Professional Learning

Creating, Connecting, and Sharing (Ep. 152)

Professional development is always important, whether it is during the summer or the school year. Today, Nic welcomes on Matt and Laura Grundler to discuss their favorite avenues for PD. Listen as they talk about the K-12 Art Chat, the importance of creativity, and using their podcast to have important conversations. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Well, it’s summer. And you know what that means for teachers? Everybody knows what it means for teachers. We spend a lot of time preparing for the next year. I mean, isn’t that the thing? Everybody thinks, “Oh, I want to be a teacher so I can have all that time off.” And absolutely. Do we have more flexibility and are we taking time off and spending time with our family and going on vacations? Sure. But at the same time, I know a lot of you are still looking for professional development. You’re still thinking about your classroom and how you’re going to improve the next year. You’re continuously working on yourself as an educator and a summer break is a great time to find new resources to do that.

Today, we are going to talk to Matt and Laura Grundler. They are, I’m happy to say, friends of mine from Texas, and we’re going to learn a little bit about what they have to offer for you to professionally develop yourself over the summer and then throughout the school year. This is Nic Hahn, and this is Everyday Art Room.

Matt and Laura, thank you so much for being on this podcast today. We just have such a wonderful connection and I’m so excited to share everything that you are with the listeners of the Everyday Art Room. Let’s get started with just an introduction. Laura, can you introduce yourself?

Laura: Sure. My name is Laura Grundler and I’ve done a few things in my career, but right now I am a K through 12 visual art coordinator in Texas. And so I work with about a hundred art teachers that are K through 12 in our school district and I support everything they do. So, I mean, I’m the curriculum coordinator, so that’s my primary concern is supporting curriculum, but I do it all like the exhibits, the coordination. So the advocacy, everything for them. It’s about supporting the art teachers so that they can give the best possible program to our students. So that’s what I do.

Nic: Great. Okay. All right. And then Matt.

Matt: My name is Matt Grundler and I am an educator for about 16 years. I had a good majority of it, basically 14 of teaching K through 5, and then two years ago he started teaching middle school. Absolutely loved it. I wasn’t really sure. And then I kind of dabbled in a summer program, enrichment program that our district does with middle schoolers, and absolutely just knew that that was the place for me. That was where I needed to be. And I just enjoyed every, every moment of it.

Nic: Okay. And you might’ve noticed that we have similar last names. You are a creative, married couple, correct?

Laura: Yeah.

Matt: Yes, we are.

Nic: Parents of three beautiful children and just really living a spectacular life. You guys have a beautiful life. Fun to watch it and fun to know you guys. You know what, let’s go back to… I feel like we can categorize our relationship by cities in the United States because-

Laura: Yes, we can.

Matt: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Nic: Most of the time when we are gathering together, it’s with NAEA for the national conferences. And I’d say the first time, and you guys made agree it was New Orleans, right?

Laura: Yes, yeah.

Matt: Yes.

Nic: That we met as just individuals. I hadn’t even joined the Twitter chat yet. So you guys got me into that. I don’t know how we actually met, but it was, we had a breakfast and it was beautiful and yes.

Laura: Yeah.

Matt: Yeah.

Nic: Okay. We’re going to go into this Twitter aspect of your social media. This is how we started and it’s such a big thing that I want you to start with, just K-12 Art Chat, what it is, how you use it. Let’s go.

Laura: Yeah, it started almost, I’d say a little over five years ago and Matt and I started it for our school district and it originally didn’t have the tag K-12 Art Chat. So what it is, is a live time on Twitter where people come around a topic and we have six questions and we discuss those six questions live every week. It has grown and changed and morphed into this really great professional development resource opportunity. But we had to change the title really quickly because we would have people, I think it was Tim.

Matt: Tim Needles really helped kind of facilitate that. It was funny because we always joke about this story. But at one point before Laura was a coordinator, she was also an administrator. I’m still teaching K through five and I would come home and I’m bouncing ideas off Laura and Laura’s exhausted emotionally from having to deal with the things she’s dealing with as an administrator. She’s like, Matt, I love you. But I need to just decompress. I need my moment just to kind of come down from everything.

