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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Thursday 09.29.11

Tales from the Travelling Art Teacher! Knowing That You’re Just as Important as Everyone Else.

Earlier this month, an article was shared that reminded me of what I had posted in my first blog…that the arts in education are still fighting to stay alive.  This paragraph caught my attention while reading:
“A fine arts education (including music, theater, drawing, painting, or sculpture) whether in practice or theory, has been a part of any well-rounded curriculum for decades...but that may be changing. Many schools today are cutting back or eliminating their art programs due to budget constraints. It is estimated that by the end of this year, more than 25% of public high schools will have completely dismantled them. These stats aren’t just bad news for teachers working in the arts. Numerous studies done over the past decade have demonstrated the amazing benefits of such an integral education facet. Students who don’t have access to art classes may not only miss out on a key creative outlet, but might also face greater difficulty mastering core subjects, higher dropout rates and more disciplinary problems.” (from online college’s 10 Salient Studies of the Arts in Education.)
When I look at the news about the arts being removed from more school districts every day, I stop to think about the fact that I not only have a job teaching what I love, but that my students are receiving a well-rounded education with music, art, and physical education.  Travelling and cart pushing are two very tricky challenges to overcome, but when you look at the bigger picture, you are helping provide a creative environment for your students and training the next batch of right-brained thinkers.
You are important.  You help shape the creative element of your school.  You bring every inch of art history, culture, and design to your students through your curriculum.  You overcome your obstacles, reflect on your practice, and become a better teacher in the process. 

1 4th Grade student enjoying clay and learning how to make "rattleballs"

Has someone complained about your cart being in the hallway?  Don’t worry about it.  You have what you need to educate the students in the arts, and you’re not in the way.
Someone complain about your space, or a little bit of mess left behind from paint?  No one’s perfect.  Be glad you are able to provide the students with that little bit of mess, and just be mindful to double check your workspaces.
Did you forget something at another school?  Subside that frustration and be happy that you care to make sure your students receive everything they need for that lesson (and send an email to the teachers asking if they have the material you need…which I had to do this week).  Nobody's perfect!

2 2nd Grade students admiring their 3-D trees for fall 

As I wrap up my mentorship posts, I was to thank you for taking the time to read and comment.  If you wish to continue reading my “Tales from the Travelling Art Teacher” posts, you are more than welcome to visit my blog at :
Thank you for your time and remember that you are just as important as everyone else when it comes to your students’ education.
-Heidi O'Hanley

Tuesday 09.27.11

Tales from the Travelling Art Teacher! Where do you go when you need help?

In education, we are always learning while we’re teaching.  We search for the resources we need to have a complete lesson unit, or find ways to adapt our lessons in challenging situations.   There are multiple resources available in art education to help with what we need, yet when it comes to travelling to multiple schools or pushing a cart, those resources are trickier to find.  In most cases, it’s learning by doing.
If you find you’re in a situation with the travelling and need additional guidance, don’t hesitate to look for help.  Within your district, you may not be the only one in your situation.  Talk with those who travel and ask the questions needed to find solutions to those challenges.

1                 4th Grade student learns the tricks of creating a box

In the beginning, a mentor is a wonderful resource, and one you can turn to, even after your first years of teaching.   Even when you get the hang of pushing that cart, you may still need to ask questions a few years down the road.  Ask your district about a mentor/mentee program, or look into your division's listserve for help.  Many are willing to help!
While researching others who document their challenges and successes with travelling and teaching from cart, I have found some wonderful resources and educators who share their stories…some of which have even shared as a monthly mentor.  I would like to share some links with you that may help with finding others in your situation:
Back in March of 2009, Linda Devlin posted wonderful advice about being on a cart.  The following link will lead you to her blog:
In December 2010, Melissa Schaefer (NAEA’s current Student Chapter President-Elect) shared her insight as a first year teacher on a cart.  You can read her advice here:
Another wonderful resource is by Becca Swanson, who posted a list of tips from a veteran art teacher on a cart here:
Blogs are a wonderful way to follow challenges and successes with fellow art teachers.  While following a blog, you can receive updates on recent posts, comment on stories, and even gain some ideas in creating your own blog for future art educators.
The Art Teacher Blog Directory contains over 160 blogs focused on art education and lessons in the classroom.  Some blogs attached (including mine) do focus on teaching from a cart or adapting lessons:
The Art Teacher Cookbook is another great resource of gathered ideas and materials for creating a curriculum:
The Creative Flamingo is another resource from an early professional perspective.  Many post focus on the extra duties on top of designing your curriculum!

