In this interview you will get to know Stephanie Bailly. You can find all her resources and follow her in all the right social places by finding her links by clicking here. She is the creator of Picassa’s Palette and I highly recommend that you check out her website & resources!
What areas of teaching art are a personal strength for you?
I love planning curriculum units that connect to other core subjects by incorporating math concepts or ELA ideas into my lessons whenever I can. I try to use vocabulary relevant to art viewing/making, similar to the types of words the students are learning in the classroom, as much as possible.
What is the funniest thing that has happened in your classroom?
One day, I’d just finished teaching a lesson on primary colors and symmetry using butterflies with a class of 4-year-olds. A few kids started singing a song about butterflies, but I didn’t know the lyrics and the melody didn’t sound familiar at all… Suddenly, the WHOLE class joined in, then before I knew what was happening, every student was up dancing around with their butterfly project flying through the air! Though I love to use music for teaching art concepts to the littles, it certainly wasn’t a song I had taught them! It was a moment of awe for me: The entire class of four-year-olds was teaching the teacher!
What was a huge “Ah-hah” moment for you?
A few years into my art teaching career, I’d been debating taking a new job at a small private school. It was a hard decision because it was a huge pay cut, but I was facing major burnout from class sizes in public school. But, the strangest sign came to me, from a garbage can full of scraps (Add that to your ongoing list of “Strange Things Probably Only An Art Teacher Would Say”) I happened to look into the trash can, and the page facing up said, “Cut your losses”. I knew right then what that meant, so I made the hard decision that ended up probably saving my teaching career.
How do you engage your students while teaching in a differentiated way to meet the needs and abilities of all your students?
I want to enable a safe and non-chaotic classroom environment for the learning to happen. So, I maintain as much consistency as possible in my classroom with expectations and consequences.
Most of my students thrive on structure- the routine and knowing what to expect, and what comes next. I think there’s a misconception among gen ed teachers, that art is a more unstructured class, but as art teachers, we are required to have different classroom management styles!
It’s super easy to briefly walk past an art room and make a quick judgment, “This looks like chaos!” But, ultimately, we as art teachers are the “Composers” of various student personalities and learning styles, and we must adapt differently to our students’ needs as their learning happens in our classrooms by “doing” and “discussing”, which just looks and sounds a lot different from a regular ed classroom.
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How do you foster creative thinking with your art projects?
I always try to highlight and celebrate deviation from the expected. When a student comes up with a solution that achieves the criteria within (or sometimes outside of) the directions, I’m going to announce that to the class to encourage that creative thinking in others. I’m someone who tends toward interpreting directions differently, so I try to really nurture and accept finding another route to arrive at the same destination and I try to be open with my students about that, too.
How do you allow yourself to engage with creative thinking?
Personally, I struggle to find the time to be creative. Between being a mom, working full time, and running Picassa’s Palette, it’s something I really have to work at to prioritize. I have to literally schedule time for myself to develop ideas into artwork. For a while, I had a nice morning routine thing going, where I’d wake up early and do healthy things like yoga, sketch and write. Something I must do, in order to flip the creative switch to “on” is to record inspiration, ideas, and thoughts into my phone digitally throughout the day so that when there’s scheduled time, I can quickly come back to the development of my ideas and get back in the creative ‘zone’.
What has your own creative path looked like?
Lately, I’ve really been about documenting my responses toward the examination of my personal views and attitudes… ya know, the deep stuff… so my artwork can reflect the transformation process. I think as artists, and as humans, we need that outlet.
Where do your ideas for art projects come from?
My ideas for units are thematic. At first, I started building lessons around each of the Elements of Art and related artists who commonly used certain elements. I got bored with that, though… not that it’s boring, but I just like the novelty of trying new themes. So, when I started working at a smaller school, I switched my teaching toward units with lessons and projects based on various cultural traditions from around the world.
Now, I am working on a blend of artist-based teaching, around themes such as Identity, Expression, Communities, Environments, etc. I have been gaining a lot of inspiration from contemporary artists who tackle currently relevant themes.
Right now, I’m excited to say that I am focusing on projects based on the work of artists who come from previously marginalized backgrounds. Recent events have really shed insight on the need for this. (Plus, many of my students just can’t relate much to some old, dead, white guy) I’m really making it a priority this year to interest my students by catching their attention using more personally relatable works of art.
What made you decide to become an art teacher?
For me, the path to become an art teacher has had a lot of twists and turns with a few dead-ends and detours thrown in for good measure. I’ve been fortunate to have a strong foundation from skilled teachers in the arts at a public school district with a solid art program.
Because of this, I’d dreamed of becoming an artist or art teacher, but instead of following through with my dream of pursuing the arts, I studied elementary education with the thought that general education was more marketable. Ironically, I was laid off after my first year of teaching due to the recession.
I moved to another state, bounced back, and continued to teach in a regular ed classroom, but I never could ignore my calling toward the arts, so I began taking night classes with the intention of changing careers entirely.
But, thankfully, the stars aligned for my dream job of becoming an art teacher: I found out I’d passed the Praxis, allowing me to obtain my certification for teaching art, around the same time the news broke about the art teacher’s retirement at my school. I feel like it’s been about finding the creative parallels throughout life experiences and connecting those dots. For me, art has always been that common thread woven amidst it all.
What is a big mistake you made as an art teacher and what did you learn from it?
If I’m being totally honest, looking back, the biggest mistake I made early on was that I didn’t pause enough to ask my students about the things that weren’t directly and obviously related to art. One reason I did this is that I always felt like there wasn’t enough time in the hour of art class to show how much I truly cared about each child’s background, likes and dislikes, and just their life in general.
I strongly viewed the classroom as more of a system that needed order and rules, and yes, our classrooms do need structure. Looking back, I realize another reason I used to do this.
The truth is that it was sometimes actually too painful to know too much about each student’s story, and too difficult to not ‘bring it home’ with me. To deal, I felt I had to put up walls, probably using the need for rules and systems in the classroom as an excuse. Luckily, now I am better equipped to handle feelings of intense empathy. I just have a better balance in my life than I did back then.
Really, no one actually talks about this topic much, but I came across a few discussions regarding teacher self-care recently and discovered that this is a very common thing amongst teachers, especially those who are just starting out. We truly do internalize our students’ traumas and it’s important to mitigate that intentionally.
Helpful Art Resources for Teachers
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Kathleen McGiveron (Ms Artastic)
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