September 14, 2021
By Tempest NeuCollins
As teachers, we have an amazing breadth of influence, for not only do we teach the children in front of us, but the future adults they will become. Therefore, promoting personal and cultural identities that seek positive engagement with other perspectives becomes just as important as traditional academics. Our end goal? Inspire children to engage with the moral complexities of our complicated world with tolerance, compassion, and wisdom.
I’m Tempest NeuCollins, the founder of Doodles Academy. We are a non-profit organization built on the belief that art education can stimulate student interest and enrich the broader curriculum when it’s integrated with that curriculum rather than taught in a silo. We help all educators, art teachers as well as classroom teachers, become comfortable using art as a tool for learning.
The events of the last year have laid bare deep inequities. The return of the school year, therefore, brings us the unique opportunity to address these inequities, and to ensure that we provide students with a more complete and more honest compendium of resources, a set of tools that will foster resilience in a world that is often defined by disagreement.
As 2020 started, we began releasing our new curriculum, Art & Literacy, which we had been developing and testing over the past three years. And then, March hit. As schools closed and teachers struggled to connect with students, we rolled out at-home versions of our Art & Literacy curriculum. At the same time, deep inequities were surfacing; many students had neither art supplies nor internet access, and we couldn’t help but wonder whether we were doing enough.
With the killing of George Floyd, the resulting protests, and the country’s growing awareness of deep-rooted racial inequities, we knew that our contribution to this moment in time couldn’t be just a quickly put out series of art projects for the sake of art projects, but rather, needed to be a series of art projects that supported teachers as they worked through timely and complicated topics and conversations with their students.
We conceived of a subscription series of projects called ‘Outside the Lines’, in which we present a question pertinent to our times, and around which each lesson revolves. For example, ‘What does it mean to be an American?’ ‘How do you develop the skills to become a hero?’ ‘What is community?’
We broke each question into 4 segments, each with a portion directly linked to ELA, Social Studies, or History. Our ‘Introspective Artist’ issue, for example, relates the background of artists and writers who have drawn upon their own experiences of bigotry, slavery, disability, WWII, and the current pandemic before asking students to respond to the question with their own artwork.
We designed Outside the Lines to provide teachers with all the information they need to present each segment; because teachers facilitate the learning process, and focus on student inquiry and personal reflection, as opposed to lecturing with concrete bits of information or demonstrating a specific art skill. No background or experience in art is necessary to move students through the project.
- To emphasize student storytelling, meaning the artwork created should be reflective of the students’ ideas and background–not the teachers’
- To create content that is flexible and supportive since nobody teaches in the same way or in the same situation
- To use a holistic approach that integrates art with other subject areas to build knowledge and understanding around core subjects
- To present diverse artists & inclusive content, for there is no single way to approach, understand, or represent an idea. We carefully choose artwork that has moved beyond the traditional cannon and instead reflects a variety of cultures and experiences. This is aligned with our mission to help students form their own identity and respect those of others.
- To make the above accessible to all teachers, regardless of the teacher’s background or the school’s budget.
By giving students examples of many other artists, by giving the historical context of these artists, and by engaging students in art projects, Outside the Lines encourages students to approach creative challenges from their unique perspective, culture, and background, which personally connects them to the topic and furthers interest and retention. The result is artwork that is a bit messy and a bit less polished than follow-the-teacher style drawings, but it is artwork that represents deep learning.
As a teacher incorporating art into the broader curriculum, your relationship with your students will be enriched as you’ll gain deeper insight into their personal, familial, and cultural identities.
Our website provides the following free resources for use in your classroom:
- A list of diverse artists and artwork
- Art projects
- Video lessons
- Discussion prompts
- Work time suggestions
About Tempest NeuCollins
Founder, Doodles Academy
Tempest NeuCollins has an MFA in studio arts from the School of Visual Arts. After receiving her degree she spent years working as a teaching artist in NYC, then transitioned into teaching art full time at a K-5 school (also in NYC). In 2015 she founded, and currently runs, Doodles Academy which empowers educators to bring a high-quality art curriculum into their classroom, regardless of their background in the arts.
Her philosophy in teaching embraces the individual child, their ideas, experiences, and interests. She teaches skills and structures projects, but always designs projects so that students can adapt them and make them their own. Thus, even when working off of the same lesson students will come away with completely unique works of art.