Professional Practice

A Look into the Future (Ep. 135)

As we are sitting in uncertain times, don’t you wish we could look into the future and just get an idea of what it’s going to be like? Today’s episode is the closest thing we can manage. Kit Lang returns to the show, this time with Zoe Coughlan, to talk about life on the ground and in the classroom in Hong Kong. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: As we are sitting in uncertain times, don’t you wish we could look into the future and just get an idea of what it’s going to be like? Well, I have the next best thing. Today I’m going to bring Kit Lang, who we have had on Everyday Art Room in the past as well, as Zoe Coughlan. And both are teaching in Hong Kong, which means they are a little bit further ahead in this whole adventure with the COVID-19 situation. Both women are going to speak to us a little bit about what it’s like professionally as well as personally in the COVID-19 situation. I’m your host Nic Hahn, and this is Everyday Art Room.

Kit: Great. So I am originally from Michigan and have been living abroad for 10 years. I spent four years in Shanghai, China working for the Walt Disney Company, and have been in Hong Kong for the last six years teaching visual arts at the primary level. I taught at two different schools. I taught at the International Montessori School of Hong Kong, and now I’m currently at the Hong Kong International School where they offer an American-style education. We have a diverse population of both local and international students. So that’s where I’m currently teaching, and that’s grades pre-K to second grade.

Nic: Okay. And we also have Zoe with us today. Zoe, will you please introduce yourself?

Zoe: Yeah. So, hi. I’m British, and I’ve lived in Hong Kong since 2002. So I was actually here during the SARS outbreak. And I did my art degree and my MFA, both at the Hong Kong Arts School during that time working with an Australian university called RMIT. And then I started teaching secondary art in 2012. And since 2015 I’ve been teaching at Hong Kong Academy, which is a small independent nonprofit school… actually international school, situated in a rural part of Hong Kong.

Nic: Wow. Okay. So we definitely have two very different perspectives from Hong Kong. So I appreciate you both being on today. Thank you very much. So what we’re wondering is what the current situation in Hong Kong and for Asia Pacific regarding the coronavirus. Tell us a little bit about what’s happening today.

Kit: Since February 3rd here in Hong Kong, all schools, both public and private have been closed to help stop and quell the spread of the virus. And originally the school closure was intended for two weeks, but that suspension of the schools has extended now three times. So after the initial two-week suspension it was pushed to March 16th, and now our new tentative start date for schools to return is April 20th. And that’s a month away as we record, and April 20th will then have been 10 weeks of facilitating online learning for our students.

And every school has a slightly different working arrangement. I know both Zoe and I have been allowed to go to our art rooms and gather materials or be in that space collaborating with small groups, but other schools are not allowing people on campus. So that’s a little bit of insight of what Hong Kong has looked like the last eight weeks and where we’re moving towards our tentative start date, and a little bit about individual schools and what their restrictions are with working hours and people coming in.

Zoe: So Kit, actually-

Nic: How about you Zoe?

Zoe: Yeah. Actually Kit, it’s just changed for us at Hong Kong Academy. Literally yesterday, it changed.

Kit: Oh, wow.

Nic: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Zoe: So our Kung campus has now closed. So from Monday, I’m going to be working 100% at home. More generally in Hong Kong as things have been ramping up around the rest of the world, this past week we’ve seen our cases of the virus really jump as a lot of Hong Kong students have been returning from Europe, the US, Australia and so on. And so really this past week has brought a bit of a renewed sense of anxiety and a renewed sense of like the seriousness that actually we do need to be super careful. So my school has responded by asking us all to work from home.

Kit: Wow. That’s an example-

Nic: That’s interesting.

Kit: That’s an example of how quickly things are changing within the last week restrictions on when we can go into work. So yeah, I didn’t know that Zoe, so likely that my school might change their guidelines about people coming on campus.

Nic: And that’s what we’re discovering here, at least in Minnesota. We’re finding that the information changes absolutely every day, even to the hour, with our school, with our local government, our state government, and then of course our nation.

All right. As schools are closing all over the country and throughout the world, do you have some advice for us regarding home learning, some of the tips and tricks, and things that you can share on a professional level with our audience today?

Zoe: So when Kit and I were preparing for this recording, we thought about using the studio habits of mind as a really useful lens for us as art teachers to reflect on our own practice as teachers, and also to really lean into those habits that we’re familiar with and that our students are familiar with. We’ve structured our tips and ideas around the studio habits of mind today.

Nic: I love it.