Laura: And it was like this epiphany that he really didn’t have anyone else to bounce these ideas off of other than me.

Matt: A lot of teachers, especially elementary and sometimes even the middle school are sole teachers, are teaching in what everybody says is a silo. It is true. Yes, you have your specialist teams. If you get along with your other teams of PE and music that’s great, but a lot of the philosophy that comes into teaching, isn’t always the same in an art room versus in a music room or in the gym.

Laura: Yeah, you really have.

Matt: So it’s like you got to be able to shoot through those ideas. And so Laura is like, “Okay. We got to figure out something.” And a good friend of ours had recommended, “Hey, why don’t you guys go on Twitter?” And of course we had the stereotype of Twitter. We hear about celebrities who show their brand new shoes or their hamburger they had that day or whatever it was and we’re like, “What, why?” And so we checked out a few of the hashtags like Teach Like A Pirate, which is TLAP.

Laura: There was a #artsed.

Matt: Yeah, and we started finding the benefits of it and we just started, “Hey, why don’t we do this?” Surely, I can’t be the only teacher who feels like they’re teaching in a silo. And so we were like, “Okay, let’s see what we can drum up for our art teachers.” And we started just slowly building, and next thing you know, we had teachers from other states that were like, “Hey, do we have to be in your district or can anybody join?”

Laura: Yeah. I mean, Tim and-

Nic: That’s right.

Laura: Who else was it? It was Tim and Ted actually, Ted Edinger.

Matt: Oh, yeah. Mr. E.

Laura: They were the first two that were… Yeah. And they were both like, “Well, what is this? Can we be a part of it?” And we’re like, “Sure. And then that’s when we changed the name.” I mean, Matt nailed it because it was evident that teachers just needed a place to share ideas and have a live conversation with other teachers. And so that’s really… I mean, it is a live Twitter chat. It’s six questions. We promote the topic and the host… We bring in a different host every week.

Matt: Yeah, because we knew that if this was something we wanted to do and really pursue, that people didn’t want to just hear us every single week. And we knew we didn’t have the emotional stamina to be able to do that.

Nic: That’s huge.

Matt: And the nice thing is you get these people who are highly specialized in their own areas. Some people are more STEAM oriented. Some people are more traditional oriented. Some people are tech oriented. The topics and people have spread covering all kinds of ideas.

Laura: I mean from artists to authors too. I mean, amazing teachers. The teachers and the network. So we call it a positive professional learning network just because everyone that participates in K-12 Art Chat is it’s just a really, really positive environment and it’s about uplifting and learning and growing together. Yeah.

Nic: And that’s really unique for social media. I’m glad that you highlighted that. When I describe the K-12 Art Chat to others which I do on a pretty regular basis. You just got to come join this. This is so fun. When I described that, there’s often a reservation of… I don’t know if it works for me. I’m scared to give that a try. And there’s no safer place to give something a new try than this art chat that you’re talking about.

Laura: I mean, I give kudos to Matt and then I saw we have some regulars like Holly Bess Kincaid and Kate Miller from Kansas. Just some really great art teachers that are there regularly. And they really… Like last night’s chat. We had a chat last night that was a rather large chat, and they just did such a great job of welcoming everyone and saying, “We’re so glad you’re here. We’re glad you’re learning.”

There’s a term called lurking where maybe you’re not ready to share a lot, but you’re there and you say, “Hello, I’m here. I’m listening. I’m paying attention.”

Matt: And you can just see the format and see how people are interacting with each other. We do at the very beginning of our chat, we welcome everybody. And then we say, “Hey, don’t forget to put the hashtag of K12 Art Chat in your response. And then that way that allows people to be able-

Laura: Everyone to see it.

Matt: … to see the response. And then it just kind of grows from there.

