Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Wednesday 08.31.11

Shaping Learning

As art educators, we are able to connect with colleagues, administrators and the community to engage them in an arts-minded culture that supports the school and district art programs. It takes time to build that collaboration. In the prior post, I elaborated on the importance of communication as a means to spreading the word about the work done in our art classrooms. The focus was primarily on getting information out to parents and guardians. However, I mentioned how by sharing the newsletter with colleagues, one is able to bring them into the fold, so to speak, and help them understand the cross-curricular connections that occur every day in an art classroom. The multi-disciplinary integrations that enable students to remember, understand, apply, analyze and evaluate concepts from other subjects, which they then use to create an original work of art extends the learning. Integration makes sense of the mass of information they take in through the course of the week. My lessons are not guided purely by what happens in the other classrooms, but I do know what they are studying and when they study it. This method supports the student, the teachers and the learning that takes place. What is magical is when art educators connect with teachers on campus as well as with teachers from other schools. Students are amazed that children their age at another school are learning the same things as they are! Sometimes we need to see how it is done, in order to apply it to our own contexts.

Here are some of the many wonderful opportunities for art educators to collaborate with other teachers to engage students (and make the teaching process fun, too):
• Partner with a colleague for the Champion Creatively Alive Children Grant program, sponsored by Crayola © and the NAESP (plan now for next year!)
• See how it is done at the Lab School of Washington, D.C. as part of the Power of Art Program sponsored by the Lab School and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
• Submit an application for the PBS Teachers Innovation Awards, and see how you can integrate concepts from other subjects, with resources from PBS
• Join Art Ed 2.0 and collaborate with another classroom in another state 
• Partner with a colleague for the Art:21 Educator Institute for 2012-2013 to integrate contemporary art into interdisciplinary themes.

I look forward to hearing how you integrate across the curriculum, and what partnerships enable you to do that, while also establishing high standards for artistic process and technique?

Thank you.
Samantha Melvin

Friday 08.26.11

Connecting, Communicating and Collaborating: Creating Community

I see one of the greatest opportunities of being the art teacher on my campus is that I can reach every child, connect with every teacher through the course of the week, and communicate with every parent in one way or another. It is the way I can advocate the importance of the arts to the whole community.

At the beginning of the year, and every 6 weeks or so, I send home the Fine Arts Newsletter. It is essentially an introduction to our ways of interacting and learning. I provide my email and a link to my website. I spotlight current events on campus and in the community, provide resources and links, and cheer for “Art Ed.” I attach permission slips for Artsonia and VoiceThread providing clear explanations of how these resources support the learning that takes place in the studio. While these newsletters are intended for students and parents, I send an electronic copy to teachers on campus so they know what is happening as well!

1 The Fine Arts Newsletter

Our school website provides each teacher with a profile page, a multi-media blog and individual classroom pages, linked to parent emails. While not all parents have internet access, this tool has been invaluable for notifying parents and guardians of upcoming events and opportunities. This year, my goals include posting questions to our discussion board and having students respond. I see it as a way of continuing the conversation and engaging the whole family. I provide a laptop in my classroom so students can respond to posts if they can’t from home.

2 The interactive blog

Another great resource is Artsonia: with its newsletter tool launched last year, I am able to send an email blast to grade levels in yet another manner. I try to provide copies of announcements to students who don’t have internet, and our front office keeps a copy if someone calls with a question. 

3 And while I must admit that this isn’t my favorite tool for communicating to the community at large, it may be the most effective: the school marquee! I have been able to use it for advocacy, awareness raising and encouraging parent involvement. Yes—in extreme weather, like our current 104+ degrees of heat, it isn’t a glamour job, but it does help spread the news of what our students are learning.

4Part of the importance of connecting, communicating and collaborating with the campus and the community is the effect on advocacy for art education programming and support. By relaying what is happening in the studio, community members share the experience. They become involved in the events, and share in the excitement of the students’ artistic development. Community members seek us out for local events.  My students are invited to participate in exhibits and community-wide events that showcase their talents.  They also provide support by donating materials and exhibit space.

5        6

Advocacy can also involve the community through our local government by requesting proclamations for special events like “Arts in Education Week,” in September, “National Arts and Humanities Month,” in October, and of course, Youth Art Month in March. Usually, proclamation requests need to be submitted the month prior to the event for scheduling purposes. What an opportunity that brings to showcase your students’ work and to invite stakeholders to support your efforts in the community and in the schools.

