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by: DeAna Morgan
This was my “first” year in my second high school teaching position. I was super stoked to be building an art department from the ground up again. It’s always a trying and exciting time when you start over because you fear fitting in, finding everything, and getting used to the new groove. Not only that, but the kids are just as nervous because they are seeing who you are as a teacher and what you are capable of as an artist to teach them. This is a huge reason why I started whiteboarding for my students. Whiteboarding is really just classified as creating a prompt or questions for your students to answer on your board- but I take mine one step further. I’ve created over 150 artworks to visually accompany the prompts. Crazy, right? Crazy good stuff!
To say whiteboarding has positively impacted my life is an understatement. It has strengthened my relationships with colleagues, with students, and the community as they all support and recognize the effort that I put into this for my nuggets. This has made my students excited for school and gives them another reason to be excited to be a part of my department (besides making art, because art is cool). Through this activity, my love for education has exponentially grown as I feel I’m a far better educator and confident in my ability to connect and make a difference for all of the kids that pass through my door.
Create a Classroom Community
As teachers, we know that the relationship part of teaching is the most important thing. Period. We strive to make connections with our kids to give them the best experience in our subject and to share our passion with them. As each day passed and students wrote their answers on the board, they became a community within my classroom. They collectively looked forward to each day, they all talked together about their answers, they laughed and cried about the memories that they all shared from critically thinking about the prompt. Instead of sitting there being individuals, they became one unit who cared for each other, who showed compassion, and who reached out willingly. I learned more about my students from the conversations following the writing of the answers than the actual answer itself.
Students Aren’t Alone
This classroom practice is great in that each student is part of collectively answering the prompt. You’re not calling kids out for the answer- you’re INVITING them to come up and share a part of who they are. If they do not feel comfortable answering that prompt, they do not have to! Each day, students started to feel like they could be more honest and put their personal touch on their responses. They started to feel loved and appreciated by their peers and that their feedback mattered (because THEY do matter!).
My classroom is a beautiful mosaic created from students of nationalities, religions, and varying backgrounds. This patchwork made for beautiful conversation through their varying answers and they often asked each other about their personal beliefs and practices. Through the whiteboards, they learned about themselves, each other, and gained a mutual respect for their differences.
Practice What You Preach
As an art teacher, you have to constantly be creating. I don’t care who you are, you have to practice what you preach in your curriculum. How can students get excited about art if you don’t create things yourself? Be PASSIONATE about what you do and it will rub off on your students!
Through my whiteboard drawings every day this year I learned not only how to work with dry erase as a media, but I sharpened my own drawing skills. This everyday practice helped my students understand my reasoning behind sketchbooks and cultivating your skills. To see the growth in my own technique from the beginning of the year to the end was not only rewarding but a great example that practicing makes a difference.
Networking and Tech-Spirations
When I started this endeavor, I shared one of my boards on Instagram (@mrsdrmorgan) and it’s been a collab-fest ever since! Sites like Instagram and Pinterest are GREAT places to share what you are doing and look for other ideas from teachers doing the same exercise. I love receiving messages and prompt ideas with teachers of all levels, subjects, and from all over the world.
My students are all very tech savvy, so for them to see their answers reposted and ‘liked’ by the celebrities that I draw in the prompt is super exciting! One time, Kid President ‘liked’ our board of him and they were just hysterical! (I’m still hoping Ellen DeGeneres likes my dog filter selfie that I took with my drawing of her… maybe someday…)
YOU can DO this
Though I may teach high school- this exercise is adjustable for any level of a teacher to put in their skills toolbox. Prompts can be modified for any grade level or subject. You could do this 1-3 days a week instead of every day too, whatever fits your teaching schedule and needs. Although my students have a giant artwork to go with it, you don’t have to be as elaborate! Just adding that little visual to your words, trying a new font, or just adding some color will show the kids that you are just as hyped to participate as they are!
Don’t be afraid to make it personal too! Some of my drawings are of my family members, my pets, and my favorite things that correlate with the questions. It really helps put a little bit of you into the work and kids learn about you as much as the classmates. If you’re unsure about what questions to ask your kids, try looking up journaling prompts. Through deeper questions, students will describe, explain, persuade, and narrate instead of just simple one words answers. When you show a piece of yourself to them, they will open up with answers that you would never expect.