Professional Practice

The New Year’s Mailbag (Ep. 200)

We are finally into the new year, and Tim is going to celebrate with a mailbag episode! Today, he answers questions from listeners on a wide range of topics, starting with New Year’s resolutions. The discussion then moves into art history, deep cleaning the art room, and how to start the second semester right. Tim then closes out the show with a thank you for 200 episodes and sharing what inspires people to be better teachers. 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.

Okay. Happy New Year. Welcome to 2020.

Welcome to episode number 200 of Art Ed Radio. We have kind of a tradition of doing a mailbag episode each year for that first episode in January, so that’s where we’re going today. I do need to note though that we are interrupted last year in that tradition, which I guess I sound bitter about it, but I shouldn’t because it was exciting. We had a huge, huge transition last year. The Art of Education became The Art of Education University, and we have to celebrate that accordingly.

Let me tell you, this past year, 2019, has been an incredible one for the university. I think as of 2020, we have over 350 master’s students enrolled in the degree program. For me, that’s just spectacular to think about because having 350 people in a master’s degree program is unheard of. I think there are just so many tiny programs out there and so many programs that have become non-existent. They just, they aren’t there anymore.

When I was getting my master’s degree, I was literally the only art teacher doing it at that time, and this was not at a small university, but I was all alone there, so to think about being in a program with 350 other students is pretty amazing, but I digress. You were promised a mailbag, so let’s dive into the mailbag. The first question, this comes from Olivia Richardson in Indiana, “What did you do over your winter break, Tim? Any New Year’s resolutions you want to share with us?” I had a lot of family time over break, which was spectacular, and I actually had a really long break with my family and my kids to not go back to school, until today actually, and so for all of you that stayed in school until December 23rd or like went back to school on January second, I’m really sorry that you had to do that.

I don’t know, I feel like we need much longer breaks than we get, but for me, with my family, and my wife’s a teacher also, but we had a full couple of weeks off and then some, so it was really nice to have that long break, so a lot of time with my family, which is great. We love making art together, creating together, reading together, playing games, all sorts of cool stuff. We were able to do that and got to see a lot of extended family over the holidays too, which is nice. With AOEU, we always do the secret Santa, which is super exciting. I had a really good secret Santa this year. It was one of our instructors, and she’d sent me all sorts of incredible drawing materials, plus some great things to read, so right up my alley, and kind of encouraged me to create more because like I said, it’s easy to get away from that, especially when you have a little more time to yourself.

You’d just want to relax, but I still try and continue to create, so getting some cool secret Santa gifts, some cool drawing materials was really nice for me. I really enjoyed that. Then, I continued to work on AOEU stuff just over the last couple of weeks. We’ve been busy because we have a lot of exciting stuff coming up as you know, because I talk about it all the time. We do the Art Ed Now Conference. That’s coming in February first, so less than a month now.

A lot of things going on with that with getting presentations together, getting presenters lined up, all the stuff behind the scenes that we need to do, editing the video with CJ Hendry, like all sorts of really cool things happening. If you’re not signed up for that, get to it please. will tell you all about the conference. If you haven’t registered, you need to do that. You can get the Swag Box sent to you with all of those incredible materials that everybody loves, loves, loves to see, show up at their door, all sorts of fun art-making stuff, and it’s going to be a really cool box.

The other thing, I can’t tell you too much about, but we have a really cool curriculum product coming up. We’re going to be releasing it really soon, and so we’ve had a ton of team members working incredibly hard on that to try and get everything ready for the launch of that new product. If you’re going to the conference, you will hear all about it on February first, so there’s another reason to go there, but we’ll be talking plenty more about it next month, so just make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the new curriculum product. We’ve had a lot of work going into that. Anyway, that’s been my break, a lot of family time, a lot of creating time, and a little bit of work, but it’s been exciting work, so that’s been fun.

All right. Next question. This is from Sarah Tane in Colorado. “Tim, I can’t get my students to help clean up at the end of the semester. How do you do this in your classroom? What suggestions do you have for me?”

All right. So many people do the deep cleaning thing at the end of the semester, and that is the perfect time to do it, especially if you have some downtime where portfolios are put together, things are all put away and it’s time to just kind of finish up with that cleaning. It is the perfect time to do that. However, you don’t always have kids that want to participate. I guess for me, like that’s not a battle that I want to fight.