What are some ways you connect with your students, families and community?

~Samantha Melvin

Thursday 08.18.11

Setting the Stage

The environment that we create in our respective art classrooms sets the tone as well as the flow for our students, ourselves and our work each school year. So, as part of my ongoing discussion of the attributes of a Master Art Educator, I want to focus on classroom procedures and organization. Given we each have differently sized classrooms as well as class sizes, the scenario I present is my own! I look forward to your feedback so we can share the multiple ways of creating that work space.

Layout sjm Photo1 
Photo: carpet/smartboard/prints and layout

Entering the art classroom: what then?
I have no transition time between classes, so I have one group line up (after clean-up) inside, and the class that will be entering lines up outside my classroom door. As I stand at the door saying my good-byes and positive comments: “well done, thanks for participating, wonderful technique…” one class leaves.  Still at the door, I am then the greeter: “great to see you, I missed you last week, oh, I can’t wait to see your work today…” as the other class enters and makes their way to the carpet where we launch our discussions and demonstrations. Their first task is to observe the “Art of the Day” which is an object on the easel or board that connects to the learning that day.

The carpet is a remnant piece taped down to the tile, and is large enough for every student to sit cross-legged on the floor. For students with limited mobility—there is room for a chair or a wheel-chair on the corners. The seating space allows for clear viewing of the interactive white board, as well as the easel.

Systems sjm Photo2 Photo: tables and systems

Getting to work: how to manage people, space and resources?
Tables are arranged around the carpet. Once we have shared the objective of that day’s lesson with a demonstration, students are ready to get to work. They move to their seats, 4 to a table. I don’t assign seats unless students demonstrate that they can’t work together. We strive for “making the best choices every day as there is always a consequence for every choice.” Helpers are assigned by letters at each table (A, B, C, D) which is posted on a chart, and is switched out every week. Each table is numbered, so that I can call a table to get additional supplies, put up their work, or line-up. Supplies are in numbered kits for each table, with additional supplies on the supply table for specific techniques. Helpers gather these supplies. “Give me Five!” is my way of getting the students’ attention. The resources shared during discussion are within view and accessible, as students have permission to walk back to the demonstration space to observe and question. They also have access to any books on the shelves.

5Rules of Studio 
Photo: 5 Rules of the Studio

Keeping it together: where does the work go?
Each group of students is given a special class code for labeling their work. When I first present this, I lower my voice to a whisper, and miraculously, the students stop talking and listen attentively. It is a simple code for me to manage the huge number of pieces my students produce through the course of the week:

Each day of the week is labeled with A, B, C, D, E: Monday is A, Tuesday is B, and so on. Each class period is assigned a number: 1st class of the day is “1”, so my first class on Monday is “A1.” I found that this eliminated issues with classroom teachers having the same last name or same initials. Everyone labels the back of their work with Name and Class Code. Students can then identify and sort work for me when we take down art exhibits, which is an incredible help over the long term.

Clean-up: With 10 minutes to spare before the end of class, either a helper or I will announce “2 minutes” which gives students the heads-up that clean-up is coming. Then I mobilize helpers by announcing their number, everyone cleans up their space, helpers move supplies (empty water containers, gather tools, etc.) then tables are called to put up their artwork. At this time I don’t have drying racks (an expense I have put lower on the list) so I reuse butcher paper and we spread the work out on the floor if we need it to dry. (Yes—I do have a large classroom!) Volunteers join me in the morning to pick up the dry work and lay it on the assigned shelf. When tables are tidy, tables are called to line up, and we start the process all over again. With 50 minutes, once a week, it is vital to have a system in place so that we can pick up where we left.

In each class period, we strive to uphold the 5 Rules of the Studio, which are shared, reviewed and posted:

Do what is right. Do your best. Listen. Be Respectful. Clean-up.

Check out this wonderful resource via The Teaching Palette, teachers shared their organizational tips for their own art classrooms, me included!

What are some ways you establish classroom procedures and organization?

