Remote. Control. Art. A collection of experiences during this time.
“This is an unprecedented time in education that we are experiencing. Do you know who my heart goes out to?” I hear my words echo as we close in to week three of quarantine. I am video conferencing with a group of art teachers from various school districts within my region that is composed of three counties in New York State.
“My heart bleeds for the districts. For the administration. For the staff. For the teachers. For the students. For the parents. No matter how many times we speak of the impact that technology has on our daily lives, and on our educational system, nothing has prepared any of us for this. Distance (remote, or whichever term you prefer) learning is a different discipline in and of itself. No matter how many times we use tech tools in our classrooms, flip learning, or have hybrid environments, we were not prepared to teach or learn like this. Not only are we more aware of the digital divide as it was slapped across our face as a state, as a nation- we were also ill-prepared to teach our students and our students to learn remotely.
I forgot to ask-How are you all doing?”
I listened as the group of art teachers, of whom I am particularly fond of and admire, speak of their struggles teaching art from a distance and their successes. This was the first time that we met since the spread of COVID-19 closed our school doors and social distancing became the new social norm.
Being an extrovert, and one who is a control freak, I shared with the group my struggles. How I attempt to keep a “normal schedule” and still wake up early before “I head out to work” and walk my dogs. And how crying on those walks has now become a part of my routine because I feel as though I am suffocating although I am, and my family are, in good health. I love the fact that I am able to work from home, but I yearn to be in the presence of people other than my husband and children. I could have interjected with my political views and frustrations, however politics, religion, and the fate of cursive handwriting are opinions I often keep to myself. I wanted to share my personal darkness, in part so they knew that they were not alone, in part I was silently begging for light.
Finding You.“What we need to do now is celebrate our successes and focus on the things we can control.” I began to explain after I momentarily took them down a dark trail. “Within this dark place, take this time to find the light. Take this time to find you."
If I am going to be straight, there are two things about my personality that you need to know: 1. I am a complainer. Or as I like to put it “I express how I feel about everything in an explaining manner that first sounds negative.” 2. I have trained my brain to actively search for a positive in everything. But I must complain first and get it out for the latter to surface. Long story short- Please. Take this time to find you.
How do you “find” you? Call out your own name? Meditate? Make something? Break something?
Humans are naturally creative, we are creative in our own way.
We are ALL artists. If for no other reason, make NOW the time to let your creativity flow. It doesn’t matter how, just do SOMETHING. Pick up a new hobby. Paint your bedroom for the sixth time. Scroll Pinterest to find something that you will actually create or THINK about creating. Make a meme about your quarantine experience to share with the world. Build a shelf. Read a book. Write a book. Go for a walk. Backwards. In the rain. Because any minute, hour or day you spend creating and inspiring YOURSELF is a minute, hour or day you are not consciously drowning in an endless stream of stress and uncertainty.
I think people naturally ask others what they are doing during this time--maybe to truly know each other, maybe for ideas! Be open to sharing--the good and the bad. Did you eat a whole row of Oreos last night? SHARE IT. Did you watch Lord of the Rings for the 38th time? SHARE IT.
|How I personally deal with uncertainty.... humor.|
I am often asked--how is a control-freak-extrovert-complainer--handling this? I am doing what I know will bring me some degree of peace. So I am working out at least three times a day. I brought my bike and it’s stationary rider to my make-shift dining room/office so I can pedal and work in an attempt to calm my mind.
I am playing the guitar. I am drawing. I am getting my butt kicked in video games. And I talk to educators about their experiences both from afar and locally. Because I need to talk to people. I need to hear voices other than mine, constantly reminding me of things I may not want to be reminded of. This is what I feel that I can control. Honestly, it is a band-aide on a bullet wound.
However, this is how I am finding me.
Special thank you to Donna, for being my sounding voice during this time.
It is a System of We. Not Me.
I admire educators who think both within and outside the box, who thirst to expand their own knowledge, who still ask why, who are humble, genuine, and kind. I asked two art educator friends of mine, aside from how they are doing.... how are they teaching during this unprecedented time? As you know I am an artist by trade and am NOT currently in the classroom. I live vicariously through the teachers in my life and am always inspired by them. I hope their stories, experiences, and their knowledge assist you as I feel we are all building the plane while it is in the air.
In my classroom, the mantra I say over and over again to my students is this. “The art room is your studio and you are the artist.” Together we work through the creative process while exploring contemporary artists and concepts. Each student has a voice and therefore the learning is experiential and meaningful. The more I thought about our new way of schooling, the more I thought that our mantra and way of learning would not have to go away, rather it would shift to this “The world is your studio, and you are the artist”. We were no longer confined by four walls, and although we can’t occupy the same space every day it didn’t mean that my students would have to miss out on the creative process, we would just have to change our point of view and be very flexible. This is what artists are great at. Creative challenges. New ideas. Trying new ideas and failing. Trying new ideas and succeeding.
