In preparing ourselves as educators for this [input your own adjective here] school year, it is so critical for us to not become an island. More than ever, we must lean on one another for strength, inspiration, encouragement, collaboration, and resources. It feels a lot like I am starting my teaching career over at year one, and that means finding those that can mentor, guide, and support me through such a journey as 2020 has provided us. It is so important that each of us establish and expand our teams.
One way to do this is to start with colleagues in your building and district, more specifically those outside of your subject area. Good instruction and perspective can be found in every classroom (including virtual platforms) and the resourceful teacher can transfer and apply it to their own instruction. As the FAME (Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators) coach in my building, I lead a team composed of English, Math, Science, History, and Special Education teachers, including my personal contribution of Visual Art. This has not been a barrier for our improvement as instructors, but rather a bridge to learning and adapting new teaching strategies for the betterment of our students. I encourage you to collaborate and have conversations with teachers outside of your arts circle and discover the support they can offer you.
You can also expand your team by joining with other arts teachers outside of your district. This was crucial for me when I started my teaching career because I was the only art teacher in the entire district. I needed seasoned art colleagues to mentor and guide me. I now co-lead a county-wide group of art teachers and the breadth of knowledge I have learned from discussing, collaborating, and observing them has been immeasurable. I attribute my experiences with this diverse and knowledgeable group to being the single-greatest impact on my professional career. Reach out a (safe and socially distant) open hand to increase your resources and support team.
This is also why I am grateful for the MAEIA project. Dozens of arts educators collaborated to create a platform that would help to widen our resource bank even more. A recent addition to these resources has been the creation of the MAEIA Arts Lounge, which speaks to this notion of not having to go it alone. This online forum allows arts teachers to ask questions, find connections, and support others. The Arts Lounge is uniquely suited for educators to share their expertise with one another in a positive and encouraging environment and is just one more resource for expanding your support team. I would encourage you to explore and contribute within this platform as I will do throughout this school year.
So, no matter how you are feeling (perhaps walking into your classroom for the first time in months) know and remember that you are not alone. I have had multiple conversations with fellow educators just in the past week that assure me of this truth. Our profession as educators was never designed to be done in solitude and now, more than ever, I call on you to find your team. Continue communicating and collaborating, explore new resources, and do not let go of the hope that this school year still has the potential for greatness and for much beauty to be created and expressed through the arts.
(Please feel free to let me be part of your team. Reach out and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to connect.)
Heidi Rhodes is an art teacher for Springport Schools in Jackson County. She is a FAME coach for her district and also co-leads a county-wide collaborative group of art teachers.Click here for a Printer friendly version of this article.