Relationship Building

How Can We Succeed if Leadership is Failing? (Ep. 232)

This school year will be a year like no other, and leadership will be vitally important. But what happens when you can’t count on those who are leading you? In this episode, Tim explores ideas on how you can find success even if direction and leadership are failing you. Listen as he discusses the importance of relationships, how to leverage the art teacher community, and how to help your students find success no matter what your teaching situation. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


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.

If there’s one thing that we can say for sure with this school year, it’s that we don’t know what’s going to happen this school year. Now, there’s so much going on as far as what should be done but so little going on as far as instruction on how things should be done. There are teachers everywhere, so many teachers just feeling like they are alone. We feel like we’ve been left on an island. We’re scared, we don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to do it.

I think the best description I’ve heard for the situation that we’re in right now is there’s a leadership vacuum. There’s a lack of federal leadership and that falls to the states, and without state leadership it falls to cities, and then to districts, and then to principals, and then to you as a teacher. Maybe somewhere along those lines, someone has picked up the ball and helped you and given you the direction that you’re looking for or given you what you need.

For a majority of us, as our teachers, we don’t have the direction we need to be as successful as we can this year. I guess the big question is, how can we have success with that lack of direction? Okay. What does success look like for us? What do we need to do when leadership is not giving us what we need? That’s obviously a very difficult question to answer, but I just want to talk it through a little bit of a process that I’ve been thinking about that I think can help.

First off, let me just say that as art teachers we have a lot of really good things going for us. Our teachers have a fantastic supportive online community. Whether you’re in Facebook groups or following people on Instagram or having discussions on Twitter, if you are involved with any art teacher groups on social media you know that there’s so much support, there’s so many ideas, so many different things that you can take, so many places to find help you need, answers to your questions, discussions happening, because we’re all facing similar situations right now.

To be able to talk about those situations, to be able to discuss what’s going on with other people who are living it just like you are, it’s incredibly helpful. I don’t engage a lot on social media, I should probably do it more, but when I am on there I’m just struck by how helpful our teachers are and how much they are asking other people to help them succeed. I think it works very well because, like I said, it is such a supportive community.

Sharing those ideas can go a long ways toward helping us with what we need to set up because, like I said, there’s so much outside of our control. We’re looking for new ideas, we’re looking for direction on how to put things together, so I think there are a few things that we can do as we’re facing this situation right now. I think it can be a little bit difficult to put it all together because we are facing so many different situations. Some people are going full remote, they’re doing all online teaching, some people are doing a hybrid model, some people just have kids a couple days in their classroom and then different kids the next couple days, some people are fully in person and fully face-to-face.

I guess before I talk about how we navigate all of those situations, I want to talk really quickly, just quick break here, to talk about everything we’ve put together at AOEU, everything that we’re offering right now on the Art of Education University Website. Whether you are online, doing all remote, doing a hybrid model, fully in person, AOEU has put together resources, you need to find success. If you are a pro or a flex member, we have libraries full of resources that work for any situation, and new packs and new lessons coming out every month that are responsive to what’s happening right now.

In pro, new packs this month include understanding the logistics of teaching online and managing working from home during an extended school closure. If you don’t have pro, you don’t have flex, don’t worry, there are thousands of resources still on the AOEU website which are there for free for you. You can check out something that’s called the return to learn page on the site. We have organized resources there for everybody, no matter your teaching situation, and they’re all free so definitely go check them out.

Okay, so let’s talk about how we’re going to get started with things. I think no matter what your situation is, it could be changing. I think the biggest thing we can do is to set up your classroom to operate in all different ways, face-to-face, and remote, and hybrid learning because, honestly, we’re probably going to be using all three of those setups at some point this school year.

As you’re setting it up, as you’re thinking about what needs to be done, I think maybe the most important thing, even beyond content, is the importance of connecting with your students this year. No matter where you are, we’re going to need to build relationships. On top of relationships, I think that social and emotional learning is going to be so vitally important this year. We actually talked about that just a few weeks ago with Jonathan Jurewicz on the podcast here. We’ll link to that episode but you definitely should go check that episode out.

