Lynne Olmos, 2012 Regional Teacher of the Year
Art and creativity belong in the classroom. I know this for a fact. My practice as a teacher of history and English has been transformed by art-integrated instruction. Sadly, there seems to be little support for this concept. Despite that, I find myself doing the work, mostly alone. In a perfect world, the arts are well-funded and students have access to qualified art teachers, no matter their zip code. This is not a perfect world.
What a mess.
After crawling under a desk for yet another stray colored pencil, I sat on the carpet.
I didn’t have the energy to clean up my classroom, but I didn’t want to leave it for the janitor in such a condition.
Looking around, I thought about how my classroom had transformed over the last several months. True, my classroom has never been tidy. I don’t function in a sterile environment. I have always had decorative touches – flowery vases and peacock feathers, a collection of old globes. But now….
Now each corner sported a new stack of colored paper or a cardboard contraption,
a leftover project kept as an exemplar. One table near the whiteboard had become the “art supply and chessboard table,” with baskets of pencils and markers surrounding two ready-to-play chess sets, pieces askew. The computer table overflowed with baskets of wigs and props, next to a lovely cardboard replica of the Admiral Benbow Inn. Students had craftily tucked ongoing projects between the three monitors, pulling keyboards aside to make room.
Chaos. Well, not exactly, but, from my view from the floor, it looked like it.
And my desk? Piles of debris represented leftover paperwork and props from the recent drama class play. Stacks of student work covered every flat surface – freshman research projects, seventh-grade reading response tasks, drama reflections… Sighing, I pulled myself up to pack up for the holiday break.
Why? Why had I allowed it to get this way?
The echoes of student chatter and laughter reminded me of my purpose - ART.
I had vowed to renew the arts in my district, one way or another. We had lost our visual arts program, due to staffing and funding issues. No painting, no drawing.
Time had passed, and nothing was resolved. I even heard that art projects were being discouraged in the elementary, as they were not “standards-based.” With the new evaluation system, teachers were afraid to do anything that wasn’t “core.”
Now, I’m – generally- an English teacher. My school is small, rural, and economically challenged. My plate started out full, teaching Washington State history, drama and two grades of English. No matter, before I knew it, I was advising the brand new Art Club and restructuring my English and history units to allow artistic options as part of daily work and assessments. In no time, construction paper, glue sticks, scissors and colored chalk were piling up on my bookshelves.
You see, the world is not always a clean and organized place. Our future depends on a generation of creative, solution-oriented young people who can make sense and beauty out of the messes we have made. Art-integrated lessons promote problem solving skills and risk taking. Students become comfortable with making mistakes and fixing them. Researchers tell us that this is what we need- the growth mindset and determination to create high quality work that expresses our ideas and opinions. Not to mention, there is evidence that art-integrated instruction increases achievement, engagement and positive classroom culture. So, is it worth it? How can we get our legislature and our administrators to see its value? Shouldn’t art be a part of every child’s education, no matter the zip code?
Currently, our zip code does not get this support. So, is it worth all the mess and exhaustion for me? Yes. Yes, it is. I know that creativity and expression will take my students far in this world. I know that offering them options that bring out the artists in them is fulfilling for them, and for me, too. Strong relationships are forming over collaborative art projects. They are excited about learning and stretching their capacities to share ideas and give evidence. It is working… in so many ways. I see positive proof that creative solutions to big problems can inspire growth, both academic and personal.
In the meantime, the busy and messy atmosphere of my classroom is full of love, laughter, and learning, and I wouldn’t do it any other way.
It’s a beautiful mess.
Transforming Teaching through Arts Integration
Fixed v. Growth Mindset: What Does it Mean for the Art Room?
Lynne Olmos is a 2012 Regional Teacher of the Year. She is a National Board Certified Teacher of English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Fine and Performing Arts at Mossyrock Junior Senior High School in Mossyrock, Washington and a member of the Educators Rising Standards Committee.
Katie Brown, 2014 Washington State Teacher of the Year
In American culture, we typically greet others with a simple “Hi, how are you?” People often respond with a “Good, how are you?” Our exchange is like a cultural reflex. We go through the motion, regardless of how we are actually feeling.
You may have heard of the African Zulu greeting “Sawubona,” meaning “I see you,” and the response “Ngikhona,” meaning “I am here.” This exchange may be said in a similar context as our “How are you,” but the meaning is significant. Inherent in the greeting and response is the sense that by recognizing someone, you bring them into existence. “I see you” is said along with a connection through the eyes and means: I am present, I am here, I see who you truly are.
