About this Site and Me

My photo
Flower Mound, TX, United States
Hi, I am an artist, wife, mom, gamer and the Elementary Art Educator at Donald Elementary, a sweet and wonderful school in Flower Mound, TX (outside of Dallas). This is a great place to see how we are integrating studio habits with technology and interdisciplinary connections. I also love to share my "wisdom" (Re: Experiences. From mistakes.) about teaching Elementary Art. I love what I do, and I've been doing it for a long time. Creating and teaching Art is what I live for. Enjoy.

My Philosophy of Art Education

updated, 3-2016

My Philosophy of Art Education
Or, how to be a Way Cool Art Teacher
My (apparent) Manifesto

 I have been an Elementary Art Teacher for 20+ years, and like most veteran teachers, I have watched many teaching fads come and go. Let me just say, *WOW* right now, are there some profound changes in our profession. From TAB to STEAM to Design Thinking, it can be a little overwhelming. 

      First off, let me tell you a secret. A few years ago, I was overwhelmed. Yeah. In tears. I allowed (briefly) myself to think I wasn't a strong, capable art educator, but I also believe every teacher should constantly question themselves and their teaching. It is stressful but necessary. So I researched: I read books and went online and talked to other art teachers (thank you, LISD Art Ed, FB Art Teachers, and Art of Ed!). I gave up some of that control and let my students decide what they wanted. Crazy.

      I soon realized, ...heeeeey.... I am already doing a bunch of this stuff, I just need to shuffle how and when I do it. It is not hard. It is not time-consuming. It is just...different. And for those of us in the arts, different is great. Scary, but great.
Oh yeah, I even invited Nancy Walkup to my school. I do not mess around. She is awesome. 

     It is silly to stay stagnant in this rich profession of ours. Would you be content to create your art as you did at 7? At 17? At 37? We need to grow and change. I am not throwing the baby out with the bath water. I am really proud of the art program at Donald. It is way cool. I am simply changing the perspective of this program, to embrace change. 

      Why embrace these changes? What is different now? Why can't we just roll our eyes, close our doors and wait for this to blow over?

The kids are driving the change. This is the first generation that has always known and will always have technology. We have to meet the kids where they are. This has leveled the field.

We teachers are in an interesting position. We need the kids to teach/assist us the tech, but we must remain the master teacher. 

       Does this picture look familiar? If not, this is typical of kids today. This is my son, Will. (This was taken a few years ago but I assure you, nothing really has changed.) 

Will is able to effortlessly navigate between various types of tech and the real world. To him, there is no hard line of demarcation between the two worlds. And he is a great kid.

      We do these kids a great disservice if we do not understand the role of tech in their world. I will never suggest that tech replace hands-on art making, but we all need to know the strengths and weaknesses of tech in the art room. We need to utilize it, as the Masters before us. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Durer all utilized the new tech of their day to help their art become stronger and, well, easier and faster. 

       iPads and laptops have revolutionized my program. Creating digital art, online digital portfolios, QR codes for research, it's all good stuff. I love using my iPad or laptop, document camera and projector to introduce and demo projects, but honestly, there are times getting my hands dirty with the kids is far more engaging. Technology integration needs to flow seamlessly, not be forced.

So, with this push to embrace this new age, this Age of Technology, what's an art educator to do? I believe this is the BEST TIME to be an art teacher.  It is time for us to step to the front of the class (school), become campus leaders and help our fellow teachers acclimate themselves with creative teaching. Which is what we already do

If your school is talking about PBLs, Design Thinking, STEM or STEAM, it is now your responsibility to promote and model our visual languageIt is time for us to toot our horns. No one else will do it-simply because admins and staff are not art teachers. 

They do not know what they do not know. Make sense?

Listen, we want qualified art teachers teaching the "A" in STEAM, so when a math teacher discusses creating tessellations (or whatever), you need to jump in and be helpful. Be willing to collaborate with that math/science/kindergarten teacher. Because they know the math/science part, but not the art part. And that part, that juicy creative part, is what everyone seems to want these days. And we art teachers have the specialized knowledge and skills to teach it, to nurture it, to set it free.

      So it is with these transformative changes in mind that I share my philosophy of Art Ed. I like a rich art program with lots of layers, like a good cake. 

The kids and I have a developed a strong art program with an emphasis on:  

-Solid technical studio skills. This is foremost. I am a very picky artist. 
-Introduction and re-visiting a wide variety of art materials and techniques. Messy and non-messy, short term and long.
-Art history, Contemporary Art, Genres (parts of a landscape, portraits, etc.) and Crafts (notice the capital "C"? Ceramics, textiles, etc...)
-Design Thinking, 21st century creative and originality skills, technology integration
-Smooth integration of other subject areas (not all the time, and where it makes sense!)
-Student choice within the assignment
-No copy art, but there is a place for guided drawing
-A gorgeous final physical AND digital portfolio. 
Isn't it yummy? Everyone loves Textiles!!!

