New Ideas for the Next School Year (Ep. 097)

It’s summer, and we’re mostly kind of taking a break from all things school-related. But can you use that time to get excited to get ready for the next school year? Listen as Cassie talks about what ideas she might want to incorporate in the next school year. Listen as she discusses the benefits of being proactive, Tiny Art Shows, and why she wants her kids to collaborate even more in the fall.  Full episode transcript below.

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Cassie: You all. I am approaching either my third or fourth week in of summer vacation and I think somebody needs to orchestrate intervention. Can you call an intervention on yourself? Can you demand that people intervene on what a disgusting, pajama-wearing, unwashed hair slob that you’ve become? Because it kind of needs to happen for me.

The only time I get up and moving and change out of my PJs is right before my husband comes home from work just so he doesn’t learn what a filthy, dirty, nasty slug his wife is during the summer. I’ve been staying up way too late, I’ve been not sleeping in because I felt guilty about not doing anything, which means I’m pretty much like a zombie with lack of sleep walking around all day, not getting anything done. I’ve decided to make a change this week. I’m proud to say I’m sitting here with washed hair and clean clothes. I’ve had two square meals and I’m feeling like an accomplished adult. It only took like three weeks of the summer to make that happen.

And I have started thinking of some things that I really want to change and/or bring to my art room next year. I’m excited about them, I’m still trying to formulate the plans, and I want to talk about them with you. I’m Cassie Stephens, proudly wearing adulting clothes, and this is Everyday Art Room.

So as I’ve just been spending my days mindlessly scrolling around on social media, I have been jotting down some things that really spark my interest, get me excited, dare I say, about the new school year. And I wanted to share them with you because what I’m feeling, that little bit of excitement is something that I want you to feel too. I think that during the summer, a lot of times, I know I have this habit of shutting my brain off. We’ve talked about this recently. And then when I have to turn my art teacher brain back on come August 1st, August 1st, it’s like somebody takes a bucket of ice water and throws it in my face. I’m like, “Wait. What?” I have to panic, and start thinking, and scrambling all of those ideas about what I was going to differently at the end of the year, I have forgotten, and all of those little things that I wanted to improve upon I’ve gotten rid of in my sheer panic to get started with the new school year.

So I’m trying to be a little bit more proactive, got my big girl pajama pants on, and I want to talk to you about it. So the first thing is this. I really want to introduce my students to something called the tiny little art show. Actually it’s just called The Tiny Art Show. Are you familiar with this? I discovered The Tiny Art Show on Instagram.

It was created by an artist whose name is McKay Lenker Bayer, she’s the founder of The Tiny Art Show. And I recently have been exchanging emails with her and she described it as this. When she was in college, she had to create an art show and she felt really overwhelmed, pretty frightened by it, so she decided to create a smaller art show. She put together a bunch of miniature works of art and put them on display and it was meant … everybody who went to the art show had to kind of … she put it at level, at lower level, tiny level, so anybody who attended the show had to squat down and really get engaged with this art show. Sometimes using magnifying glass to see the works of art, to read the little labels next to it. It’s even evolved to the point where she serves tiny little food at The Tiny Art Show.

I am just fascinated by this. She mentioned to me that it would be a great way to get kids talking about art, get kids to curate their own little tiny art exhibits, and to just learn how an art show is put together, how a gallery works. You all, this email blew my mind. It has me all sorts of inspired. I love having my kids collaborate, having them work together, having them problem solve together, and that’s one thing I don’t feel like I do enough in my art room.

Next year, my art classes, all of them, kindergarten through fourth, are going to be 30 minutes in length, and I know when the rubber hits the road and I start teaching, I’m just going to be like, “How can I get through all of these projects that I want to the kids to do in a short amount of time?” One of my goals is to take a beat, take a step back, and really allow for a time where we’re not creating something that has to be “art show worthy”, but we’re actually just enjoying the process of being in art, creating art, working together, learning how to work together, learning how to be better, kids will become better adults.

