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 08.18.17

Stress, Change, and Mindfulness at the Start of a School Year

From: Jody Boyer

Last Thursday the new school year began for me at Norris Middle School in Omaha, Nebraska. Norris is the largest middle school in Nebraska with over 1,150 kids between the ages of 11 and 14. This is a lot of adolescent energy! But this year is also a little different. Our building is in the middle of a multiphase, multiyear 30 million dollar renovation. This is terribly exciting for my educational community. Simultaneously it is stressful...very stressful. My classroom has changed location three times in the last eight months. I feel blessed to have the privilege of a new room with natural light and enough space to truly explore arts education in ways I have not before. But all of this is a great deal of change and a little bit like riding a roller coaster: exciting at first, but now I just want to get to the end as soon as possible!

My amazingly gorgeous new art room, near completion, in the summer of 2017

Before work this morning while doing my morning swim the feeling of a roller coaster came back to me as I went through the long “to do” list in my mind. Check off this, I missed that, so on, and so forth. Then the voice of Dennis Inhulsen, Chief Learning Officer for NAEA, butted into my mental ramblings. It was his voice leading Western Region leaders through a mindfulness activity this summer: “Breathe”. Yes, that is what I need to do. Find some balance, and just breathe!

Mindfulness, deep breathing, thinking with intention. In times of stress I try to remember these three things. Interestingly, at the Western Region Leadership Conference, Dennis also shared that the most popular NAEA webinar this past year was about mindfulness and creativity. It seems that balance and mindfulness are on the minds of a great number of art educators across the country!

Thus, in this hectic week of moving and unpacking my new art room (yeah!), this week’s blog post is focused on a few tidbits that may help you stay balanced and begin to explore mindfulness in the coming school year!

Strategies for finding balance in the teacher work/life mix:

1. Create a routine that gives you space, time, and respite in your work day. Even a few minutes can refresh your soul. During my plan time, I often walk two laps around the exterior of my campus when I need a little space and time to think. This only takes me 10 minutes, but does wonders for my bank of patience and helps clear my mind before the next set of kids come in.

2. Pick two to three days a week where you do not take anything home and you leave the building in a timely manner. If something is not done, don’t worry, it will get done the next day if it has to be!

3. Give yourself a treat budget. Then hide a few gift cards for your favorite splurge in your daily calendar, agenda, or even in your supply room! Better yet, have a friend do it for you so you don’t know when they are coming!

4. Build a buddy system within your building and outside your building. I have a few trusted colleagues to go to when I need a good laugh or a really good cry.

Resources to get started with a mindfulness practice: 

1. - This is a great resource to explore mindfulness from a broad perspective.

2. - This organization is offering free mindfulness training for schools!

3. Mindfulness, Creativity and Art Education Webinar from NAEA. If you missed it, the webinar was recorded and is available to view on demand by members for free here!

Happy Beginnings to a new school year!


Tuesday 08. 8.17

Reflecting on the Unknown, Perseverance and Discovery at the Cedar Point Biological Station

From: Jody Boyer

Nearly 10 days after my artist residency at an active field station I am still pondering how to connect scientific investigation to my classroom pedagogy. What exactly does that look like? Is it the creation of STEAM lessons, alignment to standards, or integrating the scientific method into my arts classroom? While thinking through these questions this morning I distracted myself from the complexities of the problem by reading a wonderful article in which writer Maria Popova explored how artists work in the realm of the unknown. Popova quoted sculptor and installation artist Ann Hamilton  from her essay “Making Not Knowing” – “One doesn’t arrive — in words or in art — by necessarily knowing where one is going. In every work of art something appears that does not previously exist, and so, by default, you work from what you know to what you don’t know. “

As I reflected on the first day of my art residency at Cedar Point Hamilton’s words rang true. That first  morning I felt an overwhelming sense of the unknown. I had researched and created for myself a framework of investigation for the week, brought a myriad of supplies with me and set up my workspace. Everything was prepared. But standing at the beginning of the metaphoric path of the artistic process all I felt was lost. Lost in the unknown. I often feel this way in my studio practice. But in a new environment, free from distractions of family and work, the aura of not knowing was sharp and knife-like. Instead of wallowing, I did what I had come to Cedar Point to do, I got to work. That first day I experimented, got frustrated, kept pushing, and created 12 small mixed media pieces. Those first 12 pieces are clumsy studies exploring a new amalgam of materials and processes. I am not happy with any of them. But they are a starting point in a new way of making. They are a discovery into the unknown.

