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 12.23.19

Inquiry In The Art Room

By Jen Holsinger-Raybourn

Over the last several posts I have shared with you things that I am grateful for in and out of the classroom and today I’d like to talk to you about teaching inquiry based arts. I’m lucky enough to teach in a Primary Years Programme visual arts, this is the elementary branch of International Baccalaureate.  

IB defines PYP as designed “for children aged 3 - 12, nurtures and develops young students as caring, active participants in a lifelong journey of learning.”

This pedagogy is centered around learning driven by student inquiry and investigation that promotes curiosity in learners, creativity when problem solving and a level of student ownership of learning I have not experienced previously. It’s important to understand that altering your thinking to teach in a more inquiry-based way is possible with any teaching model.  This post is not designed just for IB teachers!

Although there are lots of inquiry cycles to explore, they all loosely resemble a process of asking questions, researching/exploring, processing  that information, applying new learning and finally reflecting on that learning to ask new questions to start the process again. 

Teaching in an inquiry-based way can be as simple as adapting a lesson on color mixing to explore the color wheel first. Ask your students for wonderings and questions about how and why the colors are organized in the circle. Next I allow my students to mix colors just to “see what happens”. I know there are teachers out there cringing about the cost and waste of this paint, but I assure you the value of this experience is worth every penny! My students have learned through their own personal experience that red and yellow make orange and not just because I told them that’s what will happen. Also they have a further understanding that a little bit of yellow will make a darker reddish orange a lot of yellow will make something closer to mac and cheese. Still in a panic about wasted supplies and time, this about using this time to make textured collage paper (think Eric Carle-like) for a future project. Now that students have had time to explore and form some of their own knowledge and questions about color, it’s the perfect time for all of our favorite books which I would have previously used for the lesson introduction. Now these books will deepen understanding, scaffold learning and provoke further wonderings to explore.

Thanks for spending a few minutes of your winter break with me. Until next time,



Want to dig deeper into inquiry based learning, I highly recommend the books listed below

The Power of Inquiry by Kath Murdoch

The Inquiry Mindset and Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor Mackenzie with Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt

Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart

A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger


Want to learn more about International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme

check out this link:


Wednesday 12.11.19

Collaboration In Your Community

By Jen Holsinger-Raybourn

Last week we talked about gratitude, so I wanted to share with you one of the reasons I’m grateful for my city. Austin, Texas a very innovative, creative city filled with practicing artists that inspire me and my students daily.  While Austin is known for its music scene “Live Music Capital of the World”, I assure you that the visual arts are thriving here as well. One of my favorite things about Austin is that it embodies a Renaissance spirit. I often meet musicians who are also visual artists, sculptors who dabble in performance art and so much more. Austin is home to many collectives for creative people that inspire collaboration and media mash ups.

This feeling of community opens doors of collaboration to my students as well. I’m grateful that every time I’ve reached out to a local artist the answer has always been a positive “How can I help?”. 

It’s important to understand that each artist will set some parameters on how much time they can offer and how they would like to participate. Overtime I’ve learned to reach out to a potential partner first to let them know that my students and I are inspired by their work. I share what we are hoping to do in our classroom and ask if they’d like to be a part of our plan. This allows the artist complete control of how they contribute to the project. In Austin lots of our local artists have nine to five jobs or very full schedules, it’s important to leave the possibilities for the collaboration open.

We have had artist collaborators visit our school, Skype or Google Hangout with a class, answer questions from students like a penpal via email, contribute prompts or artwork to respond to and even come make an installation with us! 

The learning experiences of my students are vastly improved by interacting with working artists in our community and in this day and age the reaches of  your community are really only limited by bandwidth! I hope that this week you consider reaching out to a local artist you see displayed in a local coffee shop, in a local museum or even someone you find via social media.

Want to learn more about the local art scene in Austin? Here are JUST A FEW organizations to check out:

East Austin Studio Tour - Big Medium

ATX Art Girls

Austin West Studio Tour - Big Medium

Art of Austin -

Art Alliance Austin -

Women and Their Work -

Canopy -

Until next time,

- J.H.R.

Monday 12. 2.19

Keeping the Gratitude Going

By Jen Holsinger-Raybourn   

Amidst a season of giving; gifts, your time, creating, and capturing moments it is important to continue to take the time to reflect on why these gestures are significant. Research has shown that practicing gratitude can improve overall happiness, sleep, focus, and so much more.  In an experiment for NAEA’s School for Art Leaders a few years ago I started investigating self care, including a gratitude practice. 

Prac·tice /ˈpraktəs/  verb
perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one's proficiency (Ex "I need to practice my French")

I strive to maintain a gratitude practice because I have learned that it helps keep me more present in my day to day life in and out of my classroom.  As teachers we encourage our students to practice for improvement, to adopt an attitude of practice makes progress. This philosophy allows us to continue to grow without the pressure of perfection, which we all know is unattainable, looming overhead.  Over time I have found a few different ways to practice gratitude that work for me. These exercises can be accomplished in a minute or two or you can dig deeper if time permits.

  • Gratitude List - take a few minutes to jot down ten things you are grateful for, not enough time for ten try five, three or even the one. I like to place this list in a place where I will see it throughout the day.

  • Gratitude Journaling - sit down with your journal, set an alarm if time is short and write freely about things you are thankful for, I think you will be surprised how quickly the time passes and the page fills.

  • Meditative Gratitude - center your practice on the thing you would most like to give thanks for today.

  • Express Your Gratitude - could be to a stranger on the street who opened the door for you, a colleague, or a loved one. Take a moment to let them know why you are grateful for them, try to be specific. It could be a quick talk in person, text message, a phone call or you could scribble a quick note or artwork placed where they will see it or pop it in the mail.

I challenge you today to try one of the gratitude practices listed above and think about how it made you feel, how it helped you interact with your community, build relationships or how it helped you be a better teacher or leader today.

Thank you for spending a few minutes reflecting and growing your teaching practice, until next time.

- J.H.R

To go deeper, check out this podcast from The Creativity Department about how to infuse the idea of Gratitude in the classroom as well as personally.