Episode 21: Anti-Racist Art Teachers: A Panel Discussion: Anti-Racist Teaching During A Pandemic

Anti-Racist Art Teachers: A Panel Discussion: Anti-Racist Teaching During A Pandemic (part 2)

Rebecca Potts: [00:11:22] Yeah. And last kind of like getting to know us question how did the this collaboration come about? How did you start collaborating? And then also kind of what if there are sort of different roles that you’re taking like is someone managing the website? Is someone else doing like social media stuff? Is somebody else like setting up all the lessons or is it really like everybody’s doing a little bit of everything?

Paula Liz: [00:11:47] Yeah, I can start. So I guess initially when COVID had started, basically before the pandemic, I had stopped using social media and then when we had to lock down, I found myself on there again. I reactivated my Facebook because I was really craving a community of art teachers that I was no longer able to have in person.

Paula Liz: [00:12:14] So the other art teacher, I have a part time art teacher at my school, Kirsti. She had told me about a few Facebook groups for art teachers where they were posting ideas for online learning because I had no idea what I was doing. And so, I found myself on those groups and it was really great, the sense of community and camaraderie that was on those groups. But then as the stories of a Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd began to emerge, I noticed that there was a shift of tone in those groups and some art teachers were posting questionable comments on there. And they were either those comments were either being ignored or affirmed by other art teachers. So things like, “I don’t see color” or “elementary school students are too young to talk about race” and “we need to keep politics out of the classroom.”

Paula Liz: [00:13:06] So when I was seeing that, I just began responding to them. And when I did that, I started to sense that a lot of teachers had no idea how their comments were actually rooted in systemic racism. And as I was having these conversations, I felt that a lot of them were well-intentioned but ill informed.

Paula Liz: [00:13:26] So I started to share links to videos and articles with them.

…then from there is when the “oh, you can’t teach this in elementary school” came from. And I thought to myself, that’s not true because I’ve done it.

Paula Liz

Paula Liz: [00:13:30] And as I was doing that, I was compiling a Google doc to keep track, to help share. And then from there is when the “oh, you can’t teach this in elementary school” came from. And I thought to myself, that’s not true because I’ve done it.

Rebecca Potts: [00:13:45] Right.

Paula Liz: [00:13:45] So I started sharing my lessons that I had done. And then I was like, I know there are other art teachers out there that have done this. Let me seek them out. So I started a second Google doc with art lessons and initially I reached out to Nylah who’s not with us right now. So Nylah, I reached out to her asking if she wanted to share some of her lessons, and then she had me reach out to Francesca. And then initially it was just us three with the lessons. And then that Google doc turned into a Google site. And initially we did the elements of an anti-racist art teacher. Those images, we initially just interested me because I just the idea just kind of came about and we didn’t think much of it when we shared it. It was just a way to get attention to the site that we were developing. And that kind of took off. And as that happened, we started making other connections and reaching out to other people and kind of growing. So I’ll let everyone else kind of chime in on how they found themselves.

Tamara Slade: [00:14:52] Yeah. So I reached out to Nylah, just appreciating her page and then she responded and essentially was like, oh, wow, I really like your work that you’re doing that I’m seeing on your Instagram page, teach for tamara, and so would you want to collaborate / put some of your lessons up? And I was like, that sounds really cool. Yeah, let’s do it.

Rebecca Potts: [00:15:14] Awesome.

Abby Birhanu: [00:15:14] I was in the same boat as Paula Liz. You know, anti-racism, I didn’t even call it that. I’d just talk about being a black woman. And like, I would see all my kids’ eyes just get really wide because I teach in a majority white school white population. And I just thought, you know, I always shared my stories. I always shared artists that look like me that I, that resonated with me.

Abby Birhanu: [00:15:36] And so for me, Paula Liz, it was the same thing. It’s just like a way of being, you know. And I went on Facebook and I must have missed the other page because it was in June. And I was looking for I’m sure there are like art teachers out there united against racism, like developing a curriculum. So let me look for them. And I honestly couldn’t find the page. So I was like, OK, how do I… I’m so not tech savvy. Everybody here knows this, especially Paula Liz. So I was like, let me press this thing that says Start group. And and I literally just started a group that was art teachers for antiracist curriculum. And that’s what I wanted to focus on. I didn’t want to just talk about being anti-racist and what that looks like. And I know that we all need work in that area and growing that side of us and that part of us. But I really wanted to do what Paula Liz was doing with her website, like bring together a curriculum that teachers can take into their classroom, because the one thing I keep hearing from educators from all backgrounds and subject areas is I don’t know where to find resources to teach this stuff, you know, and I know it’s out there.

