11 June 2017

Art Educators With heART, Featuring Courtney Rock!


I've been doing a lot of reflecting lately, especially about teaching and how my teaching has changed since moving back to the United States. I'm slowly, but surely preparing myself for the giant leap into the Art Education PhD program at FSU this coming August. 

The first year I started teaching full time was in Singapore, 2012 - 2013. In the spring of that first year, I decided to start interviewing art teachers from all over the place. Each art educator brings such a different perspective and sensibility with them to the classroom. Some enjoy bright colors and loud antics (um, me), some enjoy technique over concept, and some enjoy traditional methods. Art is one of the only subjects that has such a massive variety of possibilities when approaching students and teaching.

I do not have an art education background. My background is strictly studio-based. But because I love working in community and with groups of people, teaching fits in very nicely. And I love it!! The interviews I started 4 or so years ago with my colleagues worldwide have sort of been my textbook. It's fascinating to me to see how art educators approach different media and balance creating their own artwork. And I love being able to see into their classrooms and hear about their processes with different grade levels.


I met Courtney Rock when I started back to my undergraduate program in 2007 - 2009. I took a few art education courses to see about certification, but ended up in my community arts graduate program in Baltimore instead. 

I remember Courtney being very funny. She was quiet, but had a great sense of humor. One night we were up at school late, eating Vietnamese food with a classroom full of people and laughing really hard about things as we were putting together lesson plans and exemplars. I remember this as if it happened only a few years ago, but in actuality was close to ten years back. Since then, I have seen her only via Facebook and now Instagram. I remember her posting pictures of each time her boys were born. And more recently I have been stalking her classroom Instagram for new ideas. 

Sidebar: It always baffles me when people say that they hate social media. Because I have not seen Mrs. Rock in person for 10 years, but we have kept in touch quite nicely over social media and it's been fabulous to watch her grow into one of the most inspiring and fabulous art educators I have ever met. I've learned so much in these past ten years!!

And y'all . . . This post is chock-full of awesome, colorful images. So sit back and relax, and relish in this interview! Links to past interviews are at the end of this post. Enjoy!

          

So without further ado I give you Courtney Rock, in her own words.

What is your name and where do you teach? What do you teach? How long have you been teaching? Have you taught the same subject throughout the whole time that you have been teaching?

Hi! My name is Courtney Rock and I currently teach at two schools- Clayton Elementary (2 ½ days per 3 day rotation) and Baranoff Elementary (1/2 day per 3 day rotation). I teach kindergarten – 5th grade art. I am finishing up my seventh year of teaching. Yay! I have taught art for my entire teaching career, but this is only my fourth year as an elementary art teacher. I previously taught art, grades 6 - 8, at Canyon Vista Middle School in the Round Rock School District, and then at Dripping Springs Middle School. For the past three years I have been a traveling art teacher, which means that I am split between two schools. All totaled, I have taught at 7 schools in 7 years!

I earned a BA in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin in 2003, and worked in jewelry design for several years. I went back to UT after getting married and finished up my BFA in Visual Art Studies (Art Education). While in school, I taught art at a couple of summer day camps around Austin. I also taught drawing and painting at a community outreach program through the Dougherty Arts Center, called Totally Cool Totally Art. I think that I learned more about teaching art in my year of teaching at Austin community centers than anywhere else. I learned that students need to have fun and be able to express themselves in order to keep them engaged in the art making process. If that happens, then the actual “learning” piece of art education comes naturally.


How many students do you work with during a week's time?

I have about 450 students (20 classes) that I see on a three-day rotation. That’s a lot of names, a lot of personalities, and a lot of back-stories!


Do you make your own artwork?

Yes, I make my own artwork whenever I can. I can’t turn it off. I remember when I was growing up at my parents house, listening to my dad sitting at the piano every night and composing music. I would fall asleep to the start and stop of his tape player, followed by a few notes played on the piano, followed by the scribbling of notes on his ledger paper. Now as an adult with my own family, I find myself beginning to do the same thing. I eek out time whenever I can to work on my own projects.  

If so, where do you make your artwork?

My husband and I bought a 1973 fixer upper about a year and a half ago. The sunroom is my happy place. I have two desks that are surrounded by windows that look out into our very green backyard. We have some beautiful oaks and a huge cottonwood tree that attract all manner of wildlife that serve as such an inspiration to me. The light in the room is so bright, and it is my favorite place to create.


Do the students know you make your own artwork?

I think it’s really important for my students to understand that I’m not just an art teacher, but that I’m an artist as well. I had an art show at a local coffee shop a couple of summers ago and some of my students came. That was really cool! I want them to know that art-making doesn’t just happen in a classroom – that it’s something that is so a part of me. I’m so passionate about art and I want my students to feel that passion when I teach.

