Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Knowing you're just as important as everyone else

Earlier this month, an article was shared that reminded me of what I had posted in my first blog…that the arts in education are still fighting to stay alive.  This paragraph caught my attention while reading:

“A fine arts education — including music, theater, drawing, painting, or sculpture — whether in practice or theory, has been a part of any well-rounded curriculum for decades — but that may be changing. Many schools today are cutting back or eliminating their art programs due to budget constraints. It is estimated that by the end of this year, more than 25% of public high schools will have completely dismantled them. These stats aren’t just bad news for teachers working in the arts. Numerous studies done over the past decade have demonstrated the amazing benefits of such an integral education facet. Students who don’t have access to art classes may not only miss out on a key creative outlet, but might also face greater difficulty mastering core subjects, higher dropout rates and more disciplinary problems.” (from online college’s 10 Salient Studies of the Arts in Education.)

When I look at the news about the arts being removed from more school districts every day, I stop to think about the fact that I not only have a job teaching what I love, but that my students are receiving a well-rounded education.  Travelling and cart pushing are two very tricky challenges to overcome, but when you look at the bigger picture, you are helping provide a creative environment for your students and training the next batch of right-brained thinkers.

You are important.  You help shape the creative element of your school.  You bring every inch of art history, culture, and design to your students through your curriculum.  You overcome your obstacles, reflect on your practice, and become a better teacher in the process.

Has someone complained about your cart being in the hallway?  Don’t worry about it.  You have what you need to educate the students in the arts, and you’re not in the way.

Someone complain about your space, or a little bit of mess left behind from paint?  No one’s perfect.  Be glad you are able to provide the students with that little bit of mess.

Did you forget something at another school?  Subside that frustration and be happy that you care to make sure your students receive everything they need for that lesson (and send an email to the teachers asking if they have the material you need…which I had to do today).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Where do you go when you need help?

In education, we are always learning while we’re teaching.  We search for the resources we need to have a complete lesson unit, or find ways to adapt our lessons in challenging situations.   There are multiple resources available in art education to help with what we need, yet when it comes to travelling to multiple schools or pushing a cart, those resources are trickier to find.  In most cases, it’s learning by doing.

If you find you’re in a situation with the travelling and need additional guidance, don’t hesitate to look for help.  Within your district, you may not be the only one in your situation.  Talk with those who travel and ask the questions needed to find solutions to those challenges.

 In the beginning, a mentor is a wonderful resource, and one you can turn to, even after your first years of teaching.   Even when you get the hang of pushing that cart, you may still need to ask questions a few years down the road.

While researching others who document their challenges and successes with travelling and teaching from cart, I have found some wonderful resources and educators who share their stories…some of which have even shared as a monthly mentor.  I would like to share some links with you that may help with finding others in your situation:

Back in March of 2009, Linda Devlin posted some advice about being on a cart.  The following link will lead you to her blog:

In December 2010, Melissa Schaefer (NAEA’s current Student Chapter President-Elect) shared her insight as a first year teacher on a cart.  You can read her advice here:

Another wonderful resource is by Becca Swanson, who posted a list of tips from a veteran art teacher on a cart here:

Blogs are a wonderful way to follow challenges and successes with fellow art teachers.  While following a blog, you can receive updates on recent posts, comment on stories, and even gain some ideas in creating your own blog for future art educators.

The Art Teacher Blog Directory contains over 160 blogs focused on art education and lessons in the classroom.  Some blogs attached do focus on teaching from a cart or adapting lessons:

The Art Teacher Cookbook is another great resource of gathered ideas and materials for creating a curriculum:

The Creative Flamingo is another resource from an early professional perspective.  Many post focus on the extra duties on top of designing your curriculum!

