Posts Tagged ‘Matt Johnson’

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Art Teacher Extraordinaire Retiring

June 14, 2022

Congratulations, Mrs. Bickford and thank you!

There is nothing more rewarding than being in a room full of students who are productive and teaching each other the skills you have shared with them. When all the art rooms are full of active learners at every level and they are teaching each other a broad range of skills, that feeling is intoxicating. I still marvel at it to this day and I cannot think of anything like it.

Debra Bickford, better known as Deb, is retiring this year after 37 years teaching visual art. Her career started at Wells Jr. High School (1 year), she moved on to Westbrook Middle School (2 years), and she is ending her career at Westbrook High School (34 years).

Her early experiences as a student have influenced her teaching and her life. She learned at a young age that she loved learning but didn’t care for school. When she arrived at Maine College of Art & Design – then called Maine College of Art (MECA), she fell in love with being in a space where people were hungry for learning about the same thing. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from MECA and went on to the University of Southern Maine where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Art Education. During her formal learning she was engaged in pre-service teaching at Waynflete School in Portland and student taught at Gorham Schools and Thornton Academy in Saco.

Deb and I had a conversation about her teaching career and what became clear is her passion comes through every single day in and out of the classroom. She has positively impacted thousands of students! She’s proud of the fact that she is honest with students, even when it is hard. And, she has NEVER taken a sick day! Many people have influenced Deb over the years. She’s had the opportunity to work with many positively astonishing educators who have shown her what excellence looks like and how to make it happen.

“It would be really inspiring to make some sort of visual map or “who” and “what” I learned from so many. Like a mind map with art education inspiration at the center and people fanning out all around the center.

I hope Deb takes the time to make this visual map and send a copy to everyone on the map. It would be an amazing representation exhibiting the numbers that influence teachers!

Deb has had many unforgettable moments during her 37 years in the classroom. Here are a few highlights:

  • The day a student in my adaptive art class shared how much her family loved her art work and said: “I never knew I could be an artist”.
  • The day both parents met a students guidance counselor at 7a.m. to have her drop another content area to start Pre-AP Studio Art. The student had made the request but was told she had already had an art class. That same student went on and received a $10,000 scholarship at class night and earn a BFA in Painting at MECA.
  • The many texts, visits and emails from students thanking me for preparing them to be successful in college level visual arts classes. Many have even reported being asked to lead critiques in class. This makes me so happy.

Deb presenting her colleague Matt Johnson the Maine Art Education Association (MAEA) Art Teacher of the Year award in April at the spring MAEA conference at CMCA, Rockland

During Deb’s career she has experienced many changes, both positive and negative. She is pleased to see “more students who desire a broader, deeper education in the arts and are willing and prepared to advocate for what they want even when there are roadblocks.” The negative aspect: “Over a decade of lower expectations in just about every aspect of what makes a strong, successful student has had a powerful impact on adequate progress. In general, students who used to be in the average range are finding the typical stress of high school level classes too much to cope with and organize for. What it means to “be a student” has, on average, deteriorated.

Deb’s program has evolved over the years. She’s grateful for the educators she has worked closely with who have influenced the evolution. Her classes are often mixed groups with AP, Art 1, and advanced students in one space. And, Art 3, 4, AP and Studio Art the same. Juniors and seniors enrolled in Studio Art have their own studio spaces within the art room. Her colleague Matt Johnson teaches in an adjoining classroom. Students migrate between Matt’s and Deb’s classes, moving where learning needs can be met. Deb and Matt’s collegial relationship promote a common studio space that encourages a cross pollination between students. Flexibility has been critical in leading to student success. The teachers move to meet the needs of the kids, not visa versa. A great example of ‘student-centered’ learning environment.

These are the four key ingredients that Deb believes are essential to any successful visual art education program:

  1. Know your content inside out, backward, forward and upside down and be willing to honor tradition whilst embracing the future.
  2. Understand that art skills and teaching skills are two very different things.
  3. Make sure that ‘what’ you are teaching and ‘how’ you are teaching it provides real world, valuable skills to every student no matter what level (skill level, experience in art) they are, or why, they are taking your class.
  4. Embrace Advocacy at every single turn. Never, ever pass up the opportunity to help people understand how and why arts education matters, no matter how exhausting it is.

Deb’s advocacy has been ongoing and her successes have served students well. I asked Deb to look into her crystal ball and offer advice to teachers.

Being an educator is not for the faint of heart. Wanting to help others learn and grow takes courage. When you do your preservice, think really hard about ‘why’ you want to pursue this. Teaching Art is not easy or fluffy or romantic. If you want to work hard and can commit to being a lifelong learner – go for it.”

You can view Deb’s pinterest teaching board which she has organized by elements, principles, concepts, media and process at https:www.pinterest.com/dabickford/_saved/. Her personal website which includes here amazing art is at http://www.dabickford.com/.

