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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Tuesday 06.28.16

Guest Artist? Yes, Please!

From: Josephine Langbehn

As you have learned about me, I love to connect my classroom to the community. Another way I love to go beyond the walls of my classroom is to invite a guest artist. I have found there are many valuable lessons from having guest artists in my classroom. It shows students that art is very alive and not created by a bunch of dead white guys; it shows students that being an artist is a real and viable career; and it introduces students to local artists which also can promote how interesting your city is.

The first time I thought about bringing an artist into my classroom, I quickly overwhelmed myself with worries. How will I fund this? Are the kids going to behave? What will the materials cost? Will the artist engage the kids? How much do I pay the artist?

Once again, you will have to do a little extra work, but it is sooooo worth it, and, really, when don’t we do extra work?!? Not only do the students get exposure to another form of art making, but they also get to hear another voice on what makes the visual arts so interesting. It also changes up the daily routine, which not only do the kids find invigorating and refreshing, but so do I. There are two approaches I will take into consideration when planning with the artist. If I can afford it, and my class sizes are not too big, I will have the guest artist work with the kids to create a permanent installation. If that option does not work for my budget or class sizes, I will choose to have the artist in for one visit to talk to the kids about their work and then the students will create a small individual project they then can take home.

Here are some helpful tips that I have found effective when having a guest artist:

1. Find an artist with a media and subject that will engage your students. For example, I have brought in...a graffiti artist because my kids love graffiti; a mixed media artist that creates polyhedron sculptures which connected my students to math in an interesting way; and a cartoon artist because my kids love graphic novels.

2. Meet with the artist to see if they are willing to work with your kiddos, what they request for payment, and time frame of the visit. Often times artists are very willing to work with students because they also see the benefit. I am very upfront with my budget. This will alleviate any confusion later. I will tell the artist, “I only have 'X' amount of dollars for you and the materials.” I also like to think of the project as a collaboration. Oftentimes the artist has worked in other schools or on other projects that has involved kids and they might have good insight on what you would like to do. I really want the artist to be excited about what they will be doing in my classroom, so I want them to have just as much voice in the project.

3. Make sure to keep your principal and school treasurer in the loop. Your principal will be more willing to support you if they know what is going on. I am super lucky and have a very supportive principal. They may even be able to find you more money to fund the project. For example, my principal was able to give me extra money to take a small group to the visiting artist’s studio. This totally made the project more meaningful for my students. Your school treasurer or secretary also knows all of the low-downs and will also be a great resource for your budgeting.

4. Keep your eyes peeled for local grants to help fund the artist. In Nebraska, our arts council has grants available for this very thing. Also, there are some local organizations that also have grants available. Oftentimes the artist is more than willing to work with your budget, but I really like to pay them what their normal rates are.

5. Ask another staff member(s) to come hang out in your room that day. I usually will ask one of our guidance counselors, who used to be an art teacher, to come hang out in our room for the day. This helps with classroom management and it gets more people (staff) involved in the art department and even the project.

These tips have really helped me have good working relationships with the guest artists. I have had these working relationships turn into great friendships, too. I also think having a guest artist not only benefits your students, but it can also benefit your entire school community. A guest artist not only gives your district something to talk about, but also gives your school positive news to share. Positivity for your students! Positivity for you! Positivity for your school! Positivity for the arts! Positivity for everyone!


Wednesday 06.15.16

Community Connections with a Service Learning Focus

From: Josephine Langbehn

Connecting my students to the community has always been a pedagogical importance to me. I find great value in my kiddos connecting to the people and community beyond the walls of my classroom. This is when education becomes real. When we have taught our students that we can use the visual arts as a tool to connect to people, document current situations, and make a change, then we have accomplished something great not only for our students but for the larger community. 

I make it a mission to have at least one project a year that connects my students to the community. I always keep my eyes peeled and ears wide open to find something my kids can connect to and create for. Often times I will find organizations to connect to on social media or through people I have built relationships with. Another great way to get your students connected to the community is through service learning. Service learning can be a rich collaboration between the community, a local organization, and your students. It goes beyond community service and gives the opportunity for learning to take place. All parties benefit.

At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which is centrally located within our community, they offer training on service learning and even offer grant funds to go towards service learning projects. Within their model a service learning project includes the involvement of the University in some way, a local non-profit partner, and of course K-12 students. For my service-learning project my students worked with Joslyn Art Museum, Siena Francis House (a homeless shelter) and then the university. Our mission was to break the stereotypes of homelessness by not only learning about homelessness but also hearing another’s story that they might not have heard before. The students and guests of the homeless shelter interviewed each other and photographed each other’s hands. Then from what they learned about each other, used color and words to visually interpret the other person’s story. 


The project itself was beautiful! My students were so nervous at first to go to the shelter and then to interview strangers but once they got there and got started they instantly relaxed. It was amazing to witness all of the smiles and teamwork happening in the space. The parents were proud, the artwork spoke for itself, and the director of the homeless shelter was touched to know a group of middle school kids wanted to work with the homeless. 

Service-learning projects can be effective and meaningful tool especially when it is focused through the visual arts. Communication and teamwork is the key to any successful project as well as giving students ownership of as much of the project as possible. There is much good work to be done in our communities. The sooner our students understand and are empowered, the sooner they can have a positive impact and make positive change happen in their community.  

