March 8, 2013

Teaching Art Like It's Your Business

I was watching a photographer talk about her business and she said something very interesting. She said that there was NOTHING creative about being a portrait and family photographer. She said to be efficient and successful (and of course make money) that you couldn't reinvent the wheel every time someone stepped into your studio. You needed to find your formulas that work and repeat them. Hmmm this is a very interesting idea, you find a formula that works and you stick to it! 

This made me start to think about what I do for a living, teach art.  For some reason in every other field besides fine art (even photography) efficiency is a virtue, but art teachers seem to think producing new and unique lessons is more important then efficiency. As I near my 8th year of teaching (I can't believe I'm saying that!)  I'm starting to have a repertoire of lessons that work. Each year, of course, I don't repeat lessons that weren't a universal success, but for much of the year I repeat and build on old themes, filling in the gaps with new lessons that I create from scratch.

Here are some reasons why I think it is a smart to repeat lessons.

1. You've practiced. We all know we become better teachers with practice, so why wouldn't lesson delivery be the same? Luckily as art teachers we get to practice the same lesson multiple times in a year, so by year two you should be a pro.

2. You have the resources. Why waste all the money and time it took to collect the resources (prints, handouts videos, books etc) to use with the lesson? Use them again, again, and then go sell them on one of those teacher websites;) Not to mention you've done all the research and can build on that!

3. It's not about YOUR CREATIVITY it's about THEIR CREATIVITY. When we stop thinking about the art program as "our" art program and start thinking about it as "their" art program we can get past having to think up new clever lessons to adorn our hallways. As long as the lesson allows for personal creativity, you will enjoy teaching it again and again as the results will be different from year to year. I know for some their job is their creative space, but what if you started to think of it as the children's creative space and used the extra time you save to create some of your own art work?

So what's the best way to save all these lessons and resources? FILE THEM BY MONTH! I have a file cabinet drawer for each month (haven't bothered to separate by grade yet.) This way you will always find what you are looking for,  WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO TOMORROW? You will be a confident and prepared teacher because you've made the decision not to reinvent the wheel.

More time to spend with this goof ball!
More time to work on my own film and photography goals. 
I can feel it right now as I write! "But we are art teachers, we are creative, if we don't create new lessons every year we'll get (GASP) bored."  I can assure you no other teacher thinks this way, but for us creative types we are blessed with a flow of constant new ideas. I say once in a grand while try out a completely new lesson, just don't do it for every grade level, every day.  If you have been teaching for a while use your experience to your advantage. If you are new, start your systems now!!! Save and collect so next year will be that much easier. I can assure you time to focus on your own art work and life makes for a better creative arts teacher. Do you agree?


Mrs. Impey said...

I really like this post...I'm in my third year of teaching, and so far, there are only a few projects that I have repeated since my 1st year of teaching. The few that I have repeated, I've changed something about it each year to make it better. I don't think I could ever become a person who repeats the same lessons every year once I get them refined, though. Certain lessons, yes.

One of my goals this year (in accordance to the Marzano rubric we are using for APPR) is to create a curriculum for each grade level that has the unit content planned in terms of vocabulary and learning goals, but has 2-3 projects that are interchangeable in case I don't want to do the same-old, same-old. I want to do this in part so I don't get bored, and because I've noticed that with some grade levels, certain projects, no matter how successful they may have been in the past, just don't work with certain students. My 5th grade, for example, is one of those grade levels. They perform much better with tactile, hands-on activities like clay and sculpture, which essentially does not mesh with my planned, color theory curriculum where much of what they did involved painting and drawing. I think that's one of the things that makes art teachers special teachers...we can have a plan, but we have to be flexible too!

Elizabeth said...

I've been teaching after-school art classes for nearly 5 years now - and I have yet to repeat a lesson - but only because I still have students enrolled who have been coming since the beginning! I dream of the day I can sit back and just draw on all that planning and preparation, but then I look back at past lessons, and I don't think there is one that I would do exactly the same. Pinterest and blogging has made a huge difference - the ideas that are out there are phenomenal!!

Unknown said...

So my hubby told me I don't follow my own advice! Haha I can assure you I am trying my best to have my lessons filed and ready but it's a work in progress. Plus I have different abilities like all of you so there has to e loads of flexibility with the plan:) I guess just filing all good ideas so you are ready with quality for days when you are over worked or just not running at 110% I don't repeat any lessons from year one either;) but they definitely lead to we're I am today,

Phyl said...

One of the things about art teachers is that we love trying out new ideas, but it is a challenge to always do something new. So I had certain lessons I did every year but changed something about them - 1st grade cardboard sculptures, 2nd grade teddy bear chairs, kindergarten pinch pots, whatever - each year the way we painted them was different, which made it less of a bore. I did papier-mache with the same grade levels every year, and taught the same skills, but never repeated the same specific papier-mache PROJECT two years in a row. Tooling foil with 6th grade every year, theme/subject of the work would be different, since I was teaching about texture, pattern, and relief.

And then there were things I looped around every few years - I'd teach various artists every year, across grade levels with different projects, so I wouldn't repeat those artists again for a couple of years at least, which made me able to cover many more artists.

I know I would prefer that people who come to the annual art show see something different each year, to keep it exciting, and for me as an art teacher, I would get bored if I didn't try out new stuff all the time or at least change the way I did things!

Unknown said...

I like the Looping thing too! Sometimes I won't do a project for a few years because I did it across grade levels or an artist. That is another great tool because you save all the work you did and do get to use part of it again. Unfortunately the yearly art show was kind of an insane amount of work for a very small show of support. So after a few years, I just couldn't see putting my time there anymore. Especially when my schedule is very different from when I started. I can't tell you how many positions have not been filled after retirements leaving us with heavy workloads. It's all good. Just can't do it all! Somethings have to get prioritized.

Angie said...

I repeat some lessons, but definitely not all. This post is a nice reminder that we don't need to reinvent the wheel all of the time with new lessons. Of course, other subject teachers don't worry about creating new lessons every year, but that is an advantage of being an art teacher-trying out new lessons.

Rina said...

Guilty! Since I started following a ton of art ed blogs via Google Reader, I am exposed to so many fabulous new ideas I feel like a kid in a candy store. I just have to try them! Sometimes I read a post and glean a tip or two I can use to refine my existing lessons.

On the other hand, it is true, the lessons I repeat year after year are getting better.

Heather K. said...

This is such a meaningful post, thank you!

I'm in year 4 of teaching ceramics full time, and not only do I finally have some solid units that I actually repeat every year, I've stopped feeling guilty for doing so!
I find that having 25-75% of my projects repeat yearly/bi-yearly (with relevant updating/tweaking as needed) has really freed me up for a variety of other things such as focusing on those new lessons, refining the existing units, introducing new activities, keeping up with ever changing school initiatives, or making my own work!

For a long time I even avoided those 'tried and true' projects (such as masks) because it was so common I wanted to teach something different and unique... it took me a long time to recognize that such projects are found in so many classes/grades because it works, plus I bring my own interpretation to any unit/project. This change of view has allowed me to be more open to a larger variety of projects in my class.

Thank you for pointing out the validity of repeating a unit/project!

Unknown said...

Totally Heather!

The major thing is getting over the guilt I think! I am loving repeating my lessons but changing them as well to be better. Sometimes the outcomes are very different, but the examples, objectives power points, books, etc. exactly the same so I have the resources at hand. Finally reaping some of the benefits of hard work is a great thing.