Abby Birhanu: [00:16:43] But I also understand their struggle because up to like five years ago, you couldn’t even find a list of black artists. Like, it was difficult to come across and it was work. So I just thought with our combined powers, we can come together and gather these resources. So that’s never an excuse. That’s something that we can go into the classroom armed. And then Paula Liz, I just I saw the page she was creating and I loved it and I kept sharing it out or like bringing attention to it. I found myself constantly tagging her. Hey, check this out. When someone would ask. And then I think somehow you and I, we connected, right. And that’s how that came to be. And I’m excited to see the collaboration happening because it’s definitely given me encouragement, because you do feel kind of alone, like you were saying Paula Liz, like you’re the only person who cares about this. And I mean, that page says there’s like over a thousand followers now.

Abby Birhanu: [00:17:42] There’s way more of us than anyone realized. Right. So.

Rebecca Potts: [00:17:46] Yeah. And I found, I think I joined your group recently because I had found another anti-racist art educators group, which is also encouraging, like there’s two of them. And they both have a lot of people.

Abby Birhanu: [00:17:59] Yeah, I belong to that one, too, now that I found it. So I’ve been getting a lot of good stuff there, too, so.

I’ve actually seen some people turn around and say, hey, you know, this is something we need to be talking about.

Khadesia Latimer

Khadesia Latimer: [00:18:07] Well, I was really happy when Paula Liz reached out to me because kind of the same thing happened to me. I was on Facebook during the pandemic and I, you know, there are so much divisive conversation. And I felt like I guess originally I was just naive. And I thought all of us clearly realize that there’s a problem and that there is a way that we as teachers can solve this problem. But apparently not. So I got very discouraged. I almost deleted myself from those groups. But at the same time, I kind of felt like if I delete myself from these groups, I’m not, well I wouldn’t necessarily say arguing with these people, but just trying to prove a point like, hey, this is an issue. We need to talk about this. So it came right, right on time for me when she reached out and started talking about this site. So I am truly, truly grateful. And I’ve actually seen some people turn around and say, hey, you know, this is something we need to be talking about. This isn’t something that we should just talk to high school students or middle school students about. We can talk to elementary school students about this, too. So thank you so much, Paula Liz. That was right on time.

Paula Liz: [00:19:10] And by the way, she has an amazing idea that we’re going to be launching in the next few days.

Paula Liz: [00:19:16] But artist interviews where we’re actually reaching out to Black, indigenous and people of color artists and interviewing them and getting more insight and feedback into their thought process and artwork.

Rebecca Potts: [00:19:28] That’s awesome. There is, there’s a site called the Studio Visit that has exactly that, interviews with Black – and I don’t know if it’s only Black or if it’s Black and indigenous and people of color, but artists. But that might be those are long interviews and definitely not geared for like a child audience. So, yeah.

Dr. Lori Santos: [00:19:48] Yeah, I came to the group similar to some of the others. Paula Liz invited me in and I felt very honored and grateful to be a part of this wonderful team. I’ve been teaching about this stuff for about 30 years, and I know that dates me now, but because the rest of the team, they’re they’re just young and fresh and I love it and I’m looking forward to learning more from them as we move forward. And but it’s such a challenge because there are not enough resources out there. And what is out there is difficult to find. And so having a central location like this also just to be able to talk about these things in a safe environment is important. As a professor, over the years, I’ve even had challenges in my own classroom with with my teachers-to-be students. You know, they don’t want to focus on this. They’re wrapped up with, you know, looking at skill-based learning. And I really try to focus on that. You know, you bring yourself into the classroom and the world is there, is present with your students. So this needs to be front and center.