Laura: And so like last night there were a lot of new people and I loved how everybody was just helping them. Maybe they would forget the hashtag, but somebody would see it and so like-

Matt: And then retweet it with the-

Laura: Yeah, with the hashtag.

Matt: … hashtag so that way-

Laura: Just to help them out.

Matt: … everyone is able to see it.

Laura: Yeah, exactly.

Nic: So just to be clear. The questions come out and you have like a Q1 what is your favorite primary color? You can go much deeper than that, but what is your favorite primary color? And then they hashtag it, so they say #k12artchat. And then a responder would say A1 blue.

Matt: And then put the hashtag as well.

Nic: And then hashtag. Okay.

Laura: That’s exactly how it works. It depends on how many people are in the chat, how fast it is. But like last night was a big chat and I was a little bit behind. I was answering the questions, but I was also trying to make sure everybody was okay and all that. What’s cool about it is you can go back and look at that hashtag anytime. So now it’s Friday morning and I’m going to… Our art chats are on Thursday nights at 8:30 Central Time.

So on Friday morning, I might go back and just review. I might just type in, in my Twitter search K-12 Art Chat and review the feed and just go, “Oh, I missed that link.” Because people share a lot of resources.

Matt: Oh my gosh.

Laura: We’re looking at a new way of archiving the chats for people as well, but you can archive a chat on your own if you want through, like there’s all kinds of different apps you can use, but I’m looking at Wakelet to do that right now. And it’s just a way of curating the things you’re interested in.

Nic: I’m using that too, yeah. It’s interesting, isn’t it, Wakelet?

Laura: Yeah. I’m learning it. It’s new to me.

Nic: Me too.

Laura: But I think it’s got some really great features, and so I think that’s where I’m going to start archiving the chat for myself, and then I can share it out to other people.

Matt: The host comes up with their questions, their topic. We’ve realized that our teachers understand the importance of creativity and I think this kind of leads into something that we’ll talk about even more at the end, the why. We realized that there’s a lot of other areas that aren’t art related that are a little fearful of creativity or a little unsure of creativity and how to even include that in a respectful way, how to not just, here’s some popsicle sticks and some pompoms and making some kind of what gets that bad connotation of craft.

But anyway, I’m kind of getting off topic there. But our hosts will we’ll create those images or create the questions and the topic and we’ll… Maybe there’s one question in particular that might have a bigger response from a bunch of people. And so what we’ll do is we’ll actually on Fridays, we’ll highlight one of those questions and we’ll use that as just, what we call, a slow chat question.

Nic: Slow chat, yeah.

Matt: That basically means you get to really focus on that one aspect of the chat. And so that then covers out the whole rest of the week until the very new chat starts the following Thursday.

Nic: Right. So that is not live. You just go on and respond to it and whenever you see it.

Matt: Whenever.

Laura: Whenever.

Matt: Exactly, yeah.

Laura: And that’s the thing that’s really interesting is that #k12artchat is used every day. It’s amazing to us like the amount of people that use it every single day to interact with people. So it’s live on Thursday nights for about 45 minutes, but the rest of the week people are using it just to share out the things that they’re creating, the things that they’re thinking about, a resource that they found that they want to share.

I mean, you could go on at any time and look at that. And I think Matt alluded to this, but one of the things that we have seen is that, like he said, art teachers get it, we get it, we understand the importance of creativity and we also understand that non-art teachers, other educators are sometimes fearful of creativity. But what we’ve also seen through this process is that like last night we had an English teacher and a CTE teacher, career and technology teacher.

There are a lot of people coming into the chat that are not necessarily arts ed teachers, but they’re people that are looking for innovative ways to include the arts into their own classrooms. And so we welcome that so much.

Nic: I love that. It does feel like home. I will admit, I have not been able to join a k12artchat as much as I had in the past, but she is just talking about it. I’m like, “Oh, I miss my friends. I have to join next Thursday.” That is what it is becomes.

Laura: It is a home and it’s always there for you. I don’t think they’re not going anywhere.

