You Got This (Ep. 330)

Starting back to school this year has been a roller coaster of emotions. Excitement and anxiety, determination and burnout, courage and fear. Shannon Lauffer joins Tim today to talk about why all of these emotions are valid, how we can best handle them, and how we can prepare for the coming school year. Whether you are teaching already, starting this week, or doing so soon, this episode is worth a listen—it can be your reminder that you got this. 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.

We are right in the middle of a fairly difficult year when it comes to going back to school. I think a lot of people are maybe not as excited as they usually are to get back into the classroom, to get back to working with students, and that is completely understandable. We’ve had a very difficult past few years and it always seems like the years are too long and these summers are too short, and it makes it difficult to go back. And I think there’s just this feeling of apprehension that’s out there, feeling of timidity when it comes to getting back in the classroom and then just seems to be pervasive across a lot of art teachers. But I have the hope that I think this school year can be successful. That we, as teachers can make this an incredible year, and it may be difficult to get started and get back into things, but I’m hoping that once we do, we can put together a great year for ourselves and for our students.

And I want to talk about this today with Shannon Lauffer. Shannon is the Dean of Student Support Services here at AOEU, former art teacher. I’ll let her introduce herself. But she put together a great letter for basically all art teachers that are going back this year. This was sent out a couple weeks ago, and I want to read just a couple of short bits from it. Shannon said, “It’s nearly time to head back to school. I want you to know that you can do this. We’ve been thinking a lot about how we can support the art ed community as you all returned to school. Last year was trying. So was the year before that. And the one before that. The past few years brought many challenges and it’s pushed you to reimagine your job. You’ve changed the way you teach and how you assess student learning. It’s tested your boundaries and encouraged you to reset them, and it has likely left you with mixed emotions, as you head back to school. We feel the same mixed emotions you feel. Excitement and anxiety, determination and burnout, courage and fear, but on behalf of the 150-plus art educators and team members at AOEU, I want you to know that we are here with you.”

And I think that’s the important message that we are here for each other. Art teachers can lift each other up, we can support each other, we can help each other get back to school and get through this year. And Shannon put this sentence in there, which I think really sums up a lot of what that message is. “We believe that you are passionate, capable, and strong. We believe in you.” And I know as art teachers, we believe in each other, and so I want to talk today to Shannon about how we can support each other, how we can show that belief in each other. How we can help each other as we get through this school year. What our mindset needs to be. What we can do to prepare ourselves for this school year. What we can do to think about our emotions, our feelings, think about what we need as far as support this year. Because we’re feeling a lot of emotions right now, and it can be a lot as you’re trying to go back to school. And so we just want to talk through those things today, and like I said, figure out how we can support each other. So let me bring Shannon on and we will get that conversation started.

Shannon Lauffer is back on the show. Shannon, how are you?

Shannon: Hey, I’m so great. How are you, Tim?

Tim: I am great also. It has been a very long time since you’ve been on the show.

Shannon: It has been a long time.

Tim: For those people who have been listening. I don’t even know how long. 18 months? Two years? I don’t know how long it’s been.

Shannon: Sorry, we’re in a time warp at this point so nobody knows how long anything has been.

Tim: Very true. So I guess for those that don’t know you, can we start off with just an introduction? Can you tell us a little bit about you and what you do at AOEU?

Shannon: I sure can. So I am Shannon Lauffer. I currently serve as the Dean of Retention and Student Support Services. I’m really lucky to work with art teachers who are pursuing their master’s degree at AOEU. I’m a former art teacher. So I taught K-12 art and special-ed for about a decade before coming over to AOEU.

Tim: Yeah, that is awesome. And you have so many good stories from that time and I wish we could just share all of that.

Shannon: I know. Another day.

Tim: That is not why we’re here today. I wanted to bring you on because just going back to school is top of mind for every- Some people are back already, some people are starting this week, some people will be starting in the next week or two. So everybody’s just feeling all of the emotions as we’re dealing with going back to school and you posted that great video on Instagram. I think it’s on the AOEU site also, but just talking about how going back to school this year is just the ultimate roller coaster.

Shannon: It is.

Tim: I guess my question for you is though, thinking about the teachers that you’re talking to, the teachers that you’re around, how are they feeling right now? How should we be feeling as we go back to school here?

Shannon: Yeah. I think that this year is kind of an exacerbated feeling of going back to school and there’s a lot of pressure to be excited. There’s a lot of pressure on teachers, just all the time, but there’s so much pressure on you to be excited as you go back to school. And I think that’s every year, and I think we feel that this year so much more just because of what the past few years have been. And so what I’m really hearing from teachers right now, and what I know people are feeling is so much mixed emotions. We’re excited to go back to school because it’s like starting the new year. It’s the ultimate new year celebration for a teacher to go back to school, right?

