What I’m Taking Away from NAEA (2015)

I was too busy learning and exploring to blog from New Orleans as I’d promised. (I did post a lot of photos on Instagram that you may have seen…) It was a great couple of days hearing from some of the most innovative art educators teaching today, catching up with old classmates and mentors, and soaking up the sites, sounds, smells, and tastes of a city that just ten years ago people weren’t sure would survive.

Old meets new.

Old meets new in NOLA.

While we didn’t talk about it much, the convention center where we spent most of our time was part of ground zero during Hurricane Katrina – formally a shelter for national guardsmen, informally for 20,000 New Orleanians waiting to be evacuated. I felt like my entire visit took place in the shadow of that event. While the buidling was washed of this history, the city bears many traces and I couldn’t help think of the flood every time I walked over a water line cover. A sidewalk stencil painting of koi had me imagining fish swimming through the city streets… I’m sure others found moments for remembrance and reflection.

When I wasn’t marveling at NOLA’s cultural legacy and contemporary recovery, I was attending sessions. I learned a lot and came home with fresh inspiration. Here are some of my takeaways.

Build more bridges
A number of presentations got me thinking about forming new and stronger bonds across communities and institutions and encouraging my students to do the same.

  • UFARTED alumna Stephanie Wirt (VA) and Stephanie Pickens (GA) led their high schoolers in an exchange of ideas and artwork using social media. Their enthusiasm inspired me to think of new ways we can use collaborative artmaking practices to connect our online students and get them thinking about how to build bridges between their classrooms. I have some ideas for this summer so stayed tuned UFARTED folks!
  • Art21 Educators Juila Mack (NYC) and Jocelyn Salaz (NM) created concurrent community murals with their first graders and shared the results as a way of teaching them to value their own culture and that of others. The collaboration began with an exchange of mini documentary movies about each school and its cultural context. Students, and those of us in the audience, couldn’t help but be engaged by the stark contrasts and sweet similarities of the students observations.
  • I heard at least three references to Padlet, an app I want to explore with students that allows for collaborative brainstorming using images, text, and hyperlinks. Seems promising and it’s free.

Process as Practice
I am inspired to revisit the way we structure class discussions in our courses – trying to move away from relying so heavily on the (verbal) discussion boards to other (non-verbal) ways for students to demonstrate understanding and application of ideas from our course readings. These sessions provided  some ideas.

  • “Process as Practice” was the title of a presentation by Jack Watson (NC) and Todd Elkin (CA), another pair of Art21 Eduators who share ideas and collaborate with their high school students. Their presentation was a great follow-up to the session we had at school last week with Joe Fusaro. They provided amazing stories and examples of working with their students in choice-based, process-driven, and conceptually-rich settings. They shared strategies for brainstorming and concept development that were really thought-provoking.
  • While I have always advoacted process over product in work with young children on this blog, a presentation on collaborating with children inspired me to think more about my interactions with children as creative processes.
  • Alice Pennisi and Krissi Staikidis presented on their work advising masters level researchers. Much of what they spoke about was familiar but I will keep with me for a long time a few things they said. Alice tells students to think of their research as a self-designed and moderated class about their specific interest. “You are the teacher and the student. Enjoy.” They both strive to address research as an active, ongoing, and reflexive, process. Noone can move from point A to point B in a day, a semester, or even a single degree program. “50% of a masters thesis is about learning to do research. 50% is about that project in particular.”

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it
This is one of those maxims I can never hear too often.

  • 8am Saturday morning I walked into a session and saw the chairs arranged in small circles. While I love to talk and often find myself tired of the presenter/audience format of most conference sessions, not all interactive dialogues work in the conference context, especially first thing in the morning. At “Speed Dating with Theory,” presented by five doctoral candidates from ASU assumed the persona of the theoretical framework guiding their research far surpassed expectation. I met remix, third space, postcolonial, relational aesthetics, and play theory and was given a chance to consider my work in relation to them. It was brilliant. One particularly really great moment worth noting, was when play theory asked the other woman sitting with us, “Are you familiar with play theory?” to which she responded, “Uh, well, my dad is George Szekely so, yeah.” The students shared that discussion of educational aesthetics and the art of presentation is a part of their curriculum and I am excited to think more about that.IMG_9756
  • Doug Blandy has been a favorite presenter/scholar of mine for as long as I’ve been going to NAEA conferences. For the past few years, he’s been hosting a local artist whose work represents a folk tradition and this year Mardi Gras Indian Cherice Harrison-Nelson of the Guardians of the Flame was his guest. She broke the monotony of the conference space with storytelling and singing that was engaging, informative, and restorative.
  • Rebecca Belleville (MD), yet another Art21 Educator, broke down in tears as she shared stories from her classroom where she teaching artmaking for social  justice. While I know she wasn’t thrilled to be crying in front of a ballroom full of people, it made an incredible impression and demonstrated the position of passion from which she teaches.

