When You Want to Try Arts Integration (Ep. 161)

On today’s episode, after 6 months away, Andrea Slusarski makes her triumphant return! She and Tim talk all things arts integration, which has been Andrea’s focus throughout this school year. Listen as they discuss what subjects are easiest to combine with art, strategies to get your staff on board, and why there is still room for art for art’s sake.  Full episode transcript below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for our teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Today, we are welcoming a long lost guest, Ms. Andrea Slusarski. Now, you all know Slu. She has been on this podcast so many times to talk about sketchbooks, and color theory, and classroom management, and working as an artist, and so many more different ideas.

In this episode, though, we are going to talk about arts integration. It’s something that Slu is passionate about, something she’s been working on, extensively, especially this year, and something that she wants to discuss, but I know this is kind of a hot topic with a lot of people, like why arts integration? Because there’s just this unending battle of, why do we have to justify what we do in the art room? Why do we have to fit into other subjects? And when we’re fitting in, why do we have to try and validate ourselves? Can’t art just stand on its own without accessorizing the core subjects? I think all of those things are worthwhile, and I absolutely understand them, but today’s conversation is gonna go in a little bit different direction.

Rather than thinking about arts integration and how it fits into the other subjects that are there, and how we can help out other subjects, and why we might have to do it, we’re going to look at it from the perspective of doing it because you want to, not because you have to. We’re gonna talk about, what happens when you want to do arts integration, when you’re interested in science or math, or maybe you’re just interested in collaboration and about, how do you get started on that? What are you trying to do? What do you need to think about as you’re trying to implement these ideas, if it is something that you want to chase after, if it’s something that you want to get going in your classroom or in your school? That’s what we’re gonna discuss today.

But, before we get to the interview, I do want to tell you about my favorite course from The Art of Education University, called Managing the Art Room. If you want to learn even more about having better classroom management, you might want to consider Managing the Art Room. It is a three credit course that runs over eight weeks, and it helps you to create, just, a unique blend of strategies and techniques to hold students accountable, manage materials and resources, design procedures for yourself and your art room to keep it running efficiently, and just how to establish an enjoyable, creative environment. You walk away from the course with an understanding of several comprehensive management strategies, and the best part about the whole course is that you’re working with other art teachers, so you’re gonna receive support from fellow art educators as you talk about struggles and learn how to kind of turn things around.

I think this is the perfect time of year to take a course because you can implement some ideas, see what works and what fits with what you do in the last couple months of school, and then whatever is working, you transfer that and you make it part of your classroom management repertoire for next year. If you’re interested in learning more, please check out

Okay, after all that, Andrea is ready, so let’s go ahead and get the conversation started.

All right, and Andrea Slusarski is joining me now. Slu, how are you tonight?

Andrea: Hi, Tim. I’m doing so great. It’s nice to hear from you. I haven’t talked to you in a long time.

Tim: I know. It has been months since you’ve been on the podcast, and I’m really excited that you’re back.

Andrea: And it’s been, like, months-

Tim: Thanks for coming up.

Andrea: Well, thanks, and it’s been, like, months since we’ve emailed, which is very atypical of us.

Tim: Right, right. So, we can remedy all of that tonight by …

Andrea: Thank goodness.

Tim: Talking about arts integration, which …

Andrea: Yes.

Tim: I am semi-excited about, and you are like, get up out of your chair and scream excited about. I know you love it.

Andrea: Yeah.

Tim: Let me just give you the floor to start. Can you talk about where your passion comes from, when it comes to arts integration, and just why you love it so much?

Andrea: Yeah. Tim, I just freakin’ love art. When you say I want to jump out of my chair, that’s cool. I love learning equally as much. Most of all, I love what creativity does to the process in the enjoyment of learning, and that’s kind of how I got here. I’ve just been passionately following arts integration in my own professional development, as an artist and an art teacher. My graduate studies, and basically any conference, lecture, reading, and conversation I’ve been able to get my brain on the past few years now. Yeah. That’s kind of the intro.

Tim: That’s really cool.

Andrea: That’s where I’m hopping out of my chair.

Tim: Okay, and so what are you doing at your school now, though? How are you bringing this into what you’re teaching?

Andrea: Yeah. The school I currently teach at is not officially an arts integration school, but we’ve been working really hard to build our identity and culture as a school thriving in the visual and performing arts. We’ve done this in a few ways from developing and hosting our own performing and visual arts week, which is coming up soon, so I’m busy, and my co-workers making conscious efforts of incorporating more creating and creative thinking in their curriculums to planning various professional development opportunities for our colleagues. So, I’ve been busy.

Tim: For sure.

Andrea: I’ve been busy. That’s why I haven’t talked to you in a few months.

Tim: Nice. Well, and I want to ask you a little bit about what you do with your colleagues later, but just as far as people who are interested in arts integration, where is the easiest place to begin? What are the most logical connections that you can do between art and other subjects?