We all have moments when we need to find help…with lesson ideas, classroom management, organization, or just finding an extra hand.  At times, you may feel that you’re alone…the fact is that you’re not.  Many teachers are in the same situation and are willing to offer advice to help you.  Just ask, and you will receive.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Being an Advocate while Traveling

If you’re travelling or stationary, you are one of the advocates for the arts in your school district…even if you feel tired and sluggish after a day of pushing the cart.  There are many ways to promote art within your school, and I would like to offer a few ideas to help promote creative thinking with your students, co-workers, community.  Even if your load feels full, you can still promote your curriculum in many ways.

Cross-Curricular Lessons

When you can fit it into your curriculum, it’s a wonderful partnership when you combine lessons with another teacher.  In doing so, you are re-enforcing the objectives of the lesson, and students have fun in the process.  One example of a cross-curricular lesson was with a 2nd grade class.  The school’s reading night’s theme was “oceans,” and the students were learning about ocean life prior to the special night.  

During the study of ocean life, I introduced different kinds of fish to the students and had them create different types of fish that were made 3-dimensional.  When finished, the fish decorated the gym while students and parents enjoyed the ocean life decorations during reading night.  

Another way to combine lessons is to create lessons inspired by the social studies curriculum.  Prehistoric, Egyptian, Greek, and Renaissance history provide a rich amount of knowledge for the students in the general and creative environment.

Share your Professional Development with the Administration:

If you’ve recently attended a state or national conference, try to squeeze in writing a report about what you visited and what you plan to include into your curriculum.  In doing so, you are showing your willingness to improve your methods of teaching, as well as staying on top of recent trends in art education.  As an overachiever, I knew that I would be busy once I returned from the Seattle conference early this year, so I typed a report on the plane!  Everyone has their own way of documenting their conference experiences.  Another way to share your recent adventures is by creating new lessons to share with the students, and adapting your lessons to your travelling or cart situation. 
Promote the Arts with Parents and Guardians  

This can be tricky, especially when you’re not at the same school every day.  I like to begin the school year by creating a “wishlist” of items parents and guardians can donate from home.  Each homeroom teacher has their own list, but not every school has a supply list for art.  In my wishlist, I request simple things I overuse, such as paper plates, handiwipes, and newspaper.  Throughout the school year, I can receive items from parents, and it’s been a HUGE help.  

During open house time, I also created a flier that can be given to parents at all three school.  Within the flier, I give an introduction to myself, the art curriculum, and Eisner’s “Top 10 List” of what the arts teach.  Every year, more and more parents come into the art room to say hello and visit the displays, and more compliments are given from the schools I travel to.   

Another way to promote the arts with parents is by inviting them to your space.  If you have any after school art activities, throw a mini art show for an hour after school.  It’s easy to set up, quick to take down, and parents love the visit!

Ways to Amaze the Community

Are there local businesses that would love to display student work?  How about the village hall?  With networking, you can easily stop by a local business to create a little display of student work for the community.

During the school district board meetings, ask if you can display your student’s work.  The meetings are public, and attendees love to see the student work!  It’s also another boost of recognition by the board members.

Make room in your curriculum for local art contests.  In doing so, you are sharing your student’s talents with the community!

Everything above requires a little extra work, but it’s well worth it in the end.  As previously noted in pros and cons, the more work that’s displayed by your students, the more the community recognize the hard work that you do.   

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Painting, Drawing, and Sculpture...Oh My!

The trick to travelling is knowing what materials to use for your lessons, and how to carry them around or store then with little space.   Here are a few tips that I picked up on with the three dominant materials I use in my curriculum.


Some rooms I travel to have sinks…I love it.  I can choose student helpers to fill the water bowls, wash brushes, and collect painting materials.  Having a sink in a classroom is a blessing when travelling from room to room, but not all rooms have a sink. 

My 6th grade students are amazing with filling bowls of water in the bathroom and taking bowls and brushes back after class to wash.  But when it comes to younger grades, it may be best to work with what’s in the room. 

