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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Tuesday 08.27.19

Avoid a Trip Down the Resource Rabbit Hole With These Digital Treasures

By Susan Silva

With the new school year underway, I have been thinking a lot about how I design lessons and where my go-to spots are for finding inspiration. As the year progresses it is always nice to have a treasure trove of resources tucked away in your back pocket to reference when developing new lessons or grappling with the best way to present a concept.

Lookingfor therabbithole

I have assembled a list of some of my favorite places to visit online when constructing lessons for students or even searching for personal inspiration. If you are like me, you may fall down the virtual rabbit hole when researching ideas online. I have compiled a list of the most rewarding spots I have found…Enjoy!

Perhaps you have some of your own gems to share! Feel free to use the comments section below to contribute to the conversation.


Monday 08.12.19

Finding Your Spirit Animals

By Susan Silva

Who are the people that collaborate, support, challenge and celebrate with you?


As the school year gets rolling it is imperative to keep your well full. That is a feat best accomplished by getting to know your campus community. Do you know all your peers? Creating environments where students and teachers thrive is best cultivated by symbiotic energy often created by many people. Having a network of critical friends and colleagues is an important ingredient to your day.  

School buildings are chalk full of talented individuals. Developing relationships with your fellow faculty and staff will enrich your teaching and daily experience tenfold. I know in every school where I taught it was important to know the teachers within the art department as well as other professionals around the building. I would take the time to seek out my fellow spirit animals.

Consider all the amazing people it takes to populate your school community. Harness this energy to create the best team you can for yourself and ultimately your students. The strongest school communities I have ever been a part of respect the individual teachers and use their strengths to enhance the overall learning environment. A strong community builds capacity by growing relationships. Part of growing relationships is recognizing what amazing resources are at your disposal on your school campus. The best resource you have access to as teachers is bar none each other!

There are new teachers on your campus, and just like the new students you are meeting they are filled with questions and curiosity about the culture on campus. There are also teachers who have been on your campus for a while who would welcome the opportunity to be drawn out, it just has not happened yet. Be an ambassador to those teachers who are making heads and tails of the innerworkings of the school. Greet the teachers who are on either side of your classroom or along your hallway. Knowing their names and a little bit about them is as important as knowing your students.


Be humble and kind. Generosity of spirit goes miles. Remember when you were the new kid on the block? Invite another staff member in for a cup of coffee before school, eat lunch together or just be intentional in making eye contact and saying hello when you pass in the hallway. You never know who is struggling, looking for a kind hello or thirsting to connect. As you navigate these adult relationships, you are also modeling healthy relationships for your students. They will see it, and they will ultimately benefit from the community you are cultivating. Teaching is demanding and can be a whole lot more fulfilling when you know your herd.  


Tuesday 08. 6.19

Awkward is the Name Game

By Susan Silva

So…here we are. Another August has arrived and perhaps the annual back-to-school dreams have started making their annual appearance. Or perhaps you are already embarking on teacher workdays to prepare for the new school year or looking longingly at the back to school section in Target.

I don’t know about you…but my dream always starts at a train station. I am there waiting to board, looking around and taking in the calm. It is quiet, slowly individuals trickle onto the platform. We are gathering, the energy building, however no one quite yet willing to make eye contact or break the silence. Summer is ever so slowly eking into the distance behind me…

I will tell you when I am dreaming in that holding pattern at the station platform my thoughts drift to those first precious moments that await me in the classroom. You know it well, the students slowly entering the room, lingering sometimes out in the hallway, looking for a friendly face, someone familiar… the room seems to scream silence. It is a challenge, who will be the first one to break the seal of the new school year? Then the bell rings, signaling the train leaving the station…and I wake up.

But let’s rewind and delve into the first days of school. You know that brief time when the students are so quiet and still taking in their surroundings and an eager beautiful awkward energy hangs in the air. When I am standing in the hallway before each class, the hallways are quiet and eye contact is fleeting. I find myself savoring those moments then embracing them tightly, amplifying the weight of the tension--using it as a vehicle to break down barriers to gather up those students and set a new mood.

I have used a gazillion icebreakers over the years, and I can tell you that bar none the most important icebreaker is the one that allows you and the students to learn each and every individual’s name in that classroom. Is it easy? No way. Is it painful for the students? You bet. Does it require an insane amount of effort? You know it! Does it ever get easier? No! And I would not have it any other way.

During my first year of teaching, I had the pleasure of being a faculty advisor to a theatre company that would come into the school and stage a complete performance in just a week’s time. I volunteered for this primarily out of curiosity, but also as a way to connect with this newly created community. Because how on earth could a play come together in seven days? The value of that experience has stayed with me. Each year when the train is leaving the station much more important than collecting the “tickets” is knowing all of your riders. It will make the adventure all that more exciting and personal.

The time devoted to learning your students names the first few days of school lays the groundwork for all future encounters and learning. You can play an alliteration name game, two truths and a lie about the origin of the name, ballgame build, the story of the name…it really does not matter. Find the routine or game that will make those names stick. Not only must the names stick for me as the teacher, but also for every student in the room. Because this is the foundation to creating your community!

The art room is a bustling space. There are work areas, clean-up areas, laptop carts, maybe even a darkroom or a light studio. Taking advantage of that precious time on the first days of school to create a classroom culture of knowing each other’s names and pronouns--it’s instrumental to the learning that will occur in that sacred teaching space for the rest of the year’s journey. Students feel valued and connected when we know their names and pronounce them correctly.

My name is Susan Silva, silly Susan Silva smiling sweetly, if we are playing the alliteration name game. (say that five times fast…) I am your monthly mentor for August! I hope your back to school dreams are filled with wonder and excitement with who you might meet this year in your classes!