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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« ART BUCKET LIST | Main | Holding Space for the Processing the Changes We’ve Experienced, Part 2 »

September 01, 2020

Holding Space for Processing the Changes We’ve Experienced, Part 1

By Noël Bella Merriam

As the 2020 school year begins, I find myself reflecting on the two decades I spent as a K-8 art instructor and teaching artist-poet in Texas schools.  I transitioned into museum education six years ago, and from time to time, I become nostalgic for those days of joyful creativity with art students – usually when boxes of art supplies are unpacked at the museum or when I recall setting up my classroom for the beginning of school.  However, as the summer of 2020 unfolded and the pandemic continued, I’ve watched art educators I know in San Antonio and across the country become increasingly anxious as they tried to prepare for the uncertainty of the upcoming school year. 

I am overwhelmed with admiration for the Herculean efforts each educator I know is putting into the safety and creative art instruction of their students in these difficult circumstances.  As it became evident that we would be dealing with the pandemic well into the new school year, I knew the art educators in my community would be returning to very challenging environments that still incorporated online learning.  I collaborated with our museum’s Teacher and School Programs Manager, Carrie Avery, to develop our first online Summer Teacher Institute, The Importance of Art: Creating Community and Culture During Covid-19. 

Our goal was to provide art educators in our community with tool kits for online teaching through sessions on building virtual bitmoji art rooms and making step-by-step art demo videos.  We had keynotes speakers address the role of art in our communities during COVID-19 and the importance of this summer’s protests and focus on the Black Lives Matter movement.  We knew these were essential conversations to have with each other.

One of the most valuable components of our online Summer Teacher Institute was lunchtime, when we made space for processing and sharing what art educators were experiencing. Participation was optional, and everyone could spend as much or as little time in this space as they wanted. These open-ended sharing sessions validated what participating art educators were feeling in that moment.  Each day, I saw the supportive community and dialogue that I had feared might be missing from an online Summer Teacher Institute blossom.  At the end of the week, our attendees felt centered, more prepared for the upcoming year, and connected with each other. 

I’d like to share two self-care exercises for you and your students from SAMA’s 2020 Summer Teacher Institute facilitator Joyous Windrider Jiménez.  I’ll be interviewing Joy in my next blog post.

Centering Our Awareness:

1. Awareness of Breath:Become aware of what is happening to your breath (Are you breathing?). Instead of trying to control it, let it adjust naturally.

2. Awareness of Body:Become aware of your body in space. Where does it touch other objects (chair, floor, clothes, hand on leg, etc)? Do you feel tension anywhere? Can you choose to relax those places?

3. Orienting to Environment:Turn your head to whichever side and find a spot in the room your head/eyes naturally want to rest on. Move your gaze naturally through the room. Use your eyes like a finger, caressing the lines and shapes of your environment. Take your time with this. (Orienting to our environment is something we naturally do in nature.)

Calming our Anxiety:

1. Containment: Dominant hand under arm, non-dominant hand on upper arm.
2. Tenderness: Hand over heart, feel tenderness flowing from hand to heart.
3. Safe Place: Where is your safe place? Use your imagination to visualize and connect.

I wish you all a safe and creative school year, filled with moments of self-care for you and those in your life.  Be gentle with yourself and your students as we move forward together into the future.

-NBM

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