If you have a separate cart to work with, load it with a pail for used water, smaller pail for dirty brushes, newspapers, brushes, water jug, paper towels, plastic bowls, and palettes of your choice (I prefer paper plates, which are easier to toss).  Also, load the paint you plan on using…tempura, acrylic, watercolor, or tempura cakes are the more common elementary paints.    If you are able to acquire a cart for this purpose, leave it right outside of the classroom for easy transport. 

I have a separate drying rack on wheels to transport from room to room.  During class time, I leave it outside of the rooms for mobility, but during clean up I push it in to allow students to place their paintings during clean up.

When passing out the materials, choose your helpers with passing out brushes, paper towels, and newspaper.  While the helpers are passing out, set up your paint palette and pour your water cups.  You can also choose more helpers to pass out the paint and water once you’re done setting up.

Cleaning up can also be orderly if planned out.  Depending on the way the tables are set up on the classroom, you can choose more helpers to collect the water, dump the used water in the pail, and use paper towels to wipe out the cups.  Other helpers can collect the used brushes and place them in the dirty brush pail.  The individual students can wipe down their own desks with the paper towels or baby wipes.  While the students are cleaning up, you can call the students’ names individually to bring their paintings to you for the drying rack or drying table.  If you have a class of good listeners, this works like a charm.  If you know the students will take a little longer with clean up, plan a little extra time and work on training them to be “quick, quiet, and clean” during the clean up process.  “Quick, quiet, and clean” is a cool tool phrase used for students to stay on task with cleaning up in their classrooms at a few of my schools.


Drawing materials are easier to work with when travelling.  Every time I push the cart, I have a box of markers, crayons, and some colored pencils for students to use.  The projects are also simpler to prepare, set up, and collect once finished.

One trick I found that was simple was to create many projects in the same size.   I pre-cut most of my white or manila paper the same exact size, and store it in a box top on my cart. 

 I collect copy paper box lids to hold materials, and they store plenty of items for projects, such as colored paper scraps, handouts, random craft materials, and more.  Once a project is complete, I store the box top on a shelf, label it for the following year, and when you need it again, you have some pre-made materials ready!

The schools I travel to already require students to have their own pencils, markers/crayons, erasers, scissors and glue.  Don’t assume that all students will have these since items can get lost.  Make sure you have some additional materials to help students who do not have the items you require for the project.  

Other drawing materials, such as charcoal, pastels, or special colored pencils are items you supply.  I requested donations of plastic containers in the beginning of the school year, and they are great for storing materials when travelling from room to room. 

When creating colored paper projects, I found it difficult at first to provide the colored paper for all classrooms.  I found it easier to create a box top of each colored paper to use, which helps save scraps, and can stay in the hallway lined along the wall.  When passing out materials, I call a few students at a time to collect the colors they need in the hallway, and during clean up, I have helpers separate the scraps before I push the boxes to the next classroom door.


Three-dimensional materials are the trickiest to work with on a cart, and in some cases, I hear that teacher give up on sculpture projects, saying it’s too much of a hassle.  It is possible to still incorporate sculpture! 
Before I start a sculpture project, I inform the homeroom teacher and plan a space to keep the student work during the week.  In most cases, I store plastic bins on top of storage closets or shelves, which keeps projects out of student reach.

I’ve been lucky with a kiln to share with the junior high at my home base school, but I do not have the capability to take ceramic clay from one school to the other.  Instead, I order air-dry clay for ceramic-like projects, such as coil pottery and slab.  The students are still learning the process, and you don’t have to carry items in your car to the kiln.

With air dry clay, be cautious with how the projects are put together.  Make sure students use the slip/score process, or when the items dry out, they will fall apart.  I always have a back-up plan of using a hot glue gun to fix student projects the following week.

Another sculpture material that’s great to use is soft air dry clay, such as Crayola model magic or Amaco’s air-dry clay.  The clay is softer to use, fun to play with, and so many ideas can be created from the clay.  Although there are many colors to order, you may not be able to squeeze it into your budget.  I like to order plain white, which gives the students a chance to use markers or paint to complete their sculptures.

