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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Friday 09.27.19

The Truth of Curriculum

By Benjamin Tellie

In my posts this month, I shared some things I do to stay organized, about mentoring, a middle school project about school bullying, my work in private tutoring, and a field issue. I thought I would share some of my art education experiences with you initially, but instead, as my time is almost up for this month, I want to discuss the importance of bringing more of yourself into your teaching and curriculum writing as you move forward into the fall semester with your students. Consider some questions: Where and how does curriculum begin and end, or does it have a beginning or an end? What is your truth in the curriculum you teach?

One of the most profound concepts in William Pinar’s scholarship in the curriculum studies field is that of currere—a form of autobiographical investigation about experiences both lived and informed by the world of the teacher and of the student (Pinar, 2011; Pinar, 2015). For currere to be realized and actively pursued as a concept in curriculum, teacher and student voices must be heard and their lived experiences must matter. Sometimes, it’s not always a matter of following the routine projects and objectives that lead us to certain outcomes or truths. For what is the truth of curriculum? Before Pinar’s work, our notion of curriculum has always been expressed as a noun and not a verb. 

Pinar (2015) states that curriculum as “verb emphasizes action, process, and experience, in contrast to the noun, which can convey completion” (p. 110). As art teachers, taking the concept of currere into account within your own practice, what would your art curriculum look like? What would it be like this semester for some of your projects to be centered around your students’ lived experiences and interests? Perhaps, elements of autobiography and storytelling? Will it be about infusing more of you into their lives? I encourage you to stop and ask your students—what are your goals and interests? What do you like about your experience here in the artroom and at school and what’s working and what’s not working?” Have more of you and your students’ voices be heard in the curatorial process as you make your next project, lesson, unit. Can you still hit the standards? What would happen if you found your and their truths? 


Thank you

I wanted to thank NAEA for hosting me and providing me the opportunity to write for the Monthly Mentor Blog for September. 

Please feel free to reach out to me if I can be of help to you to think through anything in your art education pursuits or practice. I wish you the best as we begin the fall season. Many good wishes and blessings.




Pinar, F. W. (2011). The Character of Curriculum Studies: Bildung, Currere, and the Recurring Question of the Subject. New York: Palgrave Macmillian.

Pinar, F. W. (2015). Educational experience as lived: Knowledge, history, and alterity. Routledge: New York.

Monday 09.23.19

Artist-As-Teacher Balance: Finding the Time to Create 

By Benjamin Tellie

I thought I would address the issue of the artist-as-teacher early in this week’s blog post for pre-service teachers, practitioners, and scholars to reflect upon for further discussion. These are two identities that are oftentimes separated in art education—the artist, who creates work in the studio setting and exhibits, and the art teacher, who resides in the classroom setting teaching art as a subject. I always hear how hard it is for art teachers to balance teaching with studio practice. I am also in this situation myself! Although, some do it magnificently while others might struggle with the balancing of the two. This can apply to any subject that is taught—music, language, history, math, and more. The question becomes how can teachers engage with their practice and feel connectivity while deeply engaging with the teaching of their subject. 

I believe staying connected to artistic practice as an art teacher can enhance student learning and inform curriculum to create meaningful experiences for students. Many art education programs throughout the United States prepare students as artist-teachers but it is often times hard for teachers to implement this model due to the demanding aspects of their teaching jobs (Graham & Zwirn, 2010). Ever since the mid-19th-century, authors have been thinking about the idea of “artist as a teacher” and bringing the knowledge of the artist into the world (The artist as teacher, 1855). For one example, artist-teacher refers to a philosophy of teaching where individuals incorporate their idiosyncratic talents, skills, and ways of being, as an artist, into their teaching practice (Daichendt, 2010). Artist-teachers construct meaning from lived experiences and information in the world around them by engaging with artistic practice (Freedman, 2003). The concept of practicing what you preach holds strong value. Being strongly connected to the practice of making art and teaching can develop our thinking in new ways—the ways in which we respond to our students’ needs and how we empower our students to grow as individuals in our society.

