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.



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July 29, 2019

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


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