Now that I teach higher grades on a cart, I get to plan how to distribute more advanced materials…scratchboards, metal embossing, printmaking materials, and more.  My question to you is:  How do you handle your materials while travelling?  Everyone has their preferred method!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Including Technology in a Tricky Situation

In this day and age, it is essential to include technology in student’s education.  We now live in a world with iphones, video games, laptops, ipods, and many other items the students know and use every day.  In my first year of teaching, I was unaware of how to even attempt to include technology with juggling the travelling and time.  With research and teamwork, I found ways to include technology within my curriculum.

When pushing a cart, the last thing on your mind may be to push a laptop/projector cart from room to room.  As hard as it may be, it’s best to try and find some way to include technology, even on top of everything you push around.

Let’s explore some ideas that may assist you in using technology.  If you have ways to share, please add them to the comments!  There’s an unending list of ways to include teaching in this digital age, and I’m just an elementary perspective.

If your school has a computer/wireless lab, check out the schedule with the homeroom classes.  See if there is open space for you to squeeze in a class or two.  This will help some of your classes in using the computers for your own lessons, including art-based websites, or creative programs (such as Adobe and Crayola Art Studio to name a few).

If your school has a mobile wireless cart, reserve it in advance!  The cart is available to all staff in the school, which includes the specials classes.  Similar to the computer lab, you can use the laptops for your art lessons within your own art space.

Speaking of laptops, I acquired a laptop/projector cart at my schools to use with my curriculum, and it’s been amazing.  Previous to having the laptop, I had to use printed 8” x 10” images I found from the computer to introduce lessons (if I didn’t have the full poster print).  Students could barely see it, even if I printed an image for each table.  With the projector, I capture the students’ attention with Power Points, interactive art websites, and videos to introduce lessons.  It’s an extra cart to push, but well worth it.  When pushing the cart from room to room, check where the plugs are at in the classroom in the beginning of the school year, and communicate with the homeroom teacher about when you plan on using your projector.  You may get lucky and the homeroom teacher may have their own laptop/projector set for you to use!

On the topic with Power Points…there are many days that I find getting a wireless connection with a roaming (travelling) school profile just doesn’t work.  That’s where thumb drives come in, and they have been a huge help in tricky situations.  Everything is saved on a thumb drive, and it can go with you everywhere.  Just don’t forget it plugged in at one school when you’re at the next…or you’ll be yelling at yourself when you’re getting back in your car to get it like I do.

Throughout the year, I am always squeezing in pictures of student work and progress for displays.  If you are able to acquire a digital camera through your supply orders or a grant, it has been most helpful, even with documenting for the national board certification.  I’ve been able to send digital photos to the contacts for press releases, school website, and plenty of other uses with pictures.  Make sure that you have the parents’ permission before using photographs or videos.

Does your district offer technology-based professional development?  Here’s a nice idea:  offer to present a technology hour on art-based websites or programs for your co-workers.  This will help open your colleagues to more ways to include the arts within their own classroom, and you may even find ways to co-teach lessons during the school year.

There are also plenty of projects you can plan involving digital cameras, printers, and video, especially with after school projects.  For one project, I created a lesson inspired by the artist who is known for photographing everyday items we use in humorous situations.  My students created their own sculptures, then photographed them posed in comical situations (such as a television yelling at a chair to more).  In our junior high, the art teacher also collaborated with the technology department in making clay-animation videos.  If you don’t have a classroom, you can still acquire a camera and create an after school art class to create clay-animation projects.

I could continue the list of technology for many pages, but the main point is…it is possible to include technology while travelling.  If you have your own ways to include technology, I invite you to share your ideas within the comments.  After all, we need to incorporate 21st century learning skills, and technology is an essential with educating the future of the 21st century.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Knowing your Schedule and Expectations

All teachers have a strict schedule to follow with little room for flexibility.  It’s especially tricky when balancing your time moving from room to room, especially when you’re juggling materials throughout the day.  Every school district has expectations and guidelines for their teachers to abide, and as travelers, you’re expected to do the same.  In many cases, expectations are one of the causes of teacher burn-out. 