There are always going to be kids who don’t want to participate in that, and my thought is like, “Why do you want to go to battle with them over that?” Let’s say it just continues to escalate, like, “I’m not going to clean.” “Well, I’m going to make you clean,” like that’s not a winning situation for you. What are you going to do? You’re going to write a referral for disrespect and tell them, “My kid wouldn’t do manual labor in my classroom, so they need to get in more trouble.”

I just, I don’t think it’s worth it, and I think the best thing to do is just kind of focus on those kids who are willing to help. There are a few kids who are super excited about cleaning, so obviously use them. There are a lot of kids who maybe aren’t excited about it, but are willing to do it just because they like the class, maybe they like you, maybe they just are willing to help out with things like that, so let those kids be the ones who are doing the cleaning, and just don’t fight that battle. I guess what I do is we have all of our things that are clean. Hopefully, you have a system in place, consistent cleaning so you don’t have these huge, huge messes that need to be cleaned up, but hopefully you have your room fairly clean. You’re just trying to get to the things that maybe don’t always get done or things that only need to be done every few months.

What I will do is just kind of go through and make a list. I’ll just walk around the room and say, “Oh, this cabinet needs to be organized. Let’s pull all the things off of this shelf, wipe the shelf down before we put them back,” just those things that don’t get done on a regular basis. I’ll make a list of all that stuff, and then I will just write it up on the board, just on the whiteboard. I’ll make a list, a checklist of what needs to be cleaned off, and I’ll say, “Hey, kids. If you see any of these that you want to take, just go ahead and get to them.”

I’ll let them do that. If I see kids sitting around, doing nothing, I’ll say, “Hey, I would love for your help with either this or this. Do either of those sound good?”, and maybe they’ll go do it, maybe begrudgingly like, “Okay. I’ll go do that.” Just appreciate that, thank them and let them help, and if you get any pushback, it’s like, “Oh, I’m not going to help clean,” or, “No, I don’t want to do that.”

That’s fine. Let them sit there, let them do nothing. Again, it’s not a battle I want to fight. If you want to fight it out with them, more power to them, but I let it be an optional thing and generally, I get enough help just from kids who enjoy that sort of thing or kids who just feel a little bit of responsibility for what’s going on in the room. Usually, you have enough help to get the cleaning things done that you want.

Like I said, make a list, ask kids to help, but yeah, don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t create a fight. Don’t go to battle over that. That would be my advice. All right. Next question.

This is from Javier Trejo in California. “We are just about to start semester two. What would be your advice for doing it right with my new classes?” All right. I think, there are a lot of teachers, especially at the secondary level who have all new classes coming in at semester, and honestly, it’s not that much different than what you do with your classes at the beginning of the year.

Even if you don’t have brand new classes, sometimes it is good just to kind of start fresh with your kids, but I would say going into it, whether it’s same kids, different kids, whatever you have, just start with a good first impression. Have a good attitude when you’re walking into class. Be positive when you step up in front of them. Show kids that you’re interested in the class. More importantly, show them that you are interested in them. Tell your students about how excited you are about the class.

Tell them how excited you are about being their teacher, and just kind of passing that along to them. That sets the right tone and it gets everyone in the right mood. Then, I always like to get kids involved to get them thinking about class, but I try and do it in a way that doesn’t put them on the spot. Like you don’t want to make kids uncomfortable right away. You don’t want to start day one with forcing kids who are nervous to stand up in front of the class and talk about themselves.

There’s not a lot of kids that want to do that, and so like I said, you still want to do things related to the class. You want to get them involved with what’s happening in your classroom, so I like to have kids write on note cards, and then they’ll turn them in to me. I’ll read them later. I’ve talked about things like this before, but just have them write down, “Hey, why did you sign up for this class?”, or, “What do you want to learn in this class? What kinds of things or what teaching styles help you learn?”

Just things like that that get them kind of thinking about the class, thinking about what they’re going to be involved in throughout the quarter, throughout the semester, and just kind of learning a little bit about them. There’s a learning style. That can be really helpful throughout the semester as you’re figuring out the best ways to teach your kids. Then, I also like to learn about them a little bit, where I’ll just ask them to write down, “What is your favorite music? What is your favorite movie? You have recommendations for me on what to watch on Netflix?”, anything like that, just to learn a little bit more about them.

