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It’s back to school time, which means it’s time for PD as well. But what if you are the one in charge of your school’s PD? Cassie has some advice and some plans for you, including why it can be intimidating presenting in front of your colleagues (7:00), how to find and focus on your ‘why’ (10:45), and how to deal with the pushback that you might get when you guide people out of their comfort zones (16:30). Full episode transcript below. Full episode transcript below.
If you join my Wednesday night live chats on Facebook and on Instagram, then you might be familiar with the little book club that I have going on. We are currently reading a book called The Wild Card by Hope and Wade King. Even if you aren’t reading the book, you should still so totally join the chat because, like any other book club, we spend about 75% of the time just talking art teacher stuff.
But I’m not necessarily here to plug that talk. I am here today to share with you what just happened to me yesterday. Just yesterday, I led a school-wide PD based on a similar activity that I did with my virtual online book club. I led all 60 of the faculty and staff in my school in a little bit of a painting activity. It was equal parts awesome, scary, nerve-wracking and amazing. If you have never led a school-wide PD with your faculty and staff and it’s something that you are curious about or just want to know a little bit more about, then this podcast episode is for you. I’m Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room.
So what is a school-wide art PD, and what does that look like? Well, for me, I can only speak from experience. I have led two school-wide professional development experiences for the faculty and staff in my school. One time, we all created a clay piece that we were to then hang in our respectable or respective … Respectable? I don’t know if they’re respectable … classrooms. Most recently, we each created a painting. I am speaking to you from, I guess, limited experience, but the thing with leading a school-wide art PD is you have to keep them limited. It’s not something that all of your teachers are going to be comfortable with, and it’s not something that you are necessarily going to want to be doing a lot of. But having done a couple, I feel pretty comfortable sharing with you what I’ve learned, the pros and cons, and to throw at you the ones that we did to possibly inspire you to do something similar or just to get some ideas going in your head.
The pros of doing a school-wide PD, something that you would lead for all of your faculty and staff: The biggest pro that I can think of is the fellowship. Now this is going to sound really silly, but I am from the Midwest. I was not familiar with the word fellowship until I moved here down South. So if you’re thinking what does that word mean? It just means gathering with your like-minded folk, spending time together, not going over rules, evaluations, standards, but throwing all that out the window and just being with each other, and kind of like a different kind of mindset and environment and really bonding with people over a shared experience. What better way to do that and to host something like that than in your art room, in your, quote, unquote, home in the school?
I am fortunate enough to have a very large art room where I can pull in enough tables and enough chairs where I could comfortable, slash crowdedly seat about 60 people, all of the teachers and the faculty and staff in my school. You might not have that luxury. However, you might have a multipurpose room, a gym, a school cafeteria, or the library, where you could do something like this. Don’t just kind of throw the idea or the notion out the window simply because you don’t have the space. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. So the fellowship, I feel like, is the most important reason to do an art PD, and doing it at the start of the school year I think kind of sets the tone. We’ve done one both at the start of the school year, the one I did on Friday, and one we also did as our welcome back after a long winter break. But I’ll get more into that in a moment.
Another pro I feel like is to let those folks know who don’t really what it is you do, aside from hang beautiful masterpieces in the hallway. Let them inside your world. Let them know what it is you do and how valuable and important it is and not to mention how stinking good you are at it. So why not let people have a little peek behind the curtain and see inside? I have shared with my admin many times. They’ve yet to take me up on it, that I feel like, as educators, because we are so busy and so involved in what we do, we get a little bit of tunnel vision. We only focus on what it is we teach, and we only seem to value the importance of what it is that we do. But if we ever did something like a wife swap but we called it a classroom swap, where randomly we just had to go into the PE … I always call it the PE room, and I always get made fun of by the PE teachers. We had to go into the gym or we had to randomly pop into a kindergarten class and just be in there for 30 minutes and try to teach what it is they do. How enlightening would a classroom swap be? Nobody’s taken me up on it yet, but I’m just throwing that idea out there to y’all.
Anyway, letting them see how valuable it is, what it is that you do and letting them into your world could really place a lot of importance … Let them know how important it is that you are at their school and what it is that you do day in and day out. Last but not least, for you, selfishly, it would be great for you to get some experience. It’s always good, I feel like, to kind of throw yourself into something that makes you afraid. I am not ever usually afraid or nervous or anxious to present in front of other art teachers, because those are my people. Those are my folks. They get me. However, it is a little scary to present in front of faculty and staff, so it’s great experience to do that. It might lead to other things. You might now feel confident to go on and present at national conference or create content like videos, whatever it is. Experience like that, whether it be a good one or a bad one, is always going to push you a little bit further.