Your Schedule

Another challenge is your schedule, which changes from year to year.  In the beginning, you receive the schedule and start your planning for the day.  It can take a few weeks, but you soon have that schedule memorized and timed perfectly.  Planning lessons within your schedule can be another challenge.

If you have a schedule with all grade levels throughout the day (a good example would be mine this year, which is 7 classes, grades K-6 all in a row), your biggest challenge is materials, and this goes with classroom and school.  You need to create examples for all 7 grade levels (unless you’re K-8, and you have 9), design lesson ideas for all grades each day, and figure your materials for each grade level…each day.  By the end of the work day, you want to drop...or cry. 

To help improve your schedule, try your best to plan lessons that require the same materials.  This idea can help you with the heavy cart.  For example, if you have cutting/pasting projects and need bins of colored paper scraps, plan the appropriate lessons at the same time.  I keep my bins of colored paper in the hallway, and just slide them from room to room during the day.  There will be overlapping of projects since some grade levels take longer than others, but it helps save you from a heavy cart load.

Some schedules are planned with back to back grade levels (for example, K, K, 1, 1, etc…).  These schedules are amazing because you may be preparing for many students, but you’re preparing for fewer projects.  I found more flexibility with this type of schedule, but like everything in life, nothing stays the same.  You will always be adapting to what the school’s needs are at the time.

When you do get your schedule in the beginning of the year, there will also be fine tuning involved.  If you’re on a cart, you need that time between classes to move from room to room (and grab that one item you forgot for a future class!).  If you find a conflict, discuss it with the teacher at the time, and plan any minute changes needed to make both teachers comfortable with their schedules. 

Another issue that you may come across is when duty calls.  If you have a lunch duty or T.S.P.E. duty immediately after a class, you may not make it on time.  Inform the administrator about the issue, or talk with your duty team about times when you may need to take down, clean up, or wash brushes.  Morning and afternoon observations can also cut into your set-up and take-down time.  Be sure to get to your workplace with time to prepare for this.

In the end, you will have your schedule fined tuned within a few weeks, and you’ll know your time so well, that daily schedule taped up on your cart will be hidden behind artist posters (keep it there just in case!).  And…one of your job expectations, the schedule, will feel mastered.

Your Expectations

As educators, we are expected to design a curriculum (following specific guidelines), keep up with student/parent contact, record data and assessments, know the school policies, create lesson plans, and much more.  As an art educator, you may be expected to be the visual person in the school, which includes hallway displays, community displays, props for school musicals, creative or art shows, press releases, contests, and the list goes on.  Every educator has their own amount of work and expectations, and ours may be different, but the work load feels just as heavy.

One of the ongoing battles I hear about with educators is that someone has a heavier work load than another.  This myth is very untrue.  The argument pops up continuously because of the wide variety of responsibilities each person in the school team has.  When working collaboratively, your teamwork efforts help to bust that myth.

As the art teacher, it is mostly your responsibility to handle all the visual art requirements of the school district.  With open communication, you can work as a team to create wonderful displays.  Your displays can be hung anywhere around the school, in public areas (such as a village hall), or at district meetings.  Around the school, students are more than willing to help display their own work.  It shows a sense of pride in their own work, and when more work is displayed, students have shown throughout the year a more positive response to the artwork and respect for the displays. 

All teachers in our school create press releases for the public, and I have just as much fun creating the pictures.  I enjoy showing the community what the students learn within the art program, and how it ties into what they do every day.  The students also are joyous when they see their faces in the local newspaper.  On a side note, if you plan to create more press releases for the public, make sure you have a list of students who are not approved for photos or public releases.  This is very important, even when you decide to pursue a master’s teacher certification level. 

