How to Use the Holidays for Advocacy (Ep. 148)

In the last episode before the holiday break, Tim invites AOE writer Abby Schukei back on the show to talk about how you can actually use the holidays as an opportunity for advocacy. Listen as they discuss the best projects you can complete before break, new ideas and systems for organization, and ways to make your classroom feel a little bit better when you return from some time off.  Full episode transcript below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education and I’m here your host, Tim Bogatz.

All right. It is the last week of school before break and let’s face it, we are all just trying to survive. We’re in survival mode right now, you’re probably down on your last week, maybe even your last couple of days, and a lot of times you’re just stuck. You’re just trying to get through what you need to get through and make sure that kids don’t kill each other, make sure you don’t kill anyone. And what can you do? What are ideas that you can bring back and bring your kids, and we might actually have something for you here on this episode.

Abby Schukei is here today. Mostly because people have been yelling at me about not having her on. It’s been a couple of months since she was on an episode, and I’ll just say that her fans are getting restless. So we’re going to chat about getting through that last little bit of time before winter break. How to make sure that you and your kids are not going crazy in that short amount of time that remains.

And we’re also going to talk about a couple of her articles. She had one published just a couple of weeks ago about how to use the holidays as an advocacy tool for your program. And I thought it was a really interesting spin, a new way to look at the old question of what do you do before the holidays? So I want to ask her about that. She also had a really interesting idea for checking out supplies, keeping your room organized, keeping your supplies where they need to be, and let’s face it Abby needs all the great ideas and all the help she can get when it comes to organization, so I want to support her new endeavors and chat about that too.

But seriously though it is a great idea and I think the conversation about that will be worth listening, before we get started with the conversation, I want to tell you about the Art Ed Now Conference coming up on February 2, 2019. As you guys know, this is my baby. I love putting together these Conferences. This year we’re going to do the first Saturday in February with all sorts of great ideas coming your way. We’re going to have a presentation on art therapy, presentation on social and emotional learning in the art room, on failing forward, on how to plan and execute a public art project, and just a plethora of other topics.

So it is always an awesome day of professional development. You can see all the presentations we’ve released. See what the Conference is all about at Make sure you check it out soon. All right, let’s go ahead and get started. I am here in Abby’s classroom and let’s go ahead and bring her on right now.

All right. And here with me now on the podcast is Abby Schukei. Abby, how are you?

Abby: I’m doing okay. I’m feeling the end of winter break or the end of this school year towards winter break is coming, and I’m feeling it a little bit today.

Tim: Yeah, we’re really close, and yeah, you seem annoyed with your kids.

Abby: Yeah. It’s just there’s a lot to do and they forget that within these last few days of class, they still have to listen, so it’s a little problematic, but we’re going to survive.

Tim: Yeah. It’s always tough for teachers and for students alike, but we’ll get there. Its been a couple months since you’ve been on the podcast, and I’ve received multiple emails asking why you haven’t been on, like a couple of just like, “Hey, where’s Abby? Its been a while.” And then I did that solo show right after Thanksgiving and somebody even emailed me and was like, “Abby could have been on this week.”

Abby: Wow. Yeah, how rude. Why didn’t you invite me?

Tim: You’re very popular, but you’re here now. So hopefully all of the people upset that you haven’t been here will be placated before getting here.

Abby: I’m glad to be back. Glad to be back.

Tim: But I wanted to talk a little bit about your couple of articles that you wrote this month because they’ve been super popular. So first one was talking about how you can use the holidays as an advocacy tool. So can you talk a little bit about just some of the ideas that you shared in that article and just go in depth a little bit more on those.

Abby: Sure. One of the main things that the holidays are a really good time to advocate for your art program is because of that whole idea of giving gifts. And I know sometimes in the art room we don’t want to be seen as just a place that is producing crafts and gifts for other people, but it’s actually a really good way that you can share with your staff, your administrator, not even just your school administrator, but with people at your central office. By having your students create things and show people what they are learning the really advanced skills and techniques that they’re doing, can speak a lot to your program.

Tim: Yeah. And I think you had a really good idea with the holiday cards that you did with that. Can you talk about those and maybe a little bit about the magnets that you did too?

Abby: Yeah, sure. One of the things I know that we start this in October or September, which is not really holiday time, but a few years ago I reached out to our communications director and they would always have a Christmas card or holiday card they would have and that they would send out to the community. And I said, “Hey, why don’t we have students create artwork for this?” And so it’s not something that I require students to do, but kind of as they finish things up, I tell students that there can be a competition that your artwork could be featured on this holiday card. Some of them don’t want to do it and that’s okay. But then there’s a lot of them that do want to do it and it then goes out to the entire community and students can see what you’re doing and then you can use those images for other things, even with your staff, if it’s school-themed a little bit that works out really well.

