Curriculum Design

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work (Ep. 184)

We hear so much about collaboration, but what does it look like in practice? How can we successfully work with our colleagues to develop quality lessons? In today’s episode, Nic shares her story (and some colleagues share theirs) about how they developed lessons, how they brought those lessons to students, and how they overcame the challenges of aligning curriculum. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Nic: Ooh, it’s April 1st, 2021. Everybody wants a good joke on April Fool’s Day. I’ve got one for you. Here it is. Okay. You’re going to teach with a mask on, but at least you get to be in person. Oh, just kidding. You’re now going to teach at home, distance learning 100%. Oh, just kidding. You’re back in school, but you only get to teach half the kids at a time. Nope. Nope. Just kidding. You don’t get to teach any of the kids in your classroom. You get to teach half of them in their classroom. You’re driving yourself around the school on a cart, but only half the kids, some of the days on a cart, but you have to wear a mask. And also, some of the kids are quarantined some of the time. Here you go. Make sure that you’re creating the most relevant curriculum possible.

Yeah. That sounds like a little bit of a joke, huh? Guess what? It’s not. It’s our reality of 2020-2021. Okay. So we’re moving forward on this year. We don’t have time for jokes because our life is our reality and there is no jokes involved. Nobody’s laughing anymore. We’re just doing the best that we can, but what can be said about this year is innovation, innovation, innovation. We’re going to talk about the innovation that my district came up with 100%, just the art teachers, the elementary art teachers of ISD 728. And I’m excited to share it with you because it’s something I was proud of in this constant change and flux and flexibility. My name is Nic Hahn, and this is Everyday Art Room.

I’m going to give you a brief synopsis of kind of what we ended up doing in one of our transitions. We were teaching in person and we were told that we were moving into hybrid, so that means that we were going see half of the kids at half of the time. And then there was a possibility that we were going to move into distance learning, which we did a week later. So I’m glad that we did what we did. Our team got together. We have 10 elementary schools and it ended up being nine elementary teachers that got together immediately. And what we did is we put together a vision for kindergarten through second grade, and then our third through fifth grade. And we put together a packet, a vision.

And for kindergarten through our younger group, we decided that we were going to do one concept a week. And this concept was going to be overarching introductions to art. And we were going to make a packet for our students. So we were going to talk about the following, color, line, shape, pattern, form. We were going to talk about portraiture, space and texture. Maybe I said texture . . . anyway . . .

These concepts are concepts that we cover in our younger grade levels at different ability levels. So we kind of scaffold them up, but we figure we can give them an introduction. And if a student who is in kindergarten receives a little bit more information, that’s okay. And if a student in second grade does a little review, that’s okay. We thought that this would be good for our distance learners. We decided that we would create a video for each of these. So we would assign each art teacher, a different video. One person was going to do color. One person was going to do line and they were going to use a universal worksheet from this packet to create this video.

Once we all made our videos, we put them together and shared them with our students via Seesaw. So we created this video. We created this packet and we shared it all the same way. 10 elementary schools from 10 different art teachers, nine different art teachers, all assigned the same to hundreds and thousands of students in our district. It was powerful. We threw this together in a week and it was wonderful content that was perfect for our curriculum and aligned to our standards. That was kindergarten through second grade.

In our older groups, we decided to go a little bit more individual, more artistic based. We did something called character camp. I talked about it a couple of weeks ago. So instead of doing concepts like what I just described, we had them create a character. So they worked one week on drawing the nose, eyes, mouth. We drew clothing one week, the accessories one week. We drew the body shapes one week. We drew hairstyles one week. And by the end of the character camp, they would end up with a full character. And actually this was, I think it was 10 weeks is what the plan was, but we ended up coming back into person before the end of it. So we were able to take this packet, bring it back into the classroom, finish it up or stop wherever we were and bring it into a project in our classroom in whatever direction we wanted to go. And every single one of the art teachers were able to bring it into something different.

So even though we had this little seed that started the same, we were assigning it to all of our third, fourth and fifth graders via Schoology, which we all share in our district for thousands and thousands of students. When they came back into our classrooms, some of us had them make it digital. Some of us had them make their character and then paint the background. Some of us used one point perspective for the background and had them create their character in a one point perspective.

So each of us did something different with these packets that the students did for distance learning. I asked my colleagues to tell me what they thought about using these packets at home. And three of my colleagues responded. We’re going to listen to their responses of what they thought about using these packets at home with their distance learners and just kind of how they thought it went working as a team.

