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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« Looking to Next Year and Beyond...a Fresh Start | Main | Looking to Next Year and Beyond...Planning, Planning, Personal Choice »

April 02, 2020

Looking to Next Year and Beyond….Building Climate

By Matt Young

Here is my suggestion for the first couple of weeks next school year, don’t start any projects for a week if not two.  Yes, I said do not do any projects for at least a week!  Now, half of you just stopped reading this and the other half are going to continue reading to find out how crazy we are to not do any projects for the first couple of weeks of school.  For those of you have stuck with me I am going to speak to the importance of building CLIMATE in your classroom. To be clear, I am not talking about going over the rules or reading your sylabus out loud, I am talking about creating an experience for students, setting expectations, exploring creativity, and showing students you are a human being and not just a “teacher”.

So, how does this work?  Day one, do an activity that captures their interest.  We do an activity called clocks. Each teacher in our department does this a little differently but the idea is the same.  Print off a blank clock on one side of a piece of paper. We ask the students to write down their name, large, on the back of the  clock paper, as creatively as they can in 15 minutes. We have a brief chat on what they consider creative and then get right to drawing.  This goes for 3D classes to photography; beginner to AP. 

This will let you, the teacher, know their level of skill and interest in following directions.  Yes, this is a test, but they do not know that.  We then ask them to write down some answers to simple questions in the four corners around their name: What is your favorite food or strangest food you’ve ever eaten, favorite type of art, your best skill, something you struggle with, a place you would like to visit, your favorite movie/book, etc.? The idea is to have four questions that are safe, but will help to spark some connections with other students.

Have the students walk around the room quietly and look at everyone’s name and answers, NO TALKING!  If they see someone they would like to talk with, they exchange names on the clock on the back until all the hours have been filled with “appointments”.  (For example, they would each sign their names on 3 o’clock.) I then call out a number randomly and two students that have made an appointment for that time sit together and talk.  I provide 3 things for them to talk about, one person talks and the other listens, no judgements. This exercise lasts for a couple days and many students say this is one of their favorite parts of the class, just sitting down and having a one on one conversation.

This is also the time to introduce yourself to the students. Since I’m giving them topics to talk about in their clock meetings, I tell the entire class MY answers to those questions so they can get to know me. Build in questions that will allow you to introduce yourself to your students. My favorite is, ‘What is the best thing about school?’ I tell them the best thing about school for me is the students, and then talk a bit about why I became a teacher. And with that, you now have a class who knows you care about THEM!

Now you are on day three….still no syllabus discussion yet.  Here is where you need to provide a challenge to them that allows for them to work in teams, create a little art, and work toward a prize (food, extra credit, etc).  One of the challenges I do in beginning 3D is to divide them into teams of 2-4 students.  Each team gets an equal bundle of spaghetti, marshmallows, and drawing paper. They are tasked with creating the most “artistic” sculpture that also has height, but height alone is not the winner, artistry has to be in play. They get a day to plan (drawing paper) and 2-3 days to build.  We also have a class discussion about the art elements and principles of design.  Depending on the class we also do win, lose, or draw, photo scavenger hunts, and build what's in the bag. This is also a test to see who are leaders and who are followers.  These challenges prove very useful in that most of the time when they are complete, teams choose to stay together and seating charts are not needed for the rest of the semester.

Day you can go over your syllabus and class rules. What you will find is that in a matter of days your students now feel more relaxed with both you and each other. They are not as nervous, they’ve made some friends, they know you care, and you’ve established that your class is fun and safe. They will be more productive, take more chances, and you’ll have less disruptions...or you can just skip this and do roll call. :)




Your kids will be hooked already and looking forward to their next challenge.





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