Professional Practice

Art Teacher Hacks and Art Ed NOW Ideas (Ep. 203)

Today, Rachel Albert returns to the show to talk to Tim about her favorite art teacher hacks. Listen as they discuss some of her best ideas, favorite projects, and how to make your life easier in the art room. They also dive into the upcoming  Art Ed Now conference, where Rachel will be presenting once again. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

We are going to be discussing art teacher hacks today, all of those simple tips and tricks that make your life a lot easier. We’re also going to dive into art ed now because the conference is happening this week on Saturday. We are just a few days away. You can still sign up through Friday, by the way. And Rachel Albert is going to be my guest. We have a lot to talk about with hacks and with the conference, because Rachel is an amazing presenter, she attends every conference, she’s presented at the last six, I believe, and she is always one of the most popular presenters that we have. And, this time around for the winter conference here, she is going to be presenting all about art teacher hacks. Just simple ideas, but things that are really worthwhile, things that are going to make your life a lot easier. And I think it’s going to be pretty enjoyable.

She usually puts a fun spin on her presentation, and like I said, people absolutely love her. So that is definitely something to look forward to on Saturday. And, I know she has a lot to share, but obviously we’re not going to give it away here on the podcast, not all of it anyway. We’ll talk about an idea or two, and I want to ask her also about some advice for attending the conference. Before we get there, however, in the spirit of sharing our favorite hacks, I have a couple that I want to give to you. Okay. Ones that I think we’ve probably discussed before on the podcast, just because these are some of my favorite tips and favorite tricks. First one is using discarded books or old magazines as your paint palette. Discarded books have so many uses in the art room for sculptures, for backgrounds, for paintings, for drawing surfaces.

But I love using them for paint pallets as well, because every day you can just take a page out of the book. I usually have kids tear the front cover off. But then the top page, you set your paint out for the day, you paint, when you’re done, rather than bothering to wash a pallet or try and save that last little bit of paint, just tear the whole page off, throw it away and you’re good to go. It saves so much time, makes things so much easier. And, I actually like magazines even better for that because the pages are not absorbent and then you’re not wasting quite as much paint. It just sits on top of there, it doesn’t soak into the paper. So it’s a little bit easier to use up all the paint that you have. So, just using that as a paint palette can really save a lot of time and a lot of energy when it’s time to clean up.

And then second is an organization hack that I really like. It took me forever to realize this. So it was probably a decade into teaching before I realized that the best way to sort colored pencils is just into warm and cool colors. Because I would always have them set out with a separate box for each separate color, and kids take forever to put them back, if they bother to put them back at all. And then you have this huge line forming while people are just waiting to stand at colored pencils and put them all back, and it just, it takes forever. And, so even if there’s a handful of kids, it just, it takes forever. And so, just sorting them into warm and cool is all you need to do.

I generally have two separate boxes, warm colors for one, and I usually toss brown in there because it feels a little warmer as one of the neutrals, and then I’ll toss a gray in with the cool colors because it feels a little cooler as one of the neutrals. And then I have a separate container for black and for white that are sometimes out and sometimes not, depending on what we’re doing with them, what kids want to do with them. Okay. But just separating into warm and cool and makes things so much easier. But anyway, I hope those two ideas work for you. They’re simple to implement, they’re simple to keep going throughout the year. But, I’ve been talking for way too long now. It is time to bring out our guest and get talking about even more art hacks that you can use to simplify your life.

All right. And Rachel Albert is joining me now. Rachel, how are you?

Rachel: Hey Tim, I’m doing well, thank you. How are you?

Tim: I am doing great. Let me ask, how has the month of January been going for you? How is teaching after the holidays?

Rachel: It’s been a little cuckoo. It’s hard to get used to the fact that I again have to wake up before the sun comes out, and now I have to eat lunch, multitasking. I wasn’t doing that for those two weeks off. But other than that, it’s going pretty well. I’ve started stop motion animation with my sixth graders, so that’s pretty exciting. Working on some report cards, which is less exciting, but it’s the usual.

Tim: Yeah. That is teaching in a nutshell really, those super exciting things that you get to do in your classroom, and then all of the administrative tasks and all of the [crosstalk 00:05:41] that nobody likes.

Rachel: They come together, unfortunately.

Tim: Yes. But, we’re professionals, right? So we do it all and we do it all well.

Rachel: We got to do it. That’s it.

Tim: So, it works out. Cool. So, I want to talk to you a little bit about the conference, kind of dive into all of the exciting things that are coming up soon. So, you have your presentation where you are sharing some of your best art teacher hacks, which I think people are going to love. But, can you talk a little bit about where you got the idea for that presentation and maybe share a couple of the highlights that people can look for?