2 1st and 4th Grade students share their still life projects 

We all have moments when we need to find help…with lesson ideas, classroom management, organization, or just finding an extra hand.  At times, you may feel that you’re alone…the fact is that you’re not.  Many teachers are in the same situation and are willing to offer advice to help you.  Just ask, and you will receive.
My question to you...where do you go when you need help?
-Heidi O'Hanley

Friday 09.23.11

Tales from the Travelling Art Teacher! Being an Advocate for the Arts while Travelling

If you’re travelling or stationary, you are one of the advocates for the arts in your school district…even if you feel tired and sluggish after a day of pushing the cart.  There are many ways to promote art within your school, and I would like to offer a few ideas to help promote creative thinking with your students, co-workers, community.  Even if your load feels full, you can still promote your curriculum in many ways.

Cross-curricular lessons: When you can fit it into your curriculum, it’s a wonderful partnership when you combine lessons with another teacher.  In doing so, you are re-enforcing the objectives of the lesson, and students have fun in the process.  One example of a cross-curricular lesson was with a 2nd grade class.  The school’s reading night’s theme was “oceans,” and the students were learning about ocean life prior to the special night.  During the study of ocean life, I introduced different kinds of fish to the students and had them create different types of fish that were made 3-dimensional.  When finished, the fish decorated the gym while students and parents enjoyed the ocean life decorations during reading night.  Another way to combine lessons is to create lessons inspired by the social studies curriculum.  Prehistoric, Egyptian, Greek, and Renaissance history provide a rich amount of knowledge for the students in the general and creative environment.

2 3rd grade Miro Monster Sculptures, 2011

Share your professional development with the administration: If you’ve recently attended a state or national conference, try to squeeze in writing a report about what you visited and what you plan to include into your curriculum.  In doing so, you are showing your willingness to improve your methods of teaching, as well as staying on top of recent trends in art education.  As an overachiever, I knew that I would be busy once I returned from the Seattle conference early this year, so I typed a report on the plane!  Everyone has their own way of documenting their conference experiences.  Another way to share your recent adventures is by creating new lessons to share with the students, and adapting your lessons to your travelling or cart situation. 

Promote the arts with parents and guardians:  This can be tricky, especially when you’re not at the same school every day.  I like to begin the school year by creating a “wishlist” of items parents and guardians can donate from home.  Each homeroom teacher has their own list, but not every school has a supply list for art.  In my wishlist, I request simple things I overuse, such as paper plates, handiwipes, and newspaper.  Throughout the school year, I can receive items from parents, and it’s been a HUGE help.  During open house time, I also created a flier that can be given to parents at all three school.  Within the flier, I give an introduction to myself, the art curriculum, and Eisner’s “Top 10 List” of what the arts teach.  Every year, more and more parents come into the art room to say hello and visit the displays, and more compliments are given from the schools I travel to.  

Another way to promote the arts with parents is by inviting them to your space.  If you have any after school art activities, throw a mini art show for an hour after school.  It’s easy to set up, quick to take down, and parents love the visit!

Student Art Show, 2010Student Art Show, 2010

Ways to amaze the community: Are there local businesses that would love to display student work?  How about the village hall?  With networking, you can easily stop by a local business to create a little display of student work for the community.

During the school district board meetings, ask if you can display your student’s work.  The meetings are public, and attendees love to see the student work!  It’s also another boost of recognition by the board members.

Make room in your curriculum for local art contests.  In doing so, you are sharing your student’s talents with the community!

Everything above requires a little extra work, but it’s well worth it in the end.  As previously noted in pros and cons, the more work that’s displayed by your students, the more the community recognize the hard work that you do. 

-Heidi O’Hanley

Wednesday 09.21.11

Tales from the Travelling Art Teacher! Painting, Drawing, and Sculpture, Oh My!

The trick to travelling is knowing what materials to use for your lessons, and how to carry them around or store then with little space.   Here are a few tips that I picked up on with the three dominant materials I use in my curriculum.

Some rooms I travel to have sinks…I love it.  I can choose student helpers to fill the water bowls, wash brushes, and collect painting materials.  Having a sink in a classroom is a blessing when travelling from room to room, but not all rooms have a sink.

My 6th grade students are amazing with filling bowls of water in the bathroom and taking bowls and brushes back after class to wash.  But when it comes to younger grades, it may be best to work with what’s in the room.