He does so many great things when it comes to social and emotional learning. We talked about the importance of that as well as some ideas on how to incorporate it and how teachers need to worry about that themselves too, not just for their students. That’s definitely something to keep in mind as we go into our learning here, social and emotional learning is going to be vital.

Again, along with that social and emotional learning, I think relationships are going to be really, really important. I think part of our job as teachers this fall is going to be to help students build peer relationships. Especially if you’re doing online teaching, you need to give kids a real reason to be present, to connect, to want to be there. No matter the situation, we need to figure out how to build a positive classroom community. We need to figure out how to make the art room a place where kids want to be, a place where kids feel comfortable, a place where kids can express themselves and do their best work.

You don’t need to dive into your instruction right now. I’ve heard from a few teachers who are doing nothing but social and emotional learning for the first two or three weeks of school and I think that is a wonderful idea. There’s nothing saying we have to get the content right away, kids have bigger needs right now. I think giving them that place to be, a place they can connect, is going to be hugely beneficial in the long run. I think that’s something that’s worth worrying about at the beginning.

There’s so many things you can do that just help create those connections, not only for the first week but throughout the school year. If you want to just casually chat with your kids and answer any questions, you can definitely do that. About art, about school, about life, feel free to just talk about those things. I love to do just a couple minutes at the beginning of class, especially at the beginning of the week, just to talk with my kids, “Hey, does anybody have any stories they want to share over the weekend? Hey, is there anything that’s bothering anybody that you want to talk about?”

It’s okay to give up a few minutes of instruction or a few minutes of work time to let those discussions happen. I think that’s something that you need to keep in mind as we navigate this school year here, just being able to not worry about constantly working, constantly doing something. It’s okay to sit back, relax, discuss, connect, build community. You can even play simple games like Pictionary are really easy. Just giving kids a comfort level, a fun place to go, something to do. You can do just a simple art making demo and allow for student input where, even if you’re the one creating the drawing, you can ask kids to say what needs to be added into that drawing, and you can come up with something really fun and really enjoyable that they love to do.

You can always talk about artwork as well. Once you get into the making and the creating, just take some time to sit back and let kids show off their work, if they want to show off their work. You can make specific comments about the work, you can give them feedback, or you can just let them discuss what’s going on. If nobody wants to show off their work, maybe grab a famous painting that sparks a lot of discussion or a really cool sculpture that you want to look at and just talk about that with your kids, but just those discussions and those connections are things that we’re missing and I think that’s something that we need to focus on this school year.

As you’re creating too, as you’re discussing, as you’re doing all of these things, I think the thing to keep in mind is the best activities that you can come up with to build relationships are the ones that allow students to share their individual voice. Let them tell you about who they are, let them answer questions about themselves, about their interests. Let them create art that shares about them, about their lives, about their interests, about their concerns. All of those things are very important and kids need a space to connect, a space to share, a space to find out what they have in common with other people.

I think the more that you can do that with your relationship building, your community-building activities, and with the art making, I think the better off that’s going to be for all of your students. Okay, but let’s talk about content too because, as much as we want to build relationships, we want to build community. We still have teaching to do as well. It may be a couple weeks before you get to it but it does need to be done.

I think, again, as you’re organizing your content the thing to keep in mind is that we’re probably going to be facing all situations, remote learning, hybrid, and in person this year. I think the thing to keep in mind is that however you develop your online learning environment, that needs to support your face-to-face instruction. Your face-to-face instruction also needs to support your online learning environment and when you can coordinate them, when they complement each other, I think that makes both stronger.

The best thing that I think you can do is just really break down what you do and figure out how it can transfer between learning models because we go on autopilot, especially if we’ve been teaching for a while, like, “Oh, here’s this lesson, here’s what we’re going to do, I’ve done this forever, we’re ready to go.” I think it’s good to break it down a little bit more and figure out the structure of exactly what you’re doing. Just making sure that in your lesson you have all of the parts that are going to make it successful, whatever that looks like for you.

