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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Thursday 12.21.17

Feed Your Soul – Finding Balance

From: Heidi O’Donnell
My last three blog posts have one word in common: Giving. It’s one of my favorite things… Arts Educator, Girl Scout Leader, Boy Scout Leader, Swim Team Parent Leader, Department Chair, NAHS Advisor, Workshop Presenter, Accreditation Writer, Webmaster, Mom… are a few of the giving (aka leadership) roles I’ve played in the last year. I’m going to share a personal struggle of mine that I know many may feel empathy toward: finding balance. I addressed balance in my last blog referring to giving and the balance of receiving. But today, I refer to the mindful balance of all that you give and it’s effect on your well-being. 
Not only has being a recent graduate of the NAEA School for Art Leaders provided me with numerous tools to assist in redefining and strengthening my leadership roles, but it has also helped me in creating balance. (I know I’ve put in a plug for this already – but seriously – it’s an amazing and transformative experience. I urge you to consider submitting an application for the program. One of the leadership exercises in the program required that we create circles to represent percentages in four categories of our lives: work, home, community, and self. What I remembered most from the exercise was the serious disproportion between the different categories. Work consuming the largest circle and self the smallest. While looking at these circles, we were then tasked to consider overlap. For example, part of the community circle included work with my National Art Honor Society that connects to my work circle. And so I began making more and more connections. 
Making these connections has lead to some changes and some better understandings. I’ve recognized that my self circle has grown some. However, I’ve also recognized that two of the most impactful parts of my life have fallen off my to-do list in the last several years: exercise and art making. I do both, but not enough. In checking out my overlapping circles, I’ve created more time to fit these into my life. I’ve saved and invested in a treadmill… Oh, the joy! Instead of sitting at my desk, I now run in the mornings (my self circle) while I watch videos or read articles to help in my professional development (work circle) or strategize plans for my Girl Scout or Boy Scout Troops (my community circle). In order to make more room for art making (self circle), I’ve decided to apply for an educator program I’ve wanted to participate in for a while now (work circle.)  The Maine College of Art offers a Feed Your Soul program to arts educators in June as an opportunity to refresh after the school year ends. I’ve already started the application process. Wish me luck!
How will you feed your soul this year? 
Heidi O'Donnell
Past President, Maine Art Education Association

Friday 12.15.17

Giving is a Virtue

Giving is recognized as a virtue in every major religion and in every civilized society, and it clearly benefits both the giver and the receiver. – Dalai Lama

From: Heidi O'Donnell

While I would be happy as a clam at high tide working comfortably in my classroom teaching art, I know I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today if there wasn’t a good balance of give and take. 


This is how I like my life – clean, organized, predictable, safe, etc. (I know, why teaching?)


However, chaining myself to this sense of comfort does not necessarily make for an excellent educator. Wrapped around the same anchor (be it lessons, curriculum, assessment, etc.) makes one the weakest link. It is only in breaking free of said boundaries, that growth as an educator and strength in programs are created. I have found that it is through giving, that I have received the greatest gifts. I believe the most powerful gift is one’s development as an arts educator.


So here are a few items to add to your list of gifts.

  • Mentor a student teacher.

If you light a lamp for someone it will also brighten your own path.” – Buddhist Proverb

(If you don’t work in the classroom, provide opportunities to job shadow, intern, mock interview, etc.) I took on this challenge and garnered numerous benefits. In working with my student teacher, I not only became more purposeful in the programming I provide, but I also learned and practiced a few more formative assessment strategies as a result. View a list of ideas here. Although I already use several, a few ‘new to me’ strategies I really liked include: 1, 3, 31, 41, and 50.

  • Start a blog or get active on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go together.” – African Proverb

Recognize that you have a lot to offer. There are a lot of possibilities out there for arts educators that focus on specific teaching philosophies, age groups, and media. I find it particularly interesting to join groups outside of my current teaching situation or outside my current practice. I’ve gleaned so much over the years by reading and commenting on a variety of topics.

  • Start an Art Teacher Book Club.

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.” – Chinese Proverb

I mentioned this in my last blog post, but feel it’s worth another plug. Facilitate a discussion and reap the benefits it has to offer.

  • Present at a conference, workshop, school board meeting, etc.

When one teaches, two learn.” – Robert Heinlein

Share what you are working on. You never know where this will lead – more conversations, considerations, resources, etc.