We are so lucky to live in an art filled community. Buffalo, NY has the Burchfield Penney Art Center, The Albright Knox Art Gallery, and many smaller galleries. These are resources and spaces I often use in my classroom, and luckily, they have made themselves very accessible during this strange time. Both galleries have offered online content that I offer as Art Resources for my students should they need or want some extra art in their lives. The Burchfield Penney offers Burchfield connects on Instagram @bpartcenter, along with virtual tours and additional art projects. The Albright Knox Art Gallery offers art activities and a tour of public art on their Instagram @albrightknox. These are prestigious galleries offering content for free, and they make great additional art resources for your students-or for those of you who may have your own students to homeschool these days.
One of my favorite lessons I have created to go virtual was the study of the Lascaux Caves vs Public Art for my 6th graders. The art history lover in me got a solid history lesson with the discovery and virtual tours of the Lascaux Caves-something students could do on their own on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hiFqqqjTxQ). After a brief history lesson and some big ideas and questions we then compared and contrasted the images of the Lascaux Caves with a piece titled Magic Buffalo, 2017 by Bunnie Reiss. Students tried to figure this out on their own before I gave them any information about the work. How are they the same? How are they different? Why on earth could Mrs. Achatz be asking us to look at these two pieces. Students shared their ideas via Microsoft Office Portal, and could comment on each other’s work as well. This for me is where the learning truly happens, when students share ideas. We were still doing that, just in a different way.
Alight-back to the lesson. I then showed the students the video of Bunnie Reiss creating Magic Buffalo in 2017. Video on YouTube ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeWrnGguT6I) .Whenever possible I want students to hear from the artist and the Albright Knox has put together and amazing set of 2-3 minute videos focusing on all of the amazing Public Art they have put up in the last few years. Search #AKPUBLICART on YouTube and you’ll find some many amazing videos to connect with historically significant works of art as well as contemporary artists. We looked at work by Shantell Martin, Muhammad Zaman, and a few others. Each artist with a completely different way of creating and mark making. The best part about showing students these videos are twofold. 1. They may have already seen them driving around. 2. They can go out and see them and still practice proper social distancing guidelines. My students realized street artists cerate art on the street so they can spread joy, happiness, positivity or spread a message. I couldn’t think of a better thing that we all needed right now.
I challenged my students to create a mural design leaving symbols for people 20,000 years from now, because, hey aren’t the Lascaux Caves kind of like the original street art?!? Create a mural design using any materials you have at home-markers, paint, crayons, a sharpie! Students were thoughtful and reflected beyond our current situation. They found hope and gratitude in the everyday. Share and discuss. We could have stopped there but my students wanted to put their new mural designs on the streets to spread joy and happiness to those who would walk by throughout the coming week. My heart could not have been any prouder of these kids. My kids. My kids were thinking like artists, sharing messages, reflecting on the past and creating their own joy. It’s all I could have ever asked of them.
I don’t pretend to know that I have all the answers, but I know my students look to me for guidance during this difficult time. Check out your local museums and galleries. Connect kids back to their community and their own voice. In the end all that will matter is the new connections we made and those we were able to maintain. The arts have always recorded who we are and what we are as a human race in any given time period. If you have any questions or would like any additional resources please reach out to email@example.com. We are all in this together.
When our schools shut down and I was faced with this unimaginable task I knew I had to jump in and figure out what I could do to best support my students. I quickly adopted the mantra that I can only do my best! I knew that I needed to keep myself busy and on a schedule. I first created a Monday- Friday task sheet to serve two purposes. The weekly task sheet helps to keep me focused and busy during my working hours, and it allows me keep a record of the work I have done during this transition to remote learning.
The way I have set up remote learning with my elementary art students in grades K-4 at Iroquois Central is that I am designing art challenges. The challenges are adaptable to all of my students for ease of implementation. For each challenge I have created a video that includes art words, artist connections, planning questions and a demonstration for the project. I create a directions and planning sheet sheet on Google docs and attach it to the video description. I have uploaded the videos to my YouTube account: Art With Mr. Naps. After uploading the video I post the video and direction sheet to my art room Facebook page. I set up this page to share student artwork with the parents when I first started at Iroquois, and it has proven to be a great way to connect with my students’ families. I also post the video and directions sheets on my school website. I sent an email out to all the classroom teachers I work with and asked them to share it with their students and families with a link to my school website and a paragraph describing how I will be continuing art instruction.
With these platforms in place, during this time away from school the parents have been sharing what their children create with me via email and on our class Facebook page. As our time away from the classroom continues, I feel so much joy every time I receive an image from one of my students, because I know that my efforts are working.