Have you ever run across a problem and thought, “I could fix that!”. That’s exactly what happened to today’s guest, Amy Zschaber. When she realized the teachers in her district could use an arts integrated curriculum, she set to work creating one. In this episode, Amy and I chat about the process of creating that curriculum, the story of how she ended up in CA as a coordinator, and the nuances of arts integration and STEAM.
More than anything else, I think you’ll love Amy’s pure joy for education and the arts. She is one of those people that will leave you feeling good for long after the conversation is over. Maybe that’s why today’s episode runs a little long…I just couldn’t stop asking her questions. I hope you enjoy watching and listening as much as I enjoyed chatting!
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Link to Amy’s Art Integration Curriculum
Link to EducationCloset’s IntegratED Curriculum
[00:00:00] Welcome to the teaching with creativity show. I’m your host Susan Riley, founder of EducationCloset and today you are in for a real treat. I am interviewing amazing art teacher and coordinator Amy Zschaber. If you are not familiar with Amy’s work definitely check her out. We’ll include all of her information right here on this show and in the show notes. Today we’re going to be talking all about STEAM and how she goes about coordinating her art program out in California and how that might be different for others all around the country and the world. So I know you’re going to enjoy this show. Let’s dive in.
[00:01:09] So Amy tell us a little bit about your background and how you’ve landed in your current position.
[00:01:14] Amy Z: Yeah, sure. So I never wanted to be an art teacher. I never set out to be a teacher.
[00:01:21] I got a degree in fine arts and in painting specifically and was going to be an art historian. I had an opportunity to get into a wonderful program in New York City and was up there kind of feeling like I owned the world. I’d gotten into the program and I had been volunteering at a summer camp and realized that nothing in this program was anywhere near as exciting to me as the summer camp stuff I had been doing and I had this random knack for sort of taking a complicated project and breaking it down into understandable steps. So I thought maybe I should be a teacher. You know, I mean, like you do. And I was very hubristic when I had to pick up a few classes and in one of my classes, I somehow managed to get into a lesson plan writing II, without taking the prerequisite of lesson plan writing I. And I was mad because they were going to kick me out of the class because I had to have lesson writing I. And I told Melody Millbrandt, who’s written a lot of textbooks on art teaching and art education – I told her…It really wasn’t that complicated to write a lesson. And I didn’t need that for it anyway.
[00:02:30] Susan: The things we do when we’re young, right?
[00:02:33] Amy: Right. Later I ran into her at a meeting and she was like, “you look really familiar.” And I was like yeah, not for the right reason.
[00:02:43] So yes I was really hubristic. I got into teaching and it started at a private school ended up into Title I. And it was going well in Georgia. They were starting to do some things – we were having to test in the fine arts. And I… I really wasn’t a fan of that. And you know sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. And it just wasn’t for me and I was starting to think you know maybe I’m going to have to do something else with my life. Or you know, still do something art. But I don’t think I’m cut out for this because I wasn’t teaching art at that point I was teaching…I don’t know what I was teaching but it was unpleasant for everybody. So I just started looking for jobs and had a contact out here on the West Coast. And she had just gotten a promotion and was like, “hey my position’s open and you maybe you should come out here in and interview”.
[00:03:33] And I did. And it was the most psychotic thing ever. I came out and interviewed and they offered me a job and I basically moved having been to the town for a number of hours.
[00:03:44] Susan: Wow.
[00:03:45] Amy: Yeah. Yeah. You know so that says a lot about how I felt about my current situation. I think that that I was like, “let me just move across the country. Why not?”
[00:03:55] And it was really good because I think we have a tendency to think that education is what our experience has been and my experience had only been in one state and I’d been in several schools. But it’s a, Georgia’s a right to work state. So I’d never dealt with unions before. I mean there’s pros and cons to both situations. So it was a real learning experience and while I was here I was kind of loving life teaching where I was teaching. It was a wonderful job wonderful students but I had kind of taken a step backwards in that I knew I was going to have to sort of rebuild a reputation or whatever. Because I knew that there was something more I wanted. I like being in leadership positions. And randomly this position came up that I’m in and it’s a visual and performing arts coordinator and STEAM coordinator position with a county office. And I think you and I both know these are positions that come around once or twice in your lifetime. One famously came around in Georgia right at the beginning of my career and I remember being aggravated that that person just couldn’t hold on for a while. Why couldn’t she retire when it was convenient? (insert laughter)
[00:04:59] You know, because I just wasn’t quite ready for that position. So here I was and I thought there’s no way I’m going to get this job. Nobody knows me. You know there’s always hometown people but I aggressively pursue this job. I went through Shutterfly and I made a book about how basically how amazing I am. Which is not really how I feel but I feel like when you go on these interviews you’re selling yourself. Yeah. So I did that and I sent it to the superintendent of the county.
[00:05:32] You know there’s some hubris here.
