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So often, we talk about finding the right PD, and even more often, we talk about the lack of good PD for art teachers. In this episode, Tim and Andrew talk about what it looks like when you have worthwhile professional development available (4:15), how a focused topic can help you throughout the year (10:00), and the importance of finding teachers who share your passion (15:15). Full episode transcript below.
Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.
So, our question for the day: what should good professional development look like? Y’know, it’s something we talk about a lot, and something we spend a lot of time thinking about at AoE. As art teachers, we all know how terrible back to school PD can be: it’s irrelevant, if it is relevant, it’s probably boring, and most days you’re in PD you feel like you’re wasting your time when you would much rather be in your classroom. I don’t know if we’re ever gonna solve that problem, but it is something we can talk about, and one point that I wanna make is that I think it’s important to consider your mindset going into professional development.
I think when you first start out as a teacher, your first few years, you’re excited – you’re excited about everything that’s going on, but as time goes on there are a lot of teachers that lose their drive, y’know? They get comfortable with how they do things, they kind of lose the urge to step out of their comfort zone, they lose the urge to do anything different. Those are the people that are always going to tune out during PD, but on the other hand there are teachers that never stop pushing themselves to learn new things: they’re constantly adapting what they do, they’re constantly evolving as teachers. Those are the lifelong learners that you hear so much about, and they’re attentive in PD, up to a point, but even more importantly a lot of times they search out their own PD that’s a little bit better, a little bit more relevant to what they’re doing.
If we’re thinking about the mindset, I think the question we need to ask ourselves is if you’re somebody that’s lost their drive, like if you’re a teacher that has lost their drive, can you find it again? More importantly, can good professional development inspire you to learn more, or to try new things? If it can do that, what would that look like?
I don’t know that we necessarily have the answer to all of those questions, but when we are trying to take on some of these big picture topics there is nobody better than Mr. Andrew McCormick. He has been through some awesome PD lately, so I want to talk to him about that experience, and also a little bit more about those big picture topics that I was just touching on. So let me bring him on now.
Alright, Andrew, you are back on the show after I don’t know how long. It’s been far too long, how are ya?
Andrew: I’m good man, yeah, it’s been a while, it’s been a while.
Tim: I assume that you had a good summer, how was it?
Andrew: I did, I was a little… It was good, I mean – this is every teacher’s answer, “It was good, but it was fast!” right? That’s definitely true for me. I was really stupid and, man, I should learn my lesson, but it’s the second summer in a row where I’ve just tried to do too much and then I’m disappointed that I didn’t do more “fun” stuff in the summer. So in the month of July, I took two classes, and I taught a class. So my July just kind of evaporate, but otherwise, other than just having like a really busy July, it was really good.
Tim: Okay, that’s cool. Now, I kind of wanted to have you on to talk about professional development because you seemed super excited on Twitter about this climate and culture thing that you were doing. Can you talk a little bit about what that was, and kind of what – how it inspired you, I guess?
Andrew: Yeah, I’m actually really fired up from that. I’m actually, Tim, so flattered that you followed my Twitter, that has kind of been like a dead account for like the last year or so.
Tim: I was just gonna say, yeah, I haven’t been on Twitter very much, but just here and there I’ve just been kind of creeping without posting stuff. Which I need to fix that and get back to saying stuff, but… I logged on for a couple days in a row, and you were just like fired up about everything that was going on. It was kind of exciting to see.
Andrew: Yeah, so I went to this really awesome conference, and I think the first tweet of the conference was, “time to dust of the Twitter.” I will say, I think that’s like the – my… That’s what I think Twitter is really great at, that other social platforms don’t do is like, kinda like a live check-in at an event, it’s awesome. It makes going to a conference or a talk or a symposium really fun because then you can hashtag stuff and see who else in the room is picking up on the same nuggets that you are, and you can kinda network with people. I really dig it for that, but yeah it’d been a year since I’ve kinda used Twitter because I’m kinda more Instagram because of how visual it is.
Yeah, so enough about social platforms and social networking. The conference itself was awesome, and it was the… I’ll probably butcher the name, the third annual school conference on climate and culture, and it was hosted by Des Moines Public Schools. Now, I don’t work for Des Moines Public Schools, I’m in one of the suburbs, and I believe all the Des Moines Public School people get to go for free and it’s part of their kick-off to the school year professional development. People outside, in the suburbs, if we wanna go… Like my school district paid for me to go, which was awesome, but I don’t get PD credit for it. But, man, it was some of the best PD that I’d actually had in a number of years, so I was really excited to go, it was awesome.