The present and future of public schooling in this country seems severely challenged
I have never been to an art education convention, nor do I think I ever will be, at which the topic of advocacy has not come up. It seems no matter what labels we attach ourselves to – discipline-based, STEM, etc – we don’t have enough allies outside our ranks making arguments on our behalf. At this conference, however, I heard more than I ever have before from art teachers who feel pinched by public education reforms related to standardized testing and teacher assessment. I was shocked by how many of my friends and colleagues, who work primarily with public school-based art educators, don’t trust those schools to educate their own children.

  • The only presentation I saw in the catalogue that included the name Katrina was sparsely attended which allowed for a really great interactive dialogue between the presenter, Sarah Travis, who was born and raised in NOLA and went on to become a public school teacher there, and the audience of mostly charter school-based art educators. She taught in NOLA before and after Katrina and shared statistics and information about the near total reconstruction of the local school system in the wake of the storm. It is a story at polar opposite with the Reggio Emilia grassroots initiative following WWII in Italy that focused on the holistic development of children and paid special attention to the role of the arts in that process. The story of NOLA schools post-Katrina is a story of charter takeover. One those with money in the game are watching very closely. (For a taste check out the trailer for The Experiment.)
  • 50 years ago art educators hosted a conference at Penn State on the state of art education funded by money from the federal Department of Education. That meeting lead to many developments in our field including the discipline-based art movement. Next year, faculty at PSU will host a similar event. As participants discuss the past and next fifty years, they will have to address whether we have a future at all in the public schools.
  • Trying to end this section on a high note, Alston Wise’s very witty UF MFA thesis project  “Public School Parent” got stuck in one of the final time slots and not even I was there. But Alston’s witty response to the assessment-driven culture of schools today is just the type of smart and eye-catching advocacy we need, and need more of, in order to make ourselves seen and heard.

What I do matters.

Catching up with Shakirah and Bryan.

Catching up with Shakirah and Bryan.

Sometimes its hard to tell in the online teaching environment but the connections and impact we are making with our online students, and they are making with one another, is significant. It is real. It is meaningful. And it translates to our shared lived experiences. My desire to see and talk with students in the flesh was met at this convention. We were able to pick up conversations where we left off on class discussion boards, Facebook, and twitter, and we were able to share more about our personal lives and personalities by sharing space and meals, walking and talking.

So, I’ll see you next year in Chicago.

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Finding home away from home

“It’s a funny thing coming home.  Nothing changes.  Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same.  You realize what’s changed, is you.”
from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

At the end of our students’ capstone project defenses, my colleague Craig Roland routinely asks what they will take away from their research experience and time in the program. Tonight I am sitting back at home in Columbus, OH asking myself the same question about my time at the 2013 National Art Education Association convention that just ended in Fort Worth, TX.  Following, is an answer to myself, in three parts.  (Craig, if you’re reading, consider this thanks for your help securing funding to help pay for my trip.)

First and foremost, I am grateful for the chance I had this past week(end) to reconnect with old classmates, professors, colleagues, students, and acquaintances. Although I hadn’t been to the conference in six years, it felt like just yesterday that I saw most of these folks.  Little seemed to have changed. I felt pleasantly welcome back in the clubhouse. Noone was judging me for not being on the tenure track somewhere. In fact it seemed, in many cases like just the opposite was true. People were jealous of some of the freedoms i enjoy, like not having to publish, lest I perish and not having to spend time serving on committees or attending faculty meetings.

Many people asked me about teaching online. Some were just curious about how we organize and manage courses at the University of Florida while others wanted to know about my personal experiences with this kind of teaching – was it really more work (that seems to be the rumor going ’round), did I feel as connected with my students as I did when I was teaching face-to-face… It was nice to feel like an expert of sorts about something. It sounds like more and more programs are adding online and hybrid courses.  Who knows.  In years to come I might just be known as some sort of pioneer.

