Taking Stock of Where You Are (Ep. 273)

Yes, we have stepped away from school for a bit, but this summer might not be like your usual summer. Things feel different–things are different–but how can we best deal with that fact? Today, Sarah Krajewski joins Tim to talk about how we can take stock of where we are and find our best path forward. Listen as they discuss how we approach the summer, how we think about mental health, and why healing needs to be a part of your vocabulary.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz. Now as we move into the summertime here, I think it’s a good opportunity to look back, reflect on everything that we did over the past year, year and a half. It’s been a grind. It’s been a struggle, for sure, for all of us. And I think it’s important that we take the time to take stock on how we’re feeling, how we’re doing with everything, reflect on how we’re feeling about teaching and how we’re feeling about just life in general. And hopefully, everyone can take the time to do that. Spend some time thinking about that and spend some time figuring out what they need for themselves.

What they need to be able to put themselves into a position where you can go back in the fall, when you can be ready to teach, or at least a little bit more ready to teach. So today I want to talk to Sarah Krajewski, she’s been on the show a lot before, and she and I usually end up talking about mental health and just how we’re feeling, how we’re processing things, how we’re getting through everything that’s going on. So I’m hoping to do that with her today. I want to catch up with her first of all. She had a really, really cool drive through art show that she did. If you remember an episode a while back with Lindsey Moss, Lindsey and Sarah collaborated on how they’re doing that from a couple of States apart and put together some really, really cool shows.

So I want to hear from Sarah as far as how that went, whether it was worth it and all of those things that go along with that. But more importantly, I just want to, like I said, take stock of how we’re both feeling what we’re doing to help ourselves and how we can reflect on everything that’s happened over the past year and a half or two years, how we’re going to come out of it and maybe some changes that need to happen either in our own lives, in how we think about school, in how we do what we’re going to do this fall. So I am going to bring on Sarah now and we’re not going to have answers to these questions, but I hope that our reflections and our conversation can help guide you as you think about some of these. Wow. All right, Sarah Krajewski is joining me now. Sarah, welcome back to the show. How are you?

Sarah: Great, Tim! Thanks again for having me. I love doing podcasts with you.

Tim: Well, I love having you, so this is going to work out great. We are approaching the start of the next school year for you, but I want to talk about the end of last year and just catch up on everything.

Sarah: Oh, yes.

Tim: I know you collaborated with Lindsey Moss on the planning of each of your respective drive-through art shows. She came on the podcast and talked to me about that. It was before the fact though, so just looking back on it, can you talk about your drive-through art show? How did everything go for you?

Sarah: Yeah, first of all, I will never forgive Lindsay for making me do that. No, just kidding. It really was a great experience, but it was such an interesting one because even though there was a much smaller event outcome than our typical, huge school wide art shows, it was as much work or more work. It was insane, but it was also really rewarding because we haven’t had celebrations for this year in so long and the kids just needed something. So to recap, Lindsey Moss works for the Art of Ed and she was telling me about how she had this idea to do something for the kids, something for the end of the year. Because we always have an art show and just couldn’t actually make it happen. So she was telling me about how she was going to get these huge four by eight foot panels of wooden boards, get artwork on them, set them outside, do this drive by situation and let the kids just see their artwork and celebrate with their families.

So I did something very similar. So it was nice because having Lindsay even States away just to bounce ideas off of was really great because again, I am the only art teacher in my school, the only elementary art teacher in my district. And though I can connect with a lot of people, there’s not anybody that’s doing this in my area. So we would meet often and just say, “Okay, where’d you get your wood? How many can you fit on that piece? How are you going to set this up?” So I have a lot on my Instagram if you want to see a little more about it or on my YouTube, there’s an overhaul of the show if you want to check out what that looks like, but the show was really awesome. So we had a board for every single homeroom in our entire class.

Tim: Oh, my. How many is that?

Sarah: That’s 22 boards.

Tim: Oh, my.

Sarah: I know, I know. But honestly, I think that’s one of the things that made it so successful was I teach pre-K through fifth grade and if we did the same project with every class, every grade level, then we would have six projects, which is amazing. And of course, nobody was expecting anything from me this year, but I wanted to really give each classroom a moment to shine. So each class did a different project and then we did a themed board and we had two sweet fifth graders that put on their art club shirts from two years ago and they handed out programs at the beginning of the line and gave out free bookmarks. And then we made a YouTube video with a link, a little QR code on the front of the program, so that parents and families and community members that came through just scan the QR code and then they listen to the YouTube video as they went through the show.