Tim: Okay, so let me ask you this: what was so great about it? Following along from afar, it seemed to kind of have a theme and some coherence and some inspiration. Is that what it was? I guess, thinking bigger picture, is that what you need at the beginning of the school year?
Andrew: Yeah, so, it really was what I needed. I actually needed, sort of like, a checking back in with some of the things that I am passionate about because, you know, I mean I don’t think this is any surprise. I think people who have listened to the podcast, or maybe people who don’t know this, I’ve had a couple rough years of teaching, and years where I’m like, man, I’m just not feeling quite as effective and I’m having to start things over and I feel like I’m stuck in a rut. It was a little, kind of fiery session to be like, you know what? You did this for a reason, you have a calling, you have a purpose, like come on! Be passionate and committed again. It was very fiery and very inspirational.
I will say I went to one session, like a break out session, that was very, very good. I went to one or two more sessions that were kind of ho hum, I’m not gonna lie, they were like okay; and that happens at a conference, you think something sounds good and it’s like, just alright. It was kinda nothing new. But then, the thing that sealed it for me, there were just fantastic keynote speeches – speakers – and that’s where actually most of the tweets and the kind of like nuggets of wisdom and inspiration that I got was from the three keynote speakers.
Tim: Let me ask you this: when you have all of these great ideas that get you back to being more passionate about, y’know, what you’re wanting to do in your classroom, does that make some of your first days with kids go a little bit better?
Andrew: Oh man, that is such a good question. I wish, I’m gonna be honest, I wish it made my first day go better. As we’re recording this, and I don’t know when it’ll be released, we’ve had one day with students. I always think the first day is so weird, and I don’t like it, and I wish I could get more like “yeah it’s first day!” The reason I’m not like that is, most of the schools I’ve been to recently… They take, like, three quarters of that first day with, like, “Here’s where you get your supplies, and here is the lunch room procedures, and this is where you’ll drop off this.”
Andrew: I actually saw my students in class for ten minutes, and it’s really hard to be like “Hey guys we’re gonna have a great year I’m so fired up! See you later.” ‘Cause especially, like, with high school kids, by the time they came and saw me, it was 1:30 and school gets out at 2:50. They had done nothing but procedures, and here’s how we go to the auditorium, meet with your homeroom teacher, and do this… And by the time they kinda got to me, ’cause I don’t have a homeroom, they were so tired; and I just, rather than be all fiery and tell them how awesome it was, I was gonna be like – I just kinda commiserated with them. I’m like, “I know guys, I know it’s the first day. I know you’re all fired up, and then we kinda throw a wet blanket on you guys. But just wait ’till Monday, ’cause on Monday it’s gonna be real and it’s gonna be exciting.”
So, it gave me some concrete things to think about that I wanna do a better job at, y’know and it was a nice little primer on that to kind of reconnect with what did I do well last year, what do I wanna do better… So that was really helpful.
Tim: Well, let’s talk specifics: what are those things that you wanna do better? What are those things that professional development, at the beginning of the year, make you kind of think about for the upcoming year? What are you focusing on?
Andrew: So that conference was all about, kind of how to change the climate and culture of your building. So, whether it’s low moral of a staff, and we’ve all been in buildings like that; or if it’s staff members, or even yourself, who… Feels like, “Well, y’know, I taught ’em, they’re not learnin’, that’s on them. They earned this F, I did what I could, but they just want that F.” Kind of that, like, giving up and giving in to things that are difficult, and this conference is, like, screw that, you can’t do that.” That was really nice to see and hear and think about again, so for me it really got me thinking about grading.
A big push of that conference is how to deal with difficult kids, how to deal with tough kids, right? And one of the things that we – that I – kept thinking about, is “Why do students ever fail in my art class? It’s because they don’t do the work.” I used to think – and I knew that there was more to it than this – but I always used to think that it’s because those kids didn’t know how to play school well, like they didn’t have the toolkit to have stick-to-it-ness and grit, and I’m actually kind of falling out of love with that word. I gotta think about it a little bit more before I put some opinions on that word, but I busted to think they just, for whatever reason in their background, or whatever they have going on at home, they just can’t do it and it’s really tough for them.