One of my favorite things to do is I’m going off of that idea, we’ve created magnets or ornaments for teachers and administrators in the building that are school themed, but we just do a little clay ornaments and now I know clay can get expensive, but if you’re doing really small for the staff, it doesn’t have to be a penny pincher there, but what we’ve done is I’ve had students create and design 3D printed stamps, so that we then use those to talk about the technology that we’re using, and they use those stamps for the clay, and then they make these themed ornaments, those magnets that they give out to the staff.

Which is really cool because then we always include a note with it that’s like, “Hey, all of these cool textures and designs you see on here, students design these in the 3D program and we 3D printed them and then they use them.” So it’s a really good way to show them that we’re doing some pretty innovative things.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. I just always loved that when kids make things then and bring those home or give them as gifts, they’re so good about talking about the process and being able to share what they’ve done. I also wanted to ask you about the third idea there because the holiday cards are awesome, the clear magnets are awesome, but obviously, they take a long time to do. But you also did some monoprints, and can also you talk about that process and people are listening to this like the last few days before break, is that the last minute thing you think they can sneak in before they’re out of here for a couple of weeks?

Abby: Oh yeah. I haven’t even done them this week or this year yet because I’m saving them for those last few days when I know that there’s going to be 10 kids that don’t have anything to do. So yeah, my favorite thing to do is just doing these last-minute monoprints. Kids love monoprinting with your gelly plates and just quickly creating really cool backgrounds they’re invested in that process, and then once they’re dry you can actually go over and do a quick lesson on typography or calligraphy and lettering and students can come up with nice, maybe holiday cards or messages that they either give to their families or give to staff members.

I challenged them, “Hey, is there a staff member that you really feel connected to in the building? Why don’t you make something for them.” And they can even use those monoprints to create cool little holiday ornament cutouts and things like that. So yeah, if you need something to do, the last three days of school, that’ll keep them busy for sure.

Tim: Okay. Cool. I think that’s an awesome idea. Now, the other article that I wanted to ask you about was the checkout system. I think you have something really cool going on with how you check out some of your supplies and you have this whole breakdown with barcodes and apps and all sorts of great stuff that seems like it’s working really well. So can you explain to people how that works and share like it’s been beneficial for him?

Abby: Yeah. First off I just need everyone to know that I am not organized. I am not. And Tim is sitting hearing now and he’s been in my classroom and he knows that but this is an organizational system that’s very organized, and it actually works a little bit for me. It works well. What this checkout system is, it utilizes an app called Classroom Checkout, which is by FikesFarm, and it’s actually just supposed to be like a library catalog. So it is actually like a library app that you can use.

And so then you can either print out barcodes or they’ll send you barcodes, you can buy like 500 of them for 10 or $15 that are already adhesive and everything. So that’s well worth the price because I have not gone through all of my barcodes yet. But one of the things with that is you simply take your labels and label your materials. And now since I’m working in middle school, I have my classes by semester. So obviously if you’re working in an elementary school, there might not be a need for certain materials. And there’s certainly some materials that I do not mark, but one of the biggest things that I do label, I label paint brushes because I assigned paint brushes for the entire semester that students hold onto. And so whenever we do our first painting project, students checkout paintbrush, and all we do, I put in their names, we have a code and they just come up and they scan it. And so then that brush is theirs.

And so at the end of the semester, we’ll check them back in and if I don’t have their brush like I know whose brush I don’t have. So it’s just a good way for accountability. And the other thing that I really like to use it for is drawing kits, drawing pencils, I have these little, just little pencil bags with all of the drawing tools inside of it, and when we’re doing our big drawing units or during the semester, the students have those checked out to them, and they know that they need to have everything back by the end of the semester.

So it’s just a really good way to keep track of your stuff. And another way that I like to use it too is, sometimes students need to take something to study hall or another class, or they need to take something home. And so I do have some supplies if I ever they need to do that. I check it out that way so that I don’t have just a million posted around the room, that’s like so and so has this checked out, I actually know where it is. So it’s been a really cool way to streamline that a little bit.

Tim: Okay, that’s cool. One question that came up and this seems like a just very minor logistic thing, but those barcodes that you’re talking about, the stickers to those hold up as you’re washing brushes throughout the semester?

Abby: Yeah. So there are adhesive and all I did was put … So they stuck on there and then just a little packing tape around it, so it’s clear and yeah, they’re on there still, so we’re good to go.

Tim: Good to know. Good to know. Okay, so if we can just shift topics completely now, I’m just curious to know what you’re doing over break, is there anything exciting happening? Because first I’ll just let you know, I’m going to Kansas City for an Art Ed Pro shoot, which is going to be pretty exciting and we’re going to do a Conference video while we’re there. So it’s a little mini vacation for the family, which should be fun and always good to refresh and do things like that. But what are you doing over break?