Many have conducted studies on the topic of artist-teacher and discuss the benefits of having both identities merge into one, that informs the other, to help contribute to student learning and curriculum (Ball, 1990; Graham, 2008; Hatfield, Mantana, & Deffenbaugh, 2006; Zwirn, 2002). Sullivan and Gu (2017) state that “there is a general acceptance that ‘thinking and doing’ embraces many learning modalities that not only instill competencies, but also build confidence, affirms individual and group identity, and generally develops capabilities for effective decision making” referring to artist-teachers (p. 55). In a qualitative phenomenological research study, Graham and Zwirn (2010) examine several practicing artist-teachers and discover their practice shows evidence of enhanced conversations and mentorship between teachers, students, and a studio environment for art-making. Evidence also suggests that “teachers who were engaged with the problems arising from their own artwork were sensitive to the artistic challenges of their students” (p. 223). Studio art-practice and teaching opens new doors and places for students to create new possibilities (Sullivan, 2010). The artist-teacher not only informs one another but strengthens the other. 

Here are some questions for thought: 

- How do you engage with your artistic practice throughout the year? How can you stay connected?
- What are some things that are holding you back? How might you make more time for yourself to make your own art?

Perhaps, through scholarship, making art with your students in the classroom, family art nights, carving out some time to make art at home on the weekends. There are many small and large things you can do to stay connected. Depending on how far you would like to take your art making and teaching. I would recommend finding what might work for you and scheduling that time for yourself, allowing yourself the time to create.  

- BT


Ball, L. (1990). What role: Artist or teacher? Art Education, 43(1), 54-59. 

Daichendt, G. (2010). Artist-teacher: a philosophy for creating and teaching. Bristol, UK: Intellect.

Graham, M. A., & Zwirn, G. S. (2010). How being a teaching artist can influence K-12 art education. Studies in Art Education, 51(3), 219-232.

Hatfield, C., Mantana, V., & Deffenbaugh, C. (2006). Artist/Art educator: Making sense of identity issues. Art Education, 59(3), 42-47.

Sullivan, G. (2010). Art practice as research: Inquiry in visual arts (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Sullivan, G., & Min, G. (2017). The possibilities of research-the promise of practice. Art Education, 70(2), 49-57.

The artist as teacher. (1855). The Crayon, 1(14), 209. 

Zwirn, S. (2002). To be or not to be: The teacher-artist conundrum (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.


Wednesday 09.18.19

VisAbility Art Lab, Rockville, MD

By Benjamin Tellie

Justin Valenti (see previous post) had a showing of his work at VisAbility Art Lab in Rockville, MD on August 30. This was an open studio night for VisAbility Art Lab Artists. According to their website, “The VisAbility Art Lab is a supported art studio for emerging adult artists with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities who have a strong interest in making art part of their professional careers.” VisAbility does a wonderful job setting up a safe and comfortable space that includes all artists no matter their disability. Artist’s are able to work comfortably at their own pace and rhythm, creating things of interest to them.

When I entered the Art Lab building, the scene was bursting with energy with many people and VisAbility Lab artists to talk to about their work. A young VisAbility Art Lab artist took me over to his work to show me what he had done. Ceramic cups surrounded by paintings of abstract forms and shapes that held a great deal of emotion and feeling. I was very impressed. I had the pleasure of seeing all of Justin’s wonderful work here and the work of many other artists. 

Here are some images of the show below.

Photo 1_Justin Valenti next to his artwork, Beagle Illustration, Digital Media, 2018.

Photo 2Visability Art Lab Gallery

Photo 3Various student artwork

Photo 4Various student artwork

Photo 5Various student artwork

To see more of Justin’s work and the work of other VisAbility Art Lab artists please visit:  VisAbility Art Lab Gallery

Need more information about teaching students with disabilities? Here are some of Justin’s picks: 


NAEA resources:

Disability Studies in Art Education (DSAE)

NAEA Position Statement on Art Educators with Disabilities

Successful Inclusion of Special Needs Students: Effective Mainstreaming for the Visual Arts Classroom

 - BT

Monday 09.16.19

Artist Justin Valenti 

By Benjamin Tellie

This week I would like to share a venture outside my school setting. I privately tutor adults and children on a case by case basis. More recently, I have been tutoring Justin Valenti, a 23-year-old artist living with autism in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I have worked with Justin for over three years, mentoring him on visual arts practices and portfolio development.

