Joining the Team at AOEU (Ep. 172)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work for AOEU? In today’s episode, Director of K-12 PD Amanda Heyn joins Nic to discuss her work behind the scenes at AOEU. They talk about leaving the classroom, continuing artistic pursuits, and the new positions available at AOEU. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work for the Art of Education University or even wondered what kind of jobs and opportunities are at AOEU today? We’re going to talk to Amanda Heyn, who’s going to give us the insider scoop on all of those questions and a lot more. This is Everyday Art Room and I’m your host, Nic Hahn.

Hello Amanda, I am so excited that you’re joining us today because I think you’re going to answer a lot of questions that people have wondered about the Art of Education University. Welcome.

Thank you. Yeah, I hope so. I hope I can shed some light, behind the scenes, insider info.

Nic: Yeah, that’s exactly what this is. Exactly. Well, let’s start out with just kind of an introduction of what you do with the Art of Education University and what your role is with them.

Amanda: Sure. So I have had a lot of roles within AOEU. I started actually writing for the magazine over eight years ago when I was a classroom art teacher, so I kind of like to say I’m an original cast member of the show. And then I actually became the editor of the magazine, so I did that part-time for five years. And then two years ago I took over Pro and then most recently, just this past December, my title changed again, and so now I am the director of K-12 professional development and media. And what that means is on the PD side of things, I oversee Pro and then the Now Conference and on the media side of things, I oversee the magazine, the podcast, Instagram Live, and our YouTube channel, which we’re hoping to do a lot more with this coming year. And so basically, I lead and work with the teams that create content for all of those different platforms. So lots of exciting stuff going on.

Nic: I like the evolution there though, because it is … You are the boss of the magazine sort of, you’re the manager there.

Amanda: Yeah, yeah.

Nic: But you’ve worked the magazine and you were a full-time art teacher at that time.

Amanda: Yes.

Nic: So I feel that makes you a really qualified person.

Amanda: Well thanks, I hope so.

Nic: Plus you’re an original cast member.

Amanda: Yes.

Nic: Of course, of course. So you mentioned earlier that you were an art teacher. Can you tell me more about your background? What is your background?

Amanda: Yeah, sure. So I’ve always known that I wanted to work with kids in some way, and I think that’s kind of rare. I knew when I was … Well, I wanted to be a veterinarian and then I realized I was allergic to all animals, so luckily my interests changed. So my educational background is in art education and always has been. I was an elementary art teacher before I started working at AOEU, and I really loved it but when I got pregnant with my first kiddo, I started to think about potentially leaving the classroom and what would that look like.

I was writing for AOEU at the time and at that time had started to grow, and so they needed someone to edit the magazine and that was another interest of mine. I’ve always really loved writing and language arts and just working with a team, and so I decided to leave the classroom and do AOEU part-time instead.

So my husband and I live near Madison, Wisconsin with our two kiddos and beyond teaching, we also moved this year, so … It’s a doozy in many different ways, but I’ve been spending a lot of time in some artistic related pursuits, banishing all of the nineties yellow that was in our house, replacing ugly ceiling fans, and then we have a formal dining room, which we’ve never had before, but I decided I’m not really into throwing fancy dinner parties so we made it into a maker space instead. So I can have that little classroom for my own kiddos and their friends. I mean, eventually, of course.

Nic: Yep, yep.

Amanda: We’re not having friends over now.

Nic: Only masks. Oh wait. No, not at all. Exactly.

Amanda: Yeah.

Nic: Wow, that’s great. What a great idea to just make that space into something that you can use and fits your family.

Amanda: Yeah.

Nic: That’s a good idea. Did you mention what level you were teaching at? Was it elementary?

Amanda: It was elementary. Yep.

Nic: Okay.

Amanda: So I taught one year at a K-5 school and then my rest of my time was spent at a K-4 school, so yeah, all elementary. I had student teaching experiences and volunteer experiences with other ages and things, but that’s really where my heart was. Yeah.

Nic: Yeah. Yeah, that’s wonderful. Well, many of us can relate on this podcast for sure.

Amanda: Yes.

Nic: So you mentioned that you have been with the team for quite some time, of course.

Amanda: Yes.

Nic: And I’m just wondering if you can talk about how the Art of Education University has evolved, the actual company.

Amanda: Yeah.

Nic: And then why do you think it’s growing the way that it is?