My students see artwork that I have created in my classroom. I have a huge mural of Hokusai’s “The Great Wave” that I painted, hanging in my classroom, and that frequently comes up as a topic of conversation. They want to know why I painted it. They want to know where the idea came from. They want to know what materials I used, and all about my process. Sometimes I hear discussions between students about what the men in the boats are doing, or they count the number of pieces of paper I used to make it. This gets me really excited because I think it is so great when children engage in their own conversations about art without me directly prompting them.


When I was teaching facial proportions to 3rd grade recently, I showed my classes a portrait I made of my boys and my nephews. They were blown away! I try to underscore that if you focus, practice, and just keep learning, trying, and growing, you will be AMAZED with what you can make! 


When I demonstrate art-making in the classroom, students sometimes are in awe. I don’t think that many of them have been exposed to watching someone making something with their own two hands. On a couple of occasions, I will draw something that I feel is seemingly simple, and students feel compelled to clap. That is always really exciting to me because I feel like I am really translating the magic of art. It’s like they perceive I’m doing some kind of magic trick, but really they can do it themselves if they just follow simple directions and inject their own creativity.






Have you shown your artwork to them before?

I am currently working on illustrations for some children’s stories that I have written. I have not shown them to my students, but my own two children have been very encouraging! I often ask my boys what they think about my illustrations, and they are VERY honest with me. Ha!


At the beginning of the school year, I like to show a PowerPoint to my classes that have all of the classroom expectations, and I show them pictures of my life, including my family and the art that I make. They always have lots of questions and connections! I have shared my dream of being an illustrator with many students (see image above and third image below), and that really struck a cord with one student in particular. Turns out that her grandfather is none other than accomplished author and illustrator David McPhail (see image below), and she brought me two drawings he made for me. I love when life gives you an encouraging nudge like that.




Do you think making your own artwork enhances, changes, or helps your teaching?

Oh, making my own artwork definitely enhances my teaching. I don’t know how you could be an art teacher, and not make your own artwork. I am constantly surprised at what I can create with my own two hands. How would someone communicate that excitement to their students if they were not deeply involved in their own creative process? It helps my teaching because I understand the frustration of having my artwork not turn out how I intended. I hit the same barriers that my students face: time constraints (after the kids go to bed), working around noisy and distracting neighbors (my kids and pets), spills, not knowing where to begin, or having too many ideas, wanting to start over, or just that moment where you feel like you just want to give up and watch TV because that would be so much easier. I get it.  

I also think that creating my own art helps me be a better co-worker and employee. Even with set-backs in the past in my own teaching career – issues with less-than-ideal work situations (and we’ve all been there, #amirite?!), having my own creative projects has really been a savior for me. If I can just maintain my creativity outside of my teaching life, I am able to have some perspective. It helps me to roll with the punches at work, and hopefully I won’t turn into the grumpy old art teacher that everyone dreads. I can’t tell you how many times that when I tell someone I’m an elementary art teacher, they reply with, “I remember my art teacher. He/She was sooooo mean and I hated art! I can’t draw a stick figure!” Ugh. I really do not want to be that person.

Does working with young people enhance your personal artwork?

YES! I’m so inspired by children. Really, children and animals are my biggest inspiration. Kids are so incredibly creative. They say funny things and they put together ideas that an adult would never think of. They help remind me that art is fun, and the best ideas sometimes come when you allow your mind the freedom to wander. I have a tendency to be very tight with my drawings and I can get really tense while I’m drawing. Children are more loose and unafraid with their creativity. I wish I could capture that with my own drawings.


What is your favorite thing about what you do?

I don’t have one favorite thing, I have a few favorite things…

I love introducing an artist or an art movement to a class and having a class discussion about it. I like to use a modified Feldman Technique with my students when we look at a work of art (Step 1: What do you see?, Step 2: How does this artist use the Elements of Art?, Step 3: What was the artist trying to say and how do you know that?, Step 4: Do you like it?). 

Sometimes I will take an entire 45 minute class to introduce an artist, and it is always so funny when I tell them that it is time to line up. The kids can’t believe that class is over, because they were so engaged in talking about art! Imagine that! They say, “But we just got here!" 

By the time they get to Step 4 of the Feldman Technique, they may have completely changed the way they felt about a work of art. The art becomes more meaningful because they were able to really look at it and talk about it. I once had a student tell me that after we finished a Keith Haring unit, he missed Keith. It was so interesting, because that student clearly had grown in their connection to the artist. It was as if he had a good friend move away. And they were on a first-name basis!


