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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Monday 04.29.19

Art Educators as Education Leaders (Part 2)

By Andrew Watson

Well here I am at the end of my term. It has been an honor, but I didn’t even get to half of what I wanted to talk about! So, let me leave you with a few quick lessons that I have learned since entering art education leadership.

1. To give voice, listen- I have always focused on helping students find their voice. In reality, kids have voice. It may need polish and we can introduce them to new ways to express it, but it is already formed. So, as teachers we need to listen and give our students opportunities to be heard, not try to mold them.

2. Raising the bar sparks hope- I have spent most of my career working in low income schools. The most effective teachers in these schools didn’t make excuses for their students. They acknowledged the hardships that their students faced. Made sure the students knew they were cared for and supported. But most importantly, they consistently expected those students to perform at a high level. If you set the bar high, most students will aim for it. Even if they don’t quite make it, they will do far better than if they were aiming low.

3. Process over product- I have heard this phrase my whole career. While I agree, it has always been unclear to me which process is being referred to. I think most of us mean the process of using art mediums or techniques, which isn’t wrong but may be short sighted. As art teachers our job isn’t primarily to prepare our students to be professional artist or designers. Our job is to nurture the artistic nature of our students. To cultivate creative approaches and expression. To challenge the problem-solving skills of young thinkers. So, to me the process is the creative process, the design thinking process, or the many other metacognitive processes that help our students become more self-aware and engaged in the world. To me, why we make art is more important than how we make art.


Monday 04.22.19

Art Educators as Education Leaders

By Andrew Watson

Teaching is a flat profession, your first day on the job your duties are essentially the same as the day before you retire. Eventually, many teachers decide they want a change and try to enter leadership. For most that means becoming a Principal, while other pursue central office positions.

For art teachers this can be a little more complicated. Often others perceive our content as supplemental to the “true” goals of education (cough… test scores, cough...). Many of us don’t want to leave the art part of our profession, so we want an art content support position. But, most school districts only have one of those. Even large districts rarely have more than three—with hundreds of competitors! So, what can you do?  

Earlier, I wrote about the many ways that the zeitgeist of education can provide us with opportunities if we think of ourselves as educators, beyond art educators. So, here are the paths of three art teachers who overcame the hurdles and entered leadership by playing to their art strengths:

Teacher 1- This elementary teacher taught at an arts integration school. She went out of her way to support the classroom teachers in making authentic connections. When funding came in, the Principal appointed her to a part time administration role, a year later she entered an administration certification program and became an Assistant Principal.     

Teacher 2- This elementary teacher went to a PBL conference and was totally inspired. He found some chances to speak to the other teachers at his school, which led to him giving presentations at many schools. When his school system decided to tackle PBL head on, he was appointed to a central office position.

Teacher 3 (me!)- I was a high school teacher, taught a lot of media art, and was an early STEAM adopter. I started an after-school STEAM program which helped to shift the conversation in my school district from STEM to STEAM. I was able to get a position in my Central Office position where I helped develop a STEAM program into over 100 schools.

- AW

Tuesday 04.16.19

Be an Artist and an Art Educator (Part 2)

By Andrew Watson

Hello, last time I talked about keeping in touch with your artistic practice and what that has meant to me. Today, I am going to talk about the other half of our role:

Be an educator, as well as an art educator!

I find it easy to dismiss professional development workshops and trainings that aren’t targeted to art teachers, and I know that I’m not the only one! But… the truth is, our profession is more than just understanding our content. We are educators and need to understand the art of teaching.

In my career, this realization was the beginning of my journey into leadership. Like many art teachers, I have never quite trusted assessment. During a dreary discussion about the wonders of exit tickets, one of my non-art colleagues mentioned that art teachers were the true masters of formative assessment. After a quick double take, it hit me that my colleague was 100% correct. I might find exit tickets useless, but I was constantly giving feedback, having students reflect, and running class critiques—all formative assessment techniques! This got me thinking. I talked to an administrator about why our formative assessment discussions always revolved around exit tickets and he admitted that this was because many teachers had difficulty implementing more “advanced” techniques. I spent a few days thinking about this and observed in some non-art classes over the next couple of weeks. Later, I went to my principal with a PowerPoint presentation called Formative Assessment Beyond Exit Tickets. My principal loved it and asked me to present to the staff. This experience changed my relationship with my peers, as well as how I viewed my role.

As art educators we have so much to add to the education conversation. But, to be effective we need to understand the greater education landscape. And, it isn’t just formative assessment. Performance-based assessment, portfolios, nurturing student voice, creativity, communication, and design thinking are all important conversations in education right now—and art teachers are the experts!

Next time, I will discuss how art teachers can leverage this expertise into leadership roles.

Image 1Formative assessment doesn’t start or end with exit tickets! We are experts at critique, which is more authentic and nurtures higher order thinking!


Monday 04. 8.19

Be an Artist and an Art Educator

By Andrew Watson

Hello, it is my honor to be the NAEA April 2019 Monthly Mentor. When thinking about what I want to share, two themes keep popping up in my head— art educators as leaders and art education as holistic education. So, I’m going to give you a few entrees about each! But first, a foundation for both subjects:

Be an artist, as well as an art educator!

Now, I know most of us went through formal art training and in many ways, we are all artists. But, being an artist is an issue of identity beyond training. Being an artist gains us respect from our students and peers. We don’t just teach about our subject, we live it. Which doesn’t make it easy! During the first few years as an art teacher I found making time to create art beyond classroom samples almost impossible. This was doubly true when I started my position as an administrator and had twin infant boys at home! But, finding my way back to an artistic practice has had such an important impact on my teaching and supervising other art teachers.

My artmaking has informed my teaching in many ways. Most importantly, it has taught me empathy and the importance of play. Keeping up with my artwork reminds me that the process of making art is one of vulnerability.

Image 1Having my work critiqued every now and then gives me sympathy for insecure students!

Art isn’t just hard work it is also deeply personal, which is vital to remember when working with adolescent artists. The self-reflective nature of art also helps me to better understand my students and colleagues. Play is a vital aspect of my process. Having a chance to get down on the floor and get my hands dirty reminds me that to make room for experimentation, the unplanned, and most importantly—fun!

Image 2 My artistic practice literally involves playing with toys!

Teaching art standards, media, and higher order thinking skills is important, but we can’t remove the sense of wonder and discovery. We must leave room for our art and our students to breath and become!

Next time, I will discuss how art education prepared me for leadership.    

- AW