My student population is around 500, K-5 with a very large Special Ed population. We are on a 4-day rotation, 50 minute periods with 5 minutes in between.

Over the years, I have written curriculum for a large urban East Coast school district, piloted the Elementary division for Arts Propel, a portfolio assessment project for Harvard Project Zero, started up district-wide art shows, begged for art supplies from local business, hung student work in local businesses, moved halfway across the country and taught in a completely different school system, had 5 student teachers in 4 years, served as Team Leader and on various other committees and made the leap from computer illiterate to "techie” to hardcore gamer.

 I will, almost always, willingly partake in shenanigans. I say, “yes” more often than “no”.

I am married with 2 active teenagers and I am not Superwoman. In fact, I have quite proven I am not.

I work with an amazing staff, from our incredibly supportive administrators to our equally supportive teachers and aides. I know how lucky I am, as so many Art Teachers do not get the support (emotional, professional, financial...) they deserve.  However, I am a strong believer in promoting our Art programs-- get the student work out there, be seen, be positive, be helpful, and be vital. Say yes. Art programs must be viewed as valuable and purposeful. It is so much more important now than it ever has been.

I have been extremely fortunate to have a career that constantly challenges me to reach, grow and change. Hanging around kids all day creating beautiful art, laughing at their funny stories and hiding my face from their wiggly teeth is the true reward.

This is how I teach. Now listen, if you get 100 Art Teachers in a room you will get 100 completely different philosophies. That's fine. You have to find what fits your style. This is what works for me, right now:

  •  If you teach Art, then you must be a Master
You must be a stronger artist than your students. Yes, I said must. If you have not mastered an art form, find time to work on something creative that brings you joy.

  •  Everything you touch should have the mark of a trained specialist. School-wide, community-wide. 
You are a trained professional. Act like it.
  •  Teach the child, not artArt is what you use.
This is probably the single most important reason why teachers do not last in the classroom. If you do not take the time to know your students and listen to their stories, you will never make it as a teacher. You will crash and burn. Or, you will be bitter. And who wants that?

My first four years of teaching, I fully believed the opposite. I taught in an urban school and was passionate about teaching art. Unfortunately, I never really cared about the kids and what they wanted. They could have cared less about Monet and Van Gogh. And I was a mean, bitter young teacher. I yelled. A lot. The kids were not happy to come to art. And who could blame them? I made them spend entire class periods with their heads on their tables. I am ashamed of those days.

I am telling you-- If you want happy, engaged kids in your room, who will do (mostly) anything you ask them to, you have to get to know them first. It's ok to have fun with your kids. It is ok to laugh with them. It's ok to make mistakes in front of them. This nonsense about "don't smile until December" is utter crapola. I am NOT SUGGESTING you become a pushover. Maintain professionalism and control, but you don't have to be a miser.
Get to know your kids. Talk to them. Listen to them. Let them have a say. 

Which brings me to:
  •  Command respect because you give it. 
Be respectful and kind to all your students. There is never a reason to be spiteful and mean. Always maintain your cool. Remember, you are the adult in the room. 

And also remember, there is nothing as effective than the 30-second silent teacher glare. 

An honest, sincere compliment goes a very long way.

A quick hallway chat is pretty effective too. Even in those rougher schools (I've taught in two), a respectful one-on-one conversation can be transformative.

It might sound like I run a crazy, free-for-all room, but that is far from true. I am always in control, and can get the class silent and focused on me in five seconds ("Give Me Five" is a very fast effective tool). In my opinion, a loud and crazy, out of control room is ineffective and potentially dangerous. 

SO. How can you tell the difference between an out of control room and a 21st Century art room, with its noisy collaboration and flexible spaces? 
·      Are the kids engaged? 
·      Are they acting and thinking like creative artists? 
And what are you doing? 
·      Managing negative behaviors or offering artistic suggestions?
There you go. 

It's about creating good rules and procedures that we discuss fully at the beginning of the year and review consistently.
Have a system in place.

  •  Believe that Art is very valuable
Even on those bad days, when you feel no-one cares about you and your program, and all the hard work you do every day. Remember, what you do is important. Keep that in mind when you create your lessons. Your program and your lessons must have a purpose. It's about the kids.

Lifesize Egyptian Mummy Coffin, on display at our annual district art show.
Note the QR codes that lead the viewer right back to this blog.

·      Integrate Art History and other subject areas into your lessons.
Create rich lessons and project ideas. Back up your subjects and concepts. Layer the knowledge and make connections with other subject areas, plug it in your lessons! Ask, "and then..." when brainstorming. See how far you can go.
It really isn't hard: for instance, 1st grade learns about plants and flowers in Science. Perfect time to introduce Georgia O'Keeffe or Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” using science vocab. Takes so little time to set it up, but it is so worth it.

