This year was one of, if not the hardest, for teachers in their entire career. Many reached a breaking point and decided to leave the classroom or retire early. And while it might be better going forward, everything isn’t fixed. The pandemic goes on, and teachers will still face many of the same worries as last year.
The question to ask yourself in preparing for this year is, “How do I get the spark back and re-take power in my classroom?” So I decided to create an empowering program using our SPARK framework to help you do just that. Today the Reclaim Your Classroom free course begins, and in this episode I go through the program, giving you an overview of what you can expect after you join.
2:14 – A quick overview of the 5 steps in the SPARK framework
5:32 – What to expect when you first sign up for the program
6:59 – How to take inventory of what’s going on with you right now
10:57 – The emotional exercise to expect on Day 2 and the tool that can help
14:52 – The simple, cool tool and method you’ll use for completing step 3
18:41 – Taking the A in SPARK and using it twice
20:39 – Bringing it all together for step 4 to start moving toward where you want to go
22:48 – What the K stands for this time and how to create your battle cry for this year
24:27 – Reading the manifesto I wrote for Art Class Curator
Cindy Ingram: Hello and welcome to The Art Class Curator Podcast. I am Cindy Ingram, your host and the founder of Art Class Curator, and The Curated Connections Library. We’re here to talk about teaching art with purpose and inspiration from the daily delights of creativity to the messy mishaps that come with being a teacher. Whether you’re driving home from school or cleaning up your classroom for the 15th time today, take a second, take a deep breath, relax those shoulders, and let’s get started.
Hi everybody. It’s Cindy Ingram from Art Class Curator. Today, what we’re going to do is we are going to overview what we’re doing right now at Art Class Curator. Today starts our free program that we’re calling an empowerment guide, this is called Reclaim Your Classroom: Take Back Your Teaching Spark with Intention, Joy, and Purpose. The reason we put this together was that—you all know and I’ve been talking about it all summer on the podcast—this year was one of, if not the hardest year that teachers have had in all of their careers and a lot of teachers hit a breaking point, a lot of teachers left the classroom, retired early, just decided they couldn’t do it anymore. We know that everything is not fixed. The pandemic is not over. We still have cases. We’re still going to be worrying about a lot of the things we worried about last year with the masking, the social distancing, the supply issues, the art on a cart issues, but we do know that it will be better. We know that a lot of schools are going back to full in person. A lot of teachers are not going to have to do remote learning anymore.
We were thinking that now is a good time to really reflect on the year, reflect on what went well, what didn’t go well, what you learned this year and how to apply that into the new year. The number one thing that we really want to talk about and to think about is how we get that teaching spark back. How do we reclaim the joy in our classroom? How do we take back our power? What we decided to do is create this program, Reclaim Your Classroom, and we are doing it through the lens of our SPARK Art Criticism Framework. At Art Class Curator, we have our SPARK Framework which is a framework that you can use to engage your students in art criticism exercises. We have SPARK, then we have the S, the P, the A, the R, and the K, all stand for steps in that process. You can get a free poster of that if you don’t have that yet. You can find that free handout at artclasscurator.com/spark. It’s a great tool that you can use in your classroom.
Our first step is See, which is you’re looking closely at the artwork. You are describing. You’re taking an inventory of what’s in there. In this step, you’re also looking at the elements and principles of art, noticing what’s there. In the second step, we have Perceive, which is really diving into the emotions and the messages through your senses. You’re looking at how you feel. You’re looking at how the artist feels. You’re looking at the mood. You’re looking at the five senses experience of the artwork. Then in step three, which is Ask + Answer, you figure out the meaning of the message of the artwork by analyzing the artist’s choices. You’re looking back at what you uncovered in the first two steps, then you’re figuring out, what is that about. What is the artist trying to say here? Why did the artist make these choices? Then the step four is Reflect and that is to use your own personal experiences, convictions, and emotions to connect with the artwork to better know yourself and better know the artwork. You’re reflecting on that personal connection that you have with the artwork. Then our last step is Know, that’s when you start to research a little bit about the artwork—who, what, when, where, why—and uncover some of the context. That’s when your students are doing a little bit of research.
