Since you can only make a first impression once, it is important that students get a clear understanding of what the class is going to be like and who I am. How I behave and what activities I plan sets the tone for every day that comes after. Instead of falling back on safe measures that bore students into complacency, I put forward a vision and challenge to my students to "Elevate to Excellence" as we dive into the school year.
I have been lucky to have given presentations on this at the NAEA Convention andMACUL Conference and shared many of the ideas and reasons behind why I do what I do and how I manage it all. In case you missed it, here is a quick breakdown envisioning the best first day ever:
Being a teacher is an act of bravery in itself. Anyone willing to put themselves in front of children every day and engage them in a way that helps learning stick despite all obstacles, is brave. The bravery that I am discussing for the first day of school should be a piece of cake compared to that. A few years ago, I threw caution to the wind and took a chance on my students and myself to do something on day one. Instead of doing the safe rules and expectations speech, I decided to engage students with the materials I know they long most to use each year: clay and paint. In order for this to work, I had to have faith in myself and move beyond the initial worries about messes and misbehavior. Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, I lead by living my vision of Art education with my students. We still went over rules and expectations; I just did it as students worked through activities like making collaborative paintings for our school and clay bowls for our annual Empty Bowls night. It has been five years since that first act of bravery, and I cannot imagine going back.
A student once told me that I was the second weirdest teacher in the building. I am not sure if it was the dancing, the rapid arm movements as I fast-talk, or what that got me that place, but I would like to think that my bold vision for my classroom and my students helped. As the Art teacher, I have the distinct opportunity to show learning everyday. Because I work with visuals, my students learning is evidenced through drawing, painting, photography and more and shared almost instantly with others; because I post and share online, it is archived, distributed, and can take on new forms and interactions that are both unplanned and offer deeper connections for my students. My students are shown this from the start, even before they enter my classroom. Using Artsionia (which automatically updates grades from the other building to my gallery - so AMAZING), I send out newsletters to parents and even invite students to participate in a summer upload. It has been awesome to see art coming in and for students and parents to get a glimpse of what the Art class is going to be like before they enter the classroom. When they do arrive on that first day, I share our activities and even get responses by artists we are already inspired by in class. By sharing my vision for my classroom in this way, students enter with a sense of purpose and are ready to be a part of the bold vision I have planned.
Be the Bearer of Possible:
It can be easy to be a Debbie Downer. The world is a tough place with a lot of scary things going on every day. I am not advocating forgetting that in place of a know-nothing mentality, but I think it is important to act as a light of opportunity for students so they can see what is possible. Art is the act of making the unseen seen. It is my job to help students reach within themselves and figure out what they want others to see so their voice is heard. I start the year with the motto "Elevate to Excellence," setting the tone for what is expected when they become a part of the program. Each year, the k-12 program does a presentation for our Board of Education, highlighting the accomplishments from the year. I use that video to finish off the first day, right after we have cleaned up our paint or clay. I am proud to say that many of my former students who have taken that challenge have been awarded various recognitions at the local, state, and national level. I want my students to leave my class on the first day of school with messy hands and their heads full of ideas for what they are going to do next because they were inspired by those that came before them.
If you are interested in hearing more, I am excited to talk about this and more on Tuesday with the guys from AOE Live:
I have some back-to-school goodies to send your way if you leave a comment below about your favorite take-away from Tuesday's AOE Live, featuring even more ways to make this school year your best one yet.
Congrats to Katherine, from the last give-away - check your email and I will send your FIA goodies post haste.
Thanks for reading and I will see you on the internets!