Teaching with Contemporary Art

Art21 Educators: Success Stories

Martin Puryear. "Ladder for Booker T. Washington," 1996. Collection of the artist.

Martin Puryear. “Ladder for Booker T. Washington,” 1996. Collection of the artist.

Over the past four years there have been many success stories from a what-still-feels-like-new Art21 Educators program. And while the experiences within and beyond Art21 Educators vary wildly from teacher to teacher, many of the educators we have worked with- in a range of disciplines and not just art- have provided us with specific comments and reflective narratives that often make smiles touch the back of our heads.

As we continue to accept applications over the next month for Year 5 of Art21 Educators (applications are due March 17, before you celebrate St. Patty’s, hopefully) I would love to share a few quotes this week from some of the final reflections, case studies and program evaluations we have received during the first four years, in order to give you a firsthand account of what some teachers have experienced participating in the program with us.

Given the interdisciplinary focus of the educators program, I hoped to learn ways to meaningfully engage students in interdisciplinary content, where art and academic subjects intertwine and elevate each other.  Contemporary art, which is by nature pluralistic, self-reflective and multi-faceted, is the perfect lens through which to view interdisciplinary content.  I expected to learn strategies for making this happen, but what I didn’t expect was the depth of analysis and reflection that the collaborative atmosphere of the Art21 Educators Program afforded.  We workshopped ideas, discussed countless contemporary artist examples (Art21 and otherwise), and talked about our work formally, informally and in video reflections.  The program modeled the kind of working relationship I hoped to establish with my students, and I learned as much from the ways we talked about our ideas, as I did the ideas themselves. —Jack Watson, Art and Art History teacher at Chapel Hill High School, Durham, NC

I have reflected on my teaching practice more intensely than ever before. I have a totally different viewpoint on what it means to be an art teacher than I had prior to Art21 Educators. I have learned a lot about technology and how to use it in meaningful ways – not just some “gimmicky” art project, but how to truly integrate it into my teaching practice. I’ve also gained new resources (and friends!) where I can now turn to ask questions or get feedback. —Anna Dean, Grades 5-8 Art teacher at Sterling School/ Charles Townes Center, Simpsonville, SC

At the end of this year, I felt more accomplished and proud of my students’ works, particularly in the two units that were strongly influenced by Art21: “A Study of Race through the Ages” unit in Freshmen Seminar (9th grade ELA/Social Studies) and my “Literary Criticism” unit in English 11. The growth my freshmen experienced this year was astounding; their level of thinking is so much more conceptual and insightful… I also spent a lot of time this year reflecting on my practice, curriculum alignment, assessment, and student learning. I feel more confident to speak up during PD workshops because I feel that I have something valuable to share and that I’m using effective strategies I gained from my time with Art21. —Elizabeth McGuffin, Grades 9-12 English and Social Studies teacher at Kensington Woods High School, Chelsea, MI

Before I started, I thought that Art21 Educators would just be about injecting Art21 videos into curriculum, not a paradigm shift. It’s not just about the videos, its about artists, their studio practice, ideas, and getting students in sync with the contemporary art world…. —Jocelyn Salaz, grades 9-12 Art teacher at Cuba High School, Cuba, NM

The Curriculum Journal has been a really important component of my reflection in the co-teaching of our unit. The structure of composing journal entries throughout a particular unit has been really conducive to maintaining a flexible praxis of evaluation, reflection and making adjustments… The collaborative/group sessions during the summer conference were incredibly inspiring and empowering for me as a teacher and an artist. The moments when I was able to work WITH my colleagues and tackle challenges collaboratively were the most powerful for me! Discussions about/with artists and museum visits during the summer conference were immensely useful and gave me some great ideas for my own practice- especially when there was space to reflect and discuss. —Matthew Garza, Art, Music, Social Studies teacher at the Aaron School, New York, NY

Art21 has supported me in curriculum development in multiple ways: offering peer/mentor critiques on my written curriculum plan and providing continued peer/mentor support via the Ning site we share. The importance of process has been highlighted, re-framing my themes into investigations or questions, and the use of video reflections for both my students and myself. —Shannah Burton, K-8 Art teacher at New City School, IL

I’d like to make the argument that teachers can better encourage deep and rigorous thinking, reading and writing by reaching outside the standards and engaging students in subjects like art, music, drama, etc., that will challenge them to develop skills by making the them relevant through material that interests them. The greatest revelation to me during this year was the power of art and a digital camera to open pathways to student learning. —Mary Curry, Grade 4 teacher at St. Ephrem School, Brooklyn, NY

This struggle for me as a teacher is the very nature of assigning tasks and projects. Finding the right balance of setting purposeful limitations that elicit the right tension of personal problem solving within art media.  Of course, students need help to develop skills and to challenge themselves.  But where is the ideal, ‘sweet spot,’ for growth? In the past I was more concerned with outcomes, the way the finished product looked. Now I’m interested in the process as I map out my curriculum.  Now I’m constantly asking myself to think of the limits teachers traditionally set for their students and decide which ones could be helpful, and the ones that might be harmful for creative growth. —James Rees, grades 9-12 Art teacher at Provo High School, Spanish Fork, UT

We encourage you to join us for Year 5 of Art21 Educators beginning this July in New York City. Start your application today and send it to us by March 17, 2013.


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