Finally, I did recognize that I am a bit theory-averse. It starts with the fact that I would much prefer to read and learn through stories than explications of theories.  But it cuts deeper that that.  I am excited by theory but feel it is cumbersome.  Too often, I find it is treated as the main thrust of people’s presentations rather than a bolster for their reports on successful teaching and learning. Theory is most useful when it is put to use, applied to strong examples which it helps elucidate and give meaning.  So, I’m going to recommit myself to identifying theories and theorists who resonate with and help flesh out my thinking here, but I hope to present these ideas in a manner that is engaging not only to people inside, but also outside academe.

Six years ago, when I last attended NAEA I was a bright young thing, focused on one single goal, life in the ivory tower wearing a tenure golden.  Today, I realize I need more, or less depending on how you look at it, to be happy.  So, while I felt surprisingly at home with my academic friends and colleagues, and worry a bit about  the long-term course of my career, for the moment I’m happy being who and what I am, a work-from-home art educator.

What did you take away?

Dispatch from NAEA: The Final Installment

I ended my time at the 2013 National Art Education Convention in a business meeting for the Higher Education Division.  I was lured there by the promise of some conversation about, critique of, and plans for response to the new, forthcoming, common core standards for art education.  But we never got to that.  While I learned a bit more about how the division operates, I left with a renewed feeling that I don’t want to be in a full-time faculty position at this point in my life.  I don’t have the patience to sit through meetings focused on speculative agendas.  I’d rather be focusing my energy on teaching and my own learning.  Maybe that’s selfish.  Maybe I ought to be doing more service to the profession.  But that’s where I am now.  No apologies.

Dispatch from NAEA

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“We Are Inveterate Storytellers: The Role of Narrative in Arts Education Research”
I kind of zoned in and out here as I got to thinking about storytelling is a powerful teaching tool. I love to tell stories, to hear stories. I know that I learn best and remember facts when they are connected to stories. But I’m not sure I have been able to harness the power of storytelling in my online teaching yet.  More homework…

Dispatch from NAEA

Wonderful morning at the Kimbell Art Museum and Amon Carter Museum of American Art. I don’t usually get that excited about works from the Renaissance or Modern eras anymore, but the Kimbell’s installation within a Louis Kahn container, and the absence of any glass separating viewers from the works, gave these paintings renewed vitality.  I had never heard of the Amon Carter before, housed in a Philip Johnson project, but they have a fantastic collection of modern works in addition to a few temporary exhibitions on thought provoking themes like night and large format photograph.  Smart company was also helpful.  For example, when I suggested that the elaborate frames at the Kimbell could have been and exhibition of their own, one of my companions suggested I check out Derrida’s essay on frames as positive space and paintings as negative. Homework…

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Checkout this frame. Now image a gallery full of frames of this kind, filled with blank canvases. That would be hot, right?

Dispatch from NAEA

A shell on the path to Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela which would alert pilgrims of a rest and refueling stop.  The shell oil company adopted this as their symbol in 1909.

A shell on the path to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) which would alert pilgrims of a rest and refueling stop. The shell oil company adopted this as their symbol in 1909.

We have our students read Paul Bolin’s (1996) article “We are what we ask” at the start of our course on curriculum development at the University of Florida. Today he brought that principle to life when he co-hosted a session with Doug Blandy on “In Small Things Forgotten: Exploring Overlooked Objects and Their Stories for Art Education.” Both men talked about objects in our world in ways that exemplified material culture studies, design thinking, and inquiry-based art education without ever using those terms.  They have always been some of the my favorite storytellers in our field. Without getting bogged down by theoretical jargon, they manage to take us deep into the world of big ideas.

Dispatch from NAEA

“I think this is the first time I have laughed at a conference in like 20 years.” Amy Brook Snider
“Holy shit. This awesome.” Me

Bob Sweeney, Mindi Rhoades, B. Stephen Carpenter, and Juan Carlos Castro head up the Radical Research Roundup.

Bob Sweeney, Mindi Rhoades, B. Stephen Carpenter, and Juan Carlos Castro question how and why presentations are accepted or rejected for the NAEA convention during their Radical Research Roundup.

Incredible disruption of traditional convention presentation format. One part institutional critique. One part circus.

Survey says....

Survey says….