As we were talking about this program—we were in a team meeting with the Art Class Curator team, we were talking about what we want this to look like, what we think that teachers need to hear right now, and that sort of thing—we realized that the program that we were inventing as we were talking was actually using these steps of SPARK, but not with an artwork but with ourselves. It was a fun little moment. It was Madalyn that figured that out and we were just like, “Yes, that’s so good.” We are going to use that SPARK Framework, not with a work of art but we are going to use it with ourselves and use it with reflecting on our year, reflecting on what’s coming up with the New Year, and using it as a tool for reclaiming our joy, taking back our power, and going into the New Year with confidence, with a new spark, with a new set of boundaries even. By the end of this, we hope that you create a manifesto of sorts that you think about what you need to hear this year, that you’re preparing for the year, you’re preparing for the struggles of the year, and you’re getting ready in your mindset, in your intentions for the new year.
If you would like to participate in this program, you could go to artclasscurator.com/takeback. You can join our email list to receive that content in the email, but what we’re going to also do today in the podcast is to go over the whole thing. You’re going to get a little bit of repetition of the content. If you get it by email, I’m going to go through the full thing here today on the podcast. In the email though you will get journal prompts, you will get a PDF with the journal prompts and the activities for the SPARK exercise, then you’ll also get short videos where I will go over the instructions. It’s not going to be a lot of talking from me because really this is about you. This isn’t about me telling you anything or teaching you anything or any of that. It’s really about you, connecting with the content; you, thinking about what you need right now. That’s what we’re going to do today in the podcast, is go over those steps and talk about each one. Then of course, if you want to actually get the PDFs and really dive into this, because I know, if you’re listening to this on your run or in your car ride or while you’re getting your classroom ready, if you’re already in one of those schools that are back to work right now, you can go back and check in your email, and get that PDF to really go through the content. Let’s dive in, shall we?
We’re going to talk about step number one, which is See. In this step, we want you to really take an inventory of what’s going on with you right now. Spend some time thinking about how last year went, how it was different from years past, and what was your biggest challenge, what was your biggest success, what felt easy this year, and what felt hard. This isn’t a step for solving problems. This isn’t a step for judgment. This isn’t a step for anything other than really taking a look at the last year. I’m just laying it all out there. Your PDF for today on day one is a journal sheet, just to unload the things that happened this year, then in future days, in the P, A, R, and K sections, we will dive deeper into some of those things that you wrote for today but it’s just an inventory.
Looking at this year, I’ve heard so much from teachers about what they had to face. When you’re looking at answering the questions for today’s prompt, really think through what it was like this year. We had so many teachers who got stripped from their classroom. They’re teaching on a cart. They’re teaching online. They’re teaching outside. You lost your space. A lot of teachers were talking about problems with student engagement, that we’re seeing new lows in engaging our students. We always hear about disconnected students or apathetic students. That’s something we hear year after year when we do our surveys and talk to teachers. But this year, I reached an all-time low. I think the worst one I heard was on Facebook. Someone mentioned that they did an entire class online and all the kids had their cameras off. The class ended and they all stayed, which means they weren’t even there. They entered class and left. They went in and did something else. She taught the entire lesson with nobody talking back to her. We’re teaching two empty rooms, black boxes where the students’ faces should be and we couldn’t get close to the students to really help them. Students were being shuffled in and out. Students being remote, then they were being at home, then they were quarantined, and all of this stuff. Your students are shuffling around. It’s like you’re constantly getting a rug swept out from underneath you.
I heard a lot of teachers talk about how they were underappreciated and also, they were lonely. One of my friends is a teacher and she said, “I’ve never in my life been so surrounded by people. It felt so lonely.” That really resonated with me as a teacher, especially as an art teacher, when you’re the only art teacher on the campus often, that you do feel like you’re just alone. Then we’ve got to deal with all the trauma that our students are facing, the death, the trauma of living through what we’ve all lived through. From small things to big things, we’re dealing with a lot of grief over the last year. Hard year, right? I try not to get emotional about it because you all know this, I’m an emotional person but it has to get better. It just has to get better. Anyway, that’s what we’re doing in step number one.
Then from there, we’re going to move over to the next step. That’s your day one. These are over a course of five days. We have a little bit of a break there too. We have our first three lessons, Monday, Wednesday, Friday this week, then Monday, Wednesday next week. On day two, we’re going to be talking about Perceive. Like I said on the SPARK Framework, that is about our emotions and that is about our five senses, and really digging into how we feel about all of those things. One of the things we want you to really think about is to think through your best and most satisfying teaching day. Think about your best lesson. It could be that from this last year or could be from the past but think through what that is, then think about how that lesson made you feel. Then think about your worst teaching day. Immediate memory popped into my head of my worst teaching day. Think about how that made you feel. Mine was I completely lost control of a fifth grade class. My first year of teaching, it was terrible. It was so, so terrible. This is when the principal had to come in like, “Oh, I did not know classroom management back then.” Anyway, I’m reliving those feelings right now but think about those feelings.
