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How is your relationship with your administration? Every administrator is different, but a good teacher knows how to advocate for their own program with every type. Listen today as Cassie discusses how to best work with your admins, how to build support for your kids and your art room, and how to develop your situation to help you become the best teacher you can be. Full episode transcript below.
Cassie: A couple of weeks ago, it was teacher appreciation week, and I noticed on social media, particularly Facebook, one of those little surveys popped up for teachers where you could write how many schools you’ve taught at, how many years you’ve taught, how many kids you’ve probably reached over the years. I started to just kind of go through one mentally, just out of curiosity. I can’t remember what all of the questions were, but here were the three that really kind of stuck with me.
Number of years that I’ve been teaching, this is my 20th year. Although, according to some people that I work with, it’s my 21st year. I don’t even know. All I know is two decades sounds like a really long time. So two decades plus one, eh, not going to nitpick.
Number of schools that I’ve taught at, two. Not too many. I don’t feel like I’m a person that’s opposed to change. I do think I’m a person that when I find a place that I consider home I like to stay there. So my first school, not so much. The current school where I am and have been for the last 15 years is most definitely my home.
Then, number of administration, five. I haven’t had a ton of different bosses, but I feel like five is a strong enough number for me to really kind of get a feel for the kind of admin that I jive with. Lately, on Instagram and Facebook, I’ve been sharing a lot of pictures of what I’ve been doing at the end of the year. Because I’m absolutely insane, I put all of my giant projects with my students at the end of the year. Clay, the ceiling tile collaboration that my second graders do, which there’s an entire blog post about that and podcast all about that if you’re interested. Just search collaborations. And of course the pirate art show, which was probably, I’m rubbing my temples as I say this, our biggest, most insane production yet.
The question I’ve been getting a lot is, “How do you get your admin on board with these wild and crazy ideas?” And you know what? I’ve gotten that question so much that I thought it was time to talk about it, talk about building a relationship, a rapport with your admin so you can basically hoodwink them into going along on your crazy and wild art teacheran ride. I’m Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room.
I feel kind of bad because I keep saying the word crazy or wacky ideas. When I say getting your admin to get on board with your crazy or wacky ideas, I’m using that word from their perspective. Because let’s be honest, most administration, principals, vice principals, they are very much by the book. I mean, that’s kind of how they got their job. They’re not necessarily outside-the-box thinkers. I know my administration, they spend their days putting out fires, classroom behaviors, test scores, emergency this, this pops up there, we’ve got a parent on line one. I mean, I say to my principals nearly once a week, definitely once a month, “I do not know why you chose this career path because it does not look like a single bit of fun.” Is it the fame? Is the glory? Is it all of the dollar bills? I don’t know. It wouldn’t be worth it to me.
So when I say getting your admin on board to go along with your wacky ideas, I mean from their perspective. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to share with you today seven little … I’m going to call them nuggets of thought, because not all of these are tips to getting your admin on board. Some of these are just thoughts I’m going to throw your way.
I’m going to start with the first one. Number one, you aren’t going to win them. That’s like the case with all things in life. You’re never going to get everybody on board with your ideas. You’re never going to get everybody to like you. Trust me, I know this. But, let’s focus on admin. You aren’t going to win them all. I’ve had five different principals, five different vice principals. So together, let’s do the easy math, 10 different kinds of bosses that I’ve worked with. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way. Some admin are very hands-on. They want to know your business. They’re authoritative, maybe a little bit of a micromanager, those kind of admin, not my fav. And I’m willing to guess that most creatives don’t respond well to that either.
It’s interesting because when you have a variety of different kind of bosses, you get to learn a lot about yourself, what you respond to. I’m not a person that needs a lot of praise and a lot of pats on the back, probably because I’ve been doing this for a while. When I first started teaching, it made me sad when I didn’t get recognized for the things that I did. I really felt like, man, I’m over here just teaching my tail off, and my admin doesn’t recognize me or any of the things that I’m doing to the artwork on the walls at all. If you find yourself in that place, kind of bummed out about that, remember, they’re putting out fires. They’re just happy you’re in your room doing your job.
And also remember, and I’ll get to this in a little bit, you’ve got to toot your own stinking horn. Do not sit around like I did for years waiting for somebody to get a great big neon arrow and pointed in your direction. You make that neon arrow. You point it in your direction because you, your students, and your art program are worth it.
Now, I’m stepping down from my soapbox, and now we’re going to talk about another kind of admin, might even be the same as the authoritative one. Some admin might see you as support staff. We’re back to talking about those admin that you’re just not going to win over. If you’ve got an admin that thinks that you are simply there to be a part of what sometimes I call the babysitter’s club, a break for the classroom teachers, that kind of admin, they don’t respect or understand what it is you do, and therefore they don’t respect and understand you. Those kind of admin, you’re not going to win over. I mean, maybe if you respond well to the authoritative micromanager type, I especially think that those kind of admin are great for teachers at the beginning of their career who do need a lot of guidance. But just know that if you’re struggling, it might not be you. It might be them.