Then, those answers can give you conversation pieces, just good conversation starters with your kids later that week, later that month, later that semester, whenever. You can go back to those things and say, “Oh, I love this musician too. Have you heard this album? Have you heard this song?” Just get that conversation started, and even two months later, you can be like, “Oh, hey. Remember at the beginning of the semester when you left me a recommendation?”

“I finally watched that show. I love it.” It may be a little too late at that point, but again, it’s a good opener. It’s a good way for you to connect with kids. It’s a good way for you to share something with them and make them part of that class. Again, you want to make those connections.

We talk about that all the time, why it’s so important, and so just simple things like that at the beginning of the semester can be really, really helpful and kind of set the tone for this semester. Then, one last thing I would say, when you’re starting the semester, spend some time the first couple of days or that first week establishing routines. Just spend a little bit of time reflecting on how you run your classroom, and maybe just ask yourself, “What are the routines that are most important to me?” Maybe it’s cleaning, maybe it’s the way you start the class, maybe it’s how materials get passed out, maybe it’s how work gets passed back to kids. Whatever it is, make sure that that is a routine that you establish.

For me, it was always making sure that kids are coming in ready to go, and so we begin to establish that routine right away. “When you come in, grab your sketchbook, be in your seat, ready to go.” We just kind of hit that day after day and make sure that the kids are getting into that habit and getting into that routine. The other one for me at the end of class is always making sure paintbrushes are washed. Maybe that’s not something, maybe you’re not starting with painting, but whatever your routine is, just make sure that you’re establishing it, talking about it, showing, practicing, repeating so that kids can get into that habit and be conscious of what you’re asking them to do every day, what you need them to do every day.

Yeah, I think, like I said, if you can establish those routines, make those connections and just kind of create a good first impression. Let kids know about you. Let them get to know you and you try and get to know them. That’s the biggest thing you can do, and then, yeah, just figure out what’s going to be happening in the class, how you can best reach them, and how you can best set up everything that you need to do for your classroom, and that should set you up for success in the second semester. All right.

Next question is from Rich Brown in Michigan. “Tim, I hear you talk all the time about art history and how much you love it. How can I get my kids to love it? How do you get your kids to care?” That’s a really good question. I think, if we can actually swing it back to that last answer, with making connections with your kids.

If you establish a good relationship, if you connect with your kids, then it’s much easier for them to get excited about the things that you yourself are excited about, and so I think that when you’ve made connections with kids, and then you can stand up in front of them and say, “Oh, I want to show you this artist. That means so much to me,” or, “I want to show you this artist whose work I just love,” then that is a great anticipatory set, and it doesn’t even need to be more than that, or just say, “Oh, this artist does such incredible things. I think you’re going to love them.” If you have that connection with them, then they’re all ears. They’re going to want to know exactly what’s so exciting about that artist, what you love about them.

Then, also going back to that last answer, art history can be a routine. Just going back to what we said with starting the semester right, you need routines. Kids appreciate that structure. They appreciate knowing what’s going to happen on a day-to-day basis, and that’s not always the easiest thing for me because that’s not how my personality works. I’m kind of all over the place, and so for me, I’ll just tell you kind of what I did with art history.

I am tying this back to the question, don’t worry. I don’t think I could do that every single day, but I would like to do art history just once a week. Not just tie it in at the beginning of the project and not only tie it in to things that we’re doing in the classroom, sometimes it’s cool to just talk about art history for art history’s sake. Like for example, Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Like we’re not going to wrap any buildings with fabric, we’re not going to create these monumental sculptures, but it’s really fun to talk to kids about that, to show your students the kinds of incredible things that are going on, especially with contemporary art and all the excitement that’s happening with that.

What I like to do every Friday is Art History Friday, and my kids are in the routine of getting their sketchbooks out, and I’ll just have them take some notes on whichever artists I would like to show. What they’ll do, they’ll come in with their sketchbooks out, and I will have a presentation ready to go that I had put together. The first slide is always just a picture of the artist, whether that is a photograph for a contemporary artist, or a self portrait they’ve done for older artists, just to give them an idea of who they are looking at, just to kind of put a face to the name. If I can’t find one, just put one of their works. That’s fine.