This is what our English Language Learning (ELL) students need right now. Our students need educators, legislators, policy makers, and communities to truly see them. To see them as individuals with unique strengths, experiences, interests, aspirations, and needs.
ELL students are too often stereotyped as Hispanic, low income, and uneducated. A common misconception is that ELLs constitute a homogeneous group that can be addressed under one policy umbrella. In reality, ELLs represent a heterogeneous group with varied linguistic, cultural, ethnic, racial, educational, personal, and socio-economic backgrounds.
Hispanic students represent the majority of ELLs in our state, but we are seeing a growing number from Asia, Africa, India, and the Middle East. Some families immigrate to escape violence and/or poverty; others immigrate for professional reasons and are economically stable. Some ELLs are born in the United States and enter our schools at a young age, while others enroll as teenagers with a limited amount of time to acquire English and fulfill graduation requirements.
The diversity in our state’s ELL population requires different approaches to providing students with a high-quality education.
Let me give you a few quick examples.
Eduardo is a new immigrant from El Salvador who arrived in my school district as a 5th grader. He is highly educated, can read and write at grade level in Spanish, and has a witty sense of humor. He loves math. Eduardo’s teacher has received extensive training in GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design) and knows how to provide comprehensible input in the classroom that promotes language acquisition and literacy. As a result, Eduardo can use his background knowledge and experiences to help him understand concepts. He is acquiring academic English quickly and his teacher feels equipped to support him.
Linh enrolled as a 9th grader shortly after Eduardo. She lives with her mom and four siblings who recently immigrated from Vietnam after the death of their father. Due to the isolation of her rural village and extreme poverty, she attended school off and on. Linh can speak fluently in Vietnamese, but is limited in her ability to read or write. Her favorite course is ceramics and she hopes to join the tennis team.
Linh’s English language development is slow. She must learn a completely new alphabet and retrain her mouth to create sounds she has never heard while navigating six different high school courses with six different teachers. Few of Linh’s teachers have received adequate training in language acquisition and rely heavily on our ELL Specialist for guidance. In addition to teaching courses, our ELL Specialist consults with teachers to discuss how to best support Linh in the classroom. There is no collaboration time built into the school schedule however, so Linh’s teachers try their best to meet before school, during planning time, or after school. They are eager to learn how to scaffold instruction so Linh can participate in the classroom, but it is a huge struggle.
Julio is in 11th grade and is undocumented. He decided to drop out of school last week to work and save money while he can because he fears losing his DACA status under the new Trump administration. We did everything we could to convince him to stay in school. We are trying to arrange a schedule where he can work during the day and possibly attend school in the evenings through a community college.
There are so many more stories. Maria from Mexico, Jaspreet from India, and Farima from Afghanistan. They are enriching our classrooms and school districts with their global diversity, multilingual skills, and cultural perspectives. They have dreams and goals in which they need our help to achieve.
So let’s all work to confront common stereotypes and help our ELL students feel that: We are present, we are here, we see who you truly are.
We can do this by providing school districts the necessary funding to hire ELL Specialists and staff to adequately support ELL students and families.
We can do this by providing high quality training for teachers and administrators.
We can do this by expanding family engagement services including interpretation, translation, and parent education.
We can do this by calling for the continuation of DACA, the REAL Hope Act, and HB 1079 to ensure all students have access to higher education in our state.
Finally, we can do this by making sure policy decisions concerning ELL programs, students and families reflect the complexity and diversity of the students we are trying to serve. You can call on us at The Washington Teacher Advisory Council (WATAC) to help.
Katie Brown is the 2014 Washington State Teacher of the Year. She is and a teacher on special assignment and ELL specialist for Bellingham Public Schools in Bellingham, Washington and a private consultant specializing in English language learners.
by Camille Jones, 2017 Washington State Teacher of the Year
Before I became Washington’s Teacher of the Year, I was just a small-town teacher to a school full of great kids. Rural. Poor. ELL. Hispanic. Undocumented. Our school system loves to put them in these boxes. But it’s my job to look beyond the labels. To bring opportunities that inspire and engage all 441 students in my school. To make sure they are all challenged, every day.
The various proposed budgets floating about leave me with mixed emotions, at best. I celebrated when I heard the voices of my peers jump off the page of Governor Inslee’s plan, calling for supports for teachers and social and emotional learning. But even there my voice was a whisper. I have been given a microphone, and I realized I need to turn it up.