Now, the opposite side of that coin is this: What if it is you? Are you causing your administration worry, and are you worrying them to the point where they don’t want to get on board with your ideas because they see you simply struggling as a teacher? What I mean by that is, how is your classroom management? How are the behaviors in your room? Do you have control of your class and of your students? Are you sending kids to the office continuously? That would cause your administration stress and worry. And if they’re thinking about that, then they’re not going to say yes to some wild and wacky ideas that you throw their way.
Another thought is, are you being a team player? Are you really working with your specials team? Are you working with the classroom teachers? And I say with, not being and taking advantage of. Just something to consider because I think a lot of times, I know in this podcast, I talk a lot about working in your environment, but a lot of times we need to really look inward and make sure that we’re not finding excuses that somebody else is doing, in this case admin. Make sure you’re being honest with yourself.
Thing number two, since that wasn’t really a tip. But just to recap, you can’t win them all. Most of the time, it is them, and in which case you need to find a school that is worthy of you. My old school, the writing was on the wall every year. I taught in a school that I liked in Nashville. I liked the folks that I worked with. I liked my administration. But every year right before we went on summer vacation, my principal would pull me aside and say, “Okay, Cassie. I know you love to redecorate your room every year, but I wouldn’t do it this summer if I were you simply because your classroom might be used as a classroom teachers’ room. You might be on a cart.” So for four summers in a row, I was told, “You might be on a cart.” You all, I had just moved to this big, beautiful building from a trailer, so I felt … I did two years in a trailer teaching a portable, so I felt like I really earned this room, was a beautiful room, multiple sinks, beautiful windows, fabulous storage, a kiln room.
… sinks, beautiful windows, fabulous storage, a kiln room. “By the way, we might be taking this away from you.” Every summer I was told this. It caused me so much stress that I realized that I was in a school, granted it was beyond their control, but I was in a school that wasn’t going to make it so that I had a place to really excel at my job. So I started to move some pieces around and make the change to a new school where I knew I would have stability.
I know I’ve shared this story, but long story short, I met a woman when I was at a art teacher conference, which this is a reason why you attend your art teacher in conferences. We were in one of those sessions where you go around the room and introduce yourself. She introduced herself, said she worked in a fabulous school in an amazing district, and she was retiring in two years. You all, the moment we took a bathroom break, I was on the that woman like white on rice, asking her, “Where do you teach? Can I get your digits? Is it cool if I come and observe you teach?” Which was just code for, I’m going to go there and scope out the scene. I, for two years, became her BFF, attending her art shows, helping her in her classroom, getting my foot in that door.
If you’re in a school that’s not worthy of you, then do something about it. Don’t sit around and wait for an opportunity to come up. Sometimes you’ve got to seek out, find, and follow those opportunities.
Now, when I did get to that school, it’s interesting. I had a big, beautiful classroom. That’s where I teach right now. So much storage. I have an office and a kiln room. It’s glorious. But I was met with hostility. For the first several years that I was at my school, and I’ve been there now for 15, I really struggled with the administration, my mentor, the other art teachers in my district. It was not a healthy situation by any stretch of the imagination. So I was at a crossroads. Do I stay at this school or do I go?
If you’re questioning yourself about that, do I stay or do I go? My classroom is great, my budget is good, but I’m in a hostile environment. What do I do? I have an entire podcast all about helping you figure that out. I decided to stay. I loved the community. I still do. I love my school. Eventually, there was a really great shift. We got new administration, and since then, things have been so much better. I’m so glad that I decided to stay.
Okay, so now that we’ve kind of covered that it might not be you, it might be them, and you can’t win them all. If you’re in a place where you just can’t win them over or they’re never going to understand you or your program, you need to find a place that’s worthy of you.
Now let’s talk about how to really change the mindset of your administration to get on board with you, your ideas, and your program. So I think the best thing to do is start with small successes that will kind of put their mind at ease. For example, if you really want to do an art show and that’s just never been done in your building before and they’re a little bit on the fence, start small. Don’t start with maybe a school-wide art show, but try connecting with your music teacher or some other programs that are happening at your school.
I know at my former school, it was the spaghetti dinner that they did every single year, and I just kind of tacked my art show onto that. It was a good way to kind of open the door a little bit to get them thinking about an art show. Then when they saw how successful it was, that the crowds were already there, they spent more time admiring the art, they saw, “Oh, this actually can work.” It was a small success that opened the door to letting me introduce more ideas to them.