Amanda: Sure. Okay, so when I started, I think it was … I was trying to remember because I knew you would probably ask me about this, and I think it was a team of like four to six people, and now there are over 100 people involved. And back when I first started, I don’t even think anybody was full-time. So it’s been really incredible to witness the growth firsthand over the past eight years.

I don’t know how many people know this, depending on when you came to know AOEU, but it used to be called just the Art of Education and it was Jessica’s blog, and it really grew out of her master’s work. She wanted to find out what there was in terms of professional development for art teachers, and she found there wasn’t any professional development for art teachers.

And so she … Yeah, right. Surprise. She set out to create it. So the evolution has kind of followed this amazing trajectory, going from a blog and then offering a few courses, developing the conference. Then we transitioned from a blog to sort of this more robust, full fledged magazine. We launched the podcast. If any old timers are around to remember the ill-fated AOE Live.

Nic: Yes, I do.

Amanda: There was always stressful tech going on behind the scenes.

Nic: Super stressful.

Amanda: A little before its time. The idea was there, but the tech hadn’t quite developed yet.

Nic: Yep, true.

Amanda: And then we went on to develop 20 plus courses. Then we launched Pro Learning, our professional development platform. Then after a years-long process, we became accredited as a university, which meant we were able to offer our own master’s degree. And then most recently, this past year in 2020, we launched our Flex curriculum. So yeah, just a couple of things going on. Just a little … It’s been pretty calm.

Nic: Yeah, no. And I think I joined the team right around where those 20 courses … I started as an instructor.

Amanda: I was trying to remember, that’s right. Yeah. Yeah, so you’ve been here quite a while as well.

Nic: That’s true. Yeah.

Amanda: So I think what’s really cool though, is that AOEU has had the same mission literally from the first blog post, so almost 10 years ago, I went back and looked this up because I thought I had remembered it and I found it. Jessica had written … Well, our current mission, I guess I should start with that. Our current mission for the foreseeable future is that we grow amazing art teachers by providing rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning at every stage of their career.

And in that very first blog post Jessica had written, “I want to make things happen and inspire others to reach their fullest potential. I continually commit to helping art teachers succeed in a way that best suits their talents and strengths, and I hope to help motivate other art educators to continually advance the field of art education.” So I think that’s pretty incredible because the team, the offerings, it continues to expand, but the heart of AOEU has stayed exactly the same from day one.

Nic: Absolutely. Wow.

Amanda: Yeah, okay. So you also asked me … Oh, why is AOEU growing?

Nic: Yeah. Yeah.

Amanda: So yeah, I think … I mean, obviously it’s feeding a need, right? I know what it’s like to sit in a professional development that doesn’t apply to me and I’m sure you know what it’s like to sit there.

Nic: I do know that.

Amanda: I’m sure all of our listeners know what it’s like to not really get what you need, not be appreciated, not be valued, and so I think once our teachers find AOEU, they’re here for life because we’re committed to educating and developing art educators over their entire career. We have everything from free magazine articles and podcasts all the way up through a master’s degree, so you can find something that fits your exact needs at the exact time that you need it.

But on the flip side of things, creating all of that content is an incredible undertaking. So for example, a single Pro Pack can have 10 to 20 people involved and it can take eight or more months to develop. So I’m involved. We have a content lead who works with the facilitator, who is the teacher on camera, and then we have our resources which go through editing and proofreading and design and back to proofreading and back to design. And we have our video crew, and then we have our marketing and sales professionals who love to help get the Pro Pack in the hands of art teachers and have their school district pay for it.

And so if you take that one example of that one Pro Pack and then multiply it by courses and Flex curriculum and the conference, it just takes an incredibly robust team to make that happen. And then beyond that, as our offerings scale up, you have other things that need to scale up like our amazing customer engagement specialists, our team and culture department, finances, just more and more nuanced professionals coming onto the team all the time so that we can continue to serve our teachers at the highest level possible.

Nic: Yeah, and I think that’s some really good insight there giving that example of Pro Pack, and again, having that opportunity to be on the camera knowing that I was such a small portion of what was put out there, that the team is so huge, that’s really important to understand.

Amanda: Yes. Yes. It takes … There’s a lot of thought and time, effort, care put into every single thing that we make.

Nic: Truly. Yeah, excellent. So I know that we have a lot of art teachers out there that are curious about this and they want to know maybe what other opportunities there are for joining the team or being part of the Art of Education.

