Professional Learning

Everything You Want to Know About the National Convention

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March is one of my all-time favorite months when Youth Art Month and the NAEA Convention align. This year over 4,000 art educators—myself included—are heading to Boston in mid-March. It will be my 21st year attending this incredible professional learning event, but this year is unique because the Art of Education University will be a significant presence at the event.

Read on to discover the ins and outs of the NAEA convention and where you can find AOEU while you’re there. The National Art Education Association convention is one of the best places for art educators to network. If you haven’t had an opportunity to attend one of these conferences in the past, it’s an opportunity worth considering.

You will walk away from the national conference with a host of new friends and colleagues, endless concepts for your classroom, and new ideas to help grow in your practice as an educator and as an artist!

Let’s Take a Look at All the Conference Has to Offer

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Networking and New Friends

Networking is what I enjoy the most about the NAEA conference—both connecting with old colleagues and meeting new professionals. I always come to the conference with a stack of updated business cards ready to distribute. I also keep an open mind and a flexible calendar. When I meet someone, and we connect, I try to set some time, right there at the conference to meet and learn more about that individual. Be open to all possibilities!

Learning Opportunities

In addition to meeting people, I come ready to learn. The NAEA conference catalog will often boast over 1,000 presentations. It’s a good idea to take a look at the list of presentations ahead of time and plan accordingly. Download the handy conference app, so the schedule is always in your hands. The app is helpful for personalizing your conference schedule. While looking through the physical schedule is fantastic, it’s nice to have a “Cliff’s Notes” version of your schedule handy. I look at the speakers, the categories/divisions, and the titles of these events and make my list of “to-dos” hour-by-hour. I recommend stacking your schedule from day to evening. Of course, you will want to remain flexible because you never know what surprises might be in store.

When you are looking at the conference schedule, note the different categories. Read on to learn more.

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Keynote Speakers

The NAEA always has an incredible list of keynote speakers. In the past, we’ve been lucky enough to hear Chuck Close, Jeff Koons, Audrey Flack, Faith Ringgold, and Cheech Marin share their stories with us. This year you won’t want to miss Amy Sherald speak at the first general session, and Howard Gardner as the featured speaker on Saturday at the general session.

Artist Series

The artist series are always spectacular. This year, check out Janet Echelman, Emily and Robb Sandagata, and Yary Livan, to name a few.

Super Sessions

There are also a handful of super sessions that never disappoint. This year I am beyond excited to see Peter Reynolds, our favorite author/illustrator, and creator of The Dot, Ish, and Sky Color. Hear from him on Friday at 11:00.

Regular Sessions

These sessions are my absolute favorite because they are run by educators just like you! Teachers from all across the globe come to share their best practices and research so we can all become better teachers for our students. There are over 1,000 sessions this year; the list is extensive.


The hands-on workshops have an additional fee, but they are worth it. This year there are over seventy workshops, and they are filling up quickly. A few classes include Collaborative Collages, Printmaking on Fabric, Dada Dolls: Personal Statement Sculptures, and Sight-Size Drawing.

Off-Site Workshops and Tours

There are also a few off-site workshops, such as Photoshop Digital Artmaking, taught at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and a Studio Tour and Drawing excursion at Bren Bataclan’s Studio. There are tours to several of the city’s top hot spots like the Boston Innovation Tour or to check out the URBANO Project.

AOEU Presentations

When it comes to regular sessions, you can count on several of the AOEU family to deliver quality content. Dr. Sarah Ackermann and I will present “Humanizing the Online Classroom: Breaking Down Virtual Walls in Dynamic and Meaningful Ways.” Come check us out, Friday, March 15th at 1:00 in room 311. I will also be co-presenting on AP successes, collaborating for success, and how to work with other NAHS sponsors to set up incredible learning opportunities for your students.

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Essential Vendors

While the conference is moving and grooving, there are huge ballroom spaces dedicated to vendors specific to our field. This includes over 150 vendors who sell arts equipment and materials, as well as colleges, universities, and other companies on a mission to support you in the art classroom. The hands-on activities available are outstanding—they are an essential part of the NAEA convention.

Be sure to stop by and thank your favorite vendors!

And that brings me to the Art of Education University.

This year AOEU will be hosting two vendor booths at the convention. You can find us at booth #1014 where we will be sharing everything you ever wanted to know about Art Ed PRO—an essential tool for art teachers—and booth #922 for everything AOEU. We know you have a lot of questions about our new accreditation. We can’t wait to share our master’s degree program information with you all!

The Master of Arts in Art Education from The Art of Education University is an accredited, 36 credit, 100% online master’s degree. This program is optimized for working teachers—so you can complete work on your own time, according to your unique schedule, as life permits. Through this program, you will expand your understanding of the field, conduct research, and engage in personalized, meaningful study, directly applicable to your classroom. Stop by the booth to learn even more!

Taking it to the Classroom

The national convention is sure to keep you busy as you meet and talk to new teachers. The reflecting that happens is unparalleled, and the new friends you meet each year make an incredible impact. The NAEA becomes a sort of family reunion. The best part is taking all you learn and transitioning it into the classroom. Please share your experience this year at NAEA and the AOEU booths; we’d love to hear from you.

Are you planning to attend the NAEA convention this year?

How have you used conferences to help you become a better teacher?

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.


Debi West

Debi West is one of AOEU’s adjunct instructors and a former AOEU Writer and NBCT art educator. She loves sharing with others and enthusiastically stands behind her motto, “Together we ART better!”

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