Rachel: Absolutely. I am so looking forward to the conference as always. My favorite way to waste time is by scrolling through Buzzfeed, and that’s I think where the idea originally came from, because something that they’ve gotten really good at over the years is sharing these life hacks. And without that I would still be breaking a sweat every time I have to put my duvet cover back on my duvet. There’s a hack for that. It’s brilliant. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should Google it because that’s my least favorite chore is, yeah, getting that duvet cover back on the duvet, and there’s a genius hack. But I am a real firm believer in sharing is caring, and if you’ve got something that works for you, then spread the wealth. I think something that can sometimes make teaching art a little difficult is that we often operate in a silo.

There’s less of us specialty teachers, and so less opportunity to pick people’s brains or pick up on strategies that are working for people who get it. So, we have to look elsewhere. And, of course we are so lucky to have our own resource for ridiculously relevant strategies, and concepts, and ideas shared by AOEU, and the conferences, and in the courses and in the magazines, but we also have social media. And although social media can be intimidating and definitely has the tendency to make people feel inadequate or less than, but it really does also give us the power to very easily share what works for us. And, it also kind of just seems like hacks are in the air right now. I know you guys have just released a Pro Pack by Sarah Krajewski, the art room glitter fairy, with some elementary hacks. And so, I would encourage people to check that out too.

But, I think hacks are just really beneficial for everybody, and if you’ve got it, you might as well share it for people who might benefit from it too. And, for a little sneak peek or a highlight, I would say I shared a hack that actually was also shared by Sarah in the Pro Pack. And, so if we both swear by it, then it has to be good. And it’s a hack that when someone shared it, it was one of those light bulb moments where I was like, why did I not think of this sooner? So my drawing racks have always been a disaster. They are the gateway to the unknown where everything just kind of disappears, and one day there’s like an apple core there and I don’t know how it got there. And they were just disastrous. And the kids could never find where they put their work, and they never knew where it was the next day when they came back. And I tried labeling the shelves with sticky notes and they would fall down, or the kids would be like, does this sticky note go to the shelf above or the shelf below?

And, it just wasn’t really working out well. So, sadly, I don’t remember who originally posted this genius solution on Instagram, but they are obviously a God among men and deserve all the bonus points in the afterlife, because the hack was so simple but it changed everything. So, those black binder clips that you would normally use to clip together a stack of marking, I use those and I clip them on the edge of each of my drawing rack shelves, and each of them is labeled using a gold metallic marker, and then I can attach them or detach them as needed, I can move them around. Maybe one class might need more storage space for a particular unit. And so, that I would say is a very simple but life-changing hack that I think I got started with.

Tim: Yeah, that’s a good one. And yeah, like you said, it’s so easy for drawing racks to become just an absolute disaster. And so, anything that cleans that up is going to be helpful. So, I don’t want to give too much away from your video because it’s still to come, but I know you have, I don’t know, approximately one million more hacks that didn’t make it into the presentation because we limit you to just like 10 minutes or so. But do you have a couple others that you can share here on the podcast while we’re talking?

Rachel: Yeah, I can sneak some in. Well, if any of the listeners follow me on Instagram at Mrs. Albert Art, then you’ll know that I’ve actually been posting some bonus hacks to kind of wet everyone’s palette, no pun intended, or maybe pun intended. And so I would definitely suggest checking those out in my stories. But for now I’ll do one simple one, and then if we have time I’ll share another one at the end of the podcast. So, one thing that I have found works so beautifully is I use hot glue to add texture to the bottom of whatever receptical I’m using for water pots for my students with their painting classes. So, the little glue ridges on the bottom of the pot make brush washing much quicker and much more effective for the kids because it gives them those ridges to kind of rub the paint off.

And, I find that was a really quick hack that I was able to do in just a couple of minutes. Now, at the end of a unit, usually the hot glue has kind of come off, peeled off from the bottom and the kids have started playing with it. But I’ll just toss it out and then I usually just apply it again. And it just takes a few minutes, but it really saves a lot of time and then my students don’t have to keep getting up to go and wash their brushes. So I found that one really successful.

Tim: Yeah, that’s a really good one, because I just saw that on, I think AOE maybe redid your story, posted it. And, I watched that and I was like, this is brilliant. I love that idea. And so, and then you start getting saying, why have I never thought of this? Why is this brilliant idea just now coming into my life?

Rachel: Yes. I feel so stupid. Yes.

Tim: But that’s okay, because like you said, we’re all in this together and we’re all about sharing ideas and just kind of getting those ideas out there so more people can use them and make everybody’s life a little bit easier.

Rachel: That’s the goal.