[00:05:34] So I did that and I aggressively pursued the job. And then when they told me I was going to have an opportunity to present a lesson plan, I really kind of felt like it was going to come down to this lesson plan – how I taught it and what I did. I thought, “man… like let’s you know, if I was playing basketball… let’s leave it all on the court. If I lose the game I want to know I lost giving it my all”. So I obsessed about that for a few weeks and came in and you know it’s honestly a blur. I don’t really know what I presented but I guess I did okay – I got the job. But I think that that’s kind of… as teachers we have a tendency to think I’m not there yet in my career, I’m not quite ready for that, or I don’t know what that job would be like. I had no idea what this job would be like. I just knew that if I felt like I had something to contribute at this level. And in fact when that first job I was talking about opened and I wasn’t quite ready in my career, I still applied for it even though I knew that I wasn’t ready. I felt like at least my name is in that room with those other people and they know that this woman’s coming – she is going to be here eventually.
[00:06:35] And I think that that’s, you know, as art teachers we’re involved in something that – or as teachers period – we’re involved in a very holistic experience. And we tend to be very touchy feely people and we tend to be the sort of people that are not going to say let me talk about me. But I think when it comes to these more higher positions you have to do that. It’s a political game. And you have to play the game but you also have to keep in mind what is your goal. My goal is to make sure kids have continued and sustained access to arts education. And if I have to sort of be a little obnoxious about it every once in awhile I have to make my peace of that. Clearly I have.
[00:07:12] Susan: What I love about what you’re saying is – and the continuous thread from where you started both in college and then moving through your career – is that you have just gone for it no matter what. You’ve just kind of decided… you’ve decided what I want to do and I’m going to go for it both feet and I’m not going to just kind of tip my toe in the water. I’m going to make a splash wherever I go and I think sometimes particularly in education people don’t want to rock the boat.
[00:07:42] You know, they are a little nervous about taking that next step or even something like arts integration and STEAM. I don’t know if I can do that. I don’t know if I’m allowed. I mean I have heard so many times “I don’t think I have permission to do that”. And I want to be like, “you don’t need permission.
[00:08:01] Amy: Why are you waiting for permission. They’re going to tell you No.
[00:08:04] I mean I had someone who told me one time I don’t know what my budget is. They never give me a number.
[00:08:09] That to me means spend a lot of money.
[00:08:12] Susan: Go for it and apologize later. Like, I didn’t know so I’m going to go for it.
[00:08:17] Amy: I don’t know but I can’t send the 3D printer back so I guess it’s mine.
[00:08:25] Susan: But that’s not what most people think. And I love the fact that you have just taken that by the horns and just said you know what, I’m going to make my pathway.
[00:08:35] I think that’s a fabulous model for a lot of us.
[00:08:39] Amy: And you know what we’re talking about is all the time that works out, right? But I’ve been on plenty of interviews where I thought I bombed that and I you know gone into interviews that I thought I nailed and then later didn’t get for whatever reason and it’s devastating. You know, and I think that that’s what we have to remember. Is that, like, yes there are these great peaks but if you’re going to have those, there’s always going to be moments where you’re like ughhh. Or there’s also that moment that you know, I drove a really long way to go on this interview. I really wanted the job, I showed my portfolio. I do all this stuff and I’m put in a room with a sheet of paper and I’m told draw a picture and they’re going to hire me based on what I draw. I wrote “This is the ____curse word____” and got up and left.
[00:09:21] You know then in your car home, I kind of calm down and I’m like yeah…People know other people. No one’s going to hire me now. But you know there are those moments where you’re going to be like this. I’m a little bummed it isn’t working out. And you just kind of have to have faith. There’s always going to be another opportunity.
[00:09:39] Susan: Oh yeah. Well and you’re right that we all do and we all hear that the positive stories of how it works out but what happens when it doesn’t?
[00:09:47] And not only that but the idea that I loved when you said this about the sometimes the opportunities aren’t going to work out. It’s what you do when it doesn’t. It’s that you pick yourself up and you go back and do it again because you’re always going to have those faulty moments, those embarrassing moments, when you’re like “I cannot believe that I just said that or did that”. And wow. Nobody else. That’s the other thing nobody else is going to hire me, right? Or this is going to follow me around wherever I go. I read in Option B from Sheryl Sandberg – that new book that she has out. She talks about the idea of permanence and that that is a huge factor when it comes to whether or not people fail and stay in failure or fail and move forward. It’s the idea of permanence that we have this script in our heads that says it’s going to last forever and this is going to be the worst moment. And really it’s a blip on the radar.
[00:10:48] You pick yourself up you go, and if it follows you, it’s ok – it will eventually drop off somewhere.
[00:10:53] Amy: You have to know your own gut too, like first of all… As a Southern woman I have to tell you Scarlett O’Hara said it best. Tomorrow is another day.
[00:11:01] I know it’s going to be OK. And I have to tell it to myself all the time.
[00:11:06] I’m just going to have to fall on a sword because I messed that one up. But you know the other part of that is that there’s always going to be people that are trying to give you advice that are speaking from their own place of fear or where they’re coming from their own experience.
