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 07.29.19

Looking Forward to the Year Ahead

By Rachel Valsing

As an art teacher I have centered my career on what is happening in the art world and finding ways to connect it to the classroom. A traveling exhibit at a local museum could be the next mentor artist I would share in class. An opening at a local gallery could lead to meeting an artist who might agree to visit my students. This connection to art, particularly contemporary art, continues to inspire the materials, processes, and techniques that inform my lessons and units. Earlier this summer, I was lucky to attend the dedication of a new mural by Amy Sherald at 11th and Sansom Streets in Philadelphia. The mural, a multistory portrait of a young woman gazing out into the center of the city, is of Najee Spencer-Young, an art education student. The painting communicates the signature style of Ms. Sherald’s work: care and intention with the smooth brushstrokes that render the vibrant colorful background, the tonal grey skin, serene expression, and uniquely styled dress. Public art does not always present a material or technique that can be replicated in the classroom, but it is powerful in defining place, reflecting values, and telling stories. It is an incredible gift to have a future art teacher, a person of color, represented in a monumental artwork.


This experience caused me to revisit my notes from the NAEA 2019 Convention in Boston. I had been fortunate to attend a session presented by the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Task Force, led by Dr. Wanda Knight. The recommendations developed by this group provide a road map to bringing greater diversity in the art education community through many strategies including: the creation of an Equity, Diversity & Inclusion commission in state organizations, revising payment structures for professional opportunities, and developing targeted programming. You can learn more about the ED&I Task Force and its recommendations here.


In my role as VP Programs for the Maryland Art Education Association, I have found these recommendations vital to creating better professional development and am encouraged by the possibilities for implementing them as I continue my involvement in the organization.  In the classroom, I have created my own recommendations for teaching with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the coming year. This is by no means an exhaustive list and hopefully it will continue to expand as I work with my department over the next year:

  • Ensuring that art classes provide students have choice and opportunities to express their ideas through instruction and the classroom environment
  • Considering the mindset of our students walking in the room when planning lessons. Could they be nervous to try new things, already identifying as an artist or non-artist, bored or engaged with art based on past experiences?
  • Developing good questions to help students unpack their identity in ways that complement the lessons and units we are covering in class
  • Finding more ways for students to lead in art lessons including demonstrating techniques and critical dialog
  • Exhibiting art made by every student taking an art class
  • Participating and leading professional development that is focused on diversity, equity, and inclusivity
  • Continuing my education in equity and culturally responsive instruction

- RV

Friday 07.19.19

Summer Art Challenges

By Rachel Valsing

Every summer our art department provides summer enrichment assignments for the students who are advancing into AP art courses. The assignments are designed to keep students engaged in making and working independently with prompts for sketchbooks, material investigations, and creating finished work. This year we have invited all of our students to return with a personal collection of items that will be used to create a series of artworks when we begin school this fall. We are using our art department Instagram account (@towsonhighschoolart) to regularly post updates throughout the summer and keep the conversation going about creating and engaging in art throughout the summer.

Instagram has become a favorite platform for teachers and students to share their work. Here are two impressive assignments developed by my colleagues that use the app in different ways to share prompts and keep the creative conversation going through the summer months:


Rachael Hulme



Edgewood High School, Edgewood, Maryland

The tradition began with Edgewood photo teacher, Craig Llewellyn (@llewellynsc), in the summer of 2015 and was continued by Rachael Hulme, when she took over the position that year, “because it had become something that kids really looked forward to doing. Now five years in, siblings of former students are participating, along with district administrators, and teachers from other states including Kentucky and Massachusetts.” Hulme, who follows the challenge herself (you can see her posts @balloonsatbreakfast) continues,  “I love how the exercise puts me back in the shoes of my students, by receiving, interpreting, and turning in assignments. And it’s been especially exciting to see the participants interact with each other as they post photos. Natural critiques form and students begin to follow each other.”


Be sure to follow @ehs_photo and some great art educators who are also in on the challenge including Gino Molfino (@oniflomonig) and Caro Appel (@appelrhhs) in Howard County Public Schools.


