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MALI Teacher Leader Story: Anthony Lufkin

February 26, 2019

Art Educator

This is one of six blog posts in 2019 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 8 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 96 Teacher Leaders and 11 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 Anthony for sharing your story!

Anthony Lufkin

Anthony Lufkin currently teaches art in RSU #40, at three small schools, including Friendship Village School, Prescott Memorial School, and Union Elementary School. In addition, Anthony teaches a weekly class at Rivers Alternative Middle School which is on the same premises as Union Elementary. This is Anthony’s 12thyear teaching; 4 years at Sedomocha Elementary in Dover-Foxcroft, 4 years at Appleton Village School in Appleton, and the rest in his current position. Presently, he has about 300 students that he sees once a week for about 40 minutes.

What do you like best about being an arts educator?

I like to create, whether for aesthetics or function, it is a gratifying experience for me to use my hands, to think visually, and experiment with ideas. The collaboration of ideas that comes with teaching and learning is as exciting for me as the creation process. Teaching art in my opinion, is visually capturing what already exists in students. It is harnessing the innate characteristics of art that drive creativity, expression, innovation, investigation, and the ability to develop fine motor skills.  It is a powerful tool, and a great opportunity. It is being immersed in the subject, refining skills, pushing creative boundaries, sharing ideas, and celebrating successes. While the logistics of the educational field may have its difficulties, I find the interaction with students, the development of ideas, and the growth in understanding and skill development in both students and myself, very rewarding.

One other thing I appreciate most about art education, is that I can help students respond to ideas through artistic mediums by developing their skills, knowledge, and understanding of the materials and therefore begin to understand the potential for communication. When students are able to make connections, transfer and apply their learning outside of the art room, it is both a fulfilling and motivating experience. Knowing what I am teaching them has application and seeing them utilizing it not only justifies what I do, but inspires me to develop more thought provoking, interconnected, and inspiring teaching practices

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

Three important components to a successful VPA program in my opinion, are resources, flexibility, and support.

Having access to quality resources will help define how students perceive art. This does not necessarily mean having the cake made for you, but having the materials and tools to make it.  There is a distinct difference in feeling if you are working in a shared space versus having a designated studio space. The same applies to materials. We don’t need to give oil paints to kindergarteners, but we need to use materials the same way we project high expectations on students if we expect them to value the experience.

One of the nice things about teaching art is that it is more expansive than linear, allowing for more flexibility in curriculum than most subjects. It does not mean just doing whatever, but rather having the ability to experiment, to find new ways to connect with students, and to try new methods and materials. Making progressive and relevant changes is important in education and requires at least some experimentation to implement. This flexibility also allows room for educators to connect more with their students interests, making the information relevant and creating applicable associations for students. I firmly believe there is still a linear progression to art education, however, there are many pathways to getting there. Having the ability to customize it to a specific audience, will create a more relatable and impactful experience.

Similar to resources, perception of the art program is important to student engagement. Having the support of administration, colleagues, parents and community members, not only makes our job easier, it also creates a positive assumption in students that there is value in what we do. When parents and teachers are engaged with what is happening, students naturally develop a stronger sense of importance. What a community values can easily be seen in its children. If we are to have a successful VPA program, we need to build and foster support.

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

I have found informal assessment to be an invaluable tool in developing student growth both in skills, and conceptual understanding. Being able to respond to students throughout the process allows me to interject when students are struggling, and to provide support to help them understand the components of techniques and expression of ideas. With the limited amount of time I have with students, I have found verbal formative assessments to be the most beneficial and productive to students’ growth. I also include some critiquing components such as visual thinking skills when looking artwork to help students analyze and create meaning. Helping them create meaning is as important as helping them create.

MALI Critical Friend Day, November 2018

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

I joined MALI this year after talking to several other VPA educators that recommended it. I was aware of its existence but not really sure about its application. Becoming involved with MALI has been motivational, providing a platform for creating improvements. Through the collaborative exercises, the processes of feedback, and the access to resources, it has helped me begin a pathway to creating improvement I would have otherwise thought incapable of happening. There is always room for improvement. Using MALI as a platform has already helped foster more impact on making some of those improvements a reality. There is a lot of work to do within my logic model, but I feel confident through this process that I will be able to influence the necessary stakeholders to move in a positive direction.

What are you most proud of in your career?