Carly: Hi, my name is Carly Christiansen and this is my third year at Prairie View Elementary in Otsego Minnesota. I think my favorite part of working collaboratively on both art camp and character camp was being able to collaborate with other art educators and kind of have each other for support to lean on each other through all of the hybrid and distance learning we went through this year.

As a new teacher, I’m always looking to see what other teachers are doing to learn from them and to improve my own practice. So when we were thrown the curveball of distance learning this year again, it was great to have a team to talk to, to collaborate and to really come across as a unified art group together, which was nice.

I really enjoyed art camp for my K-2 because it was a great way to establish routine with them while they were at home using those art camp packets and was a great, just simple, concise way for them to do art at home with the supplies they had, no matter what they had, they could use, whether it was just a pencil or maybe they went above and beyond and had paint or some sort of sculpture material at home too. And it was really great to communicate to the parents the importance of art too, but didn’t really ask them to take too much time out of their day because I know how stressful being at home and distance learning was for them.

For character camp, I loved seeing all the characters my students created. It was super fun. They had parts of their personalities come out in these characters and they also kind of used their characters to talk about dreams and aspirations of who they might want to be someday too, or just had total fun with it and made a super silly character too.

When we came back in person for art camp, my K-2 students finished the packets and we used them kind of as a warmup, as we were transitioning back into the art room. And then for character camp, students ended up creating their character on a full size piece of paper. We made a background and then we were able to showcase them for our class and then throughout other classes as well. So it was a great way to have students respond to other’s artwork and really see how various students could take the assignment in many ways.

Leah: Hello, my name is Leah Schultz and I am the art teacher at Twin Lakes Elementary, a kindergarten through fifth grade elementary in the Elk River School District. I was so pleased with the results from our art camps, both the art camp for kindergarten first and second grade, and then we did the character camp for third, fourth, and fifth. And it was so successful from a teacher point of view because we were not scrambling as art educators across our district. We had a plan for at least eight weeks, which was huge to not have to try to reinvent the wheel and scramble for ideas and make videos, and that can be exhausting and daunting for an art teacher every single week to come up with that. So knowing that I had a solid plan for eight weeks was just a huge stress relief off of me as an art teacher.

It also was nice as an art teacher because we had common ground to talk about during our PLCs. We could talk about each lesson and we were all doing something very similar, like the same, which is kind of hard for art teachers to come together and always have the same thing going on. So that was nice to really have some solid common language. We could compare lessons and that lovely thing that we like to talk about data, which truly we did have a lot of data from our students that we could chat about successes and so forth.

From a student point of view, I love that these lessons were short, which in distance learning, I find that the bigger projects that I tend to do face-to-face don’t always translate well to distance learning. So these were just short, little 15 minute lessons. They were great even for an intro. So my kindergarten, the art camp, the kindergarten through second grade art camps, they introduced different elements. So it was a great way for students to explore texture. And then I could use those ideas that they learned during art camp to do a bigger project down the road. And I could say, remember when we did that texture turtle. Now, let’s take that texture and apply it to our new project. So it was just great kind of using those ideas, those little snippets for a bigger art idea.

For the third, fourth and fifth grade, it was great that they got to explore and create a character on their own. So they definitely used their own artistic styles. I got to see their likes, the things that they like to do, and it was really more self-driven and self-motivated so I thought that was very powerful. So I think B is definitely art camps would be successful at any school and I hope you give them a try.

Mary: Hello, I am Mary Farber. I am the art teacher at Zimmerman Elementary up in Zimmerman, Minnesota. And I just wanted to say that when we were working or the best part of working collaboratively, it was easier working together than saying that word, together was that we each had different ideas and different ways to express them and demonstrate them. So it was really nice to see everyone doing their own touch on presenting a lesson. We got to share some different ideas and I don’t know.

This way too each of us didn’t have to do part of the whole lesson creating the whole thing. We just each took one small part or one from each lesson book, like from the elementary one and then one for the second, well not secondary, but three through five and it just went so smooth. It went so fast and it was a wonderful way for all of us to share and create something together that expressed the whole district. I mean, community, right? I don’t know.

It was really fun and it went really great ad the kids seem to enjoy it. They loved having the paper pamphlets so that they can always refer to it. So I loved it. And then referring to the video to go along with the pamphlet worked out really great. So yay. Kudos to my team, especially to Leah Schultz and Nicole Hahn for starting up this whole thing, but it was great fun.