3 2nd grade student enjoying painting

If you have a separate cart to work with, load it with a pail for used water, smaller pail for dirty brushes, newspapers, brushes, water jug, paper towels, plastic bowls, and palettes of your choice (I prefer paper plates, which are easier to toss).  Also, load the paint you plan on using…tempura, acrylic, watercolor, or tempura cakes are the more common elementary paints.    If you are able to acquire a cart for this purpose, leave it right outside of the classroom for easy transport.

I have a separate drying rack on wheels to transport from room to room.  During class time, I leave it outside of the rooms for mobility, but during clean up I push it in to allow students to place their paintings during clean up.

When passing out the materials, choose your helpers with passing out brushes, paper towels, and newspaper.  While the helpers are passing out, set up your paint palette and pour your water cups.  You can also choose more helpers to pass out the paint and water once you’re done setting up.

Cleaning up can also be orderly if planned out.  Depending on the way the tables are set up on the classroom, you can choose more helpers to collect the water, dump the used water in the pail, and use paper towels to wipe out the cups.  Other helpers can collect the used brushes and place them in the dirty brush pail.  The individual students can wipe down their own desks with the paper towels or baby wipes.  While the students are cleaning up, you can call the students’ names individually to bring their paintings to you for the drying rack or drying table.  If you have a class of good listeners, this works like a charm.  If you know the students will take a little longer with clean up, plan a little extra time and work on training them to be “quick, quiet, and clean” during the clean up process.  “Quick, quiet, and clean” is a cool tool phrase used for students to stay on task with cleaning up in their classrooms at a few of my schools.

Drawing materials are easier to work with when travelling.  Every time I push the cart, I have a box of markers, crayons, and some colored pencils for students to use.  The projects are also simpler to prepare, set up, and collect once finished.

One trick I found that was simple was to create many projects in the same size.   I pre-cut most of my white or manila paper the same exact size, and store it in a box top on my cart.  I collect copy paper box lids to hold materials, and they store plenty of items for projects, such as colored paper scraps, handouts, random craft materials, and more.  Once a project is complete, I store the box top on a shelf, label it for the following year, and when you need it again, you have some pre-made materials ready!

4 Stacking the colored paper boxes in the hallway

The schools I travel to already require students to have their own pencils, markers/crayons, erasers, scissors and glue.  Don’t assume that all students will have these since items can get lost.  Make sure you have some additional materials to help students who do not have the items you require for the project. 

Other drawing materials, such as charcoal, pastels, or special colored pencils are items you supply.  I requested donations of plastic containers in the beginning of the school year, and they are great for storing materials when travelling from room to room.

1 1st Grade students sharing drawing materials

When creating colored paper projects, I found it difficult at first to provide the colored paper for all classrooms.  I found it easier to create a box top of each colored paper to use, which helps save scraps, and can stay in the hallway lined along the wall.  When passing out materials, I call a few students at a time to collect the colors they need in the hallway, and during clean up, I have helpers separate the scraps before I push the boxes to the next classroom door.

Three-dimensional materials are the trickiest to work with on a cart, and in some cases, I hear that teacher give up on sculpture projects, saying it’s too much of a hassle.  It is possible to still incorporate sculpture!

Before I start a sculpture project, I inform the homeroom teacher and plan a space to keep the student work during the week.  In most cases, I store plastic bins on top of storage closets or shelves, which keeps projects out of student reach.

I’ve been lucky with a kiln to share with the junior high at my home base school, but I do not have the capability to take ceramic clay from one school to the other.  Instead, I order air-dry clay for ceramic-like projects, such as coil pottery and slab.  The students are still learning the process, and you don’t have to carry items in your car to the kiln.

With air dry clay, be cautious with how the projects are put together.  Make sure students use the slip/score process, or when the items dry out, they will fall apart.  I always have a back-up plan of using a hot glue gun to fix student projects the following week.

Another sculpture material that’s great to use is soft air dry clay, such as Crayola model magic or Amaco’s air-dry clay.  The clay is softer to use, fun to play with, and so many ideas can be created from the clay.  Although there are many colors to order, you may not be able to squeeze it into your budget.  I like to order plain white, which gives the students a chance to use markers or paint to complete their sculptures.

2 4th grade students sharing her "Hope in a Box"

Now that I teach higher grades on a cart, I get to plan how to distribute more advanced materials…scratchboards, metal embossing, printmaking materials, and more.  My question to you is:  How do you handle your materials while travelling?  Everyone has their preferred method!

