Art Teachers Unite on Mackinac Island!

Art brings people together. Artists tell stories, bring history to life, and reimagine the future. I consider it an honor to teach art for a living, investing this passion into my students as creative thinkers who become more empowered to take risks, learn collaboratively, and create meaningful artwork. It’s also important to develop myself as an artist and educator by “filling my bucket” with new ideas and experiences. How often do you fill your bucket that gets poured into others? 

I often get so pulled into the art of teaching that I forget to invest in my own artistic self. I was given the chance to add to my bucket by connecting with art teachers from all over the state at the Michigan Art Education Association fall conference held on Mackinac Island. Over the course of four days, my ears were buzzing with excitement as I soaked in every aspect that I could from the “Arts in Tandem” conference, not wanting to waste a single moment of this opportunity. 

As an added bonus, Derek decided to use his vacation days to take the journey with me to Mackinac Island. It felt good to spend our evenings together exploring the island hiking trails and admiring the fall colors when I had traveled along with him on many business trips over the years. This time around, Derek had the freedom to be a tourist and decompress from work while I was in professional development. I must say that I got a few jealous looks when he surprised me with an ice cream cone at the end of my first day!

Mackinac Island is such a picturesque setting to hold an art conference. It’s the kind of place that seems to take you back to another time. From the ferry ride that passes the iconic Mackinac Bridge connecting the Upper Peninsula to Michigan, to the streets filled with pedestrians dodging bicycles and carriages, it’s easy to get lulled into the gentle pace of life. I didn’t think I would be affected by the nostalgia of it all since I grew up in Shipshewana, Indiana where it was customary to see my Amish neighbors traveling country roads by buggies. Even so, the atmosphere of walking down the middle of the road in the absence of vehicles where the only time I need to step aside is if a horse is slowly trotting my way seems so unusual in my day-to-day suburban commute. 

I relished in the convenience of having breakfast at the Watercolor Cafe on the docks before walking from the Cottage Inn where we stayed to my conference sessions at the Grand Hotel. We watched the boats roll in as the sun rose while the aroma of fudge drifted through the morning air. 

I spent my days taking technique classes like screen printing, kinetic sculpting, watercolor, and photo transfer processes as well as diving into seminars where I could apply best teaching practices to my art room. I learned how Social-Emotional Learning is reflected by the type of classroom environment I am creating as well as reshaping my students’ self-talk as artists with “I am” statements and “5 Mindful Minutes” every day. The National Art Education Association president, Dr. James Haywood Rolling Jr, gave an inspirational keynote on anti-racist art teachers setting the tone of purposeful intention in our curriculum to break the status quo of passivity.  

The creative process of Design Thinking connected with Blended Learning really captured my attention by giving my students more autonomy in their decision-making by providing skill-building resources for students online with more than one possible solution for them to create their final artworks. For example, if students finish a project earlier than the others, they could have the opportunity to “level up” with their remaining time by creating another artwork but this time experiment with different materials within the unit or push their work further with a self-motivated concept of personal choice. Just as video gamers improve their skills and advance to new worlds when they beat a level, artists keep creating new works of art with greater expertise and playfulness after they’ve finished a final piece. We never just stop making art or video gaming altogether because we’ve accomplished one goal. There are always new ways to “level up” and discover something out of this world! 

The “Arts in Tandem” conference allowed me to meet new art teacher friends on Mackinac Island and gave me multiple perspectives to consider about how we can make a difference wherever we are.  I was able to reframe my mindset and reflect on my place in history as an art teacher by navigating the human experience during a pandemic and guiding my students to lean into their creativity and rise as our future leaders. I am grateful to New Buffalo Area Schools for supporting my professional development journey and encouraging me to be my best self as an art teacher. 

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