·      Ask good questions and listen.
Hang up works of art, and spend at least 30 seconds observing the art. Push the students to read the work. Act like a detective, look for details. Start off with inquiry-based, open-ended questions like:
  • “What do you see?"
  • "If you could jump into this painting, what would you hear, smell, feel?"
  • "What happens next? What makes you think that?
  • “What does this remind you of?” are perfect starting points.

·        Allow students to make choices:
Subject, materials, standing or sitting, etc. Modify your lessons so all your students are successful. Clearly define your expectations.

Ok, I'll admit. This is where we veteran teachers tend to struggle, as our initial teacher training tended to be more prescribed and structured. Giving up control is very hard. Start small, maybe within the assignment or with your seating charts (if you have them). Let the kids work in small groups, or on the floor, alone with headphones. Let them decide. See what happens. Take it slow; you don't have to start from scratch!

I have always taught studio skills, so I was never one for copy art.  I have noticed, however, over the past five years a tendency for my students to copy each other or my examples, afraid of making mistakes, afraid of being creative. This was odd, and the more I watched, the more I became convinced standardized testing had a hand in this fear. I believe the antidote is 21st Century Skills.

There are a lot of books and websites devoted to student choice and TAB teaching. I am not a TAB teacher, but I found some of the philosophies worked for my classroom and I was comfortable including them.

·        Display, display, display.
During my career, I have taught at 4 different schools and I have always had the support of the admin., campus, and community. Why do I get such amazing support? Because the kids and I make our school look good.

I honestly do not expect anything in return. I do not pout in my room because there is no "atta boy" every time I display art.  I do this for the kids. Yeah, for real. They LOVE seeing their art on display. The staff LOVES seeing the work. Even if they do not tell you every day. Trust me, they do. I realized this at the same time I had my "you're teaching wrong" epiphany (see above: teach the child, not art).

Turn your school walls into an art gallery. Take the time to mount and label. I am at a point where my students, grades 2-5, mount their own work and my Art Helpers hang the work.

Student Art is displayed all year long. I now have 19 bulletin boards.
Display throughout the community, at banks, restaurants, in your district buildings, storefronts.

  • Beware of becoming a pack rat
Organize your room/closet/drawer and toss the nasty or what you haven't used in 6 years. Buried and lost art supplies cost you time and money.

  • Create good examples, and ask yourself, “Is this something I would want to do?” 
Younger students need a demo. Remember, this is the first time they have touched a brayer, a weaving needle, a watercolor brush. Sometimes, they don't even know how to use scissors properly. They need demos and examples. 

Even with the importance of student choice, I believe we need to make examples to help gauge supplies, time frame, and potential issues. Whether you share this example with your students is up to you. 
  • Recess, P.E., dismissal-These are the times for yelling, running and jumping around. These behaviors are not appropriate for an art room
How can you paint when someone is yelling in your ear? Yes, there is a lot of creative energy, but that needs to be channeled through the brain and hands, not the mouth. I know a silent art room is nearly impossible with this new generation, but even 5 year-olds can understand the allure of a quiet space for creating a beautiful work of art.
  • Monitor behaviors so you can stop problems before they start.
 Avoid sitting with one little group of students. Your job is to facilitate and assist all your students equally. Doing this will alleviate many negative behaviors. Do not keep your back to students. This is inviting trouble.

On the other hand, work with small groups for really messy, one on one processes (printmaking, dyeing, etc.).

 Have a relevant project ready for those not in the small group, but make sure you have your eyes on all kids.

...like ironing.

  • Facilitate, but don’t hover

Give occasional technical advice to the entire class, instead of zeroing in on one student. Unless you have to.

  • Allow plenty of time for clean-up.
 I am not their mommy, I do not clean up after my students. Assign jobs, kids LOVE to help, and monitor, monitor, monitor. It helps to prepare them beforehand (1 more minute until cleanup…), also try to keep unnecessary wandering down to a minimum. Make it fun, but it must get done. 

I have a clean-up poster above my door. It is a flowchart of clean up steps. I reference it with every class, every time they have art. I allow 5 minutes for 1st-5th to clean up, 8 for kinder.

  • Embrace technology, but it must make sense
Like I said above, this is where our kids are already! A computer is a tool, just like the hammer and chisel. It will never give you ideas or experiences. But it is a great tool that our kids have already mastered.

Kids using their iPads to research landforms, create sketches in drawing apps and take pictures of their art.

I do not believe technology will replace the paintbrush, piano or lump of clay. Ever. Humans need to create or Pinterest would have died out by now.
  • Assess:   
End of class wrap-ups, rubrics, peer interviews, class critiques, portfolio comments…whatever works for you…get the kids talking about their art and their classmate’s art. 