-Heidi O'Hanley

Monday 09.19.11

Tales from the Travelling Art Teacher! Including Technology in a Tricky Situation

In this day and age, it is essential to include technology in student’s education.  We now live in a world with iphones, video games, laptops, ipods, and many other items the students know and use every day.  In my first year of teaching, I was unaware of how to even attempt to include technology with juggling the travelling and time.  With research and teamwork, I found ways to include technology within my curriculum.

When pushing a cart, the last thing on your mind may be to push a laptop/projector cart from room to room.  As hard as it may be, it’s best to try and find some way to include technology, even on top of everything you push around.

Let’s explore some ideas that may assist you in using technology.  If you have ways to share, please add them to the comments!  There’s an unending list of ways to include teaching in this digital age, and I’m just an elementary perspective.

If your school has a computer/wireless lab, check out the schedule with the homeroom classes.  See if there is open space for you to squeeze in a class or two.  This will help some of your classes in using the computers for your own lessons, including art-based websites, or creative programs (such as Adobe and Crayola Art Studio to name a few).

2  Instructing a Technology Class on Art-Based Websites

If your school has a mobile wireless cart, reserve it in advance!  The cart is available to all staff in the school, which includes the specials classes.  Similar to the computer lab, you can use the laptops for your art lessons within your own art space.

Speaking of laptops, I acquired a laptop/projector cart at my schools to use with my curriculum, and it’s been amazing.  Previous to having the laptop, I had to use printed 8” x 10” images I found from the computer to introduce lessons (if I didn’t have the full poster print).  Students could barely see it, even if I printed an image for each table.  With the projector, I capture the students’ attention with Power Points, interactive art websites, and videos to introduce lessons.  It’s an extra cart to push, but well worth it.  When pushing the cart from room to room, check where the plugs are at in the classroom in the beginning of the school year, and communicate with the homeroom teacher about when you plan on using your projector.  You may get lucky and the homeroom teacher may have their own laptop/projector set for you to use!

On the topic with Power Points…there are many days that I find getting a wireless connection with a roaming (travelling) school profile just doesn’t work.  That’s where thumb drives come in, and they have been a huge help in tricky situations.  Everything is saved on a thumb drive, and it can go with you everywhere.  Just don’t forget it plugged in at one school when you’re at the next…or you’ll be yelling at yourself when you’re getting back in your car to get it like I do.

Throughout the year, I am always squeezing in pictures of student work and progress for displays.  If you are able to acquire a digital camera through your supply orders or a grant, it has been most helpful, even with documenting for the national board certification.  I’ve been able to send digital photos to the contacts for press releases, school website, and plenty of other uses with pictures.  Make sure that you have the parents’ permission before using photographs or videos.

Does your district offer technology-based professional development?  Here’s a nice idea:  offer to present a technology hour on art-based websites or programs for your co-workers.  This will help open your colleagues to more ways to include the arts within their own classroom, and you may even find ways to co-teach lessons during the school year.

There are also plenty of projects you can plan involving digital cameras, printers, and video, especially with after school projects.  For one project, I created a lesson inspired by the artist who is known for photographing everyday items we use in humorous situations.  My students created their own sculptures, then photographed them posed in comical situations (such as a television yelling at a chair to more).  In our junior high, the art teacher also collaborated with the technology department in making clay-animation videos.  If you don’t have a classroom, you can still acquire a camera and create an after school art class to create clay-animation projects.

1 Introducing Pandora's Box and Slab Pottery to 4th Grade 

I could continue the list of technology for many pages, but the main point is…it is possible to include technology while travelling.  If you have your own ways to include technology, I invite you to share your ideas within the comments.  After all, we need to incorporate 21st century learning skills, and technology is an essential with educating the future of the 21st century.

-Heidi O'Hanley

Friday 09.16.11

Tales from the Travelling Art Teacher! Knowing your Schedule and Expectations

All teachers have a strict schedule to follow with little room for flexibility.  It’s especially tricky when balancing your time moving from room to room, especially when you’re juggling materials throughout the day.  Every school district has expectations and guidelines for their teachers to abide, and as travelers, you’re expected to do the same.  In many cases, expectations are one of the causes of teacher burn-out.

Your Schedule
One challenge is your schedule, which changes from year to year.  In the beginning, you receive the schedule and start your planning for the day.  It can take a few weeks, but you soon have that schedule memorized and timed perfectly.  Planning lessons within your schedule can be another challenge.

