EPISODE 25: THE STORY ABOUT

the Importance of Creativity

with Lauralee Chambers

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I’m not here to turn those 950 children into artists but I am here to make sure that they see their own light and that with guidance and inspiration and exposure to the arts, that little spark will grow big enough for them to recognize it on their own and feel it and trust it.

Jamie
Two schools, 42 classes and 950 students a week. I’m Jamie Hipp, and this is Teaching Trailblazers, a show about teachers, artists and leaders in arts integration and STEAM. On this episode, we have a creative conversation with Lauralee Chambers, a veteran visual art educator working in Westchester, New York. Lauralee’s goal is to ensure that children know there are many different ways to be an artist, and that the world needs their creative thinking. She’s also well versed in arts integration and has been instrumental in developing unique programs like Avenues to Artists, Discovery Days, Artists to Authors and Summer Voyage… Welcome, Lauralee.

Lauralee
Thank you.

Jamie
You’ve had an extensive career in art education. Have you been an artist since childhood? Or did something in particular draw you to art education?

Lauralee
So I, I do! I have two… I have, I have an answer for this in two parts. My first inspiration definitely comes from childhood. I am one of seven children. When we were really fortunate to live in a in a really like, play filled, colorful environment for my whole childhood. My parents were great role models for creativity, and I think they did a good job instilling the importance of wonder and curiosity in all of us. In fact, four of us are now teachers. Three of my siblings are in construction. My dad had his own construction company in our town and built both of our family homes and my my mom, before she had seven children, went to art school for a little while in New York City and worked as a commercial artist for three years. And then her life turned to us. And of course, that meant she didn’t have a lot of time for art. But I do remember, there were nights where she would take some art materials out when we were asleep, or she thought we were asleep. And I would sneak down and I do have vivid memories of watching her do watercolor from these cool little tubes on the table and I was always like, peeking around the corner and she would invite me to come and try sometimes and I do have really vivid memories of the smell and the colors. And that being a really special time and fortunately my mom, who is now 85, is still one of the most creative people I know and I owe a lot of my sort of thinking out of the box and looking at things in a different way to her, she was really a teacher and an artist to all of us. And one of the things that she had done for us, I think you might have seen those memory books that parents buy sometimes. And you put your class photos in there and like you write things about your teacher and your friends. And there was a question at the bottom each year in school and it said, What do you want to be when you grow up? And I had recently found it, and I didn’t remember this, but you know, kindergarten, what do you want to be when you grow up artist, first grade teacher, second grade artist, third grade teacher, I went back and forth for years like that. So I guess I kind of put the two together. And here I am.

Jamie
You put it out into the universe. And now here we are. Absolutely. And, you know, I love that you brought up this idea of the smell of the art room and having those really vivid, rich memories and now you’re creating those memories for students in New York. Tell us a little bit about the students you work with.

Lauralee
So yes, I have a lot of children. I am teaching, you won’t believe this… in the same town that I grew up in. We’re about 45 minutes north of New York City, and I am now even teaching some of my past students’ children. So this is finishing my 26th year and for a good portion of that time, I worked in one school with third to fifth graders. But now I do that school in the morning, clean up that whole mess and run out to a whole nother school in the afternoon with K to second graders. And so you can imagine that there are six grades with seven sections that equals our 42 classes. So it’s it’s a lot and this year, we’ve been fighting to get you know, another teacher, and we were finally at the point where I would be going back to one school, and now because of all the cuts and you know, the changes with funding, it’s definitely not going to happen. So I’m going to be now, instead of from two rooms to one room, possibly on two art carts, so I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but it’s a lot.

Jamie
Oh, absolutely. I cannot even imagine and when we’re talking about two art carts or even two schools, and 950 kids, the visual art, in particular with the material requirements, and all of the resources and supplies, I’m sure that is crazy, even for art educators at one school. Now, you brought up the funding and the budget cuts, and of course, our current state of the pandemic and I hate to bring it up, but this is a lived experience that teachers are sharing. Can you share a little bit about the remote learning and some of the challenges that go along with that, particularly in the arts, and maybe how you’ve overcome some of those challenges.

Lauralee
Sure, yeah, there’s a lot of things that are going into play. And of course, our heads are spinning with what’s going to happen next. I think the hardest thing for me, again, going back to smell and experiential things that only an art room can bring. I feel like we’re at a loss on a Zoom meeting or a Google meet with kids to have that sensory that that happens in an art room. And I think having a grown up that’s passionate about seeing what they’re doing and validating what they’re doing is another missing piece. And no matter how many ways we can, you know, reach kids across a computer, it’s not the same and I don’t I don’t feel like we can ever replace that.