Teach them how to comment responsibly with manners. Teach them how to delve deeper with follow-up questions. 

Allow them to take ownership for their own learning.

My favorite means of assessment are self-reflections, class critiques and digital portfolios.

1.   Self-reflection: 1st and up

When the student is finished with their work or art, they write on the back of their art explaining their favorite part of the project and why. They also tell me if they want their art displayed in the hallway.

2.    Class Critiques: can be done kinder on up.

All student art is hung on the board. Clear expectations must be given, no negative or “constructive” crits allowed with younger kids. It’s inappropriate at this age level.

With younger kids, I will ask open-ended questions about the art.
I avoid zeroing in on one kid’s work. We look for group themes, strengths and weaknesses. We review the objectives. If there is time, I will take about five volunteers who wish to say one positive thing about their work, and I am ready to dig deeper. Saying, “I like it” is not deep enough. What do you like? Why?

With older kids, I teach them how to analyze and read their and their classmate's art. 

Show lots of respect for the shy kids here. Don't push too hard. They might be terrified their art is even on the board.

3.   Digital portfolios: I do these with 4-5th grade

All year long, students are encouraged to take photos of their art, from processes to final products. They pop these images into their Google Drive and create a doc with their artist statement and reflections. I absolutely love these, as they are, for the most part, honest and insightful.

Besides an artist statement, here is a sample of the reflections I have the kids choose from: 
  • my favorite part and why
  • if I could give this to someone, who would it be and why?
  • My challenges and how I dealt with them
  • If I could start over...
  • Where this would be displayed and why
  • etc.
This is a yearlong process. Start as soon as you can. Use the assessment to check for understanding and mastery. Because that is the point.

  • Take the time to create strong Sub Lessons
You will get sick. Your car will break down. You will need a sub. Create a box or binder with easy to understand lessons, not just movies! 

  • Fire/Emergency drill info (by law)
  • Seating charts, student health, and Special Ed info if your district requires it. Keep it in a confidential place.
  • Where materials are located
  • "Off limits" supplies (you know, that really special paper you ordered for that really special project)
  • Information about your room:
    • Appropriate noise and behavior levels, class rules and procedures, how much time to allow for clean-up, end of day procedures, your duties, where to put student artwork, anything else that might be helpful.
  • Information about the school: 
    • Where to find staff bathrooms and lounge, if there are vending machines, closest restaurants or coffee shops, who to talk to if there are questions and their room number, anything else that might be helpful
  • Make sure your dept head or teammate knows where you keep this info!

...ok kids, this is what a planned absence look like, if you are crazy like me:

and unplanned:

Thus, the need for a good sub plan.

  • Teach your colleagues. 
If you have been doing this for a while, it might be time for you to lead PD. Step up and do it. You have something awesome to share, from classroom management tips to organization to advocacy. You don't have to do it all the time, but it is up to the veterans to help the newbies. Someone helped you!
Here I am helping with a PD inservice with (from left) LISD Fine Arts Coordinator, Missey Head, Sax rep and ceramic artist, Eric Orr,  Director of NTIEVA, NAEA Elem Director and ScholasticArts editor Nancy Walkup and UNT Doctoral candidate Liz L. on Design Thinking and STEAM. I think I was out of my league here!

This was a great day, we got to create PD especially for us and our needs.

  Have fun, pick your battles and remain flexible. Teaching Art is a joy! This is my dream job, and I hope it brings you the same happiness, challenge, and contentment I have received. 

Remember, it’s all about the kids. Always. 


  1. Thank you for the words of wisdom. Thank you for admitting the change and growth you made, it's nice to hear I'm not the only one who started out strict and needed to adjust my discipline strategies. I now feel like I'm not the only one, so thanks for blogging about this.

  2. You are so welcome, and I am seriously calling out colleges and universities for NOT teaching classroom management! It's 90% of teaching! Are you kidding me?

  3. I am in school to become an art teacher and I have just run across your blog. WOW!! There is some wonderful information here. Thank you so much for sharing!

  4. Hey there! I just stumbled on this blog and I work in LISD as an aide, applying to positions now! Thank you!,

  5. I appreciate everything you have shared! I have been teaching K-8 art for 7 years and had some major doubts about my abilities to teach anymore. There is so much information out there I feel like I am out of date. I decided recently that I love teaching art and I will not give up. I have signed up for classes and been reading a lot and researching online for new inspiration and methods. Then I found your website. Truly inspiring! I have learned a few new ideas and would like to try them in my room - my favorite being how you have the kids write about their work on the back. I'm going to start that next week!! It can feel "lonely" as the only art teacher at my school and it's a private school so we do not have a district with other art teachers or art dept leads, etc. So, thank you so much for sharing! Also, in my quest of reviving my teaching I am going to start a website to share my love of teaching and for the kids and their families to see the great things that go on during art class.