[00:11:19] I’ve certainly had things that I’ve been involved in that were leadership things that became just sort of a time suck. And I started to look at my life. I don’t really have time for all these things in my life. Something has to go. What does it have to be. And I’m like – OK it’s going to have to be this thing that everybody’s told me is an amazing opportunity but it’s not feeling like one to me. And I famously stepped down from one and the person who was kind of like the big in-charge head honcho person. You know she was like “You’re really making a mistake – you’re going to really regret this.
[00:11:49] Let me tell you something. I quit the next day and everybody else called me and was like.
[00:11:53] Ohhhh!!! You’re out of the thing!
[00:11:57] And guess what? That did not hurt me at all. In fact if anything it’s only been good for me. So you know – and of course that’s, you know, years in my past – but definitely the thing is you have to know your gut and you have to know you know this isn’t right for me. And when you know that you need to get out because the longer you stay the more problems you’re creating for the people who are going to have to pick up the slack because you’re burning out. If it’s not for you you got to go.
[00:12:19] Susan: Yep. Yep. Honing that gut positioning system is really good. OK so we’re going to switch gears a little bit. You know that one of the things we do at EducationCloset – THE thing that we do at EdCloset is about arts integration and steam. And you know I’m curious for you how you differentiate between the two, because it’s a it’s a matter of contention for a lot of folks. I’d like to know, for you how do you differentiate between them?
[00:12:50] Amy: Well I don’t think there’s any contention, so I feel like there is contention maybe from other non-arts people I don’t know.
[00:13:00] I definitely have seen people who are more upset that they feel like STEAM is sort of like “this was our territory”. And now you’re going to kick in here too. But I kind of understand how they feel because when recently was like “it’s not STEAM it’s STREAM because we have to have reading in there too”
[00:13:15] And I was like “Come on lady… really? We read all the time.” But at the same time she has a legitimate point in it.
[00:13:23] You know, whatever. Maybe it will be STREAM eventually. For me I see arts integration as a huge umbrella and there’s all sorts of subcategories underneath that and STEAM is one of those categories. You know STEAM is a type of Arts integration but it is very targeted and I understand in different arenas it’s not going to be arts integration. You know if you’re a science teacher you may not feel that you’re calling that arts integration. If I was an administrator I’d say well you are doing art and you are integrating it into your science class. Ergo. But you can call it whatever you want to make yourself feel better. It doesn’t bother me. But yeah I just see it as a subcategory of that. It’s a very specific category. I do think it gets dangerous when people are calling things STEAM, but then there’s no math or art in it and it’s STE. Or there’s no technology and it’s just SEAM, you know there’s all these different things. I think it’s important to remember that it’s a conversation between all of those subjects. And while yes, a pencil is a piece of technology, I don’t think just because you use a pencil you can really say that you did justice to technology or the technology standards of wherever you are. You know it’s complicated but definitely for me I do a lot of professional development for teachers about arts integration.
[00:14:38] And when I do see them I just feel like it’s another type of Arts integration that I’m doing now that isn’t upsetting to people.
[00:14:46] Susan: But like you said it is a conversation.
[00:14:50] And here’s the thing that kind of… it doesn’t amuse me but it interests me… when I watch different people talk about STEAM and arts integration. Sometimes people seem to get into some very specific camps – like you are a STEM camp person or you or a STEAM camp person and they’re holding on for dear life to this camp.
[00:15:13] And it is a conversation – I don’t know that anybody needs to be offended – because it’s an approach and it’s really about dialogue and inquiry across the board. And so if we’re not willing to have that conversation if we’re not willing to ask questions about it and honestly listen to other people and other perspectives, I think we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.
[00:15:35] Amy: You know I think we have to look at our end goal is our end goal for students to rigorously learn about the world around them to be prepared to have careers that don’t even exist yet? Right. You know sometimes that might be a STEM project. I’m not wasting any sleep over the fact that you didn’t do any art at all. I’m not. It’s not worrying me. It’s not concerning me. Sometimes you might do a STEAM project. I feel like there’s room for everybody now and I feel like when you start to have teachers sort of have these in-fights or this sort of like struggle for dominance or whatever, that’s where we’re losing sight of the big picture. You know we’re all in this game to educate people, whether you’re at the tippy top superintendent level or you’re a first year teacher. We’re all here to educate people. So we have to keep that in mind and I’m not really worried about the STEAM SEAMS STREAM. You know it’s an aberration. We all have moments.
[00:16:31] Susan: And I think we bake a bigger pie. It’s not about the slice of the pie you get. It’s that we make a bigger pie. Everybody has a seat at the table.
[00:16:40] Amy: And there’s definitely those projects that you’re thinking,
[00:16:47] “There is no reason for it to be there.” You know, it didn’t make sense necessarily that time. I’m cool with that.
[00:16:55] Susan: And so in terms of both arts integration and STEAM do you feel that either one, or maybe both, are grade level limited at all? Like is it easier maybe in certain areas than others?
