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MALI Teacher Leader Story: Lori Spruce

May 15, 2018

Visual Art Educator

This is one 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 Lori for sharing your story!

Lori Spruce has been teaching visual art to grades 9-12 at Brewer High School for the past 10 years.  She currently teaches Art 1, Honors Art 1, Graphic Design, Photography, Advanced Photography, Painting, Advanced Art and AP Studio Art. In the past Lori has taught printmaking and sculpture. In addition, Lori is the department curriculum leader. 

What do you like best about being an art educator?

I like empowering students through the study of art by assisting in their discovery of meaning in the visual world around them. I feel that being an art educator helps students make connections between intellect and emotion through the communication of ideas generated from that experience. It’s exciting to watch that happen and to see them make those connections in other areas of their life and learning.

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

Lori with AP student caricature study (of Lori)

I believe that the three keys to any successful visual arts education program are:

  1. to promote the discovery of new knowledge through creative activity,
  2. to motivate learners by considering the interests and activities of the particular age group I am working with, and
  3. to instill empathy by encouraging learners to solve problems that connect to the larger world.

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

I have found that the assessment I use in my classroom has helped my students understand their own growth as opposed to comparing themselves to others. Through reflection, my students better understand the artistic process that was involved in the end product rather then just the skill. I believe it gives them the opportunity to see where improvements can be made and therefore build on their own ideas. Also, I feel that my assessments emphasize the importance of how the mistakes they made, and hopefully overcame, ultimately contributed to the learning as well. So many art students are afraid to challenge themselves because of the fear of making a mistake and by having that be a part of the assessment process, I’ve noticed more learners letting go of that fixed mindset.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

I feel the benefits of becoming a teacher leader through the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative has mainly invigorated me at a critical point in my teaching career. My school has gone through many changes in the past few years and sometimes that can be draining. Working with other arts educators, sharing stories and teaching practices, and then applying that to my own curriculum has motivated me not only in my classroom, but to share what I have learned with colleagues even outside of my content area. This past year, I have worked closely with our science department leader by attending a STEAM conference at the RiSE center at the University of Maine and worked on developing ideas for future projects. We now have common language that we use in our classrooms. Even some of the students have picked up on it. One recent student told the science teacher during instruction he sounded like “Mrs. Spruce”!

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of the visual art program that I have helped build at Brewer High School. Since I have arrived, we have designed and moved into a new art suite with three beautiful classrooms built to accommodate a diverse art curriculum including a new digital and traditional photography program and digital media classroom. We had to really advocate for the importance of this space and our program and I am proud that the community supported it.

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

Lori Spruce presenting a workshop with Tim Christensen at the MALI Mega in March 2018

Budgets, and time. In the above question I spoke of how proud I was that our community supported our new art suite. However since that project was approved, we have lost 1 ½ art teachers. Because of that, we offer less upper level electives then we used to which means students can’t always get in to the classes they want or need if they are interested in pursuing a career in art. It is not just our department affected by these budget changes but it still is hard to see happen.

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

I have twin boys, now young men, one of which has cerebral palsy. My son has a lot of physical needs and still lives at home with my husband and I. He has an amazingly busy life that requires much of our assistance. I went back to school to get my art teaching certification when my boys were in elementary school. I started teaching full time when they were in high school. I can say for sure that supporting my family and their needs along with starting a new career took a lot of energy and commitment. I can also say that so much of that experience has contributed to the type of educator I am today.

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

Lori making art at the MALI summer institute

To continue making art and taking courses. I could use the ‘making art more’ advice myself. I find it really hard to find the time but in the rare event that I do, I am so much calmer and patient with my own students. Remembering what it is like to be a student and take part in a creative process is important. A few years ago I committed to a collaborative art show with one of my AP students. I regretted it the minute I said yes but I knew there was no turning back. It was one of the most amazing experiences and it meant so much to my student. After it was over, I got an incredible thank you letter from him. It was worth every minute I stressed over preparing artwork for it!

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

Hmmmm….boy I think this has been the toughest question. I would have to say that I would like to bring back the art position that we lost. Our classes are much larger now and we are unable to offer as many upper level electives which are really important in a high school visual arts program. I have to teach more preps which makes it harder to focus on curriculum development. This past year I have spent much of my teacher leadership working on arts integration at the high school level. With another position, I’d love to see an arts integrated or design thinking class where students can combine content areas to come up with solutions to real world problems.

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

I’m pretty politically active but I always wish I had done more. Especially when I see decisions made that I don’t agree with or that negatively affect our students and our schools. It’s so important to education, our environment, our communities and beyond!

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