Amanda: Yes, I would love to talk about that. Okay. So there’s a couple of different avenues for working with AOEU, so one thing is that we’re always looking for new fresh content producers. So whether that’s people who are creating lessons and resources for Flex, whether that’s people who are facilitating a Pro Pack, giving a conference presentation, etc. All of those positions are often open on a rolling basis and we take a look when we have a need.

It’s a really great way to work with AOEU while you are still teaching. We have a lot of people who do sort of this side gig work, helping out creating the amazing content. And then beyond those content roles, we also have openings for adjunct faculty and for teaching grad courses. That’s another part-time role that a lot of classroom teachers participate in. And I know we always get questions about this, so I’ll just say it up front, it says on the website we do prefer a terminal degree, that would be a PhD, an EdD or an MFA.

However, if we’re looking for a specific content area, we will sometimes consider people with masters degrees. So that would be a lot of our listeners. And all candidates must have K-12 art teaching experience, which I think is just so cool because you know when you take a course that you’re learning literally from another art teacher who’s been in your shoes.

So the next round for that is likely April or May. We also are looking for content producers for our courses, and if people are interested in looking for those roles, you can find any jobs that we have open at any time right on the website. You can just click about AOEU on the top of the main page and then there’s a section you can click on called ‘Work With Us’.

So that’s kind of one way, right? You want to teach, but maybe you want to contribute to the profession in this way or get your foot in the door, that’s a really great way to do it. But then we also do have full time positions open up fairly regularly, and in fact, I love to tell everybody about a spot on the content team right now that I’m super excited about.

Nic: Yeah, yeah.

Amanda: So this is another way that AOEU grows sometimes. We’ll have a position that was part-time and it’ll all of a sudden become really clear that okay, we actually need someone …

Nic: Not part-time.

Amanda: Yeah, working … Definitely not part-time.

Nic: Yeah.

Amanda: So this is a position like that, and that’s our senior editor position. So that previously was part-time but now it is moving to full-time and we’re looking for a new person for that role. So that role will … Yeah, it’s exciting.

Nic: It is.

Amanda: They’ll lead and oversee the content creation for the magazine, YouTube, and Instagram Live, and also do some copywriting and editing for marketing. So we’re looking for someone who really deeply understands what art teachers want and can create/curate to meet those needs and meet the moment. Someone with a passion for social media who knows a lot of people in the field and then also someone with killer writing and editing skills.

So it’s kind of like this really specific skillset and I’m just super excited to see what sort of applications roll in. So if anybody is interested in that, that job opening … Currently, it looks like we’re going to close it on the 15th of January. So if you’re interested in, then yeah, you can get your application in. And then other things we have open, we’ve hired graphic designers before, proofreading positions, and right now I think we have a bookkeeper open. So maybe there’s someone out there with like a dual art education/finance degree. I don’t know.

Nic: Okay, media made sense to me. Who knows, you’re right, who knows? Maybe there’s someone out there.

Amanda: So anyway, yeah. Like I said, you can find any jobs. If you’re ever curious, you can simply just go to the website and click ‘About AOEU’ and then ‘Work With Us’ and everything that’s open is listed there.

Nic: Yeah, yeah. And you know though, I think that’s important to say though that you’re looking for a finance person because I have … I’m part of the team, so I get notifications on a regular basis of what jobs are out there, and there’s multiple times I’ve sent my cousin the information or a friend of mine, because I know that they have that skillset and that this is a good team to work for.

Amanda: Yes, yes. I love that. And it’s interesting too, sometimes we’ll get somebody to apply to a position that doesn’t necessarily need an art education background, but they have one or they’ve worked in graphic design or they worked in a related field or they have museum experience, and it’s always really cool then, because not only do they have this specific skillset they’re looking for, but they understand the mission on a really deep level. So yeah.

Nic: Yeah. That’s awesome. Speaking of awesome, let’s talk about this team that we work for, just being part of the Art of Education University’s team. First of all, let’s just talk about the greatness of that, and then if you could hit maybe … You probably know about the benefits of some of these positions.

Amanda: Sure. Yeah, so in a nutshell, I love working here. It’s great. More specifically, one of the things that I think is really cool is I feel like I get to use the skills that I got to use in my classroom in a new way. So I loved being an art teacher, like it was my calling and I felt a little bit nervous leaving that classroom, leaving the environment, leaving the structure, leaving the kids. But what I’ve learned is that I can take so much from that experience and apply it to this position.

So I was planning content for my students, now I’m planning content for our teachers across the country. And I think one of the biggest benefits to me and I’ll get to like 401k and whatever, but personally …

Nic: No, no, please, I love this.