But at the same time, we’re nervous, we’re anxious, we’re scared. It’s tough to go back to school any year, because you got to get the new routine, you got to get the classroom set up, you’re meeting new students. But this year more than ever, because of COVID, because of the school shooting right at the end of June in Texas, and because of everything that teachers are up against; what to teach, what not to teach, how to say it, how not to say it. There’s so much on the plate. So that’s what I think people are feeling right now. It’s that pressure, it’s feeling on high alert, but also excited for a fresh start. And what teachers want to know, I think is that they’re not the only ones feeling that way. I can’t speak for everybody, I won’t speak in a blanket statement, but I think that more teachers than not are feeling mixed emotions to head back to school. So if that’s you, you’re not alone.

Tim: No. Very true. Very true. I’m hearing the same thing, I’m seeing the same thing, I’m feeling the same thing. It’s difficult for everybody because like you said, there is that pressure to feel like, “Hey, we’re ready to go. This is going to be great.” But your inner monologue is telling you like, “Hey, maybe it’s not great. Maybe it’s not super exciting to go back this year.” But it’s my hope that once we get back working with students that maybe we can make this a good year and that opportunity is out there for us. So I also want to just think about the first few weeks of school. Even if you do have those mixed emotions, you still have to go in and do your job.

And so I wanted to chat about advice for people. Going into the school year, the first few days, first few weeks with the kiddos there. What is your advice as far as the types of things that people should have prepared and obviously we’re not going to be able to account for everything. Things go wrong or we’re not feeling it, or maybe we just don’t have any plans whatsoever. What kinds of things should you have ready to fall back on when those good days are not there?

Shannon: Yep, absolutely. So here’s my recipe for success in going back to school. It’s getting my space as close to ready as possible, and I think that looks differently for everybody, and it probably looks different from year to year. Some years you’ll go back and your art room will be pristine and exactly the way you want it to be. In other years you’re going to go in and wing it, and it’ll come together eventually or it’ll just be a little disheveled, and either one is okay. So get your space ready. I think going along with that, it’s determining your organization strategy. Especially challenging if you’re a teacher who has switched positions this year, switched art rooms, if you’ve switched schools, if you took a new job in a new district. Organization strategy of how you’re going to collect and store artwork, where students are going to put it, where students are going to get materials and put materials back. Get that in line. That’s kind of a must.

After that, obviously you need to get your first couple weeks of lessons ready. If you have a full curriculum to be working from, great. But prep your sub plans, and while you do that, don’t give away all your secrets. Don’t give away all your great one day lessons for your sub plans. If you’re a person who does different sub plans, if there’s a sub, right? So stash some of those great one day lessons for when you need to fill the gaps, because something always comes up, right? It’s like we have to be prepared. We learned we need to be prepared and [inaudible 00:11:13] shift. So if you’re looking for some sub plan, some one day lessons, some really fun, engaging ways to keep your students going through the year, check out that jumpstart learning page. There’s a ton of content that we’ve curated for you so that you can have a successful school year.

And then the other thing that I think is really critical to do, and this kind of goes back to the idea of back to school is teachers’ new year. Set one goal for yourself. What’s your goal going to be? What’s your focus going to be for this year? And it doesn’t have to be like, “Oh, I’m going to get better at something.” This doesn’t have to be like your new year’s resolution, but set a goal. And that could be like, “I’m going to focus on one standard that I always forget.” Or like “I’m going to learn all my students names by end of first marking period,.” Whatever it is, just so that you have something that you’re working towards that kind of keeps me engaged and excited about what I have going on for the school year.

Tim: Yeah, for sure. Okay. I wrote a lot of things down while you were talking.

Shannon: Right. Take notes.

Tim: I’ll try to make this brief here. I wanted to comment on a couple things. Just as far as the classroom set up. Like you said, you have to do what works for you. My wife is a history teacher and her room has to be perfect before the year sets up. Seating charts are done, posters are up, books are organized. It is pristine and she cannot relax until her room is set up, and that’s what works for her. And I am the opposite. Having to put together a room like that would really stress me out.

I like to just sit back and realize like, “Hey, there’s an opportunity for kids to make this their space and hang up their work, and that’s less for me to do.”