Heidi Miller


Robbinsdale Cooper High School, New Hope, Minnesota

“After my IB students noted they would miss having their art community over the summer, I decided to post 12 challenges, one for every week of vacation, on our Instagram and Twitter pages. Students helped come up with the prompts- ranging from Land Art to trying a new medium to using their clothes as a canvas. Challenges are 100% optional and don’t have to be completed in a certain order, but give students a way to challenge their creativity and continue to be part of our art community over break.”


Wednesday 07.17.19

Creating Connections in and out of the Art Museum

By Rachel Valsing

Greetings from Milwaukee, Wisconsin! I am just wrapping up a fantastic road trip with my family to the midwest. In our travels, we made a quick stop to the Milwaukee Art Museum. I say, “quick,” because this is a place in which you could really spend a full day appreciating the large collection of artwork and unique architectural design of the building. Unfortunately, we only had a few hours to take it all in, but during that time, I was struck by how much the variety of forms in the artwork captured my attention and continued to make an impression as we walked and biked around the city. In this post I am including a few diptych photos based on these discoveries.

The first artwork that stopped me in the museum was Two Discs by Stepan Pala. Often artwork is displayed with so much emphasis on isolating it from the environment, but in this case the piece was a means to engage its surroundings as the circles of glass were placed in front of a window and had a kaleidoscope effect on all of the straight angles surrounding it. On a walk through Lake Shore Park the next day, I found this unique framing in the design of one of the many bridges throughout the park.


The Milwaukee Art Museum includes a piece by one of my favorite artists, Robert Gober. The suitcase in this piece lies on the gallery floor and when looking closer reveals a street grate that leads you to the installed sculpture that lies below it. This artwork felt like I was spying on someone’s dream and it kept me looking down for clues to unravel this narrative throughout the rest of the day.

As I had mentioned the museum itself is a magnificent artwork designed by architect, Eero Saarinen. With soaring angles of steel forming a structure that is at once a bird, a ship, an airplane, and so many other possibilities, the building continues to surprise visitors with the timed movement of its giant steel “wings” at noon every day. As I joined a small crowd to see this spectacle, I also noticed a blue stripe of the highway overpass adjacent to the museum. Investigating the space under the overpass, I found there was an inherent connection and was excited to document and compare both structures.


The excitement in making visual connections reminded me so much of the experiences that our students have when encountering a new artwork or aesthetic experience. Field trips are truly my favorite events of the school year as they are so packed with discovery and excitement. I hope you all get a chance to have some time to take an art field trip of your own this summer and surprise yourself with new connections to your making and teaching!

- RV

Monday 07. 1.19

Art in the Outdoor Studio

By Rachel Valsing

As the school year ends for many in our community, I would like to wish everyone a happy summer vacation! This is a great time to rest, reflect, and make time for creating artwork. And what better way to get in the groove of working on your own work, than to spend a day with your colleagues exploring the natural environment? This year two plein air painting and drawing workshops were offered to Baltimore County art teachers in the first few days of summer break. I was fortunate to join one of these trips at the Days Cove Nature Center, an environmental education facility for Baltimore County students and teachers. Equipped with sketchbooks, canoes, and paddles, our group toured the Cove by water, taking a break to draw and observe the landscape that was active with many birds including bald eagles and ospreys.

This year our AP Studio and Intermediate art students painted landscapes on the school campus. The unit took place during AP testing and provided students a welcome break from the classroom during the beautiful days of early spring. Having two different levels of studio class work on this assignment provided great opportunities for co-planning and students to give each other feedback on their works. The teacher workshop at Days Cove left me reflecting on that experience and wondering about ways to engage other disciplines through art making. The workshop included prompts based on Keri Smith’s How to be an Explorer of the World, and we had a long conversation about connecting art and science through observation and recording sketches. I think there’s great potential in having art students join our environmental science classes on their annual trip to Days Cove in the fall. Working outdoors can be challenging in terms of choosing the right materials and being flexible with all the variables that nature can provide. Visiting the Days Cove site and getting the chance to create, prototype, and explore the space was a great way to prepare for teaching students.

I find that in the summer I can fit more time to complete the creative projects that may have gotten started throughout the school year, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. A change in scenery with time to sketch and connect with fellow art teachers was a perfect way to jump start a summer of making art and planning for the school year to come.



- RV