Tim: Oh, nice.

Sarah: Yeah, and that video honestly took me as long as the art show, because I put a lot of time into that too. As I’m editing, I’m like, “What am I doing to myself?” We do it for the kids, it’s fine. So we had audio of a bunch of students in every homeroom talking about their project. They also did a music performance because they couldn’t have their music show this year. So I coordinated with my music teacher and she recorded all of their music performances. And then I overlapped that over their audio and then had their music, so every class had a music performance and audio of them talking about their work. So that was a really cool part. But yeah, the drive-through art show was amazing, but also …

Tim: Exhausting?

Sarah: Exhausting. And when I agreed to do it four months before the end of the year, of course, you’re like, “You know what? We’re cruising. We’re going to make it happen. It’s fine.” But there’s something about the end of the year this year that was an added level of exhaustion and I need to be done for a bit, if I’m being honest.

Tim: That was actually going to be my next question is just part one, how did the rest of the year go for you after the art show? And then second, how were you feeling when the year was finished? Was it a sense of relief, a sense of accomplishment, like, “Hey, we did that,” or something else entirely?

Sarah: Yeah, yeah. I mean, honestly, I still feel like I’m not done with the school year just because, and I don’t know if anybody else is feeling this too, but I feel like my brain capacity is just so much lower than it has been. I forget what I’m saying in the middle of a sentence or I’m like, “What is my to-do list for today?” I’m foggy, so that part of all of the things that have happened in the past year was a definite struggle for me at the end of the year. And one of the podcasts that actually made me just come to terms with that and accept the fact that it’s okay, everybody’s changing, everybody’s feeling that and feeling that exhaustion and that there’s not something wrong with you.

It’s just that it was a very hard year and draining in its own way. So there’s a podcast I listened to that reminded us that we’re all changing at a physiological level. And of course, now see, this is the physiological level is that I can’t even remember what it’s called, but I will remember and I’ll tell you. The podcast was led by two psychologists and they just talk about what is happening in our brain through the isolation through this year, through just having to take a step back from the social cues of humans.

So I guess all that to say I was feeling it a lot at the end of the year. It was really hard and I’m two weeks into my summer, or just a little bit into my summer and I still feel like I don’t really know how to relax or be. So I’m going to try to just keep working on that and give myself some permission to be productive, but also not. And just to know that there’s nothing wrong with or humans or whatever for just being weird and out of it.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s actually what I want to talk to you about next, because I know you’re really reflective about mental health. You think a lot about that and we’ve talked about it on this podcast before. So I’m curious about, I guess, three different situations just with regard to mental health. What did you do mental health wise to get yourself through the end of last year?

Sarah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim: What are you doing this summer? I mean, I know you just mentioned a little bit about that, but then also what are you thinking about for the fall? Do you have any strategies in mind to help yourself when it is time to go back to school?

Sarah: Yeah. Great, great, great question and things that I’m thinking about constantly. So first one was what did I do at the end of the year?

Tim: Yeah, last year.

Sarah: Okay. Yeah, so in about January of last year, I did start doing some bullet journaling and I wasn’t doing as much free flowing journaling of my thoughts and feelings, but was just keeping track of when did I get to school for the day? What do I have to do? What classes do I have? What’s my to-do list? Just in a more daily setting so that I could really understand how the days passed, right? Because even in the school routine, it was just like everything’s a blur.

Tim: Yeah, everything runs together.

Sarah: Oh, yeah. Even more so than it had in a normal year, you’re running on fumes at times, but this year, you’re just like, “Something’s off, something’s different,” right? So having that bullet journal, having the ability to just mark each of my days, tracking a couple of things here and there and editing each week, I would just write my weeks out and I changed the format weekly. So it was like, “What do I need this week? Do I need to write mantras down? Do I need to track a bunch of things? Am I working out? Did I take a walk? What’s the weather?” All of these things to make me feel like I’m paying attention to what’s around me or do I need to simplify it a little bit? So that bullet journaling was helpful for me.