If you have a schedule with all grade levels throughout the day (a good example would be mine this year, which is 7 classes, grades K-6 all in a row), your biggest challenge is materials, and this goes with classroom and school.  You need to create examples for all 7 grade levels (unless you’re K-8, and you have 9), design lesson ideas for all grades each day, and figure your materials for each grade level…each day.  By the end of the work day, you want to drop.

To help improve your schedule, try your best to plan lessons that require the same materials.  This idea can help you with the heavy cart.  For example, if you have cutting/pasting projects and need bins of colored paper scraps, plan the appropriate lessons at the same time.  I keep my bins of colored paper in the hallway, and just slide them from room to room during the day.  There will be overlapping of projects since some grade levels take longer than others, but it helps save you from a heavy cart load.

Some schedules are planned with back to back grade levels (for example, K, K, 1, 1, etc…).  These schedules are amazing because you may be preparing for many students, but you’re preparing for fewer projects.  I found more flexibility with this type of schedule, but like everything in life, nothing stays the same.  You will always be adapting to what the school’s needs are at the time.

When you do get your schedule in the beginning of the year, there will also be fine tuning involved.  If you’re on a cart, you need that time between classes to move from room to room (and grab that one item you forgot for a future class!).  If you find a conflict, discuss it with the teacher at the time, and plan any minute changes needed to make both teachers comfortable with their schedules.

Another issue that you may come across is when duty calls.  If you have a lunch duty or T.S.P.E. duty immediately after a class, you may not make it on time.  Inform the administrator about the issue, or talk with your duty team about times when you may need to take down, clean up, or wash brushes.  Morning and afternoon observations can also cut into your set-up and take-down time.  Be sure to get to your workplace with time to prepare for this.

In the end, you will have your schedule fined tuned within a few weeks, and you’ll know your time so well, that daily schedule taped up on your cart will be hidden behind artist posters (keep it there just in case!).  And…one of your job expectations, the schedule, will feel mastered.

Your Expectations
As educators, we are expected to design a curriculum (following specific guidelines), keep up with student/parent contact, record data and assessments, know the school policies, create lesson plans, and much more.  As an art educator, you may be expected to be the visual person in the school, which includes hallway displays, community displays, props for school musicals, creative or art shows, press releases, contests, and the list goes on.  Every educator has their own amount of work and expectations, and ours may be different, but the work load feels just as heavy.

One of the ongoing battles I hear about with educators is that someone has a heavier work load than another.  This myth is very untrue.  The argument pops up continuously because of the wide variety of responsibilities each person in the school team has.  When working collaboratively, your teamwork efforts help to bust that myth.

As the art teacher, it is mostly your responsibility to handle all the visual art requirements of the school district.  With open communication, you can work as a team to create wonderful displays.  Your displays can be hung anywhere around the school, in public areas (such as a village hall), or at district meetings.  Around the school, students are more than willing to help display their own work.  It shows a sense of pride in their own work, and when more work is displayed, students have shown throughout the year a more positive response to the artwork and respect for the displays.

2 Decorating the hallways

All teachers in our school create press releases for the public, and I have just as much fun creating the pictures.  I enjoy showing the community what the students learn within the art program, and how it ties into what they do every day.  The students also are joyous when they see their faces in the local newspaper.  On a side note, if you plan to create more press releases for the public, make sure you have a list of students who are not approved for photos or public releases.  This is very important, even when you decide to pursue a master’s teacher certification level.

School musicals are another expectation within our school district.  As a team, the music teachers and art teachers discuss in advance when the musicals arise, and what the themes may be.  In the past, I’ve saved props for multiple uses (trees are great examples for this).  When making new props, I’ve now enlisted the help of upper class students to color and cut out.  This has been a huge help with time, and students again have more pride in the work displayed.

3 Prepping for the musical

Art contests are always around, and many times can be a voluntary choice for the art teacher.  I like to display national contest information for my students outside my classroom door and pamphlets are left in a spot on my cart when travelling.  There are main contests within my district that take place every year, and since I am aware of them in advance, I fit them into the curriculum.  If you are a first year teacher, make sure you discuss with your administrator any contest opportunities that may arise throughout the year.

4 At the end of the art show

The list of expectations can go on and on, but remember you can always use the resources you have:  the students, parents, and co-workers.  As a team, you can help make your school a creative environment while fulfilling your duties.

