Relationship Building

Building Emotional Awareness (Ep. 163)

Emotional awareness always plays an important role in the art classroom, but perhaps more this year than ever before. In today’s episode, AOEU writer Sarah Krajewski–author and illustrator of the new book Exactly You! The Shape of Your Feelings–joins Nic to talk about how students (and teachers) can be more in touch with their emotions. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Nic: Today, we’re going to talk to Sarah Krajewski, who is a friend of mine. Also, we have talked to her on the podcast before., Also she works for the art of education in many, many capacities. You would see her face on IG lives. She is a writer for the Art of Education University, and she is on Instagram, Art Room, Glitter Fairy. She is spectacular and she has written a new book. So, we’re going to chat with her today to kind of learn about the book that she is creating and is available for you to purchase. And that’s going to be good because you’re going to want it. Let me tell ya. This is Everyday Art Room and I’m your host, Nic Hahn.

Sarah, I’m so excited that you’re back here again. Let’s get started by introducing yourself, kind of talking about your teaching career and who you are.

Sarah: Yeah, yeah. I’m super excited to be back. I always love chatting with you, Nic. So, for anyone that doesn’t know me, I am a pre-K through fifth grade teacher and I teach elementary in Cambridge, Wisconsin. This is my 10th year teaching, so I got a whole decade under the belt, even though, as we all know, this is kind of feeling like your first year teaching again, which I know is very familiar to a lot of us and unfamiliar. And I’m also teaching art on a cart right now. I’ve kind of got a hybrid teaching some virtual classes. So, I’m sort of doing it all, but I’m in it and making it happen.

Nic: Yes. Yes. That’s what, I mean, what more to say you’re right, exactly. I’m excited for what we’re going to talk about today because I think it’s going to relate very closely to the interview that we have had previously. So, I’m going to link that into the podcast notes because we’ve had an interview before and I feel like this is kind of the growth into this conversation that we’re going to have today. So, you wrote a book. I cannot wait to talk about it. So, let’s get started kind of talking about the book and just, how did the idea, where did this come from?

Sarah: Yeah, yeah. So, I am also very excited and super, super thankful for all the support that everyone’s given with all the pre-orders and everything already. So, I’m really excited to share this book with the world. And to kind of piggyback off of how you said our initial conversation, and we’ve spoken many times, but I am a huge advocate of talking about mental health and how we can be kind of building our mental toughness. And part of that kind of came to life in my book.

So, the book is called Exactly You: The Shape of Your Feelings. And it is essentially a self-affirming, kind of like art mantra in some way, but in a children’s book form that talks about big feelings like anxiety and depression, confidence, comparison, self-esteem, all of those big feelings that both adults and little kids feel. And really challenges them to look at that in a beautiful way and accept and normalize and love all the ways that they feel. Because sometimes it’s tricky when you feel a certain way to think maybe you’re alone in those feelings or that you’re the only one that’s anxious right now, or are you the only one that feels so sad and gray and you don’t know what to do.

And so, I wanted to create a very attainable, hopefully, a book that you can start, those bigger conversations with kids. And it’s interesting because even as I was writing my book, I had how you kind of, as you’re making a piece of art, you ask for opinions about certain things and my book was no different. I wanted opinions from my closest friends about what they thought would be appropriate and how I could kind of phrase things. So, I’ve read it to a few other friends and all of the adults that I’ve read it to have commented, “Hey, I need that book. It’s not a kid book. It is, but it’s not.”

So, my hope is that it’s written in a way that feels positive and happy and that the illustrations, I’ve done some collaged pieces that are all abstract and bright and happy and colorful. And I’m hoping that that positivity of the illustration makes the conversations feel not so hard because it’s not like it’s weighing you down in any way, but instead just sort of opening that door and starting the conversation to say, “Hey, have you ever felt like this? Do you ever feel a little anxious? And what does that look like to you?”

So, essentially the book is all about being you and loving your feelings and talking about them and making that be okay. And certainly my process of writing was pretty fast in the way that I essentially story boarded the whole thing out at the beginning of when the pandemic kind of hit the US. So, 2020 was really the reason that made it happen. Being at home and I’ve always wanted to write a book and I had an idea for a different one, and it really, I put that idea to the side and just ran with this one and feel really good about it.

