Classroom Management

Tackling the Summer To-Do List (Ep. 091)

We all have our to-do list covering what we want to accomplish over the summer. Some goals are personal, some are professional, but all of them are meaningful. So how do we accomplish them? That remains the important question. In this episode, listen as Cassie talks about her own goals, how we accomplish them, and how we need to approach our summer vacation.  Full episode transcript below.

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Cassie: So I’m sitting here in my sewing room. FYI, that’s where I chat with you guys, in my sewing room surrounded by mountains of fabric. It seems to be a pretty good muffler. But anyway, as I’m sitting here at my sewing table, which is littered with literally everything except sewing stuff. I’m staring at a box of thank you cards, a stack of Post-it notes, a mountain of necklaces that why are they even in here. Why are you in here? It’s a sewing room. Random sewing patterns, a coffee cup, and three, three summer to-do lists. I am a person who loves to make a list. Basically, I just love sitting and writing. I have really cute penmanship, so not to brag. But I love making lists. And when I have something amazing, like a summer vacation on the horizon, it’s my favorite thing to daydream about how I’m going to spend my days. Every year, I come up with a giant list of summer goals. And sadly, every year, I’m pretty good about not really achieving any of those goals.

So today, I’m going to give you advice on how you can achieve your goals. As I’m saying that and realizing what this week’s episode is about, I’m finding it to be pretty funny myself. But like a lot of times when I’m chatting with you on this podcast, I’m mostly talking … well, obviously I’m talking to myself. I’m in here in my sewing room by myself. But I’m also challenging you and also me. So I’m going to do that today. Let’s talk about setting and quite possibly figuring out a way to achieve some goals, no matter how big or how small, this summer. I’m Cassie Stephens and this is Everyday Art Room.

So here’s what my usual summer goals list looks like, and I’m willing to bet yours has some similar things on it. Always at the top of my list, always and forever Amen at the top of my list is exercise. Exercise, I even wrote daily. Let’s be honest. That’s not going to happen, especially in Tennessee. My form of exercise, I like to get out, and I would call it running, but if you saw what I was doing, you would think that I was drunk stumbling. Whatever. I’m moving. But in Tennessee, you all, it gets hot. And I know everywhere in the summer, it’s hot and it’s around 90 degrees, but in Tennessee, it’s way worse because we have this beast of a thing called humidity. So me exercising daily, I mean it’s on my list, and I don’t even know you all, we shall see.

Other things on my list, take the time to eat better. So for the last probably month in art show preparations, I have had a burrito every single day for lunch. Every day. I love me a burrito, not because it’s tasty, because quite frankly I’m beyond tired of them, but because I can keep working with this wrapped object of food. And even though I have paint-stained hands and thusly a paint-stained burrito, it just seems to work. However, I’m pretty sure that having a burrito every single day of my life for lunch is not ideal. Therefore, on my summer goal list is to take the time to eat better, and hopefully forming that into some sort of habit that’ll carry on to next school year. My fingers are not crossed.

Getting organized. I spent all summer last summer decluttering. I decluttered every square inch of my life last summer, trying to get organized. And I felt pretty good. I did a great job. I have since then accumulated a lot more C-R-A-P because I’m really good at it. But it’s on my list.

Finally, master the ukulele is also always on my list. Plot and plan ideas for the upcoming school year and work towards some personal goals of mine. For me, that means sewing more artist-inspired dresses, creating more latch hook artist designs. Those are just the things that I want to accomplish this summer. That’s my list. Like I said, that’s the list that I pretty much work with every summer. I’m so crazy, that knowing that I am going to bomb out of half of these goals after the first week of summer, I even get kind of crazy the first couple of days of summer where I try to even set my timer on my phone, like I’m only going to be on my phone for a couple of minutes before I go for my drunk walk/jog thing. And then when I come back, I’m only going to spend 15 minutes eating breakfast before I dive into working on my plan for the next school year. Yeah, that sounds horrible. And after two days of that, I get really irritated. This is my summer vacation. What am I doing? And I dial up a friend and we go hit the thrift stores.

So today, I want to share with you a list that I made earlier this year when I had some goals in mind that I really wanted to achieve. And this list has been helping me focus. And it’s so funny to use that word focus because just today, Mitch, my husband, who is a master at focus, the guy has laser beams for eyeballs, and nothing gets in his way, and he achieves his goals. They say opposites attract. It’s the truth. He told me an acronym for focus today. Get ready to write this down. I thought it was awesome. Follow One Course Until Successful. Where I stumble and fall is the follow one course part. And I think a lot of you are probably the same. We artsy types, we have so many ideas and just so little time. But following that one course is what could potentially make you successful in reaching your goal.

