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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Friday 11.30.12

Working the System

I’ve been involved with NAEA and my state organization (MAEA) for many years now, but this year I’ve realized the importance of being an active member of my district’s teacher union.  As an art advocate, I’m learning that if I want to make changes then I have to understand and work within the system I’m a part of.  In our most recent contract negotiations, the union and the district agreed to convene a collaborative workgroup to take a serious look at the structure of the elementary school day in order to best meet the needs of our students and teachers.  Education is very different today than just ten years ago when I started out, but our instructional day has remained the same.  We need to evolve with the times.

I was asked to represent art on this workgroup.  Many art teachers in my district are dissatisfied with current scheduling practices because it places a greater emphasis on collaborative planning time for grade level teachers.  The burden of providing this planning time has fallen on the backs of art teachers (and other content specific teachers).  Many of us face significantly larger class sizes and challenging schedules.  Now teachers say they need more planning time.  I had a lot of anxiety about sitting on this workgroup and being in the minority.  Would my voice be heard and considered seriously?

The group established ground rules, and it was suggested that we take an interest-based approach.  I may be late to the party, but I had never heard of this strategy before.  Apparently, this is the process our district uses during collective bargaining negotiations.  Our facilitator explained the process using the flow chart below.  As we started identifying interests, I began to realize that many of my interests are very similar to those of the classroom teachers.  For example, an interest would be that teachers want to feel prepared for instruction.  An interest is not that teachers need more planning time. 

I decided to share this strategy because I think it could be a useful advocacy tool for art teachers.  I am certainly not an expert in this process, and I’m learning as we go.  If you would like more information, then I would suggest searching the internet – a lot of results will pop up.

Interest-Based Strategy: Attitudes, Behaviors and ComponentsPdf_icon

-Sarah Delphus Neubold

Friday 11.30.12

Survey Says…

There are many ways to be an advocate, but it’s hard to make an argument for anything without supporting evidence.  Sometimes people with the best intentions make mistakes by using generic statements or relying too heavily on anecdotal records.  I don’t know about your district, but my administrators like data.  They know data.  They understand data.  So when I have an issue, I try to talk about it in terms of data.  Creating surveys has become my new hobby.  There are many online sites that allow you to create surveys for free or sometimes for a fee.  Personally, I like using Google. It’s free, and there is no limit to the number of people that can complete the survey.  Google Survey/Form Help

As a representative for the other art teachers in my district, I kept hearing the complaint that they never have enough transition time.  Even if it is factored into the schedule, classroom teachers are late picking up their kids or try to drop them off early.  Does this sound familiar?  I asked my fellow art teachers to do some research.  They were asked to keep tally of all the classes that impacted their transition time.  I sent out a survey to allow the art teachers to document their results.  Thirty-two art teachers responded to my survey.  (This is actually a pretty low response rate for me.  I usually get well over fifty.) 

Monthly mentor 5 image 1

Click on image above to view it larger

While the percentage of classes that were picked up late varied greatly, the overall data confirmed that this is a real issue across the county.  My intention is to use this data to argue the need to increase the amount of transition time in the elementary school schedule.  I might not be successful, but I think I can make a really strong case.

-Sarah Delphus Neubold

Wednesday 11.21.12

Giving Thanks

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. I’m always grateful for my family and friends, but this year I’d like to share that I am thankful for my colleagues. I work in a large district with over 200 art teachers. Thanks to technology, we have been able to build a very strong professional community. These teachers have been a great resource to turn to when I have questions or need ideas. I just post my problem and often get multiple responses within minutes. We have great discussions about classroom management and developing routines. We share interesting educational resources, websites, and funny YouTube videos (all art-related of course).

Last week Erin McCormick from Rock Creek Forest Elementary posted a link to an interactive emotions color wheel. It was the best resource, and I didn’t even know that I needed until she shared it!  I’ve been working on monochromatic self-portraits with fourth graders. It’s a lesson I’m sure you’ve all taught at some point. We focus on choosing a color to convey a mood and then mixing a range of values. This site helped me so much that I just had to pass it along.

Monthly mentor 4 image 1      Monthly mentor 4 image 2

With technology today, everyone can be part of a larger community of art teachers. Thankfully, none of us need to feel alone in our art room any more. If your district is small, look for ways to connect at the state or national level. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

-Sarah Delphus Neubold

Tuesday 11.13.12

Allergies in the Art Room

The art room is full of surprises. Sometimes you just don’t know what the day is going to bring. Last week I introduced a clay lesson to my fifth graders. We’re making covered jars that I like to call “creature containers.” It’s a textured cylinder with a lid that has a decorative knob. I start the lesson by having students sketch a variety of creatures. These creatures can be real or imaginary. Next they need to label the sketches with the clay techniques they plan to use when creating the creature – coil, pinch, slab, etc. Finally, I give each student modeling clay to practice making the creatures.

One of my students approached me and was very upset. He claimed he could not use the clay because he is allergic to soy. Huh? I was very confused. The boy elaborated that he could not use Play-Doh because he has a soy allergy. I explained that we were not using Play-Doh, but I would look up the ingredients of the modeling clay if it made him feel better. I sent him back to his seat to finish sketching and started researching.

There were no ingredients listed on the box, but there was a toll free number for Crayola. So I called the number on my cell phone. It was busy, so I tried the Crayola website. It was helpful, but didn’t answer my question completely. So I emailed customer service, and got a reply within 24 hours. Here is what it said:

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for contacting us to make us aware of the sensitivity your student has to soy. I understand your concerns with Crayola(R) art products you may use in the classroom.

