Monthly Mentor

Matthew Neylon (July)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Matthew is a graduate of the 2017 NAEA School for Art Leaders and cofounder of CONNECT, an organization that connects art teachers from independent schools around Atlanta with resources and relationships to excel and thrive. He has presented to hundreds of educators and artists annually, on various topics including wellness through the arts, trauma-informed arts education, storytelling, leadership, STEAM/art integration, and curriculum design. Click "GO" to read his full bio.



Join the largest creative community established exclusively for visual arts educators, college professors, researchers, administrators, and museum educators.

Join NAEA Renew Membership

« Can Cannolis Console Tired Feet? | Main | The End of a Blue Day »

March 20, 2019

Building a Better Classroom Community: Lessons from the NAEA Convention

By Holly Houston

As Kimberly D/Adamo and Lois Hetland emphasized in last Thursday’s “Emotional Security” session, students will create better work if they feel safer in the classroom. I also think if I can encourage experimentation and permission to create something that might not “work” in the interest of learning from mistakes, being better informed, and personal happiness, then I am heading in the right direction.

On Friday, Nicole Brisco spoke about advertising her art program to grow numbers and I think students’ emotional security plays into this.  Why would students sign up for, or advertise to their peers, classes in which they are insecure? I hope to create art experiences that are challenging and develop critical thinking and technical skills, yet also nurture positive feelings about art-making. I like Nicole’s ideas about collages and additive use of materials--these are great ways to have students work together to problem solve and think spontaneously and not necessarily have grades as consequences for their work.  

Last fall I tried to emphasize classroom culture with each of my classes. We did “ice breaker” exercises in every section.  However, the months have passed and I haven’t found time to think much about students’ emotions. I was reminded by these two sessions that I need to do culture check-ins with my classes throughout the semester.  My AP students have been together all year, yet as they dive yet deeper into their sustained investigations, they could use some time to step back, relax, and work on a collaborative piece, perhaps one in which there are some rules, yet also freedom to explore and cut loose a bit.  It is easy to get caught up in all the work that needs to be done during class time and lose sight of taking stock of the productivity level. If Kimberly and Lois are right, and I suspect they are, my students will work more efficiently, produce stronger work, and generally be happier if I pay more attention to their emotional needs.



Suzanne Goulet

Wow... that was a powerful session

Thank you for sparking my mid-year reflections.

Melissa DeFabrizio

Hi Holly,
I think your attention to your students emotions is a great way to ensure they feel safe in the classroom because they know you are concerned for their well-being. Also, like you had mentioned, having low-stakes projects where they can collaborate is a great way to loosen them up and have fun with an art-making process. Your blog post reminded me of a project I did as an undergrad in an experimental drawing class, where students created a collaborative project they taught the class. I pretty much made a musical chairs assignment where I played music and my peers had to move when the music stopped to another section of a large paper with different supplies. This forced them to just play, which was great in loosening them up. Anyway, I think creating an inviting and open classroom culture is important and I think that can be achieved by allowing students room to contribute to the course and the freedom to explore with materials they choose when possible and encouraging them that mistakes are necessary when creating art, that its about the process of continuously making work and seeing how the work evolves. It is difficult within the parameters of public school education sometimes to help students relax enough to trust their own intuitions and practices.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

Serena L Whiteside

I am a freshman as a graduate student and I was wondering if I could speak to you about the NAEA. I was doing some research for one of my class projects and stumbled upon thier website and decided to become a member.


Hi Serena,

The NAEA Member Services team is happy to answer any questions you might have regarding the organization or membership. You can reach them at or 800-299-8321.

NAEA members can also connect with colleagues directly via Collaborate ( Collaborate is a space for art educators to find and share information and resources, gain inspiration, and make connections—anytime, anywhere.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.