[00:17:11] Amy: You know if you’d asked me that a year ago I’d probably have a different answer just because I’ve been having to write a lot of STEAM professional development. Here’s what I think. I think that if you’re a kindergarten through third grade teacher you tend to be the sort of personality – this is very general here – that you see the glass half full. Always willing to try something new. I could sell an elementary teacher on anything. They’re just like “yes I’m going to try that”. They just have the best attitudes, right? And they’re highly collaborative. They want to know what their students from last year are doing in the next grade, they want to know what the students coming in can do. They really like these ideas of vertical planning. I mean you could tell them diagonal planning and they’re going to try it out. And I feel like the older the grade level teacher gets, they reflect the students. They become more and more apathetic to the idea of collaboration – it becomes more and more just about their subject. To where you get to the high school level, and it’s like “I’m in high school art teacher and I teach art and I don’t really need to worry about what you’re doing in English class or science class or whatever. I’m just worried about art”. And they’re kind of annexed you know, all the art teachers are in one wing of the building all the math teachers are in another one.
[00:18:20] And sometimes I think they go weeks without seeing each other. But I know when I go to professional development with high school teachers it’s like this…(insert crossed arms).
[00:18:30] When you go with elementary teachers it’s like “oh my gosh let me do everything”. And I’m like golly just like the people you teach.
[00:18:40] And I say that with love for my elementary and my high school teachers. I’ve been an elementary teacher. I’ve been a high school teacher. I know the sides of it. So I think what happens with regards to STEAM is you have those elementary teachers that are like wait what? It’s another tool for my tool kit bag. I’m on to this like..I’m a little intimidated but my principal told me I have to try it. So I’m gonna. And then you get up to the high school level where they’re like…I teach art, I teach math, and that doesn’t have a role for me. You know it’s very “that’s not part of my game”. So I don’t think that there’s any grade level limits with STEAM. I think what happens is as educators we sort of annex ourselves with the older students and we don’t provide as many opportunities. And they may not have as many opportunities for collaboration to be fair. At that high school level there are so many different moving pieces with coaches and afterschool clubs and things like that. That could be part of it but I see that a lot more STEAM happens at the elementary level. Specifically in that second, third, fourth grade span seems to be where it is. Middle School in science class I see it happening sometimes if you have a really enterprising engineering or art teacher it happens. And then I don’t see it happening much at the high school level. Having said that though they can do amazing things.
[00:19:53] My students had four world futures to pick from. One was post-apocalyptic. One was we have fixed the environment. You know all these things and then they had to design a car based on where we think the future of cars is going currently. And then they had to price that car based on the cost of these materials and then they had to build a model of it.
[00:20:15] Susan: Wow.
[00:20:16] Amy: Right? At the high school….You can’t do that at the third grade level and have it be anything more than cute and fun you know. At a certain point you’re hitting their capacity to listen and understand these things. But at the high school level they could do the math. So it’s really exciting but also the high school levels you know they’re pretty smart. So you have to know yourself.
[00:20:34] Susan: Right. So what do you think in terms of those limitations – and I totally agree and I think a lot of it is scheduling as well as mentality – I think it goes kind of hand-in-hand. How do you then overcome those kinds of limitations?
[00:20:49] Amy: I think you have to sell people on the idea. How’s that going to help you? You know if I am a high school ceramics teacher – and I keep saying art because that’s my area. So I feel like I can pick on it. But if you’re a ceramics teacher then you’re going to have to sell me. I’m like why is this really relevant to what I’m doing and is it going to enhance it? Because I’ve probably been teaching ceramics for the same way for a decade or more and it works for me – it’s not broken. So you’re going to have to start showing me things with these 3-D printers that can print with Clay…you’re going have to start exciting me and engaging me and start talking to me about things. Like how cars are sculpted with clay prior to ever being built. You know a model has to be made if you start talking about these real world applications and you’re going to have to make it relevant to my subject not just to the other subject.
[00:21:33] I think the math teacher probably feels the same way they’re probably thinking you know I don’t really want to deal with just the art aspect of this. What’s the math part? We’re going to talk about parabolas. What’s happening here that’s meaningful? And then I think you have to provide those people with the time to naturally collaborate. I think we have these professional learning communities or you know whatnot.
[00:21:54] You know I say that because we’re both with that face which is like “man…” you get the full concept but it has been so ruined.
[00:22:03] So you have to provide people time to naturally collaborate whether it’s like a lunch time and you you know cater it once a week to kind of force or encourage people to come together. And I think if you give people an opportunity to naturally collaborate you’re going to have a lot more success than if you force them to be in a room together.
[00:22:21] Susan: I totally agree. So pivoting on that whole PLC, we’re rolling our eyes thing. Because you’re right. I mean it is a good idea. But putting it into place and seeing how people have done it… again it goes back to implementation like so many other things. It aligns with the idea of shifting priorities that we’re constantly getting new things coming at us new priorities that are being dumped on us year in year out.
[00:22:52] How does that affect creativity in the classroom? And then how can we ensure that it doesn’t drag us down?
[00:23:02] Amy: So the idea of having all these expectations like, “now I’ve got to do a new curriculum this year, we have a new framework, there’s this new philosophy”. I think that if you think of it like a cacophony of noise – you know all these different things you have to do – pick out one noise that sounds loudest and focus on it.