While all Crayola(R) products are nontoxic, the exact ingredients of our products are proprietary. We are happy to provide you with the most common ingredient requests not found in products currently manufactured by Crayola. This does not include Crayola products manufactured under license. Please check packaging carefully to determine the manufacturing company.

Tree Nuts
Eggs & Egg Shell
Nut & Nut Oil
D&C Red Dye #40

It is possible that latex gloves may have been worn during the manufacture and distribution of raw materials, components or finished goods.

We are often asked if any of our products contain soy. We can share with you that Crayola colored pencils, washable markers, No Drip Washable Paint Brush Pens and Hassle Free Washable Watercolors contain soy derivatives. Color Wonder and Color Explosion white products contain soybean oil. Crayola Modeling Clay is not made with soy. If additional ingredient information is needed, please have your physician contact a local poison control center for assistance.

If additional assistance is needed, you may reach us by telephone at (800) 272-9652 weekdays between 9 AM and 4 PM Eastern Time or e-mail by visiting

Colorfully yours,
Deborah A. Lintvedt
Consumer Affairs Lead Representative

It seems this student is safe to use the modeling clay, but not the markers. Honestly, it never occurred to me that common allergens might be in the art materials we use every day. I decided to do some more investigating and went to the Play-Doh website. I didn’t find any mention of soy, so did a live chat with a customer service representative from Hasbro. (Isn’t technology amazing?!?!) Mike told me that Play-Doh does not contain soy, but it is not recommended for children with wheat or gluten allergies. Play-Doh does contain wheat flour and corn starch.

So while I am still confused as to why my student was scared about being allergic to Play-Doh, I did learn an awful lot about possible allergens in the art room. It looks like I’ll need to do some follow-up with the parents and the school nurse to really get to the bottom of this. In the meantime, I hope my experience will make you take a second look at the supplies in your art room.

-Sarah Delphus Neubold

Tuesday 11. 6.12

Politics in the Art Room

It’s Election Day, so I thought I would share a project inspired by Shepard Fairey’s famous Hope Obamaportraitposter  of Barack Obama.  I teach this lesson with fifth graders, but it could be easily adapted to other grade levels.  I find teaching about politics and art to be very tricky.  It would be inappropriate for me to express my own political views in the classroom, but I think there is an important lesson to be learned about how people use art to express their personal values and beliefs.  It also provides an opportunity to show my students an artist who is making art right now.

I ask students to create their own poster designs.  We use the reduction printing process to create self-portraits with words that represent their own character or values.  Of course we start with some background information.  There was a piece done about Shepard Fairey on the CBS Sunday Morning News.  We watch it together and have a discussion about his art.

Students begin their work by brainstorming a list of words for their posters and practice writing them inMonthly mentor 2 image reverse.  (A very important step when planning to use text while printmaking.)  Meanwhile, I take photographs of all the students.  Students will translate these photographs into a three color self-portrait design.  We discuss the importance of color choice in terms of composition and meaning.  Then the final image gets transferred, along with the word, onto safety cut linoleum.  Students make the first cut and then print the first color of ink.  (I make sure to stress the importance of marking the registration lines.)  Next students are able to cut again and then print a second time. 

This is probably the longest and most challenging unit that I teach in fifth grade, but I’ve had a lot of positive results.  The process is fun, sometimes messy, and students get to make art about them.  As a teacher, I really enjoy getting a glimpse into their self-perception.  All of my students have positive qualities, but it’s interesting to see what they believe to be the traits that will make them leaders someday.

-Sarah Delphus Neubold

Friday 11. 2.12

Advocating for Resources

Art teachers are innately creative and resourceful.  You bring us junk, and we transform it into something beautiful.  Our compulsion to waste not sometimes makes us look like hoarders; but at some point, we actually need to purchase “real” art supplies.  It’s important to expose our students to all types of media.  But let’s face it, the cost of brushes, paint, ink, paper, clay, etc. can really add up quickly.
I work in very large district with 131 elementary schools.  For the past three years, I have been a representative on an elected body called the Council of Teaching and Learning.  I’m charged with being the voice of the elementary art teachers in discussing issues regarding curriculum and instruction in our district.  I frequently hear concerns about budgets being cut, and teachers not having the supplies they need to adequately implement the curriculum.  In our district, the art budget is determined by the principal at each school.  We are all expected to teach the same curriculum, but the resources we have to do so vary greatly.  Since I suspect that inadequate resources are an issue that a lot of us are facing, it makes me wonder how art teachers can effectively advocate for our programs.
I would suggest starting with educating your principal.  He or she probably doesn’t have any idea how much a quart of tempera paint or a pint of glaze costs.  Your principal may not realize that you need to purchase 700 pounds of clay every year.  Identify the various art forms that you are required to cover in your curriculum – drawing, painting, collage, ceramics, printmaking, etc.  Instead of presenting a long laundry list of supplies, organize your supply order by those art forms.  It is easier to read, and makes direct connections to student learning experiences.

Sometimes doing a little simple math can make a convincing argument.  Figure out the amount spent per student.  If you have a budget of $500 and you teach 500 students, then you get to spend only one dollar per student to buy supplies for a whole year.  I would go one step further and calculate the budget per student for each class period.  I see my students thirty-six times a year. One dollar divided by thirty-six is less than three cents per class.  It’s a lot easier to talk about pennies than dollars.  Isn’t your students’ art education worth a nickel per class?  Asking for five cents per student each class would increase your budget to $900.  Imagine what you could do with a dime!


I’m curious how other art teachers handle this issue.  It’s not easy to ask for more money.  Do you have an effective strategy that helped to get your program more funding?  I’d love to hear about it.

-Sarah Delphus Neubold