Matt: We’ve had so many people that are like, “I haven’t been on it in a year and I’m so glad to be back or I missed it.”

Laura: Well, yeah. I mean you have basketball on Thursday nights so you’re not able to do it or whatever. We have three kids, we understand. There are times where he might be at home and I’m out with the kids and trying to do it on my phone or whatever, but we just juggle it. And then there are other times that because it’s a home and a family, we say, “Hey Holly or hey Tim, or hey Nic, guess what? We have a production and the kids are in a theater production and their opening night is Thursday. We need somebody to help us.” And that’s just the way it is.

Matt: And everybody is so willing to help. I mean, I was just thinking, when you had mentioned that you hadn’t been on it in a awhile, I got a message from Don Masse that was telling me.. He was like, “Hey, I’m sorry. I haven’t been on it a while.” I’m like, it’s all right. We understand. He was another one that was kind of from the start.

Laura: The original.

Matt: The original.

Nic: From the get-go. Oh man, I love that guy. Okay. That’s so great. Our family-

Laura: Have you seen his new mural? Oh my gosh.

Matt: That was awesome.

Nic: Yes.

Laura: Goodness.

Nic: Yeah. He’s an amazing person. Okay. We’re going to like crush on all of our PLN right now, but we should probably move on.

Matt: Yeah. We could be here a while.

Nic: This is where you kind of got started with the, I’d say the social media and in the way that you are running it right now as this team of the Grundler team.

Matt: Team Grundler.

Nic: Yep, is right through Twitter, but it has led to a podcast. Let’s move into that. Let’s talk about your podcast.

Laura: Oh my. So it’s up.

Matt: Tip toe.

Laura: Yeah. So because we have a different host every week on the Twitter chat, people would say, “Oh my gosh, I wish I could listen to that person.”

Matt: I want to hear more from that person.

Laura: I want to hear more from that person.

Matt: In those six questions, you get a small little snippet of their personality or you get what they’re passionate about, but to really hear them talk about it is a totally different experience. And so we’re like, “Hey, maybe we should.”

Laura: Start a podcast.

Matt: Start a podcast.

Laura: In our free time.

Matt: In our free time. Juggling housework, kids. All those things.

Laura: It was one of those things where people were just like we really want this. And so we thought, “Well, we’ll try it.” That’s just who we are. And so we started a podcast and it’s gone through a couple of different names, but it’s still in the same place. You can find we’re in season two right now. Actually we’re on a little pause for summer and we’ll be starting back up in August.

Nic: Good for you.

Laura: Yes. We decided to take a little pause. But what we do is we interview the people that are hosting the Twitter chat.

Matt: The previous week.

Laura: The previous week. We try to keep them kind of in order of each other. It doesn’t always happen, but you can refer back. And we start with their questions that they ask the community.

Matt: We don’t hit every single question but at least that helps kind of guide the conversation. And we say, “Hey, you know what, if it ends up going in a totally different direction, then it goes in a totally different direction. But we want to at least start with that subject matter. It’s funny because we’re exhausted from working and we’re exhausted from the day as we’re recording this. And we were like, “Oh, I don’t really know if I want to do this.” And then we sit down and we have this conversation and it’s a 30-minute podcast. We find ourselves so much more rejuvenated after having that conversation with those people. And we’re like, “Oh my gosh, I feel so much better.”

Laura: It’s just so exciting to hear people’s ideas and their enthusiasm for education and teaching, and taking care of children and nurturing creativity. It’s just this amazing thing. And there’s occasionally people that we have on that we just know from social media that are not necessarily, they’re not going to be a host. Like this season, we had the jealous curator and who is somebody I interact with on Instagram actually. I adore her. She has a couple books out. I love the things she posts. She’s an artist, a writer, a critic and a curator.

That was our first episode this season. She didn’t host, but it was just somebody that I interact with frequently and I said, “Hey, we would love to have you share.” That was a great way to start off this season.

Matt: And Laura was really giddy about it.

Laura: I was.