Here’s my other tip. Tip number four. This I have learned since living down here in the South. I also think this tip works best if you are a little bit more of a veteran teacher, you’ve gotten a couple of years in, and you’re feeling more comfortable at your school. I definitely don’t recommend doing what I’m about to say if you are a first, second, or even a third year teacher or you have new admin. Make sure you have a little bit of a rapport with them before you do this.
Okay, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than get permission, especially if it’s a good idea. Go ahead and do it. It is much easier to apologize than it is sometimes to get permission. That is a quote from Grace Hooper who was a U.S. Naval officer and an early computer programmer. I’d never heard that quote until moving down South. So I just assumed it was a Southern saying until doing a little bit of internet searching. It’s easier to ask forgiveness than get permission. This is truly the story of my art teacher and life, especially with my current admin. Sometimes they just can’t see your vision, and you just got to make it a reality.
For example, when I do collaborations with my students, which is a big thing that I love to do. We do the chalked ceiling tile collaboration. We did a collaboration which was titled Johnson Elementary Has Heart, where everybody in my school participated in creating a heart using a variety of media. It’s now a giant collaborative that hangs in our office. Recently my third graders did a collaboration where they had to come up with a four-letter positive work that described our school, that I’m now hanging these beautifully framed pictures up around my school.
Did I ask permission first? Nah, we just kind of made it, and then I said, “Hey, Miss Bob, Miss McCoy would you please come down to the art room and check out this really cool thing that we made?” They always kind of stare at me, tilt their head and, “Did you talk to us about this before you … ” “No, I didn’t. Girls, you know I didn’t. Just come on down.” Usually when they see it, they’re just so excited and blown away that they usually forgive the fact that I didn’t ask permission first. Then the next question is usually, “And where is this going?” “Well, it’s funny you should ask. I thought we’d put it right in the office.” So anyway, like I said, not the best tip unless you have a really great rapport with your admin.
Something else that I think you might want to consider when you’re presenting a big idea to your admin is eliminate their stress. The moment you propose an idea to your administration, the questions start flying at you. “Where are we going to get the money for that? Where do you plan on doing that? How is this going to happen?” They kind of going to come at you with a bunch of what ifs, what ifs, what ifs. The best way to eliminate their stress is to have answers to all of their what ifs. Think of it as a preemptive strike. Before they can even get that sentence out of their mouth, you need to have in your mind your response, have answers at the ready, and have solutions. Don’t get emotional if they start to shoot your idea down. Just consider it a setback that you’re going to work a little bit harder on, think it through a little bit more before approaching it with them again. Be happy with small successes. They might not get on board completely with your idea, but they may say yes to a couple of things which, like I said, kind of opens the door a little bit to you introducing more and more and more.
Here is something I have noticed also over the years. You’ve got to be a squeaky, squeaky wheel. It used to drive me nuts at my school that some people always seemed to, and I’m going to just say this. It’s going to make me sound really bratty, but it’s just it is what it is. Some people always seem to get their way. Have you noticed that at your school? Some people always get, I don’t know, whatever it is they ask for it just seems. Things seem to fall in their lap just because they ask it. It took me the longest time, how do these small handful of people always get what it is they’re asking for while the rest of us are like, “Oh well, that didn’t go over well.” You know why? Because they squeaky. Them squeaky wheels, they do indeed get the grease. That is so not my personality. I’m not a person who likes to hound somebody. When somebody says no or somebody says, “We’re not going to do that,” I usually assume that that is the answer. Sometimes it’s not always the answer. If you truly believe in your cause, which if your cause is your program, your students, your job, squeak, squeak, squeak. You just might get that grease. That sound gross, but you know what I’m saying.
Lastly, and this is kind of what I was chatting about earlier, sometimes you’ve just got to toot your own horn. Don’t wait for your admin to do it. The reason this is a good thing is, is because those fires that I was talking about, your admin is so busy putting those out. Sometimes they just don’t even have time. Like they recognize you, they know you’re doing a quality job, but then there’s three kids waiting in the office. There’s things they need to tend to, and they just forget. It honestly slips their mind.
I, a couple of years ago, two years ago in fact,-
… mind. I a couple of years ago, two years ago in fact, put on a mammoth art show, and at the end of the week, my administration always sends out a newsletter where they thank people for doing a great job, and I was devastated when they made no mention at all about my art show. It truly brought me to tears, and when they heard about it, they felt so terrible because it had honestly just slipped their mind with everything that was happening at the end of the year.
They felt so bad about it that at the end of the year when we have a singalong, they made mention of it and presented me with a bouquet of flowers, and then of course I feel bad for making them feel bad. I’m actually getting a little teary-eyed because I absolutely love my admin and didn’t want them to feel badly. I knew that they were busy, but you get really emotional during these art show times because it’s so exhausting and so much work. But sometimes they’re so busy that you’ve just got to toot your own horn. The added benefit is is it brings light to your school. It shines a bright light on your school, making your school look good, which makes your admin look good, which they will be thankful for.
