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 02.28.20

Classroom Culture and Control

By Jaimee Taborda

As February draws to an end, I reflect on how the first few weeks of the new semester have gone in my Art Intro classes.  I think about the time that my students and I spent working together to build a classroom community and how different this is from the way I used to start each semester.

I believe that students cannot do their best work if they do not feel free to be who they are in the art room.  Creating this safe space isn’t something that just happens, but requires intentional work. 

In education circles, I have often been told that the key to success is “good classroom management”. In my first several years of teaching, this looked like having clearly defined rules with predetermined consequences. I would introduce my rules and then explain that if you break a rule once, you will get a verbal warning, second offense, a call home, etc.  I always found it challenging to actually follow through on my plans, but I thought this is what I needed to do in order to be a good teacher. My students needed to know that I was in charge because I was afraid that they wouldn’t be successful without my control.


Over the past few years, my thinking has shifted thanks in large part to the book, Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School by Carla Shalaby.  This book pushed my thinking regarding classroom management. Shalaby encourages educators to consider the WHY behind the behavior of students. She posits that the troublemakers in our classrooms are like the canary in a mine.

"The troublemakers are the caged canaries, children who are more sensitive than their peers to the toxic environment of the classroom that limits their freedom, clips their wings, and mutes their voices."

I began to wonder what would happen in my classroom if I didn’t exert my control. I questioned what causes some students to be more sensitive and to feel voiceless. What parts of my classroom expectations were toxic to these students?  What steps could I take to create a space that honors freedom? What does freedom even look like in schools? After reading Shalaby’s book, I was left with more questions than answers.

I knew I needed to make some changes in order to “practice freedom” in my classroom like Shalaby insists is necessary for ALL children to flourish.  This transition hasn’t always been easy. I remember speaking with my friend Lizzie Fortin last year as I tried to create a space where students had more ownership in the classroom and I released more control.  I shared the struggles I was having and my fear of being seen as not a good teacher. She asked me, “What would happen if other teachers thought I wasn’t doing a good job?”  I realized that I was focusing too much on what the adults in my building think about my teaching instead of what was best for the students.

My outlook on handling challenging students shifted towards curiosity versus discipline or punishment. I ask myself:

  • Why is this student refusing to do the work?
  • Why is this student wearing a hood in class?
  • Why is this student always on their phone?
  • Which activities tend to cause the most challenging behaviors?
  • Which students do I seem to have the most difficulty with? What patterns exist?

These questions have guided my work to cocreate freedom and community within my classroom. My mindset has shifted and I feel more comfortable with sharing responsibility with students and not needing to always be “in control.” Moving beyond pre-prescribed rules, the students and I collaborate to develop our own social contract that functions as a guide to what is expected in our space. My hope is that students in my classroom will feel empowered to be their authentic selves without fear of discrimination or ridicule and that this feeling will permeate their lives beyond the four walls of the classroom. 

Social Contracts - Google Docs


Welcome to Art Intro Presentation

Troublemakers Discussion Guide from Valeria Brown, #ClearTheAir

Checking Yourself for Bias in the Classroom from Teaching Tolerance


- JT

Friday 02.14.20

Art World Connections

By Jaimee Taborda

Most students enter the art room with a limited view of what constitutes “good” art.  Many believe they are bad at art simply because they are not skilled at drawing realistically, even though if you go to any contemporary museum of art, you will find a small number of pieces with a focus on realism. When I first transitioned to Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB), I knew exposing students to a range of contemporary artists was going to be important to improve creativity and expand their understanding of art worlds. Opening their eyes to the possibilities held by artmaking can help young artists discover their place in the art community. 

Connect Days  Art Studio  2019-2020  - Google Slides

Over the past couple of years, I have become more intentional with how I select which artists to share. Considering Rudine Sims Bishop’s article, Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors, I need to analyze which artists are being highlighted in my curriculum and which ones are missing. Last year at the Choice Pre-Conference at NAEA, I attended Caitlin Chan’s session on Globalizing Choice Art. She talked about the necessity of paying close attention to whose voices are amplified in our curriculum. If I wish to be inclusive, I must be deliberate with keeping records about which artists I am choosing so I can audit my list for areas that I am neglecting. (Here you can find my ever-evolving list of artists.) Another key takeaway from this session was adopting Chan’s genius idea of printing stickers of the artwork for students. On Connect Days when we start our lesson with art history, I have been using 2” x 4” labels with the artist’s name, nationality, date of birth and questions for consideration along with an image of the artwork. It is my hope that this sticker is not only a fun thing for the students, but also serves as a visual reminder of our class discussions that have opened up dialogue about different cultures and divergent ways of thinking.

Connect day notes

As an educator in a school that serves 79% White students, my responsibility to open windows to the beautifully diverse world of art remains steadfast.  It is vitally important that my White students don’t grow up thinking that only people who look like them can be successful as artists.  My White students see “mirrors” everywhere they go: on television, in movies, in the books they read in ELA, and in the history curriculum. Choosing artists that function as “windows and sliding glass doors” can “help us to understand each other better by helping change our attitudes towards difference” as Sims Bishop posits.  Art is powerful and we as art educators have the power to choose whose voice is heard.  How are you choosing which artists to amplify?