So today, when I’m chatting with you, I challenge you to think of what is the goal that is at the top of your summer list, instead of all of the goals. And I think that’s my biggest problem too. My list of things to achieve is far too long, and it’s not possible to get all of the things accomplished that I want to have accomplished in the short amount of time that’s the span of my summer. So I’ve got to really prioritize and then think of what’s the one thing that I really want to focus on. I could still work toward the others, but what’s at the top of my list.

So that being said, it’s important to make a list. And then prioritize your list because you can’t do it all yet. So I’m starting to think what’s moving to the top for me. What will I be most happy about saying that, “Yes, I did this. I accomplished this over the summer.” So thinking of that might help you best prioritize your list from top to bottom.

Making whatever is at the top of your list something attainable is also ideal. I mean, if you have at the very tip top of your list that you want to write, illustrate, and publish a children’s book, that sounds like a tall order. Maybe just starting with something more attainable like plotting out a children’s book. And then once that’s achieved, you could go on to the next step, which is writing or illustrating the children’s book. And then the last step, which probably seems really the most difficult, which would be to get it published. It isn’t by the way. You can always self-publish. That could be the next goal on your list. So narrowing it down and having that focus is I think what’s going to really make it so you could potentially, and I have faith in you, attain that goal.

It’s important also to do your homework. You got to read, watch, and learn so much. And I was talking about my husband, Mitch, and that’s all that guy does. All day Saturday when I’m messing around in my phone or pretending to clean for 15 minutes before laying on the couch with the cat, he is reading, he is watching YouTube videos, he is learning. I really wish that having lived with him for the last, I don’t know, 20ish years, I would have through osmosis gotten some of this. But it’s not happened yet. But reading, watching, and learning.

So let’s say, for example, your goal is to make lesson videos. I get questions about how do I make lesson videos all the time. So if that’s something that you’re interested in, then do a little Google search. Look on YouTube. I mean, if you really want the short answer, just use what you have on hand and make that work. Film a demo video with your phone. Film it with your iPad, and then edit in something simple like iMovie. I think a lot of times, and I’m speaking for me, I make goals unattainable by thinking that they’re too difficult to achieve. Oftentimes, things are a lot simpler than you might think they are. You don’t have to have the best equipment, the most expensive this or that, to at last start you out on working towards your goal.

Maybe you want to open an Etsy shop. There’s so many tutorials on that, even on Etsy’s website. Perhaps you want to write and publish an article. All of these things you can easily do with just a little bit of homework. Don’t be like me. Don’t psych yourself out. Don’t make things more difficult than they actually are. And then once you have your goal, your top goal, the one at the top of your list, then it’s time to devise a plan. And a plan should be … it shouldn’t be the end goal.

For example, your plan, if it is to let’s say open an Etsy store, don’t make that your goal. Your plan should be the steps that you take to get toward your goal. For example, if you want to open an Etsy store, maybe you could start by making a product and making multiples of it so that you have a good amount of supply to open an Etsy store. 25 of XYZ or earrings or jewelry or knitted scarves or whatever. That could be a part of your goal so you could scratch that off your list and feel like you’re getting closer to the big goal.

Or maybe it’s to make a video, make your lesson videos. So have your plan be the steps to getting there. Step number one, make a video. Done, crossed off your list. Being able to scratch something off your list is going to inspire you and empower you to push yourself and to keep going. So keep those steps simple. Keep it simple, stupid. The whole kiss method. Step two, learn how to edit a video. Find an easy way to do it. You don’t have to have some crazy expensive editing program or some really expensive camera to take your pictures for an Etsy store. Use your phone. Use what you’ve got. Maybe step number three is then to learn how to publish your video. And all those steps, as you achieve them, cross them off your list and you’re going to really feel empowered as you’re working towards your end goal.

Something that I never do, but I had to do when I was writing my last two books, and when I say last, I mean, these will more than likely be the one and only, the last books I write. Because oh my goodness, if writing a book is on your list, let me just tell you to reconsider. It is so much work you guys. And I bet if I could put it into hours, like how much I got paid, it would probably be … I know it would be way less than minimum wage. It’d probably be what I was earning minimum wage-wise when I was working at Pizza Hut in high school, like three bucks an hour. I bet not even.

