How Advocacy Can Help You Through Your Most Difficult Months (Ep. 158)

As we move through the middle of our most difficult months of teaching, Tim has some thoughts on how to make things easier on yourself. Listen as he talks about how to use advocacy to avoid burnout, making time for yourself and your own artmaking, and why you need to set some goals for the coming months.  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.

All right, welcome to March. Welcome to Youth Art Month. I know we’re excited about everything that’s going on in March. Everybody who’s involved with Youth Art Month, it’s huge, it’s a great chance to do so much for your program and really advocate for everything that’s going on. We’ll talk about that a little bit today and we’ll talk about it more throughout the month. If you’re a National Art Education Association conference goer, that’s also coming up in just a couple of weeks, so a lot to look forward to.

For so many people, myself included, February and March are really difficult months for art teachers, for teachers in general. It’s just something that we all know and we’re all feeling right now. We … Even when there are things that we’re looking forward to, we’re still waiting for the weather to get nice. Until we get to that point, it seems like school can really drag on and on and it can get difficult to get up and get to your classroom every day.

Today in this episode, I want to talk to you about a few of the things that you can do to kind of keep fighting the good fight. Some things you can do to get you through these tough weeks or even these tough months. I’m gonna be flying solo once again today. I don’t necessarily love doing these episodes by myself. I mean, we started this whole podcast so I could talk to other people about art teaching, but every time I do an episode solo like we did with the Art Ed Now mailbag, I get a bunch of feedback about how people love hearing from me and how they love those episodes. One more time, right now we’re gonna do a solo episode here and then we’ll try to get back to some interviews.

Like I said, I want to talk about how we get through what most people would consider the toughest time of the year for teachers. I do want to focus on the advocacy part for a little bit and I do want to talk about some of the other things that you can do as well to kind of take care of yourself and make sure that you’re rested, you’re ready to go for the remainder of the school year. As we talk about the toughest time of the year, I think one of the biggest things that keeps me going is talking about inspiration. It’s good to reflect on, it’s good to think about what inspires you. Why did you become an art teacher? I think that telling that story is important. I think that putting into words what you’re doing, and more importantly why you’re doing it, can be refreshing and can remind you of why you are there even on those really tough days.

As I mentioned, a big part of telling your story is doing advocacy for yourself and for your program. I’ve had this argument before with people who don’t love advocacy. They think that it’s not really worth it to advocate for your program. They think that it is I guess spent energy that doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t truly change you program. I’m gonna say that I disagree strongly and there’s so many things that you can do that have an impact on your program, on your kids, on your administration and beyond that. It has an impact on you as well.

Advocacy, it’s not done because you need admiration or because you need respect from other people. You don’t need to validate what you’re doing. I mean, it helps, of course. Validation is nice. You feel good when other people see what you’re doing in your program and you can be proud of that, but I think even doing just the little things to advocate for the arts in general helps your mindset. It helps your classroom, and that those little things really add up. Even if you start small, it makes you feel better about what you’re doing and it makes you appreciate what’s happening in the classroom.

I think the idea of starting small with advocacy is a great idea because it gets you into the right mindset to promote what you’re doing and it gets you into the right mindset where it’s fun to spend more time looking at and reading about and talking about art. Once you have that mindset it can really shift how you think about your job, your classroom, what you’re doing. If you are struggling through these months, then that can be huge. That can be a big thing to take joy and what we all study, what we all love here.

If you want some suggestions on little things you can do, Amber Kane wrote an amazing article last week about all of those small things that you can do to help advocate on a day-to-day basis for your program. It’s a really great article and it’s called A Full Month of Simple Art Advocacy Ideas. Just things you can do on the regular that are, like you said, simple, they’re easy, and you can just make ’em part of your routine. She actually has a download in there that has different ideas that you can do each day just to kind of get yourself in that process of promoting art, talking about art, thinking about art, reading about art. All of those amazing things that you can do.

Just a couple ideas that I really like, and a lot is on social media. Share an artist’s work that you really love, or leave a comment on an artist’s Instagram page or their Twitter feed and just tell ’em how much you appreciate their work. You can watch an art-related documentary and share that with people. You can go to a museum’s website and leave a review for a show that you saw there or maybe do the same for a gallery that you might go to. It can also be things that are happening in your classroom. Or have kids ask people why does art matter and then continue that discussion in your classroom. You can invite an administrator to visit your art room. There’s so many things that you can do that really promote the arts, and like I said, gets you into the mindset and gets you feeling better about everything that you’re doing.

Now, maybe my favorite one on here … On her list of downloads is … It says, “Have your students brainstorm what would still exist if there were no artists or no designers in the world.” That’s gonna be a really, really short list. When you start thinking about that yourself or when you start thinking about that with your kids, it really makes you kind of think and makes you appreciate all of the things that we do as artists, as designers, and all of the things we’re helping our kids to do in the future. That reminds you why you’re doing what you’re doing and I think that’s a good springboard to think about that and to get yourself in the right mindset.