My favorite resources for learning about artists:

Art 21, Tate, Whitney Biennial, KQED Arts- also visiting museums in person.

Here are the links to this year’s Connect Day slides:

Art Studio/AP, Art Intro, Ceramics


Friday 02. 7.20

Unpacking Whiteness

By Jaimee Taborda

Over the past few years, I have begun the work of unpacking my Whiteness. This work is not easy and is never-ending, but it is necessary.  Steeped in White supremacy, the prevalent narrative in our society would have us believe that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are “lazy, unintelligent, violent and [have] unhealthy habits” as found in this 2018 study. The truth of the matter is that with 80% of the teaching force being White, White teachers are making decisions every day about their students from their deficit mindsets-- groomed by racist systems-- which lead to inequitable treatment for BIPOC. As a White, cis-hetero woman, I am part of the dominant culture and have to intentionally work to see areas where I perpetuate racism. To be an effective educator for ALL students, I must work to disrupt these systems-- and the work has to start with me.

As we enter Black History Month, I have been reflecting on my role as a White educator and what actions I need to take to disrupt the systems that oppress and target certain students based on the color of their skin. Some steps I need to take: listen to BIPOC, decenter myself in discussions about racism, and amplify the voices of BIPOC, as well as continue the work of dismantling the racism that resides within me. This article from Teaching Tolerance, You and White Supremacy: A Challenge to Educators, shares the work of Layla F. Saad, who in 2018 led a #MeAndWhiteSupremacy challenge on Instagram to invite White people to do the work of acknowledging their privilege and biases. She challenged, “White folks: [It’s] time for some radical truth-telling about you and your complicity in White supremacy. Not those White people ‘out there.’ Not White people as a collective. But you. Just you.”  This “personal anti-racism tool” has been expanded and published as a workbook, Me and White Supremacy. White educators, will you join me in Saad’s challenge to “explore and unpack your relationship to White supremacy”? 

Me and white supremacy

Additional resources:

These people/hashtags have taught me so much. Follow them on Twitter, then listen: Lizzie Fortin, Valeria Brown, #ClearTheAir, #DisruptTexts, Tricia Ebarvia, Kelly Wickham Hurst, shea martin, Julia E. Torres, Lorena German, Christie Nold, Ursula Wolfe-Rocca, Alex Shevrin Venet, Rebecca Nagle, and so many more...

Podcasts: SceneOnRadio Seeing White series, This is My Land, Teaching Hard History

Any books recommended by Clear the Air such as: Where Do We Go From Here by Martin Luther King Jr., A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis, Troublemakers by Carla Shalaby

More books: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Also, anything in this book stack is highly recommended:

Book stack


Monday 02. 3.20

My Journey to TAB

By Jaimee Taborda

Reflecting back on my last thirteen years as an art educator, I can see the evolution of my educational philosophy over the years. If you were to tell my younger self about the structure of my classroom today, I wouldn’t have believed you. Having a firm foundation in a traditional art background, I always believed that a student artist must "learn to walk before they can run." For my beginner art students, this meant a heavy focus on the basics, especially drawing and shading, through a series of teacher-directed projects. The problem with this approach was that if they weren't interested in the assignments I provided, it oftentimes turned students off to art. I spent a lot of time crafting my lessons to find just the right fit, but still, many students were not interested in doing my projects.

My Classroom

In the spring of 2016, I had the pleasure of welcoming a student-teacher into my classroom for the first time. This experience allowed me the opportunity to tackle a series of paintings I had been thinking about for years. I set myself up in a corner of the classroom and worked alongside the students. As I reflected on my own artistic process, I realized that I was not providing my Art I students in particular with an authentic art-making experience.  I was doing the creative heavy-lifting instead of allowing them to make decisions about what type of art they wanted to make. Now don't get me wrong, there are still a set of skills that students need to learn, but I have come to believe that this can happen in a more student-led way. If a student is interested in making art related to one of their passions, won't they be more receptive to lessons on perspective or facial proportions?

This belief has led me to implement a choice-based approach in my classroom. Since shifting my focus to Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) four years ago, my whole mindset about teaching art has changed. My ultimate goal for students today is that they will grow to appreciate and understand the power of art. I want students to be able to solve problems, generate their own ideas, and create work with personal meaning. I want them to find their place in the art world, even if eventually that place is as a consumer of art and not a maker. I want students to discover their own interests, which could be sculpting or knitting or advertising or painting. I want to help students broaden their definition of art and embrace their own talents while still stretching and exploring new possibilities. These are the things I see happening in my TAB classroom every day. It is magical.

Inspiration Station
Want to learn more about TAB? Check out the TAB website here-

Want a deeper look into my classroom? Check out my own website here-