  • Take a class.

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” – Chinese Proverb

Take a leadership class (NAEA School for Art Leaders is excellent – I encourage you all to apply!), learn how to use a new media (even if you don’t think it you will use it in the classroom), learn about new ways to connect with other content areas (STEAM), the list is endless.

  • Other… What would you add to this list? 

It’s really all about collaborating and sharing opportunities. Go forth and give!


Tuesday 12. 5.17

Giving, Icelandic Style

From: Heidi O'Donnell

I recently read a treehugger article that shed light on an Icelandic holiday tradition I was not familiar with: giving books. On Christmas Eve, books are traditionally given and then the evening is spent reading. Second only to art supplies, I love books! This is a tradition I feel could apply to every holiday, in every culture, year-round.... Winter Solstice, Groundhog’s Day, Teacher’s Day (September 28th – Celebrated in Taiwan, honoring teacher’s contributions to their students and to society in general. The date commemorates Confucius, master educator in ancient China)… I also love celebrations and traditions.

Here in the state of Maine, we have an excellent Visual and Performing Arts Specialist at the Department of Education, Beth Lambert. Among numerous professional development opportunities she organizes and provides, such as bringing in national experts (including Robert Sabol) to run an Assessment in the Visual and Performing Arts Summer Institute as well as a Full STEAM Ahead! cohort (where educators cross disciplines to learn about Visual & Performing Arts and Science standards as well as explore co-teaching strategies), Beth facilitates a Book Club for Arts Educators. Let me just say, Art Teacher Book Club Rocks! Over the last two years we have read:



Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education
Ken Robinson, Ph.D.

Artscience: Creativity in the Post-Google Generation
David Edwards



The Artistic : 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brian World
Lisa Phillips

The Arts and the Creation of Mind
Elliot W. Eisner

Other books I’ve recently read include two that were required reading for the NAEA School for Art Leaders program:



Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership
Janice Marturano

Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life
Steward D. Friedman

Suzanne Goulet, the NAEA October Monthly Mentor, gifted me one of my favorite books when I was elected President of the Maine Art Education Association position:

MaedaRedesigning Leadership
John Maeda

Presenters at NAEA National Conventions introduced additional favorites:



Color: A Natural History of the Palette
Victoria Finlay

Studio Thinking 2: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education
Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, Shirley Veenema, and Kimberly M Sheridan

My holiday break reading list includes:



A Brilliant History of Color in Art
Victoria Finlay

(A gift from a student. <3)

The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century
Edward Dolnick

In the spirit of giving, my gift to you is the modest book list above. My challenge to you is two-fold:

1. I call on you to share your favorite teacher books/art books in the comment section. Spread the wealth!

2. Consider Art Teacher Book Club. Either join one you know of or start one. It’s an excellent way to build connections, share your wisdom, and flex your leadership muscles…


Martinko, Katherine. “The Beautiful Icelandic Tradition of Giving Books on Christmas Eve.”TreeHugger, Treehugger, 12 Sept. 2017,

Friday 12. 1.17

Season of Giving

From: Heidi O'Donnell

I have so many thoughts and directions for my contribution to this blog buzzing around in my head; I sought out a colleague for advice. I was told, “Simply, start with today.”

You won’t be reading this for a few days, but today as I write, it’s ‘Giving Tuesday.’ Giving Tuesday started in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation as a response to post-Thanksgiving consumerism – Black Friday and Cyber Monday…. Fueled by social media, Giving Tuesday has grown significantly and the benefits have reached many.

In the spirit of giving, I am thankful for how fortunate I am to have committed my life to arts education. By engaging in my passion, I have been blessed to give (and receive) so much over the years. As many of you recognize, giving in the teacher realm often extends beyond monetary means. [Blogger’s note: Yes, I acknowledge that many of us dole out a lot of cash to supplement our classroom and student needs – but let’s set that aside for the moment.] Teachers, by their very nature, are givers. We give to our students, to our peers, to our administrators, to our communities (whether they are local, state, or national), and even to ourselves. Our giving doesn’t happen once a year on a designated date as a reaction to societal trends, our giving happens daily through encouragement, support, listening, guiding, sharing… The list goes on.

As the year comes to a close and in the midst of the Season of Giving, I give to you over the course of this month, my time, my thoughts, my questions, my concerns, and my musings.

My first gift to you is a resource that some have found useful: