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 05.30.14

Professional Development

First I want to THANK YOU for the role that you play in Visual Art Education. Too often we don’t thank educators for their dedication and commitment to providing quality arts education for all learners!

Educators are sometimes criticized that our work is easy with a 9:00-3:00 schedule, plenty of holidays and week-long vacations during the school year and of course, the big one, summers off. If you’ve been in education for any amount of time and are dedicated to your role as a professional, you know how inaccurate these accusations are. You are aware of how expectations of educators have gradually changed and are so much greater than they were 5-10 years ago. It is rare to find young teachers who selected teaching as a career only because they “like children”.

More importantly, teachers understand that a career in teaching includes ongoing professional development. In order to stay current and to continually serve the needs of our changing population, teachers need to be flexible and most importantly be life-long learners. We are never going to reach a point where we can stop learning, and the notion that what is working in our classrooms will always work, is not the case.

We are undergoing an enormous shift in Maine education (as some states are) with recent legislation that requires ALL students graduating in 2018 to be proficient in all eight content areas which includes Visual and Performing Arts. No longer can students graduate having fulfilled ‘seat time’ but they must demonstrate their learning. This impacts high school students entering grade nine in September 2014.

Take a moment and think about what that means. We are talking about all learners, not just some, but ALL students. Bottom line is that the shift is not just about how we teach but how students learn and the responsibility that both teachers and learners have in the educational environment. We’ve talked about standards-based education for years. And, we’ve discussed students in the center of their learning, that they are the key to their success. But it is time for all of the talk to turn into action. We owe it to our students!

Maine teachers and school districts have had the opportunity to prepare for the proficiency-based graduation for the last three years. The Maine Arts Assessment Initiative (MAAI) has taken these changes seriously and the leadership to provide arts educators the opportunity to expand their knowledge to address this shift. During this school year (2013-14) arts educators have had multiple opportunities to attend workshops at the regional, mega-regional, and statewide level. Teachers have discussed, argued and gotten excited as they look at student artwork and talk about proficiency. What does it look like and how do we know when we see it? Who knew that one small but significant topic could cause such a stir for art teachers?!

This summer educators are invited to attend the New England Summit on Arts Education being held at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, July 29-31 where the learning will continue. Three strands are available to meet the needs of teachers. Strand 1 is for teachers who are fairly new to assessment and is foundational in nature. Strand 2 is for educators who wish to attend as part of a team to devise a plan to put in place as they return to their schools/districts. Strand 3 is for those who are advanced in arts assessment and wish to go deeper and wider.

The Summit is available for graduate credit through the New England Institute for Teacher Education, Continuing Education Units through the University of Southern Maine, or 24 Contact Hours through the MAAI.

Since the establishment of the MAAI in 2010 at the heart has been professional development. It is an opportunity to bring arts teachers together to look closely at teaching, learning and assessment. Watching teachers having discussions, processing the research, and exchanging ideas affirms the value of the professional development offerings.

This is a unique opportunity and we know from past summer institutes that teachers have changed their classroom practices and given them the confidence to change others around them as they communicate the ideas and practices. In many schools the arts are at the center of the conversation due to the arts teachers involvement in MAAI. Not to mention there is nothing like summer in Maine! We hope you’ll consider joining us. Register today by clicking here. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email Whatever your plans are for the summer I trust that they involve some type of professional development. I encourage you to take advantage of the multiple face-to-face and/or electronic learning opportunities that are available. And, make it a great summer!

-Argy Nestor, Director of Arts Education, Maine Arts Commission 

Thursday 05.22.14

Arts Educators Leading the Way

Something exciting and unique is happening in Maine in visual and performing arts education. In 2010 the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative (MAAI) was established in partnership with the Maine Department of Education, Maine Art Education Association, Maine Music Educators Association, Maine Alliance for Arts Education, Maine Learning Technology Initiative, New England Institute for Teacher Education, and the Maine Arts Commission.

The overall mission is to create an environment in Maine where assessment in arts education is an integral part of the work all arts educators do to improve student achievement in the arts.

The objectives include devising a statewide plan for assessment in arts education, which includes professional development opportunities, regionally and statewide, to expand on the knowledge and skills of teachers to improve teaching and learning.

