Archive for June 25th, 2013

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Another Arts Teacher’s Story: Leone Donovan

June 25, 2013

This is the 37th in a series of blog posts telling arts teacher’s stories. The first 19 were told last year by the phase I Maine Arts Assessment Initiative teacher leaders. The series continues with the stories from the phase II teacher leaders. These posts contain a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to read educators stories and to learn from others.

LeoneLeone Donovan teaches visual art at Messalonskee High School (RSU 18) in Oakland, ME. She has been an art teacher for 33 years and at MHS for 14 years. Depending on the quarter, she might be teaching almost anything that falls under the heading visual arts. Currently, the list might include any of the following: beginning and advanced art, drawing, painting, sculpture, metal sculpture, craft techniques, graphic arts, digital design, digital photography, pottery, and AP Studio art. She also teaches an online art history class for Virtual High School and online AP Art History for AP4All. Classes at Messalonskee generally have 12-20 students and meet every day for 80 minutes. Most are quarter-long with the survey courses lasting for a semester.

Donovan is also a member of the MHS Leadership Team and Capacity Builders, chair of the accreditation committee, advisor to the National Honor Society, and writer and managing editor of the RSU 18 newspaper, The Messalonskee Messenger.

What do you like best about being an art educator?

I think teaching art is a fabulous fit for someone with mild ADD tendencies! I love the variety of what I might be teaching in any given term and in any given moment. I like juggling all the ‘stuff’ that comes with teaching art and I love watching kids get excited about it all, too. Those moments when you see the student’s belief in his or her abilities and creativity starts to shine out are standouts.

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

The commitment and passion of the arts teachers, a schedule and commitment from administrators and the community that paves the way for enough time for meaningful access to arts classes, and students who love making all kinds of art.

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?

I am always questioning how and what I assess, especially now as we, in my district and around the state, are moving towards a standards-based system. Assessments in a variety of forms are helpful to me and to my students, I think. Formative assessments give me the chance to act as consultant to the artist and to the process. Asking the students to reflect on their work, too, can generate deeper understanding for both of us and suggest a path for next steps. Assessment helps clarify objectives and teaching methods for me and, I hope, for my students. I think, too, summative assessments, class critiques, art exhibits, all give the arts more validity in the eyes of those outside of our classrooms.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?

I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to explore the whole world of assessments and had the fun of doing so with a lot of funny, smart people! It made me carve out the time to think about methods and rationales of teaching and learning. MAAI has given me fabulous training and resources that I call on all the time. And, of course, I became acquainted with Gloria Hewett’s fabulous brownies!

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m proud of my students. I’ve kept in touch with some and lost track of many others but I think back to all the different kinds of students that have turned up in my classroom and I’m glad to have met them. And I don’t mean only those students who planned to make art part of their careers. Really, I’ve enjoyed the challenges and pleasures of making connections and hearing their life stories and dreams for themselves no matter what was ahead for each of them.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

Oh, just like everyone else, I have to say time, money, and energy! Seems like we have less and less of all three, all the time. I don’t know if it really is less but more would be great if anyone can send some.

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

Wow – tough question. I think a lot happens because I’m willing to jump into things and really hate not meeting deadlines. There’s probably a bit of the being in the right place at the right time occasionally, too. I would never have applied to the Fulbright Teacher’s Exchange program had I not been at the MAEA conference at Haystack one fall and heard another teacher talk about her experiences. I don’t know that I would have pursued a Master’s in creative writing if my district didn’t require that degree. And so on. Circumstances got me started but my commitment and determination got me through.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Run. Run now. Noooooo, just kidding. I would say, hang in there. Let the craziness of the educational politics and budget issues and the odd school demands on your time and attention eddy around you as much as you can and be the teacher you want to be in the classroom. Not that there isn’t something to be learned or used from all those initiatives and theories that fly at us; there often is. But let it be a sidebar to your real life. Make space in your life to grow as an artist and a teacher in the way that excites and inspires you. In the next moment that inspiration will move from you to your students. And, really, really enjoy your summer vacations!

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

Travel. Travel a lot. And in first class.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

That Argy was only kidding about the $500,000.

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