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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Monday 06.24.13

Empowering Changing Perspectives: Relevance and Advocacy

Last week a friend was sharing a story about how the staff in her school were amazed at what she was teaching students in art. They were awed at how she promoted literacy, critical thinking, decoding of information and technology integration in class, things they were also wrestling with in their own classes. They admitted that really they didn’t know what she did; and noted that they thought her students made “popsicle stick crafts”. This tale may not surprise many of you, but it got me thinking about advocacy and relevance for the arts.  I considered that if this could happen to an art educator who is very vocal, active, and a strong advocate for her students through art, it’s fair to assume this happens in many places. How do we combat this viewpoint and help colleagues understand what we do and how the arts are relevant in helping students meet 21st century focused goals, among other things?  If those who work closest to us don’t know what we do, how can we expect them to value us as part of their team or advocate with us for the arts?

Right now we are at a most critical juncture in our field, and the field of education at large, with many things hanging in the balance. Evaluation, the economy, preparing student for 21st century skills, new standards, the common core, the focus on literacy, STE(A)M, new media and technology  integration, and design education, not to mention, teaching students with an ever-growing range of needs; these are just some of the major topics being considered in education right now.  Often in the past, art educators were not included or considered as changes occurred. This happened for many reasons, most related to colleagues and administrators not understanding what art educators had to offer or not thinking of art educators as being interested.

I challenge you to see the numerous topics that are being addressed in education right now as major opportunities to share and show what you know about how the arts are relevant. Each topic present a new challenge, new information, a new learning curve, a new way of thinking about teaching and learning, but more so, they present an opportunity for us, and therefor art, to be part of the process in building strong educational communities of learning. Each hot topic is one that could easily include us, include art, OR move forward without us, which would be tragic for our students and our field.  If we do not make ourselves part of the process, part of the planning, or part of the conversations, we will miss the opportunities to show, tell, and advocate for the many valuable aspects that we know art has to offer. Without us, art will be seen as irrelevant in addressing these topics.

If you are not sure how you can be part of the process, or don’t know where to start or think, you don’t really know much about these topics; I encourage you to choose one topic and start to read about it. Start talking to another colleague, volunteer to be on a committee, or start a Professional Learning Community group where you explore a book on the topic together with colleagues. You don’t need to be an expert in the topic, as you will find everyone will be wrestling with learning about it. You are an expert in art and as the topic is considered you will see where art connects.

By stepping up to the plate and sharing what you see, and know about art’s importance, you will make art relevant to your colleagues and school community. You, and art, will part of the conversation and part of the solution, not left behind as an irrelevant relic of the past.

Common Core

Framework for 21st Century Skills

New Arts Standards            

New Science Standards- Next Generation Science Standards


Teaching diverse populations                                   
Teacher Evaluation                                                  
Common Core Standards                                        
Literacy and more

Differentiated Instruction in Art

Design Education                                        

-Heather Fountain

Wednesday 06.12.13

Empowering Changing Perspectives: The Heart of Teaching

Why did you decide to be a teacher?

Maybe you wanted to be a teacher because you loved working with children. Possibly you wanted to make a difference or maybe some teacher had touched your life or shared a passion for art with you and you wanted to do the same for others.

As I reflect today in the blog I would like you to consider the heart of the matter of teaching- the reason we teach- to positively affect the lives of others.

Amid the schedules, paperwork, lesson plans, testing, meetings, IEP's and everything else that must get done, it is easy to forget the reason why we teach. Although lesson plans are of importance to show what we will teach and that we are professionals who confidently plan and know our subject matter and assessment helps us better understand our students’ growth and needs-these things mean little to students without the personal connections that help them form meaning and value about what they are learning.

I once heard a violinist play a piece that touched my soul and reached into my heart.  I had tried to play the same piece myself but the effect was very different. Maybe this was because I was playing an instrument, where as he was playing music. The difference is a delicate one, one that defines the line between knowledge and speaking that knowledge in a way that connects with an audience in personal ways that help them not only hear, but feel and experience the knowledge.

I was so focused on the details; on each note, my finger placement and the technical skills, that I lost the meaning, the feeling, and the emotion of the piece itself. I was so caught up in the knowledge of the piece that I forgot to pay attention to my audience.  Isn't this the same in teaching; we get so caught up in the details that we sometimes forget the audience? We are so busy trying to accomplish tasks, check items off our ever growing list that we lose sight of what all the business is for in the first place.

I often catch myself doing this and have to stop and change my perspective. I get so caught up in trying to keep on schedule or help my students experience one more thing that I forget about the personal side of these experiences. I forget that it's in the personal, often quiet moments that we connect with students through stories, sharing artwork or just listening. There is great value in that moment after class when a student stays behind to talk or show you their artwork. These are the things that mean the most to students.

When I think back to the teachers who made a difference in my life I don't remember the lessons, the testing, or the schedule, but I remember their kindness, their compassion, and their ability to make me feel important, smart, or special.  I remember the 5th grade teacher who hung my wood duck drawing above the board for all to see. I think of the professor in college who pointed out in my work the elements that reminded her of other artists, helping me learn about people I'd never heard of before. I’m thankful for the teacher who put his arm around my shoulder when I found out that my grandfather had passed away or the art teacher let us come into his room and work during our free periods-creating that safe place that always felt like home.  All these examples point to the same thing, teachers who cared enough to take the time to connect with students in important ways. It's the time they spent that meant the most and made me respect them, learn from them, and care about what they thought. They made me want to learn, achieve and thrive, not only in their classes, but in my life.

It's easy to get lost in the details and forget the heart of the matter, students.
So I ask you to be bold, be compassionate, and be generous with those little moments of time that help you connect with students in personal ways.  We do teach students the value of art in our world, but more so, we teach them how to thrive in the world when we are no longer there with them.

-Heather Fountain

Saturday 06. 1.13

Empowering Changing Perspectives: Reflecting and Celebrating

Each year in June, I find myself moving into a place of reflection and panic, thinking of all that was not accomplished during the school year. As a reflective practitioner, I question and wonder as to how I can better reach and teach my students when school starts again.  I consider the grand plans I had for my students and often dwell, not on what we have accomplished together, but rather on the things left undone.  This perspective is in diametric opposition to what I promote for my students as reflective practice.  To hold this perspective is like watching the nightly news as it highlights the horrific things that have happened in our world, despite a greater number of joyful actions than is portrayed.  The danger of such thinking is that these positive actions are often missed or overlooked; many of these moments may not be grand in scheme, may not be colorful enough to be noticed by others, nor loud enough to be heard far and wide, but they do change lives, perspectives and even actions.

In this first blog post of this June, I encourage you to not only reflect on, but celebrate your accomplishments this school year.  Keep in mind that reflective practice should be productive, not destructive; not admonishment or judgment, but rather stepping stones forward.  Consider those moments, even those that seem small, even unspoken, and celebrate.

Today I celebrate a text from a community member and her family who was touched by their interaction with my students who continued to visit her even after our class ended.  I celebrate the tears shed by a student who finally gained the confidence and realization that she has what it took to be a teacher. I celebrate students who have faced their fears about teaching people with disabilities and replaced their fears with passion and hearts for equity. With the grace that I extend to my students, I also celebrate my accomplishments this year and encourage you to celebrate yours as well.

-Heather Fountain, Ph.D.