HISTORY – Phase I, II, III – Summer 2011 to present
• Fifty two teacher leaders attended summer institutes on assessment, leadership, and technology, creativity, standards-based and student-centered teaching and learning, proficiency
• Teacher leaders presented workshops at two statewide arts education conferences with over 450 educators attending
• Teacher leaders facilitated over 100 regional workshops across Maine
• Teacher leaders facilitated workshops at 8 mega-regional sites across Maine
• Another Arts Teacher’s Story series (52) on Maine Arts Ed blog
• Arts assessment graduate courses offered by New England Institute for Teacher Education
• Nine arts education assessment webinars, archived with meeting plans 
Video stories of 7 teacher leaders that demonstrate a standards-based arts education classroom
• Teacher Leader Resource Team ongoing development of items for resource bank

Phase IV, being launched this month include teaching artists in the work and a summit that invites all educators to participate in an extended summer learning opportunity.

The MAAI is a grassroots effort that has arts educators finding their voices. They are being recognized as leaders in their individual school districts across the state and being asked to take on a variety of roles. The MAAI teacher leaders have been serving on committees for teacher evaluation, keynoting at district wide workshop days, being visited by other content and grade level teachers to learn about their standards-based work, attending workshops to represent their schools, and being recognized for their accomplishments. Arts educators are leading the way by doing what they do well and naturally. The 21st century is filled with opportunities for arts educators to take the lead.

-Argy Nestor, Director of Arts Education, Maine Arts Commission

Tuesday 05.20.14


It was great to travel to San Diego this past Mach for the National Art Education Association convention. I am sure if you attended that you will agree the workshops were outstanding, the presenters top notch, the vendors generous, and the setting spectacular. Having experienced a long, cold winter, the warmer temperatures were a treat. Congratulations to the conference planners on their commitment to providing a quality professional development experience for attendees.

One of the conference highlights each year for me is the chance to meet educators from all over the country. I was thrilled to learn that several of art education bloggers were at the convention and glad to meet some of them. Blogging has grown and it is encouraging to know that art educators are interested in sharing their knowledge, expertise and experiences. I notice that bloggers cross the boundaries of age, grade level, teaching assignment, and regions. 

Are you a blogger? Do you follow certain blogs? I know that sometimes the day is so jam packed that the thought of sitting down at the computer to read is the last thing on the list. But if you regularly visit and read blogs you know how useful they can be. They provide a professional development opportunity that opens doors to fabulous ideas and connections. I established the Maine Arts Education blog in February 2009 to provide information to educators. What I quickly learned is that providing information to those in the field was a service that was and continues to be greatly appreciated. The number of people who subscribe to my blog continues to grow and I invite you to visit and subscribe.


While in San Diego, some art teacher bloggers gathered at the Art of Education booth with founder Jessica Balsley. Jessica maintains a blog and also provides professional development for teachers. What follows is a listing of some blogs created by art teachers. You will find that each blogger’s personality and passions come through loud and clear in their blogs.
•    Cassie Stephens is an elementary art teacher in Nashville, TN and writes a blog found here.
•    Amy Zschaber is a middle school art teacher in Georgia and writes a blog called Artful Artsy Amy.
•    Tracy L. Burton is an art teacher in Chicago, IL and writes a blog called Do Not Drink the Paint Water.
•    Ted Edinger is an elementary art teacher in Nashville, TN and writes a blog called Art With MR. E.
•    Heidi O’Hanley is an elementary art teacher who writes a blog called Tales from the Traveling Art Teacher.
•    Mrs. Hahn is a K-8 art teacher who writes a blog called Mini Matisse.
•    Rina Vinetz is an elementary art teacher in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. She writes a blog called K-6 Art.
•    Don Masse teaches art to students in grades K-5 at Zamorano Fine Arts Academy in San Diego. He writes a blog called shine brite zamorano.
•    Kathy Barbro teaches K-5 art in Sherman Oaks, CA and keeps a blog called Art Projects for Kids.      

There are many, many, many more art teacher blogs. Some teachers use them to post document or share their lessons and units. Others use them to communicate with their school community. It can be a great advocacy tool and an environment to exhibit student artwork. Some high school teachers use blogs with assessment. Their students each have a page within the blog to post their work and write about and assess the process and product.

Recently, when I was surfing through art teacher blogs, I found one called Art is Basic that is written by Marcia who is an elementary art teacher in a school for gifted and talented students. She has a post that is a directory of elementary art blogs with over 50 blogs (and growing). I suggest when you have a lot of time to go to the post. It is a marvelous resource.

Whether searching for ideas, blogs to follow, or you are considering starting your own blog, I am certain that you will find them useful in some way. Happy blogging!

-Argy Nestor, Director of Arts Education, Maine Arts Commission

Monday 05.12.14

The Arts and Common Core

Schools across the country are abuzz about the Common Core State Standards. To help arts teachers meet the challenges, there are many resources available. Recently, the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative provided a webinar called "Common Core and the Arts". You can access the archived April webinar here.