Zoe: So I’m going to start with observe. And I was thinking about what this means, because obviously in the studio it has a quite a particular meaning, but it made me think of two things, and one thing was observe what’s going on in your communities and your art teaching communities. There’s so many ideas out there. There’s a lot of Facebook groups. There’s an online art teaching Facebook group that you can join, sharing resources, and there’s so much stuff out there it’s a little bit easy to be overwhelmed, particularly now a lot of the ad tech companies are offering a lot of free trials on their technology.

So to stay focused, we’ve kept coming back to three questions, which are, who are we? So that’s who are we as a school and who are we as educators? Why do we do what we do? What motivates us? What our mission? And then, why do we do it this way?

And this means that as a school, we’re making choices that are based on our mission and on student learning. And as the teacher we’re making choices about what to do in our online classroom, that really fits with who we are as educators and what we value as educators.

So an example I can share from our school was when we launched the home learning nearly two months ago, day two we were offering fully synchronized lessons in the secondary school as a way of maintaining structure and continuity for students. But we very quickly recognized that students needed off-screen time.

So in about week three, we took one of the blocks off the schedule every day as a booster block. And we’ve created like a Google classroom with loads of ideas of off-screen things that students can be doing, whether it’s creative, get in the kitchen, get outside, play a game, all of these kind of things to really encourage that off-screen time. Another thing we really have had was that as time has gone on, the students and the wider school community really craving connections has been a big thing obviously we’re all missing.

Nic: Yes.

Zoe: So we’ve started building in things. Like we had an online sports day with sports challenges and like a livecast with the coaches being interviewed by our athletics director. We had a literacy week around celebration. In a couple of weeks’ time, I’m going to be hosting a live ARTstravaganza with art challenges and a live feed, and really trying to keep those connections within the community and keep some of that joyfulness that we have in our regular school day.

Nic: Oh, I love it. I love it.

Zoe: I think the tip here is really to look at what your priorities are as an educator, what are your priorities as a school, and focus on building your online learning around those priorities.

Nic: Zoe, those are beautiful points. Absolutely gorgeous. Kit, what do you have to add to that?

Kit: Another tip is to envision this school suspension to be longer than two to four weeks. As we’ve talked about before, things are changing quickly. Some states in the US have already said, “We’re not returning before the summer break,” but wherever you are, just start to wrap your head around having five, six, even 10 weeks of home learning ahead of you and what that’s going to look like.

So when I learned of the school closure, I made the decision when knowing that it was two weeks at the time, to just continue my curriculum. I thought with two weeks at home, I can have students start to front-load some vocab, introduce new artists and styles, so when they come back after the two weeks we can get right into the art making.

Just a quick review, but now that that has been extended and we’re in our eighth week of home learning, I feel quite thankful I unknowingly made that decision to keep my units going because it’s helped me have a bit of structure to know where to go each week. So I know people are offering a lot of different opportunities for their students to create art at home. But that was one thing that I found really helpful. It just helps the continuity of our program. You still can collect data. Even in week six as the capstone for the unit, I did a little mini online assessment. And that’s also helpful to have evidence of, are they looking at content, are they remembering some of the points that I’m putting on here? So that was helpful.

So if you’re starting to look at what you’re providing now, think about it’s sustainable for week eight, nine, and 10. So that’s a tip is start to envision of what your home learning is going to look like past the original tentative two-week or four-week suspension.

Nic: Sure. And I think when you say that, like a lot of people are thinking or the conversation is, “Well, I don’t want to put in all that work.” I don’t view it as extra work. I mean, those are things that you can bring back into your classroom as well. Right?

Kit: Definitely. Definitely from using these video tutorials you’re making as substitute plans, for some of you that are going on maternity leave, these things can always be used in your classroom, not only when you’re not there but also use it as what you show for a demonstration for watercolor techniques. So it’s definitely good work that you can lean on later when hopefully things return to normal.

Nic: Right. Zoe, can you add to what Kit has just been saying?

Zoe: Yes. I mean, again, when we think about this length of time that might be involved, the studio habit of mind of engage and persist I think really comes in. Right?

Nic: Yeah.

Zoe: Because it’s our frustrations and our students’ frustrations of essentially having to… if I say learn a whole new way of teaching, I mean, of course… Like again, we’re still trying to be authentic to who we are as educators, but our toolkit is completely different. Right?

Nic: Yup. Yeah.

Zoe: So recognizing that it takes time for you and for them to get used to a new platform. And with time, you will really have success. So I can share a real success from our school, wider than just the art rooms actually. We’ve been using it in other subjects too. But we’ve been using Padlet really successfully, and I think many educators might be familiar with Padlet already. It’s like an online notice board, a bit like sort of Post-it Notes. And you can set up the Padlet that all the students in your class can participate in, then they can comment on each other’s posts. And I think art teachers love it because it’s a very visual platform.

