Featuring one teacher’s journey as an arts educator
This is the fifth in a series of blog posts telling arts teachers’ stories. This series will contain a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to read educators stories and to learn from others.
Laura Devin has been teaching art to students in grades kindergarten through 8 for the last 8 years in RSU #1 at Woolwich Central School (WCS) and Fisher Mitchell School (FM). Laura is one of the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative’s Teacher Leaders, Phase I. She teaches about 400+- students every week. She is responsible for creating and implementing the art curriculum at WCS and for sharing the job at FM with another great teacher, George McGinty. She also works with many great teachers in her district to continue to design curriculum and work on various collaborative efforts. She works with great art teachers including Karen Wolfe, Romy Polizotto, Judy Main, Julie Kenny, Jackie Mckeon, Connie Panetski, and Janice Wright.
Laura has taught at many after-school programs, private schools, and summer programs, including the Summer Explorations Boys Camp at the Maine School and Science and Mathematics- that one was VERY fun. We shot water balloons out of a trebuchet at sheets laid out in the parking lot after the kids studied the ballistics of balloons flying through the air with an expert in mathematics. The art that resulted looked a little like Jackson Pollock’s work.
What do you like best about being an art educator?
I have had a LOT of jobs in my life. I have worked on newspapers and magazines doing graphic art. I have worked in an architect’s office designing and purchasing the finishes for clients. I have owned my own small business creating murals and other artwork in clients homes. I have exhibited and sold my artwork in many places, including Washington DC and Australia!
But the job that I have now is the one that makes me the happiest. I wake up every day and wonder “What exciting thing is going to happen to day?!” I actually learn something new almost every day.
Tell me what you think are three keys to ANY successful arts ed program?
- Establishing a safe place for students to be able to take the risk of creating.
- Making available the techniques and concepts used by artists. Students try these out, and then, make them their own.
- Providing ways for individuals to further their creative lives. This could include any number of ways to self-assess and be reflective of their creative projects AND processes. At the younger level, it is often about the process more than the final physical project.
What specific way(s) do your assessment practices tie into the success of your program?
Students HAVE to learn to self-assess. This is vital to their ownership of the formative assessment process and builds life-long habits of self-reflection and improvement. It is what artists do every time they “step up to the easel” and express themselves visually. Students practice assessment every time they make a decision to make a mark in a certain way. To understand and not be afraid of the assessment/reflective process is key to a creative life. I hope this is one of the outcomes of our art program.
What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?
It is often better to have many minds working on the same problem than to have just one. The synergy that occurs allows new solutions and ideas to surface that would otherwise remain hidden.
That, and it forced me to take a hard look at my philosophy of assessment and how I do it.
What are you most proud of in your career?
The look on a kid’s face when they realize they can do it! They can make the world a more beautiful place, hopefully using concepts and techniques I have made available to them.
What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?
Time, time, time. Did I mention time?
Apple or PC?
What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?
I work in a school that is extremely collaborative. It is very “art-friendly”. I find almost all of my colleagues very willing to work with me on all sorts of crazy things that they don’t really “see” until we are far into it. I think part of the reason for this is because I AM lucky… but also I try really hard to make it OK for everyone to participate in art. I try to make it easy for classroom teachers to connect art projects to their classroom curriculum.
Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?
- Teach what you love.
- Trust yourself.
- Really get to know your students.
- Read A LOT from a wide range of topics, stay up to date.
If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?
Travel in a way that I hope to become accustomed!!! I would do all those “safety” things but then….travel.
Thank you Laura for taking the time to tell your story!