For me, I love to do a formative assessment at the beginning, just checking for learning, a little bit of inquiry where kids can ask questions, talk about what they’re wondering about. There’s instruction from me, there’s a chance for kids to practice, there’s a chance for kids to create, and then we will assess at the end. That’s kind of how I break things down. Tf you can organize your lesson and figure out what that looks like with each of those areas, then I think that you can figure out how that best transfers online, face-to-face, hybrid, whatever you may be doing.

I think just the big thing is, making sure that whether you’re doing online instruction, whether you’re doing face-to-face instruction, you’re letting kids discover, you’re letting kids explore, you’re letting kids create, going back to all of those things that we mentioned about letting kids share about their lives and their interests and their concerns. Letting them explore ideas, hopefully letting them explore some mediums and just trying to figure out exactly the best way to put that all together as art teachers.

I know for a lot of people too it just seems so overwhelming to put this all together and you don’t really know where to start. I think just going back to the basics is a great way to do that. If you don’t know where to start, maybe just begin by listing your favorite three mediums to teach or your favorite three concepts that you use in your classroom. Maybe it’s color theory is super important, maybe art history is something that you really want to talk about. Figure that out and then plan a lesson for each of those three mediums or each of those three concepts.

Inside of those three concepts, just think about the parts of that or inside of each of those mediums think about the tools you’ll need to put that together. Again, for me, if you can break that down into separate parts I think it’s helpful. Giving instruction on how to use that tool, that medium, or instruction about what that concept is, an outline of expectations for kids what you want them to learn, what you’re expecting from them.

Then just something really low stakes that they can practice with. Practice with the medium, explore the concept a little bit more, and then they can move on to creating. Inside of each of those parts, inside of that scaffolding and that structure, make sure that you’re allowing room for conversation. Let kids talk to each other, let kids talk to you, because being able to converse, being able to ask questions, that allows students to gain a better understanding of what you’re getting at and it allows for you to gauge where they are as well.

I think if you can just break down exactly what you’re doing with your lesson. This is more involved than most of your lesson planning, usually is what you’re used to, but in this situation it might be something necessary to think a little more closely about everything that you’re trying to put together. Then, once you’ve broken that down and figured that out for a lesson or two or three, then you can expand and take it from there.

If you break everything down, go back to the basics and make sure that you have that structure for each of your concepts, each of the mediums you want your kids to work with, that’s going to be really beneficial as you figure it how to make it work for any learning situation. Then lastly, as you’ve figured out what the community in your classroom is going to look like, what you’re going to be teaching, I think it’s important that you create a routine as well and create a routine that works in any environment. Whether you’re online, whether you are in person, do something to bring the class together at the beginning; a check-in class meeting discussion question or just an open conversation.

As we talked about, bell ringers that you have, introduction to a famous artist, whatever, whatever you have to do. Put that at the beginning of each class so kids know what to expect, kids have a good beginning, they have structure, they have clues on, “Hey, class is starting now, this is what’s going on.” Just giving them that routine that works in any environment is going to be very, very important.

Secondly, you can go through the instruction, like we talked about, making sure that you’re checking for understanding, you’re doing beginning understandings, letting kids ask questions, doing inquiry, all of that is going to be important. Then let kids practice, let kids create, whatever they need to do for that day. Then specific things to wrap up, whether that’s exit tickets or a quick discussion, quick check for understanding at the end, just a good way to wrap everything up will help with that structure, that routine that’s going to work anywhere.

I think if you can do all of those things, if you can create a classroom community, if you can create instruction that’s flexible and works for any situation, and if you have a good routine, I think you’re going to be able to be successful. Honestly, let’s face it, we’re in a terribly difficult situation right now. It’s really easy to feel like you are alone but you can connect with other art teachers. You can connect with other teachers in your school or your district, even if they’re not our teachers, and answer those questions with each other.

Discuss what’s happening, discuss what best practices are and how you’re going to put that all together. If you just put some thought into what’s happening you can create a classroom environment that’s going to allow for that much-needed connection for all of your students. I think no matter what your teaching situation is you can find success. You can help your kids connect, you can give them good instruction. You can follow a routine to make this a positive learning environment. Just take it one step at a time, reflect on what’s important, decide how best to organize everything that you want to do, and when you put that all together you are going to be able to find success for your teaching and for your students’ learning.

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 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.