And I think that kicking the year off with something like this tiny little art show could be a whole lot of fun, and I’m assuming … I’m just excited talking about it, so I’m assuming that you are right now getting ready to open your phone and go check out what I’m talking about. I recommend you do so. I think you’ll be super inspired. That’s one of the things I’m excited to bring to my art room.

Bouncing off that is another thing I want to do is more group work, more collaborations with the kids in my room. Something I noticed this past year is that sometimes you’ll have classes where you can tell the teacher, the classroom teacher, has really cultivated this kind of family vibe, where the kids are all rooting for each other. Supporting each other, giving each other words of encouragement. And then you’ll have those classes where that hasn’t been instilled in them, where it’s almost like Lord of the Flies, every may for himself.

That’s not the kind of kids you want to be bringing up. And in our art room, we have this magical opportunity to reach all of the kids. A lot of times it would frustrate me because I would be like, “Why can’t Ms. So-and-so’s kids be as awesome as Ms. Blah-bity-blah’s kids?” Well you know what? They can be. You, the art teacher, might have to be the person that helps make that happen. How? Perhaps with more things like group projects and collaboration. I had my students a couple of years ago, and this project is on my blog and on my YouTube channel. They had to work in a group of four to create a big drawing together. They were creating three dimensional drawings of crayons, drawing very large with chalk.

They had to push their 12×18 black construction paper together, they had giant crayon templates to trace, they had to decide where they wanted the crayons to go, figure out their composition, what colors they all wanted to use, they had to come to an agreement as a group and then work on their art projects together. Even if one artist finished his large drawing, he had to jump in and help with the friends in the group. And if successful, if they worked well together, when they put their drawings all together, it made one big beautiful work of art. Yes, we had some groups where they didn’t listen to each other, so when they pushed their works of art together, oh, we had mismatched crayons. How did that happen? You guys have got to communicate. This was really a great lesson to them on working together, helping each other, having a common goal and making that happen.

Something we did this past year, which was a project my administration loved was my students had to work in a group of four again, this works for me because my tables seat four. They had to come up with a positive four letter word, emphasis on positive, that describes our school. We had words like … they had to brainstorm the words together as a group. Fair, epic, kind, love, hope, you name it, these kids came up with some beautiful words. Once they had their word figured out, they had to as a team decide who was going to paint what letter of the word, each one of them had a canvas, so each one of them was in charge of painting a letter for the word. The style with which they were going to paint it, are they all going to have a similar style or something different? Their color palette and more. And again, when they pushed their letters together, it didn’t necessarily have to all be the same, I mean, what’s the fun in that? But it had to be legible. We all had to be able to read what their four letter word was.

This was a project that I really enjoyed and my kids did too because not only were they working together, but it was a work of art that we all at the school had framed, these are going to be on permanent display, so when you walk up and down our hallways, you’ll see a painting … it’s painted kind of like, oh my gosh, I’m blanking. Robert Indiana. Like his Love, L-O-V-E. Well, you all know how to spell love. What am I doing? How it’s written with L-O and then underneath that is V-E. Okay. You got it now. And we had them all framed, so when they’re next to that framed work of art, there’s a smaller frame that says, “At Johnson Elementary, we show love.” And then I have also written which student painted each letter. So it goes on permanent display.

What I love about that is at the beginning of the year when the hallways are empty, we still have these gorgeous works of art, and when we have visitors in the school, it really lets them know the kind of school that we are. I really want to do more of those kind of projects and group work and collaborations this coming year.

I don’t know if you know this, but I was recently on an episode of a baking show for non-bakers called Nailed It, and the concept of the show is it’s kind of like Chopped. You have a recipe, you have an end goal of what you are supposed to be creating, what your magical masterpiece should look like, and you have a very limited amount of time to make it happen. I had an absolute blast on that show. It was so fun. Mostly it was funny because what everybody ends up making in that abbreviated amount of time with a limited skillset is pretty hilarious. My students have all watched that show, I’m almost positive, and I really … it was at the end of the year when the show aired, I really wanted to do a Nailed It style competition for my kids.