Then, I just have three really quick informational things about the artist, and again, consistent, we have this routine every day, we do art history, have them write down the name of the artist, and then the three things are when they lived, just born this day, died this day or born this day, still alive. Second thing is going to be where they’re from, and then I’ll put their art medium there. We would say Spanish painter, or British sculpture, or South African collage artists, whatever the case may be. Then finally, we will talk about what they’re famous for. Let’s say Frida Kahlo, for example.

We would put date of birth, date of death, Mexican painter, famous for self-portraits and surreal imagery, whatever, dealing with questions of identity, whatever you want to write down, whatever you think you would like kids to remember about that artist. Then, I would go through and show just a handful of artworks, maybe five of them, and just talk a little bit about them. If there are stories from the artist’s life that are worth sharing, which Frida Kahlo has a bunch of them if we’re still using that example, then we’ll kind of weave those into the narrative, or Banksy, you can talk about some of his antics that he does, and kids love that kind of stuff where you’re not just looking at the artwork. We’re talking about the stories behind it, the stories about the artists, and just kind of sharing some things with that. Then, I will just finish after we …

Well, sorry. Let’s step back. Before we finish, I will have kids just make a quick sketch of the artworks that I’m showing them. Maybe they’ll have three or four or five sketches, and I will just give them 30 seconds to a minute to sketch it out, and I tell them, “It doesn’t need to be spectacular. It doesn’t even need to look good really, but the goal is, okay, the goal of these sketches is to be able to look at the sketch and remember the artwork,” and so it may be a really simple sketch, it may be stick figures. I don’t care, however they want to sketch it is fine, but if they can look at that and remember the artwork I’ve showed them, then we’ve accomplished our goal, and so again, we just move through it kind of quickly, but they make those sketches and like I said, as long as they can remember the artwork from their sketch, then we’re good to go.

Then, I will finish the presentation with just asking kids questions, generally focusing on some higher-order thinking skills, and so just say, “Hey, rank the five paintings that you see, that you saw today. What’s your favorite? What’s your least favorite? Give me a couple of reasons why, or compare this artist to the artist we saw last week. What are the similarities? What are the differences?”

“Who do you like better?”, or just an opinion. Say, “What do you like about this artist and why?” Ask them to write a short paragraph about it. That wraps everything up. We can usually do that in five to 10 minutes once a week, and it’s a great chance for you to bring in a lot more art history to your classroom. I don’t know if that really gets kids to care a lot, but if you’re showing dynamic artists and you’re telling good stories and showing interesting works, then kids really get into it, and again, they kind of appreciate that routine.

They know that Friday starts with some art history stuff before they get to work on other things, and it’s kind of a fun way to do it, so I think that works well. All right. I was hoping to get to a couple more questions, but we are at our time limit already. I think that’ll be it for us today. Thank you so much for listening, and let me just say like that thank you goes not just for today, but always.

As I said at the open, this is the 200th episode of Art Ed Radio, which is a pretty cool milestone. I’m really proud of that. I guess even more than being proud, I am really appreciative that there is such an audience out there for being willing to put up with me every week, I guess, but more importantly, I appreciate that everyone is willing to engage in this, where I get emails and messages on Twitter, and all these great questions, and all of these awesome comments that come through. I can’t respond to everyone, but I really try to do my best to keep up with the correspondence, so please continue to write. Continue to share your thoughts with me.

Continue to ask questions, and tell me what’s happening in your classroom. I love to hear that. If you’ve thought about just shoot me an email or a message and you haven’t done that, do that. I love to hear what’s happening in your classroom. I love to appreciate all of the incredible art teaching that’s going on. I guess, I love that there are so many people out there doing great things. There is an audience for the show that is receptive to hearing new voices, hearing new ideas, and wanting to just consistently get better at what they do in their classroom and bring all of those new things to their students. When you think about the thousands and thousands of people who listen to this show every week and all of those people that take some ideas from the people I interview or the things that I share, and those ideas make it back to their kids and their classrooms, that is a huge number of students and a lot of people being affected.

It’s a lot of teachers getting better, and it’s a great feeling to know that all of us are working together to get better, and all of us are working together to make a difference, and that’s a powerful thought. Art Ed Radio was produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Happy 2020. I hope your new year’s off to a good start, and as I said earlier, I hope to see you at the Art Ed Now Conference in just about a month. It is going to be spectacular, and I really hope you can join us.

Check it out at, and get yourself registered. Thank you, 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.