If you have never participated in service learning here are some helpful tips from what I have experienced:

* Your initial idea and mission might change over the course of the planning to fit everyone’s needs. The key to a successful project is everyone benefits from the project. Remember, service learning is not community service.
* Act in the students’ best interests. When working with other non-profits they might not understand what your students are capable of doing and what might be too much for them. Be an advocate for your students.
* Create the mission of the project right away and continually assess if what you are doing matches the mission.
* One great thing about service-learning projects is the learning is real and applicable. Make sure to allow plenty of time for learning, because you can really dive into the project and explore every detail not only of the non-profit you are working with but also the topic. There were so many areas we just didn’t have time to explore that would have been so neat for my students to learn.

Happy planning and creating a rich learning experience for your students.


Thursday 06. 9.16

What do the walls say?

From: Josephine Langbehn

One of the greatest reasons I love being an art teacher is because we are able to use our expertise to have great impact everywhere. We can collaborate with other teachers, our community, and even in our very own school building. We use the visual arts to encourage change and to be leaders. We can immerse ourselves in lots of areas because the arts connect to everything! One of the greatest questions I had been informally asked is, “What do the walls of your school say about your school?”  Although the question wasn’t just meant for the art teacher in the room, it invigorated and inspired me, and that question instantly got the gears of my brain turning!!! (P.S. This question was posed at a Renaissance conference. Renaissance is a really cool program that builds student achievement and school climate.) So it got me thinking, what are on the walls of my building? Well, lets see…. there are photographs of past principles (some living some dead)…ummm…there are poorly designed motivational posters that nobody looks at, and of course there are pictures of past teachers who have won a prestigious award. What our walls were failing to tell our guests in our building was about our amazing students, all the learning that was taking place, or about our own community at Monroe. Except for that one mural my seventh grade students completed with guest artist Gerard Pefung. The visual arts did it! The mural my seventh grade artists created with Gerard DID tell about the community of Monroe and brought life into the school.


Three questions motivated this project; “What would get my students excited about art?” “How can I get my students to feel empowered to better their community while expressing their identity?” and “How can we create a permanent piece of art for our school?’”

First question of how I was going to get my students excited about art was easy! Graffiti! Why graffiti? Because the kids love it but yet they don’t quite understand the civic responsibilities of it. It was the perfect opportunity for a teachable moment. So, I found a graffiti artist to come work with the kids. Once we got started working on the project all of the other answers fell into place. The kids brainstormed ways our school community was brought down and what actions and attitudes raised it up. They came up with words of how they play a key role and belonged to Monroe’s community. The project wove a closer community and students expressed how they were a part of our school. Gerard took the kids artwork of their words and juxtaposed them all together to create one big image. He graciously created it, and it is now permanently hanging in the main commons of our school. It is one of the first images guests see when they walk into our building.

So I challenge you, what do the walls of your school say about your school? This is still a question that inspires me to this day. It has inspired other art installations in our building and has even helped motivate me, in collaboration with others, to create banners for students who have achieved a certain grade point average. Extra work? You bet! But I want guests who walk in our building to get a positive feeling when they enter. I want students to know their mission when they are at school by looking around at the visual clues. I also want to show that the arts can be a powerful tool to build our school climate, and that the visual arts can play an important role in shaping the aesthetic of our schools to encourage a place of learning.


Wednesday 06. 1.16

Balancing Act: Artist vs. Teacher

From: Josephine Langbehn

Eight years ago when I started pursuing my career as an art educator, it never occurred to me that I would have to work to build a routine to get back into the habit of making art again. I always thought, “Of course I will be creating art all of the time, I’m an art teacher.” WoWZa!  The reality of being able to do both creating and teaching proved to be quite the challenge, and if one has children, I just don’t know how y’all super Mamas and Papas do it!  I know I am preaching to the choir here, but when I come home I am exhausted. My creative juices and energy are low and taking a nap seems so much more rewarding in the moment.

As I got further along in my career and was more adjusted, I knew I was ready to get back at it. I was missing making my own art and feeling as though I was not fulfilling my duties as an art educator when I was not creating my own work. I strongly feel if we are teaching it we should be practicing and doing it. Plus, I teach middle school and you know the brutal honesty of middle school kiddos, “What is that?!?” HAHA. I wanted to keep my skills up to par. I also feel that our own art can be an advocacy tool to the community.

So it began. I got may paints out over break and my goal was our annual district’s art educator’s faculty show. Having a place that I knew I could hang my precious gem helped get me even more motivated even if it was only one painting. It worked! I finished my painting and hung it in the show. Eventually, my good friend and I also saw the potential in building the show so our fellow art educator peeps would have the opportunity to grow as artists and also to showcase their talents. This show has become an amazing advocacy tool within our community.

I am happy to report there is hope for balancing both artist and art educator and weaving them together.  After spending a few years getting into a rhythm I feel more comfortable even calling myself an “artist” as silly as that sounds. I am still working on learning the ropes of having my own solo show and the business side of being an artist.

Here are some of my helpful tips to get back into the groove:

1.Create your own work while the students are creating. Yes, bring your artwork to school! It will also get students motivated and it gets the staff asking what you are up to.
2. Set deadlines. Pick a date when you will be done sketching, half way done painting, etc. Work in small chunks- all that matters is that you are creating.
3. Partner up with another art teacher pal. This will help both of you be accountable and stay motivated.
4. Tell others what you are up to. People will support you.
5. Find a small local show to be a part of. This will help with the deadline goal.

Good luck! Create!