Again, I just think that getting back to the basics, the things that you love and appreciating those goes a long way into helping to get through these tougher months. Even though daily actions can have a really lasting impact, so that’s a good habit to get into and definitely something that I would always recommend.

Now, next thing that I think is really helpful if you’re struggling, if you’re going to have trouble getting through these months is making your own art. It’s really important for you to find some time to create. There are a million excuses out there. We are all busy. A lot of us have families. A lot of us have other responsibilities. A lot of us have other jobs, and it’s tough. It’s really hard to find time to create.

Honestly, I think there are a couple of directions you can go with that, but you just need to make the time to do that, even if it’s 10 minutes or 15 minutes. In the morning while you’re eating breakfast, work in your sketchbook a little bit. Or if you have 15 minutes out of your planned time or 15 minutes after school before you leave that you can just make some art, do a little bit of painting. Do a little bit of drawing. Throw a small bowl on the wheel. Anything like that that just keeps you creating.

Those are good things to do. It’s tough. Everybody’s got a million other things that are happening and it’s difficult to prioritize, but if you do make the time, if you do prioritize that, it’s going to be worth it. I can’t recommend that enough because just getting into the habit of making and creating, it makes you feel better. It brings your stress level down, and again, it just goes to remind you about what you love and why you’re doing what you’re doing. I think that that is invaluable to be honest.

For me, I’ll just tell you kind of what I like to do is just find some time every day to work in my sketchbook. I always hesitated to that I guess because I didn’t want to take time away from my kids or take time from spending with my family. I don’t know why it took me this long to realize that, but there’s no reason that like my kids can’t do that with me. There are lot of days after school where I have got an 11-year-old and a nine-year-old and all three of us just get our sketchbooks out and we just spend some time drawing after school or we’ll get the gelly plates out and do some really simple prints or we’ll get some pastels and make a little bit of a mess in our sketchbooks. That’s as cool as anything else that you can be doing with your kids.

Maybe that relates to you, maybe not, but if you can find the time to just kind of work … It doesn’t have to be huge, finished paintings. They don’t have to be exquisite drawings. If you’re going to put together some collages with your toddlers at home, that’s fine, too. Just getting in and getting creating is gonna be a huge benefit as, like I said, you’re trying to get through these toughest of months.

Another thing that I really like to suggest when you’re getting into making art or deciding it’s a priority is to learn a new medium. We’ve done entire episodes on that where I’ve talked about how much I hate watercolor, but man, I’m trying. I continue to work in my sketchbook to take a small pad with me and my little travel watercolor set and try and paint. I still don’t love it, but I’m appreciating it and that challenge of learning something new really keeps me going and really keeps me motivated. If there’s something that you want to try … Maybe you’ve never done printmaking extensively, or maybe you’ve put away paints for a decade and you want to get back into it, anything like that can be huge.

Along those same lines when we’re talking about creating, talking about things that you love, it doesn’t necessarily have to be art. People have other passions, people have other hobbies that they love to do. If you can dive into those, that’s gonna be good for you as well. Maybe you love to write, you can do that. Maybe you love to read, you can do that. Maybe you need to run or exercise or do whatever. Go to yoga. Any of those things can be huge for you, but just find other things outside the classroom that you’re passionate about, feed those passions, and it’s gonna help you and honestly make you a better teacher because you’re gonna be less stressed about everything then that’s going on then. We’ll talk more about that in just a little bit.

I want to dive in just a little bit to what we can do at work to make things easier. What we can do in our classrooms so you’re not quite as stressed, you’re not quite as beat down by everything that’s going on. Just a few suggestions. Number one, leave your work at work. I mean, don’t bring home giant piles of grading. I know, it’s tough. You have a lot that needs to be done and we’ve talked about all the alternatives in grading technologically and sitting down with your kids during class and grading one on one. Maybe even not grading certain things, but the worst thing you can do is be overwhelm by stuff at work and then bring that … The things that are overwhelming you home with you. Just leave them. You’ll get to them eventually, and maybe you just need to tell your kids that.

You don’t want them to wait a month for things to be graded, but it doesn’t have to be turned around right away. Kids understand if you say, “Hey, guys, I have too much going on right now. It’s gonna take me a couple of days before I can grade this, before I can comment on this and get it back to you.” Just share with them that it’s gonna be a little bit slower and then that is a little bit off your plate you don’t have to drag home a giant box of paintings that need to be graded or a giant pile of papers that need to be commented on. Just leave that there.

Second thing, and we talk about this all the time, don’t be afraid to say no. No, you can’t help with the musical. No, you can’t design posters. No, you can’t paint things for people. There’s so much other stuff that you have going on, and if that’s gonna take you away from what you should be doing, what you want to be doing, and especially if it’s gonna cause you more stress and keep you at school even longer, you have to say no to that.