Nic: It gives you an excuse to like talk to your friends and then talk to the people that you admire.

Matt: Yeah. I guess what’s really interesting is in our first season we… Actually, didn’t we do that as well?

Laura: I don’t know.

Matt: Because we had a conversation with author, Peter Reynolds. For me, that was kind of my giddiness. I was just like, “Oh my god.”

Nic: How did that go? How did that go? Is it good?

Laura: He is…

Matt: He is an amazing-

Laura: Human.

Matt: … human being. People first, community first, connection first, and I’m just like, oh my goodness.

Laura: And I feel so honored because at this point now I feel like, “Well, he is a friend. He’s somebody that we talk to outside of social media and those things.” It started through social media a lot like our friendship really grew over social media. These are people that I think when you find your group, that’s like-minded and that’s on the same trajectory of mission, I guess. I don’t know how else to say that, but we’re really passionate about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

You just get really excited and you realize that it doesn’t matter, the geographic barriers, and you become friends. It’s like I will meet people at any EA that I’ve never met in life that I’m like super excited to hug and be like, “Oh my gosh.” Because I’ve been talking to you.

Matt: You connected with them.

Laura: But Peter really has become a friend just because of that same mission, same idea. But just he gives back so much.

Nic: He really does.

Laura: Matt and I have both had our fan moments.

Matt: Oh, yeah.

Nic: Sure.

Matt: I guess what’s really amazing is like as we talk with these people or as we get to know them either through Twitter or through the podcast interview, the things that we were like, “Oh my gosh, this person is like up on a pedestal kind of thing.” And after talking with them, we realized they’re just average people. They’re just like you or me.

Laura: Normal.

Matt: Not to knock who they are, but just they’re just normal people, and it’s just so amazing.

Nic: Yeah.

Laura: And I think that that’s true in some ways. I mean, the podcast has been all of this, like the podcast and the Twitter chat and just social media for us. I have to say there’s some stuff that I just ignore. If there’s negativity, I don’t go there. That’s just a choice I’ve made for myself. But it all in all, it has given so much back to our lives that it feels like it’s our responsibility to keep doing it.

Even with the podcast, I would have never thought of myself as a public speaker. Now, I’m going to be…

Nic: Huh.

Laura: Yeah, I know, huh.

Matt: Huh. I’m really comfortable with that.

Laura: Because really the podcast, Matt and I were talking about this last night, because we were just asked to be featured speakers in the New Jersey Art Ed Conference. And we were just like kind of in awe because that’s not something like when you go into your role as an educator, you’re always speaking, but you don’t think of yourself as a…

Matt: Speaker.

Laura: As a speaker, I guess.

Nic: Right.

Laura: So it’s given us confidence in so many ways. And it’s just given back to us in so many ways. And I feel like we grow every week. I mean, as much as we’re hoping the community grows, we grow. Having these conversations with people like you or different people on the podcast, just like Matt said, it’s so invigorating. It’s so exciting. And you learn so much.

Nic: Oh, that’s amazing. Can you just clarify the current name of your podcast?

Matt: Yes. The current name is The Creativity Department.

Nic: And how do I get there? I mean, we’ll have the link, but just The Creativity Department.

Matt: Yeah. So we are on iTunes. We’re on…

Laura: Stitcher.

Matt: … Stitcher. And we’re on…

Laura: Buzz.

Matt: Buzzsprout. Usually where we actually house all of our episodes. I mean, really you can find it just about anywhere.

Laura: If just Google The Creativity Department, you’ll find it.

Nic: Yeah, it’s there. And just to reiterate, you’re taking a break right now, but there is a past podcast that you can just go ahead and binge on.

Matt: Yeah, two seasons worth. Well, one and a half.

Laura: Yeah. We’re going to take a little time this summer to record. And then in August, we’ll be launching.

Matt: We’ll release some brand new stuff.

Nic: Amazing. Okay. So we have Twitter chat, which you guys are responsible for, and then in your spare time went to the podcast. I got to ask you, what’s the why? Why do you do this? I mean, we’ve kind of hit on the energy that it gives you, but is there a concise way to kind of sum this up?