Tim: So, let’s talk a little more conference stuff too. I know you also recorded an after pass presentation last year on how to make the most of your conference experience. And, I really liked that because I know it comes from a place of experience, you have presented so many times now, you’re always so popular at the conference. So, let me ask your advice for people, what do you think are the important things to be paying attention to if you’re attending Art Ed Now, and how can people make the most of the conference when they’re there?

Rachel: Absolutely. So I’ve attended every single conference with the exception of the very first one ever, and I still mourn the loss of that conference. But, basically I sort of came up with that presentation idea last year, because over the years I really struggled to digest the plethora of information that was coming at me at the conference. The conferences are so overwhelming. In-person conferences are even more overwhelming, at least with AOE I get to be in my jammies. But they’re filled with professional development that most teachers are getting sporadically throughout the year, but we’re getting in one fell swoop. And so, I always found it difficult to take in all of the information, and my brain would be so full of the ideas that inevitably some would escape and go on used, and that felt like a real loss.

So, my biggest piece of advice for making the most of the conference is number one, write everything down. Just go for it. Just write down as much as possible. And then after the conference I kind of sit down and have a little debrief where I choose three ideas. I choose a try tomorrow, a try this year, and a keep in mind. So, a try tomorrow is one idea that I’m going to, I’m going to be able to try tomorrow. It’s something that I can act upon right away. It could be something very, very simple. A little strategy that I can implement right away. And then, a try this year is usually a project idea, or an instructional strategy, or an organizational idea that I’m committing myself to actually implementing at some point this year. May not be now, may not be this month, may not be next month, but at some point before the end of this year. And then, a keep in mind is something that maybe is a little grander, but it’s maybe just something that I want to remember for my future practice.

And, I find that when I narrow it down to these three ideas, I find it much more manageable to actually implement some of what I’ve learned. And, of course we have the magic of the after pass. You can always go back in and watch the videos again later, come up with perhaps maybe you’ve done one of your try tomorrow’s and you’re ready for another one. But I find it much more manageable to do it that way rather than just kind of saying, okay, how am I going to take one thing from each of these presentations? It can become overwhelming because there’s so many amazing ideas. So I think that’s my best advice for making the most out of a conference.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s good. Because I think the biggest thing I would encourage everybody to do is just kind of change their mindset. You don’t have to digest everything at the conference in those five hours that it’s taking place. Like you said, the after pass is there, there are handouts with every single presentation. And so yeah, you can spread your learning out throughout the year, and I think that’s a perfect approach. Take the best idea or the easiest idea to implement, and yeah, get that going immediately. But then think about, oh, what can I do before the end of the year? What can I do long term? And I think that’s definitely the right way to think about it. So, that’s good advice. So thank you. And then the last thing I wanted to ask you, just as we’re talking about the day, and how things go and how you get to stay at home in your pajamas. What does the day of the conference look like for you? Where do you watch from? What are you doing during those five hours when the presentations are going?

Rachel: Great question. Well, I wake up with sunshine and unicorns because I’m so excited for the best day of PD out there. I think I’ve said this to you before, I don’t celebrate Christmas. So AOEU, Art Ed Now day is my Christmas. It’s so exciting. So I wake up really excited, I’m revving up, I’m ready to learn, I’m ready to soak up as many things as possible. And before I became a presenter, I really tried to take advantage of the convenience of the conference. I would come up with creative places to watch from. And I think you guys have even included some of those photos in the conference wrap-ups of years past, because I’ve participated from a lounging chair at my condo’s swimming pool, while cooking meals for the week, while folding laundry, while jogging on the treadmill, and even while getting a pedicure. And no joke, my pedicurist was like, can I learn too?

So, there’s just something so exciting about being able to learn from wherever you want, doing whatever you want. And, the rest of my staff at the school are all, they do their professional development in a very formal way. We’re sitting in a room and we’re listening to someone talk at us. So, it’s always been easy, not as fun for them to get PD. And once I found AOEU I was so excited to have this relevant professional development. I put so much effort into finding unique ways to do my PD or to watch the conferences because I was kind of like, nana nana boo boo, my professional development is cooler than your professional development. Take that. But since becoming a presenter, I try to be completely present for as much of the day as possible. There’s such an energy that’s palpable during the conference that you just feel such a sense of joy and camaraderie with all the other people, whether it’s in the live chat or simply just watching the presentations if the live chat is overwhelming.

And then, if you can’t be there live during the conference, like we said earlier, the after pass is such an amazing luxury. And even with the after pass you can still feel that energy. And I think it’s important for people to remember that you’re not necessarily going to be able to pay attention to every single conference presentation. You’ve got kids, or you’ve got, I don’t know, a flood, or you never know what things are going to happen in the middle of the conference and you’ve got to stop for one presentation, and you can really come back and check that one out later. And, I think there’s just something so magical, and how lucky are we to have AOEU to have these amazing Art Ed Now conferences and be so flexible with them. It’s so fantastic.