All you have to say is just tell ’em you have a lot going on right now in class. You really need to focus on your students at the moment. That’s it. I mean, you can say, “As much as I’d love to help you, I need to concentrate on my art room and my art kids right now.” Or you can even say, “Just too much going on myself and I can’t spend any more time here.” Things like that are just fine. You may feel bad saying no in the moment, but it is a sense of relief every single day when you know that you don’t have another thing hanging over your head.

Third thing, I think just use your planning time wisely. If you think that it’s gonna be best for you to make artwork during your planned time like we talked about, that’s fine. If that’s the time you need to grade, that’s fine. If you need to get out of your classroom, go for a walk, that’s fine. If you need to go talk to people and just get some adult conversation, that’s fine, too. Just think about it. Don’t spend your planned time like scrolling through Instagram and Facebook and then just looking and saying, “Oh, where did the last half an hour go?”

No, if you have things on social media that are gonna help your classroom, by all means go for it. If you have conversations happening there that are gonna help you feel better and help your teaching, by all means go for it, but don’t waste your time. I mean, really just have some intent as far as what you want to do with your planned time. Be intentional about how you’re spending it, whether that’s on like I said planning or art making or a conversation or whatever else. I think that’s gonna be huge and anytime you can make the most of that and eliminate other things that are kind of stressing you, then that’s gonna be a huge benefit to you.

‘Kay, and then last thing that I think really helps you kind of get through these tough months is making sure that you’re exercising and making sure that you’re eating right. Again, I know it’s just like finding the time is really, really difficult, especially eating right. That’s really tough to do. Even small steps are gonna be huge there. If you eat like crap five days a week, maybe reduce that to three days a week and just trying to be healthy for a couple of meals here and there and just kind of get started on that, how we get started on that, that path. Same thing with exercise. I’ve done two marathons now. It’s really intimidating to think about ending up there, but once you get started, once the ball gets rolling, you really do kind of feel better about everything that’s happening and it gets easier and easier the more you get into that habit.

I think if you just start small … I don’t know, here in Omaha, the weather’s been ridiculous. I can’t even get outside because it’s all snow and ice. There’s nowhere to walk my dog. There’s nowhere to run, and so that makes it really difficult. If you’re in that situation, maybe you go to the gym. Maybe you look up yoga on YouTube and just follow along with that. Just do some things in your basement. Anything that can get you active, and again, just start small. 10 minutes a day, 15 minutes a day. Whatever you can do, whatever you can make time for, it’s gonna be huge because we all know the benefits of exercise. We all know the benefits of eating right. You don’t have to dive into a full-time dedication to that, but just like I said, a little bit at a time really gets the ball rolling and a little bit is better than none.

As soon as you kind of get into that habit, you find yourself feeling a little bit better, doing a little bit more, and it continues to build on itself. It continues to help you. Whatever your exercise of choice may be … Maybe you want to go play basketball at the gym, maybe you want to just walk around the school after school, maybe you wander through the hallways during your planned time and that’s where you get your 10,000 steps or that’s where you get your 15 minutes of solid exercise for the day … Whatever you choose to do just get into that habit.

It doesn’t have to be every day right away. It doesn’t have to be an hour every day, but just start small and you’ll find yourself wanting to do more. The more you exercise, the better you eat, the better you’re gonna feel, the better you’re gonna come into class every day, the better you’re gonna teach. It just builds and builds and builds. I think just starting small and going from there is a huge benefit to you when you are trying to get your mindset right to get through the difficult months that you’re struggling with.

I think those are the best ideas that I have for you to get through February and March and get back on your feet where you can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel and you can see the end of the year coming. I would just say a couple of things. Number one, set some goals for yourself. I think maybe have a couple of advocacy goals. Maybe one for this week and one for this month. You have a couple of goals outside of that where it may be finding more time to work on your art or finding more time to exercise. Just get started on one of those if not both. Maybe you’re just gonna start with one or two healthy meals each week and, like I said, just let it build from there. Figure out what’s gonna work for you. Set yourself a couple of goals.

See what you can do in the next couple of weeks here, the next week, next two weeks to see where you’re going, what you can do with all of that. Be intentional about the time that you’re spending at school. Make sure that it’s not draining you. Make sure you’re not overwhelmed and just kind of prioritize. Like I said, be intentional about your planned time. Figure out exactly how you can manage everything that you need to manage. I know it’s a lot, but when you’re overwhelmed, when you’re starting to feel burnt out, just taking a step back and recalibrating, relooking at what you’re doing can be huge.

Lastly, just remember why you became an art teacher. Again, that goes back to the advocacy piece and talking about why we love art and why we love to teach and just promoting that everywhere you can, whether it be to your kids, to your administrators, to the community, or even just to yourself. Just reminding yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing can be a really, really powerful thing.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening as always. I always love to hear from you, so if you want to shoot me any comments, any questions, any suggestions for episodes, I would love to hear from ’em. Yeah, just or

All right, I think that is it for us, so thank you and we will talk to you 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.