Rebecca Potts: [00:21:03] Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s so valuable that there is such a range within all of you that, you know, you’ve you covered different grade levels, even different subjects to some extent with Tamara and different styles, methodologies. All of that, I think is really helpful and important. So I have kind of two different directions I want to go. So one is just talking about teaching during a pandemic. So how to you know, I feel like the resources you’re creating are incredible and so needed and exactly what some of you were saying that a lot of teachers might want to move in this direction but don’t know how. So you’ve created all of this amazing content. What advice would you give teachers who are like looking to use that but teaching online in the fall? So that’s sort of one way we see a lot of teachers having to work now. So thinking just about online and especially like bridging gaps in technology and access the equity issue there. Do you have any ideas or resources that you can point to?

Dr. Lori Santos: [00:22:09] Well, that’s a real challenge, I think, for all the teachers out there because of funding and whatnot. But I think we’re finding that many teachers have banded together and, you know, Facebook has just exploded with all these great groups. And so I even with my students, I found myself telling them, join these groups that that, make these connections. I would give a shout out to a colleague of mine over at Penn State, Dr Kevin Jenkins, who is a real technology guru, and so giving of his expertise and advice that he’s constantly posting on Facebook tips and tricks about using different platforms and and resources and whatnot. And the others have, I think, have some ideas.

I would encourage any art teacher, whether online or in person, the first thing you should be focusing on is building those relationships with your students and letting them know that you care and that you are there for them and that you want to hear what they have to say.

Paula Liz

Paula Liz: [00:23:03] I think, for online, and well, this is true for both online and in-person teaching, before you do any of this sort of work, you need to first build relationships with your students. So I would encourage any art teacher, whether online or in person, the first thing you should be focusing on is building those relationships with your students and letting them know that you care and that you are there for them and that you want to hear what they have to say. So I would definitely start there. And then in terms of online teaching, just working with what you have and encouraging students to be creative with what they have. For example, when I was teaching online in the spring, a lot of my students didn’t have art materials at home, so my first lesson was the unconventional materials challenge. Because, in a way, art is a lot about – there is skills and technique – but a lot of it is just self-expression. And that’s what I wanted them to do. And how they came about doing that, whether it was a pencil and paper or Legos or just encouraging them to think outside the box. Because one thing that and I’m even now with going back online, I’m worried that people are going to try to mirror an in-person experience online. And those two things are not the same.

Rebecca Potts: [00:24:28] Right.

Paula Liz: [00:24:28] So right now, even though my district is planning on going online, they want us to have the same type of schedule and layout as we would have in person. And to me, that doesn’t make sense. We need to be innovative. We need to think outside the box. We need to create experiences for our students that are going to be meaningful no matter what access they have.

Rebecca Potts: [00:24:51] Yeah, absolutely.

Abby Birhanu: [00:24:52] And I want to add to that Paula Liz, like accessibility is huge, you know, making sure we are offering lessons where the kids can engage with their home and the outside – nature or even like community where possible – not to assume they have resources. I’m lucky enough that my principal has given me some money ahead of time to order supplies so I can make kits for the kids, because that was a big thing missing last year. They just didn’t have supplies. So I’m like ordering Ziplock bags and just getting the essentials like colored pencils and just the essentials so they have something to take home. Whether they’re doing virtual or in-person, they’re going to need that.

Abby Birhanu: [00:25:31] Because sharing supplies is probably not the best idea right now with a pandemic going on. And I’ve said this before, but creating a sense of community, like you said, Paula Liz, is really important. I’m trying to figure out a way for the kids to find community within the classroom with just two or three other kids that they can talk to. “What was Mrs. Birhanu talking about over here. Does anyone know?” You know, just to have that one other person to go to besides me as well. And then just keeping things as consistent as possible. If you’re going in person, like plan for not being in person. Like you said, Paula Liz, and teach your class like that, you know, and like you, Paula Liz, I had kids painting with ketchup and mustard. And honestly, they got really into it. Like you said, it’s about expression and not being so driven by the content that you forget, like the true purpose for why we fell in love with art to start with. You know, I didn’t fall in love with art, so I can just learn to shade. It was way more than that. Right. So just going back to that.

Rebecca Potts: [00:26:38] Yeah. So, the other method I see – or like situation I see – teachers going into are being on a cart and a lot of them totally new to being on a cart. So any, I don’t know if any of you have experience with that. I know Khadesia’s going into it. What advice would you offer there?

Khadesia Latimer: [00:26:53] Yes. Like I mentioned earlier, I really only have experience with this because my art room is turned into a Christmas shop during the holidays.

