Professional Practice

Closing the Studio for the Year (Ep. 220)

Closing down the art room for the year was a unique and difficult experience this time around. As Tim discussed last week, teachers and students everywhere are missing out on their last pieces of learning and their final goodbyes. Today, Abby Schukei joins Tim to talk about what we missed out on this year, how we can make the most of our summers, and why she is feeling hopeful for 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.

On last week’s episode, I talked a lot about considerations for the end of the year. What we need to continue to do through the end of the year and for the summer, as well as for this fall. Not only building relationships, but also instructional strategies and motivation and how you take care of yourself over the next few months. That discussion seemed to strike a chord with a lot of people. I think the combination of closing up studios and the finality of everything and the uncertainty of what comes next is really causing a lot of stress.

Speaking of anxiety and stress, I have seen a lot of panic on social media about the CDC guidelines for reopening schools. I think it’s important to calm the waters just a little bit. First of all, if you’re looking at the list of guidelines on a blue background that has been making the rounds, I need you to slow down and check your sources because reputable sources don’t start with the phrase, “Here we go.” And reputable sources don’t also misspell the word guidelines. There’s a lot of deceptive editing in that list that I think is meant to stir the pot, for lack of a better phrase.

I’ll just leave my thoughts at that, but if you are really interested and you are really concerned, which I think is valid. I think you can go to the actual CDC website and read their specific guidelines and not just focus on a poorly written summary that came from who knows where. I’m actually going to take that recommendation a step further and say don’t worry about the fall just yet. Yeah, there are a lot of questions swirling about funding and budgets and protocol and guidelines and how the fall is going to look? But guess what almost all of that stuff is out of your control. We’re all still learning as we go through this together. We don’t know what things are going to look like in two weeks, much less what they’re going to look like in August or September.

Maybe let’s circle back to some of the ideas from last week and think about avoiding unnecessary stress, and worry about things that we can control, and not spend all of our time and all of our energy on things that are outside of our control. Kind of in that same vein, I want to have a more calm, measured conversation that speaks to some of those anxieties and some of those emotions that everyone is feeling as we pack things up for the year. Abby Schukei is going to join me today. She and I live pretty close to one another. We always record our podcasts in person, but obviously we can’t do that right now. This one’s probably going to sound a little bit different, but I know her wisdom and her expertise can still come through from a distance. Let me bring her on right now.

All right. Abby Schukei is joining me now. Abby, how are you?

I’m doing pretty good. I am going to tell you a bit of a funny story that happened to me today, just because that kind of leads the premise of what all of this time has been like for me. I feel like I’ve been drinking a lot more coffee lately, just because I’m at home. Tim, I know you’re not a coffee drinker, but… I have a Nespresso machine, where you put these little pods in and press a button and it goes. You have to put the cup underneath of it. But this morning I forgot to put the cup underneath of it. I press a button and I walk away and there was just a big puddle of coffee everywhere.

Tim: At that point, do you just grab a straw and try and drink it off the counter? Or what’s the plan of attack there?

Abby: I should have, but you know, it was early. I hadn’t had my caffeine yet. I was like, “Oh my gosh. I seriously have to clean this up?” That’s how I started my day. I think it can only go up from here.

Tim: That’s true. That’s true. Okay, I like that. That’s a good way to start the podcast. I wanted to ask… Well, I guess let me set up the stage a little bit for you. I talked a little bit last week about how teachers are ending the year and considerations, what we need to think about as we close this year out and go into the next year. I heard a lot from people who were just saying cleaning up their room this year is one of the saddest things they’ve ever done as a teacher. I guess I just wanted to hear your perspective too. What did the end of the year look like for you? When did you go clean up your room? What was your feeling when you had to do all of that this year?

Abby: Yeah, it was definitely a weird experience. I think I actually went in and cleaned out my classroom. I think the end of March, maybe right at the beginning of April, because it was kind of interesting. When we got the news that we weren’t going to be coming back to school, you know we originally thought it was just going to be a couple of weeks, we happened to have a teacher workday that day. We were basically instructed just to get our rooms cleaned for summer on that day, instead of doing our regular professional development. That was actually nice to have that done. But when I went in at the beginning of April or whatever the date was, when I went into my classroom, I came in being like, “Okay, I can get this done. This isn’t going to be that bad.”

In my room, for my middle school students, we have cupboards and inside of those cupboards they have one of those plastic tote bins that slides in and that’s where they store all their stuff and their artwork. I have seven classes that had those bins and there was 25 to 30 in each one of the cabinets. I remember I got done with the first class, trying to get all their stuff, putting it in piles by their names. I was like, “Oh my gosh, that took me two hours to do one class.”