School musicals are another expectation within our school district.  As a team, the music teachers and art teachers discuss in advance when the musicals arise, and what the themes may be.  In the past, I’ve saved props for multiple uses (trees are great examples for this).  When making new props, I’ve now enlisted the help of upper class students to color and cut out.  This has been a huge help with time, and students again have more pride in the work displayed. 

Art contests are always around, and many times can be a voluntary choice for the art teacher.  I like to display national contest information for my students outside my classroom door and pamphlets are left in a spot on my cart when travelling.  There are main contests within my district that take place every year, and since I am aware of them in advance, I fit them into the curriculum.  If you are a first year teacher, make sure you discuss with your administrator any contest opportunities that may arise throughout the year.

The list of expectations can go on and on, but remember you can always use the resources you have:  the students, parents, and co-workers.  As a team, you can help make your school a creative environment while fulfilling your duties.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Adapting Your Curriculum and Instruction

Your schedule and classes change every year, and, if you’re on a cart or travel, your workload changes just as much.  Keeping a strict curriculum is one of my biggest challenges, but I find ways to work with it.   The way to plan your curriculum is to focus on what your goals are for the year.   One of my goals in each lesson is to have the students understand why they create their piece and how they can use their knowledge gained in the real world.  Even on a cart, we still need to include those 21st century learning skills.

The elements of art and principles of design are fundamental in the art curriculum.  Each lesson is embedded with at least two, and can always be revisited. When planning your lessons and creating your examples, note the elements and principles used and focus on them when explaining your objectives.

The state and national standards are in place for a reason…like how students can understand how art reflects in society and everyday life (besides the Illinois standard 25).   Make sure you touch upon the standards and memorize them.  When you’re approached by your administrator and asked how the lesson relates to the fine arts standards, know your stuff.  Materials can be modified and artists can be changed around to meet the standards too.  For example…when teaching coil pottery, I use ceramic pottery because my home base school shares a kiln with the Jr. High.  At my cart school, I use air-dry clay to teach the same lesson.  Same concept learned, different material used.

Here are some tips to assist you in planning your curriculum for the school year when travelling:

     1. If you teach the same grades at different schools, plan your lessons around the same time.  This will help save you from extra planning, and you can easily just prepare more materials for the lesson rather than gather more materials for multiple lessons.

     2.  Bring your lesson plan book with you to all schools.  If you make any sudden changes, you can note them in the book so you’re aware of them for other schools.  I’m a person that has to write everything down, but if you’re not, tie that string around your finger in some way you can as a reminder.

     3.  To save on carrying extra materials from school to school, spend a little extra time creating examples for each school that can be stored away.  It may take a few years, but you carry less and less each year.

     4.  Teaching multiple schools over time?  When I started travelling in my first year, I carried so much from school to school, I needed a suitcase on wheels.  Now, I carry a recycled paper bag.  Each year, I tried to order materials I knew I was going to use for the next year.  Over the next few years, I carried less and less because I knew the materials were already at the other school!

     5.  Even travelling, I try to find ways to integrate lessons.  Since I have freedom planning my curriculum, I collaborated with the 6th grade teachers to have art history inspired lessons that follow their social studies lessons.    Find your way to collaborate with the homeroom teacher.  It shows teamwork, and creates an imaginative environment for the students.

If you have a strict curriculum in your school district, I invite you to share your ways you adapt in a travelling situation.  Every school district is different…some educators have freedom in planning their curriculum, others must follow a guideline.  In my district the 3 elementary art teachers collaborate to discuss how we each meet the standards and what concepts we wish the students to learn before reaching the Jr. High level.  We then communicate throughout the year on how we incorporated specific materials within our lessons.  There are so many ways to adapt lessons in a travelling situation.  You could plan units, themes, integrations, highlighted artists, and much more.  The advice I have for new teachers is this:  work with what you have.  Through time, you will find an organized method to your curriculum.