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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Wednesday 07.29.15

Professional Development

From: Kirby Meng

I want to start this final blog post by thanking NAEA for the opportunity to be the Monthly Mentor for July. I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole process and appreciate the participation of the readers so much. We all learn from one another and sharing what works for you could make a real difference in someone else’s classroom.


This final post finds me back to school. I know that is hard for some of you to believe, but our teachers started this week and our students return on Monday, August 3. I am in a new position this year as a Fine Arts teacher on Special Assignment (FA TOSA) and my new responsibilities center around support for all of the art teachers in our 48 schools. This is an exciting new position in our district as it will give art teachers someone to turn to with art specific questions and another person to advocate for them and their programs at the county level. One of my main responsibilities will be to plan and provide professional development for all of the art teachers. At our first meeting today, I reminded all of our teachers that they are professional art educators and, as such, should belong to their professional association. The doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals that we depend upon wouldn’t think of NOT joining their professional associations! NAEA and the state art education associations offer a myriad of opportunities for members to grow and be a part of the professional community. There is really something to fit each person whether you prefer webinars, face to face meetings, reading and responding to blog posts, or simply looking through the site to view position statements and read the NAHS News! Membership is a bargain when you look at all of the content and opportunity it provides.


I want to touch on one specific aspect of membership in NAEA and Georgia Art Education Association (for me) that has made my teaching career so much richer and more meaningful and that is the opportunity for leadership. I’ve noticed that art teachers are frequently overlooked for school level leadership positions, no matter their level of expertise and capacity to lead. I was afforded the chance to take on a leadership role in GAEA when I moved back to Georgia as a district president and then as Youth Art Month co-chair. Involvement in the organization made me want to stay involved and led to other positions including conference chair and president and all of that led me to want to become more involved in NAEA as well. Members nominate other members and the membership votes; with very few exceptions, anyone can run for an office, and most committee positions change every 2-3 years. For those who aren’t sure they have the right stuff just yet, there are regional summer retreats that are open to all as well as the new NAEA School for Art Leaders leadership development program that can help develop the leader inside us all. Next year’s convention March 17-19 in Chicago is entitled “Lead! Share your Vision for Art Education” and will be another great chance to grow professionally.  You can be sure that Dr. Reeve and the Reston staff are already working on more opportunities to help us grow and develop as leaders!  


I hope that you will consider serving on the board of your state art education association if you haven’t already and if you have, I hope you will consider a regional or national leadership role. If you aren’t interested on serving on the board of directors, let someone know what your interests are: research, policy, technology? There are many ways to serve and room for many to be involved at the state and national level. My involvement in GAEA and NAEA has informed my practice, given me a wonderful and diverse group of friends and associates (that grows each year) from across the country and has helped me in aspects of my life beyond teaching. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I had not gotten involved.


Whenever you start back to school, I wish you all the best and many, many awesome art teaching days this year. You make a huge difference in student’s lives and you are important to them; let them know how important they are to you!

Thank you again for spending a little time with me in July!

Monday 07.20.15

Student Teaching

From: Kirby Meng

Recently a colleague who will have a student teacher this fall asked me what I thought the most important things to learn during student teaching were. I have to admit, although I have had many student teachers, I never stopped to make note of the “most important” things, probably because I think everything is important! I spent some time reflecting and I thought this might be a good space to share my thoughts! Student teachers come from all walks, some come very well prepared from college programs and others might be entering teaching as a second career or by an alternate route, so what they know coming in will vary a great deal. No matter how you arrive at the job of art teacher, there is no substitute for the experiences you will have student teaching and then in your own classroom! Of course new teachers will always need to know the policies and procedures for their specific county and school. The ideas below are directed at an Art teacher in general.


First on my list is classroom management! It is so important to have procedures for entering the room, where to sit, asking questions, etc. Students learn the rules and procedures very quickly when we are consistent in our behavior. I have also found that students like those boundaries, it makes them feel safe and free to create! A very close second to this for me is materials management which is extremely important in the art classroom. Again, the students appreciate a system and are a huge help once you have them trained! I like to have all of my materials ready for the day in the morning because there is never enough time between classes. Of course this isn’t always possible, but I like to be as prepared as I can. I use lots of plastic boxes to contain sets of supplies for various mediums that I can just sit on each table and then take up at the end of class when changing course or grade level.


Along this same line, it is great to share any organizational tips you may have with new or student teachers like how to keep up with several hundred portfolios over 180 days! One of my favorite tips for elementary classrooms is to have a sharpened pencil basket and a dull pencil basket. Student helpers check the pencils at their table when they come in each class period and they exchange dull pencils for sharpened ones instead of everyone getting up to use the sharpener! It keeps things a little quieter during the day and cuts down on lost time. Students usually ask if they can come and sharpen the dull ones before school, which they love, and it means I am free to work on other things.


The next two things that come to mind are fairly closely related I think. One is to show how to differentiate for ability as well as for interest and the other is to allow for choice and creativity on assignments without creating chaos. New teachers don’t always have experience in varying their instruction to reach all students and may not have created lessons in the past that can be done at a variety of levels instead of having to completely change the assignment. Differentiation is not just for a slower learner, we also need to find ways to elevate the art experiences for those who learn more quickly or finish faster than others. This is one of the ways that choice and creativity come into play. Allowing students to choose between more structured assignments with more step by step instructions or to choose to take the assignment in another direction can help to encourage creativity. Some students need more parameters than others and some students work best with limits on what they can do or use. It actually encourages creativity in many cases!

There are so many other things to include but I will close with this. Have fun and make art every class period! Even on day one, keep the rules and procedures short, they will learn them all in a few weeks regardless and what they really want to do is make art, especially paint and work with clay!! Embrace the energy and enthusiasm of the students and enjoy having the best job in the world!