Now, I think that there might be some of that, but I also think, like, I don’t know as teachers if we’ve convinced enough students that school is for them, you know what I mean? Because we have students all the time that say, “I’m not taking your test. I’m not doing your project. I’m not doing that assignment.” It’s this, like, “I’m not going to take ownership over that thing ’cause that thing is stupid and it’s irrelevant and it’s biased, it’s whatever problematic it is.” I just think some of our toughest kids kind of haven’t bought in that what we’re doing in the classroom is for them, right? They haven’t taken ownership of it. I started thinking about all the kids that I’ve had, specifically in digital photography, who just… They didn’t feel it, it wasn’t for them, they didn’t like it; and it’s like, how can I make it so that they have more ownership of that so that I don’t have kids who check out on me?
There’s a lot going on, ’cause it’s like it’s not just assessment, ’cause whenever we talk grading and how a kid fails and turns stuff in and late work, that’s assessment. It’s also like, curriculum and is it open ended enough hat kids feel like they can make it their own… So, I’ve got a lot of things that I want to clean up, and that’s why it was so good for me to kinda hear that message.
Tim: Yeah, I think that’s really good. Actually, I think we should do a whole ‘nother podcast on the grading and motivation and all of that kinda stuff. But, sticking with the PD for right now, y’know, how do you make these idea kinda keep going throughout the year? How do you follow through with the things you’re motivated with now? Because I feel like so many times we have decent professional development at the beginning of the year; everybody’s fired up, everybody gets into their classroom, they’re excited about that, and then you never follow up. There’s no more talk about these ideas, or very little talk about those ideas moving on from your school or your administration, wherever that’s coming from. So, I guess the question is how do you get these goals, these ideas, to keep going? How do you keep working toward them throughout the year?
Andrew: Well, okay, I’m gonna give you kinda, like – I know the answer, but I don’t wanna just say it, I wanna give you kind of an analogy. So, imagine, y’know, the beginning of the school year, all of us teachers we’ve rekindled our fire, right? We’re on fire with passion and energy for our students, and we have this little fire that’s growing and glowing, and then in the process of the work workload, and the 180 kids that we see, and the stuff and the hurdles and the grind, that fire kinda starts to go out, right?
So, maybe this is hearkening back to some Boy Scout stuff of mine, some Boy Scout experience over the summer, but the way that a fire grows is that it needs more stuff around it, like more kindling. What I think, as teachers – and I’ve been bad about this the last couple years, I haven’t had like a network of people to kinda “get with” and buoy that fire and help me out, and like, they’re gonna add some stuff to my fire and keep it going and I’m gonna add some stuff to their fire and keep it going. Actually, I’ll be honest, I think when you’re struggling, and maybe this is human nature or maybe this is my own weakness, when I feel that times are getting rough rather than maybe going and finding the people that can keep my fire going I find other people whose fires are almost out also. We sit around and complain about how our fires are almost out, you know what I mean?
Oh, it’s so easy to do, because it kind of feels – there’s a part of it that’s like, well it feels good to know that I’m not the only person that, by February, is sick of feeling like I’m banging my head against the wall, or I’m sick of not feeling supported. So, y’know, there’s some comfort in feeling like you’re not alone, but at the same time, and I need to do a better job of that this year, you gotta snap out of that crap and be like, “Okay. So what are we gonna do about this? Because both you and me, and maybe this whole team of three, four, five people, we all kind of feel like, y’know, our fire’s going out, we’re not supported and let’s be done with the pity party and, like, what’re we gonna do to move forward?”
One of the things, and I mean this is on like every Nike billboard, and bumper sticker and advertisement, inspirational poster… But I just kept thinking, like, no more excuses, right? Kids makes excuses for why things aren’t going well, but we’re adults, as we teachers we need to make action plans; we need to make progress. Too often, I think, maybe because as teachers we work with kids and it’s tough, we kinda fall into that same rut; here’s all the excuses for why I’m feeling frustrated, or I’m feeling unsupported. Man, screw that! We gotta buck up, and like, no more excuses; just get it done. That’s what I’m trying to carry over into some of my tougher classes, or into those moments where I’m feeling like I’m struggling a little bit; I’m gonna lean into it and embrace how I’m struggling, and not run to, “Well if I just had a better budget, and if I just had this.” Screw that, that’s an excuse! Make it better.
Tim: How do you ensure that you keep your mindset right throughout the year? How do you avoid falling into that trap of, I don’t know if you wanna call it despair, or negativity, or whatever. Are you just checking in every few months, and trying to make sure that your mindset is still where it needs to be? Are you reflecting on stuff throughout the year? What are the concrete ways to make sure that you can follow through with all of these ideas?