I was like, “I have six more to go.” It was definitely time-consuming in that regard. Then I learned a lot about my students. I was like, “Why are you hoarding these things? What is this?”

Some of the stuff was kind of funny, which it was good because you hadn’t had that connection with your students. Going through all of their stuff kind of had a little bit of some fun moments there. It was definitely sad to go through. My eighth graders were finishing up a watercolor project and they had the half-finished artwork that I would take out and take pictures of or whatever, just because it was like, oh my gosh, that would have turned out so awesome if they would have had the opportunity to finish it. It was definitely overwhelming. Took a lot longer than I had anticipated, but it also caused me to reflect a little bit on, hey, maybe when we go back to school again, maybe I have these kids take this stuff home more often. Or let’s do some more cleaning out throughout the year, rather than just doing it all at once. Yeah. It was a weird experience.

Tim: Yeah, for sure. I think… I don’t know. Everything we’re doing right now seems to be kind of a weird experience. Just things we haven’t done before. Yeah, I think it’s worth reflecting on. Like, oh, how is this going to change? How are things going to be a little bit different next year? We can talk about that a little bit later, but I wanted to also ask you, you said you finished going to school, like physically being at school, in March. But you’re still teaching online for a couple months. Were students staying engaged through the end of the year or did you…. I know they’re excited at first with all the cool things that you were doing. Did they stick with that or did they notice kind of a drop off with engagement and activity as things were winding down?

Abby: Yeah, I think as a whole my entire school kind of… I had a little bit of a drop off there. It’s kind of interesting. I think the online learning or at home learning that we were doing kind of came in waves. The first week or two there was kids that were like, “Well, do I have to do this?” Then they weren’t doing it.

Then it was their families at home were like, “Okay, I need something for you to do. You’re going to do it now.”

So then there was a little uptake of engagement and stuff. Then as the weeks went on and I think you kind of just had… For me, it was just kind of the same kids doing work each week. You would definitely have those kids who you’d post a new lesson and they would have it done right away and there’d be like, “Okay, what else can you give me this week?”

So I’d be like, “All right, let’s find…” I’m like, “I know you love drawing people. I’m going to find you this really good tutorial, YouTube tutorial, about drawing all these facial features. Here you go.” They’d finish it in forever or right away. It was really cool to see those kids who are like that in the classroom. Because they were bored or missing the engagement of school, they needed something to do other than just scrolling on their phone or whatever. It was really cool to have them show that they were interested in art and that it mattered to them and that they were seeking out some more stuff on their own.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. I also wanted to ask you about summer. I know you usually keep super busy with teaching and volunteering and all that kind of stuff, which I’m guessing is not going to be available. So what does summer look like for you? Are you going to be working or learning or doing PD or will it just be like some time off for you?

Abby: Yeah, I think kind of a little of everything. Here in Nebraska all have the summer school programs that occur in June can’t occur physically and some of that’s happening virtually. However, my school does summer school in July, so we’re not really sure what that looks like yet. I would be really shocked if it would occur, but we’re just waiting.

Yeah, I think kind of the craziness of the end of this school year and definitely I think this is my last week of school, technically. It’s hard. It’s hard to tell. I think I’m definitely, when it’s done, I’m going to just take a little time to not think about school. Just because I think we all, even though we weren’t physically there, it required a lot of our energy in different ways. I think it will probably be good to step away from the computer screen a little bit. But then who we are as art teachers, it’s a little difficult to not think about, okay, what are the things that I can be working on to make the next time that I’m in school better? I’ll be doing some PD and some other things to just help me get the right mindset as I begin to look for… I guess, begin or look forward to the next school year.

Tim: Yeah, for sure. That will bring a whole new set of challenges. I think it’s good to kind of clear your head and just get in the right mindset, like you said, for what could be coming. All right. Talking a little bit more about summer, as you know I’m very involved with the Art Ed Now conference and people love you. They’re excited to have you back. Can you tell us, Abby, just a little bit about what you’re going to be presenting on or what we have planned for your Art Ed Now presentation this summer?

Abby: Yeah. I always look forward to not only presenting at the Art Ed Now conference, but all of the awesome ideas shared from other art teachers is always so incredible. I’m going to be presenting about the art room supplies that you didn’t know you needed. I know that we have… There’s just like basic essential art room supplies that all of our classrooms have just in order to run and all of that. But I’m going to be taking a different spin on things about kind of looking at those unique materials or supplies that just make your life easier as an art teacher.

I can tell you that most of the things I’m going to be sharing with you are not… you wouldn’t even think they’re classroom related at all. You might be like, “Wow. Yes do you even have that?” You might look at some of the homemade things that I’ll be showing and might say, “Okay, what even is that? Is that just a pile of trash or what is it?” But I promise, there will be some resourceful things in there for you to use some unexpected materials and items. I look forward to sharing that with everyone.