Nic: Yeah.

Zoe: And we’ve been using it really successfully for critiques across the secondary school from grade six through to grade 12. So students log in, they put up their work, and it could be a work-in-progress or a final piece, and then you set the task for the comments and they comment on each other’s work. And after a few rounds, students are really engaging meaningfully with each other. It’s been really wonderful to see.

And just that little bit that you need to know in the background, you can set it so that you can approve all of the comments and retain control. So if somebody does put something inappropriate, you can take it off. But I have to say, the vast like 99.9% of our students are just wonderful in engaging with that. And it took them a few goes to get used to it, but they’ve had real success.

Nic: Can I ask you a little bit more on that? Did your students have any experience with Padlet before doing distance learning?

Zoe: No. Kind of interesting. A couple, but not much. And that would be just the regular like daily top tip is, if you do have some kind of chat function… we’ve been using Google Meet, I know other people are using Zoom… just doing these quick check-ins of what you would do as a hands up. “Hands up if you’ve used Padlet before,” this would be, “Give me a yes if you’ve used Padlet before.” But no, actually the majority of them had not. But it’s very, very easy to get into, very intuitive for them to use.

Nic: Okay. Thank you.

Zoe: Can I just share another one that would really be for older students, which is Parlay?

Nic: Yes, I’d love.

Zoe: It’s really amazing for discussions. One of the features of it is you can have a tight, almost like a forum discussion, and the students are anonymous to each other. Now you as the teacher, you know who is commenting what, you can see their names, but they can’t see each other’s names. And in certain circumstances, particularly I think with teenagers, that can be really useful because it gives them that option to not be embarrassed about what they’re saying, and they share a little bit more honestly.

Nic: Yeah. Nice.

Zoe: Yeah. I’d also like to share one way of approaching the unit. Again, maybe this works better with secondary kids, but we’ve been trying to give students these off-screen opportunities and opportunities for self-directed learning. So my grade nines and grade 10s, another top tip, if you can design one unit that you can do with two classes, save yourself some time, it’s what we’ve been doing. And we’ve been using Sarah’s verb list as a starting point. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this. It’s like to cut, to fold, to tear, to curve.

And basically, that was like, right, they’re in their living rooms, they’re working at home, how can they make art? Well, they’ve got tin foil, they’ve got paper tiles, they’ve got cardboard. So each student can respond to that based on the materials that they have at hand. And they’ve been producing some beautiful outcomes by using just what they have at home. With the youngest students, we’ve been using digital photography for the same reason, that it’s just accessible to everyone, and we knew that everyone has an iPhone or a camera that they can access at home. And even if they’re on lockdown, even if they can’t go out of their house, they can still participate in that.

Nic: Wow. That’s a great tip. I really like the trying to use the same idea, or the same subject, or the same assignment for multiple classes. That’s smart. Kit, can you tell us a little bit about reflecting? I know that’s one of the studio habits.

Kit: Right. So reflect in the way that, look back at what you’ve done these last two weeks or even the last week, and think about if that is sustainable. And I know I touched on that before. If you start something this week, if it didn’t work, change it up. You don’t have to stick with something. It is important that you think what is sustainable for yourself but also for your students, and is it working for your students, and also can you continue to generate the type of videos or type of lessons week in and week out. And you can’t be staying up to 1:30 AM every night editing, you’ll go crazy.

Nic: Right.

Kit: So the unknown of how long you’re going to not be in school and having to create content, just it’s something to reflect upon if you can continue on the same way that you have been generating content this last week or two. I think it’s important to think about that as you move forward.

Nic: Yeah.

Zoe: Could I jump to another one?

Kit: Well, most schools, we’ve been… Yes, please.

Zoe: So I just wanted to share something again from a secondary perspective, which is, we’ve been finding our students are taking twice as long to cover content. Literally twice as long. So if you would do it in an hour in a regular classroom, it takes two hours online. So it’s really something to consider as you’re planning, that pull back on the planning, give yourself and the student time and space.

Nic: Beautiful. Thank you for that tip. I think that’s important to know.

Kit: Yeah. Yeah, great point. Especially when you’re starting to think about what to create for them, keep that in mind. That’s a great thing to consider. I mean, it’s going to just take them longer because they might not be in our classroom with a time limit, they might be needing a little bit longer or have distractions at home that they need to work through as well.

Nic: Right.