Abby: Well, I’m definitely not gonna do anything school related, but I am going to go up to Colorado for a few days, hit the slopes, do some snowboarding, get into that mountain air. So that’ll be a good time to refresh and get going. At the end of break two I am headed up to AOE headquarters. We got some cool planning coming up, some exciting stuff, so-

Tim: That should be fun. Now, is it important for you to just get away from break? Like just stay away from school for a couple of weeks?

Abby: Oh yeah. It’s so important especially this time of year you have to spend time with your family and friends and just recharge, and we could always do schoolwork no matter what, but just try not to, just try not to over the holiday break here.

Tim: Yeah. For a long time I felt like I would be in a better mindset if I was like 100% prepared going back to school and do all this stuff over break, and then I realized it’s so important to just get away, you need a life outside of school and maybe a little more difficult than first day or two days back if you don’t spend a ton of time on school over break. But in the long run, you’re going to be really refreshed and really feeling a lot better.

Which actually brings me to my next question for you. I know you have an article coming in January, that’s all about feeling happier in your classroom. Like how to make your space work for you a little bit better. And I don’t want you to give away the whole article, but can you maybe give us some ideas on things that you can do as you’re going back to your classroom in January to make it feel a little bit better or work a little bit better for you?

Abby: Sure. I’ve actually been reading this book called Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee, and she’s a designer, has a background in design, so it really speaks to artists a lot too. And it’s all about how to find ordinary things, how ordinary things can create extraordinary happiness. And so I was exploring this idea a little bit of just all of the simple things that we can do to feel happy in our classroom. And I think one of the things that’s interesting about all of our classrooms is we spend so much time in them a day. Like they truly become our second homes, but they’re not really ours. We don’t own them, but we kind of do, so we have like this halfway ownership with them, where sometimes one of the things that are really good to do is brighten up your classroom space, but if I can’t paint a wall, how, how can I do that?

Some school districts will let you do that, some don’t. And so in the article, there’ll be some strategies to how you can bring color and brighten up your space and some of that. So one of the things that I do talk about is color. And in this book that I’m reading the color is one of the most important things. And this designer, I can’t remember his name, way back in the 1800s, like 1810 gave this idea that anything that’s monochromatic, that is the label of refinement. And so that’s why a lot of times we see schools, doctor’s offices that are institutionalized and they’re not warm, welcoming and inviting.

And obviously that shifts from culture to culture. You go to different places and they’re bright and colorful and that’s just the way everything is, but not necessarily here. Sometimes you can walk into a classroom or a school building and it’s depressing. It’s all about trying to find the happiness within that. And so, one of the things which I had never heard of, but they talk about how people have chromophobia, the fear of color.

Tim: I’ve literally never heard of that before.

Abby: Yeah. And I was just like, “Holy smokes.” It makes so much sense. Different styles, aesthetics for different people, but there is some truth to how color can make you feel happier, and that’s one of the big things, but there are some other things in there in the article too that will come up with some ways to make your classroom space feel a little bit more inviting. And one of those things is plants too, and I’ve got some cool stuff, cool ideas for how you can do that in your classroom as well.

Tim: Very nice. Cool. Well, let me just wrap up with one last question since we’re talking about feeling happier, taking a break for a couple of weeks and then setting up your classroom. How does feeling happier affect your teaching? Why do you think that’s important in the classroom?

Abby: I think one of the most important things is if you feel happy with your physical space because this is all about your physical space, you’re going to want to welcome students in. Students are going to want to feel welcome, warm and invited to your classroom space. Even when I remember going back to school, the classrooms I really enjoyed were the ones that felt homier, cozy, not the ones that are bearing with gray institutional walls everywhere.

It’s not necessarily about the amount of stuff you have on the wall, it’s just what you do with that space. And I know that our spaces aren’t always our dream spaces, but there are some things that we can do with them to make them feel as if they’re our classroom home.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s really well said and I think that’s an important point. I think we’ll go ahead and leave it there though, Abby. So thank you for joining me, and good luck getting through the last few days before break.

Abby: Thank you. I’ll survive with those monoprints, so we’ll be good to go.

Tim: Okay. That’s going to be the end of our discussion there. Now we will make sure that we link to both of Abby’s articles that we discussed and we’ll put those links in the show notes on the AOE website. Now if you’re looking for a last minute assignment, go check out her advocacy article and the monoprinting idea that we discussed, it is a perfect way to end the semester, but whether you choose to do that or whatever else you decide to do, I hope it’s enjoyable. I hope it works for you and your kids, and I hope you can make it through your last few days in one piece. Then enjoy your time off. Be ready to come back next month, stronger, refreshed, and better than ever.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you as always for listening. We’re on break for the next two weeks with next Tuesday being Christmas Day, and the Tuesday after that will be New Year’s Day, but we will see you in January with some big news and a couple of exciting episodes. Enjoy your break.


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.