Professional Practice

The Instagram Mailbag (Ep. 045)

Every once in a while, Cassie’s mailbag overflows and it’s time for a full episode of listener questions! Today, she takes on a huge variety of topics. Listen as she discusses how to create more time for yourself (6:45), how to embrace your own originality and creativity (13:15), and getting more parent involvement in your art room (16:30). Full episode transcript below.


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One of my favorite things to read are help columns. I have always been a huge fan of Dear Abby, or really any of those columns in the back of magazines, or in the cartoon section of the paper, where people ask with a question. I’m not really all that interested in the response, I just love hearing or reading of what people are up to, and what their questions might be. It’s another favorite thing of mine to actually read them aloud to anybody who is unfortunate enough to be around when I’m doing so, complete with accents or a little bit of drama just to give it that flair. Knowing how much I love advice columns, that’s kind of what inspired the mailbag feature on this here podcast. I thought I would throw that idea out there to you all.

Recently, on my Instagram, I asked if you had any questions for me to just pile them all in one big Instagram post so I could dig through them and try to answer them. There was a lot of comments from you guys, and I’m so excited to go through those questions and, hopefully, try my best to answer them for you all. I will say this, there were so many that we might just have to have this be a podcast episode that continues, not every week, trust me, I wouldn’t do that to you, but just every now and then, for fun. Alright, so, I’m going to give it my best shot at answering your amazing questions today. I’m Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room.

Alright. I will say this, that I threw this out to the Instagram community, so, if you are not on Instagram and you still wish to send questions my way, of course, you can still email those to me. But if you are on Instagram, these questions, the majority of them came from art teachers. And so, I’m going to share their handles with you, because these are all art teachers that you should definitely be following on Instagram, as they are all awesome resources. It’s just great to have that community that we feel like we can reach out to and ask questions to right at our fingertips. I absolutely love that.

Alright, so, let’s dive in. This first question comes from @mullensmeans. And @mullensmeans has this question … Did I have it pulled up on my phone? Of course not. Here we go, she says, “I’ve been teaching for 16 years in my current district. I recently applied for a job at a more prestigious school and I got the position. I’m super excited because my current school is a very tough area with zero of the following: parent support, parent involvement, teacher support, and art budget. I have already sent my resignation letter to the administration but how do I gracefully say goodbye to coworkers and students? Should I tell my students that I’m leaving?”

This question really struck a chord with me, because I taught for five years in Nashville. I had been knocking at the door of the school where I am currently, for the previous year to two years, mostly because I was always told that I might not have my art room the following year, because our school was constantly growing. I didn’t want to teach on a cart, so this was just something that I knew was going to happen eventually and that I would be changing schools. When the position opened up, right before school was out, and I knew that I would be leaving, I didn’t say a word. I didn’t tell my students, I didn’t say goodbye to my students. I didn’t mention it to the faculty or the staff, except my administration. I just tiptoed out and left in the night.

That summer, the first day of summer, I rented a moving van because I did not, surprisingly, acquire that much stuff. With the help of a buddy, we packed up all of my stuff and we moved it to my new school. I always regret having done that. I always regret never having said goodbye to my students and to the friends I had made at that school. It makes me a little bit teary-eyed, just thinking about it. Because when I’ve run into those students, afterward, or when I’ve encountered them on places like social media, goodness, that was like 15 years ago, so these kiddos are now young adults, they always make mention of that. “You were our teacher, we loved you as our teacher and then one year you just weren’t there anymore.”

I didn’t explain to them why I was leaving, not that I necessarily would have told them the exact reason. But what I would have done is just shared with them how much they had meant to me, that was the first school where I had taught. How much I had learned from them and how much they had helped me grow to be the teacher that I was, to that point. I believe I would have said those same words to the people that I worked with also. Again, when I would run into my former coworkers, it was like they were shocked … hurt, I guess is the word, “Why would you do that?”

I think, for me, I am the worst about saying goodbyes. It feels a little too final and it feels too emotional, so I don’t like dealing with it. And that’s not the way to go about saying goodbye to people that you’ve helped shape and mold, and who have done the same for you. So, I’m still a little emotional, can you tell? For that reason, I would definitely make a point to say goodbye to your students and your co-workers. You don’t have to explain why you’re leaving, but just explain to them how much that they have meant to you. All right, I hope that helps.

Moving right along to the next one, this question is from @missharmony. She asks this, if I can get my … My phone has a bad habit of shutting itself to sleep, because I’m obviously talking too much. Here we go. She says, “I would like to know more ways to work smarter, not harder. I swear I spend more time there at school than at my house. I try so hard keeping up with my room, cleaning, emails, bulletin boards, grading, in all caps, I cannot keep up. There is just not enough time in the day.”