Nic: I adore my colleagues. I want to thank Carly Christiansen, Leah Schultz, and Mary Farber for joining me today, or sending me a little recording of their take on the exercise that we experimented with. I know it was a success because some of the people that were unable to speak today, Jerry and Bill and Sophie, some of our other colleagues have already asked, can we do more? Can we do more like this? This is going really well doing. This teamwork really was successful. Can we do more like this?

So I know that this worked really well for our team. It wasn’t perfect. Do we all have the same vision? No, not at all, but that was the beauty of it. I loved what Leah was saying about getting together with our PLC and having some concrete data. Our professional learning group, we get together using zoom, well, Google Meets once a week, and just having that information, that concrete, that solidarity of what we were making and creating was really positive when we were talking about data and what’s working and what’s not.

I liked how she was talking about the small little products that we were creating as short introductions for our students. I agree. That’s what it was. It was good bites of what can be done in the classroom. It was not the high-quality art that can happen inside our classroom, but it was good introduction to support the information that can happen once they return to us.

I love that Carly, who is a new teacher to our district and teaching in general, was able to learn from so many other teachers. It was almost like this, well, for me, a person who has been teaching for 18 years, I was able to watch and learn from my colleagues, Carly being one. Watching her with the ease of how she spoke and condensed her information was really great. And then of course, we all learned from Mary. If you could not hear the personality coming from that woman, oh man, she entertains the world. This woman has so much personality and her students benefit from it. But guess what? My students got to benefit from it as well when we shared our lessons.

So this actress of a teacher was able to come into my student’s classroom as well. And Jerry, who identifies as a man, was able to teach my students and my students who identify as boys were able to learn from a man as well. So there was some super great advantages to having different teachers teaching our students and having a common language, a common goal, a common just everything for our short period of time this year in this year of panic.

Last week on Everyday Art Room, we discussed how to change your vocabulary to be more inclusive. And specifically, we were talking about how to get rid of the word guys when you are addressing your large group of students. So I knew I would forget something and sure enough, I certainly did. But luckily, we have an amazing community of art teachers that listen to this podcast and it doesn’t just stop there with consumption. You’re not just consuming, you’re actively having this conversation perhaps with other people. Actually, that was something that was written to me on Instagram was, I thought it was so interesting what was said this last week that I sent that message on to my colleagues and my churchgoers, some church members that I attend with. That was pretty cool that other people were having the same discussion of how to change the words that you use to make everybody feel included.

And then Dineen actually wrote me as well. And I thought her message was so powerful that I asked her to just send in a little recording as well. What she uses instead of the word guys.

Dineen: Hey there, Nic Hahn and all you amazing art teachers on the Everyday Art Room. My name is Dineen Farley and I am a 17 year seasoned art teacher. I currently teach grades one through 10 at the German International School of Boston in Boston, Massachusetts. I’ve also taught art in Rome, Italy as well as Westport, Connecticut.

I reached out to Nic today because I listened to the podcast episode on creating a more inclusive classroom and how teacher language and how we refer to our students plays a role in that. I wanted to share a few of my favorite terms and a short story on how these came to be for me.

So a few years ago, when I was teaching in Italy, I had referred to my students as guys. One of my non-native English speakers asked me, why I address them that way? She said, we’re not all boys. And my initial response was to try and explain that it was just a saying, but she was right. In that moment, it really resonated with me. So I really started making a conscious effort to call my students, artists. It’s simple. It’s what they are and it’s what they are with me.

Sometimes I also address them by their grade level as an artist, like third-grade artists or fourth-grade artists. This also really forces me to be mindful with my words. It encourages me to be present and in the moment. So now when a student asks me, why do you call us artists? I respond with, because that’s what you are. I think it also empowers them and it builds their confidence. It also helps them to know that I believe in them as an artist. Try it on for size, art teachers. I think you may like it.

Nic: Well said, Dina. Well said. And thank you for bringing that up. Artist is absolutely, like probably the best term. Why did I forget that? Thank you for bringing it up. That was absolutely the perfect way to end today. If you want to follow Deena, she has a great Instagram for sure. Her Instagram is GIS Boston Art. I think that’s for German International School. GIS Boston Art. And of course, we’ll put that in the podcast notes as well.

Thank you so much for listening today. And again, allow me to just give one more shout out to my coworkers, Leah and Carly and Mary for taking the time to chat with us about that amazing collaborative project that we did together. It is just the beginning I think of what we will be doing together in the near future.

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.