~Samantha Melvin

Thursday 08.11.11

Preparing for the New School Year

"In my view, the classroom situation most provocative of thoughtfulness and critical consciousness is the one in which teachers and learners find themselves conducting a kind of collaborative search, each from his or her lived situation." (p. 23)
                        ~Maxine Greene, Releasing the Imagination (1995)

As we each launch our respective art classrooms and studios for an exciting and creative year ahead, I feel also the urgency to understand and know my incoming and returning students. This leads me into the topic of this post: how we see developing relationships with our students as a key to student success. Each student brings a suitcase full of experiences from which they will draw their creative work. This suitcase, so to speak, will reveal its contents gradually for some, and for others, it is unleashed. We have all met people like this, whose personal lives are so chaotic, that their presence sets a definite tone to the environment. It is a matter of connecting these individuals, removing the chaos, and nurturing caring and respect, and establishing a safe environment. We develop relationships with our students in order to establish a common ground. Students come to know that they are cared for, and in response, become contributors to the creative process of the studio.

Understanding our students and creating that positive environment demands that we work to understand what motivates them, and how we can connect. A great tool for understanding what students need is the Developmental Assets List from the Search Institute (check specific lists for each age group). We can collaborate with colleagues, parents and community to provide a positive learning environment for our students. This collaborative framework emphasizes learning and growing for all participants—teachers and students alike.

In addition, the Lincoln Center Institute has developed a great tool for fostering skills in imagination, creativity and innovation with its Capacities for Imaginative Learning. I appreciate the simplicity and applicability of the framework to any learning environment, and the fact that the framework establishes a shared learning experience between facilitator (student/teacher) and learners.

How do our students know that they are in a caring learning environment? With structure, comes freedom. By establishing norms for interaction, for the sharing of ideas, critique and evaluation, we determine the social behaviors that are accepted and those that are not. In Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning: What does the research say? “Christenson and Peterson (1998) identified six factors that reflect the complementary nature of family-school-community roles for children’s school success: standards and expectations, structure, opportunity to learn, support, climate/relationships, and modeling.” (p.65)

Here is some food for thought:

* How do you state expectations for student performance, set specific goals and standards for behavior?
* How do you establish norms and routines in your art classroom?
* How do you provide a variety of learning options and communicate the availability of such opportunities for learning?
* How do you model the desired behaviors and the value of learning and of working hard in your daily life? How do you share your goals as a learner?

And perhaps most importantly, for the development of the relationship between learners, students and teacher/facilitator:

* How do you get to know each student? How do you check-in regularly with each one?
* How do you establish warmth and friendliness, approachability and encouragement in your classroom?

~Samantha Melvin

Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning: What does the research say? Edited by Joseph E. Zins, Roger P. Weissber, Margaret C. Wang and Herbert J. Walberg. Teachers College Press, NY, 2004.

P.S. Out of curiosity, after I wrote this post, I googled the phrase “with structure comes freedom” and found this interesting post by Jessica Helfand entitled, an Open Letter to Design Students [ ]from the Design Observer Group.


Wednesday 08. 3.11

Greetings from your August Mentor!

I am thrilled to be on board as this month’s guest blogger! The month of August is such a transitional time for me. After the whirlwind of summer activities, I find that this is the month when I pull all the varied components of the last school year’s experiences, the learning that took place through the summer through professional development and studio time, and my personal and professional goals into a succinct package. Well, as succinct as it can be, with the understanding that flexibility is vital to reaching those goals! As I share this road with you through this month’s posts, I endeavor to connect with each of you. Our experiences may be different, our teaching environments as well as the students we serve provide challenges and opportunities in a variety of ways, but there is a constant: as we strive to be the best that we can possibly be, to serve our individual students, to advocate for our unique and quality programs, to support art education at the local, state and national level, and to be an example to others in every field, we establish the importance of active participation in the role of “teacher.” This role is challenging. It is multi-faceted. It changes with each dynamic group of students and the topics we discuss. As we, and our students, grow and succeed through these experiences we develop the attributes of a “Master Art Educator.” As I determined the focus of this month’s posts, I kept going back to a snapshot of what a Master Art Educator looks like, a concept framed by my colleagues and I on the council and board of TAEA. I look forward to unpacking this concept with you over the weeks ahead! 

IMG_1583 Austin City Limits Music Festival, 2010, photo by S. Melvin

-Samantha Melvin