I agree with you there, and I will share this because I try to be as transparent with you all as possible, I don’t have to submit grades for every single student. I have to say, whether or not they’ve passed or they failed. In my mind, unless we have a definite concern, all of my students are going to pass art, because they all put forth an effort and love doing it and love creating. There was something else she mentioned that I don’t necessarily have to do … Oh, yes, cleaning her house, yeah, I don’t do that either. Just kidding. No, really, I do.

I jotted down a couple of things, because I also have a problem with trying to do it all. In fact, if you follow me on Instagram, this past school year, I started this really bad habit of going into my school on Sundays, and working in my room. Our school is open on Sundays, because they have church there and I’m able to sneak in and do a lot of work that I don’t feel like I can normally do during a school day, when there are so many hiccups and interruptions. That wasn’t healthy and that wasn’t great, and I don’t plan on continuing to do that, this coming year. But it really did make it so that I could get some things accomplished, that I don’t think I would have been able to, otherwise.

However, I do believe there is something to be said about the fine art of just letting things go. You just cannot do it all, so you need to figure out what you can let go of doing and be okay with that, be comfortable with that. My first suggestion would be to make a list. Make a list of everything that you … just everything. Make a list of bulletin boards, make a list of lesson plans, make a list of projects, make a list of things you want to tidy in your room or declutter. List everything that’s bothering you. Just sit down in your art room, take a look around and just start listing everything down on a piece of paper.

Then once you have that list, and it’ll probably be a big one, then you’ll need to go through and look at that list and think about, “What can I delegate some of these things to? Could I ask students and put them more in charge of the cleaning and tidying? Could I ask co-workers to help me for me?” It means helping me take down the art show, they take down the entire art show, that’s what my classroom teachers do at my school. So, think of some way … And even parent volunteers. Can you reach out to these people and try to delegate some of this load that you’re really struggling with?

Another thing, that after you have worked out where you can delegate things to, is to start prioritizing. Maybe look at your list and just start putting things in possibly three categories. What is super important has to get done, you don’t have an option, I’m assuming that’s grading. In the middle would be what would be great if it could get done, that would be probably your bulletin boards. Then last would be keeping your room clean and just having everything really cutesy and pretty. That should be at the bottom of your list. It’s the most fun and, therefore, of course, it goes to the bottom. After you prioritize, I think that that will really help you figure out what needs to get done versus what is just like icing on the cake.

Then what I love to do, and this has really helped me, is to do something, what I like to call clumping, if you can clump certain tasks together. For me, what that means is, I really want to teach a lesson on Vincent Van Gogh, but I also really want to spend some time creating and fulfilling that bucket of mine. How can I clump those two things together? So, if I’m teaching a lesson on Van Gogh, then I’m going to go ahead and either needle felt or sew a starry night dress. I can knock out two birds with one stone.

Another thing that I’m really miserable about is just creating a schedule. I know I mentioned this a while ago, when it came time to chat … when we were chatting about time management. What if you just spent a couple of days documenting how you spent your time? I got up, I drank coffee, I showered. I checked my email, I put on my makeup, I checked my Instagram. I packed my lunch, I looked at Facebook. If you find that as you’re writing down just those little things that you’ve done throughout the day, and you notice that you’re really spending a lot of time on things that are not important, you’re wasting your time.

You might find that you are going to have a reserve of time that you never knew that you had, because you were wasting it. It helps to be a really good ambassador of your time. I am not a good ambassador of my time, especially during the summer. But during the summer, you can really get introspective and think about how you spend your time.

Then, I think the most important thing to do is to just start saying, “No,” and being completely comfortable with the fact that you can’t do it all. You’re going to have to start prioritizing, you’re going to have to start finding folks who can help you. You’re going to have to start clumping and creating a schedule and just saying, “No.” That was a long one, but a such a great one, because I know that all of us struggle with time management, myself definitely included.

This question is from @agathe_fivers, and she asks, “What would you tell young/old creatives that don’t have the balls to let their inner weirdo shine as awesomely as you do? Asking for a friend.” Hilarious. Well, I am going to quote my husband here. So, what I would like you to do is, I’m going to tell you this quote and I want you to write it down, because it’s really important and I don’t want you to forget it. I want it to be something that you look at every now and then, to help remind you when you start wanting to let your freak flag fly but … That is hard to say … but you’re not really comfortable doing it. You’re ready? “Stop giving age, that’s all there is to it.”