[00:23:21] That’s what I tend to do. Sometimes I feel like it’s just a storm of new ideas and I can only eat an elephant one bite at a time. I can’t take on all those things at a time and be successful. So I try to strategically pick what I think is going to make the most sense if I’m in a classroom and you know my new administrator’s constantly talking about the depth of knowledge, depth of knowledge, depth of knowledge and I feel like I’m going to be assessed on my ability to use that, then maybe that’s what I focus on that year. And hey that’s not bad. I can sit there and I can look at the fourth one and say oh look there’s a lot of create and synthesize here.
[00:23:53] Those are going to be my two vocabulary words this year. And I’m just going to get inspired by that.
[00:23:58] You know that’s my thing – there’s always something in whatever yuck that’s thrown at you that you’re like “oh I don’t want to do any of this”. There’s always some little glimmer in there that you’re like this part could be interesting. The other thing is when you have all that stuff coming at you that seems overwhelming. Like I said, pick the one thing – it doesn’t have to be your favorite. But sometimes when you’re irritated and you’re frustrated that’s just kind of where the magic happens. You know, you sort of are like “I’m going to sit down and I’m going to grumble my way through this” and then all of a sudden you’re like “I’m into this. I know everything there is to know about this. I’m so into it. Let me go read all the books” and then you kind of become an expert on that one thing. And I don’t think any administrator is going to get upset with you for saying hey I’m going to focus on this one thing, I’ve become really good at it, and maybe just sort of do my due diligence with the rest of it. Like just check off, yeah – I did that – whatever. What it is…it’s a lot coming at us all the time. I constantly have to tell myself that I’m just going to take it one little bite at a time and then slowly move forward. I will eventually get somewhere.
[00:25:00] Susan: Well and you’re right in that I always say that innovation happens when your back’s against the wall. When you’ve kind of got no other option. You’ve got to find your way out of that. And I think that this is part of it.
[00:25:12] Speaking of that, tell me about your new visual art integration curriculum. I’m so so curious about this. How did it happen and what is it?
[00:25:25] So we had a proposition about 30 years ago in California called Prop 13 that lowered property taxes. When it lowered those property taxes, it decimated spending in education and the arts were really really hit. So what’s interesting is while we’re in California or I’m in California and we have Los Angeles and San Francisco and you know Sacramento – we have these heads of culture. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of art schools because there’s been no funding for it. So most elementary schools do not have a visual arts teacher and do not have a music teacher. It is getting better. We’re starting to see people put into these positions. But the other part that goes with it is because these positions haven’t been around for 20 or 30 years, nobody has gone to school for these things either because there were no jobs. So you’re getting people who were like “I like art” and “I was a first grade teacher” who are now becoming art teachers. They were thinking what do I do? I’m here now you know, this sounded like a good idea. Now I was terrified. So we’re having that happen. But the other part of it is that you have whole communities who’ve grown up without arts education so they don’t know what it is, they don’t know what it looks like, and they’re functional human beings. So they’re thinking why do we even need it? And a lot of these people are teachers, especially in my community. We have a lot of people that teach in my community that grew up here.
[00:26:41] So when we talk about art in the classroom a lot of what’s happening – and first of all, California educational policy does require students to have consistent access to arts education – but it ends up being like we saw one play this year and you know that’s kind of it. And nobody’s really checking on it because once the recession hit they’re not going to punish people for keeping the doors open. So it’s not a gotcha game. But what I noticed was that we have a lot of Pinterest kings and queens that are going to Pinterest and they find a good project. It’s not necessarily a bad project. But it may not align to their standards. It may not have rigor. It may not really be creative – in might just be mostly more of like a craft or something that’s enhancing the educational experience. But it’s not integrating any real learning and they are at least doing that. Which I deeply admire and so there’s a demand for it when I have more make and take workshops.
[00:27:34] It’s like people just show up. They didn’t register. They roll on in there and they’re like I need an art project. You know and I love that.
[00:27:43] So I thought, you know, there’s a demand in my area for some art integrated lessons that are rigorous and that aligned to their standards. And in California a lot of our districts are adopting a new English language arts curriculum this year. One of the curriculums that was most widely adopted in my area has a really wonderful framework of 10 units and stories in it are really really wonderful. It’s like excerpts from Tom Sawyer, from Julie of the Wolves. You know sort of iconic children’s stories and I thought… you know what? I’m going to go unit by unit for every single grade level and I’m going to have an integrated art experience. And I started doing it and I thought… I think I’m kind of writing a curriculum.
[00:28:29] And then I was like…maybe I should get it done before the school year starts and that was like May 9th. I thought maybe I need to get on this thing!
[00:28:39] So it was a busy summer. And my big thing is that if you’re a classroom teacher that you just don’t have time necessarily to write that rigorous art and a very good lesson. I know last year the math teachers came to me and they said we want an arts integrated lesson for high school math and we want it to be a digital art project. And I was like well that is a really specific request.
[00:29:03] But I loved that they were asking that question. But it took me three weeks to write that lesson because I had to really understand the high school math and I did not. I did not understand it well enough to write a lesson.