Andrea: Well, I guess in a broad sense, I really would want to say that I don’t want to reach beyond this notion that we need to fully commit to creating a PBL or arts integration school, or integrative school, because we just don’t have the time to sit around. We can start with small changes in our own control, and that will begin to reach more students within the arts, and also bring arts integration to the norm of how we learn and approach teaching. That’s where I want to be. Easiest place to begin, and I know I sound like a broken record in some of our chats, but seriously do you. I want all art teachers to realize that. If you’re not authentic to yourself and teaching things that make you excited, you’re just not having fun, or you’re not having as much fun as you can be, and we’re art teachers. That’s fun. You know?

Tim: For sure, for sure.

Andrea: If you’re looking to begin about, or learning about, or experimenting with arts integration, think of what interests you. For me, I’m a huge science nerd. I start chatting with my co-workers. I share ideas, like, “Hey, we’re learning about color theory and painting. When are you teaching light waves?” Perhaps you have a work wife, or husband, or BFF, whatever you like to call them. Collaborate with them. If you’re going to be challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone by doing arts integration or adding different levels of complexity to your lessons or your school, make it fun and exciting to start.

Tim: Yeah, that sounds really cool. Now, let me ask you, once we have things starting and people are dipping their toes in the water and starting to do this, what can they expect to see? What are some of the biggest benefits? Is it about engagement, or what is it about for you?

Andrea: Engagement definitely plays a big role in it. It’s, personally, because I find these as great shakeups in my school year. It keeps me excited with projects. It challenges me, and maybe find an interest of a student that I haven’t turned on to art quite yet, and plus, I like to think of it this way, as well. You’re also really elevating your students’ learning and confidence in that other subject you integrated with. Arts is an entry point. You didn’t just do a painting. You also learned geometry when you crafted that original folk art. Imagine the power that has on a student who might not feel that great about math class. That’s what I eat up about being an art teacher.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. Like you said, that’s really powerful, too, and so I think that’s something that we definitely can all shoot for, but changing subjects just a little bit.

Andrea: Yeah, yeah.

Tim: I know you mentioned earlier, getting colleagues on-board and what you can do with them. Can you just talk about the how with that? How do you get other staff on-board? How do you get them seeing what you’re seeing and doing what you’re doing?

Andrea: Yeah. It’s been kind of a what I can get away with type of experiment, just challenging myself where art can grow, how can we impact more students, and just daydreaming a little bit. Two years ago, I actually transformed my classroom to include space for other teachers to bring in their students to encourage creativity in their curriculums, and a few classes took me up on it. It was such a joy having an even larger community of students out in this art lab, creating together. It’s this really cool, just like, art space that we’ve created at our school.

But this school year, I’ve transitioned into a teacher partner position where I’m more available to help my colleagues reflect and grow their own practices as educators. This has allowed me to continue taking a brain partner role with many of my other departments in my school to support them in any ideas or questions they have with art, or sometimes just bringing a little art teacher creative thinking to the table. Yeah, but my incredible co-worker, Ms. Adams, runs the art lab, and she’s been doing so great, herself, out in that space. I’m still working with my student teacher from last year as he took over my course when I took the teacher partner position, so I’m really valuing, mentoring, and growing the people around me this year, which is a key ingredient in building a school culture that values and learns with the arts. I’m really liking my position this year and the conversations I get to have.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. I really love that idea. Unfortunately, not everybody gets to be in an awesome job like that, but …

Andrea: No, no, no, no, no.

Tim: I do want to ask you, though, just talking about this new position and your school working to create an identity, I guess, as the visual and performing arts school, like you said, and just talking about building a school community around the arts. What does that look like? And how can teachers in other places start to build something like that?

Andrea: Yeah, sharing. Showcase the learning happening in your classroom and your art students. Art improves our quality of life. Use that to improve the quality of your school. Like you said, I’m very thankful. I have amazing co-workers who are amazing supporters of the arts. They buy student artworks. They admire and build my students’ art to stick confidence in their own way. Invite your community to be a part of the visual culture you and your students are building, and they’ll rise up. It’s exciting.

Then I guess if you’re ready to up-level, if you don’t think that sharing is enough or maybe you have some colleagues that are a little resistant, art teachers rock. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but art teachers have a ton to offer to not only our schools, but also just education. If there is an opportunity to host a workshop or give a professional development presentation, I say go for it because we’re never gonna see authentic arts integration if there’s a building of adults saying we can’t draw, like, oh, I can’t even draw a stick figure. You can help them see that they’re artists, as well, and that’s how you build just the mindset that you can even have arts integration.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. I just want to throw in a couple ideas here, as you were talking, that reminded me. You were talking about people buying student artworks at the art show and whatever. I don’t even know that staff members have to buy things, but just ask them if they’re willing to hang up kids’ work. So many times, kids are looking for some place to show off their work. If another one of their teachers just says, “Oh, hey, I’d love to have that hanging in my classroom,” that goes so far in building student confidence and just building them up, supporting the whole arts community, and I think that can be huge. So, even just talking to a few staff members who are interested in the arts or sending out an email and just asking, “Hey, if you guys are interested, if you’d be willing, then that goes a long way to supporting your kids.” Then as far as-

Andrea: Yeah, that’s brilliant, yeah. No, I’m writing down, what am I doing tomorrow, but you’re right. Imagine what that transforms your school into if it’s all these rooms with art in them.