I mean, I remember I used to really struggle with, “Oh, I don’t know if I should do this, what will people think? I don’t know.” He would just say, “Stop giving a …” And it’s so freeing, when you do that. I cannot even stress enough, it’s like a weight is lifted. A weight of what you think other people are going to think. Here’s a little tidbit, what I have noticed is that most people aren’t thinking about what I’m wearing and what I’m doing or what I’m saying, you know? Those thoughts are actually in my head, I’m putting that stress and pressure on myself. If you just let go of that notion of, “What are people going to think?” And all those little nagging feelings inside of your head, just take a deep breath, stop giving a … and let it go.

You will be amazed at how freeing that is for you, and best part, for how freeing it is for your creative mind. It opens up a whole nother area of thought that you didn’t know was available because you’re too hung up on what other people were thinking. Gosh, I feel like I’m on a soapbox. I think the most important thing is to do what makes you happy, and if it makes you happy, your happiness will inspire others. Instead of people looking at you oddly, which, of course, is going to happen, you’re still going to have that small fraction of people who are going to be like, “Huh, look at that person, I want to be like that. I want to be somebody who’s genuinely myself and perfectly comfortable with that.”

The next one question comes from … Oh, by the way, thank you for that awesome question, that was an excellent one. I wasn’t always in that place to be able to say those words to you, now I feel pretty comfortable. But it takes time, that doesn’t happen overnight. That feeling of being comfortable enough with yourself to just go for it. This next one comes from @mrsnichollsartroom, and she says, “What is your advice on getting more parent involvement at your school? I hosted an art show this year and only three parents showed up, and it was heartbreaking.”

I cannot imagine how devastating that would be, and I want to sincerely give you a hug, because that breaks my heart for you. Knowing how hard you worked to make that art show happen, to have so few parents. I’m not sure if they showed up to volunteer or just showed up to view the art show. Regardless, just know that you’re not alone and I’m really, really sorry that that happened to you, because I know how devastating that can be. How do you get more parents to be involved?

A couple of years ago, when I needed a lot of help with things like bulletin boards, like we were mentioning before, and Artsonia, and prepping for the art show, and just help around my art room when I was teaching things like clay or weaving, where I knew I needed more hands on deck. At the start of the school year, during my planning time, I contacted the PTO and I reached out to all the parents that way. I called it Donuts With the Art Teacher. I had brought in some Dunkin Donuts, a couple of crafts of coffee, and we sat and ate donuts. I just shared with them the four different things that I had happening in my room, that I would really like help with.

I think the biggest issue that parents have about coming in to help, is they think of themselves as, quote, not being an artist. “Well, I’m not artistic, I can’t draw a straight line.” How many of you guys are so sick of hearing people saying that? Oh my gosh, who said straight lines were so great anyway, get away from there. Oh my goodness. Anyway, so, I think that’s the biggest problem, is people are like, “I’m not artistic so I’m not going to help in the art room.”

I would kick off any kind of meeting with parents by saying, “Look, I have a lot of opportunities for parent involvement in my art room that do not involve creating or making art. So, if you are not comfortable with your artistic skills, that is completely okay because it’s not necessary.” Once you start your meeting with that, you’ll see a little bit of a relief, like, “Oh, okay, I can come in and help roll tape for the art show.” Or, “I can simply come in and load and unload a kiln,” or whatever you feel comfortable having parent volunteers do.

Another thing that I would do is work through their kids. Meaning, if you can’t have a meeting with the parents, or maybe you did and you want to continue to reach out to them, then send notes home with the students about things that they’re learning in the art room. I know, I thought that this was so smart, out of my art shows creates stickers that the kids wear at home, on the night of the art show. It just says, “Ask me about my art show.” I mean, how cool would it be if you got some labels from an office store and simply had kids create their own stickers that they could wear? That they design, that says, “Ask me about ancient Egypt.” Or, “Ask me about what I learned in art today,” that they wear from your art room. That’s your little direct line back home to the parents.

Another thing that you could do is connect to parents with social media. I mean, these days, everybody is on their phone 24/7. If you haven’t created a Facebook page for your art room, or perhaps even an Instagram page for your art room, you might want to think about it. If you decide to do that, I will warn you that you need to make sure you clear it with your administration. Just make sure that it is 100% okay for you, not only to share images of student artwork, but also if you’re going to share pictures of your students. Which I don’t recommend, unless you are 100% sure that you have permission to do so. I feel like social media is a great way to stay connected with parents and even just make announcements, “Hey, we’re getting ready to work with clay, interested in volunteering? Direct message me now,” that kind of thing.

