Professional Practice

Keeping Your Head in the Game Over the Summer (Ep. 095)

Once summer break starts, the last thing you want to think about is how you’re going to start next year. And yes–you need to take a break, cut loose from school, and clear your head. But even just a little preparation can make you feel better when the new year rolls around. Listen as Cassie discusses what you should and shouldn’t do, why you need time to relax, and the small things you can do to start next year off right.  Full episode transcript below.

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Cassie: Before I get started, I’m just going to tell you the name or the title of this podcast episode, and after hearing it, I want you to try really hard to stay with me and not immediately decide that you would rather be listening to something else. So listen to this title, and then see if you can just hang on, okay? I have titled this podcast episode Keeping Your Head and the Art Teacher in Game Over the Summer. Did I just hear like a door slam? Did you all just totally clear the room, drop your phone, take out your headset, whatever, and toss it across the room? I’m sorry that especially some of you who aren’t even on summer vacation, and yet here I am talking about how to keep thinking about school even though you’re not even finished with it yet.

Okay. Bear with me, because what I’m going to share with you today … I know you’re just shaking your head like, “No, Stephens. No.” What I want to share with you today is a way for you to just kind of keep your little pinky toe in the art teachering waters over the summer, so that come August or September, it’s not like this cold, hard slap in the face, and how you can enjoy thinking about school. Say what? Even though you’re not actually in school. Are you buying it yet? I feel like a used car salesman. Come on, guys. I’m Cassie Stephens and this is Everyday Art Room.

Okay. I know what you’re thinking, because it was immediately what I thought when I came up with the idea for this podcast episode. Like, “Why? Why do I want to keep thinking about school when I’ve just spent the last, I don’t know, nine months thinking about it nonstop? Can’t I have some sort of break?” Yes, you totally can. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t. In fact, I’m going to spend a lot of time encouraging you to totally cut loose from school, not think twice about it, but at the same time have it in the back of your mind. Why? So that you feel excited and prepared and not panicked when back to school time approaches.

I have this really incredibly awesome habit every June of just completely shutting my brain off when it comes to all things school. Like, completely off. And then in July, when the stores start rolling out the back to school stuff … July, guys. I mean, that’s just mean. I don’t even think that should be legal. I technically don’t think they should be allowed to put anything on any shelves anywhere that has a pencil or a box of crayons. I think they should all be removed from stores for teachers’ sanity until, I don’t know, I’m going to say August, just because that’s when I go back. But if I were really going to be able to decide, I would say September.

Because if you’re like me, when you stroll into Target, let’s say, and you happen to see the shelves lined with back to school merch, you start to feel a little bit of a panic, and then for me, the entire month of July just becomes like one big long Sunday night. Y’all know what I’m talking about? The Sunday night panic? I don’t have it as much as I used to, but man, those first, I don’t know, 15 years of teaching, Sunday nights were so stressful for me because I was constantly running through my mind, “What am I doing next week? What’s happening first thing Monday morning? What are all the supplies I need to prepare?” That then translates in the summertime to my entire month of July.

If you find yourself like that, then maybe just kind of keeping your head in the game all summer long will make it so that you don’t have to hit the panic button, or you don’t feel as kind of frantic when back to school time starts to approach. So what I’m going to share with you today are some things that fall into two categories. “Do this, don’t do that,” when it comes to keeping your head in the game, but yet not overthinking it and overdoing it and not taking the time to truly relax, because that’s why we have a summer break, so we do take a break from school, and I have found those times when I do have a break, I a lot of times come up with some really amazing ideas, things that I do start to get excited to bring back with me when the new year approaches.

So let’s talk about “Do this, don’t do that.” To start off, read the occasional art teachering book, or if you’re like me, keep a small mountain of them on your nightstand and then just flip through them occasionally. Yeah. Even if you just flip through the occasional teaching book, it still puts some little nuggets and some thoughts in your subconscious so that you’re still kind of thinking about them. And throughout the course of your summer days, you might see something that will connect with something you’ve looked at or read and give you ideas. It’s all about kind of keeping your head in the game.

So what are some art teachering or even just teachering books that are on my nightstand that I recommend you flip through, reread, or read if you haven’t read it yet? Here are my top five. I know I’ve mentioned these before. I’ve got blog posts all about my favorite art teachering, quote, “beach reads,” as well as even in a podcast I go a little deeper into my favorite books that I love to look at during the summer and find inspiration throughout the course of the school year.