I really love to see a student’s progression over the course of several years, or even just a couple of months. That has been really rewarding. The kindergarten students that I had my first year at Clayton will be in 4th grade next year. That is crazy. I remember when they were just so sweet and tiny and striving to color neatly, and next year they will be tackling tessellations!

I love it when I see a student pointing out their artwork in the hallway to someone else. They are so proud of what they have made, and I want all of my students to feel that pride. I love it.

I love trying new things – using a new media, trying out a new lesson plan, coming up with fresh ideas. I tried gyotaku prints with rubber fish for the first time this year. It was awesome! The kids loved it, and the prints were too cool.


I just had my 4th graders make origami Hawaiian shirts. They made so many that they donated a whole box of them so that the kindergarteners could decorate them. It was a perfect end of the year activity.

Do you host any large events that feature your students' artwork so that the larger community can see what the students are making? What about school-specific events?

I hang artwork in the school hallways year-round and make sure that every student is represented at least two or three times. This year was a first, in that my compadre, Ashlea Cedrone, and I also had grade 1 students create artwork to be displayed as a backdrop to their musical performance.  




I also get to choose a handful of artwork from all of my students for the Austin ISD (AISD) district Youth Art Month Show. This is such a thrill for the students and I can tell that this really means a lot for all of the students chosen. Every school in AISD is represented in the show, and it is a huge event. It’s fun to look at what other teachers are producing with their students and it is really inspiring. It’s also so cool to see what the middle and high school students are creating. Their talent blows me away!



The Fifth Grade Photography Show at Clayton is an event that I'm very proud of . . . Students take photos in and around the school, then they upload them to Kindles and edit the photos themselves. This year, they chose two photos to print and mount on mat board. For each photo, they followed prompts to write an artist statement and title their work. I thought this brought so much more depth to their work, and they were able to really reflect on the art that they created. We held an after school reception in the library for the students and their families. We were so excited to have such a great turn-out this year!


We are planning a school-wide art show at some point. Ashlea and I are still just in the brainstorming part of the planning, but we are already realizing this is going to be a huge undertaking with over 800 students!
  

How does collaboration fit into your teaching methods? What about personal choice? And imagination?

I like to have every student at my home school participate in a couple of collaborative art projects a year. This year, we had each student create a piece of Van Gogh’s Starry Night (above). It was something I had been thinking about for several years, so it was great to work with another teacher that was on board with this big idea. The end product was amazing!



My favorite collaborative assignment is a second grade Andy Goldsworthy-inspired nature sculpture. Our school is nestled in a wooded area, with a pond nearby, so there is plenty of nature art-making opportunities just a short walk away. I break the class into groups and each group creates a sculpture using objects from nature. They are limited to 3 kinds of objects (like leaves, rocks, and sticks) and their sculpture must create some geometric shape, an arch, criss-crossing lines, or an undulating line. Once they are finished, I take a photo of their sculpture and each student writes a haiku about it in their field sketchbook.



Collaboration is not something I incorporate for every assignment, but I do encourage students to ask their neighbors for help and/or constructive criticism. I think that talking and discussion is an important part of the art-making process. Now, there are always students that need redirection when the talking takes over, but I get that making art is a cathartic experience. Sometimes things come up in conversation in the art room when they wouldn’t be coming up in any other place. It’s always interesting to hear young people talking about subjects like politics, religion, family issues, or fears, goals, and other important topics. I hope that I have created an environment in the art room where students can discuss these ideas constructively, and I believe the art-making process brings these topics to the surface.


I try to present projects that cover the standards that I need to teach. I have a set criteria that is clear and understandable, yet allows for personal choice and imagination. If a student has their paper oriented landscape instead of portrait, I’m not going to flip out, but I am very clear about certain directions that students need to follow. If a student has an idea that is different than what I have presented, and they ask me if they can do it, I have to say, “Well, let me see it.” If the student is super excited about bending the instructions, I don’t want to squash that excitement. I want them to get excited about new ideas!! My dream in life is to help others use their imagination. I would rather a student have too many ideas than none at all.


Do you bring in artists from the community to work with your students? 

I have always wanted to build a bridge between my students and the art community, so next year that will finally get to happen! We have plans in the works for bringing in two artists to do an art-making demonstration and answer questions. I’m really excited that our principal has given us the green light, and I am excited about making this happen! One of the artists is an ice sculptor, so I thought there could be a lot of cross-curricular topics with science, like states of matter, temperature, and chemical/physical changes.