Amanda: One of my favorites or one of the biggest benefits, I think personally for me is like when I was working in the classroom I could affect change or work to affect change within my 435 kids that I saw every week. But now I can differentiate for and work to reach teachers who then reach their students. So if I even just think about Pro, one of the platforms I’m in charge of, I think we have between 7,000 and 8,000 members, and then if you times that by an average of 300 students.

Nic: Sure.

Amanda: I can directly impact the art education of like two million kids across the country.

Nic: Wow.

Amanda: Which is just like really cool and mind-blowing, so I’m not only affecting teachers and their professional development and supporting them, which is so important to me, but that then directly affects the work that’s going on in real classrooms with real kids. I feel like I can also use a lot of my creative thinking and problem-solving skills that I used in the art room, it’s just different types of problems.

So beyond that, the team is really amazing, like we’ve both been saying. I also, I was really scared to leave my work family when I left the classroom because we were so close. I mean, you know as teachers, you just get really close with the people you see every day, and I felt like how’s it going to be working remotely and all of that, but I totally didn’t need to worry. I mean, now some of my best friends are on this team and there’s a real adult culture here where we push to make each other better and they also just make me laugh so hard. So it’s just, it’s really great.

And then beyond that, some of the actual benefits of the job are that number one, I think for me is the flexible schedule. So as I mentioned, I have two young kiddos, so being able to flex my time is perfect for my family, especially now. I was a second grade teacher this morning working on math facts and now I’m at work, so that’s great. And also just working from home, again, especially now, is really amazing. And then standard things like 401k match plan and health care, and we get all of the technology we need to do our jobs and things like that. So there really are a lot of cool benefits that come along with a position like this.

Nic: And I think … I don’t know, I think you answered a lot of questions that even I had like what does it feel like to let go of something you’re so passionate about? But you really hammered that and just really made me understand why it worked for you at least.

Amanda: Yeah. Yeah. And I thought I was going to really miss my kids, and I did, and I do, but now having my own kiddos, I volunteer in their classrooms. And like I said, I created an art space and every birthday party has an art theme. We did tie dye one year and other things like that. So I’ve found ways. I get real, real into Halloween. I find ways for my crafty projects to come out and so I feel like I can keep that part of myself. And even if you don’t have kids or you don’t have a family, there’s so many volunteer opportunities.

Nic: Yes, summer camps.

Amanda: In your community that would all love to have somebody experienced step in.

Nic: Yeah, love it. Hey, what are some final thoughts that you’d like to leave us with today?

Amanda: Sure. So I think a lot of teachers right now are evaluating their place in the classroom, right? This pandemic, I think has made all of us reevaluate our entire lives, and for some, it’s strengthened their resolve to teach in person in the classroom, and for others, it’s the opposite. Or some people may have had to make a really difficult decision to step away when they maybe didn’t necessarily want to.

So I would say if you are someone who’s in a position and you’re trying to figure out what’s next, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It doesn’t have to be that you teach art or you’re an accountant, or you teach art and you do something totally unrelated. There are so many jobs that allow you to be creative and potentially even stay in the field, whether it’s museum education or teaching at the college level or doing private art lessons or converting a side hustle into a full-time hustle or opening …

Nic: Right.

Amanda: I know art teachers who have totally revamped what they’re doing and opened their own online teaching platform. Or something like AOEU, there are just so many options to explore. So I think that’s sort of my parting message is that whatever you do next, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the last step, it can be the next step, and if you’re feeling like you might want to try something new, there’s no harm in looking to see what’s out there.

Nic: Yeah, I love it. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today.

Amanda: You are so welcome. Thanks, Nic.

Nic: Amanda has such a bright personality. I just love talking to her and today was no different. I think she gave us some really good insight of her path, her path of leaving the classroom going into something that was different for her and still finding success and pleasure in what she’s doing, in her job. So I thought that was really, really awesome.

Maybe you were listening and you think, “Hey, I am a perfect fit for the job that she described.” Get onto the website and put in your application. Maybe an instructor sounded like something that you could do in the future. Well, you have some time to think about that, but as she mentioned, in April or May, some of those positions are going to come to be requested again. So make sure that you’re checking out the webpage then.

Or maybe it was just really interesting to listen to what the Art of Education University looks like as of right now. So a hundred plus employees and everything that it involves, with the magazine and FLEX and PRO and the NOW conference, et cetera, et cetera. I just really found our conversation to be beneficial and I hope you did too.

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.