[00:29:16] So I had to kind of go back and learn a little bit of math and I thought that it’s the same thing for people who are not arts people. This is intimidating. I had to get past my intimidation of the math – all that kind of stuff. So I thought, what if I can put something together, have step by step pictures, I can build in all the planning documents and basically it’s ready to go. It says “here you go. You can teach this.
[00:29:38] And my thing is is that once they kind of go through the process they’re like oh – I can write this… I can do this. I got this you know. This isn’t like super complicated you know second grade art. It’s not something that should overwhelm anybody. And so far it’s been really really good. I mean I say that but it’s been really really well received. What was also exciting was that this particular ELA framework has a unit on life science and all the readings are life science oriented. It has another one on technology. It has another one on physical science, another one on social studies, another one on government. So I mean it was really easy to integrate other standards from science from social studies from math. Even so every grade level has at least two STEAM projects and at least one social studies project. So yes it was kind of crazy. I did have some interesting comments that were like “Do you think this is making it too easy now for principals to not hire an art teacher?”
[00:30:37] I think that’s a valid question. But I think if you’re the type of administrator who’s going to provide a general ed teacher with a textbook for art basically let’s say, and then say “Now I don’t need an art teacher”, you were probably never going to hire an art teacher anyway. You were never going to see the value in that. So I don’t think it’s really eradicating any job opportunities. I think it’s just more concreting that for those admin that don’t really get it. You know we just have to hope that they eventually have an epiphany or they move on to something else.
[00:31:12] Susan: No I get it. I’m in awe of you putting that together in such a short period of time – that is amazing. I’ve got to tell you – because you know and I to share with you – that we’re putting together a curriculum supplement as well.
[00:31:31] Amy: I am so excited by the way. I will be the first person to give my credit card.
[00:31:34] Susan: Now we’re starting with K-5 and then we’re going to move to 6-12 and we’re doing something similar. We’ve been referencing the Eureka math that was provided out of New York and then Common Core has a great – not like the “common core” we know but the actual organization that was formerly named Common Core but has now changed because that you know the whole process came in. And they have written an English curriculum that is also a common source and we’ve gone through the actual common core standards and looked at the supplementary text there as well. And so we’ve started to pair all of these units and we’re doing it with artistic periods.
[00:32:19] So we’re we’re actually aligning it based on our artistic periods like the romantic period and to connect with art and music and dance and pulling it all together.
[00:32:32] I’m literally sitting here I’m jumping up and down for my team that’s been working on this.
[00:32:37] And it’s it’s going to launch for 2018. And then in between we’re doing P.D. videos. So sharing video content: here’s not only the actual planning pieces and the curriculum and the assessments but here is how you actually do these techniques. And that is all really great.
[00:32:55] But I’m sitting here thinking we’ve been doing this for like six months and I’m just now starting to get out of the weeds with my team.
[00:33:04] Amy: Well, I had it conceptualized. So I knew I was going to do something and I had already gone through and had pulled out a project inspiration for each unit and I had done that like way way back in March or so. I had done that and I had maybe written at least one lesson per grade level so that they had seven lessons written. But I was supposed to keep working on it and kind of chipping away at it but unfortunately I had a really major grant proposal that just sort of became a time vampire. I thought – OK once I get through this, once I get through that, and I got through it and I was like, girl you were writing about 60 lesson plans in about two months. And I’m just now to the point where I’m like ok, maybe I could write another lesson plan. Eventually in my life. But yeah I got a little…it was really hard towards the end because I wanted to make sure that those grade levels I worked on last got the same attention to detail and same excitement and same inspiration as the first ones. And I was smart in that I tackled the older grades first and I figured those were going to have more planning pieces and they’d have, just like you were saying, more technique pieces. And then once you get to the kindergarten level it’s a lot of stuff that is pretty self-explanatory.
[00:34:20] But it was a little you know… I was going home and my eyes were definitely crossed at times and then when they came home from the printer I took them home to show my fiance. And I was like look! Look what I have done! And he was like those look nice.
[00:34:32] I was like no you’re going tell me how amazing I am!
[00:34:40] Susan: I’m so glad I’m not the only one who does that. My husband has seen more web pages and more curriculum in his life that he has no idea what it is. I am so grateful that somebody else does that.
[00:34:50] Amy: Fortunately he is a professor so he was wanting to critique. I said before we critique, it is gone to the printer. Things cannot be changed. So unless it is life or death, don’t you tell me about it.
[00:35:03] But he did learn some flexibility because the way we wanted people to access the power points and things like that, you know we want people to be able to access it easily but we also don’t want it to be something that’s just so easy to say “hey let me send this to all a thousand of my Facebook friends”. That’s a hard place to kind of hit. I mean that also I definitely hit the limits of I think what my organization is capable of doing. I was like, I want this and I want that. And IT was like “dare to dream”. So you know they’re like, “us too!”
[00:35:40] So there were definitely some things that I said, I want it this way and this is how I feel comfortable and I’m type-A and I already have a plan for this. And then having to sort of take a step back and we’re not going to do it that way and we’re going to do it some way that maybe I don’t really want to do. But this is what is realistic and it makes sense to make a couple of compromises.
[00:36:01] Susan: But in order to get it out now, get it out before and then revise later. Get it out.