And the thing is that both of those points of view, both of those ways of doing things are absolutely valid. You need to figure out what works for you. With the sub plans, that back to school hub I think we’re calling, it is a fantastic resource. We’ll make sure we link to that. I’ll talk a little bit more about everything that’s in there, but some great, great ideas there. And then as far as the goal setting, like you said, it doesn’t have to be some huge overarching thing. It doesn’t have to be super ambitious. I’m a person who at the beginning of each week just sets a goal. I’m going to get that work pass back before Friday, or I’m going to get graded. And if that works for you to just set some little goals, then do that. Once you accomplish that, you’re going to feel better and you’re going to work a lot better as you see yourself making progress.

So just all of that to say. There’s a lot out there and you just have to find and do what works for you. The next thing I wanted to ask you about, one thing that I talked about a lot at the NOW Conference, one thing I love there is just the art teacher community, the sense of everybody getting together, supporting each other. I think that’s something that we can all focus on and try to do. Maybe that’s our goal for this year is to participate in the art teacher community a little bit more. So my question would be as we’re thinking about community, what do we need to hear from each other? What do we need to do to support each other as teachers?

Shannon: Yeah, gosh. I think for anybody community is so important, but for art teachers especially, thinking about how some people feel like they don’t necessarily have that art education community right at their fingertips in their school. So I think there’s two different things that I want to address, and the first one is the more tactical, right? So what we need from our community, we need shared ideas, we need shared resources, we need to piggyback off of each other. Because I can’t possibly be the first art teacher who’s tried to understand how I can reclaim clay in my art room that doesn’t have a sink. Do you know what I mean?

Somebody else has dealt with this. I need my community that I can tap in. And then I think the other one, aside from that really tactical day to day, is we need the emotional support. We need somebody to look at us and say “You can do this. It’s okay if you’re nervous. It’s okay if you’re not okay. You can absolutely do this. You’re going to have a great school year. We’re going to have the best school year that we can, with everything going on.” And I think knowing that there are other art teachers, like all of us at AOEU and so many other art teachers in this community that do have your back. And I know something that we’re committed to this school year is that we want to make this as smooth of a year as possible for other art teachers, as we create content and release things that are going to make your life easier.

So for any art teacher who doesn’t have an art teacher down the hall, who’s looking for somebody that they can collaborate with, somebody to be their community, we really want to be that for you. So with that, check in on your fellow teachers, check in on your fellow art teachers, connect with each other through social media. Maybe you connect through taking an online course. Maybe you’re going to attend the next NOW Conference. Cheer each other on, check in, because in times that are feeling uncertain, we can get through this all together.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. And I think there’s so much to be said for lifting each other up and supporting each other, whether it is spending more time answering a colleague’s questions or just liking a few more posts on social media. Help out your friends who are posting and give them those endorphins that make you feel better when the little hearts pop up that people are looking at your post. Even little things like that can go a long way. There are the big overarching things that we can do to connect and to help each other, but there are little things too that don’t take a ton of time, but I think can be incredibly helpful.

Now, one thing that always made my year go better is to stand up for myself. Speak up for what I need in the art room, what I need as a teacher. But it took me a good decade to learn how to do that, and I would love to get your perspective on that too, as far as why teachers need to ask for support, ask for the help they need, and what specifically we need to ask for? Whether that is from parents, from our administrators, from our colleagues. How do we ask for help and what do we ask for when we are going for help?

Shannon: Yeah. So I think it’s, like you said, it’s first reminding yourself that it’s okay to ask for help. Right? And this is something that we as teachers, a lot of us are very prideful, but again, I think it comes with that pressure. That as the teacher of the classroom, you should be able to handle it. So it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to ask for resources, whether that is professional development, whether that’s materials and media. It’s okay to ask for a second pair of hands, it’s okay to ask for a bathroom break, it’s okay to take the personal day when you need it. We need to give ourselves that grace and give ourselves permission to ask for help and tap out when we have to. And I will say that at AOEU we also work with a lot of administrators and there’s one thing that we’re hearing a lot from them and that’s this. I want to help my teachers. They are burnt out. I need them to know I’m here for them. How do I do that?

Tim: Yes, and that’s the key. How do we do that? Because so many administrators don’t know what you need, until you ask for it. They want to help you, they have the resources to help you, but they may not know how. If we just think about your typical administrator, they don’t know a ton about the arts, and so when you are speaking up for yourself, let them know what you need. And more often than not, they’re going to feel a sense of relief. Like, “Oh, I can help them. This is how I can do that.” You just have to, like I said, speak up for yourself and show them what you need. So sorry to interrupt you there.

Shannon: No.

Tim: I’m very excited about that because it’s something teachers need to hear.