And that of will transition me into what am I doing right now? So I’m still continuing with my journaling, but I’m limiting all the things that I’m keeping track of to just essentially four main things. So I track my physical wellness, did I do any type of movement, walking? And granted, not giving myself a hard time if I’ve had a busy week this week, so I haven’t done as much as I wanted to do and that’s okay. But trying to move my body a little bit and feel good about that. Eat what I’m eating, so I can see, okay, do I feel healthy? Am I having enough vegetables? Those kinds of things. It seems silly. It seems simple, but those are things that are important to me this summer.

And then also meditating every day. So I’ve been using the Calm app and I do meditation as many days as I can. I’ll miss one here or there, but I’m really trying to prioritize my mental health as a job this summer and saying, “Taking care of me is my job,” right? I’m not an art teacher this summer. I’m not doing summer school. I’m not making lessons, I’m not writing my curriculum. I’m just trying to be and heal. And then I said the fourth thing, because there’s four things that I track was a gratitude list essentially. My husband and I watch the show Big Mouth, which just spoiler alert, it is inappropriate at times.

Tim: I was going to say, not appropriate for families.

Sarah: You leave that up to your judgment. It is not an appropriate show, but it is actually quite amazing because they talk about mental health through the eyes of a middle school kid, essentially. So they’ll talk about all the things a middle schooler thinks about in a very open and somewhat disgusting way at times. But one of the things that we took from that was a little creature called the Gratitoad and the Gratitoad is this little frog and he just says, “Why not be happy?” He’s got this Southern accent and he wants you to look for the things that make you happy. So I have a little toad icon in my bullet journal so that I can write down the things that I’m grateful for the day.

But again, definitely if you don’t want to watch Big Mouth that’s fine, but it is fun because they essentially make a lot of the mental health things that people struggle with into characters so that you can understand them. Like depression is a cat that sits on you and just presses you down. Anxiety is mosquitoes and these mosquitoes just buzz around you and they’re in your ears, and it’s just very interesting. So just forewarning, pre-watch that show first, my friends, but I’m a big fan. So, those are the things in my bullet journal that have helped. Did I miss the last one too? I’ve been talking forever.

Tim: No, that’s okay. I’m just thinking, are any of those ideas things that you think you will take with you into the school year coming up?

Sarah: Yeah, I think so. I mean, a lot of what I’m noticing is, I mean, I always talk to my kids about their mental health. As much as I can, I try to, and I read them my book about anxiety and depression and things like how those feelings are real and okay and they can make us strong. But I also am really inspired by and continue to be inspired by again, especially Jonathan Durvich’s SEL podcast, because there’s so much information in there about how to support kids in their emotions, in their learning, in their check-in, in their awareness. So a lot of what, I guess this is where I’ll work as an art teacher a little bit, but I’m hoping to do some things like incorporate a little bit more vocabulary about being aware.

And regulating yourself and trying to see how you feel for the day. And if there’s something that’s out of your control, can you, refocus and understand that a little bit? So certainly, my own focus on my mental health and gratitude and my check-ins and stuff too, that is something I hope to incorporate in some way into my classroom to be able to just bond with my students, how are you guys doing? And not just like, “Oh, I’m good,” but like, “How are you doing?”

Tim: Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah.

Tim: Well, two things I’m a producer on Jonathan’s podcast, so I listen to all of those a lot, but a couple of things that I take away from that is when his guests come on and he’s like, “Give me a word as to how you’re feeling, but that word can’t be good.” And so, yeah, you have to think. And I think that’s something that can transfer to the classroom. And then, at the end of every episode, he’s got three takeaways that give you just literal concrete ways to take those ideas into your classroom or to just help yourself with some of the concepts. And so, I think if these are ideas that you want to explore more in the classroom, I honestly can’t recommend those episodes highly enough.

Sarah: Oh, completely.

Tim: They’re amazing.

Sarah: And just to help further push that idea up a bit. So my mom is a middle school teacher in the same district as me and we’ve been talking a lot about trauma and healing and what our expectation will be for teaching our students next year. And we’re very prepared to prioritize SEL more so than we ever have before, right? And what does that wellness of our students look like to welcome them and give them that support? So she’s reading a book all about trauma informed teaching and what kinds of things go with that and she’s going to gather materials and tell me what she learned.