Now let’s talk about the cons of leading a school-wide PD. Prep time: Holy cats, for this one that I did on Friday, I probably spent a good hour and a half to two hours setting up the room, getting all the chairs in the room, prepping the paint, prepping the supplies, going out and purchasing additional things that I might need. I could have reached out, I am positive, to the other folks in my building. They would have gladly chipped in, but because it’s the start of the year and they’re swamped, I just wanted to make it so that they didn’t have to, to make it more special for them. They were wonderful about cleanup, so for that I am thankful, and they definitely helped with prep time on that.
There is the issue of supply usage. Thankfully, I was provided a budget for this. I actually didn’t really need much of one. This recent PD we did, instead of painting on canvases, as I’d initially kind of thought we would do, I discovered in my closet that I had mat board in the exact same size, and it worked out perfectly because it was free. Of course, last con might be a little bit of pushback. I knew for me there might be a little bit of pushback, excuse me, from the teachers that I work with because it’s the start of the year, and they are all champing at the bit to be working in their room. But I’m going to share with you about how I addressed that and nipped it in the bud.
All right, now let’s talk about some of my experiences, the two PDs that I’ve led and what I’ve learned along the way. So here’s some things that I’ve learned since doing these two PDs. Let me just share with you the two that I did. The one that I did a couple of years ago was I had created a video knowing that we were going to be working with clay and knowing that I couldn’t have 60 people surrounding me at a demo table and have them all comfortably see and understand what it was I was sharing. So I created a demo video, and they were creating ceramic hearts with wings, because our emphasis of that PD was that we all, as teachers, teach from our heart so that our students can have wings to fly. What a great way to come back to school? If you’re interested in doing that project with your faculty and staff or even your students, there is a video on my YouTube channel, and there’s a giant blog post all about it where you can see the teachers creating their hearts. We did that a couple of years ago, and I think it’s a good thing to kind of spread these PDs out, keeping a little comfort zone of a couple of years in-between so that the teachers still find them to be very special and not a chore. That was one that I did a couple of years ago.
What I learned was that a video is great for large groups and small, teeny-tiny details, like working with clay. It’s also great, if somebody is talking while the video is rolling or somebody happens to be in the restroom or didn’t quite understand the directions, you can simply rewind … Rewind? You can tell I’m old school. You can simply go … What is the word for it? Make the video go back and replay. There it is. Replay that part of the video that they happened to miss.
With that clay experience, there was a lot of work afterward because I had to fire all of the pieces. That part was a little laborious, but I did have a couple of teachers come in and help me load and unload the kiln, knowing that I was going to have to do that, and that worked out really well. Again, if you want more details, I don’t want to get too deep here, but if you need more details and want to see a visual, definitely check out the YouTube video and the blog post.
Now this most recent one that I did was, like I said, based on the book The Wild Card. In that book, it talks about finding your why. Why do you teach? Well, I decided I wanted to take it, personally, a step further, and I wanted to put my why into kid-friendly terms and then paint that onto a canvas, hang it in my room so that my why I teach is visible for both me and my students. They can see it, read it, comprehend it, and know why I’m there. My why is I am here to help you become the masterpiece I know you are. That’s my why. That’s why I’m at my school every day, bright and early, staying late most days, to help them become that masterpiece I know they are. It’s wonderful, I think, for me to just see that every day and be a reminder, especially if I happen to be running late or I’m cleaning up a paint spill, you know, the usual things that might have us rolling our eyeballs in the back of our head. It’s a good reminder for me and for my students.
So when I shared that recently, my vice principal loved it so much, she reached out to me and said, “I want you to do this PD with our faculty and staff. I want them to all create and paint their why.” My initial reaction is, holy cats, these people are not artists. They are going to have a hard time painting their lettering, painting their boards. So I had to get a little bit creative. This time, I decided not to create a video. One thing I did learn with the video is that it’s a little static, and it’s not quite as energetic as it is to have me standing in front of a group of people and just talking to them and with them. The video kept things a little bit more quiet. I guess, that was great for clay, but this time I just wanted it changed up a bit. I also procrastinated, y’all, and I did not have time to make a video, truth be told.
I decided to prep all the tables and have them do a little bit of a painting game. There’s a great book that I’m living for right now. It’s called Art Workshop for Kids, and in that book, the author talks about doing a game with children where they paint a little tiny dot on their canvas and then rotate to the next seat and paint on the next canvas that’s there. When I say canvas, in my world, it was a piece of mat board. In the book, it’s a piece of paper, so you don’t have to get expensive with this, break the bank. Continue moving on around the tables painting different things, like shapes and straight lines and dots, until the artist is back in their original seat. Now before I got this painting party started, I did not let everybody know that they would be painting on each other’s boards, because they didn’t want to hear no lip. It was a surprise, and they flipped out, but, you know what, surprises are a lot of fun.
