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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June 29, 2015

Planning for the Best Year Ever

From: Janine Campbell

Before I get going with my last post for the month, I wanted to extend a huge thank you to NAEA and especially Linda Scott for facilitating this opportunity to share ideas about Art Education through such a forum. I am flattered to have been a part of this experience and look forward to following along as future mentors share their ideas and best practices so I can better my craft in the classroom.

Being better is something all teachers strive towards as they prepare for each upcoming school year. As I get ready for the 2015/16 year, I am thinking about how I want to transform learning for my students into positive enduring experiences that will follow them throughout their lives. Memories are made every year and I want each year to be the best one yet. Although last year is a tough one to top, I have some methods to help every year be the best one ever.


Leaving a Legacy: One thing that has propelled my classroom forward over the past several years is the opportunity to look beyond the current moment of learning. Instead of only focusing on short-sighted gains, my students and I have worked through a variety of media to leave a lasting legacy in our school and community that extends learning beyond a personal project in the classroom. Whether it has been transforming learning spaces around my classroom, creating class banners that hang in our cafeteria, an Empty Bowls program that gets kids working with clay on the first day of school and helping our local food bank, or public paintings that ask students to make their marks and see where it takes them, we have created a variety of legacy projects that students can come back to years from now and see the lasting impact they have made. In addition to these physical reminders of students over the years, using a blog and documenting the accomplishments of our program has also left a lasting chronicle of growth over time for both my students and me. If you would like to start a legacy project in your school, you can start by using similar tips from the last mentor post (start with the end in mind and build it over time). My hope for this year is to work with my students and school community to finally get that sculpture garden started. As is the case with any legacy project, it is important to get others involved like your building administrator and those in charge with building maintenance. You will find that the more people you bring into the process, the better the results and more impact you can have.


Outside Learning: Strong learning experiences involve moments that help bring objectives to life. Sometimes those moments happen in the classroom, but if you can offer opportunities for students to experience them in outside venues, it can have a lasting impact. One obvious way is through field trips to local museums, universities, or artist studios. When organizing a field trip, challenge students to take over and lead the group by researching the work they will see and presenting on it when arriving to the site. This is a great way to involve students in the experience and empower them with the opportunity to be leaders outside of the classroom. Another way to involve your students in outside learning is to bring those outside elements into your classroom. Artist visits, whether in person or via the internet can have a profound impact on how your students view the work they are making and career pathways. When involving an artist in your classroom, make sure to work through expectations for how they will interact with students prior to the visit. Whether you have a workshop or demonstration, allowing students to see professionals work and discuss their process offers valuable insight that can be used in art making decisions. The same is true when you bring in an artist through digital means. Whether you use Skype or connect via Twitter, offering students the opportunity to share their work with artists in the field and get authentic feedback can transform your classroom into a much larger venue. It also reinforces to students that their work matters and is being seen by a larger audience; both can have a lasting impact on a sense of purpose in the classroom.



Working with Purpose: This last point is something I have begun to focus on more and more over the past several years. When I first started out teaching, I focused on students learning skills I deemed important. It was very teacher-directed and resulted in very similar outcomes for students creating works that were heavily influenced by a specific artist or focused on demonstrating the understanding of the elements of art and principles of design. There is nothing wrong with that, but reflecting on my journey in education has helped me refocus my purpose for teaching and how I want to frame my classroom for students. Instead of having predetermined projects directed by me, I am working towards a more student-centered approach that offers them the choice to voice their interests using their unique approaches to materials. Instead of being a director conducting every student down the same journey, I am working towards empowering students with the skills and understanding to find their own creative pathways. My purpose in the classroom is to help cultivate artists in the classroom and their purpose as students is to create work that reflects and effectively communicates their point of view. As I prepare for the upcoming year, I am excited to share this sense of purpose with my students and see them elevate to excellence time and again. I would like to challenge you to think about the big picture instead of the daily grind; that will help you discover what purpose you want to have in your classroom. Once you find that, you can begin to work towards those goals with clear objectives and plans.

Although this post completes my time as the NAEA Monthly Mentor, you can still follow along in the artventures through my blog, classroom blog, and my Twitter account. In addition to regularly posting online, you can see me present in a variety of venues. I will be presenting at the K12online Conference and the Michigan Art Education Association Conference in October; I also plan to attend and present in March for both the Michigan Association of Computers Users in Learning as well as the National Art Education Association National Convention.

If you are interested in any of my presentations or would like me to come and present for your school or association, you can find more information on my website. I look forward to hearing from you and would love to know what plans you have to make 2015/16 the best year ever!

Please share ideas and comments below.


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