[00:36:08] Amy: It’s terrifying once it’s out because you do sort of feel like you know, I hope this isn’t horrible. You know I hate this thing now.
[00:36:20] You know you don’t hate it but I heard a podcast with Cassie Stephens about her Clay book which I think is fantastic. And they were asking her which was her favorite project and she was like none of them because I’m tired of doing them at this point.
[00:36:37] I was like oh I so relate. I don’t want to do any of these right now but I am doing workshops about them. So I, you know, pump myself up and I’m like yes- today we’re going to do this and it always is so much fun.
[00:36:50] I mean you know, you’re in the midst of it, you get to a point really like whatever.
[00:36:54] Susan: Oh yeah yeah. I think that’s all artists in the middle of anything that you put together.
[00:36:59] Amy: My boss showed me this sheet of paper of like any… Because I had a day or so where I was down and she could tell and she was like… see there’s like this chart of how people do on projects. And it’s like this is amazing, this is amazing, this is amazing, and then it’s just like the pit of despair. And then it’s like maybe this doesn’t suck so much and you get yourself back out and she said, “you’re kind of like right here right now”.
[00:37:19] You know she’s like, “but you’ll get back up, you’ll get your back up there”.
[00:37:23] Susan: So can you share with us the link to so that people can check out your curriculum or not.
[00:37:30] No I can totally share it with you. If I move this around will it mess you up if I sort of move the when there was no. Go ahead.
[00:37:36] All right. Let me. Because unfortunately it’s really long.
[00:37:53] I think that if people want to click on it they’d appreciate that. I’m so excited about your curriculum.
[00:38:12] Susan: Well I think like I said, bake a bigger pie. Everybody needs as much as we can possibly give for them right now. There’s just there’s not enough out there for that. So the more we can give the better it is.
[00:38:24] Amy: Do you feel like it’s the Wild West? Like for years there have been curriculum texts. There have been and all of a sudden there’s this realization or it’s like maybe we could do this for art and then all of a sudden I think you know when I see art teachers who started teaching in the 70s they might be retired and they might still be in the classroom but they talk about how different it was. And it was very like, you know, we would use the word hippie but it was really laid back and not really open to these ideas and things like that and they’ve sort of seen the pendulum swing everywhere. But I think those people were very reluctant to have a set of lessons – they didn’t want that. But that wasn’t how they were taught to teach. And then you know we have deviated and we move on and we move on. But what I’m seeing more and more online is like where are the lesson plans or lesson plans? And then to me it’s a little weird because I don’t know that I would want a book with someone saying here go teach these.
[00:39:12] But I also think back to my first year teaching with some of the stuff I taught and I think I could have used a book.
[00:39:23] I taught maybe three good projects that year. But yes I think that there’s a demand for it now and I think it might go back all the way back to how teachers are being taught. I don’t know.
[00:39:34] Susan: It’s interesting that you say that because quite honestly, I have struggled with this in terms of our organization. I have kept a lid on this and doing something like this for over a year. Because I went kicking and screaming. I was like no no no no no. We provide professional development. We want to empower other people to be able to do this because it’s not a curriculum in and of itself. I was really nervous to kind of go there. But. Everybody at every conference we have, every kind of class we have, we get asked where are the lessons? Where can I download them? And I kind of pushed back a lot. Like, you need to be able to do this yourself. So here’s the process I want to see you use. But as we’ve kind of done that you’re right – there are so many initiatives. There are so many priorities that people need an example, a model, for what works and the pacing behind it and how to do it. It’s not meant to replace.
[00:40:34] It is meant as a supplement, as something that helps them so that after you do a couple of them, then you go oh I got this.
[00:40:42] Amy: What’s interesting is we have a workshop that’s how to write an arts integrated lesson.
[00:40:47] And all I do is say before you leave tonight you’re going to have one written, bring a book or something for inspiration and I bring a ton of art supplies. And all I do all night long is basically say hey maybe rethink how you’re going to make this or… because they’re always going to go to the grocery store and buy 50 things…. And I’m like you’re not really in real life going to do that. I mean I love you but you’re not. So think about what already exists in your building, you know, what things can we use that are there and just sort of bringing that practical eye to it. And that is one of our most popular workshops. People love it and I think all it is, is just having someone tell you “Look, you’ve got this”. But just like you were saying, if you have something to tear apart it’s a lot easier to say I’m going to take this and then I’m going to do this with it. Rather than it is just to invent it. And our goal is for kids to have access to the arts. So my thing is that these people want to teach art but they feel like they don’t have the capacity. So let’s help them get over that little bridge.
[00:41:37] Susan: Yes. Yes. I love it.
[00:41:39] Amy: It’s a very little bridge. You can do it a little. But it seems so big when you’re looking at it from the one side.
[00:41:45] Susan: All right. So to wrap it up I really want to do something creative. What is the most exciting creative thing that you have done in the last few weeks.
[00:41:57] Amy: Well I’m planning a wedding. So there is that which is you know – it’s horrible and wonderful all at the same time. So that’s been fine. And our theme is Twin Peaks because you know why not right.