One of the things that can help you with your feelings, talking about your feelings, is something that we use in our curriculum but also, I use it personally with myself and my children, and it’s called the Feelings Wheel. We have one available on the website at artclasscurator.com/Ifeel. It’s a wheel of emotions essentially. They boil down to Six Core Emotions, then they go out from there but that might help you activate some of those descriptions of emotions or the vocabulary of the emotions. I’ll spare you my general spiel about Brené Brown and her 30 Emotions because I know I’ve said it on the podcast a lot of times. You can go back and listen to almost any podcast from the last year and surely, I will have mentioned it.
The reason I want you to think about feelings and talk about feelings is one, I love to talk about feelings. It’s number one thing in my life is to talk about feelings. But also, I think our feelings can teach us some things. A lot of times, I think we can get really disconnected from our feelings. We can try to distract ourselves from them. We can try to avoid them. There’s a lot of things that we do to avoid thinking about our feelings and actually feeling our feelings. This is what we’re going to do is really just talk about your feelings here. Again, this is not a place for judgment. This is a place for curiosity because as my friend Lisa Carpenter says—I highly recommend her podcast, it’s called Full Frontal Living—but what she says is that judgment and curiosity can’t coexist. This is simply being curious about your feelings, about the year, about where you are in your life. You can think about where you are getting stuck in your feelings, where you are getting stuck in your emotions and just be curious about them. Write them down. This is not a place for getting upset about our feelings, just allowing them to exist.
But I also want you to think about how you are feeling going into the new school year. Also, what are you the most proud of? I think when we say feelings, we say emotions, you’ll immediately think of the negative ones; the ones that are perceived as negative, like anger or sadness or whatever. But I think a lot of times, we don’t allow ourselves to feel the good ones too, like pride. Pride is one of those feelings that people just don’t want to recognize because you feel like you’re bragging. Pride is one of those emotions that often gets beaten out of us when we’re younger. Allow yourself to be proud of how you handled this year, of how you made it through and I think just reconnecting with all of those feelings that you’ve had over the last year.
Step three of the SPARK Framework that you can get at artclasscurator.com/spark is Ask. That’s one where we’re asking questions of the artwork. What we’re going to do for this program is to ask yourselves some questions about yourself and your life as a teacher. How we’re going to do that is by using Purpose Circles. We learned about these on TikTok. I don’t know which TikToker it was. Then also, when you Google Purpose Circles, it pulls up 100 results. I’m not exactly sure where a Purpose Circle originated. I don’t know who to cite but what it is, is really about uncovering your purpose where you write about what you love, what you’re great at, what the world needs, and what you’re paid for. We already know we’re paid for teaching, so we’re going to skip that fourth step. We’re going to do a new variation of it with just these three circles.
You’ll see on the PDF for today, if you haven’t yet gotten the PDF, this is going to be on Friday, you can just draw this out or you can wait for it to be delivered to your inbox, but what you’re going to do is draw three intersecting circles, like a Venn diagram but they combine with the one next to it, then they have one spot where they all three intersect. In the first circle, you’re going to write about the things in teaching that you love to do. Like what are your favorite aspects of teaching? If it were me, I would talk about leading art discussions. That’s of course, number one is I love that interaction with my students with a work of art. It lights me up. It gives me energy. We talked about that on the podcast with Jenn Easterling recently, a few weeks ago, about our powerful art stories that we’ve had with our students. That’s what I’d put in my circle. I’d also put developing relationships with my students. Getting to know them, talking about their problems, being the person they go to, to work through what they’re going through, all of those things are the things that I particularly love and am passionate about. Think through what you love most about teaching.
Then in your next circle, the one on the left, I want you to think about the things in teaching that you are particularly good at. It might not be what you love to do. It might be something else. But what are you really good at? For me, I would put art discussion on the top one, then that one, then what are some other things you’re good at? I’m really good at creating lesson plans and engaging students where you might be really good at demonstrating or teaching studio techniques or really good at supply management, really great at classroom management, all the things that you’re really good at. Then on the right, I want you to think about what your teaching needs. What do your students need from you? What do you need from you to be a great teacher?