Jamie
Amen, yes.

Lauralee
I really take my job seriously and I feel gratitude and grateful that I am have the privilege of sort of working with these little children who are born with infinite creative potential. And that’s our that’s our inheritance as humans. And I’m the one who has the honor of sort of nurturing that little spark that’s inside all of them and helping that grow and keeping that lit for them. And I am having a hard time doing that from home. I’m not here to turn those 950 children into artists, but I am here to make sure that they see their own light and that with guidance and inspiration and exposure to the arts, that little spark will grow big enough for them to recognize it on their own and feel it and trust it, and then they can feed it for themselves. And so how do you do that across a computer, you know, so, because I have so many kids, I’m not able to meet with all of them the way a classroom teacher would would meet with them. So I’ve been popping into meetings. And that has been the best part I have to say, seeing their faces. It really reminds you like they’re little kids still, they’re talking about their teeth falling out and who had a birthday and their dogs are on their laps. They’re not stressed out about this the way we are. So that always makes me feel better. Connecting to them is something we know how to do. Let’s not forget that right? We might not know where we’re going to teach, how we’re going to teach, what’s going to happen but we have to remember what we know for sure. And we know a lot and so we know how to make art supplies from just about anything and whether you have just a single black crayon in your house. like that can do a lot! And sometimes less is more and sometimes more is great. And again, I’m you know I’m struggling I did have you know a lot of issues with starting this from the beginning. I felt really awkward in my house with my three grown up kids in a big open space and every time I’d go to do a video, which I again had never done in my life, here come the lawn guys and they’re out blowing, you know, whatever they’re blowing aside, right when I’m about to start talking! And so I kind of feel like, you know, we’re dropped into like the ocean in a riptide and you’re trying to like get back to what you know, the shore, and you’re being dragged out further and further and further. And so you’re you’re treading and you’re fighting these waves, and eventually you just realize like, what they say to do is just float and scream for help. Sometimes you have to surrender to that too, and stop fighting, and kind of just go along to get those sea legs and we all are going to have to go back into those waves of uncertainty again, and this time though, I think we’ll have a life preserver or a raft or a line of some kind. And each time we do what seemed to be impossible, we’re building those muscles to get us through the next impossible thing. And we’re teachers. So we can do that. And I don’t want to ever make light of people who are really struggling because I know, again, like, there are people probably doing this longer than me. And we’re the ones who kind of are like, what, what, how are we going to do all this and those teachers retiring and I feel my heart goes out to them who are ending their year sort of without the closure that makes us feel so satisfied at the end of the year. So I want to just say to all the teachers, be so proud of yourself, and you have done big things and little things and things you never thought you were going to be able to do and and you should celebrate that.

Jamie
Oh, you’re giving me goosebumps over here. And you so beautifully articulated many of the thoughts that of course, all of our listeners are having during this very difficult and very uncertain time. You brought up the black crayon. Yes. I want to talk about supplies actually because I’m thinking about these kids at home. Many are probably unable to attend summer camps or events. Give us some ideas about creating art supplies from things available at home, maybe a shopping list when we can, in fact, venture out. Tell us all of your your strategies.

Lauralee
Sure, that’s, that’s fun for me. Like, I feel like if the kids are going to be home for a longer time, you definitely want to set up some kind of a creative space. And again, that might not be something super beautiful looking. But we just need to have access for kids to their art supplies. They can’t be hidden away in closets. So you you make a place that’s inviting maybe a beautiful mug of markers that’s gonna call me over every time. I have baskets of supplies and papers all around so that they don’t have to ask permission, right? We want to have a space for them with possibilities and we want somebody there again, to make them feel like what they’re doing is important. So how do you do that? You make a gallery wall for them to display their art, you have a place maybe in your house where you create a family museum, maybe just even a little shelf that each week somebody in the family put something special there and you talk about that. Maybe you could document your kids creating their own art, and save all of that into a digital portfolio or print out their work into a big poster that hangs in their room, or even make a book from one of those sites where you can do books. I think that just showing them that you’re validating seeing appreciating because that’s what teachers do in the classroom. And without that little piece it’s kind of like kids don’t have that ‘I’m doing this for me’ thing yet. That comes after you know, they’re trying to please their friends, their teachers, and that’s a missing part. So and speaking of supplies, even If you just have a set of markers, washable markers can be turned into paint because a lot of kids don’t have a watercolor tray. So if you take a piece of tin foil and scribble a little puddle of let’s say a red marker onto that tinfoil, you’re making a little palette and you could do that with all your colors. You take a paintbrush and dip it in water, or even a Q tip if you don’t have any paint brushes, you can use that as a little paint palette. Or if you draw with the marker and just have a wet paintbrush, you can dissolve and spread that ink and make beautiful blended watercolor paint from that

Jamie
Incredible! Okay, we all want to come to your house now. Family museum, mugs of markers, tin foil palettes, this just sounds amazing. I know I speak for all of the listeners for this episode when I say that. Any other apps or resources or strategies for teachers, classroom teachers who of course currently online or hopefully soon face to face and in person. Any other resources or strategies for teachers looking to integrate visual art?

