28 October 2013

Art Educators With heART, Featuring Sarah Johnson.

Sarah Johnson is a fabulous arts-based educator out of the United Kingdom. She teaches with me at Stamford American International School. She also happens to make some of the best machine-sewn drawings and watercolors I've ever seen . . . Always dressed to the nines, Sarah is an absolute dream to work with: she is organized and thoughtful and full of energy.

Every time that she and Tanya and I had to meet up last year as a team, we laughed . . . about everything. We had the best time coming up with lesson plans, organizing events, and thinking up ideas for possible collaborations or celebrations. She made me the most fabulous cake on the planet for my birthday. Perhaps it's just because I am an icing person, but it was absolutely scrumptious.

Here's a group shot of us from last year swooning over One Direction at our students' art show: The Really BIG Show.

Sarah plays netball like a crazy person, which has caused me to call her Sporty Spice on several occasions. She even talked me into biking across town one day to look at some lumber . . . It was at rush hour and quite hilarious! (I hadn't yet figured out the dual-brake system that I have on my bike--the ol' back peddle and hand brakes--so it was an eventful ride to say the least.)

During the last part of the year, during our last school year, I co-taught an after school session with her based around fabric. Our students were in middle school and created giant patchwork plushies. It was inspiring to watch her interact with the students and really helped me to learn more about facilitating middle school young people. 12 students and 8 sewing machines is not an easy task to take on! But we did it, and had a blast!

Together in November Sarah and I will be working on a giant project with middle and high school students. As a way for the students to earn community service credit, we will be working with the Jalan Besar Community Arts and Culture Committee to create 3 large murals in a neighborhood down the street from Stamford. It's actually in my neighborhood, close to where I catch the MRT. We are running a call for proposals through our school and throughout the community. We will be combining the entries into three collaborative works that will then be transferred to and painted on the walls. Collaboration works!

So without further ado I give you Sarah Johnson, 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 Sarah Johnson and I teach Middle Years Program (MYP) Visual Art and Textiles at Stamford American International School in Singapore. I began teaching in 2009. I have always taught an arts-based curriculum, but the ages of my students have varied from kindergarten all the way up to 18 year olds in the United Kingdom.

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

I teach approximately 320 students a week, including electives.

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 do make my own work at my home studio in Singapore (when I manage to leave work on time and during vacation breaks). In the past I have made work out of my friend's studio, working collaboritively with her. 

I teach a textiles elective at Stamford. It is nice to show students different styles of textiles, motivating new and innovative ideas. Often I show them my own practice to introduce them to my own inspirations and context of creating artwork. 

Creating my own work gives me time to reflect and be inspired by new ideas. These ideas may be transformed into projects or significant concepts for the students I teach. It also encourages me to continue being creative and gives myself new goals to accomplish. I believe we should all take time to be risk-takers and try new ideas to challenge ourselves and expand our own achievements. 

Within the way I teach, I am constantly challenging students: helping them to achieve more than they believe they can. They also introduce me to new art styles and definitely help me when using technology in art. I am always happy to take on their advice. I am constantly asking students to reflect and develop their work (much to their annoyance). But it is a fantastic skill to have, one that I use every time I am teaching a project or making a new artwork. 

What is your favorite thing about what you do?

In teaching, my favorite thing is to see students be motivated by and inquiry into new art styles. When creating my own work, I love how relaxed I feel. Time passes by and I often can't stop until I'm satisfied it's completed to the very best standard.

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?

At the end of every year we hold an art exhibition, showing the artistic development and expertise of each student. Parents are impressed by the quality of work completed by their child and the high level of concepts being taught.  People from the school community are invited to see each exhibition, including teachers from the local area. I would love to be involved in wider community exhibitions, hence why I am organizing an after school community art co-curricular project where students can work with the local community and students from other schools.      

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

I am a firm believer of integration between visual arts and other subjects on the curriculum. In the past I have collaborated with the science department on a cell project. I also facilitated a really successful project working with the humanities department and inspired by the Renaissance. Students studied and replicated a painting and wrote an essay piece to be displayed with the work. At the moment I am collaborating with drama on a poetry project: English with a figurative language inspiration and humanities again with a cultures unit. I believe it is important for students to make connections between subjects, it intensifies their learning, confirms concepts, and puts learning into perspective.

Students have plenty of opportunities to be inquirers in my lessons. They are provided with inspirations and have free choice of outcomes. When teaching over 300 students, inquiry does tend to be more structured as resources and time is a factor which young students are not able to conceptualize. But providing students will tools to be imaginative and creative will help them to become life long learners.

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

This year will be my first time using artists-in-residence as a primary resource to teach my students. A locally-based textile artist from a company called Talking Textiles will be coming to our classroom to discuss her practice, explain her artistic style, and complete a workshop with grade 7 textile students using screen printing. Later on in the year, I have invited another local multi media artist to run a workshop with grade 6 and 7 students. Artists are an important way for students to ask questions and feel a sense of accomplishment in their learning.

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

I like to introduce many different artistic skills to students as possible. I believe young people should have the opportunity to try new techniques as well as build on their experience. Personally I like to teach students how to transform 2D drawings into 3D clay sculptures. They often feel a sense of accomplishment in their products. I also enjoy screen printing. Students are amazed by the process, and it's a great way to teach positive and negative space. 

Do you have a favorite lesson plan you could share? 

Each year I try and change my units. I only repeat a few because they are enjoyable to students and develop a lot of artistic skills. Units like: clay gargoyles, animal eye paintings, Tim Burton historical figures, and Renaissance paintings.

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. 


  1. I love the animal eye lesson idea! I might have to steal that one... Love reading these art educator features! <3

    1. Thank you so much, lady-friend! I love keeping in touch with you, and I'm so glad you are blogging now! Woo-hoo!