Nic: Yeah. Yes, absolutely. And that’s wonderful that 2020 was inspiring, as well. Because I don’t think we hear that yet. I think we will hear that more, but being in it and being in the middle of it, it’s overwhelming, it’s daunting, it’s sad, it’s miserable. But, it’s nice to hear that there is some beauty that’s coming out of it as well. [crosstalk 00:05:46]. So, Sarah, tell me why you think talking about emotions and feelings and mental health is so very important.

Sarah: Yeah. I mean, so I hope that with anybody that’s teaching, whether it’s virtual or in person with their students, that our focus on their social, emotional learning, is that number one priority. I know our school right now is in person and who knows kind of how long that will last, there’s so much that’s changing. But, connecting with our students has always been important and even more so now, helping them identify how they feel, tools kind of in their toolbox to get through their feelings and being able to love the way that they feel and know that it’s a beautiful way of making them strong is, something that I think is really important to teach our students and to remind ourselves of. I mean, I’ve stopped saying that I suffer from anxiety and instead say, “I live with anxiety.” So, kind of a way of reframing our brain and reframing our connection to our feelings that makes us feel a little bit more proud and strong and beautiful of those feelings, instead of something that is bad or negative.

So, I really just want to normalize those conversations, both with our students and with our loved ones, our family members, parents or grandparents or whoever you might, may or may not have had a deeper conversation about feelings with them and giving them a little bit of that conversation started to begin. So, certainly recognizing your feelings is one of the biggest ways to start. So, instead of just sweeping it under the rug and you’re going to just let it fly by and not really address how you feel versus just recognizing and kind of labeling those, and taking a step back to say, “Huh, this might be how my anxiety is showing itself. Or I feel like my lack of motivation might be some sort of depression and that’s okay. And what can I do to either move past this or accept it?And what can I also do to connect with other people?”

Because certainly when I was a kid, one of the biggest things that I struggled with was I felt I was alone in my anxiety. I felt that I was… Nobody else felt like me, right? When I would get anxious and panicky, I was like, nobody else knew what that felt like. But, as we know, it is incredibly common to have any of those types of feelings. So, I think that recognizing those feelings and just literally talking about them and giving people that safe space to start those conversations is incredibly important.

And lastly, just remembering too, that talking about your mental health and practicing those conversations is like a muscle, right? You have to practice how to be strong and positive and work out that positivity muscle. And it’s no different with having that conversation and recognizing what kind of mental toughness or confidence you need to practice, or positivity and working out that muscle to practice continuously is going to make it easier. I mean, had you talked to me 10 years ago and said, “Hey, can you about your anxiety and your emotions on a podcast?” I would be like, “Maybe.” But now it’s like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Because I think it’s you have to keep practicing so, that you can get stronger at it and knowing that it is completely okay.

Nic: Yeah. Yes. And all of those things, I love that idea. And I keep, as you’re speaking, I keep putting that into my own family life, thinking about it, working through those things with my own children. Because I don’t know if it was the time era when I grew up or if it’s the Midwest or if it was the religion that I grew up in, but I agree, smushing it down was kind of the way to get through it. And you were weak if you were talking about this sort of thing. But, I don’t think that’s it now. I don’t think that’s, I think that’s the growth and the evolution of humans right now.

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. And I will also just, just say too, I didn’t have the kind of childhood where I felt like I couldn’t say my feelings. I did really feel like I could open up. So, I’m very lucky that I had a supportive family and they were able to kind of provide me with some tools to get through that, but it didn’t negate the feeling that I still felt alone, right? I still felt like I didn’t, like I was the only one that was anxious, right? So, I think part of it is, again, reminding everyone that we all feel things and they all look different and they all can be powerful tools to help you get through some sort of survival mode or some sort of situation that you’re in to make you be stronger.

Nic: Yeah, for sure. Thanks for pointing that out. Okay. How does your classroom come into this at all? Do you ever bring this up into your classroom and then therefore, does this ever, did this have any play on to you writing this book, being a teacher?

Sarah: Yeah. So, I guess I have kind of a little bit of both. So, for those of you that may know, we really try to focus on building up those emotional skills with our students, so we always start our art class with our art mantra, talking about how we’re positive, creative, mindful, amazing, we’re artists, and really try to encourage students to take control of their self-affirming statements and really trying to practice that positivity. So, that’s me sort of trying to sprinkle in a little bit of a little bit of conversation about their feelings and taking their own control over how they feel.

But, I do think that this book is going to help me start those conversations just a little bit more about some of those bigger feelings. I feel like I could lead a conversation out of the blue with my students about like anxiety or about comparison. I do feel comfortable that I could do that, but sometimes it’s easier to start when you have a tool. So, I think the book is going to be a way to sort of deflect a little bit of, everything is on you as the educator to start from nothing. But when you read the book, now you have sort of a jumping off point, right? So, you can read it and say, “Well, hey. What did you notice? Or which page stuck out to you?” Or kind of let that be the main starting point.

So, yes. Of course, I’m going to be reading the book to all of my students. I’m super excited about it. And I’ve even told a few of my students at some of our virtual classes that I wrote a book and they were jaw dropped like, “What?” It’s really exciting. So, I’m excited to tell them about the process as well, too.

But again, thinking about what kind of SEL practices you might already do in your classroom. So, do you have kind of a mantra or a mindfulness practices you do? Maybe even just working together with partners and encouraging each other to have those kinds of interpersonal conversations with people next to them, and just jumping off of how you might already speak about feelings in your classroom. And then, something I’m looking forward to as well is working with my school guidance counselor and my other teachers that are really passionate about SEL. A few of my other coworkers have already pre-ordered the book. So, they’re really excited to do kind of a piggyback lesson with me. And we’re going to talk a lot about how we can love and accept and make our feelings really beautiful.

So, kind of finding those resources where you don’t necessarily have to do it alone, because if maybe you’re a little bit nervous and you want to simply read the book and you’re not exactly sure how to start the conversation, I bet your guidance counselor is going to be a good place to start. And those resources are really important to reach out to. So, I’m excited about that too.

And then lastly, for any art educators or parents or guardians or grownups at home that feel like they need a little bit of help, maybe starting those conversations, I’m really proud of at the back of the book, I have a double spread with a few kind of helpful hints. So, one side has three art project ideas that are pretty open-ended, but obviously as an art teacher, I’m passionate about creation as well. So, once you’re done reading the book, I don’t necessarily want it to stop there, but want to encourage people to then create from that too. So, I have a list of some project ideas you can do in the back of the book, and then also have some guiding questions. So, more kind of conversation starters, if you’re a little bit stuck on where to start, and then within scattered throughout the book, there are questions as well. So, it’s kind of, it’s less a story that follows a character and more kind of a conversational book that has some illustrations and things to kind of get that conversation going.

And then, lastly, the thing that I always remind everyone when I’m talking about conversations, just say the stuff, say the things, say, “This is a safe place for learning. This is a place to make mistakes. I’m here for you.” And to not be afraid to say the things that you might assume your students already know. You might think, “Oh, they know I’m here for them.” But, why not just tell them that, “They know that I love them.” Well just say it then, right? So, trying to remind people to say the stuff, say the things, “This is safe. I love you. I’m here for you. Let’s let’s talk about this stuff.”

Nic: Yeah. Wow. Yep. Those are great, great tips. And I’m really excited to see those jumping off lesson plans. And I think once this goes into the world, there’s going to be even more brains working off from your little seed that you’ve put out there. So, I can’t wait to see where this goes. This is going to get big, I think.

Sarah: And I, as an art teacher, I didn’t want it to seem like here’s a lesson plan you have to follow because I know we all have our own creative takes on everything. And,, of course my hope is that if you want to make a lesson, of course use your own creative juices to get one flowing, but I did want to kind of give people a jumping off point, like here’s a very rough idea of what you can do, and it’s essentially organized in a way where it’s very quick and kind of broad, but I have it in three steps. So, start, a check-in, and then a finish. And at the start, I’ll just encourage, here’s the kinds of materials and things you might need. And then, a check-in is, what kind of questions could you ask to check in on the project? And then, a finish is more of a, here might be some finishing steps. But, it’s very, in my opinion, it’s very open to intentionally try to make it so that students and art teachers and grownups can make their own artistic choices about what that looks like.

Nic: But, what I see in that is that… I mean, I think I want to get this for my nieces and nephews. I want to get this for my sister who homeschools. And so, whereas of course the art teacher is going to take it in one way. There’s the Joe public, that’s when they took it in another way. And so, you gave that advocacy of creation to them, so beautiful, beautiful idea. Okay. So, the big news, when and where can we get this book?

Sarah: Yeah, yeah. So, it is coming out quick. It is going to be released on 10/10/20, which is a very easy number to remember. I was excited about that. It is in honor of World Mental Health Day. So, that is a really fun celebration. Just kind of bringing to light those conversations and really trying to support each other through the weirdest time we’ve probably ever had. So, it is, right now you can pre-order it through my publishers. Quite honestly, the easiest way, if you’re listening right now, is just to go to my website, and they’re at the very top, I have a tab that just says, pre-order my, and you can follow there and it’ll take you right to Orange Hat Publishing for the pre-order. You do also have the ability to order through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, if you just search Sarah Krajewski or you should be able to search the book title as well.

Now, granted, as you may or may not know when you first publish a book, it’s harder to search for things because it’s not like everybody knows, right? So, probably going through my publishers is it is a great way to do it. And then also, if you are able to pre-order before that release date, I’m signing all the copies, and I have some really cool stickers that I designed that I’ll be giving out as well with the pre-orders. So, that is the easiest way to do it is head to and go ahead and follow there to pre-order.

Nic: Awesome. And perhaps, I’m not sure when this is actually going to air, so it might be already out and then we’ll be able to get it right away.

Sarah: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And even if you don’t do the pre-order with the sign and everything too, Orange Hat is going to have that book up in their little bookshop tab on their website. So, you’ll be able to order the book no matter when you hear this podcast, it just may not be technically part of the pre-order.

Nic: Pre-order, but it would be the order process. Got it. Okay. Either way, you’ll be able to get your hands on it in the near future because we’re already in October. I can’t even stand it.

Sarah: That’s what I’m saying, and I don’t even understand.

Nic: I know, I know. Sarah, what are the final words that you want to leave us with? Out of all this conversation, what do you want to leave us with today?

Sarah: Yeah. I mean, Nic, I’ve been listening to you so much and we even just have chatted a little bit about how hard this all is and realizing that we really don’t need to over-complicate things. Just try to keep things simple and be gracious and understanding to yourself and to the people around you is kind of like the number one, right? There’s things that I usually do as an art teacher that I’m like, “Yeah, it’s just not going to happen this year.” And that’s okay. And honestly, the kids probably won’t notice. It’s just going to be me realizing, “Oh yeah, I’m not hanging as much art or I’m not doing our club or whatever.” And that’s okay. So, really trying to remind yourself to give yourself some grace, be kind to yourself and others, and sort of go with the flow.

One of my favorite little analogies, I guess, is to be a leaf, which seems very silly, but basically if you envision a leaf, a little fall leaf, just floating on a stream of water, and sometimes it might get caught up in some little rocks on the edge, or sometimes it might kind of bubble down underneath the surface. But, no matter what that leaf just keeps kind of going with the stream, it just keeps going. And being a leaf is very important right now because you might see something that you might get caught up on and you might notice where you might go under the surface. But, no matter what, you’re just going to keep going with the stream. And I think that’s an important analogy for right now, especially.

Nic: Beautiful. Thank you so much.

Sarah: Absolutely.

Nic: I love having conversation with Sarah. She is always so willing to put it out there on the line. Just say all the things as she, so eloquently said earlier. But, as you heard, this was something that she learned to do over time. It is a muscle that she learned to flex and continues to practice on a regular basis. And I think that’s true of anything. Anything that you’re trying to get better at, maybe being brave or maybe, I don’t know, just finding more time to make your art. It takes practice. It takes dedication and it takes conscious effort and many, many times to get better at it. And feelings are no different. Being able to identify and address the feelings that you have and then learn how to live with them and own them. That’s going to be a powerful part of living.

And I think this book that Sarah wrote is going to help us explain that to our students, explain that to ourselves. And like I said, I’m definitely buying some for my family too. So, think about that as you go to check out her new book on her Instagram account and through her publisher.

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.