Our series spotlighting Art21 Educators continues as we get to know Shannah Burton, an educator whose lesson plans and creativity exercises will be published here on the magazine all month.
Shannah Burton is an artist, teacher, and seeker of small aesthetic pleasures. She teaches K-6 art at New City School, a multiple intelligence school in Saint Louis. She participated in Year 4 of Art21 Educators in 2012-2013.
Why were you initially drawn to the Art21 Educators program?
I had been a fan of the Art21 videos and books for a long time and was excited to discover Art21 Educators! At the time, I was particularly interested in finding ways to bring more challenging conceptual material to my elementary students. I was also intrigued at the thought of applying with a subject level teacher at my school for a year-long collaboration.
How would you describe the Art21 Educators program?
Not your ordinary professional development experience! Art21 Educators has been the most important influence on my teaching philosophy and has shaped my growth as an educator. I would describe it as intense—it takes a lot of time, hard work, and motivation but you are surrounded by the most amazing and inspiring educators and facilitators, so the process is rigorous but also super fun. It has been the best professional development experience of my 10 year teaching career!
How has Art21 Educators changed your practice?
I didn’t just learn how to incorporate more contemporary art into my curriculum—the way I taught art was fundamentally changed.
For example, themes used to be more of a method of curriculum organization but now they’ve become inquiry-based, authentic, and interdisciplinary. Being among so many talented, passionate Art21 Educators, provides a constant supply of inspiration and best practices. I’m encouraged to try new things, challenge assumptions, collaborate, and reflect on my practice, all within a network of thoughtful and supportive colleagues that I would not have without Art21.
How do you continue to stay involved with Art21?
The elementary inquiry group meets once a month to discuss issues and ideas related to teaching contemporary art to young children. We also regularly contribute to the Ning, our Art21 social networking platform. The Art21 alumni summer conferences have been a great way to recharge and get that important face-to-face time with my colleagues. And this year, I have enjoyed serving on the mentor and application committees to help shape the newest Art21 cohort experience.
What are you most excited about for the upcoming year with Art21?
I’m most excited to meet the new group of Art21 Educators this summer and welcome them into the family!
Describe a specific work of art, artist, or exhibition that has recently inspired you or your teaching practice.
Joseph Beuys is my art hero! I am continually inspired by his vision of the unity of art and life, democratic ideals, and the communal power of human creativity. In particular, his concept of “social sculpture” is very important in my teaching practice. So often, elementary art teachers feel like they lose the artist part of themselves to the teacher part of themselves. I don’t have to feel that way—social sculpture means that my thoughts, words, ideas, actions, and teaching are all part of my art making.
What did Shannah’s students have to say about her year as an Art21 Educator?
Caleb: This year feels different because we’ve been watching amazing artists do different types of art we haven’t seen before and this year we are getting a more creative and thoughtful way of doing art.
Ellie: I used to think of art as just a drawing on the wall, but these artists have shown me many ways to make art.
Allison: I love the Art21 artists! I think they are much more creative than traditional painting and drawing and that’s really cool!
Eyvind: The start of this year feels fast moving in a good way. I think the artists we’ve seen are interesting because they don’t do art the same as others.
Ethan: I like the artists because I think it is their ideas that truly define them.