-Heidi O'Hanley

Wednesday 09.14.11

Tales from the Travelling Art Teacher! Adapting Your Curriculum and Instruction

Your schedule and classes change every year, and, if you’re on a cart or travel, your workload changes just as much.  Keeping a strict curriculum is one of my biggest challenges, but I find ways to work with it.   The way to plan your curriculum is to focus on what your goals are for the year.   One of my goals in each lesson is to have the students understand why they create their piece and how they can use their knowledge gained in the real world.  Even on a cart, we still need to include those 21st century learning skills.

The elements of art and principles of design are fundamental in the art curriculum.  Each lesson is embedded with at least two, and can always be revisited. When planning your lessons and creating your examples, note the elements and principles used and focus on them when explaining your objectives.

The state and national standards are in place for a reason…like how students can understand how art reflects in society and everyday life (besides the Illinois standard 25).   Make sure you touch upon the standards and memorize them.  When you’re approached by your administrator and asked how the lesson relates to the fine arts standards, know your stuff.  Materials can be modified and artists can be changed around to meet the standards too.  For example…when teaching coil pottery, I use ceramic pottery because my home base school shares a kiln with the Jr. High.  At my cart school, I use air-dry clay to teach the same lesson.  Same concept learned, different material used.

2nd grade student enjoying painting

Here are some tips to assist you in planning your curriculum for the school year when travelling:

1. If you teach the same grades at different schools, plan your lessons around the same time.  This will help save you from extra planning, and you can easily just prepare more materials for the lesson rather than gather more materials for multiple lessons.
2. Bring your lesson plan book with you to all schools.  If you make any sudden changes, you can note them in the book so you’re aware of them for other schools.  I’m a person that has to write everything down, but if you’re not, tie that string around your finger in some way you can as a reminder.
3. To save on carrying extra materials from school to school, spend a little extra time creating examples for each school that can be stored away.  It may take a few years, but you carry less and less each year.
4. Teaching multiple schools over time?  When I started travelling in my first year, I carried so much from school to school, I needed a suitcase on wheels.  Now, I carry a recycled paper bag.  Each year, I tried to order materials I knew I was going to use for the next year.  Over the next few years, I carried less and less because I knew the materials were already at the other school!

1 2nd grade "Klee Kastles" 


5. Even travelling, I try to find ways to integrate lessons.  Since I have freedom planning my curriculum, I collaborated with the 6th grade teachers to have art history inspired lessons that follow their social studies lessons.    Find your way to collaborate with the homeroom teacher.  It shows teamwork, and creates an imaginative environment for the students.

If you have a strict curriculum in your school district, I invite you to share your ways you adapt in a travelling situation.  Every school district is different…some educators have freedom in planning their curriculum, others must follow a guideline.  In my district the 3 elementary art teachers collaborate to discuss how we each meet the standards and what concepts we wish the students to learn before reaching the Jr. High level.  We then communicate throughout the year on how we incorporated specific materials within our lessons.  There are so many ways to adapt lessons in a travelling situation.  You could plan units, themes, integrations, highlighted artists, and much more.  The advice I have for new teachers is this:  work with what you have.  Through time, you will find an organized method to your curriculum.

-Heidi O'Hanley

Monday 09.12.11

Tales from the Travelling Art Teacher! Choosing your Cart and Finding your Space

Let’s pretend you’re new to a school district, and you discover that you’re limited on your resources.  The cart has little space, there’s no storage, and materials are all over the place.  If you’re on a cart or travel, this is a very familiar situation to you, and you still juggle what space you have.  Besides screaming (which sometimes seems like the only option when you’re frustrated), explore your options.

Your Ideal Cart
When I began traveling, I set myself up on two different carts at two different schools.  Why?  They were the only options I had at the time.  Over the next year, I found which cart was best for my situation, and which one I wanted to kick over.

I find that creating organized space helped my sanity.  For example…if you have a cart that can hold bins, fill some of the bins with items you use almost every class period, such as glue, scissors, assessment sheets, and other items you see fit.  With the materials always in the same place, I can send my student to the cart and they know exactly where the item is they’re looking for.

Leave additional space for temporary materials, such as specific lesson items, games (for students who finish early), and others items needed for the day.  I always leave two empty bins on my cart for this exact reason, and I can fill/refill when I walk by my storage closet.

Squeeze in that space for student resources, such as drawing books, art books, and art games.  Again, the students will know where it is, and where to place the items during clean up.