Shannon: Yes, absolutely. You know what I, again, I don’t think we can speak broadly for every art teacher. Some people might be thinking, “Oh, maybe not my admin.” But I think it’s more often than not. We also have to think of this from the viewpoint of an administrator. They’re supporting all the teachers in the building, all the teachers in the district, and the squeaky wheel will get the oil. So you don’t have to be the squeaky wheel, but do speak up for yourself, do ask for what you need and advocate for what you deserve and what your program deserves. Great ways to do that is open up your art room to your administrator, invite them in and unless it’s a formal observation, feel free to engage them with your teaching. They can be a second pair of hands.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely.

Shannon: I think that’s a really great way to get them more involved with your program and more involved with what you’re doing. Then at the same time, like give yourself permission to be a six out of 10 some days, right? Seven out of 10, and eight out of 10. There’s a lot of pressure for us to be on, five days a week. And not just five days a week, but eight hours a day, and then I go home and I’m still on. We got a long year ahead of us, right? So pace yourself, ask for help when you need it, and know that you don’t have to take it all on yourself. There’s tons of people, your administrators, your colleagues, parents who do want to help you. They just don’t know how.

Tim: Exactly, and one thing that I’ll add to that is if you teach high school kids, they understand feeling like a six out of 10, some days.

Shannon: Totally.

Tim: And you can stand in front of your class and it’s okay to say, “Hey, I’m not feeling it today. We’re still going to continue working. We’re still going to do what we need to do, but you’re not going to get all of my energy today.” And they understand that, they feel that, they most of the time respect that. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing that. And like you said, you don’t have to be on all the time. I think that’s a very important message. Okay. We need to wrap up, I suppose. Let’s just leave people with maybe some final words, some advice for teachers, maybe about the mindset that we can have, what kinds of things we can be thinking about, what we should be telling ourselves as we go into this school year.

Shannon: Yeah. I’m a big believer in finding your one phrase that works for you. And I kind of think this goes back to your one goal for the year. Sometimes with a new year, I’ll do my word for the year. But find a phrase that’s going to resonate with you, that’s going to help you think back to “Okay, yes, I can do this.” And for me it’s, “I am capable.” So it’s just my reminder to myself that I can do this even when I’m doubting myself, even when it feels like I can’t, even when the mountain feels too big. I am capable. I’m going to figure this out. What’s something that would come to your mind, Tim? I’m going to put you on the spot.

Tim: Oh, I always just tell myself “You got this.” I know that I can fall back on my training, I can fall back on my experience as a teacher, and if nothing else, I can fall back on my charming personality to get through-

Shannon: [laughter] You have to have that.

Tim: I always just tell myself, “You got this. You can do this, you’ve got this.” And that’s my mantra for lack of a better word, but that is the phrase that I always use.

Shannon: There’s so many and so yours might be like, “I’m brave. I am enough.” Have you seen those videos of young kids doing their affirmations?

Tim: Pumping themselves up.

Shannon: We all watch that, and we think “Oh my gosh, isn’t that so precious, that here’s this young kid giving themselves affirmations.” You actually need that too. “I’m enough. I’m doing my best. My best is good enough.” If you find that thing and it might sound so hokey, but that will help you keep going. It will train your brain to understand that you can do it, you can get through this, and I think that’s what we need to enter this new school year with.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. Very well said. I would encourage everybody to think about what their phrase can be and think about how that might be able to help you this year. So Shannon, thank you for the conversation. Thank you for all of this advice. I think it’s a message that all of us need to hear right now. So I appreciate you coming on and talking to us about it.

Shannon: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me, Tim. Always great to talk to you and get in touch with other art teachers too.

Tim: All right. Thank you to Shannon for all of that advice, for talking through all of the emotions, all of the feelings that we are dealing with right now. And like you said, it’s okay if you have mixed feelings, it’s okay if you are nervous, but you can do this. And we are going to offer as much support as we can from AOEU. We’ll link to that back to school hub that we mentioned, it’s got a bunch of cool lessons, a bunch of things that can help support you. I’m hoping that we can be a small part of the community that is helping each other, and I also hope that on an individual level that we can help each other. Whether it is through answering questions or having conversations, or even just connecting on social media to help, to support and to ask for help and to ask for support.

Because like we said, not everybody has somebody close to them that can help them with what they need. And so if we can find ways to connect, if we can find ways to build community, then so much the better. Like I said, at the beginning, I’m hoping that we as art teachers can make this a great year for ourselves and make this a great year for our students. So whether you’re back at school already, starting this week, starting in the coming weeks, just remember you got this.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you as always for listening and best of luck to you as you start your school year.

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.