Drawing With Children. This book was my bible my first couple of years teaching. In the late 90s, y’all, there weren’t blogs. The only books I could find at the library were hippie dippy, 1960s art books, which were super awesome, but not what I needed as a new art teacher. Drawing With Children was what I needed. It’s by Mona Brooks. It’s an older book. It is also kind of a divisive book, so when you read this book, take it with a grain of salt. Just like any other teaching style, when you are reading about a teaching style or learning from other teachers or art teachers, you always have to filter it through your art teachering lens, which consists of your setting, your students, and you, your passions, your personality. While at the time that book was the world to me, now it serves as a really great refresher course for me that I love to flip through. I love reading the notes that I left in the little side lines, or what is it called? The little side area where you write notes? Side lines. That works. So yeah, that’s definitely at the top of my art teachering nightstand mountain of books.

The Growth Mindset Coach by Brock and Hendley, or excuse me, Hundley. That book is awesome. I love it because they break it down month by month, how you can introduce the growth mindset philosophy to your students, which is awesome in the art room. Of course, an oldie, a classic, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. Man, you don’t have to buy that book brand new. All you got to do is shop your local thrift store. That is like the number one book I see there. Not because it’s not a great book, but because it’s had so many additions released, so you might find yourself with the first edition or the fifth edition. This book is just one that is so great it keeps getting put out there. Especially if you aren’t comfortable with your drawing skills, it’s a great book for you to kind of brush up on, especially over the summer. The Essential 55 by Ron Clark is awesome as is Teach Like a Pirate. Not saying you got to spend your summer days reading these books. I’m just saying they might be worth the occasional flip through, something to inspire you, maybe a couple of days a week. Just take a glance, read a chapter, read a section, take a couple of notes and put it in the back of your mind.

All right. Some new books that I’m really excited about. Just a couple that I have recently gotten, which really has my creative juices flowing. The Artful Parent by … I’m going to unfortunately probably mispronounce Jean’s name. Jean Van’t Hul, and Art Workshops For Children by Herve Tullet. Also pretty sure I messed up that name, but Tullet I’m almost positive I got correct. Those two books are really inspiring for me. Those are more art project based books, which are my favorite books to just sit down with a cup of coffee in the morning and just flip through, or on a lazy Sunday afternoon when I’m not feeling inspired to create myself, going through those books with a post-it note, a notebook, a pencil really inspires me and gets my juices flowing for next year.

Something that you’re never going to hear me say except right now is you might want to think about, I don’t know, lesson plans. If you know me, and you’ve listened to this podcast for a hot minute, you know me and lesson plans, we don’t really jive. I mean, it’s not really something that I do. It’s a couple of notes scribbled on a piece of paper with a sketch. Yeah. I’m sure my administration appreciates that also, but start thinking about your lesson plans, and me just saying that is probably raising your blood pressure a little bit because it’s raising mine. The thing about saying, “Work on lesson plans,” is it’s just this massive blank canvas where a lot of us don’t even know where to start, especially with the beginning of the school year. I’m one of those weird, wacky people who like to torture myself and do different things every single year. My life would be so much easier if I just kicked off every school year with the same projects, but I just can’t. So for me, I like to try something new ever year. It keeps me excited and keeps my students excited, keeps them guessing more like, but it can be extremely overwhelming.

How do you know where to begin? Try starting with a theme. For example, Peter H. Reynolds book The Dot, Barney Salzberg’s Beautiful Oops. Having a theme that conveys the message that you really want to kick off the school year with might be a good place for you to start. Doesn’t even have to be a book. Your theme could be the lyrics of a song, or even a word like kindness or growth. It doesn’t have to be the theme for your entire school year, but think of it as a theme that will help get your wheels turning and inspire you for your first couple of lessons.

My favorite thing to do to kind of get me excited about lesson planning, it takes a lot to get me there, is to go to like the Dollar Tree, get a brand new notebook, get a brand new batch of colorful Flair pens, post-it notes. For some reason I have a thing for office supplies, and having a brand new desk calendar, all of those things, clear desk laid out in front of me, kind of gets me excited. I said it takes a lot. It doesn’t sound like it takes a lot at all, but that helps my wheels get turning for the new school year. And like I said, it’s not like you have to spend an enormous amount of time thinking about it. In fact, I want you to do the opposite.

Remember I said, “Do this, don’t do that?” Don’t overthink this. Don’t spend your days working on this. And I say this because when I first started teaching, probably the first five years teaching, I would spend my entire summers curriculum mapping, laying out lessons, going through every single book that I had to the point that when I returned to school, I was not inspired at all. I was exhausted. I was sick and tired of lesson planning. Do not do that to yourself. Once you sit down and you start to find yourself irritated or over it, stop. Step away. Keep this in enjoyable, because that’s what’s going to keep you inspired. Don’t overdo it, think it, or work it.

Okay. Here’s something else that I think you should do. Get together with friends and create. Last week an art teacher friend of mine had a bunch of us art teachers over to her house for a crafty afternoon. You guys know I loved hosting craft nights. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I love going to other people’s crafty adventures, and hers was really awesome because it was simple. We all brought a Mexican dish. We all made a flower crown slash headband, and then we all went to see the new Frida Kahlo exhibit at our local art museum.