Today, opportunity knocks for kids from affluent neighborhoods. Philanthropists bring relevant programs to schools in need, but their reach is limited. In more isolated areas, opportunity still exists where innovative leaders encourage it. Kids who are fortunate enough to be qualified into the state’s “Highly Capable” (gifted) program are also prepared well. However, this patchwork leaves out many more than it includes.
The Governor’s Education Plan triples funding for career-connected learning and computer science. It expands career and technical education and Highly Capable programs. These sound impressive, and they are vital steps in the right direction, but they are still not enough to ensure this critical training is available to all.
We will never achieve equity, close the achievement gap, or fill the needs of our economy, unless we invest in the opportunities that will adequately prepare students for today’s (and tomorrow’s) global society. We have to look for the best in students just as intently as we scrutinize their weaknesses. Show them how to engage in a world outside their circumstances. Push them to their full potential, and prepare them for competitive opportunities to come.
There are many steps that remain necessary to achieve this goal. Teachers need continual training so we can adapt our classrooms to reflect the changed world outside. STEM/STEAM education should be infused throughout the K-12 continuum, so students can clearly see the path from classroom to career.
One of the most basic needs, one that breaks my heart, is the lack of appropriate, universal screening for Highly Capable programs. Gifted education remains among the most segregated sectors of education, and that is appalling. How can we close the achievement gap if students of color, from poverty, and in special education are denied access to our most challenging opportunities?
In my district, we screen all students with a nonverbal assessment. This test looks at a student’s cognitive ability, regardless of academic performance or ability to read. We include every student in my enrichment classes. By looking for the strengths that exist in all students, the demographics of our Highly Capable Program have changed dramatically. Three years ago, only two white students were called “Highly Capable” at my school, now there are eight Hispanic students and 14 overall.
Can you imagine if we learned how to look at every child in Washington through the lens of their ability? We might discover a whole new outlook on our students. They might discover a whole new perspective on themselves.
I have certainly found those both to be true. Let me give you an example.
I was thrilled to find a kid-friendly, build your own computer kit on a Black Friday sale this year. Two of my second grade girls, Gabriela and Xochtil, jumped at this project. At first, they didn’t even understand the difference between the HDMI cord and the memory card. They were bamboozled when I explained that the display screen isn’t actually a computer.
But they figured it out. They built the computer, plugged it in, and started programming. When they had finished, Xochtil said, “I love building computers! Now I know how technology works!” Later, she told me, “I want to be a science teacher, just like you.”
Xochtil has almost every label in the book. Low income. Hispanic. English Learner. Rural. Girl. My support afforded her two more. Highly Capable. STEM Fanatic.
We shifted our perspective about Xochtil. When we gave her a chance to show her advanced potential, she discovered a new vision for her future. I have seen the difference that relevant, personalized learning brings to the lives of many students like her. I have seen these opportunities grow into passions that even improve effort and outcomes in other school subjects.
Every detail of that memory pushes me to make my voice heard. I purchased that kit with my own money. Too many schools, without sufficient funding, leave it to parents to tell them if a student has advanced abilities. Most Washington schools don’t even have a teacher like me at all. And the saddest part? There are over 400 other students in my school who still don’t “know how technology works”.
It’s easy to say that we want students to reach their maximum potential. But we must be willing to look for it. When we find it, we must be prepared to develop it.
Our students and our state both deserve better. It’s time to shift our perspective.
See their potential.
Fund their path.
Grow the future.
Camille Jones is the 2017 Washington State Teacher of the Year. She is a Highly Capable and Schoolwide Enrichment teacher at Pioneer Elementary in Qunicy, Washington.
by Liz Loftus, 2017 Regional Teacher of the Year
As I sat at the little kitchen table in my little brick house on little Whidbey Island during winter break, catching up on paperwork and other things, nothing much was bothering me. I was warm. I had food in my fridge. I had a mug that was repeatedly filled with coffee. I had the messy leftovers of Christmas celebrations littered throughout my house. But, when I stopped to think about my students, the anxiety crept in.
I was worried about them. What was winter break like for them? Some of my students had a wonderful break, I am sure. They come from loving, stable homes. They have enough food to eat and more than enough toys to play with. But that isn’t the case for all my students.
I know at least one of them spent the colder-than-usual vacation sleeping in a pop-up camper parked in his grandpa’s front yard. I know several of my students spent their nights cold and underfed in small apartments or trailers. I know some of my students experienced neglect, were victims of or witnesses of abuse, and missed the safety of school.
