4 Ways to Become an Art Teacher Leader

leadership items on a calendar

Teaching art is an amazing job. I love my students. I love the creative work. Most of all, I love knowing I am doing something important and meaningful every day.

Several years ago, I started wondering if there was more I could do to contribute to my profession. I started looking around for opportunities to become an art teacher leader. At first, I was afraid leading might mean I would have to give up being an art teacher. I was concerned there would not be opportunities for me to lead while still teaching. Thankfully, I found I was wrong.

There are many ways to be a leader in our profession without giving up teaching.

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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kerry Parrish. Kerry is an art teacher who participated in the NAEA’s School for Art Leaders this past year. She shared with me her experience with the program and what it taught her about leadership.

According to the NAEA website, the purpose of the program is “to both inspire and prepare members to become active leaders of positive change in the field of art education.”

The program is limited to 25 art educators each year. It includes five days of meetings at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas over the summer. After completing the summer session, teachers continue to work together on a variety of projects for seven months.

Kerry said the program changed the way she thought about leadership. “Because of this program, I am a much more confident teacher and leader. I realize I am not just an art teacher; I am a leader in my building. Prior to this training, I believed leadership was a title and letters behind your name. Now, I see leadership as the actions and behaviors I exhibit in my building, district and in my art community.”

I agree with Kerry – leading is not in a title. There are many ways to lead while remaining in the classroom.

Here are 4 powerful ways teachers can lead.

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1. Host student teachers.

Over the years, I have been lucky to serve as a cooperating teacher to several pre-service teachers. My local university’s art education department relies on master teachers to share their knowledge and expertise with student teachers.

This is such a powerful and meaningful learning experience for both the student and the cooperating teacher. I have learned so much from my student teachers over the years. It is also a wonderful way to learn coaching skills.

2. Present at conferences.

Look around your area for opportunities to share your knowledge with other art educators. Where I live, there are a variety of different art education conferences each year. Some are small, local conferences. Some are larger, such as the state art education conference. Your local art education association should be able to help you find opportunities. Plus, don’t forget about Art Ed Now, which happens twice each year.

I have presented at local, state, and national conferences. Each presentation has been a great learning experience. I am sure you have something special to share, and other art teachers will be appreciative to learn. If you are a little nervous about doing it alone, why not find a friend who is interested in presenting together? There are no rules saying you have to do it alone.

3. Organize professional development opportunities for local art educators.

One of the most common complaints I hear from art teachers is that the professional development provided to them is not helpful. Sometimes there is no art specific professional development provided by their school at all.

If this is the case for you, why not organize your own workshop? See what other art teachers in your area need, and make a plan to meet up and share ideas and lessons. It does not have to be a huge group- even a few teachers can learn from each other when they have the time and space to share. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. You can do it yourself!

4. Become active in your professional organization.

Reach out to your local and state art education association to see about leadership opportunities. These organizations rely on art educators to lead. I have been active in my state’s chapter of the NAEA for many years. The friendships I have formed have been rewarding and lasting. Through my work on these boards, I have learned much about leadership.

There are many roles in each organization. Find a place that interests you, maximize your skill set, and get involved. As Kerry said, “Art teachers are much stronger together.”

As you can see, there are many ways to become a leader without giving up the job you love. Each leadership experience opens new doors and presents new opportunities to grow and to contribute to the profession we all love.

If you are interested in applying to the School for Art Leaders, the due date for applications for the 2017 cohort is March 27. You can find more information and the application on the School for Art Leaders website.

Are you an art teacher leader?

How do you choose to lead while still teaching?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Anne-Marie Slinkman

Anne-Marie Slinkman, an elementary school art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. She is passionate about providing relevant and meaningful art experiences for all students.

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