It’s almost like an awkward roommate situation where you’re hopping into somebody else’s space and you don’t want to step on toes or, you know, accidentally use somebody’s stapler when they’re not the type of person who likes to share a stapler.

Khadesia Latimer

Khadesia Latimer: [00:27:03] But I think some advice that I would give is to make sure you don’t feel like you have to tackle it all at once, especially for something new. Kind of go into it easy, maybe start off by just setting expectations and, you know, you’re going to be in somebody else’s room. So it’s not going to be the same as when the kids are actually at your door and you get to greet them and they get to come in and they know where their seat is. You’re going into somebody else’s space. And Paula Liz talked about how important it is to create a relationship with your students. But in this situation, you really need to create a relationship with the teachers because you’re going to be in their space. You know, it’s almost like an awkward roommate situation where you’re hopping into somebody else’s space and you don’t want to step on toes or, you know, accidentally use somebody’s stapler when they’re not the type of person who likes to share a stapler. You’ll be surprised what you run into. So just making sure you have a relationship with those teachers. I know the Art of Ed, they do these IGTV videos and someone there mentioned something as simple as sending out an email or letter saying, hey, I’m going to be in your room this year, as you know, if there’s anything that you want me to be aware of, let me know. And hey, also, I might need this amount of space in your room to keep this in here so I’m not having to carry around the whole school every day. So just having that conversation, I think that would make things a lot easier for both teachers because it is different.

Rebecca Potts: [00:28:32] Yeah. And then do you feel like with the classroom teachers, it would also be important to include talking about some of the lessons and bringing in this idea that I’m going to be doing anti-racist education in here and we might be in the same room at the same time, you’re going to be there.

Rebecca Potts: [00:28:49] So if you’re not OK with that, like you need to get on board.

Khadesia Latimer: [00:28:53] Yeah, that’s another conversation. It can get kind of awkward because I do know a lot of teachers that I teach with, you know, they they don’t necessarily talk about it, but it makes them feel awkward or they’re afraid they may say the wrong thing or they may not agree with something.

Khadesia Latimer: [00:29:10] So I just feel like that’s one of those things you just kind of have to work around because we can’t just stay quiet about this situation. I hear so many people say, well, if we talk about it, we’ll never get over it. It literally makes no sense to me because if you have cancer, you don’t want  a doctor to say, “well, you know, we are going to spend a couple of months not talking about it and we’ll catch back up, you know, at the end of the year,” like, it doesn’t work like that. So this is something we all just got to buckle down and just go with it.

Rebecca Potts: [00:29:37] Yeah, we need like collective therapy. We need to talk a lot about it.

Khadesia Latimer: [00:29:42] Exactly.

Rebecca Potts: [00:29:43] Yeah. And then the last kind of situation that I see that’s really challenging, at least for me it was last spring is TAB teachers.

Rebecca Potts: [00:29:53] I know I had shifted this year to try to be more choice based. And sort of going towards TAB, but then when I switched to virtual learning, that kind of went out the window and I was like, OK, back to project based, how do I do this? So any advice? Maybe Abby has some. But any advice for continuing choice based?

It’s about tapping into what you believe about art. What’s your philosophy about art? You know, if it’s about expression, just let it go. Try not to be so controlling.

Abby Birhanu

Abby Birhanu: [00:30:14] You know, Rebecca, I found myself doing the same thing just because TAB sometimes you find yourself being in the classroom and encouraging kids to believe in themselves and like tap into that part of themselves that’s not, that can’t be guided by because the other kids are so used to being guided right through the entire school system. And so it’s like, oh, I want to make this digestible so I might have to go to discipline based. And you just got to fight that urge because like Paula Liz said earlier, it’s about tapping into what you believe about art. What’s your philosophy about art? You know, if it’s about expression, just let it go. Try not to be so controlling. And for the kids that struggle without you being there to engage them in dialogue, to tap into themselves, to see where all that choice is going to come from, offering a few choices. So if you’re really struggling with what I’m asking you to do in this section, think about these three. Which one would you like to do? And so I always have a list of ideas that kids can tap into when they’re really struggling, creating that. So it’s just a little guidance, but also just being OK with them doing that on their own.

Rebecca Potts: [00:31:20] Yeah, I like that idea of almost like a menu that has one option is you create whatever you want to eat, whatever you want to make. Yeah.

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