So let me just share with you what I learned. When you are teaching a large group of teachers … And you guys know this because you’ve sat in a couple of faculty meetings … teachers are the worst students, period, exclamation point, period, whatever. You guys know this to be true. I just spent three days sitting in PDs, and I’m also guilty of it. I can get into sidebar conversation. I’m a little bit of a whisperer. I get antsy, and my colleagues do as well. Knowing that teachers are not only the worst students, they’re also terrible at following directions, knowing that they weren’t going to be listening well and knowing that they probably weren’t going to be pros at following directions, I decided it was going to be very important to have a clear attention-getting signal, and I just used my go-to thing that I always used in my art room, which is my energy chime.
I have a little chime. It’s made by, actually, by husband, by TreeWorks, and it is a single note chime. It comes with a little mallet or a stick with a wooden ball on the end. You just tap it once. It makes a very loud, clear sound that immediately gets everybody’s attention, and I let everybody know at the frontend this is my attention-getting signal. When you hear this, I need you to either stop doing what you’re doing or start doing what the directions that were just given to you are, so it was the start and stop signal. But definitely have a way to get everybody silent and eyes on you. Totally be super important so you’re not talking over people or doing the, hey, guys, hey, guys, hey, guys kind of thing, which is just going to make you feel terrible that folks aren’t paying attention.
Now speaking of you feeling kind of bad, you might feel a little bit bad if people are pushing back a little bit or resisting. Like initially when I said, hey, everybody, change seats, there was a lot of groaning and I don’t want to and do I really have to, and, yes, these are adults I’m speaking about. Y’all, don’t take it personally. You are putting 60 or plus in your case people in an environment where they are not comfortable. They are out of their comfort zone. They are feeling, probably, just as stressed as you are as you are up there presenting. So if you hear any of what I call backtalk or just kind of negativity thrown out there, just know that it is not directed at you. It’s their stress. It’s their anxiety. The better job that you can do of kind of putting them at ease or just joking with them or giving them a little bit of lip right back … Make it like a party. Think of it as like a big family get together, because that’s what y’all are is a big family, and just kind of roll with it.
To kind of push that self-doubt and negativity that they might be feeling as soon as they sit down, here’s what I told them. I said, I know that y’all have a lot to be doing right now in your rooms. I know it’s the start of the school year, and you are thinking of your great big, long to-do list. If you let that be at the forefront of your mind and if you let that nag at you and bother you, then you are not going to have a good time painting, and your painting is going to reflect that. But if you keep fun at the forefront of your mind and throw that to-do list out your window and take a deep breath and look around you and see that you’re with friends, you are going to have a great time, and your painting is going to show that. That really spoke, I think, to a lot of people who came in kind of thumping their bags down like, ugh, can we get this over with. I think that kind of by calling them out a little bit on that helped, so don’t be afraid to just say we’re here to have a good time. It would be awesome if you could join us in that experience. Emphasize the fun, and eliminate the stress.
I think that one thing that’s super important is to never let them see you sweat. The moment that they see you getting a little stressed or a little anxious or a little flustered because there’s five people calling out your name, the moment they sense that tension, the whole room starts to tense up. Remember, people are like mirrors, and if you keep a lighthearted approach in your laughing, in your smiling, they’re going to do the same. If you’re a little bit stressed and overwhelmed, they are going to pick up on that energy and feel the same as well. Last but not least, don’t break the bank on a school-wide PD. Make sure that you keep it on the cheap.
All right, so this last one that we did, I’ve created a video, and it’ll be on my YouTube channel, and a blog post all about what we did. After I led them in this painting game, the teachers took a lunch break. When we came back, we put our why I teach statement in kid-friendly terms on our painted boards. Our boards were 8 by 10. I shared with them that there were three ways they could go about doing this. They could either freehand it, which most of them were like, heck no, have you seen my handwriting? The other thing they could do is type it out in word and then use a creative and colorful … or not colorful, just a creative font. Make it as big as they could, like an 8 by 10. Print it out, cut it out, Mod Podge that to their board. That was the easiest route. Or they could take their printout, use a piece of carbon paper … Those of you born after 1985, Google it … carbon paper to transfer their words to their board, and trace that with a Sharpie.
Y’all, I can’t share with you what a fun and amazing experience it was. It was a great way to kick off the school year. What better way than for everybody to reflect on their why I teach? Why do I come here every day? I am just so thrilled that my administrator realized the importance of that and reached out to me to lead a school-wide PD. I would strongly encourage you to consider doing the same. You won’t regret it. I pause because you will realize it’s a ton of work, but in the end, you’ll be left with the memory of this really great experience, and so will your colleagues.
Tim Bogatz: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. Just a quick reminder that you can find all things related to Everyday Art Room on the Art of Ed website under the podcasts tab. You’ll find the full transcript of every show, links to Cassie’s blog, AOE articles, and other resources that can help your teaching. It’s all at theartofed.com, under the podcasts tab. You can also sign up to receive weekly emails whenever a new episode is released. Now let’s get you back to Cassie as she opens up the mail bag.
Cassie Stephens: Hey, let’s take a little dip into mail bag. I don’t know what voice that is. Let’s just dip into the mail bag, okay? This first question was asked of me after I posted pictures of yesterday’s PD, so I thought I would answer those here, since that’s what the podcast was about. @Becca_Bonner says, “I may just have to suggest to my principal that we do this. Do you mind me stealing the idea and giving you credit?” I am so glad that she asked that question. The reason that I share so much on social media, on YouTube, on my blog, is because I want to share a really great idea with other educators. However, I love that she asked about giving credit. Always and forever amen, credit should be given. I know that Pinterest kind of ruined that for a lot of us because it made it so it was difficult to find the original source. Saying that I found something on Pinterest, the ain’t doing it, y’all. It’s so important that whenever you borrow an idea, that you thank the person and you give credit where it’s due. I’ve seen it happen time and again on lots of areas of social media where I’ve seen other art teacher’s ideas used, and the shoutout is never given.
Trust me when I say, speaking personally, it really rubs me the wrong way. It sometimes makes me think, should I be sharing ideas? But then I realize that that’s just ridiculous, that, for me, when I think of ideas, I think that there are so many ideas that have already been shared, that there’s just not a ton of new ideas out there. There’s just a new way to put your own spin on it. However, I am so thrilled that she asked and that she mentioned giving credit. Y’all, let’s all give credit where it’s due. I hope that didn’t … I always feel bad talking about that because I don’t want to appear to be snarky or rude, but I think it’s just super important.
Next question is from @Michelle.Moore.Finley, “What did you paint on? Are those canvas boards or paper? Love this, and I may do it with my faculty next week.” Like I said, we initially were going to paint on canvas, and I’m really glad we didn’t for a couple of reasons. Number one, those canvas boards, they ain’t cheap, and I didn’t have … I had, I think, 30. I didn’t have enough for everyone, so I was going to have to go out and purchase more.
Then I just happened to go in my closet, my storage closet, and I realized I had a ton of 8 by 10 mat board already pre-cut. I usually use Artomé, A-R-T-O-M-E, for my art shows, love them. One thing I especially love about them is they always give me a lot of donations of mat board. This 8 by 10 mat board is what they cut from the center of the mat frames, and they gave me a bunch. I found the stash in my storage closet and decided that I would use what I had instead of spending funds on it. The other thing I think mat board worked out perfectly is because it had a very smooth surface. Canvas board has that canvas surface. When it came time for the teachers to write their why on that surface, it was a lot easier to do it on a slick and smooth surface than it was to do it on that kind of texture board of the canvas.
Another question that I got was what kind of paint did we use. I didn’t want to dip into my nice paint stash, so, literally, y’all, I went to the Walmarts. I bought that … I think it’s called Craft Barrel or Apple Barn or whatever. I bought that paint in the larger bottle, and, I mean, we were able to get by with just … I think I bought six different colors, but I ended up putting eight different colors on each table. We ended up using one of those large bottles of eight different colors for all 60 people, so it was actually a really cheap activity. I’m pretty sure that was my only thing that I had to purchase.
Anyway, there you have it. If you have any questions for me, then what are you waiting for? You should totally send them my way. You can find me at the firstname.lastname@example.org.
You know the other great thing about leading a school-wide PD is that the teachers and staff are totally your guinea pigs. Now I’ve test driven this lesson, this painting project idea, this game. I’m totally going to roll it out on those first days of school, and, added plus, benefit, all the supplies are already prepped and ready. Tables are covered with paper. All my paint is in my little cups with the lids on them. Brushes are now clean after washing 5,000 of them. I’m ready to roll, so, definitely, don’t be afraid to use those teachers as your guinea pigs. They don’t need to know that they are. Just do it. I cannot encourage you enough. The number one reason to do something like this is that fellowship, getting to know these people on a different and a deeper level. Thanks, guys. Thank you so much for letting me share.
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.