Weathering Arts Education Amid the Storm

By Heidi Rhodes

These are surreal and uncertain times for educators, to say the least. If you are like me, there are thoughts and scenarios running through your head regarding what this future school year will look like (and none of the forecasts look good). Your mind is probably akin to a jumble of yarn, composed of entangled thoughts about how you will be able to teach your curriculum. As a persistent pursuer of positivity I have chosen to focus on the unique opportunity this year could allow me for some flexibility in what I teach. As such, one of these threads of reflection challenged me to ask myself, “How can I, as an art teacher, use the gift of the arts to support my students during such circumstances?” There is no better time than the present to encourage our cherished students to embrace the gift of the arts and their ability to help heal, support, and carry us through the most difficult times.

As soon as the stay-at-home order was enacted in March I turned to creating art. It has always been the most efficient outlet for me to process, to understand, to grieve, to cope, and to heal. I encouraged my students to do the same, offering art assignment options that focused on art therapy and nurturing a creative form of expression during such an unstable time for many of my students. The conversations their works invoked provided clarity into their mental and emotional state and often ended with both student and teacher feeling a little less alone and perhaps a little more hopeful.

One entry level example was asking students in our very first virtual assignment to choose a color that best symbolized how they felt at the moment and to provide an explanation for their chosen color. Their writings were so authentic and truly represented the awareness of their feelings. The creative exercise of pairing it to a unique color was beneficial for both student and teacher. I was grateful for the opportunity to be flexible and fluid with the artistic expression of my students.

Looking ahead to next school year, though peering through a cloudy lens, I am choosing to keep my focus on that glimmer of hope that the arts in Michigan schools, and its educators, will remain strong and capable of enduring one of the most trying times in our professional careers. This year beckons the artists of the world to record its history, to express their stories, and to share experiences with one another, whether in song or dance, picture or scene. We have a calling to guide our student artists through this journey of self-expression and still create. I am hopeful that the creative resourcefulness that exists in all of us will find a way. We will still create. We will still grow.

The bank of assessments MAEIA offers can support this endeavor. One of the most appealing qualities for me has always been their ability to emphasize and encourage self-expression. Many of the authentic assessments offered allow the student to creatively include personal experience, leading students in that journey of self-discovery and sharing their experiences. MAEIA assessments are designed to be user-friendly as they allow for adjustments by the teacher while remaining an authentic and effective form of assessing student growth. I foresee the MAEIA assessment tools as a beacon of light for me to follow as I steer into such a stormy school year.

For more ideas check out previous blog posts: The Practice of Adaptation – A Series in Four Disciplines Using MAEIA Performance Assessments for Online Teaching. Part One and Part Two.

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.

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