The three topics for the webinar discussion were:
1. What is the Common Core and what are its origins
2. How does it tie in to Visual and Performing Arts, and
3. How do we confront authentic concerns and questions we have around it all?

The conversation was useful and the feedback from the participants indicated that the resources provided were invaluable. Below are the links to resources.

Arts Ed Partnership
Collaboration and Sustainability
The Crocodile in the Common Core Standards
Common Core Website
10 Steps Migrating Your Curriculum to the Common Core
How the Arts Intersect with the Common Core State Standards
Visual Thinking Strategies
Common Core in Kid Language
Use Arts Integration to Enhance the Common Core — Edutopia

In addition, the College Board has created a Review of the Connections Between Common Core and the National Cores Arts Standards Conceptual Framework and specific ways to approach alignment.

So how do arts teachers confront the challenges of the Common Core? Here are some suggestions:
1. Establish a clear understanding of the difference between enrichment and integration. If these are defined than you will have the language needed to discuss this with non-arts educators, administrators, and community members.
2. Consider how collaborations can occur that enhance the work you do as arts teachers rather than compromise your curriculum for Common Core.
3. Embrace the arts and their connections to the Common Core so other educators view you as a leader that has something essential to offer students in the 21st century.
4. Exchange ideas with other arts teachers to learn what they are doing that has been successful.
5. Remember that the work being done for Common Core needs to be in the best interest of students not programs.

You are not alone in your quest to better prepare yourself so communicating with others and expanding your bag of tricks to include information on the Common Core will only be in the best interest of the success of your students.

-Argy Nestor, Director of Arts Education, Maine Arts Commission

Thursday 05. 1.14

The Best Job in the World!

We, as arts educators, are so fortunate to work in the field of education and specifically arts education. In many ways and in many cases we have the best jobs in schools. Now, I am not naïve, I know quite well that not all arts educators have ideal jobs. For many years I taught elementary and middle school visual art. Since leaving the classroom, I have visited about 400 classrooms in 45 school districts across the state of Maine. I ask teachers what they are most proud of and what gets in the way of them being more successful. I have learned about many of the mountains arts educators have to climb. Every time, the positive aspects of the work outweigh the challenges. I believe that every art educator has a set of skills that help move the arts to their rightful place in every school in the country, the HEART! Quality arts education programs are essential to any outstanding school. Every place one exists, schools are thriving and all students are successful!

What a great time to be an arts educator! You might be wondering why, so I offer the following that hallmarks of a quality arts education program:

• We are well aware of the importance of teaching skills to prepare students for this century, today and in the future. Problem posing and solving, critical thinking, high-level literacy and communication, cooperative decision-making and leadership are all included in an outstanding arts education.
• Likewise, these same arts environments provide students multiple opportunities to acquire skills that prepare them for college, career, and to be contributing community members.
• In the fast-paced world we live in, arts education provides an environment that seeks to honor the traditions of art making and create opportunities for students to explore unknown areas and processes.
• An imaginative environment that fosters student creativity and pushes the boundaries provides learning where all students are engaged and have the potential to be successful.
• Student-centered and standards-based learning are the buzz in today’s education. This is not new to arts educators. In fact, with very little tweaking, this is exactly what goes on in arts classrooms. All learners deserve the opportunity to be at the center of their learning. Student discovery with choice and voice lead to assessment methods that exemplify the true meaning of learning.
• Students look at and learn about history, science, math, literacy and the other art forms through an integrated curriculum. The arts don’t provide the frosting on the cake but are at the heart of the integration. All students deserve an intentional look at the connections in the world around them.
With an understanding of the impact the arts can have on all student achievement the arts will move from (not only) being important and valued to being ESSENTIAL. And, it is our job not just to educate young students but also adult learners. Using research to help us better understand the value, will provide us with the talking points. Once equipped with the talking points, taking on a leadership role to communicate them is our responsibility.

We have the best jobs in the world and sometimes just an attitude adjustment will help us to shift our thinking. The piece below called Attitude and written by Charles Swindoll reminds me of the importance of my attitude when communicating about my beliefs.

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable.

The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you, we are in charge of our attitude.

Life-long learning begins with us. As teachers, we influence young people through teaching the skills and concepts of arts education and also about life. Educators have the potential to impact student’s futures no matter what pathway they may choose. Never doubt for a moment that what you do matters. Thank you for your commitment to quality teaching and for influencing the future.

-Argy Nestor, Director of Arts Education, Maine Arts Commission