Create a display space on your cart.  Sometimes I walk into a room and discover the homeroom teacher has used all the chalkboard space, so I must find my own.  This is a slight irritation at first (which is understandable), but being prepared is always helpful.  If you have no way of creating space on your cart, this is where that communication word comes in handy.  Discuss with the homeroom teacher about leaving additional space on the board.   On an additional note…buy your own magnets and label them!  Magnets are one item I treasure, and lose at the same time.  I’ve been lucky with students that are helpful and return forgotten magnets before I leave for the day.

Create a separate cubby for your personal items, such as your own pair of scissors, glue, and other materials you want for your own use.  I have a cart where I can keep materials up high in a separate basket (there will always be that child that wants to use the teacher’s materials).

1My ideal cart

And lastly, for that cart that is bugging you to no end, here’s a suggestion.  Look at your supply budget and see if you can squeeze in a spare 250.00 for a new cart that hold all this wonderful storage I discussed in the previous paragraphs.  It was the best investment I made at my second cart school!  I now use that old, immobile metal cart as a storage cart, which holds a drying rack and resources for students who finish work early.  Best thing I ever did.

Your Storage and Space
Is your storage area a closet?  Are you left with a small drying rack and no space for other classes? Do you also share your space with other art teachers?  I sympathize, and I can also offer advice for your lack of space.

One of the schools I teach is shared with another art teacher.  Some classes are mine, the rest of the school is the second art teacher.  We get along very well because we communicate about the shared items, such as drying racks, projectors, and painting carts.  We decided to keep our consumable materials in our own space, which has made it very easy to know what we have for our own classes, without worry about missing items.  We also designated specific display areas around the school, which prevents miscommunication with showing off finished products from other classes.

When the drying rack is overfilled and overstuffed, I communicate with the homeroom teachers about temporarily leaving materials to dry in a corner table or window area for about an hour.  This is a good amount of time for drying and makes it easy to stack projects by the end of the day.

 Drying printmaking for the day

Sculpture materials are fun to make, but a pain to store when you’re gone.  My teachers are very nice and allow me to store a plastic bin on top of their storage closets, which keep the students from tampering with them during the week.  This method has helped me, the teacher, and the students since my first year teaching, and allows me to continue creating the messy, stinky clay projects everyone loves.

2 Ways to store 3-D materials

Display space is always an issue because I am not at the school every day of the week.  If I know I want to display a student project in advance, I will ask the administrator for permission to use a specific space within a time frame, and I’ve always been granted the space.  Go ahead, try it and you’ll get great results and a group of kids who are proud of their work!

Don’t have space to display 3D materials?  I don’t either.  I discovered photos of the students with their projects are wonderful and much easier to hang up and take down.  Plus, the students gets to keep their picture!

Lack of space can be extremely frustrating.  With a little organization communication, and flexibility, your troubles can flip to resolutions.  I’ve been there, and I still hit snags, but we deal and push on to find ways to adapt.

-Heidi O'Hanley

Thursday 09. 8.11

Tales from the Travelling Art Teacher! Pros and Cons: Balancing the Scale

Every job has its ups and downs, even if you feel like you’re under a shoe or left out of the important details. With the arts and music being the first to be cut from most school districts, it appears as if we are not considered “part of the core curriculum,” when in fact…we are!

I wanted to list some pros and cons that have been faced before in many school districts. If you have any of your own, please add it to the comments!:

Negative: I’m on a cart, stuck in a closet, with no sense of space.
Positive: Yes, you may not have a room, and your storage closet houses your desk, but look at it this way! A room takes much longer to set-up and take-down, or even clean up at the end of the day.

Negative: I don’t feel like I belong with the other teachers. They seem to cling together when talking about standard tests and classroom activities.
Positive: It takes time to build lasting friendships with co-workers and other staff, and sometimes it may not happen the way you want! Your job is to convince your fellow co-workers that you are worthwhile. Talk about their students’ personalities and how it reflects in their artwork.

Negative: I keep tripping over my cart, and items keep falling off the cart! Arg!!!!
Positive: In the morning, try and leave some of the items you’re using with certain classes within their rooms…or make a trip back to your storage room (if you have allotted travelling time between classes). That will save on the items falling off or breaking, but I can’t help you with the cart tripping…that’s just a convenient annoyance we must deal with!

Negative: The materials are too difficult to disperse in the classrooms! The teacher just leaves no space for me!!!
Positive: As said before: Communication is key. Let the homeroom teacher know you need the space, or you’ll place your items on top of their stuff.