What do you think are the most important things for student teachers to learn? If you are starting student teaching in the fall, with what do you think you need the most help?

Monday 07.13.15

Sketchbooks and Visual Verbal Journals

From: Kirby Meng

Most art teachers have students work in a sketchbook or Visual Verbal Journal (VVJ) each week and I would say we are all looking for students to try new things, reach out and “be creative”! Over the years, I have tried a number of different prompts to encourage the students to think and look at things in new ways. While none of my approaches has resulted in everyone completing fabulous sketchbook entries, some have worked better than others.

One way I have tired, as I think most art teachers have, is to give students a list of hundreds of prompts and let them choose which one to use each week. This has led to some very creative ideas, but more often they are literal interpretations of a word, phrase or prompt such as: “ripped”, “when I was 5…”, or “imagine you had an octopus for a pet”. I thought the freedom to choose would really help them open up and do something very different, but that hasn’t happened often. Another way that I have had student’s complete sketchbooks or VVJs is to give them something that they have to incorporate into their entry for the week. It could be a paperclip, a piece of lace, or even a mark I make randomly with ink and a bamboo brush. Students really seem to enjoy playing with the object, turning it in different ways, bending, unbending, and manipulating whatever they have to work with until they find inspiration. These entries are almost always very creative. Students are also learning to transform the object which is a helpful creative tool. In some of my classes, students use the sketchbook as a way to explain process or show me that they understand a concept, such as how to build a slab pot or how to use the elements and principles to create. They do a great job with this and it is a good quick assessment tool to see if there are things we need to go over again.

A fourth way that I have tried to keep the VVJ experience fresh for my students is to start the year by collecting a number of nouns and adjectives from the students. Then we choose one noun and two adjectives from a basket and that becomes the prompt for their first entry. We usually end up with something silly like Sassy- Polka dotted –Elephant. The students have great fun illustrating that first prompt and when they come to class on Friday, everyone places their sketchbook on the tables and the whole class walks around and “votes” for their favorite by standing by it. Once everyone has found a favorite, we count and declare a winner for the week. The winner then chooses the topic for the class for the following week. Maybe it is the fact that we all look at them all each week, instead of just the teacher, or maybe it is because the students come up with original contemporary ideas that they are interested in, but I find my students are very creative with this activity.

I have one additional observation about sketchbooks/VVJs. Students frequently think they are doing them for me. Once I help them understand that they are not doing them for me, but doing them for themselves, they begin to do much better, and much more creative work! At this point, they don’t need a prompt from me, they work in their sketchbooks constantly to develop their ideas and they are very creative!

Do you have your students keep a sketchbook or VVJ? What types of prompts do you give, or do you let them choose for themselves?

Monday 07. 6.15


From: Kirby Meng defines the word creativity this way:

1. the state or quality of being creative.
2. the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination:
3. the process by which one utilizes creative ability:

In my last blogpost, I talked about “thinking” in class and the fact that because we have so little class time, we really need to be able to spend that time working on the creative ideas we have already thought up! This idea and creativity are tied closely to each other I believe. Creativity is not something you can turn on when you walk in the art room at 11:10 each day. It is however, something that all art teachers from kindergarten through college want to see from their students.


What stifles creativity? I think the number one thing that stifles creativity is the fear of failure. We all, especially high school students want to be successful. Realistically we should expect failure because we are pushing boundaries and trying new things. Many creative endeavors end when they run into some unexpected turn that seems to make the project not “work” anymore. When looked at in another way, what has happened is actually an opportunity for the project to take another direction and become even more creative.


How do we encourage creativity? As a classroom teacher it is sometimes hard to set up conditions for creativity to thrive. Creative work can bring into play unorthodox materials and methods, a different use of time and space or an idea that doesn’t even resemble the original assignment. As an educator we need to support students in their creative efforts. We can do this by allowing them freedom, listening to their ideas and providing as much support as possible towards making their work successful. This might mean stepping in when they think the project has failed and helping the student see it in a different way and keep going, or appreciate the experience with the process or occasionally just put it behind them and move on. The more chances they take, the more they unlock their creative potential! How do you set up conditions for your students to be creative?

Wednesday 07. 1.15

“Thinking” in Class

From: Kirby Meng

I have found that students are sometimes stressed by some of the other classes that they take when they come to the Art room; it takes them a few minutes to decompress enough to be able to even determine where to begin. To encourage this, I have students come into the room and get their work out, get their supplies together, and get settled while I walk around and talk to them and take the pulse of the class. Once they are all seated, we review the current assignment and standards as well as what is expected from them and about where they should be in the process.  If there are no questions, then everyone starts work and I am available to help students individually.


At this point, I sometimes see students sitting and not really working.  When asked what they are doing, they are inevitably “thinking”. I began jokingly telling them that they need to “think” on their own time because they need all their time to work in class! I see this more in my upper level classes where they are usually working on projects of their own design with fewer set parameters; they start at different times, work in different mediums, on different grounds and in different sizes. Sometimes an idea doesn’t instantly occur to a student and “thinking” ensues. The problem is, I have found that leaving students to think alone is often not very productive, because they don’t know what to think about! If they knew what to think about, they would have an idea for the project and would have begun work. Something I have found to be more effective is to go and think with them! I ask the students questions about what their current interests are, how large they want to work, what medium they are considering, etc. and their responses usually lead to at least a direction for exploration and thumbnail sketches.


While I always tell students about assignments in advance so that they can begin thinking and researching  to start the assignment and there are always resources in the room to help them find their direction, I realize that busy lives sometimes get in the way, and students hit roadblocks even with resources present! Stepping in and helping them “think”, or even having students “think” with each other has worked for me. Do you have similar experiences? If so, what do you do?