Tim: Well, thank you for the kind words. I think those are the reasons that we’re excited about putting them on as well. We want to do professional development differently. We want to make it exciting, we want to make it accessible. And I don’t know, we’ve all been in those rooms that you talk about where somebody is just talking at you for way too long, and it’s a terrible way to do things. So, I’m glad we can put these together and I’m glad that you can be a part of it as well, because I know people have been learning from you so many different things from so many different presentations. It’s been awesome. So, before we wrap it up, do you want to share one more art teacher hack, or do you want to just make everybody watch on Saturday?

Rachel: Yeah. Well you have to do both. You have to watch on Saturday, but I’ll give you a bonus one now that’s not even in the presentation. This is like a VIP moment for everybody here. So, I have moved into a brand new art room this year and it is much smaller than my old art space, and I am noticing a really difficult time when it comes to the end of the period and all of my students, all 30 of them want to wash their hands. And luckily I have three things. I know there are some art teachers who have one, and I know there are some teachers who have none, and I do not know how they do it. But I have this lineup of these gigantic middle-schoolers waiting to wash hands, and then of course one of them will start flicking the water at somebody else and somebody thinks it’s a good time to have a bath in the sink.

And it just becomes disastrous. There’s water all over the floor and I just, I can’t stand it. And so I decided to sort of bite the bullet this year. I went to Costco and I bought a giant box of baby wipes, and my students know that there is not one person who’s allowed to go near the sink unless they are one of my brush washers. Otherwise they have to do whatever their cleanup job is, they have to then sit down, and once their entire table, every single student at their table is sitting down and has done their cleanup job, I then walk around and I give each student a baby wipe. And they beg for them. They actually like them better than using the sink now. They’re like, they smell so good and they’re so soft and whatever. So, I know it’s a little bit expensive, but it saves me so much just pulling my hair out with dealing with all these kids attacking each other over at the sink. And so yeah, I found that baby wipes have been a super helpful little mini hack that you might want to try.

Tim: Oh, that’s a good one. So, that’ll be a good place for everybody to leave it and they can just have visions of middle schoolers with fresh smelling hands.

Rachel: Yeah.

Tim: I don’t know, middle schoolers get excited about the weirdest stuff.

Rachel: They sure do.

Tim: And that definitely fits in that category. So, cool. All right. Well Rachel, thank you so much. It’s great talking to you as always, and we will see you on Saturday for the conference.

Rachel: So looking forward to it, Tim.

Tim: Now, before we close up, I do need to talk to you about one of the incredible companies that makes Art Ed Now possible. It’s Art to Remember, and they are our platinum sponsor for the conference. Now as you know, as I mentioned in the beginning and as Rachel and I talked about, we are less than a week away from Art Ed Now. It is a full day of amazing PD. So much to learn, so much to do. And, one of the presentations that allows you to both create and learn how to do work with Art to Remember to raise money for your school is from Nic Hahn. And Nic will be leading a hands-on demo to show how easy it is to create an Art to Remember project. So, check your swag box for the awesome lesson plan they’ve provided along with the paint marker, and just kind of get an idea of what you may want to do with this project.

Okay. You just need a little bit of paint, a little watercolor, a little bit of acrylic and some cutouts, and it’s a simple project, but it’s a great way to teach your kids about a variety of things. Nic will go over all of those. And it’s an awesome chance for you to follow along, create, take a lesson back to your classroom. And then, once you’ve seen how easy it is to create that project, you can see how easy it is to do the entire fundraiser. Art to Remember will provide you with everything you need to run a great fundraiser. So, think about what you might need for your classroom, or maybe just what you might want for your classroom. Okay. And make sure you sign up for Art Ed Now to get just the right instruction, just the right inspiration to run that fundraiser and get what you want or what you need for your classroom. So, we hope to see you there.

Now, last thoughts, Rachel had some great advice about thinking both short term and longterm. Short term about the ideas from the conference that you can implement right away. Art teacher hacks, for example. And more about longterm thinking. Maybe that’s advocacy strategies, or summer camps, or murals that you may be teaching in the future. It is all there for you on Saturday, so I hope you can join for the conference and I hope you can make the most out of everything that these amazing presenters are willing to share.

Art Ed Radio is brought to you by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you, as always, for listening. And check out the details, get yourself registered if you have not yet at There is a code for you to use to get $20 off the price of the conference. Use the code AEN2020. That’s AEN2020 at checkout to get $20 off the price of the conference. Remember to sign up by Friday, that’s three days away. And I will see you there on Saturday.

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.