It was perfect, and you know what was perfect about it? It was simple. She had hot glue, guns, fake flowers and headbands for us to hot glue to the headbands and then waltz right out the door to go to the exhibit. We had a blast. So get together and create. Don’t get together and talk about lessons and talk about school unless it just happens to come up organically. You know, a lot of us want to switch off, but for us art teachers, there’s never truly an off switch. When there’s art teachers in the room, we are going to talk about art lessons and school, because it’s what inspires us and keeps us going. So definitely have a get together, but don’t exhaust yourself preparing for friends to come over and definitely don’t switch all the conversation to art teachering.

Make sure that you get out and explore. I live right outside of Nashville, and I could basically live about, I don’t know, five hours away for how often I actually go into Nashville. It’s like a crying shame. People who come from out of town actually explore and know more about my town than I do. So this summer I’ve got a list, a list of art galleries I want to check out, a list of art crawls that I want to go on, a list of places that aren’t even necessarily art related that I want to venture into, shop and explore. You should do the same, and with your artsy ideas in the back of your head, your potential lesson theme, and the things you’ve been looking at in books, when you’re out exploring, you just might find things that inspire you and give you even more ideas. Take your phone with you, of course. Take lots of pictures. Take even some video. These are things that you can bring back to your art room to share with your kids to say, “Look, these were my artsy adventures.” The summer art making, creating, it doesn’t end when you leave the art room. You can keep growing. You can keep exploring.

I, of course, am a big sucker for taking art classes and I’ve chatted with you about that before. Don’t just take, though, classes that you are comfortable with. Get out of your comfort zone. Take that embroidery class at the local rec center. Take a knitting class. Why not? But better yet, why not teach some classes? Not to kids, I mean, unless that’s your thing, but for me over the summer, the last thing I want to do is teach small humans. I’m sorry. Those of you who love running summer camps, my hat’s off to you. I’ve done my time doing summer camps and teaching children, and it just wasn’t my bag, baby. I know myself and I know I need a break.

One way that I love to take a break is by teaching adults. Teaching other creatives is so much fun, and if you’re thinking, “Well, yeah, but Cassie, how do I go about doing that?” Let me tell you what I did a couple of years ago. I guess this is probably about five years now. I had really gotten into needle felting. It was one of my favorite new hobbies, and I really wanted to share it with other people. But at that time, I didn’t know how to go about hosting it, so I reached out to our local art museum. I just kind of cold emailed a person there and I introduced myself. “My name’s Cassie. I have a blog.” Not that you have to have one. “And I’m adding a couple of photos of a new hobby that I’ve just discovered. It’s called needle felting, and I would love to share this craft with the art museum and the patrons of the museum, and offer a class.” I got a phone call back. We chatted about it, and next thing you know I was leading two needle felting workshops that tied in with the exhibits.

You never know where opportunities might be unless you ask, so if you have a passion or something you want to share, summer is a great time to do it, and teaching a different age group will give you a whole new perspective and also inspire you for when you go back to art teachering land. I know. I know. The last thing you want to think about is going back to art teachering land, but if you just keep it back in the back of your mind a little bit throughout the summer, I promise you going back won’t seem that bad. In fact, it’ll actually seem, dare I say, exciting. Thank you guys for letting me share.

Tim: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. If you are looking for graduate credit this summer, some professional development hours, or maybe you are even considering working on a master’s degree, make sure you check out courses from The Art of Education University. We offer over 20 online courses designed to help art teachers at every stage of their professional career. Whether you’re looking to develop a new art curriculum, get help with classroom fundamentals, incorporate new technology into the classroom, or just brush up on your own art making skills. We have the course for you. You can see what’s available, what interests you, and what you may want to sign up for at New sections are starting July 1 and you can enroll at any time over the next three weeks. Now let’s turn it back over to Cassie as she finishes up the show.

Cassie: Now it’s time to take a little dip into the mailbag. This first question, or probably the only question we’ll be able to take because it’s an awesome question and it might take me a pinch to answer it, is from Amanda. Amanda says, “My school has become a, quote, ‘school of the arts’ …” Sorry, Amanda. I had to say it that way. “… this year, and we’ve begun offering so many great new creative class opportunities to our elementary students like dance and drama and drums.” The three Ds, my favorite.” Along with the switch, the fine art program has also undergone a change.” I hear a womp womp in my future.

“I see half of the …” Oh, this is what I was thinking. “I see half of the students at my school, K through four, for only one full semester before they switch into a digital art class with a different teacher. If you had to pare down your full year visual arts curriculum into a mere 18 weeks, one 45 minute class each, what would the most important materials and lessons be for your students? I want to share so many things with them and I want them to be prepared for an immediate school art class, but I’m struggling to fit in everything and what I want to do. I’d love to hear your thoughts.”