Andrew: That’s a good question, and I can make some snide jokes about, I’ve been going to yoga a lot lately, so that gives me more presence. I think anything that you can do, whether its meditation or yoga, running, anything that gets your mindset right and your mental state right is good. I’ve also been thinking a lot lately, I think in this country… Dude, this is not the answer you’re expecting but I’m gonna go off on a tangent.
I think, in this country, we are seeing that we really do have a mental health crisis. I mean, there’s been recent studies done, and I think as people who work in middle school and high school, we see kids struggle with that. I think something that we don’t talk about is that, I think teachers struggle with that; whether you wanna call it mental health, or you wanna call it feeling burnt out or keeping alive, I always think teachers gotta be more open with talking about getting help for outlook – y’know, sort of – the mindset, keeping it fresh. So whether that means that, like as a teacher you’re going to see someone to talk it out, or maybe that’s just you have a good team around you that keeps you going, keeps you lifted.
I hope that my PLC work this year, we can get rid of some of the fluff and be that support system for each other, hold each other accountable. Not just kinda commiserate and then talk about nicey-nice pleasantries about what we did over the weekend, but we can actually like, like I said, no more excuses; make an action plan, make progress.
I actually had a breakout teacher, or a breakout facilitator, during that conference, the one that I went to that was really good… She did a really cool thing where she had everyone kind of write this poem about the beginning of the year, like how we’re feeling about it and getting into it; which was kind of a fun exercise, and then we moved around the room and talked to other people about our poem. But one of the things that she did, which I thought was cool, was she made us all fill out a post card with the first stanza of that poem, and then she’s gonna mail it back to us later on in the year. I don’t know when, and then that’s gonna show up.
So, I do think that there’s little things as a teacher you could do, little hijacks to keep your mental state strong and keep yourself focused, and carry that PD fire throughout the year. Whether it’s having a file folder that is the field good notes that your kids have given you, whether it’s notes from a conference where you were writing some really inspiring stuff, or go checking out your Twitter feed when you were writing all this inspiring hashtag stuff. I think there’s some ways that you can kinda recheck back in and recalibrate some of that positivity that we had in the beginning of the school year.
Tim: We’ll go ahead and wrap it up there, and everybody can walk away with some positivity and some good ideas. Andrew, thank you so much for joining us and hopefully we can get’cha on back again soon, and we’ll chat about grading and motivation and all that good stuff.
Andrew: Yeah, cool, I’m excited about that one. I’m fired up about that one.
Tim: Alright, good to talk to Andrew as always, and like I said at the beginning of the episode, I don’t know that we’re gonna be able to answer all of the questions that I’ve raised but it is good to talk to him about some of those ideas.
Now, obviously, I need – would be remiss if I did not tell you about all of AOE’s professional development offerings because flat out that’s what we do. So, if your school is lacking in what they’re providing you, check out what we have at AOE. If you’ve sat through really boring stuff at the beginning of your school year, really irrelevant stuff, just know that there’s better stuff out there. There are more opportunities out there. We have a lot of just one time professional development opportunities that are amazing; we have a tone of grad courses, we have a ton of studio courses if you need any of those, we have the art ed now conference that I talk about all the time, obviously, I love it because it’s one of my main jobs here at AOE, is putting that together. That’s some of the best one day professional development that you can do. Even if you don’t have the money to do things like that, or your school will not help, we have podcasts that come out every week, we have articles that come every day, with all kinds of different ideas for just about any topic that you need.
So, long story short, whether you need a one off or you need something that’s ongoing and simple, we have it for you. Or, if you have the money subscribe to our Art Ed PRO, or even better if you can get your school to pay for a subscription to our dead pro, that is the best ongoing professional development that you can get it; all sorts of amazing topics, amazing resources, and video on demand for whatever you wanna teach. Just think about what you want your professional development to look like, think about those opportunities that are out there, and make sure you take advantage of them, because we’re all on the same page here. We want to create amazing art teachers, and so I hope you take the initiative to find what you need and do what you need to do to make yourself a better art teacher.
Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you as always for listening, and your homework this week is to find some of that good professional development; an article, an interesting video, a podcast that you haven’t listened to yet. That is your goal for this week, and feel free to shoot me an email about what you’re exploring on the AOE site, and what you’re finding I always love to hear that. We’ll talk to you next week.