Tim: Yeah. If you have original works hanging up in every other classroom, every third classroom, even, that’s huge. That’s huge.

Andrea: You’re sitting in your classes and seeing that, that’s huge.

Tim: Yeah, that’s so cool.

Andrea: Yeah. Sorry to cut you off, but thank you for the tip.

Tim: No, that’s okay. The other thing that I love to do is offering PD with non-art teachers just at your school, or even after school things where I’ve taught teachers to throw on the wheel. We’ve done, like, glass fusion before. I got all the guy teachers in my school around Valentine’s Day to make some jewelry for their significant others. That’s super fun to do, just little things like that, which take a little bit of your time, maybe a little bit of your budget, but it’s so worth it to get other people on-board with what’s happening in your room.

Andrea: Yeah.

Tim: All right, but I do want to ask you, too. I know there’s some criticism of arts integration, saying that it takes away from art for art’s sake. I just want to get your opinion on that. If you’re doing arts integration and it’s really developed at your school, is there still room for teaching art for art’s sake?

Andrea: I would say, oh, heck yeah. Fly that freak flag. We don’t make artists without the heart, and that is where art is magic. So, be an art teacher. Make your best judgment.

Tim: Yeah, yeah, I like that. Well, and I think, too, not every lesson has to be tied into English, or to science, or to geometry.

Andrea: No, no, no, no.

Tim: It can be pieces here and there.

Andrea: You’re still coming to art class to have fun at art.

Tim: Right, right.

Andrea: Let’s be real. That’s okay because they’re children, so let’s have some fun with art, too.

Tim: Exactly. Kind of in that same vein, we know that not every lesson has to integrate something else, so we can just start small with a few lessons here and there. I guess in that same vein, do you have tips for people as far as where they can start, what they can do to really get invested with the arts integration or first steps they can take if they’re just interested in exploring it?

Andrea: Yeah. Tim, I think you already said it. Let’s start small. Is there a lesson that you could reflect on and improve by adding an element, yourself, of integration? When I teach brain science and color theory, be the model by reaching out to your other departments with a, “Hey, can you help me with this,” like a science teacher, to your science friends, “How can I improve my color theory lesson with science?” You’re opening that door and creating some curiosity of what’s going on in your room, and then maybe that works out and you’re like, “I’m gonna do one arts integrative unit, or project, or whatever the school year with a colleague and see how I like that.” Being able to balance your curriculum for your own students and school is important, and you might not be able to go full arts integration ever, and that’s okay, too.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really good advice. Starting small, I love the idea of just try one. We have a couple months left in the school year. Try something before you step out for the year and just kind of see how it goes. That’s an awesome place to start, but …

Andrea: Yeah.

Tim: All right. So, Slu, let’s go ahead and leave it there.

Andrea: Oh my goodness.

Tim: Thank you so much for coming on. I appreciate it.

Andrea: You are so welcome.

Tim: Let’s maybe try and go less than six months or whatever it’s been before you come on again.

Andrea: Yeah, that sounds like a good plan.

Tim: All right, cool. Thank you. We’ll talk to you later.

Andrea: Thanks, Tim.

Tim: I think what Andrea was saying towards the end there, right before her ever constant mantra of, “You do you.” She was talking about how we need to share what we’re doing, show off what we’re doing, and get other teachers on board with what is happening in the art room because what we teach, we teach art, we teach design, and these are deep, intellectual, robust fields of study, and we need to talk about that. The perceptions out there are flippant about the art room, and there’s so much that we can show off and so much that we can share about what we do, the critical thinking, the problem-solving, the social and emotional learning, the higher order thinking skills. That’s what every other subject is looking for, and it’s what we do naturally. We can help our colleagues understand how much dept our subject has, and like I said, how rich our field of study is. If those things are of interest to you, it might be time to do a little bit more with arts integration.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening as always.

Before we go, I want to give a shout out to Nasco, as well. As you may have seen, there has been just a terrible amount of flooding where I live, in Omaha, and all of the surrounding areas. One of my old schools, in particular, is really hurting. About a third of the kids there have lost their homes, just lost everything in the flood, but Nasco is donating some art supplies and sending them their way. It may not seem like a lot, but sometimes, those small things mean so much. So, thank you to Kris Bakke. Thank you to Nasco. It is very much appreciated what you’re doing.

Thank you all, 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.