In the middle where those three things intersect, that’s your purpose, what you love to do, what you’re good at, then what your students need, what the world needs if we were to go outwards from these students. That’s what we’re trying to reconnect with this year, is your purpose, your why. Why are you teaching in the first place? What impact can you make on the world? Reconnecting with that purpose is a great way to pull ourselves out of the turmoil and trauma of the last year.
Then lastly, in this section, we’re going to take that A and use it twice. We used it as A for Ask. Now, we’re going to use A for Aspire. What I want you to do next is to really think about dream life, dream classroom, and what do you want your overall classroom culture to be? What do you want your lessons to look like? How do you want to feel at the end of each teaching day? Just dream into what is your perfect classroom culture. What does your perfect lesson look like? What are your students getting out of your classroom? What impact are you making? Really dream into this exercise. We have three days between this lesson and the next one. This one is a little bit longer but I really want you to create that vision of your perfect teaching environment. That will give you a really good look at what’s important to you, what you’re striving towards and will allow you to vision, dream a little bit into the future, and step out of the present.
This is not one of those things that you want to overthink. Also, come at this from a place of possibility rather than limiting your dreams based on shutting it down. “I can’t live that dream because I don’t have this,” or “I can’t live that dream because of this,” really think about what you want if you didn’t have those limiting things. This is a place where we can dream and vision into our futures. Again, in your PDF for this program, we do have this all ready for you to go with pages to write this stuff down with more instructions. You can get that at artclasscurator.com/takeback, then it will go into your email.
Our step four is Reflect. In the art analysis part, this is when we’re bringing in those personal connections. But what we’re doing in Reflect today is to look through everything that you did in the first three lessons, the S, the P, and the A. Look at where your teaching life is now, where you want to go, and really reflect on how to get from point A to point B. What do you need to start doing that you’re not doing? If one of your goals is to pay off all of your debt and you’re actively using your credit cards, speaking from personal experience in the past, that’s really not very helpful. Think about what you can start doing this year that could get you where you want to go. What do you need to stop doing this year? Maybe in the stress of the year, you started resorting to showing more videos in your classroom than you might normally show. You’ll get no judgment from me on that. I didn’t hesitate to show movies when I needed to or take an outside sidewalk chalk day. But there is a point where you’re noticing, “Oh, I have gone outside and done a sidewalk chalk day a lot lately,” looking at those sorts of things. While it’s a nice break and a nice way to enjoy the spring air, it also is not creating the educational experience that I’m looking for in my classroom.
You could think about what you’re going to do differently this year. Just really look at what caused those more negative feelings, what really lit you up this year, and where you’re headed and just really start to reflect on that. This is really not a very structured day. This is going to look differently to every single person doing this activity. Those journal prompts are in the PDF.
Then we have our last step of SPARK, which is Know. That’s usually where we do some research and things like that. I have also used a different K in different activities. Sometimes, I use the K as Kindle. That’s what we’re going to use today. This is where you’re going to light that spark for the new year. You’re going to take that spark, fan the flame, and figure out your battle cry for this year. What I would encourage you to do is to visually or textually represent your insights from this week, this Reclaim Your Classroom in some creative way. That could be creating a manifesto that you hang on your wall in your classroom that reminds you of everything that you aspire to this year. It’s setting an intention for the new year. Setting yourself up for success, for joy. Setting yourself up for that beautiful vision that you created in the Reflect section and really coming into this school year with excitement, energy, and purpose. However you want to represent that, go for it.
Another idea we had was to choose a work of art to represent your New Year and write your manifesto on top of it or next to it or write your purpose on top of it or next to it. It could be creating a mission statement. What we have done at Art Class Curator is write a manifesto. It is the Art Class Curator manifesto. I’m going to read you our manifesto now. I have been wanting to write one of these for a really long time, so I’m super excited to present this to you today.
At Art Class Curator, we believe in the power of art. We believe that art is the magic of humanity and every art encounter is an opportunity for a transformative experience. In the space between us and the artwork, we find sparks of self-discovery, joy, wonder, curiosity, and connection. We believe that art is a refuge and has the power to teach us about ourselves. Art meets us where we are, connects us to our feelings, and reveals our hidden truths. We believe that art belongs to the viewer as much as it belongs to the artist. Art changes when we change. Art expands when we expand. We believe that art connects us to each other. When we connect with something someone made, we learn more about the world and the joys, pains, and lives of those living in it. We believe that art challenges us to transform ourselves and our world. Art encourages us to examine our own experiences, as well as those of others to think critically and to act. We believe that art is for everyone and by everyone across time and cultures, revealing the vast expanse of the human experience. Art bridges our divides and helps us communicate, understand, and rise to our fullest potential as humans.