Again, another way to have them all work together on something fun where they have to brainstorm and really make the best of what they’ve got. I feel like when you are under pressure like that, it really helps push you out of your limited realm of creative thinking. You have to really get imaginative when you are working under pressure like that. I am miserable under pressure. If you’ve seen the episode, you know this. And I think it’s because of lack of practice. So giving my kids a chance to have timed projects or events where they’re fun and lighthearted can really I think push them out of their comfort zone and help them be more creative. So I hope to bring more activities like that to my room. I guess what I’m saying is I want to do more projects in my room that are more process based instead of just something we’ll decorate in the hallway.

Another thing that I … oh gosh. I try to introduce this every year and I literally drop the ball. I mean, I’ve never been good at sports, so me dropping the ball should come as no surprise. When objects like balls are thrown at me, I literally just put my hands up so I don’t get hit. So when I say I dropped the ball it’s like literally. The whole growth mindset versus fixed mindset thing. I really want to emphasize that in my room this year. I know that I do a crappy job of emphasizing it because every now and then I’ll hear one random kid say, “I’m no good at drawing. I’m terrible at this. Mine’s ugly.”

That makes me feel like the worst teacher ever because I realize I did not teach them about growth mindsets. I did not teach them that their negative words that they say about themselves can have a really fixed and negative impact on how they perceive themselves. And even if they say it lightheartedly like, “I don’t like mine.” It’s still out there. Those words are still hanging there for them to hear, for their friends to hear, and I want that gone. So I think sometimes I get overwhelmed with the amount of things that I want to really bring to my art room every year, and I make things bigger than they actually have to be. I don’t think teaching kids … one book that I love is called The Growth Mindset Coach, and I love it because they break it down by months. But because they do it in that way, I get really overwhelmed. They talk about all the lessons you can introduce and all the books and all the projects you could do, and I’m like, “Holy cats. That and T-Chart? Something’s got to go.”

But I think just bringing things in in small little bites can actually work. So that’s what I want to do and that’s how I’m approaching the whole growth mindset thing, and anything else that I really want to bring to the room that I’m feeling overwhelmed by. And the last thing I really want to do more of in school next year are more school-wide, community-based projects. Projects that really instill a sense of pride in my students and in my colleagues. I remember when I first started teaching at my current school where I’ve been for the last 15 years, I was amazed at how much school pride there was. Like in my previous school where I had been for five years, I did not know the school colors. I don’t think I learned the school mascot until I was asked to design the school yearbook.

But at my current school, the kids know the school colors, they know the mascot. We have a Johnson … our school is Johnson Elementary. We have a Johnson Pride song that we sing at the beginning of every year and at the end of every year, and every time we sing it, it makes me cry because I realize what a sense of pride has been established in my students at our school. I want to continue that. One way I did that amongst my students is these collaborative projects. If you search on my blog, I’m all about collaborative projects with my students. But one project that my students did, and we’ve done it twice now, is something called a Gallery of Gratitude. That’s when my students either draw the name or pick somebody who works in our school, whether that be a custodian or a teacher or the administration, we pick that person, we make a portrait. In the past, we’ve done it by drawing a portrait of the person or we made a clay portrait of the person, and then we also write about what it is that we value about that person.

That was probably … that project probably meant the most to everybody in my school. A lot of art teachers have since done this project and they’ve also had the same kind of response. It brings this sense of pride to everybody, particularly those who come to school day after day to try to touch the lives of the kids they teach.

Another thing that we did at the beginning of the school year was we did a professional development. I did this with the teachers. Sometimes teaching art means teaching beyond just the kiddos in your classroom. Sometimes teaching art means you teach the teachers in your school and the faculty and staff. Last year, I taught them how to paint their “why”. Why do you come to school every day? Why do you teach? What do you want kids to know about why you are here? We spent a day, or actually it was just a couple of hours, painting a little canvas any colors we wanted to. We took a little lunch break, we came back, and then we painted our why statement. You can find the details of that also on my blog and YouTube channel. You can see a video of me teaching that to the teachers in my school. But that really created a self of pride and it was a great way for us teachers to share with our students why we come to school every single day. I want to do more of that.

So yeah. Those are the things I want to bring with me this next school year. Thinking about it now, getting those juices flowing really makes it so I can think about it and not have that stress and panic of, “Oh my gosh, school is tomorrow.” Kind of mentality. So hopefully that’s inspired you a little bit for your school year too.

Hey, I have a hot minute to take one question from the mail bag, so let’s do it. This one comes from Madeline and I just spent a good five minutes doing a little online shopping around to try to answer this question for Madeline. I can’t find the answer, so I’m going to try my best to give her some tips on what to do. She says, “I’m starting my first year teaching art this fall and I have a question. I wondered about the paint containers that you use on tables for students. Those paint containers, the colorful, heavy-looking ones, are in your pictures. They look so great. Where do you find those? I have 30 minute art classes and was hoping to find an easy system for handing out paint.”

I know the paint cups she’s talking about. They are fabulous. I remember buying them many years ago. They’re big, they’re colorful, they’re heavy duty. They literally do not tip over. Their whole thing was called no-spill. I think, just based on my little bit of searching, that Lake Shore used to sell them. I can’t find them anymore. But I will say this. I don’t use them all that much in my art room because I’ve switched to dog dishes. Number one, doggie dishes are way cheaper than those paint cups. You can find them at the Dollar Tree. Number two, I love them because they don’t hold a lot of water. The benefit of that is that there are less skills. The con of that is that you’re going to need to change out your water trays every class just because the kids are going to need clean water, and because it only holds a limited amount of water, the water tends to get dirty quickly.

The other thing I do like about them aside from not spilling is that one side can hold the water and then the other side I always put a sponge that I’ve cut in half. The reason being is that I tell the kids to wash their brush in the water and when we wash our brush, we kind of grind it at the bottom of the cup, we don’t just dip it in and out of the water, which causes splashing. And then I have them drag their brush back and forth on a dry sponge, which helps to remove the excess water. So that’s what I would suggest you use in a pinch if you can’t find those water cups. Even when I do use those water cups, I still have to put them on a tray with a sponge next to it. So I’m essentially doing the same thing, and I still have to empty them just as much. So if you can’t find those no-spill water cups, the dog dish route is the way that I would go.

Hey. If you have a question for me, you should ask. You can find me at EverydayArtRoom@TheArtofEd.com.

One thing I did this year was I really tried to pay attention to things that the kids responded excitedly to. It’s funny because you think, “Oh, I’m going to do this. I’m going to wear this outfit.” Or, “I’m going to wear this costume.” Or, “I’m going to teach them this song.” Or whatever. “They’re going to love it.” And it’s funny how sometimes they don’t. They don’t respond at all. Or you do the tiniest, tiniest little thing, you say something or something is a total accident, and they remember it forever. They flip out.

For example, one little thing that I started this year, or started right before the art show that my kids went nuts over is I have a stuffed animal in my room that was created by an artist who can be found on Instagram called Cotton Monster Jen. Her name is Jennifer Strunge, and she makes these monster stuffed animals, and they are amazing. I bought one, it’s rainbow colored, and we voted on a name, and the kids call him Ricky Rainbows. So right before the art show, which was pirate themed, Ricky would have a dry erase board with a joke written on it, a pirate themed joke, and we had a blacklight and the kids had to reveal the answer to the joke. They loved it. That was how we began every art class was with a joke, and they responded so well that after the art show was over, they were disappointed when Ricky was just hanging out on a shelf, no longer sharing his daily jokes with us.

It made me realize that that little thing that takes me two minutes to look up a joke every morning was something that really meant a lot to them. And I thought, “Well, I wonder how I could do that differently.” Could we do art jokes or artists, little bits of information? How could I squeeze in more art class into my art class? So just something more to chew on as you are enjoying your days in your PJs and your unwashed hair. Just make sure to set your alarm so you know what time your significant other’s coming home. I’ll talk to you guys real soon.

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.