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MALI Teacher Leader Story: Cindi Kugell

March 6, 2018

Visual Art Educator

This is the first of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 Teaching Artist Leaders.  CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE  for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories.  Thank you Cindi for sharing your story!

Cindi Kugell is currently teaching High School Visual arts. She was fortunate to find an open teaching position just after graduating from the University of Maine Orono and has been happily teaching art for the past 28 years. Cindi’s first teaching assignment was in SAD#58 teaching at 2 K8 schools. In 1998 my husband, 2 young children and I moved to Oxford and started teaching in SAD#17 in the Oxford Hills K6. In 2000 we added a third child to our tribe and our family was complete. Fast forward to 2010 and a position opened at our high school. I made another move to Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School to teach darkroom photography and introductory Art 1 courses. Over the past 8 years I’ve added Adaptive Arts, Drama, Yearbook, Advanced Photography, and Studio Art History to my teaching load and have taken on the roll of K12 Visual Art department chair. I am also the Yearbook advisor and Lead teacher for our Project Graduation group. I like to stay busy!

What do you like best about being an art educator?

What are the positives of having the best job EVAH!? At the K-8 level one of the “bests” was getting to see EVERY student in the school and building lasting relations with them over time – year after year after year! Most teachers don’t get the opportunity to really know their students (and their families) as they grow up. My first year teaching at the high school level I had the unique opportunity to have Seniors in my classes that I had first 13 years previous as Kindergarten students, nothing is cooler than that! I love my job, there isn’t anything that I’d rather be doing. Who wouldn’t love the celebrity status that comes with knowing so many students, building positive relationships with them and their families, building skills in talented children and getting to play with art materials all day while teaching a subject that you love?!

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

I think that one of the biggest ways that arts educators can offer their students success in the arts is in the way or the “how” that they present problems to their students. If students feel confident and non-threatened in by the process of creating and realize that there are multiple solutions to problems they feel free to flourish. Releasing students from the fear of being wrong is a great part of a successful program. Another way that

Teachers can foster success in their programs is by letting their students know that skill in the arts can be increased just as math, English or any other core subject can be build upon. By letting them know that it’s your job (and your pleasure!) to help them get better and grow as an art student, you can relieve some of the pressure they may feel while in your classroom. Meeting student where they are and moving them forward is the job of all educators, some of us just get to have more fun with the supplies that they use to get students to their best! A well rounded education is important to student success. So are the skills of creative problem solving and critical thinking. The arts are a fantastic, hands on way of fostering those skills in students. I’m fortunate in my district to be very well supported in what I do and how I teach. Teachers and administration see the value of a well rounded education and the roll that the arts play in student success.

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

My current jam in the world of assessment and reporting is a single point universal project rubric. This style of rubric has only the descriptors for the proficient level of achievement listed down the center. To the left is a box that I can write descriptive feedback to my students on what needs improvement or isn’t going well and to the right there is an area that I can write things that were amazing or outstanding in their project. Kids love the comments and the opportunity to go back and make adjustments to their work. It takes a long time to assess this way, but as it’s a universal rubric for all projects there is a clarity for students as they navigate through work in the art room.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative? I think the biggest benefit for me is the networking with other teachers. It’s easy to become comfortable on your own little teaching Island and get stuck in a pattern or “the same old”. Learning new things, meeting others that share your discipline and making those colleague connections helps to keep things fresh and inspiring in teaching for me and for my students.

What are you most proud of in your career? The first thing that comes to mind is the fact that I had my own 3 children in my classroom K12. When they were in Elementary I taught at their schools and when I made the transition to the High School level I had them there as well. It’s a unique opportunity to see your own children as learners and know that they are great people! They also have given me great feedback on my lessons, organization and classroom routines that have been very reaffirming. Nobody is more critical than your own children on the crazy things you do to inspire students! I’m proud of my 28 years in art education and proud of the great students (and children!) that I’ve raised during my career.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher? I think the age old comment of “time” is the biggest obstacle in becoming a better teacher. It takes a huge amount of the stuff to do your job well. Staying current with educational practices in this ever changing landscape can be exhausting. Pair that with extra curricular activities, leadership roles, teaching, parenting and family life and you’ve got a full 24 hours in each day – oh, and try to rest up in there as well!

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances? Starting in this district as a part time elementary art teacher, moving to full time elementary then stepping up to the High School level and finally ending up as the leader of our K12 art department has taken a fair amount of hard work and determination. I wouldn’t change a thing and can’t thank my colleagues enough for their support and hard work this year. It’s amazing to work with such a great team of educators and I’m thankful for that everyday!

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers? Get your masters while you are young and never stop taking courses or PD to improve your teaching skills. As educators we need to keep learning just as we expect our students to learn from us. Stay current, advocate for yourself and your program and LOVE what you do.

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be? Education is so grossly underfunded that I can think of a plethora of activities, programs and equipment that would be amazing to add to our district. I think the most pressing issue that I’d apply the funds to would be to increase the base pay of our new young teachers to entice them into the profession. I know teaching isn’t all about the money and has it’s own rewards, but we need new qualified educators in our field and we need to validate the importance of the profession and celebrate it accordingly.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets? I have truly enjoyed my career. My only regret is in not continuing my education by getting my masters. I’m working on it now, but do wish that I’d taken that step earlier. I can remember starting out as a new teacher and thinking to myself “I’ll do this for 5 years or so then change to something else”. Well, 28 years later I’m still here and loving every minute of it! Every day is a great day to learn something new and my students teach me something new every day.

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