reached your goals and just keep creating. Thanks for reading and keep being your best you!

Follow along with my daily art adventures @artroomglitterfairy on Instagram or check out more at


Monday 06. 3.19

Bringing the Outside In

By Sarah Krajewski

My name is Sarah Krajewski, Art Educator at Cambridge Elementary in WI, and I am so excited to be the NAEA June 2019 Monthly Mentor! You can follow along with my daily art adventures @artroomglitterfairy on Instagram or check out more at I can’t wait to share what is going on in my school and in the world of Art Education. I am truly honored to be a part of this amazing group of people!

Let’s start by chatting about experiences. Think back to when you were in middle school and picture a day you vividly remember. Sometimes it can be pretty hard to think of something! But when it comes down to it, what you remember most is a meaningful experience. You may not remember a specific paper you wrote or what you ate on the second Tuesday in April but you WILL remember that interaction you had with someone visiting your school during a special experience. These collaborations and true connections with artists make lasting memories with your students!

The project I want to bring light is a recent collaboration with author and illustrator, Jeanne Styczinski. Mrs. Jeanne taught Kindergarten before retiring to become a very successful author and illustrator. Check out her website here. The artists of Cambridge Elementary were able to work directly with Mrs. Jeanne during an artist visit with her and created a huge paper creation inspired by her recycled newspaper collage style. For an entire day, Mrs. Jeanne worked with students to create parts of our school-wide garden collage. Her genuine kindness and understanding of students creativity made her the perfect experience for students! I know our students will remember that day for years to come!

Follow this link to see a video of our day with Mrs. Jeanne!

1Collaged flowers created by K-5 students at Cambridge Elementary

2Mrs. Jeanne leading a demonstration for our artists

3Our final garden collage on display in our school library.

4A selection of insects and bugs that were added to our paper collage creation!

Now think for a moment, what kinds of experiences do you think your artists will remember years from now? What can you do to make your day to day focus on creating memories and positive interactions? Thanks for reading and keep being your best you!