And I said, “Well, I have this podcast I’m going to listen to that’s technically made for art teachers, but it’s all about SEL.” And I started listening and I said, “Mom, this is for every teacher.” Yes, there are snippets of art education in it, of course, to tie it back to us but I’m two episodes in, and I’m like, “Mom, you and everybody else needs to listen to this.” So I love too that it’s for educators and parents and people alike to just help support our kids and ourselves.

Tim: Yeah, for sure. And then last question for you. I hope I’m not prying too much, but as you think about the upcoming school year, how are you feeling about it? Are you wanting to go back yet? Are you looking forward to it or you think it’s going to be a little while before you’re ready to go back?

Sarah: Yeah. Great question as well. And if I’m being honest, I need time still. I do. I always work hard. I always do more than I probably should. And I’m being honest, I’m feeling myself burnt out and I never thought I’d say that, and I get it now. I get what our teachers feel like, where they say, “I’m just so burnt out. I’m just so exhausted.” And I think that I need to use that support of the art teacher community and I’m excited to teach. The nice thing is I still love being in my classroom. I still love being with my kids. I love making art, but it is exhausting to a point of recognizing like, “You need some time, you need to be able to say, ‘No,’ to something.” So some stuff that I know is going to help me is taking a look at what I was doing pre-pandemic.

Of course, that’s how we talk about time, right? It’s like, “Oh, pre-pandemic, post …” whatever. But some things that I was doing, I was doing a lot of online portfolios and art club and art shows and getting art into the community. And while all those things are incredibly beneficial and things I’m passionate about, I think it’s okay to step back and say, “You know what? I’m going to pick two of those and the other things are going to have to just wait and maybe I’ll incorporate them later, but I need to be here for my students and for myself and no can be a complete sentence.” So I am excited for next year. I do have a lot of really amazing ideas. Already thinking about the art show.

Not drive by art show, but I have a super great idea that I’m really psyched about. So I’m looking forward to that. Here, I can even give you a plug. Y’all can send me ideas on my Instagram, but I want to do an eco show. So I want to be all about recycled art, art outside. We have so many things we’ve been collecting and I want to make the entire show all about reusables. I mean, I’m just super psyched about it. So I am excited to return, but I also need time.

Tim: Well, I think it’s okay for both of those things to be true. You can have great ideas. You can be excited to go back, but still not quite be ready for it.

Sarah: Yeah, and I think the best way that it’s been phrased to me was that whether you felt it or not, we all had different forms of trauma, especially this past year, whether it’s emotional, physical, it’s been trauma and traumatic in a different way than I think a lot of us have ever been around. So typically, a summer, art teachers or teachers in general will say, “Oh, it’s time to refresh, recharge,” but I’m not even using those words as much as I am healing. So think about when you’re traumatized, you need to heal, you need to repair your wounds. You need to give yourself time and love and energy. And so, I think I’m really trying to use that word is that this summer, and even as I go into next year, I’m just going to try to give myself time to heal and try to help heal my students and my staff and my family.

Tim: Wow. That’s awesome. Well, Sarah, thank you so much. I appreciate how open you always are. I appreciate the conversation and hopefully, it’s helpful for everyone. So thank you.

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. Happy to chat.

Tim: Thank you so much to Sarah for coming on. I always appreciate my conversations with her. I always appreciate how open she is about everything that she is going through, everything that she is thinking about and all the things that she’s doing to help herself. And so, like I said in the beginning, I hope that that conversation can help you as you’re taking stock of where you are right now and what you need at this moment. Now, before we wrap up, I want to tell you about one other thing that I think may be helpful. We have been publishing over the past couple of months, a brand new podcast called the Art of SEL.

It’s all about social, emotional learning. Jonathan Juravich is hosting that show. It has been incredibly popular, incredibly well-received. If you’ve been curious about the show, but have not listened to it, I would definitely encourage you to check it out wherever you get your podcasts, just look up the Art of SEL. And it’s an eight-episode limited-run series, all about the importance of social, emotional learning and the role that art teachers can play. And not only does it talk about how we can help our students, but how we can help ourselves as well.

There are a lot of really great takeaways, a lot of really powerful conversations and I think it’s definitely worth a listen. So wherever you get your podcasts, go check out the Art of SEL. And that will do it for us this week. Another thank you to Sarah for coming on. And like I said, I hope you take some time to take stock of where you are, figure out exactly what you need and hopefully take some steps to do what you can and what need to do to help yourself right now. Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening and we will talk to you next week.

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.