I hope you enjoyed that manifesto. I’m really excited about it. If you want to get a copy of it, you can head over to artclasscurator.com/manifesto. You can get one of these to print and hang in your classroom if you want to do that as well. That is the full experience of Reclaim Your Classroom: Take Back Your Teaching Spark with Intention, Joy, and Purpose. All summer, we’ve been rethinking how and why we teach. This program, Reclaim Your Classroom, has really honed in on that why piece. What is important to us moving forward into this new school year? So much about the last year really challenged us and reshaped us. It changed the way we thought about our lives. It reframed the way that we view our profession. It’s been an extraordinary opportunity to reclaim our joy, our passion, and our purpose. But how do you sustain that teaching spark? How do we take this into the new school year? How do we continue it? Because it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day going through our routines. It’s easy to forget this momentum that we’re building right now.
But you can’t live through a global pandemic without asking some big questions. We faced our vulnerability. We faced our mortality. You’re listening to this because you got through the trauma of last year and you still chose teaching. You know how important it is. More than that, you know this is what you’re meant to do. This is where you make magic happen. You change the lives of your students. Through them, you change the world. But there’s something that happens after you experience a big life-changing event. The lessons that you learn start to fade. You lose the urgency and drive to make the changes you need and deserve. We all know what it’s like when you try to make a major lifestyle change, whether it’s making sure you floss or get eight hours of sleep every night or getting up at the crack of dawn to exercise, the journey is the same. We start out rejuvenated and energized, telling ourselves that this time will be different, this time it’s going to stick. But making a change, even when we know it’s for the best, is hard and lonely. What’s going to happen when we get back to school and we have the lunch duty, the force call duty, the classroom cleanup, and the classroom set up? Going back to being asked to do too much and going back to being treated like our subject isn’t important. Do we go back to surviving instead of thriving or do we make a choice that we know is going to make the change sustainable? Do we find the support and resources we need to make the change last and actually make our lives better?
This year, that is where Art Class Curator and The Curated Connections Library comes in. The Curated Connections Library is our membership site. It is full of powerful flexible lessons that put art connection front and center. Whether you get overwhelmed with lesson planning and want something that’s ready to go, or you thrive on bringing more creativity to every lesson, you’ll find that inspiration that you need in the Library, but it’s so much more than that. What makes it easier to get a full night’s sleep or to wake up early or to go for a jog? It’s having someone by your side, someone to encourage you and remind you of why this is important, why you deserve it and just be in the arena with you. We’ve spent all summer redesigning The Curated Connections Library to make it a place where you don’t just have the Art Class Curator team by your side. You have hundreds of members by your side too.
Teaching art is lonely. We’re often a one-person department on our own, doing our best to make a difference with no support. The Curated Connections Library has always housed powerful lessons that save time and impact learning. Now, we’ve added a lot of new resources and made them better with Google versions of worksheets, slideshows, and videos that pair with each new SPARK Works lesson. Now, The Curated Connections is not just a house of resources, lessons, and training, it’s a home for our community, ready to hear your voices and share what’s going on in your classroom. A place to get advice, to encourage, and receive encouragement from people who know what it’s like, people who share your passion. People who are making their art connection front and center in their lives, which will spread to their students.
In this program, Reclaim Your Classroom, you’ve reclaimed your joy, your passion, and your purpose. With The Curated Connections Library, you’ll sustain that spark with spectacular lessons, meaningful training, and a community that has your back. Witness the power of art connection in your classroom. Experience the power of connection to community in your life. It’s time to witness the power of art connection in your classroom, the power of art connection in yourself, and that power of connection to community in your life. Learn more and join this movement at artclasscurator.com/join.
When you’re a teacher, one thing is certain, the lesson planning never ends. The Curated Connections Library is here to help with hundreds of art connection lessons and activities. Our signature SPARK Works lessons include everything you need to teach an artwork every single week. Each lesson features one diverse and captivating work of art and is complete with discussion questions, engaging activities to create deeper art connections, and related art project ideas. With unique worksheets and PowerPoint presentations, every lesson is classroom-ready. Get your free SPARK Works lesson and take a break from lesson planning by going to artclasscurator.com/freelesson.
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