Anyway, when I was working on the clay book and the fibers book, I had a lot of deadlines. Those were not self-imposed deadlines. Those were deadlines given to me by the book publisher because they have a lot of work that they have to do on their end too. And having those deadlines really worked for me. I mean, I knew that I had to do it because they were deadlines imposed on me by somebody else. My feet were held to the fire and I had to get it accomplished. And that’s when I realized that I work well with a deadline. If I don’t have a deadline, I don’t work, period. You know what I mean?

For example, if it’s like I know the beginning of the school year, for me, I go back like August 1st. When do I start coming up with my back to school, first days of art lessons? Usually 10 minutes before the kids come. I mean, not really. But at least a couple of days before. That’s not a great feeling. If I set deadlines for myself like I had with the book publisher, I think that it would really force me to create my plan this summer, come up with some really fantastic lessons that encompass all of the things that I want my students to learn. Summer days have this way of just slipping by. But if you put dates on your calendar, and one of my favorite things is to get one of those giant desk calendars where it’s just screaming at you in those big squares, your deadline. You can see it and you know that you’ve got to get your things done in order to make that deadline. So consider it.

Something else I would consider doing is if you have goals, tell a friend. Talk about it. I know it sounds cheesy to say, “Put it out there to the universe,” but put it out there to the universe. Because speaking it, saying it, giving your ideas and your goal a voice, it brings it to life. And if you share those plans with a friend over coffee, ask them, “What are your … ” Especially teachers, “What are you going to do this summer? What are you going to accomplish? Are you going to prepare for a marathon? Are you go to start going to, I don’t know, yoga? Whatever. What is your goal?” Talking about it with a friend and hearing what their plan is, and then sharing yours, can really put it out there and you’ll have somebody who will encourage you, challenge you, question you, help you, and push you, as long as that friend is a yeasayer, not a naysayer. And that’s important.

A long time ago, I was friends with somebody who I’m no longer friends with. Sometimes as an adult, you have to end friendships. It’s just something that happens. Nobody tells you that by the way. That’s like a whole other topic for a podcast. And this friend was a naysayer. Anytime I shared thoughts or hopes or dreams or things I wanted to do, open an Etsy store, I want to sell my clay belts, she would shoot that idea down. “That’s not going to work. Those clay belts, those buckles will break.” I did have an Etsy store where I sold clay belts. That’s where this reference is coming from. She was a total naysayer. And every time I was finished hanging out with her, I just felt bad. I thought my ideas were stupid, and I thought, “Man, I’m never going to be able to achieve these goals. My friend doesn’t even believe in me.” Find cheerleaders for your friends. I mean, they don’t have to be actual cheerleaders, but people who are going to cheer you on. Find the yeasayers and share your ideas with them.

Plan for obstacles you all because you’re going to encounter so many stumbling blocks along the way. For example, tonight, I must have tried to upload a video to YouTube 2,000 times, and every single time, fail to upload, fail to upload. These are the kind of things that are time-consuming, they’re frustrating, they’re annoying, and sometimes depending on my mood, it could cause me to be like, “Forget it. I don’t even want to bother with this anymore.” Maybe have a little mantra. Have a little saying, something that will keep your mood light and keep you inspired to keep pushing ahead because there’s going to be plenty of obstacles. But in the end, if you believe in yourself, if you can envision it, if you can imagine yourself running that marathon, if you could imagine people purchasing your things on Etsy, and creating that children’s book, making those videos, cultivating an amazing atmosphere in your art room with these magical lessons, if you can imagine it, you can do it. It’s just going to be work. You’ll have to devise that plan, set a deadline, talk to a friend. There’s going to be obstacles, but you can do it if it’s something that you really, truly want.

Tim: Hello. This is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. Hopefully, last week, you saw when we announced the featured presenter for our Art Ed Now online conference that’ll be happening on July 25th. And our featured presenter is Mr. Ron Clark. Now, if you don’t know Ron Clark, he is a two-time New York Times bestselling author and was dubbed by Oprah Winfrey as her first phenomenal man. You’re going to love hearing from him as he talks about his career in education, his passion for working with kids, and some incredible stories about his founding of the Ron Clark Academy. It will be an exciting and inspirational talk and you do not want to miss it. You can find out more about the conference, more about Ron Clark, and you can reserve your spot for the conference at The first 2,000 registrants to the conference get a free swag box as well. This is full of products, free samples, and test materials to try in your art room. These get taken really quickly, so do not wait to reserve your spot. Once you’re done listening to this podcast, go register for the conference and I promise you it’ll be worth your time. Make sure you check it out now at

Cassie: Now, it’s time to take a little dip into the mailbag. This past week at my school, I was doing my Fifth Annual Chalk to Ceiling Tile Legacy Project. I really need to work on that title because that’s way too long. Event with my second graders. If you have no clue what I’m talking about, you might want to pop over to my blog, so I don’t spend the next 15 minutes explaining it to you. But short story, all of my second graders get a ceiling tile, they draw on the back of it. We do this all at once, all together in the multi-purpose room, and we create a beautiful chalked piece, each one of my students does, makes their own. And that gets installed in the ceiling forever and ever, Amen.

So I got a lot of questions this week, and I thought I would share them with you as well as a couple of my responses. So thing number one was I got a lot of questions about working with chalk pastels. One teacher in particular said that she hated working with chalk pastels with kids because they just make a big mess. The chalk makes a big mess. The kids make a big mess with the chalk. And she’s just decided forget about it. Can’t deal. So I would like to offer a couple of tips for that.

The first thing is I always let my kids know that chalk is made out of compressed particles of pigment. And when they use them, they’re going to separate those particles. There’s going to be some chalk dust. For that reason, they don’t need to color with chalk like it’s a crayon. They can color with it a little bit, releasing some of those chalk particles, and then massage the chalk particles into their paper using, sometimes we just use our fingers for blending. Some of my kids don’t like the sensation of touching the chalk. So for that reason, a lot of them will use tissues over their index finger and use that to blend the chalk in. One thing, that helps to really keep down the mess. They need to understand how to use all these different mediums in your room, and chalk is one of those mediums that is completely different from oil pastels, crayons, and markers. They need to be taught how to use it correctly. And then I think that knowing that, you’re not going to have these mountains of chalk dust all over your room because I know exactly what you’re talking about.

The second suggestion would be this: When my students work with chalk, we usually use colors analogously. I’m now making that a word. Meaning that my kids all have a color wheel when they use chalk and they know that if they use one color, let’s say it’s orange, that they’re also going to be blending it with other colors that are analogous to orange, next to each other on the color wheel, like red or yellow, going the opposite direction on the color wheel. And when they blend those colors, it creates a beautiful color.

It’s when the kids blend all of the colors together that they get what we refer to in my room as doo-doo brown. Don’t nobody like no doo-doo brown, so we don’t mix all those colors together. I think you’ll find that the colors will stay a lot more vibrant that way if you explain to the kids to use colors that are analogous.

And lastly, if you don’t like the chalk dust getting everywhere, you could introduce the kids to liquid starch. Sta-Flo Liquid Starch comes in a big blue bottle. I find it at Walmart or in the larger grocery stores. This trick works on white paper, not so much on colorful construction paper. When the kids color something with chalk, have them dip their finger in the liquid starch, which has the consistency of a watered-down glue. And with that finger, they just massage their finger over the chalk. What that starch does is it magically turns the chalk into looking like a really rich paint. I would say like water color paint, but the colors are even more intense. The liquid starch even punches up the color of the chalk. And added bonus, it keeps down that chalky, dusty mess. It also makes it so you don’t have to spray fixative on the pictures when they’re finished because it acts as a fixative holding the chalk particles in place.

Speaking of fixative, if you don’t use the Sta-Flow starch idea, I always spray my students’ work with aerosol hairspray because it’s a lot cheaper than buying the more expensive fixatives.

My next question that I got about the ceiling tiles was, why do I have the kids use chalk on ceiling tiles? Because a lot of art teachers do ceiling tile work with their students, but they have their students paint on them instead of using chalk. Well, I’ve never tried painting on ceiling tiles with my second graders. But the reason I prefer to use the chalk is because I know that the chalk spreads and covers the ceiling tile a lot better and a lot faster. We actually draw on the reverse side of the ceiling tile. We don’t draw on that white side. We draw on the back. And it has a great texture for grabbing and gripping all of the chalk. And it’s just something that we’ve always done. There’s a little bit of history about why we’ve always done it that way, but I won’t go into all that boring detail here.

Like I said, if you’d like to hear more about it, you can always just hop on over to my blog. If you have any questions for me, you should feel totally free to ask. You can find me at the Everyday Art Room at

Okay. Stop. My current plan before my summer plan is to make it through to the art show. Mine is coming up the week after next. Make it through to that without having any panic attacks or … Last year, I kept having these spells where I would stand up after squatting down working on things on the floor. I would stand up and the whole room would go black. That was awesome. And I have also started just magically sprouting acne like I’m 14 instead of 44. It’s amazing. So currently, before I could even focus on summer goals, it’s for me to just make it to the bitter end. I don’t know if it’s going to happen. But wish me luck because I’m totally rooting for you. Have a great week, 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.