What are your top five favorite supplies to use with students, and why? 
  1. Grumbacher Opaque Watercolor Paint Trays. The color is so rich. They are sooooo fun to paint with and those tiny little pots of pigment surprisingly go a long way. They are not cheap, but you get what you pay for . . . 
  2. Carbon paperI showed a class of 3rd graders once how to use carbon paper and they literally clapped. They thought it was real magic. This is so helpful when a student has a drawing that they want to use for a painting, but it would be too difficult or time-consuming to re-draw.
  3. Rubbing plates. I use these plates to add texture to backgrounds or to press in clay. You can get them from SAX, but you can make your own too with just pieces of posterboard and Elmer’s. Plus I love the way the word “frottage” sounds, and I use it any chance I get.
  4. Watercolor pencils/watercolor pastels. Watercolor pencils are the perfect media for starting out a painting if you don’t want gray pencil lines showing. Ick! They are so fun to blend, and I think students like that you can have a little more control over your color with watercolor pencils. Watercolor pastels are so bold and vibrant! Again, more control over your color, and so fun to blend.
  5. Speedball ink and brayers. I love printmaking with students. They love it. They become like assembly line workers churning out print after print. By the end of my robot print unit with 4th grade, some of them had a small army of robots. Speedball has some really great colors- hot pink, turquoise, purple… But I think the classic black was everyone’s favorite.

Do you have a favorite lesson plan that you could share with us? 

As a traveling art teacher, I often have to think on my toes and use whatever I find in my portable. There’s usually not a lot of time to plan with other teachers at my traveling campus, and I don’t always have the supplies that I have access to at my home school. A couple of years ago I thought of a project on the fly that ended up to be so awesome that I did it with all of my upper grades (3 - 5). You could do this project with younger grades, but you would probably end up tying a lot of knots for the littles. It is a good one-day project, especially that tricky few days right before Thanksgiving break.


Native American Talking Sticks.
Estimated time for project: 45 minutes

Materials: 
  • sticks of variable sizes (sticks you would find on the ground in a park or your yard, from a tree… or around your portable like 15 minutes before the class is supposed to arrive)
  • different colored yarn or twine (the teacher before me left a big box of random scraps of entangled yarn)
  • wooden beads, pony beads, and feathers (again, there was a big box of random things like this in the closet in my portable… score!)
  • scissors


I showed my students a PowerPoint I created about the significance of the talking stick (or talking feather) in many Native American tribes, and how it was not only a tool, but a symbol of listening, understanding, mutual respect, and cooperative communication. Some tribes had certain significance associated with different colors or symbols carved into the talking stick. I talk to them about how it is our duty as Americans to pass on the traditions and stories of the Native Americans so that future generations will know about them and learn from their wisdom.

Each student chooses their own stick. Then, they choose whatever colors of yarn they want to tie to the stick and wrap portions of it. They may choose beads to string on the yarn and feathers to tie on. I was so surprised at how carefully and gently the students handled their talking sticks. I think they really took the significance of the talking stick to heart, and they were so proud to show them off to each other. Because it was so close to Thanksgiving, I encouraged the students to bring their talking sticks to their Thanksgiving celebrations at home, and tell their families about the tradition of the Native American talking stick.


BONUS! Glazing tricks and ideas for clay projects!

I absolutely love the glazing part of the ceramics process! But with 20 classes, that is a ton of loading and unloading the kiln. Also, as a traveling teacher, that means a lot of extra coordination to reserve space in the kiln, hauling delicate pieces to and from the kiln room. So, I often use alternatives to glazing clay pieces. I sometimes like to use colored chalk, and then seal it with either Mod Podge or spray fixative. There are pros and cons to each. 


The students can paint the Mod Podge on themselves, but it is very stinky and it makes the colors blend together. Or, I have to apply the spray fixative myself, which is also stinky. But it helps the colors stay nice and neat. Another alternative to glazing would be just painting everything with tempera paint. I like to water it down a little bit. 

This year I had a kindergarten class make color wheel ornaments around the holidays. I mixed a bowl of watered down blue paint, a bowl of watered down yellow paint, and one with red. Students dipped their clay star ornaments in each bowl of paint, making sure to turn their star as they dipped, and making sure to overlap colors so that they could make secondary colors. 


I tried a new glazing alternative this year with my traveling school, and it turned out beautifully!! First grade made clay owls. We colored them with oil pastels and then I made an India Ink wash. Students dipped their owls in the India Ink wash and they were TOO COOL!! They really looked like brilliantly colored owls at night!


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Inspiring, yes? Do you remember your art teacher in elementary, middle, or high school? A college professor, perhaps? If so, what made that person memorable to you? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

Check out more interviews here: