Celebrating AOEU’s 10th Anniversary (Ep. 261)

As AOEU continues to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Tim invites Amanda Heyn back to the show to reminisce and share some of their best stories. Listen as they talk about how art teaching and the art teacher community has changed in the past 10 years, tell some behind-the-scenes stories from the early days of AOEU, and discuss where AOEU may be going in the future!   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.

As you may have seen over the past couple of weeks, The Art of Education University is celebrating its 10th anniversary. A lot of amazing stuff has happened here in the past decade. And trust me, it’s weird to say it’s been a decade. Things have changed just so much, and I’m really excited today to take a look back at what has happened and what AOEU has developed into here in 2021. And in just a bit, I’m going to bring on Amanda Heyn, who is a pretty familiar voice on the podcast at this point, just to reminisce and tell some stories because she’s one of the few people that have been here at AOEU even longer than me.

But, before I invite her on, I want to just share a couple old memories. I was first hired as a writer in 2014, back when AOEU was just AOE, just an online magazine with articles and, every once in a while, an online conference. And my first article that was published is probably still one of my favorites. I believe it was called How to Throw Things at Your Students and Get Away With It. And, I talked about how I would dress up in formal wear along with all of my students, and we would throw Nerf balls and other random things at each other, and photograph everyone dodging the flying objects. And we turn those photos into giant realistic graphite drawings inspired by the artist, Robert Longo.. . Still just one of my favorite drawing projects and, like I said, that’s still one of my favorite articles.

And after I was writing for a while, I started to do a show called AOE Live with Andrew McCormick. This was 2015, I think. And it was a live show where we did interviews with art teachers live and online before Zoom was out there and being used by everyone.

AOE Live was a really cool idea. It was a lot of fun, but the technical issues kind of outweighed the benefits. So, we eventually dropped that after a few months, but shout out to the hundreds of people who somehow still listen to those episodes every month. I’m not sure where you’re finding them in the archives, but thank you and glad you’re listening. But that was the precursor to this podcast that you’re listening to today. And, Art Ed Radio has been going strong for more than five years now, which is spectacular. And, one of my favorite parts of my job, I absolutely love doing this every week, but I promised good stories from Amanda, not just from me. So, let me go ahead and bring her on now.

All right, Amanda Heyn joining me now. Amanda, how are you?

Amanda: I’m great, how are you?

Tim: Doing well. I figure it’s been a month or so since we’ve hosted anything together.

Amanda: Yeah, it’s time.

Tim: So, it’s time for you to come back. No, I wanted to chat with you because we’re doing all sorts of amazing celebrations because AOEU is turning 10.

Amanda: I know, can you believe it?

Tim: It’s been a journey, it’s been fun. It’s exciting to get to 10 years and I wanted to talk to you specifically because you’ve been around AOEU forever. You are the original employee, I think, or one of the two originals.

Amanda: I like to say I’m an original cast member. I’m not number one, but pretty close.

Tim: But you are close. So, take us back to those really early days. How did you get started with AOEU and what was it like way back at the beginning, way back when things were getting started?

Amanda: Oh my gosh. Okay. Yes, come with me down memory lane. So I was teaching in the classroom, so I was a classroom art teacher. I was teaching elementary art. And, sometimes when you just get in a panic, you…I’m a huge planner, but sometimes, you would come up and you’re like, “Oh, this class was ahead one class,” or whatever, and you need to like scramble. You know that feeling? And, you know you can pull something out of your brain, but sometimes you need a little help. So I think I Googled “second grade lesson” 10 minutes before my class entered the door. One of the Google hits that came up was this blog called The Art of Education and I couldn’t believe that I didn’t know about it, cause I thought I was kind of in the know with what was going on, and it was just like pages and pages and pages of ideas and blog posts.

I don’t remember what I ended up doing that day, but I definitely bookmarked that website. And then I went back to explore and I was like, “This is so cool,” and it was 10 years ago when people were just sort of starting to get into blogging…?

Tim: Yes.

Amanda: When did you start your blog, by the way?

Tim: Oh God, I don’t know. I think, it wasn’t quite 10 years ago, but it was close, if I had to guess I’d say 2013? 2012? I don’t know, somewhere around there.

Amanda: So, I mean it wasn’t really a thing. It was starting to become a thing. And so I just emailed Jessica and I said, “Thank you, thank you for making this. This is a really wonderful resource.” And then we just started emailing a little bit. We found out we were really similar, we had really similar teaching philosophies, had been teaching for about the same amount of time. And basically I just said, “Hey, if you ever need any writers for this, I would love to contribute.” Basically cold called and said, “Hire me. I don’t know if you hire people, but I would love to be a part of this.” I knew that from the beginning.

Amanda: And she said, “Oh, okay, cool. We don’t have anything like that right now.” And then three weeks later they did, cause they did have a couple of people contributing a few articles here and there, and somebody had to drop out. And so I stepped in and that sort of started the whole thing.

Tim: Let me ask you, when you first started and there was just a couple of people writing, what was that like? Were you just writing or were you doing lots of other things as well?

Amanda: No, it was just writing. So I was also teaching, and at that time writers contributed four articles every month, so it was-

Tim: That’s a lot.

Amanda: It was a lot, yeah. But it was really exciting because there also wasn’t any information out there for art teachers about art education. So it was really fun to share and I didn’t really know the other writers at that point either. Now we have our chat platform, Slack, that we chat on all day long with everybody and everybody can celebrate each other and talk about each other’s articles and ideas and whatever, and that just wasn’t a thing. It was much more isolated, but I still felt good that I was contributing to art education in some bigger way than just inside of my own classroom.

Tim: Yeah, that’s awesome. I was going to say, this will eventually get to my next question for you, but I had started reading The Art of Education blog. I remember getting on Twitter and just starting to sort of get into the world of online are teaching, how everybody was sharing, connecting, blogging. And I remember thinking, wow, what a great name for a blog, The Art of Education

Amanda: That grabbed me too. Well, you and I like puns and word play cause we’re very nerdy. And I agree. I was like, “This is smart. This is a great name.” Yeah.

Tim: And so I remember…I’m in Nebraska, Jessica and her husband, Derek, are in Iowa, and, I think it was 2013, we had an Iowa/Nebraska art educators conference

Amanda: Mm-Hmm (affirmative).

Tim: I remember meeting Jessica there and talking to her and talking to Derek, I think I had lunch with them, and was just like, “Hey, if you ever need a high school writer, I’m doing this blogging thing.” Cause it was all very elementary focused, and every time I read it, I was like, “Oh, these are great ideas. I wish they had them for high school.” And so I think they had Ian Sands writing at the time, who was spectacular, and then eventually it was like, hey, I want to write for them too. And so eventually I got around to applying and you were editor at that time and so you were able to hire me. And so my question for you….Hiring me, was it a great decision or was it your greatest decision?

Amanda: Okay. No one can see our faces, but my eyes are rolled very far back into my head.

Tim: That’s a great Stephen Colbert joke, by the way.

Amanda: No, I’m kidding. Obviously the greatest decision of all time, best hire I’ve ever made and I’ve hired so many people. No, but really, I mean think about it. We wouldn’t be sitting here doing this podcast. We wouldn’t be hosting now together. We wouldn’t be friends. I mean, yeah, it was a good decision.

Tim: Where would my life be if I were not on this podcast right now with you?

Amanda: I know, for real. I think it’s funny, cause we both kind of weaseled our way into doing this. So there’s a piece of advice for you, if you want to work with us, just keep being persistent. But, I knew about you because of the Blog of the Year contest. Remember when we used to do that?

Tim: I do remember the Blog of the Year contest.

Amanda: So, a long time ago when blogs were more prevalent or when they were the hip cool thing, before Facebook groups and Instagram, and all of that, we scouted people’s blogs. That’s how people were sharing. And it was a really cool thing. I think we ran that for five years. And I’m pretty sure you won.

Tim: I think I got third place one year, maybe second place, I don’t know. And I was like, quite an accomplishment on my part. I felt very proud of myself. And then I was going to say, the year after that, I just emailed all of my friends and family members, “Guys vote for me, vote for me, vote for me.” And I think I won one year.

Amanda: That’s funny. I didn’t know that behind the scenes, when I was counting up the votes, that it was Tim’s mom.

Tim: Yeah, basically [laughter]. One other thing that I do remember, and I wanted to bring this up too, once I got into AOEU and was able to hire people myself, I could look through all of the old hiring files and I found mine, and of course you have to snoop in them, and I remember Jessica had written in there, after she met me or talked to me, she’s like, “Seems pretty nerdy, but knows his stuff.”

I don’t know whether to be insulted or whether I should be proud of that, but it’s definitely me. She got a good read on me.

Amanda: That’s so funny. I love that so much. Well, maybe to counteract that image, do you remember when we met in New Orleans? We were at a team dinner and I came over to sit by you and you asked me if I wanted to talk shop and I didn’t know what that meant. I don’t know why I have gone my entire adult life without ever hearing that phrase. How is that possible? I listened to a really funny podcast about that idea recently. Anyway, and then you told me you had already had four beers. And I was like, “Oh, we’re going to be great friends.”

Tim: I love it. That’s always my default question though, because some people love to talk about work and other people don’t talk about work at all. It’s a good way to start conversation. We need to know what we’re going to be talking about.

Amanda: That’s true.

Tim: It’s a good way to set the table for the evening. While we’re down memory lane, I want to ask you a little bit about that community that we kind of touched on where it was all people sharing online either through like long Facebook posts or Twitter or just blogs and lots and lots and lots of comments on the articles, in blogs, on the AOEU website. Can you tell everybody who wasn’t part of that, what was the community like back then?

Amanda: Yeah, I feel like it was really tight knit, and it still is to an extent, but it was obviously 10 years ago or eight years ago, or however far we’re down the road now…It was a lot of the same people. You would recognize the same names popping up in the comments and because social media wasn’t as prevalent, or there were no like business pages and stuff like that, yet, everything, all the discussion was taking place right on the website. So it was really fun to get to sort of know different teachers through their comments. And I think teachers were really finding their way. That was a time when a lot of us had come out of art education or teacher training programs with like DBAE drilled into our brains. But then there was also this other movement that was like, well, maybe we should give some kids some choices. And actually we just had a writer write a really interesting article about…Christine Vito wrote about the differences between DBAE and newer methodologies and how they really have a lot of overlap. Anyway, check that article out.

Tim: It’s super interesting. I’m intrigued. And then the article lived up to the title, which doesn’t always happen.

Amanda: Yeah, for sure. And so I think a lot of teachers were finding their way and it was really cool to be there for that. Do you want to go there? Do you want to go to our most commented article that you wrote?

Tim: No, but yes.

Amanda: Okay. I’ll tell it. Okay, Tim wrote It’s Okay Not to Have a TAB Classroom. And I just think, honestly, most the comments there were so insightful and thoughtful and I think it was a really good reflection of the fact that you have to teach in a way that works best for you and you can grab things from multiple pedagogies and create something that works really well for you and your students. And I think that article, while it was inflammatory in some senses, really helped people sort of dig into what they believe and why. And I think that was really cool. I don’t know if you’re still getting angry emails about it, but…

Tim: Well, we’ll get to that in just a second. But no, just to kind of lay out that discussion, I think, like you said, TAB has been around forever, but a lot of people were just discovering it then. And so being the internet, there was not a lot of room for nuance and so I tried to write an article that just, like you said, got people to reflect on their own idea and it’s not just either DBAE or TAB, there’s middle ground there. Choice exists on a spectrum. There are levels to it, there are layers to it and that doesn’t always come across in articles, it definitely doesn’t come across in comment sections on those articles, and so it was very back and forth.

“This is the way I was taught and this is what works.” And then other people fighting with, “No, you need to try something new. It’s better for your kids.” And I hope people were able to reflect and able to find what works for them and continue to kind of reflect, continue to change. And that was the overall goal. But to answer your question, yes, five years later? Six years later? I don’t remember when I wrote that. Every once in a while, I still get contacted or still get emails about my article and just say, “Thank you so much for writing this,” or of course, the “you were so wrong about all of that.”

Amanda: Well, that’s what a good article does, right? It causes people to reflect.

Tim: I understand that people are just finding it and really needing to comment, but I’m so over it at this point. I mean, yes, I’m happy to answer emails, I’m still happy to discuss, but I don’t love when I see that subject line hit my inbox.

Amanda: Well, I also think the conversation has evolved. Sort of talking about our community now, I think A) they come out of teacher training with a much wider variety of perspectives given to them. And so they’ve already sort of wrestled with that and they’re not looking to anybody to say you should do this or you should do that, which I think is kind of cool. And so I do feel like that article was really interesting for that time, but now I think that it’s a lot more well-known, what the different ideologies are and what the benefits are. And teachers are sort of formulating their own teaching styles from the get-go.

Tim: There are so many more resources out there for everybody as well, which really helps. And I think just with social media being so prevalent, you can find those teachers that sort of align with your style or your pedagogy and you can follow them. And you can also keep track of the other teachers, what they’re doing, even if you don’t agree with how they teach or if their style doesn’t work for you, you can still see what they’re doing and still maybe take some ideas here and there, still share things with them and still interact a little bit. It’s just in a different place now and things like Instagram just make it so much easier to see at a glance everything that’s happening, and I think that’s really beneficial.

Just a quick question for you. Do you think, I mean, I assume we both think that’s a good thing, but do you think people are more open to different ideas and more open to new ideas at this point then than they used to be?

Amanda: I definitely do. And I think that’s just like a reflection of our culture too, right? You have stuff coming at you, not just about your job, but about everything from all angles all the time. And so you have to work to figure out what you believe about everything, including your job, including your teaching philosophy. You’re kind of always being challenged with something new or different or exciting or whatever. And I think it’s really awesome.

Tim: Yeah. Now, I also want to share a few other stories because people love to hear all the kind of behind-the-scenes stuff. So I have a couple of sort of quick questions for you. We can maybe share a couple of stories. First off, headquarters at former AOE now AOEU, not easily accessible, we’ll say? Middle of nowhere would be another phrase that people like in Northeast Iowa. What was it like for you visiting headquarters for the first time? What was your reaction the first time you got there?

Amanda: Yeah. Well, so when I started there wasn’t even a headquarters. So the first quote, unquote, retreat took place at Derek and Jessica’s personal home and I slept there, which was pretty fun and awesome. They had a private chef come in. It was really cool. It was really fun. It was five people sitting around the table.

Once headquarters became a thing, we got an office building. The first time I went there where there was a new hotel to stay at. I had to drive really late at night. And I honestly can’t remember why I was driving in so late, but I like turned off the dirt road, to the bigger highway, pulled into the hotel, it was, I don’t know, midnight, went to bed and I woke up and I opened my shades in the hotel room and it was just cornfield for as far as I could see. I just thought, “Where am I?” No other time in my life had I ever stayed at a hotel where it was the only building other than a corn field, and shout out to The Americinn, very nice, warm cookies at night. Great place. But yeah, it’s just a different experience and well, you know all the restaurants are closed on Monday. Do you remember that one time we tried to eat dinner?

Tim: Just try to eat dinner, period. Just small town. They’re open when they want to be open, which is not necessarily when you need them to be open. So, we’ve learned, but we found all the best restaurants in Osage and in the surrounding towns.

Amanda: Surrounding areas, yes.

Tim: I’ve come to enjoy a few of them.

Amanda: Some really surprisingly good Thai food in the middle of nowhere, Iowa.

Tim: Right?

Amanda: So good. In fact, I was just talking to another coworker randomly about that restaurant because it’s so good.

Tim: It is, it is. Yeah. It’s good stuff. Okay, so do you have a couple good memories or fun memories from being in Osage?

Amanda: Yeah, definitely. Well, every year there’s a retreat, obviously this past year 2020 didn’t happen, or last year, I guess now, but this one time- and we also always take a really fun team picture. So, we’ve done confetti poppers. So this is probably like the highlight of my life because nobody knows this, you know this. One of my lifelong dreams has been to be in one of those giant showers of confetti, right? And I thought, “Okay, I’m going to have to travel to Times Square at New Years Eve, or I’m going to have to go to the Super Bowl and work my way down to the field, or American idol. I don’t even watch that show, but I can get in the audience. I’m trying to envision when the confetti happens and how I can be there. But then for one of our team photos, they bought everybody a giant confetti popper to shoot off. It literally is something on my bucket list that now is crossed off.

Tim: I remember seeing you getting your hands on that for the first time and I can’t even describe the look on your face.

Amanda: Pure joy.

Tim: Pure joy, pure joy.

Amanda: And then, there’s drinks and a band in the evening. I had had two drinks and then I saw the extra confetti poppers and, this was sanctioned by Derek Bosley, Founder of AOEU, but I got to take a confetti popper up to the balcony in the barn and then detonate it over the dancing crowd below.

Tim: Was this the greatest day of your life?

Amanda: It really was. Is it coming across? Because it was really, really wonderful because then I got into what other people in the confetti shower. It was just so great. So great. Do you have any favorite memories?

Tim: Oh, I think mine are less retreat-related and more work-related. When I first got hired, I told Jessica my dream is to travel around the country and just talk to art teachers about what they’re doing, which I don’t do on a regular basis, but every once in a while I get to go. So, I got to go out to L.A. and interview Sir Ken Robinson, which, one of the best podcasts, probably the best podcast I’ve ever done.

Amanda: I mean, even better than this podcast right now?

Tim: A little bit better. A little bit.

Amanda: Okay, fine.

Tim: So that’ll always be a professional career highlight for me.

Also, end of 2019, I got to go to Brooklyn and go hang out in CJ Henry’s studio. She was the nicest, kindest, coolest person that I’ve hung out with in a long time. And she let me like flip through her drawings, like “Oh, just look through that stack there,” and I just got to look through and she was open to critiques. I was like, “not sure why you would need my opinion, but I’m happy to discuss.” And then she told me all, all about her upcoming show that was going on in England. And then she sent me an invite in the mail a couple of weeks later. I’m just like, Oh, she’s fantastic. So yeah, it was, it was quite the time. So I really, really enjoyed that. So anything else that you love or should we just leave it on the confetti popper?

Amanda: I mean, you can’t really get better than confetti poppers and famous people really.

Tim: So we’ve been talking way too long now, but I have one more question that I want to wrap up with. Hey, AEU is now 10 years old. We’ve come a long way from sleepovers at the founder’s house as a small blog to a university with all sorts of amazing offerings. So the question is though, we’ve come a long way in 10 years. Where are we going here next? Like where do you think we’ll be at 15 years old or 20 years?

Amanda: Oh my gosh. It’s so exciting to think about, because like you said, it went from being a blog and then we started offering some courses and then it was really felt like a startup for the next five to six years after that. Everybody was doing all the jobs. I was doing some very, very terrible graphic design work. Don’t go back too far in the archives.

Now we’re starting to be able to become more specialized in our jobs. We’re bringing on a lot more experts and it’s just really exciting and it feels like the changes are exponential at this point. They just keep coming faster and faster and we’re reaching more and more teachers, which means we’re reaching more and more students, which I think is really cool. I don’t know how many of our listeners know, but we like to describe it as like this hyper vertical university. So we have something for every teacher, whether you need quick ideas, you need podcasts, magazine articles to grab, or you want inspiration at the NOW conference twice a year, or you want to get a graduate degree. We have the master’s program or we have curriculum or we have professional development. We really cover everything that art teachers would ever need and it’s fun to think about how we could stretch that ladder even further in the future.

And I really think that AOEU has stayed true to its mission from the very first blog post. Jessica said that she wanted to help teachers be their best selves, essentially, and the very first blog post that ever went up. And, that’s still the goal of AOEU now and I think it will still be the goal of AOEU 10 years down the road. I think we’re really committed to helping teachers be their best selves and then how that trickles down to students is just so exciting. Millions of kids are being impacted by the work we do and that’s definitely the favorite part of my job.

Tim: Yeah, for sure. And I think, just to close it up, one thing that you told me I think is worth making a point of…I think we’re going to be accomplishing that goal if we can just continue to show our teachers the importance of investing in themselves and just kind of show the wider world, show admin, show community, show parents, show all the stakeholders, the importance of investing in art education.

Amanda: Yeah, a hundred percent.

Tim: All right. So Amanda, thank you so much for the conversation. It’s been a fun trip down memory lane and you’re popular, so we’ll have to bring you back soon.

Amanda: All right, sounds good. I would love that. Bye everyone.

Tim: Thank you to Amanda for this entire conversation. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of so many things at AOEU, but having this opportunity on the podcast to talk to my friends like Amanda, talk to you, who’s listening every week, to converse with amazing art teachers all over the country, is absolutely one of my favorite parts of my job. And, as I always say at the end of each episode, thank you for listening. And I’ll say, thanks for sticking with us for five of the 10 years that AOEU has been around. So congrats to everyone at AOEU on reaching this milestone. And, I can’t to see what the next 10 years will bring.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. As I just told you a bit ago, thank you for listening, and we will be back next week.

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.