You know what? If you do another art show, or when you do another art show, because I would encourage you to keep at it, I would definitely offer free food. I’m telling you when we’ve always done an art show that had an ice-cream social involved at the same time, and if you offer food that’s free, they will come. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, you just say, “Free popsicle, free ice-cream, free bag of popcorn. Free …” you name it, if you even want to get fancy and make it thematic so it ties in with the art show, do it. If you build it with food, they will come. Good luck.

This next one is from @artiselemtary, all one word, and they ask, “How do you keep your outfits clean? Hash tag, no, but for real, and what to wear to work.” Well, I will tell you this, I have cat-like reflexes that helps. I almost always am wearing an apron. I also really stress that the kids not to walk around when they are working. Nobody is walking around with paint brush, nobody is walking around with dirty clay on their hands. They also know that I don’t like to be tapped, “We don’t need to tap Ms. Stephens, to get her attention.” Those are the kind of things that I think really help. So that kids know to make sure to keep the mess contained at their table and not to come up to you and tap you and bother you and get paint, and things like that, on your clothes.

I think that really having a nice routine, when it comes to clean up, and having a really solid routine when it comes to managing supplies also makes so those accidents don’t happen. But let’s be honest, accidents always happen in the art room. If you were to get within five feet of me, you would definitely see that every last one of my outfits has a smudge of paint, a splatter of this, mysterious strange blobs of something on my clothing.

I think I could probably do one more. This one is from @art_with_mia, she says, “How long did it take you to learn how to sew? Any tips? I’m able to cut a pattern, and I think that’s pretty much it, and need my mama to help me piece it together. Losing the will.” Oh no, please don’t lose the will. I’ll tell you this, I have been sewing clothing, for myself to wear in my art room, probably now for, I don’t know, seven years. Just this morning, I was working on a dress and I was putting in a zipper, which I always do last. I hate doing it, I actually don’t love sewing. I just love the end result. It is like a labor of love, when it comes to sewing, for me. When I was putting in that zipper, I literally stitched the zipper to the front of the top, which involved a lot of seam ripping. Which with all the sewing that I do, I’m also an expert seam ripper.

Here’s what I would suggest, get an easy pattern, start easy. I think most people try to start with something that’s too difficult and then when they hit a couple of roadblocks, they just want to throw the whole thing, including the machine, out the window, and I don’t blame you. When you’re looking for a pattern and do it … So, I’m going to talk about dresses here, and then I’ll circle back to you all. If you’re looking for a dress pattern, I love the brand Simplicity, because they really are quite simple. They have a 1-800 number on them, which you could call. And they also have a website, where you can ask questions, how great is that.

They also have a lot of directions to make sure you really read through the directions, study those pictures. It’s almost like IKEA, but it actually comes with written directions too. If you can figure out the directions in the pictures, you’re going to realize, “Oh, this is actually not that hard,” but take it one step at a time. When you start to get a little frustrated or confused, take a break. That’s the biggest thing, is you just step away from it.

Focus on dress patterns that don’t involve buttons, they don’t involve collars or anything that looks a little bit tricky. Pleats, those kind of things, steer clear, especially if you’re a beginner. Keep it very simple. Once you accomplish that first one, you’ll feel that sense of pride that will inspire you to make more. You do, it’s out there, you got it a lot easier, because making a shirt is pretty stink and simple. I challenge you guys out there, to start stitching up some wild and wacky art teacher in ties or shirts, go for it.

Okay, guys, I have so many more questions from you, so I’m bombed that I wasn’t able to get to more, but stay tuned. I will make sure to have a future podcast where I address more of these awesome questions of yours. Thank you so much for letting me share these questions and for answering them to the best of my knowledge.

Tim Bogatz: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz, the host of Art Ed Radio. Thank you, as always, for listening to Everyday Art Room. Since Cassie is talking all about Instagram this week, and answering your questions from there, I also want to make sure that you follow AOE on Instagram as well. We’re @theartofed, so go give us a follow.

If you missed the announcement last week, we are happy to tell you that contemporary artist Jen Stark will be the featured presenter at the Art Ed Now Summer Online Conference, on August 2nd. You can learn more about that presentation and see all of the other presentations, at You can also listen to the interview with Jen Stark, at Now, let’s let Cassie go ahead and finish up the show.

Cassie: Now, remember, this is just my advice, it’s not the all-knowing advice. This is coming to you from a person who is still finding her way as an art teacher, as a person, as a creative, so take everything I say with a grain of salt. Like a really, really big one. If you’d like to email me or throw more questions my way, I will gladly give it my best shot at answering them. You can find me at theartofed … Nope, you can find me at That’s where you can email me, you would think I would know that by now.

Thank you guys so much, for such a fun episode and for playing along. You all are absolutely the best.

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.