For those of us that follow the art education blogs, there are a few people we always read and Cassie Stephens is one of them. Which is why approximately eighteen months ago when I became a co-chair for our state art convention and our theme was chosen, “Passion is Purpose,” I knew exactly who needed to be our keynote speaker: Cassie of course. Cassie is elementary art teacher in Nashville, Tennessee with eighteen years of valuable experience. She has been a finalist for Tennessee teacher of the year, taught in Japan on a Fulbright scholarship and has had the honor to interview Tim Gunn. You most likely know her from her blogging and social media as she shares her lessons and artistic outfits with the art education community.
Flash forward to Nov 17-19, 2016, Texas Art Educator Conference (@taeaconference & https://www.facebook.com/taeaconference/) and go time, not only did Cassie attend the full conference, she hosted a pre-conference #K12ArtChat about keeping your passion alive, attended a side fundraiser as a special guest, gave a keynote speech and sat down for an interview on stage in front of an audience of over a thousand people.
We wanted to take a few minutes to follow up with Cassie and share her chat and interview answers with you! Cassie, thank you so much for your dedication to arts education and taking the time to visit with us in person and online. It’s a little strange asking you your own host questions but I believe your answers are so valuable to fellow teachers. Keeping joy present in teaching can be hard and as you’ve found your mojo, we want to share it with our readers.
Q1: When did you first discover your love for creating? Who/What inspired you?
I didn’t have art class until I was in high school as my elementary school never offered it. Thankfully, I was surrounded by artsy types who both influenced and encouraged me. I learned my love of drawing from my dad who was a draftsman; was encouraged to draw and write plays by my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Hallin and my love of fiber arts from my grandma who taught me to embroidery my first pillow. I also hit up every vacation bible school during the summers to take advantage of the crafts. It was there I learned how to weave!
Q2: What are your favorite creative outlets to explore?
There are many, it really depends on the way the wind blows. I love creating with clay and exploring all that I can make in the variety of air dry and kiln fire clays available. Sewing is always fun in theory…but the actual pattern cutting and accurate sewing/measuring are not my fave. Needle felting is my passion as it allows me to combine two loves: fashion and painting (I liken needle felting to painting with fibers). Also, there is painting. That is actually what I received my degree in so I hold it close to my creating heart.
Q3: How much time a week do you spend simply creating?
Of course, not as much as I’d like. I’d say between 6-8 hours a week. I don’t have a lot of time during the week so I really try to pour my weekend into creating. I don’t have cable, children or a clean house so that really frees up my time!
Q4: What zaps the majority of your time? How can we regain some of our time?
Social media is a big time zapper for me. In fact, I recently invested in a little visual timer (think an egg timer) that I set. When it goes off after 15 minutes, I force myself to get off my fave social media outlets. Blogging takes time but I am getting faster. Filming and editing videos for my students and my blog takes a lot of time as well but it pays off for me in the long run. I’ve also learned that I love creating the videos!
Q5: Bringing our creative passion into our daily lives is work. What ways can we make it happen?
Set aside a designated time to create. For me, I try to squeak in time right after dinner. I throw the dishes in the sink (no clean house, remember?!) and head up to my craft room. I force myself to leave my phone and laptop in another room and just create. Sometimes that means I daydream while flipping through a book, other times I sketch ideas and, if I’m lucky, I start creating. Just stealing away and having a little time to myself every day means a lot to me. I crave it when I don’t get it.
Q6: Let’s stay passionate about our creative pursuits together! What ways can we check in, stay in touch & share?
I think sharing is the best way to connect and encourage. It’s not bragging, it’s holding one’s feet to the fire. If you think: I must create something and share it on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook once a day, it will encourage you to create…and the responses from friends will as well.
Two more bonus questions from my interview with Cassie during our conference:
Bonus Q1: How do you stay energized for classes? Some days educators feel so worn down, what’s your secret?
I try to greet each class with a “hello, my most amazing artists!” and sign language an “I love you” to each student when they leave. No matter what happened (or didn’t happen!) during our time together, at least we started and ended on a happy note.
Bonus 2: We see you “on” 100% of the time – great lessons, amazing outfits, fabulous tips and tricks. What do your off days look like and how do you take care of yourself?
My days off seriously look like me in mismatched pjs. In fact, my husband often jokes that he is going to start a blog called, “What the Art Teacher Wears on the Weekends”. I really do think that the time I spend creating on the weekends is how I take care of myself. I try to spend one day a week not working on blogging or art teacherin’ (usually my Saturday) and just enjoy my favorite things: antiquing, creating and spending time with my husband and cat.
As I re-read Cassie’s answers and think back to spending time with her at conference, I’m reminded that in order to be a great educator we need to consider our own self-care as it is essential. For many of us this involves fulfilling our creative self. I’m also thinking about kitschy sayings such as “put first things first” and “the time is always right to do what is right.” Reflecting on priorities and how we spend our time can help us align self, needs of students and professional growth. Putting our best selves into our teaching leads to tremendous outcomes for our students.
As we start looking to the new year, we challenge you to take time to reflect on the above questions and take time for self-reflection and YOU!
Wishing you a very Happy Holiday and beautiful New Year!
And as always, Wishing you Creativity,
Laura and Matt Grundler
Laura and Matt Grundler are art educators from Plano, Texas. They are also proud parents, bloggers and founders of the popular Twitter Chat #K12ArtChat. After teaching middle school art, high school art and working as an assistant principal, Laura has moved into the role of district Visual Arts Coordinator. Matt started out as a graphic designer; however after finding the commercial side of design to be unsatisfying, he soon found his niche as a K-5 Art teacher. Both Laura and Matt are passionate about raising their three creative kids, sharing their love of art education with their professional learning network and continuing to grow everyday.