Summer Learning: Having a Blast

Back in March I learned of an opportunity to spend a week this summer at the Clarice Smith National Teacher Institutes program with the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The purpose of the summer institute is to help teachers learn more about American art and bring an art experience into the classroom. This could not be more perfect for me, and though I am more comfortable reading a primary source text than I am a painting, I felt this opportunity would be a good one for me to explore outside my expertise.

Over the last few days I have immersed myself in the pre-institute work and am loving the challenge and curiosity it has sparked in me. The welcome packet included color reproductions of various paintings and sculptures that are part of the Smithsonian’s collection. One of the assignments required me to select a portion of these images and “live” with them around the house before narrowing my selection down to a single piece that will become my cornerstone for the week of the institute.


Natural Bridge
Roger Brown
oil on canvas
48 1/4 x 60 in. (122.5 x 152.3 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the S. W. and B. M. Koffler Foundation

It feels good to be a student. Each step of the process has challenged me and caused me to look closer and ask questions without any prior study. As a teacher, I don’t always remember what it feels like to learn something completely new and unfamiliar. There have been times during the process that I have been afraid of making mistakes or misinterpreting an image, but I have leaned in to my fear and trusted the process. The anticipation I feel keeps building and I am bursting with enthusiasm. One more perk of the process? The attendees have all been added to a Ning and asked to share our thinking on the pieces in a virtual conversation before we meet in person. Unlike the first day of high school when I hesitantly walked into a new place knowing no one’s names or faces, I can’t wait to put voices to the pictures, profiles, and insights of the professionals I’m meeting virtually.

Before our first lesson together, there are so many things I’m learning about how to design a learning experience that empowers, excites, and motivates. I feel guided and supported in my learning instead of feeling the suffocation of standard professional development. Beyond the final art-infused lesson that I will create, I am reminded of what conditions make for good teaching and learning and look forward to bringing that art with me in the fall.


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