21 February 2013

Art Educators With heART, Featuring Camilla Spadafino.

I have been wanting to take on this project for a while now . . . I am so lucky to know so many amazing art educators. They inspire me daily with what they can accomplish in a short teaching timetable. Art education--or creative research, as I like to refer to it--is integral to teaching problem solving and life skills, creative and inventive thinking habits, and enabling student voice.

You might remember back in November when I mentioned doing a mid-week inspirational post, featuring something or someone new and exciting each week. The first post I wrote was about my favorite creative band, OK Go. The second one was about my friend Emma and her creative work with Goats For Sandy. And then it stopped. 

You will notice at the bottom of my post about Emma that I wrote:  "Next Wednesday? Merging arts education and studio practice". Well that post never happened because I knew that particular topic was much bigger than a one post deal. So I dug in my heels and stopped the mid-week inspirational posts until I could wrap my head around this new strand. 

I started focusing on how to gather information from all of my art education friends, place everything in one spot so that we could share and access each other's energy and tips o' the trade. I developed a very general list of questions--the same ones--that I could ask to each art education specialist. These questions dealt with everything from collaboration to visiting artists, to maintaining a personal arts practice to favorite art supplies. 

Part of this research is to help me unpack my own questions about teaching art, as a first-time-full-time-school-based art educator (living in a new country, oh my goodness). And part of this research is to collect readily available information for teachers at all levels, all over the world. 


Having said all that I mentioned above, it should be no surprise to anyone--especially those of you living in Nashville, Tennessee--that I have chosen to kick off this bi-monthly segment by spotlighting Camilla Spadafino, arts education specialist royalty (or Queen C., as I like to refer to her in my head).

I met Camilla online, on Facebook. Scandalous, right? Back then, her profile pic was of her head on the body of a butterfly. It was suggested to me that I befriend her and being that I was already a fan of Lockeland Design Center Elementary School--where she teaches--it was only a matter of time before we would find each other, whether it be online or in real life. Kindred spirits, we are. Two peas in a pod. 


Following Deliciously Happy, I contacted Camilla about engaging her students in a project for the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission. Secretly this was also a ploy for us to meet in real life, and it worked! I had the absolute pleasure of working with one of her second grade classes January through May of 2011. We talked about safe spaces, structures, and the meaning of home. And together we built a little hut, see above. The show was called, Imagination And Collaboration: a Boys and Girls Club.


As a thank you gift, she had her students draw portraits of me. The one below is my favorite (as if it is actually possible to have a favorite). Look how perfectly they drew the hut in the background! "The best, most creative, great teacher." Check out the other portraits here.


By the time the project had come to the end, Camilla and I had become friends. Real life friends. She is my go-to lady for teaching advice (especially in the behavior management arena), and she is the absolute best person to bounce lesson plan ideas and teaching strategies off of . . . She is the most outstanding possible model of what art education in a school-based environment should look like. She works extremely hard creating lesson plans based on a year-long theme. She is constantly inviting parents and community members into her classroom to help deliver lessons and become part of the classroom environment. And she laughs a lot. A whole lot. 

She is a passionate, driven arts and education advocate. The East Nashville community is so incredibly lucky to have her. I only wish I was still there to witness all of the profound fun and creativity that radiates from her classroom.

So without further ado I give you Camilla Spadafino, 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?  

My name is Camilla Spadafino and I teach kindergarten through fourth grade art at Lockeland Design Center, a MNPS magnet school in East Nashville. I have been teaching in one form or another ever since I was a 14 year old assistant tennis camp instructor in Jackson, Tennessee. I have officially been teaching with a degree for 15 years (with a 5 year break to have 2 children and start a children's center). I have taught ages 3-6 at Abintra Montessori, ages 6-9 Montessori, 1/2 year as a 5th grade teacher, 5 years as a 4th grade teacher, 2 years as a 3rd grade teacher, and 6 years as the art teacher at Lockeland.

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

I work with 500 students per week.

Do you make your own artwork?
If so, where do you make your artwork?
Do the students know you make your own artwork?
Have you shown it to them before?
Do you think making your own artwork enhances, changes, or helps your teaching?
Does working with young people enhance your personal artwork?

I make my own art work at home in my mini art studio and do often share what I'm making with my students when it fits into what they are learning about at school. I think creating my own artwork and sharing that with my students is an important part of being an art teacher. It enhances my teaching by modeling real world applications to what we are learning about in class and gives me experiences that I can pass on to the students through teaching. Working with children has totally  changed me as an artist. I have learned so much by teaching, and also by being inspired by the freedom of expression and brilliance of ideas that the children have. Some children are so prolific in their art creations that they make art daily and stop by each morning to show me the things they have made. I am always humbled by the genius of their ideas and the beauty of their work. #gomakefun #arteducation

What is your favorite thing about what you do?

Asking my favorite thing about what I do is like asking my favorite food or color! There are so many wonderful gifts that come from teaching! I suppose the ripest fruit of my labor is the learning that I receive which fuels personal growth. To be a teacher you have to first be a learner. I have received a far deeper education in life by being an art teacher than I ever dreamed possible. Another joy I receive from teaching is being a part of a vibrant and creative community where I am constantly learning from others around me. Establishing the resident artists program at Lockeland has opened the door to so many new techniques and ideas that these resident artists have shared with me. I have learned through the community, and I am very thankful for that beauty in my life. I also love that I still have so much more to learn and many ideas for how to become better at teaching, making my personal art,  and for how to develop the art program more fully at Lockeland; enabling it to be more integrated in the everyday lives of my students instead of a once or twice a week experience in the art room. After all that writing just now, I guess I would sum up that my favorite thing about teaching is learning. 

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 love hosting large events that feature my students artwork:  the bigger the better! For three years I hosted student/resident artists art shows out in the East Nashville community. The past two years I have hosted these shows at Lockeland, and invited the community to come into our school. Both have been successful and each has its own merits. (An example of one of the art shows within the East Nashville community is featured in the video below.)



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

Collaboration is essential to being a teacher of any type. Teaching is not something you can close your door and do: it is a community effort. Today, the internet, social media, and blogs make it easier for art teachers to collaborate with one another. In many cases there is only one art teacher in many MNPS schools. Since I am the only art teacher at Lockeland, I have made the community my co-collaborators: tapping into the rich creative community of the parents in my school. The students are also great at collaborating, especially the 3rd and 4th grade students: giving me brilliant ideas that I would have never thought of, often better than the ideas of the adults. It's amazing what 300 young minds can think of when asked!

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

I thrive on bringing in artists from the community to work with my students!!

Below, find resident artists Kortney Wilson and Fleming McWilliams, making a music video to showcase the Peruvian whistles the students created from clay. Another resident artist, John Donovan, came into teach the children how to create the whistles. These projects were for our world-themed art show called Got Chile? featuring the works of student and resident artists from our school community. 


What are your top five favorite supplies to use with students, and why? 

1. Black Sharpie markers: they make beautiful lines. Children are brave and their first drawings are so fresh and beautiful and the black marker brings this out!! If they work with pencil first, they do not like to go over it later; and if they just use pencil, their drawings are later lost in the paint or coloring.

2. UHU giant purple glue sticks because the white glue bottles are hard for children to use (the tops clog, the tops come off and puddles go everywhere, or you need to pour the glue into something and use sticks). The big UHU glue sticks are quick and less frustrating for everyone involved.

3. Crayola student watercolors with 16 pans: I love the bright vivid colors and the ease and fearless mess you can make! No worries about ruining someones clothes or waiting for layers of acrylic paint to dry. Quick and expressive and versatile!! 

4. Clay: because the children love clay more than anything and their creations are so precious like little Hummel's, things they can keep forever in a display cabinet. I love it when I go to my friends' houses (parents at my school), and they have the little clay things their kids have made with me sitting about in their homes. It seems more permanent to make something out of clay that is both precious and fragile.  

5. Crayola construction paper crayons: they look amazing on any type of paper! #crayola


Do you have a favorite lesson plan you could share? 

My favorite lesson plan right now is using centers to teach the elements of art.

Center #1: I use modeling clay and change the techniques from coil to slab to pinch pots, challenging the students to create various types of FORMS.


Center #2: I use a container of stencils and put the focus on tracing SHAPES into positive and negative SPACE. The students try to tell which space to make positive or negative by coloring or not coloring it in, and then they tell why.


Center #3: This is an experimental station where there are various types of papers and drawing supplies--wavy rulers, straight edges, etc.--to experiment with drawing as many types of LINE as possible.

Center #4: This is a watercolor table where the students have to create their types of VALUE using one color and various amounts of water.


Center #5: This is where the students can play a modern art memory matching game, sorting out the tiles into various COLOR families: warm, cool, primary, neutral, monochromatic.

Center #6: Inspired by Charley Harper, this is where texture mats are placed under coloring sheets to play with various TEXTURES.

I continue to play with these centers and each few weeks take them to the next level of creativity and choice, hoping to eventually have each center connected to other standards and multiple choices the students can make. I would like to find a way to link them to one another so that as you rotate through the centers, you end up with a little works of art that includes most of the elements of art.


I guess it's my favorite because I'm still working on it. Once I've figured something out, it is not as interesting to me anymore. Something I am always working on is maintaining what I've created and not getting bored. I like centers in my classroom because once you've established some basic rules for the students, you can try out new ideas and constantly change them up. Going back to the tried and true whenever needed. 


Above, a poster of a class collaboration with resident artists: Herb Williams, Carrie Fanning, and Michelle Fuqua. Each class in the school had a different country to inspire art work for the art show this year, this classes' country was Jamaica. 


This year's art show poster with art work featuring Lockeland students, above. 


My current personal project is called "Ms.Camilla's Neighborhood" and features people from our community: an acrylic painting with a companion coloring sheet. My students loved it when I turned our beloved school custodian, Mr. Patton (below), into one of my subjects and made art even more exciting and meaningful for them when they saw his happy reaction. 



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

The next featured art teacher in Art Educators with heART is Nicholas Wozniak out of Maitland, Florida.

4 comments:

  1. Camilla is my art teacher hero, too! She was the first person to ever encourage me to call myself an artist. Ian adores her!

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    1. Thank you, Angel! Camilla is the best! XOXO!

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  2. What fun this has been for me! I have known forever your artistic talents; now I KNOW YOU WRITE BEAUTIFULLY. And share and do technology.
    Frances E Hutchison, Janney Elementary, D.C. took us to the National Gallery of Art, then known as the Mellon Art Gallery the year it opened. We also used clay. She taught us all our subjects. I made a clay angel; Miss Nettie kept it on her mantel. But I didn't see its value and as an adult threw it away. We also had art classes at Alice Deal Junior High.
    Ed and I had the great pleasure of one of your first community shows. What's up next?

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    1. Thank you for your comments--I loved reading about your favorite art instructor! Isn't clay the best?! To continued success!!

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