Lauralee
Yes, I have to say Jamie, I absolutely am in love with the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM.

Jamie
So am I!

Lauralee
The website is a place where I could get lost for hours on end. There are over 2000 inspiring articles and the content is so high quality that I am so grateful to have a place like that to go. So that’s my number one. The Incredible Art Department is another website I’d like to share because it’s been a go-to of mine since 1994. And it has thousands of links to all things art, from soup to nuts. The NAEA is another place who has a remote learning toolkit broken up by division. The Kennedy Art Center has integrated art lesson resources. I got a book like I do every summer. So I’m excited to read this one. It comes from the New World kids organization. Their founders, wrote a book called The Missing Alphabet. And if you people my friends who know me know I collect alphabet books, kids alphabet books. So the title of that just called to me The Missing Alphabet is a guide for developing creative thinking in kids. And it’s really, really good. I just started glancing at the pages, but I love that. And so, also, I think that doing this for the first time and finding so many neat apps for teaching, I think we can extend those into our lives in different ways. I have two that I love that I’ve used to present my lessons with, and that’s Padlet. If you haven’t tried that, I absolutely love it for its visual quality and you can insert your voice and files and links and collaborate with kids and I’m working on a Padlet right now for our fifth graders who… we go to Broadway to New York City every year around June to a show and we’re not going to get to go to Aladdin this year but I always get to go on the trip so I’m creating a virtual trip for them through a Padlet where they could… it starts with, I know it’s silly, a bus ride because I have video from from last year. And I have like myself talking to them, who am I gonna sit with? Who has the snacks? Open the windows, like what are we singing? And so it starts with the bus ride and we get to, in the Padlet, we you see Times Square as we’re approaching and all the lights and the scenery and I have little backdrops for photoshoots that they could use. And we always have lunch at Planet Hollywood. So I have pictures of in there and video from last year and the menu and I’m ordering a hamburger and I’m like what are you guys having and and then we always head over to the theater and so I have footage of the New Amsterdam theater and there’s beautiful resources on on YouTube for any show backstage. I love that part, like showing the kids the trap doors and how the genie flies up. And so there’s lots of video they can watch. I have versions of all the old Aladdins and so that’s been really fun. And then Flipgrid is the other app that we are loving. And for school, it works beautifully for kids responding, but I’m using Flipgrid to make a scrapbook for a teacher, a music teacher that’s retiring. And I’m feeling like she’s missing out on so many things at the end of her year with concerts and so her band kids are all going to record for her on that. And all the teachers are going to send, you know messages of love and thanks to her. So those platforms, try to you know, think of other creative ways than just what you might think of for classroom use.

Jamie
Lauralee, this sounds phenomenal. And when you brought up backstage and the trap door and behind the scenes and you also brought up the Institute, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you, for a behind the scenes teaser of your upcoming Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM summer connectivity conference presentation. Can you give us a little behind the scenes tour of what you’re going to be speaking about in July?

Lauralee
Oh, my goodness, you have no idea how excited I am to be a part of all these distinguished guests that are going to be there. And my session has two parts. I do speak again about all the benefits of art education and advocacy, and a little bit more about my teaching, and I talk about how we need innovation across the board. We’re living through that right now and how the child’s counterpart to innovation is creative thinking and how we are in the best position to build those skills. And then of course, I am doing a demo as the second part of one of my favorite art lessons that can be done with any age using really simple materials. It begins with a really colorful process art technique. And you can use that in lots of different content areas. And I explore some of those like math and science areas, I have helpful handouts and resources. And I know it will get you thinking and put a new lesson in your collection.

Jamie
Oh, we cannot wait! Between now and then how can listeners find out more about the work that you do?

Lauralee
My Instagram is two art – number two, because I have two art rooms – two art dot chambers. And because of this videotaping, I did start a YouTube channel. And I do have some lessons there. It’s called Lauralee Chambers Art. I have an account at Artsonia for my Columbus Elementary School so you can see more of my student work there. And those are some of the ways that you can find me and I look forward to seeing anybody that wants to continue the conversation!

Jamie
Teaching Trailblazers is a production of the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM, and I’ve been your host Jamie Hipp. This podcast is produced, edited and mixed by Jaime Patterson.