Laura: So children. It’s about children, yes and no.

Matt: It’s a multifaceted answer, but it could take an hour or so.

Laura: The core of it, I think that creativity is what keeps our household going in. From the very beginning, Matt and I independently struggled in school and art was always the thing that was there for us, and it made sense to us. The things that we struggle with kind of like… If you could put it in a creative context, or if you could put it in an art context, then there was those aha moments.

And I think that when we see those kids and we know the value of creativity and visual arts for children and even more so now that we have three children of our own, that two of them also struggle in school with dyslexia and some other little things. When you can put it in a creative spin, they get it. I think especially now, we have to advocate for the arts for children. For me, that’s my why.

Nic: Yeah, is the advocating for the arts.

Laura: Yeah.

Matt: I think Laura just started to touch on that. It’s funny, because as an elementary art teacher, as I’m now a middle school teacher, you see these kids who are kind of viewed as troublesome or they’re supposedly labeled as air quotes, not smart, and it’s funny.

Laura: Low.

Matt: Yeah.

Laura: I hate that term.

Matt: It’s just funny because you sit down. I developed a teaching strategy. You just kind of sitting down with the kids and working with them. I would work on my own thing as they’re working on their own thing. And it’s just kind of funny because you hear them talk, you hear what they’re saying, and their teachers may be at their wit’s end with them and they’re in their homeroom classroom. But you see the kid and you hear the kid and their thought process.

And that’s the thing is to see… For me, at least… I come from a family of teachers. My mom was a teacher. My dad was a teacher. My mom’s mom was in education. So was my mom’s dad. And the thing is, is that you should be able to… No matter how a kid can explain something, but if they can explain what you’re trying to get at in their own way, so it makes sense to them. Then I think that’s where we should be looking, not, “Oh, did they meet this check mark or that check mark?”

Nic: Yes.

Matt: So that becomes my why is helping kids to see how everything is connected together? How is science connected to art? How is math connected to art? How is all of these different things? And what you can learn from that and it’s always, I love to be able to help kids. I’m teaching art at one point in middle school and I said, “Just like in science, blah, blah, blah.” And all the kids are like, “Wait, what?”

Laura: Wait, what?

Matt: And all of a sudden they get it. Or a kid who comes in, who’s a heavily robotics skid. And they’re like, “Oh I’m just here. And by the end of my class, by the end of the grading period, when the class is over, all of a sudden, the kids not wanting to take two and three other art classes.

Nic: Awesome.

Matt: And because they see…

Laura: The connection.

Matt: … the connection. They see what helps, where it helps. And so it’s just that becomes my life.

Nic: Yeah. Matt, thank you for teaching all of those bright brains that you work with all the time. Thank you for supporting your extremely large art department. And then going beyond that, you are teachers and cheerleaders for this global connection of art educators. I cannot thank you enough for joining me today as well.

Laura: Well, thank you, Nic.

Matt: Thank you, Nic.

Laura: Beyond everything, we just value our friendship with you and our friendship with all of our PLN. And I just thank you for helping us get the word out and helping teachers grow.

Nic: I’m grateful to Matt and Laura for taking the time to chat with us. Did you hear everything they have on their plate? I mean, it’s plenty. It’s plenty, plenty. Three kids, great family, educator, administrator, and then K-12 Art Chat every week on a Thursday, as well as a podcast. My goodness.

They were willing to come on because they are continuously looking to offer and spread the word of what they are creating, their little professional learning network that isn’t so little anymore. Actually, it’s quite large. It’s welcoming, it’s positive, and I am happy to be part of it.

The Art of Education University was happy to introduce you to Matt and Laura. If you have never heard of them before or the K-12 Art Chat or their podcast, we believe in abundance mentality. We know that Laura and Matt have a lot to offer to our professional learning network. And so we were happy to introduce you to them today, and I was happy to chat with my friends.

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.