Kit: Another tool I’m reflecting is looking back at all of the amazing resources that have been coming out recently with most people moving online. So have your content that you’re creating and having it specialized to your students, but also pepper in some of those other amazing resources that other art teachers are creating and other things that are available and free. So just to find your balance. So reflect how you can just sustain and persist with the new normal we find ourselves in.

Nic: Yeah. That’s a very good point. It’s nice to hear that. Give yourself permission to borrow from all of us who are working as a global professional learning network right now.

Zoe: So perhaps the final studio of habit mind is express.

Nic: Yeah.

Zoe: We all know that in times like this, the arts are so important. Right? This is when we need our creativity and we need to give students that space. And of course, students will be progressing a lot of this. There’s a lot of anxiety for kids as well at this time. And so we found that quite a few of our students are choosing to respond to the current situation in their artworks. And many are not, and that’s fine. And so I think to give students the opportunity to find a bit of freedom, and a bit of calm and peace in their art making, other students if they really want to choose to dig into it as a theme, if we can honor their choices in this time, I think that’s really vital as well.

Nic: I agree. Both of you have given us a ton to think about professionally. But can we just dive in for just a minute or two, can you give us a little bit of our personal insights on preparing for this for the months to come with our community and our family members?

Kit: Yeah. I mean, for me personally and as a community, just be ready for the emotional ups and downs. And these are like, for me, that day to day, hour to hour, one hour I’m like, “Everything’s fine. You’re doing great stuff. Oh my God, my community’s fantastic,” and then the next minute I’m literally crying. So just be kind to yourself, be kind to others, be kind to the kids that you’re teaching, recognizing to each other that this is tough.

Nic: Right. Right.

Zoe: We’re at home, and just finding those little joys in every day. If you got more time for yoga, if you’re not commuting, maybe you can do a yoga practice in the morning.

Nic: Yeah.

Zoe: Maybe you can cook yourself lunch, have a lie in, but planning those little joyful things every day as well.

Nic: Yeah. Absolutely.

Kit: Yeah. Zoe and I are speaking to you from the future, and we’ve experienced the same emotions, and ask the same questions, and grappled with the same answers. So I guess our advice is that, view this as a marathon and not a sprint, and find comfort in routines thinking about self-care, because as everything around you feels out of control, lean on those routines and lean on those little ways to find joy each day. And we know that works for our students in our classroom, but it also works for us.

Nic: Yeah.

Kit: So I think that’s really important. And I guess also to art teachers, this is your opportunity to have fabulous nails. So if you’ve always wanted the Cardi B nails, grow those nails out, wear whatever you want, wear white cashmere silk because this is an opportunity to take advantage of.

Nic: That is exactly what I’m wearing currently. Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. How did you know? No, but I think you guys bring up a lot of good points, especially just being emotionally ready to have those ups and downs and giving yourself that… just that permission to feel what this feels like.

Kit: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nic: So thank you to both of you. Guys, you have given us an incredible amount of information to just chew on. Like you said, Kit, this is a view from the future for us, and we can’t thank you enough. So both Zoe and Kit, thanks for being on today.

Kit: Thank you, Nic.

Zoe: Thank you so much.

Nic: Both of these women had so much insight for us just getting started on this whole adventure. I can’t thank them enough. The way that Zoe brought up the fact that when things were getting a little crazy, she just went back to, who are we, why do we do what we do, and why do we do it that way? Those questions are spectacular. I think that they’re questions that keep you grounded, and I thank Zoe for bringing them up.

The way Kit encourages us to think about sustainability, how can we keep this going for as long as we need to have it going, thinking about sustainability. And then also, she gave us permission, and we should all give ourselves permission, to pepper in some of the resources that we’re seeing online. Of course we want our students to see our face, and that’s important, but feel free to rely on your learning network that we have out there on Facebook, on Instagram, on YouTube, and then also think about this as the big picture.

Kit mentioned, how can you use this after we return to our regular scheduled lives? Think about how you’re going to use this content in the future for possibly subplans, or maternity leaves, or even in your classroom as you are teaching students live in face, in face-to-face education like we’re used to.

Of course if you have any questions, you can definitely reach out to Kit and Zoe, we’ll have their information, their Instagram accounts, along with all of the notes that we have with this podcast. But I’m also going to encourage you to jump onto the Art of Education University’s platform because we are working continuously with the COVID-19 situation. We have been updating with as many resources as you can possibly want to make this successful no matter where you’re teaching.

All these resources are for you guys. As art teachers, we’re thinking about you, and just keep breathing and staying calm the best that you can. Hope to talk to you next week as we continue the conversation about art education.

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.