Watching Justin’s work evolve over the years has brought me great joy. Justin loves to work with painting, digital media, illustration, and animation. His style typically involves using 80’s iconography and symbols (e.g. airplanes, video game characters, people, cassette tapes, alarm clocks, food, drinks and more), superimposing those images onto optical backgrounds. The purpose of this process is to reimagine the object or person and place them into different contexts. Justin’s prolific work output and his curiosity about design have always amazed me. His work usually has bright and bold colors that can transport the viewer into a different space and time.

With Justin’s permission, I conducted a brief interview for the purpose of this post so he could share his story. 

BT: Can you tell me about how you got interested in the visual arts?

JV: I got interested in the visual arts when I was taking an art class in high school. I was taking Foundations of Art. I have been interested in art ever since.

BT: Who are your favorite artists that inspire you and your work today? 

JV: My favorite artists that inspire me and my work today are Peter Max and Vincent Van Gogh.

BT: Talk about one thing that is challenging for you and how you overcame it.

JV: My mental illness that I acquired at the end of 2015 has been challenging for me, but I have overcome it by participating in a day program and support group that helped me overcome my mental illness. I also keep busy with doing different activities. 

BT: What is the latest piece you are working on and why is it important to you? 

JV: My latest piece that I am working on is a fluid painting of the Maryland flag and this piece is important for me because Maryland is my favorite state.

BT: Your artwork was just on display at the Visibility Art Lab in Rockville, MD. Can you talk about this organization and how it’s helped you grow as an artist? 

JV: VisAbility Art Lab is a supported art studio for people who have disabilities. They have helped me grow as an artist in many ways. Since I joined VisAbility Art Lab in 2017, I have expanded my portfolio. In addition to creating digital artwork, I create other types of artwork such as acrylic paintings, ceramic pieces, fluid paintings, and work that involves mixed media. I also learned how to improve my digital artwork through VisAbility Art Lab. One of the staff members was very helpful to me. 

I included some of Justin’s architectural and landscape works and some optical iconography. 

To learn more about Justin and his work visit:



Photo 1_Tower of TerrorTower of Terror, Digital Media, 2019 

Photo 2_Grand CanyonGrand Canyon, Digital Media, 2018

Photo 3_Motorcycle DrawingMotorcycle Drawing, Digital Media, 2018

Photo 4_Optical AlarmOptical Alarm, Digital Media, 2019

Photo 5_80s Phone 80’s phone, Mixed Media, 2018

Wednesday 09.11.19

Insect Interventions (Part II)

By Benjamin Tellie

Figure 1_working on Hot HeadFigure 1, Student working on Hot Head

In Figure 1, a 6th-grade student used recycled vitamin bottles, film canisters, old clock parts, and a floppy disk to create his insect, Hot Head. Hot Head’s fangs can frighten and bite the bully, unleashing a venom to better enable the bullier to make fair decisions and treat people with respect. The metaphor of using body language and clear communication is displayed to let the bully know that their words hurt. 

Communication plays an important role in a bullying situation for adults who are intervening and for students. For students to stand up and say “I don’t feel comfortable with this” or “you’re hurting me and it’s not okay,” students begin to develop confidence and assertiveness. Being a bystander, a person who is passive, letting bullying actions play themselves out, will most likely worsen the situation. 

Figure 2_I-See-U BugFigure 2, I-See-U bug with process sketch

In Figure 2, a 7th-grade student created his I-See-U Bug, which has a large antenna to communicate with other bugs, strong legs for a speedy escape and a large eye on it’s back to be aware and sensitive of its surroundings. This student portrays the metaphor of being observant in bullying situations, proactive, and leaving a situation when needed with a calm outlook. 

Figure 3_Standaloo insectFigure 3, Standaloo insect with process sketch

Figure 3, a 7th-grade students’ Standaloo insect makes herself larger when confronted, has a protective shell, and let’s out a soft screech when in need of assistance. This student uses the metaphor of stability and having backbone, envisioning herself as a strong person. 