Negative: No storage for projects!!!
Positive: True…but have you talked with the homeroom teachers about allowing some small space in their rooms to be used? For example, the tops of closets/cabinets, or even by the window sill? If not, talk with the administrator and ask for space in the school for certain projects that can be used temporarily.

2 Battle of the Carts! Co-Workers share wonderful adventures together.

Negative: I feel like I’m invading their room.
Positive: True, but think of it from the homeroom teacher’s perspective…they feel like they’re invading your class as well. This is when you work as a team.

Negative: I’m struggling with communication, I feel like I’m the last to know everything.
Positive: Travelling from school to school? It happens, but you can fix the important items, such as meeting dates and other important information. Communicate with the administrators about keeping you in mind for important facts, and don’t be afraid to let them know when they’ve forgotten something… It happens.

Negative: My car is an art storage closet!
Positive: That can be fixed. When ordering supplies from year to year, build up a collection of materials that can fit in your storage space, so you no longer have to carry it from school to school.

Negative: It’s such a challenge to communicate with parents.
Positive: I can’t lie, it is, but that doesn’t mean you stop calling them when you need to make that call. Just find the time on another date (unless it’s urgent) and let the parent know your situation. Parent communication is essential in assisting your student with everything they need.

Negative: Disciplinary actions are hard to keep track!
Positive: That’s another communication issue. Discuss options with the homeroom teacher, but more importantly…call the parent!

Negative: I always forget something at another school!!!!
Positive: I can’t help you there! I do it too! Just make sure you get to your school with enough time to pick the item up if you need to.

The list may be long, but there are also many positives to working in multiple schools, such as:

1. A chance to know the faculty at multiple schools… which is pretty nice.
2. A break from one school to the next
3. A hands-on chance to work out kinks in lesson plans
4.The district board members recognize your work and decorations more than most.
5.You brighten the students’ day when you enter the classroom
6.With good communication, you develop stronger collegiality. And finally…why do you stay with your job? The wonderful looks on the students’ faces when art class begins.

3 2nd Grade students enjoy their painting!

-Heidi O'Hanley

Tuesday 09. 6.11

Tales from the Travelling Art Teacher: Juggling the Schedule as an Early Professional

This year I am discovering that nothing stays the same...not even a schedule.  Since my first year of teaching, my schedule for all three schools changed slightly to accommodate most involved.  This year, I have a new challenge.  Previously, I had only taught grades K-3 on the cart, but this year, I will be handling 4th and 6th grade.  In my curriculum at my home base school (a.k.a. the "classroom school"), my upper grades use different materials and learn more experimental methods, processes and manipulation than the younger grades do.  The challenge I will come across this year is space, but with open communication, I hope to have a year with awesome new learning experiences!

Picture6 Demonstrating clay to 4th grade in the art classroom, 2010

This key word I use in the travelling/cart situations is communication.  Without an open dialogue with all co-workers involved, miscommunication runs amuck.  Here are a few tips to cover your tracks with your schedule and keeping an open dialogue with your co-workers involved:

1. Discuss your projects with the homeroom teachers.  You may discover that some of your projects may cross their own curriculum!  I enjoy cross-curricular units because I notice the students enjoyment in creating a project related to what they had learned in science, math, or even a story they recently shared.

2. Inform the homeroom teachers when there will be any messy projects, such as sculpture clay or painting.  This way, the homeroom teacher can put away any materials he/she do not want messy.  Let's face it, you cannot keep a workspace 100% clean!

3. Ask if there's a chance to leave space for the cart to enter the room.  In some situations, you may not be able to fit the cart into the room due to lack of space, but even if there's an empty spot on a table for materials, any little gesture helps.   Homeroom teachers have also been very helpful in allowing storage containers to remain in their rooms throughout the week, which really helped save on space.

Picture8Shared storage with art teachers, custodians, and parent/teacher organization.

4. Check in advance if there are students with modifications, such as special needs, English-language learning, or other adaptations needed for students in the classroom.  It is important to not always depend on others to bring this information to you, but it is important to be sure you meet the needs of all students in your classroom--even if it's not your room!

Every classroom is different, and no schedule stays the same.  On top of instructing your classes and juggling materials, you also need to be aware of other responsibilities, such as recess, morning/afternoon duties, or lunch patrol.  This is another arena to communicate with your co-workers!  I have moments where I have to choose between washing brushes or running outside for duty, and when those moments arise, notify your co-workers!  Something will always be worked out!

~Heidi O'Hanley