Deb’s future is bright with a retirement plans filling her days with activities she loves. She’ll be tending her multiple gardens. 60X40 vegetable, fruit trees, and perennials. She has willow gardens for traditional willow basket making. Deb and her husband are tearing up 20 year old floors in her home and replacing them with something easier to care for time in retirement. Deb will include time in her studio on a regular basis; printmaking and painting. She plans to pursue becoming a Golden Artist Educator and run a few painting workshops. Deb and her husband love visiting remote locations and plan to travel to the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton and make a return visit to Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada as well as several other beautiful highways.

I’m sure all your colleagues and the blog readers are joining me to wish you well on your retirement Deb!

If you know of other visual or performing arts teachers retiring this year please let me know by emailing meartsed@gmail.com.

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MAEA Conference and Awards

April 12, 2022

What a day for art education!

The Maine Art Education Association (MAEA) concluded an outstanding spring conference by presenting three, no four, awards to deserving educators. But first a word about the conference. I’ve been around long enough to see institutions transform, some for the third and fourth time. I had the pleasure of working on the planning committee for the MAEA spring conference that was held on Saturday, April 2 in Rockland at the Farnsworth Art Museum and CMCA. I’m not just talking about a conference that was held in both facilities but what took place was magical. It was delightful to see the two institutions partner with MAEA to put together a very worthwhile day for art educators.

Presentation by Daniel Salomon

The conference entitled Radical Reuse was planned and implemented by a group of people who had never worked together before, some new to their positions, and everyone went above and beyond. Over a two month period every Thursday the education staffs of both institutions and the MAEA conference planners came together on zoom to plan the annual spring conference. THANK YOU to everyone for a job well done! From CMCA: Mia Bogyo, and representing the Farnsworth: Gwendolyn Loomis Smith, Katherine Karlik, and Alexis Saba. MAEA president, Lynda Leonas, coordinated the effort with board members Iva Damon and Christine Del Rossi supporting. From the Rockland school district Richard Wehnke helped.

Printmaking with Sherrie York – Lynda Leonas and Iva Damon

The keynote was provided by Krisanne Baker, Medomak Valley High School art and ecology teacher and artist. She is committed to advocating for the ocean and inspires her students to learn about water quality, availability and rights, and ocean stewardship. Guest speaker Daniel Salomon who teaches in The Hatchery at Camden Hills Regional High School provided background information on the work he is doing with students utilizing and reusing materials and the role we each can play.

Gallery tour, Farnsworth

After the opening speakers, conference participants attended sessions on printmaking with Sherrie York, art making around ‘place’ with Alexis Iammarino, toured the Farnsworth Museum, and toured CMCA. Several merchants from Downtown Rockland supported the conference goers with discounts. During the middle of the day Daniel’s students from the Hatchery, set up outside CMCA, shared several of the projects they have been involved in this year.

Alexis Iammarino demonstrating, CMCA

AWARDS PROGRAM

The day concluded with honoring the work of four educators with an amazing backdrop of quilts at CMCA. The educators are outstanding in and out of the classroom, engaged in work at the local, regional, and state level. They work (and play) tirelessly, sometimes alone and often collaborating with others. Every day they exhibit all that is right about education. In their respective institutions they have a place at the table where they continuously advocate for students and art education. We know that an excellent education in the arts is essential, and these educators strive for every student to experience just that. 

The awards committee was led by Belfast Area High School art teacher Heidi O’Donnell. Members of the committee included Hope Lord, Maranacook Middle School art teacher and Suzanne Goulet, Waterville High School art teacher, and myself. The awards, clay vessels, were created by Carolyn Brown, Camden Hills Regional High School art teacher. In addition each educator received a plaque for their classroom and a pineapple.

The 2022 Administration/Supervision Art Educator of the Year was presented to Dr. Rachel Somerville who is at Maine College of Art & Design and Westbrook Schools. She was introduced by Melissa Perkins, Congin Elementary School art teacher, Westbrook.

Melissa presenting Rachel

The 2022 Secondary Art Educator of the year was presented to Iva Damon, art teacher at Leavitt Area High School in Turner. She was introduced by Lynda Leonas, president of MAEA and an art teacher at Walton and Washburn Elementary Schools in Auburn.

Lynda presenting Iva

The 2023 Maine Art Educator of the Year was presented to Matthew Johnson, art teacher at Westbrook High School. He was introduced by Deb Bickford who also teaches art at Westbrook High School.

Lynda Leonas presented a surprise pineapple award to Heidi for outstanding leadership and contributions to the MAEA board. She is stepping down from the board as she takes on a leadership position with the National Art Education Association.

Heidi O’Donnell, right with her Belfast colleagues Linda Nicholas, middle and Kathie Gass, left

As we move away from the challenges of the pandemic I urge you to consider:

  • Become a member of MAEA, if you are not already one
  • Volunteer to become a board member and take on a leadership role
  • Nominate a colleague who is worthy of recognition

For more information please go to the MAEA website.

Photos taken by Heidi O’Donnell and myself.

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