As I continue in the teaching profession, there are a few things that really motivate me, and keep invested in my work. Visual culture is such a huge and underrated component of society so creating awareness has always been a driving factor for me. To create awareness, I have sought to create opportunities for students to see how art is integrated throughout life experiences and give them the tools to actively participate in communication through visual literacy. I am proud of the integrated, collaborative, and extracurricular opportunities I have been able to provide students.

As students develop, there is a gradual shift from the creativity and skill development of traditional art mediums to a more social awareness that tends to start a gradual decline in participation and eventually interest in art. I know most students enjoy creating, but it becomes a balance of time, a self-conscious view of abilities and self, and drive towards financial stability that stifles their continued growth.  Creating opportunities that make connections for students, has helped to keep them engaged, and helped them see the relevance and possibilities that art can have on their lifestyle and career. Not everyone will make a career out of art, but everyone can and should appreciate it for what is, as a reflection of humanity.

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

Currently, one of my biggest obstacles is the logistics of my position. Being an itinerant teacher, and only seeing students once a week makes it very difficult to create any continuity. Just working in separate spaces, toting materials between schools, working in a gymnasium for the majority of my classes are a few of the difficulties of the position.

Another difficult component to teaching art in my position are the natural interruptions that cause missed classes. There have been times that I have not seen students over the course of a month due to snow days, field trips, sick days, etc. It is very hard to maintain sequential learning without continuity and to teach transferable concepts, when students don’t have enough time and access to the material.

And, of course time.

Anthony at the Gala celebrating the Maine Teacher of the Year educators. Anthony is the 2018 Knox County Teacher of the Year.

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

Something I have spent a lot of time on is the development of curriculum and lesson plans that are both relevant and engaging. The more times I teach something, the more connections I can make, and the more clearly I see the effectiveness. My “curriculum” is as it should be, is in constant flux.  There are some tried and true lessons I do not change much, but most are adapted regularly and I am constantly on the lookout for better ways to build skills and convey concepts. I am sure it looks like any other art class to most, but there are many details and research I have put into my process.  Understanding developmental levels, how to have high but reasonable standards, how to structure building blocks of learning both over the course of a year and over several years, are all important aspects that may not be noticed but I believe make a huge difference in how effective and art education can be.

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

Teaching is a social service. It is not a lucrative job and success is not based on a financial scale. It is though, one of the most rewarding occupations one can have. You are given the opportunity to influence the future more than anyone else. It is a powerful and humbling experience.

There is the saying that there are two types of people, those that work to live, and those that live to work. There should be a balance though, being self-aware and allowing time to step back, is crucial to the longevity of a successful teaching career. It is also important to work in a field you enjoy. However, to truly appreciate something, you need to be able to see it from other perspectives as well so it is important to take a step back every once in a while. There is the quote by Marc Anthony, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”. True to some degree, though I would argue that all success requires hard work. Being able to see the big picture and being passionate about it, gives a sense of accomplishment and gratitude to the work that is being done. I like the quote by Dr. J a little better: “Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them”.

Some other advice, be passionate. If you’re not excited about it, neither will your students. Even if it’s not your favorite thing to teach, teach it with enthusiasm. Being passionate is projected and will create interest.

Finally, have a plan, and a back-up plan, and maybe even plan C. There can be many difficulties to teaching whether it is specific students, administration, parents, access to materials or resources, etc. If you are not prepared for these, they can derail you. If you are though, you can take them in stride, and not let them cripple your perspective on teaching. You’ll also look good doing it.

MALI Summer Institute, August 2018, USM

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

I feel like the most fiscally responsible thing to do with such a large amount of money would be to invest it. Using the interest, I would think I would be able to create a system of sustainable growth contributing to the enhancements of the art programs and facilities in my district and community first, then possibly expand to other areas of the state.

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

I do and would regret opportunities I was not able to take advantage of. We only have one life to live so I think it is important to make the most of it. However, if we are always trying to take advantage of opportunities, it is easy to get burnt out and lose focus on what matters. It is important to see and appreciate the little things that make life so great. One of the benefits of having a job directly focused in art, is that it encourages me to take time to look closely at things, to identify and appreciate the subtleties that make life so interesting.

So, my regrets don’t mean I am disappointed with the direction my life has and will go. The events in my life have shaped who I am. The path I have taken has sculpted the way I think, interact, and of course teach. Therefore, it is the destiny I have put forth. Plus, I teach art for a living. I think that’s hard to beat.

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