Tim: That’s awesome. I’m really looking forward to that. I don’t want to have too many spoilers here, but can I ask, is the ceramic paint pallet going to make an appearance?

Abby: Oh my gosh. It could, but you never know. I’m not going to reveal my secrets.

Tim: You can neither confirm nor deny. All right.

Abby: That’s right. That’s right.

Tim: All right. Cool. Well just wrapping it up, this is a bigger question, I guess. Just with the caveat that it’s too obvious… It’s way too early to predict this right now, but can you just tell us where your head is as far as fall, what you think things are going to look like when we go back to school? Like what are you preparing for? What are you thinking things might look like when we go back to school?

Abby: Yeah, that’s a tough question, because I think, like most of us, we actually have no idea. We don’t have a clue what any of this is going to look like. I know just recently there’s new guidelines from the CDC that are put out all the time and we can kind of get, once you… I know for me personally, you start going down a rabbit hole of all of this stuff. I think it’s important to kind of take a step back. It is early. We might just kind of need to prepare for the worst, prepare for the best. You can think about things. But I think it’s going to be really difficult to start planning concrete ideas or things we want to implement in the fall, because we just don’t know what that’s going to look like.

I guess my advice would be just to be positive and keep in mind what you can do that’s going to ultimately benefit your students. I know earlier on, we talked about how students were being engaged in their online learning. Just with this being the last week of school, I usually always have a few students who will come in and like give you a little note or end of the school year gift just to thank you. A lot of the time it’s their parents or their families are making them do it. They just give it to you. But one of the things that has really made me think about how much our students are going to need us in the fall, or whenever we’re back together physically, is just that this past week I’ve gotten so many emails from my students who were just thanking me for something that they probably wouldn’t have done if we were in the school setting. But I just received so many more messages like that this year than what I had received in the past.

I think just as we enter into the fall, just keep your students in the forefront and just look forward in what we can do best for ourselves and best for them when we do eventually return, whenever that might be.

Tim: Yeah. That is some wonderful advice. Like you said, it’s so tough to know what it’s going to look like. But as our teachers, we’re so good at adapting and making things work, because it’s what we do all the time. Yeah, we can handle it.

Abby: Yeah. I know that all of us want to get back in the classroom, so we are going to find a way to make it work. Whatever that looks like.

Tim: For sure. All right. Cool. Well, thank you, Abby. It’s been awesome talking to you, as always. Hopefully we can talk to you again soon.

Abby: All right. Perfect. Thanks for having me.

Tim: Now, you heard Abby and I talked just a little bit about the Art Ed Now conference, right in the middle of the interview there. Let me tell you just a little bit more before we wrap up the episode for today. Art Ed Now is an amazing online professional development conference, specifically for art teachers. It will be happening this year on July 30th.

It is going to be an amazing experience. A full day of professional development, awesome presenters, amazing resources, a great featured presenter who we will be very excited to announce, hopefully next week, but in the near future. I think a lot of people are going to be really excited about who we have coming in, but it is a great day of PD. It’s something that you definitely want to do. It gives you kind of that shot of energy that you need before we start the school year up.

As I said, we don’t know what the school year is going to look like. We’re still adapting the conference, but we’re trying to figure out exactly what teachers will need at the end of July. Exactly what they’re going to need before we go back. We’re going to try and cater the conference to those ideas, as much as we possibly can. I’m very excited about it. You can check out everything you need to know at

Right, now just to close out the episode, I want to recycle a couple of thoughts from earlier. Thinking about the fall, we don’t know what it’s going to look like. We’ve mostly closed out this chapter. It’s been a crazy year. It has been something that hopefully we don’t have to experience again, but we’ve gotten through it. We’ve adapted. We’ve done amazing things, because that’s what art teachers do.

I think right now is time to celebrate that fact, that we’ve been able to get through this. Now is not the time to worry. Now is not the time to stress about things that are outside of your control. If you are thinking about school, just take some time to celebrate that you and your students were able to get through this. You were able to close out the year. It’s not ideal for anyone, but we were able to make it. The best thing that we can do is celebrate that fact right now.

If you are going to worry about the fall, worry about things that you can control. What will your lessons look like? What will student engagement look like? Think about those types of things. Don’t worry about budgets. Don’t worry about guidelines. Don’t worry about protocol and logistics, because we can’t see that far in the future. We don’t know what that’s going to look like. Don’t spend too much energy on things that you can’t control. I think if you’re able to do that, if you’re able to focus on just the things that you can control, we are all going to be so much better off.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art Of Education University, with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you, as always, for listening and we will talk to you again 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.