Through the process of drawing and playing with materials to create a concept insect, students imagine a world where they build outcomes and outfits for themselves in bullying situations. As an outfit for role-play through metaphor, the student's invented insect provides them with protective "armor" with which they are free to explore resolutions to conflicts in bullying situations. Students assign characteristics and personas to their insect to help make sense of difficult feelings and how to approach scenarios involving bullying. 

Incorporating empathy in art curriculums that deeply engage students through imaginative role-play, investigating materials and metaphor allows students to grapple and work through difficult topics like school violence, bullying, and behavioral problems. Enabling students to examine a topic like bullying, by developing their own characters, and working with role-play and discussion, relieves some tension and invites them to explore the topic in a more relaxed and creative mind set. 


Monday 09. 9.19

Insect Interventions

By Benjamin Tellie

As part of my pedagogical practice as an art educator, I have engaged my students in conversations and art making experiences that respond to difficult topics and difficult collective histories since I entered the teaching profession. I have since built upon my art curriculum to create various projects that include students’ voices and inner experiences as they respond visually to difficult topics and histories within their lifetime. Topics that include bullying, natural disasters, school gun violence, terrorism, to name a few. I welcome all conversation around this area if it interests you as I would like to know more about how art educators handle the many difficult issues and topics of our current time in the art classroom with your students.  

I am sharing a project I created several years ago that I use continually use with my middle school students that centers around the topic of bullying. I hope it might be useful or adaptable to your art teaching practice. 

Insect Interventions

I believe that students can examine bullying through studio projects that challenge norms, invite imaginative role play, and empower them to become change agents in their school communities. In contemporary school culture, the ways students bully has evolved by using technology and media to bully others. Roasting, for example, is the humiliation of someone either online or in person, through acts of verbal and emotional abuse. Roasting, cyberbullying, physical and social bullying are prevalent forms of bullying behaviors in American schools. Deepening students’ knowledge about bullying through the lens of creating, can be the beginning of a healing process for bullying victims, a learning experience for students, and an intervention for bulliers. 

Insect characteristics as metaphors   

In a studio project I bring to my middle school students, Insect Interventions, I asked my students to design their own insects, including characteristics that serve as metaphors to help themselves or someone else in a bullying situation. Students made an annotated insect sketch, including their insect’s name, habitat, 3-4 characteristics they have and how they are metaphors to solve specific bullying situations. They also built a three-dimensional model of their insect using recycled materials and objects.

I started the project by discussing our culture’s mainstream definition and viewpoints of bullying and cyberbullying. We discussed differences between peer conflict and bullying behaviors and why students might get bullied, investigating prevention methods and resources for the school environment. We turned to some great online resources including Bullying by the Numbers: A Breakdown of Bullying Statistics and Facts, by Michele Wheat of;;;; and  

Students also examined the artwork of Rafael Gómezbarros, Jennifer Angus, Chris Goodwin, Regina Silveira and characters of Pokémon Go. We explored how these artists use materials and media to create artwork about insects and characters, weaving in metaphor. Some questions for discussion were, “what might bullying mean to you? How would you prevent bullying behaviors at school? How do we take your solutions and ideas of being an upstander and make them into characteristics say for an insect?” Students learned that an upstander is a person who is proactive and takes a leading role to prevent, address, or stop bullying behavior when exposed (more to come in the next post). 


Friday 09. 6.19

Teamwork and Mentoring New Colleagues

By Benjamin Tellie

Beyond thinking about my goals and planning during the beginning of the school day, there is a tremendous amount of time and energy I spend with my colleagues at school on projects throughout the year. I make space in my day to pop in to my art department colleagues’ classrooms and try visit frequently throughout the week to touch base with them. I find this really helps me connect and see what everyone’s working on. 

In the beginning of the school year, developing professional relationships with new colleagues and maintaining ones you have at school is of great importance. This year, I’m mentoring a wonderful new Spanish teacher at our school. Through our time together during the course of the year, I will be mentoring him on many new topics specific to our school community—navigating our school culture, using software, communicating strategies with parents and students, and making sure he has everything he needs to be successful in the first few weeks and beyond. Even though we are in different discipline areas, we can still learn from one another.