Every January when we return from winter break, both myself and the staff I work with try to reintegrate and reacquaint our students with school routines and expectations.
For many of our students, winter break is a huge setback. They were left without the supports we provide for two whole weeks. They had no counselor available to them; they had no access to clean clothes or extra food. They had no access to safe adults who care for more than just their academic needs.
They lived in crisis for two whole weeks. We must repair that.
After every winter break, I am sure to see a huge spike in behavior outbursts. I am sure my students will be more emotional and angry after their time spent away. It feels like the first weeks of school all over again.
For many of my students, school is the only place that meets all of their needs. But even we struggle to do that. Our guidance counselor sees too many children every day and not every student who needs an appointment gets one. We have a mental health counselor that comes 2 days a week to offer services to a limited amount of students. We have a small number of food backpacks to send home on Fridays. We spend money out of our own pockets to buy clothes and snacks and materials.
I read about Governor Inslee’s education budget proposal, and for the first time in a long time, I had hope:
As 2017 gets underway, I have more to be hopeful for than ever before. I hope that our state legislators take a long, hard look at what the governor is proposing to spend on education. We can never spend enough, and therefore can never do too much to help make a difference for our kids. I will continue to work hard providing all of the things my students need, caring for the whole child instead of parts, and I look forward to not doing it alone.
Liz Loftus is a 2017 Regional Teacher of the Year. She is a board-certified behavioral analyst who teaches students with Emotional Behavioral Disorders at Olympic View Elementary in Oak Harbor, Washington
Lyon Terry, 2015 Washington State Teacher of the Year
The honor of being named Washington State Teacher of the Year had hardly sunk in, and there I was, a 4th grade teacher, behind the lectern of a windowless room at the Seatac DoubleTree in front of 600 education professionals. I had 15 slides and one guitar. I was ready to inspire educators. There were administrators, researchers, academics, policy-makers, non-profit executives, trainers and more, interested in supporting kids in classrooms. It was a huge honor to be there. They had break-out sessions on all sorts of education topics that were interesting and engaging for educators.
That day, I met only one other teacher.
Teachers are the ones who do the hands-on work in education with actual kids, but their presence was notably absent at the DoubleTree. Since that fall day in 2014, I have experienced that scenario over and over. Many people are interested in supporting schools and education, but they are not connecting to and hearing from teachers. That is changing in Washington.
I visited Hope Teague-Bowling’s Lincoln High School classroom recently and was reminded of how much I can still learn from my colleagues. In a matter of 5 minutes and in the midst of teaching a lesson, Hope was asking herself dozens of questions, finding the answers, and adjusting her instruction.
“What is the best open-ended question to insert here to further understanding?”
“Does that kid really need to go to the bathroom, or is she just time wasting?”
“Is my pacing okay or are they getting bored?”
“How can I get more kids to write like _________?”
“What did that kid mumble under his breath?”
“Should those two kids really be sitting next to each other?”
“How much time is left in the period?”
“Should I call on him? I know he had a fight at home this morning . . .”
A teacher’s brain is constantly adjusting and asking questions in real time. Teachers are decision makers. Teachers are problem solvers. Teachers know how to test theory, and we already know what works and doesn’t work in the classroom.
These are exactly the kinds of skills we need to improve education, improve schools, and increase student success. Sitting at tables in those windowless conference rooms are people who make decisions that impact kids, teachers, and schools. They mold expectations, set priorities, and decide on policy. Teachers must be at those tables.
I know it seems obvious, but this is not always how it works. If you are an education advocate who wants to make a difference for kids, please start by talking with an accomplished teacher. Students in Washington state are performing at higher levels than ever before. Teachers can explain how and why this is happening, and what we can do to improve. We share your passion for improving schools and outcomes for all students, and we are eager to work with you.
Washington State Teacher of the Year is our state’s oldest teacher award program. Now Teacher of the Year alumni have joined together to create the Washington Teacher Advisory Council or WATAC. We are a dedicated group of accomplished teachers ready to answer education questions and give solutions for improving education. We have members all over the state, at every level, and in countless subject areas.
Use our network map to find a teacher in your region or who shares your interests and can provide an expert’s perspective. Tweet us using #AskATeacher and #WATAC. Ask us your education questions—the Washington Teacher Advisory Council is ready to join the conversation.
Lyon Terry is the 2015 Washington State Teacher of the Year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher of 4th grade at Lawton Elementary in Seattle and a member of the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development: Council of Distinguished Educators.
Amy Abrams, Kent