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School can be stressful for many students. They face social and emotional issues every day as they try to stay on top of their academics and juggle practices, extracurriculars, and family time. Their level of success in balancing all of these factors often affects their outlook on school. Teachers also face stressors at work that can impact how they relate to and interact with students and colleagues. These stress levels and attitudes can greatly influence morale or how enthusiastic and full of spirit the school community is towards the mission.
The flip side is also true. School morale is an important factor in mitigating stressors for both students and teachers. In the 2019 article, Relationship of Workplace Environment With Secondary School Teachers’ Morale, Khan Farooki determined that teachers perform better when a school has high morale. In turn, this positively influences student engagement and learning, reducing students’ anxiety toward the academic aspects of school.
Art classes can contribute to increased school morale in many ways. These include teaching students to appreciate their differences, encouraging them to celebrate creativity, and using art to show compassion and gratitude.
Art is an expression of self; it’s a way for students to show others who they are or even to discover who they are. Students often have a hard time understanding that not everyone thinks the same way or other viewpoints can be different but still valid. Expose students to different beliefs and viewpoints through art to show that everyone is different in some ways and the same in others.
In her 2021 article, School dropout intention and self-esteem in immigrant and native students living in poverty: The protective role of peer acceptance at school, Dora Bianchi determines when peers appreciate their differences, it leads to student acceptance, higher self-esteem, and lower dropout rates. All of these result in increased school morale.
Students are incredibly creative. In an environment that celebrates test scores, sometimes students forget that in the world outside of school, their creativity and ability to think outside the norm are highly valued. In fact, The Conference Board’s 2008 article, Ready to Innovate: Are Educators and Executives Aligned on the Creative Readiness of the U.S. Workforce?, says 97% of employers state creativity is important in the workplace. When students see their artwork proudly displayed in the hallways, they are reminded that their creativity is valuable for their future. It also encourages them to appreciate that part of themselves. When students value their creativity and see that the school values it too, their attitudes towards school improve.
Teach students to make art that expresses gratefulness, love, and compassion for others. Students can give art as a gift, put it in a public place to spread beauty, donate it to a good cause, or even make functional art to help others. Show students that art is not just about making something beautiful; it can also have a lasting, real-world impact.
According to Jennifer Binnie’s 2010 article, Does Viewing Art in the Museum Reduce Anxiety and Improve Wellbeing?, simply viewing art decreases anxiety. Additionally, there are intentional ways to use art to increase school morale. Gather ideas you can implement in your building by checking out these seven projects.
Give someone art to show them you care about them enough to spend your time creating something just to make them smile. Students often get attached to larger artworks that require a lot of invested time. Going small with giveaway art projects is a great way to go. One idea is to have students paint or draw on postcards with written notes of encouragement. Students can give them away to friends or faculty. If you don’t have postcards, try some sticky note art or digital postcards. You never know whose day they will make!
When teachers or administrators ask if we can make decor or signs for yet another event, we sigh. We wonder why they don’t realize there are still lessons to cover and objectives to meet in the art room. However, one-off assignments like these allow the art room to intersect closely with school events and, therefore, increase school pride and morale. Art students become more aware of events like theatrical productions and sports games. Likewise, students in those activities come to appreciate the hard work and talent of the art students.
Take your hallway posters to the next level by having your students design them digitally. Learn how by checking out this Motivational Poster Design FLEX Lesson!
Murals not only excite the students working on them, but they also excite the students who see them. Murals don’t have to be traditional. If your school doesn’t allow painting on school walls, create a collaborative mural on paper and hang it up in the hall! A temporary mural can bring just as much joy as a traditional, permanent mural. Work around school restrictions, but don’t let them prevent you from going big. Once the mural is up, students will stop in the hallways to look and tell their friends which part of the mural they worked on. It brings pride to the artists who get to see their contributions on display every day.
The process can be daunting if you have never done a mural before. Check out the Mural Painting PRO Pack to get started. If you prefer a temporary mural with your elementary students, a Shape Collaborative Mural is a good option.
This idea comes from Kayla Koslow’s Instagram, and it’s a winner! Testing weeks can bring down student morale quickly. Take advantage of this time and put encouraging words up to brighten students’ days between tests. It’s also an easy, quick project to teach students about abstract art and the principle of unity.
Intentionally collaborating with other core or elective classes can create a sense of community and belonging. It can also foster tolerance of other people, which can increase school morale. One opportunity to collaborate is to create a hallway gallery with student artwork. Invite other classes to view it. You can even have your students act like docents and give the other classes a tour! If you want to switch it up, have students recreate and research famous artworks. They can tell their museum “guests” all about the featured artists and artworks.
Another collaborative activity is to have students observe a physical education class and create gesture drawings of other students in action. Because physical education students are expected to be constantly moving, this relieves a lot of pressure to create realistic and detailed portraits. Students have to move quickly from gesture drawing to gesture drawing. The physical education students are also interested to see the drawings of themselves. It’s fun to watch their reactions at the end of the class. Anything that generates and ends in laughter is great for school morale!
Turn fundraisers into multi-disciplinary collaborations to also increase school morale. Ask the band and theater departments to put on performances and the audio-visual department to host a video game competition or create a video to show. Have your art students create a booth of crafts to sell or give out as party favors. This also creates a wider scope of appreciation for all the arts and makes the students proud to be a part of a larger-scale event.
Fundraising can be daunting, so here are some resources to help you get started:
You don’t have to wait for Teacher Appreciation Week to roll around to have your students make gifts for their teachers. Receiving a gift or a note of appreciation on a random day can be just what your coworkers need to keep going. Use 4 Ideas to Foster Empathy and Gift Giving in the Art Room to inspire your students with teacher gifts. Or, have advanced students create teacher portraits.
Students see the same building, sidewalks, hallways, and classrooms day after day. This can create a sense of monotony which can lower morale. Temporary art can break up the “sameness” and help students take more interest in their environment. Use sidewalk chalk to write encouraging messages and draw beautiful pictures on the path students take to the school from the bus. As a precursor to making sidewalk art, students can make their own chalk. They will be even more proud of how they spread joy when they do it using a medium they made themselves!
Field day excites elementary students, encourages them to work together, and gets them outside. It usually ends with students laughing and playing together, making it a natural morale boost. Add to the fun by incorporating art into an existing field day or create a separate art-themed field day. For secondary students, add a fun art twist to your pep rally activities.
Use these resources to learn more about how to get the art room involved with field day:
As the art teacher, you can have a major role in increasing the morale of your school. Art brightens everyone’s day, both for the students who create it and those who enjoy it. Along the way, you will instill art appreciation in your school community. Collaborate with other teachers, add encouraging notes to your sidewalks, or create personalized gifts to show gratitude. There are so many ideas to try! Pick one or some to make your school an enjoyable place to work, learn, and grow.
In what ways do you intentionally use art to boost your school’s morale?
How do you teach students to show gratitude through art?
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.