Stepping Stones is a monthly column that breaks down seemingly daunting tasks into simple, manageable “steps” that any art educator can take and apply directly to their classroom. Stepping Stones will explore a variety of topics and share advice for art-on-a-cart teachers and those with art rooms.
HOW ART EDUCATORS CAN RECONNECT WITH NATURE
by Heidi O’Hanley
This month, teachers are closing up their classrooms, or already enjoying the beginning of summer break. If you’re still in session or out of the classroom, June is a wonderful time to begin reconnecting with the natural elements and be re-inspired to design lessons for the next school year.
Summer break is my time to recharge, and the best way to do that is by being outdoors and enjoying nature as often as possible. This month’s theme is natural environments and I’d like to focus on how to use nature to reconnect and be inspired for the next school year.
1. Connect to Earth by taking care of your physical self. We put forth so much extra effort during the school year that it takes a toll on us physically. If you do not keep up with a daily routine, consider stretching exercises. Spend time going outdoors, observing your surroundings. Do some yoga, meditate, or just sit in the shade to relax.
Besides exercise, summertime is also when most of us have time to create. If you don’t have space at home, look for a local art studio to have a space for yourself. Practice new techniques or create new pieces from what materials you love to work with. Consider bringing some clay home to create sculptures for yourself, as well as examples for your classroom.
2. Connect to Air by exercising your creative thinking and imagination. The element of air represents thinking, designing and learning. In the summer months, consider taking your professional development courses to increase your knowledge and experiences. Take time to learn something new.
Write down any ideas that come to mind, so when you have time to pursue it, you will not forget the light bulbs that lit up in your brains. Completing professional development will not only help elevate your status where you work, but builds your confidence in what lessons and processes you teach.
3. Connect to Fire by igniting your passion for the arts. At the end of the school year, many of our candles are burnt on both ends. It’s not just teaching, but also all the extra activities that happen around this time of year, such as graduations, recitals and more. With feeling worn out, we lose our passion for what we love, which for us, is anything having to do with the arts.
Use this time to rekindle your passion. Visit a museum or gallery. Be a student and take an art class. Watch a dance or musical performance. Last summer, I discovered fire dancing, which has become popular as outdoor nighttime performances.
4. Connect to Water by recognizing the emotions and feelings you put into your work. Are you feeling burnt out after a challenging school year? It’s okay, you are not the only one! Sadly, criticism of showing outward emotion is real, so we tell ourselves to bottle our sensitivity inside.
If you feel this way, use this summer to release your emotions constructively through your work. The more you do for yourself, the better you’ll be for helping others. This is why it is so important to take time for yourself, even if you’re a parent of kids any age.
On the flip side, if you have a special place to visit (like a vacation spot), you may find inspiration for your own artwork or lessons you teach just by being in a place that makes you happy!
For example, our family cottage is on a large lake. I love to sit on the picnic bench with a watercolor pad and paint the scene I see before me. Just by sitting and painting the nature around me recharges my batteries and helps me to recharge for the next school year.
5. Connect to Spirit by being yourself and recognizing where your inspiration comes from. One of the great joys of being on social media as an educator is that we have found so many ways to gather ideas and resources to use for our classrooms and curriculum. Ideas are inspiring and help motivate you to design more authentic projects for your students. Connecting with other art teachers has also been important because we’ve developed a community support system.
This summer, when you’re planning for the following school year, design lessons that inspire both you and your students. The more excited you are about the materials you teach, the more students will be inspired as well. Be yourself and your work will be authentic too.
I wish the best of luck for those who are completing their school years, as well as those who continue to teach throughout the summer. You are all amazing educators and deserve the time to take a step and breathe. I look forward to the amazing works our students will create in the following school year!
Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT), teaches art at Brodnicki Elementary School in Justice, Illinois. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com.