Whew, Amanda. That’s tough. That sounds like almost a high school kind of situation where the kids have to take a course for so many weeks, and then switch gears to something new. I had a very similar schedule to this many years ago when I taught in Nashville, and where I saw … It sounds like you’re probably going to see the same group of kids-ish every day. I’m trying to read back through her message, like for a 45-minute class and then never again, right? For 18 weeks?

I had a similar schedule, and what it did was it forced me to do exactly what you’re doing, to really rethink what I was teaching. I considered every minute to be vital. I was like, “Oh my gosh. I have to make every single moment count because now I don’t have as many moments as I once did.” And I kind of drove myself a little bit batty trying to squeeze it all in, so I just want to encourage you to not do that, to take a breath, to keep fun at the top of the list, because that’s what they’re going to remember. That’s what’s going to keep them having a positive memory about art and want them to continue with art a little bit further down the road. Not that that’s necessarily the end goal.

My end goal when I’m teaching is like what you’re saying, to expose my kids to as much different media as I can, thinking about, “What do my kids not usually have a chance to do?” In their classroom, they get crayons, they get markers, they get pencils. So in my mind, and this is just my opinion, and you asked for it, those are things that we shouldn’t be using a lot of in the art room. They should be using the things that they never get the chance to use. So if you’re thinking, “What would those be?” I would definitely put clay at the top of the list. It’s a kid favorite. It works their hand muscles. Clay, clay, clay. And you also suggested that in your parentheses. I’m right there with you. All the things that she mentioned in the parentheses, which I didn’t read, is definitely what I would encourage her and anybody else with this like abbreviated schedule to do.

Fiber arts. Definitely. All kids love fiber arts. At first, all kids and you are going to want to pull your hair out, but it’s like a light switch. When they get it, it clicks. They love it. They don’t want to stop. Weaving definitely is at the top of the list. Sewing is like a life skill that nobody knows how to do anymore. Teach it, but start really, really basic, especially if you’ve never taught fibers before. You don’t want them to become frustrated because then that becomes the off switch for most kids and adults, and of course sculpture. Painting, and that’s another thing that you mentioned. I’m right there with you. I would definitely say those are four big ones, but like I said, don’t stress yourself out. That first 18 weeks is going to be a huge learning curve for you.

Everything takes much longer than you could ever imagine that it would. So clay always takes longer. Fibers takes for flippin’ ever. Knowing that, when you’re introducing clay, don’t start with these wild, crazy and elaborate clay projects. Maybe it’s a pinch pot with a face on it, especially if they’ve never had exposure to clay. Maybe it’s a simple slab project. I do a lot of one and done clay projects in my room simply because it’s difficult to wrap it up and reuse it again. Keep your fiber projects simple. Especially if they’ve never done weaving before, start everybody K through four with a paper weaving project just to give them the groundwork to build upon.

So I really think that you’re on the right track, Amanda, with your idea that clay, fibers, paint and sculpture should be at the front of your curriculum. But again, take a beat, take a breath, enjoy it. I have a terrible habit of overwhelming myself, stressing out myself, and that often reflects itself in my classroom. Nobody enjoys that experience, especially me, so not to say you shouldn’t be drawing and using drawing materials in your room. When things start to become too much, that’s an important thing that needs to be introduced as well.

My advice, I feel, has been extremely unhelpful to you. I’m basically saying you’re on the right track, and I know that many people are probably feeling for you right now. They’re definitely feeling for you right now after this terrible bit of advice, so if you have a question for me, please feel free to send it my way. You can find me at

Do any of you guys keep an art teachering journal? The first couple of years that I taught, I tried really hard in my plan book to just take notes at the end of every day. I just jotted down like things that worked, things that didn’t work, and what I want to try for next year. If you don’t do something like that, I’m the worst at journaling, I’m not saying that I do this anymore. It’s something I would like to get back to. I write in a random notebook and then promptly lose the notebook, so that’s where I am at this point in my life.

But remember when I said getting a notebook from the Dollar Tree and a couple of cute flare pens, some fancy erasers, whatevs? If you just take a little bit, grab a cup of coffee, go sit outside, think for a moment about all the things that worked really well this year, and then think for a moment about the things that, you know, not so much, I think that will also help inspire you to think without beating yourself up, because that does no good. To really think about what you want the next school year to look like. And I think that’ll maybe help keep you excited about this upcoming year, and then promptly only spend maybe 10, 15 max minutes on this before putting it away and going and doing something fun, because you guys, that’s what summer is all about. Have a great one, you guys.

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.