For those mentoring new teachers, I would say the most important thing is about knowing when to give your mentee space to work on their own and check in with them at least once a week to plan and work on projects and tasks together as a team. These meetings are very beneficial. For example, grading work, writing up my communications with parents and sending out student updates is something I plan to work on while meeting with my mentee. We can learn from each other and get work accomplished at the same time. I also plan to work with him on arts integration during the year. 

Have you ever mentored a professional colleague outside your department? What was this experience like for you? What are some best practices you can share about mentoring new colleagues and how do you stay connected?


Wednesday 09. 4.19

Organizational Strategies Before Teaching Begins

By Benjamin Tellie

I try to be very cautious about logistics and budgeting my time for everything and everyone in my life. I'm not perfect. It’s easy to say “yes” to many projects at school and at the university, especially when they are exciting opportunities. I try hard and weigh what I could take on for my emotional well-being. I know myself and have found that practicing saying “no” or saying “let me get back to you on that” comes in handy.

I think about this idea when I arrive to school. During my 45 minutes in the morning before class begins, I go to my desk and make a handwritten to-do list at the start of the week of all the things that are on my mind that I need to do and things I want to think about before I say yes to. The process of writing by hand gets everything out of my head and physically onto a piece of paper. I try to organize: one row for home, work, graduate school and longer-term projects. I have also found an app called “To-Do” which is very useful for making lists. I’m always thinking ahead, months, or even years to imagine outcomes and where I want to be with certain goals relevant to different  topics—classwork for my doctoral program, my teaching coursework, a paper I would like to eventually publish, or curriculum that needs to be written. 

Budgeting my time at school in the morning is critical. If I set a timer on my phone, and say I’m going to answer work emails for 10 mins, the next 20 mins is for lesson planning, and so on, this helps me stay focused on completing tasks. It’s important for me to visualize one thing in my mind at a time to focus on the task at hand that is of the highest priority, complete it, and move to the next task. The is not an exact science, but I wanted to share my process because many of us art teachers balance family life, professional work, and even take classes on the side and/or engage in other gigs. Budgeting time is our job!

How do you keep it all together? I would love to hear more about what your organizational strategies are and how you manage your workload. Feel free to add some comments!

Blog post 2_Photo-BT

Monday 09. 2.19

Commuting to School

By Benjamin Tellie

For September’s blog posting, I am going to be writing about how I stay organized and on-top of my work at school, what I’m currently up to in my professional work life and reflect on some of my past art education experiences. I hope readers will enjoy these posts. I am an art teacher at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS) in Rockville, MD and a doctoral student at The George Washington University (GWU) in the Ed.D. Curriculum and Instruction program. It is my 10th year at CESJDS and my 3rd year at GWU.

My first topic of discussion is commuting to work. What can you do on your commute to school if it's a long one? Can you be productive or decompress? I live in Baltimore, Maryland, but commute to the DC Metro area each day, and have been doing so for a number of years now. The commute lasts an hour in the morning and anywhere from one to two hours on the way home, depending on traffic. I arrive to school at least 45 mins before my first class begins at 8:00 AM each day. The long commute and this time between my first class helps me get centered and ready for teaching.

The long drive is not an easy thing for many people. It took me some time to get used to it and what has helped is taking back-roads to avoid the main traffic on the highway, listening to positive music and audio books, talking to my parents and friends, and writing. Yes, writing! If I feel like writing, I'll write on my notepad app on my iPhone, through voice recognition, and edit later. This keeps the process hands-free. I could always pull over safely and start or stop a recording if needed. There are also many text-to-speech apps out there if you want to listen to a PDF of a research article for those of you in grad school who are balancing work. Try out Speechify.

I always try to set my intentions before my drive and make my commute work for me. Free free to leave comments about your commute to work and how you handle it. Any frustrations, tips, ideas?

Blog Post_Photo 1 Morning commute, Layhill Road, Aspen Hill, Maryland

Blog Post_Photo 2Google Maps, Driving Routes