[00:42:16] And I think the most creative thing is I’m working on some egg tempera paintings at home. I love anything having to do with medieval art. I love egg tempera – it’s near and dear to my heart just haven’t done enough of it in three years. So I’ve been forcing myself to go home and then of course once I get involved it’s 10 o’clock at night. I’m like it’s time to clean up you know. So that’s probably the most exciting thing.
[00:42:40] I’m a pretty dull person. I truly am. You know so I love art all the time and that’s it’s not that interesting when that’s your baseline.
[00:42:50] Susan: But filling your creative well, I think it’s something that we all let slide. So having something even if it is something that you think is dull and if it sparks you up and it refills that well, then it’s all good.
[00:43:08] Amy: What about you? I want to know is your most creative exciting thing that you’ve done in the last two weeks.
[00:43:16] Susan: So during the summer months my daughter is at home with me or in the office with me and she’s here now actually. She’s over watching something on the iPad of course. But it has forced me to get a little bit more creative than I normally am so we have a whole station and we’ve been playing with paint glazes and air dry clay and what that all looks like together and just kind of experimenting with that and some watercolors. You know my background is as a music teacher so I don’t come at this from the visual art perspective all the time in my technique. I’m like mortified in my technique sometimes.
[00:43:52] Amy: Really? Because everything I see you do I’m like she’s so legit. I love it. I love it when you said you were a music educator the first time, I thought really… wow.
[00:44:04] Susan: I’m such a fraud. No…not really. I’ve just not been formally taught technique, so anyway so it has forced me to kind of look at some other things around the office and how can we create some some new pieces. My daughter really loves the visual art component. So I get to explore things with her. That’s kind of been my creative outlet. But like you, I am boring. I am like you – I work and I am home.
[00:44:33] Amy: I will say before I wrote the curriculum I had two 3-D printers delivered and the whole time I was writing the curriculum they just sat there and stared at me. Because you know I was like I can’t, I can’t go down that vortex. Well they sat there so long I got intimidated. And so then I got done with the curriculum and I was too afraid to do anything with them. And so then one day last week I was like I’m on a date. I’m naming this thing Trixie. Trixie and I -we’re going on a date. We couldn’t figure this out. Of course I broke it like the moment I felt that I had to take it apart.
[00:45:04] And I’m like madly like messaging Christopher Sweeney who probably has other things to do other than talk to me. I’m like oh my god what have I done. I’ve broken it. But yes that was super. But I felt you were talking earlier about teachers being afraid. I was totally intimidated. I’m still a little bit intimidated but I just laugh all the time and some of it is good. Some of it’s bad. But it is a little…it’s how we learn. I was like oh wait I think there’s something stuck in the needle, Let’s touch it. And I’m like oh that means 200 degrees Celsius.
[00:45:33] That’s really hot! I one of those people who has to learn that way.
[00:45:41] That’s an exciting time to have 3-D printer. I feel super cool right now. That will leave quickly but for right now, I’m like cool. I printed a key chain.
[00:45:51] Susan: I’m all excited for it. Like I saw it on insta and I went, “Oh! That’s really cool.
[00:45:59] Amy: There are so many very young teachers that are in their first five years that have grown up in the world of 3D printers and they have 3D printers. I know of one and you doesn’t even have a kiln. She’s like I don’t need a kiln. She’s got this 3-D printer and for what she’s doing she doesn’t, and she 3-D prints stuff with her kids all the time like kindergarteners, first graders. And when you see that happening, and I’m 36, you know I feel like whoa I’m losing my touch, this is the future. And I don’t even speak that language.
[00:46:29] But then I was like she can do it. I can tell she’s a smart woman and I’m a smart woman. I can figure this out. But you know I think that that’s what’s so exciting about younger teachers. They bring this wealth of knowledge that goes unappreciated sometimes.
[00:46:46] And then also a little friendly competition you know… a little I’m going to get left in the dirt. I’m going to be a dinosaur if I don’t figure this out. So I’d best get on that.
[00:46:56] Susan: Yes I agree. We we just hired Laura Wixon who’s about 10 years younger than I am. And I was a little like oh my gosh she is like light years beyond where I was when I was her age. And I think that I told my husband when I went home after her first day… I said you know what? From now on I’m just going to hire people who are younger than me and smarter than me because it totally works.
[00:47:20] I like that. It raises the bar for all of us. And I am so competitive you know.
[00:47:27] Amy: I am too! My dad owned his own business for years and he always hired really really brilliant people. He said hey you know what. How smart am I? That I recognize how smart they are.
[00:47:39] There you go. That’s it. You know Edith Wharton says there’s two ways of spreading light: be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. I am not a candle. I’m on air 100 percent of the time. I don’t usually have the original idea but I am good at rooting out the people who do and being like, we should listen to that. Or can you come speak, can you talk to me. So it’s important to be both.
[00:48:01] Susan: That’s great. Well thank you so much. This has been amazing. It’s so good to get to talk to you.
[00:48:07] Amy: All right. Have a good afternoon.
[00:48:27] Susan: OK Amy you too. Bye.
Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.