Boyerwk2_photo1Artwork is Progress: Alternative Photography Experiments Exposing Under Plexiglass at the Cedar Point Biological Station

While thinking about discovery my mind also wandered to lunch on the third day of my residency where I overheard a group of students discussing their frustrations in regard to their search for parasites within dragonfly larvae. One student in particular, Silverio Barrio, mentioned he had collected and dissected 24 dragonfly larvae before he found a single parasite to analyze. Barrio’s frustration was clear, but so was his sense of accomplishment at discovering a parasite on his 25th dissection. One aspect of a field station is to bring scientific research to life by giving students an authentic experience of field research. Clearly an authentic experience was at times not what the students were expecting. This reminded me of aspects of practicing and teaching the artistic process and I was curious.  How is it that scientists continue to push forward when they face difficulty? Where does the drive to continue come from when the process seems to be not working, potentially even failing? What feeds the will to continue when faced with seemingly endless barriers?

After lunch I visited the Cedar Point biology lab and introduced myself to the young man I had overheard. I asked Silverio if I could chat with him about his frustrations. With grace he immediately apologized thinking I was concerned about his demeanor, but I expressed that I was interested in how he managed his frustration. In our conversation he mentioned that other students in the course had dissected over 100 dragonfly larvae before finding a single parasite specimen.As I looked down into a jar of dragonflies, I was reminded of my own visual research back in the Lubber Lab on the other side of the field station.  The day before I too had felt a road block in my creative process. Silver and I discussed how we approached these instances of scientific and artistic frustration. We both are driven by a sense of discovery and find solace in the perseverance of working toward our goals.

BoyerWk2Photo2Silverio Barrio, at center in red shorts and blue shirt, and other students searching for dragonfly larvae in a Rural Ogallala Pond.

Now thinking back to my initial question of how to incorporate scientific investigation in the visual arts classroom. Perhaps it is not the alignment of standards, the use a traditional scientific method or STEAM lessons that I need. From my time at an active field station I learned that scientific investigation and artistic investigation are really not that different. What I need is to foster a classroom environment framed by the quest for discovery and builds perseverance for failure. Whether you are searching for new parasites in the guts of dragonflies or embarking on the creation of new art the quest for meaning and understanding likely starts with jumping into unknown waters and often requires you to keep searching regardless if you can see the bottom of the pond.

BoyerWk2Photo3Standing at edge of a Rural Ogallala pond, wondering what is in the water.


Tuesday 08. 1.17

A Media Detox at the Cedar Point Biological Station

From: Jody Boyer

Last week I had the privilege of completing an artist residency at the University of Nebraska’s Cedar Point Biological Station. Since 1975 Cedar Point has functioned as a field research facility and experiential classroom for the biological sciences, geology, paleontology and most recently the visual arts. Since 2014 Cedar Point has included an artist-in-residence program that invites artist to stay for a week, giving artists the space and time to create new work, observe research at the station and experience nature from a new perspective. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some of the experiences and insights I gained as an artist and arts educator during my residency at Cedar Point. 

The drive into Cedar Point descends down a long road just to the West of the 3.1 mile long Kingsley Dam, which created Lake McConaughy, one of the most scenic lakes I have visited in the Midwest. In the midst of all this sudden beauty I grabbed my cell phone, snapped a photo, and proceeded to send the image to my kids. Or that is, I attempted to do so. The rocky cliffs that surround Cedar Point interfere with cellular service and I was officially off the grid. In that moment I truly felt in awe of Cedar Point. I also felt how deeply and possibly too connected to the interaction of social media I have become.

BoyerPhoto1_Week1View of Lake Ogallala from the Cedar Point Biological Station

Once I arrived, settled into my cabin, and took in the enormous beauty of Cedar Point I made a decision. I would disconnect in order to reconnect. For the next 48 hours I did not check my email, social media, upload photos, or consume anything from technology. I took a two day social media hiatus in the woods and immersed myself in the production of art. Minus the need to share, connect, upload, or validate my actions through social media. A media detox in the Sandhills prairie of Western Nebraska.  This was one of the best choices of my recent adult life.

BoyerPhoto2_Week1Lake McConaughy at Sunset

One of my take-aways from Cedar Point is the need I have for space and time in nature, to think and rejuvenate. As I reflect on the coming school year I wonder how I can create the sense of solitude, focus, and serene productivity I experienced during my artist residency, both for myself and for my students. How do I bring the feeling of a nature-infused environment to my classroom? Many ideas have popped into my head, but I am not sure if I have the answer yet. My hope this coming year is to explore how to bring aspects of my Cedar Point experience to my students, including making a space for disconnecting from media overload and reconnecting to our natural world. I invite conversations from other arts educators who are exploring similar interests, perhaps together we can collaborate on this adventure.

In the meantime if artist residencies, field stations and the natural environment are of interest to you here are some resources to explore.

To find out more about artist residencies in general and in your region and across the globe, visit the Alliance of Artist Communities

To find a field station in your region, look at the Organization of Biological Research Stations.

Consider investigating local Nature Centers for possible artist residency opportunities. A good place to start is to look at the Association of Nature Center Administrators, they wonderful listing of its member organizations across the globe.

Researchers Working Sandhill Prairie of Western Nebraska

- JB