I always say that the art room is “the happiest place on earth….Forget Disney!” While that is absurd (I haven’t been to Disney World since 1994 but I remember the magic), I really do try to create a place that is special to everyone. Of course art educators see the gamut of emotions, are always working through frustration, embarrassment, and even anger to get to a place of joy, perseverance and pride. I like to focus on these five groups to be sure everyone wants to be in the art room and feel its magical magnetic pull.
Well, of course, right?!? Oftentimes welcoming children into our classroom is a pleasure. The sheer joy and enthusiasm that they bring can be so wondrous and special. However, there are so many kids who come into the room and do not have the skills to be safe, to be cooperative or to be creative. These are the kids who need us the most. It can be hard to remember, but try to find a way to grab these ones. The most challenging student might also be the one child whose life you will change. Ways that seem to work for me are:
Inviting kids to earn a break in the art room. Share that sentiment with your colleagues so that they know that they are welcome to come in and work in our studio as a treat. This can be really frustrating and even annoying sometimes, but let them in. Set the boundary to not be able to give the personal attention at this time, but that they can be independent and use materials in the space. Having an extra adult can be helpful and if you have the inclusion model my district has, this is easier. Be clear and communicative with all the adults about how this is going.
Having a special project or job for them to help with. This can be obvious, let kids be your helpers. But even creating a fake little project can build a sense of trust and also act as a powerful message to the child- you are capable, you are helpful and you are important- I trust you. I often use silly scissors and markers as a little station at my desk and ask students who cannot (I mean really canNOT) sit still during our demonstration time, or introduction conversation to help me there.
Giving a Hug or Super Excited Greeting. There are kids who need this and expect you to be frustrated from last class and by starting in a positive way- you are golden!
If you make the art room a fun place for everyone, you end up getting more support in the end. Karma, really. I try to be friendly with every person and make a connection socially with all of the support staff and aides in my class. Firstly, this is amazing because I have made some of my best friends this way, and secondly, we work better together! To be able to switch off is imperative and sends a fabulous message to all our learners. I recently had an aide leave her lunch early to come into art because it is just so much fun!
I know, I know….most people want administrators to stay away. On a Friday afternoon especially, right? Not me, and hopefully….not YOU! I am a firm believer in arts advocacy and there is NO better way than sharing your kids, your work and your classroom life with administrators. Be proud of what you do. When things are messy, chaotic or going differently than expected…..own it. Showing vulnerability and being honest about what you are working on to create best practices is part of the job. We are all still learning!
It can be hard to let families into your classroom and the dynamic can often change. Find a way to make them part of your program though. Volunteering to help with Artsonia, with bulletin boards, with materials, fundraising, field trips, art shows, whatever! They surely deserve to be part of the magic.
Arts Integration is the best way for kids to learn, (in my super passionate opinion!) and connecting with colleagues in a fun way is imperative. Collaborating with colleagues about curriculum and student needs is the best way to be successful. I also betcha that you will be making some new besties in no time.