So how do you toot your own horn? Call your local news station. Call your local newspaper. Put it on Twitter. Shout it from the rooftops on all your social media. Get the word out there. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn because you could spend a lifetime waiting for somebody to do it for you.
Okay, so hopefully some of those tips will make it so that you feel a little bit stronger about approaching your admin with your wild and wacky ideas that they will get on board with, fingers, fingers crossed. I’m literally sitting here with my fingers crossed for you.
Tim: Hello. This is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. If you are looking for graduate credit this summer, maybe some PD hours, or maybe you’re ambitious and considering working on a Master’s degree, make sure you check out courses and the degree from The Art of Education University. We have over 20 online courses including eight hands-on studio courses available, and they are designed to help art teachers at every stage of their professional career. So if you need classes on curriculum or classroom management or how to bring in some new technology, or like I said, those studio courses that help you develop your skills, create more of your own work, those are all available and they are all ready for you. So you can see what is there, what interests you, and what you may want to sign up for at theartofeducation.edu/courses. New sections are starting June 1st, so if you want to enroll, you will need to do that in the next few days.
So let’s go ahead and turn it back over to Cassie now so she can finish up the show.
Cassie: And now it’s time to take a little dip into the mail bag. This question comes from Rachel. She is asking about paintbrushes. She said, “I want to order good paintbrushes next year, and I remember that you mentioned Royal & Langnickel was a good brand. They have a soft grip brush and I’m guessing it’s a very synthetic type of brush. I want to get your opinion on the type to buy before I order them because they are pricey.”
They are indeed, Rachel. Let me just tell you. When I started teaching and I had the super duper teeny tiny postage stamp of a budget, I remember looking at them paintbrushes thinking, “Holy cats, why are these paintbrushes so expensive? This is for kids. I don’t need anything expensive,” so I ordered the cheapest ones. They were the bristle brushes, those hard, coarse, it’s like …, what are they made out of, porcupine quills, and then they fall out so easily. I remember the kids’ paintings were literally hairy because their paintbrushes were losing hair all over their artwork.
I learned real soon that you get what you pay for, and this is not a paid endorsement. I don’t get paid by the people whose products that I share. I wish I did, but I will say that Royal & Langnickel brushes are my favorite. They offer a wide variety of brushes, so the ones that I order are the Royal & Langnickel Big Kid’s Choice Lil’, L-I-L, Lil’ Grippers brush sets. Really? That’s a long name. Why did you all do that to me? Lil? Anyway, they are the green-handled brushes. They’re rounds. I like the round brushes. They actually make a quite a variety of these. They have some that are flat head brushes, some that are fan brushes. I’ve bought the flat head ones before. We just don’t use them that much. For when I want to use flat brushes, that’s when we bust out the bristle brushes, but the brushes that we use over and over and over again are these green-handled Royal & Langnickel brushes, and they come in a variety pack of six.
When I get them, we mostly use the three largest sizes, so if you were going to order the individual ones, I would splurge on those. Because they have such a nice pointed tip, they always make for a teeny tiny fine line. We have used these brushes for years. Every couple of years, I order a brand new set just to keep replenishing my stash and make it so I’m not washing brushes during my lunch break, but that is what I would strongly recommend.
I’m going to follow that question up with what kind of paint do I use, because that’s another one that I get. I used to always buy washable paint until I realized this magical thing called nonwashable paint is actually way better. I know, it doesn’t wash out, but we do wear aprons and I talk to the kids about that constantly. If you get paint on you, it may not come out, so just be careful. I really like Crayola’s paint, tempera paint, not their washable one. Their washable paint is very good for washable paint, but I just prefer the colors of the tempera paint. I also like Brick, Blick, not Brick, Blick brand tempera paint as well as Sax Versatemp.
If you have a question for me, you should ask. You can find me at Everyday Art Room at theartofed.com.
So pretty much when I walk in my principal’s office and I have a certain look on my face, the look where you’re about to ask a favor and your eyebrows are raised and you’re making those squinty eyes, try doing it. Do it right now with your face. “Hey,” that’s usually how I usually start. I knock on the door, “Hey, is now a good time?” I always start really, “Is now a good time to…” and my principal every time will just set her pen down and be like, “What, Stephens,” because she knows I’m about to ask for something crazy, but she also knows it might be crazy awesome.
It takes a while, hopefully not two decades for you, to get to a comfortable, comfortable place with your admin, but keep pushing for it. Keep working toward it because you are worth it, your kids, so worth it, your art program easily worth harassing, in a nice way, with maybe lots of dark chocolate and coffee, your administration. Have a great week, guys, and you are going to get them on your side. You are going to win them over.
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.