The Tale Tellers Spotlight series gets you inside the minds of the best thinkers in contemporary education. These short five-question interviews focus both on important issues in education as well as on more general topics.
In this inaugural installment of The Tale Tellers Spotlight, we sat down with Kristin Baxter, whose recently published book Creating Vibrant Art Lesson Plans: A Teacher’s Sketchbook, examines how teachers (and specifically art teachers) can use lesson planning as a means to increased creativity and self-reflection, all the while creating spaces for students to thrive.
1. Where have you been in education, for how long, and in what role(s)?
I’ve been in education for over 25 years in various settings. Currently, I am an Associate Professor of Art and Director of the Art Education Program at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where I teach classes in the Artistic Development of Children and Adolescents, Curriculum Design, and Student Teaching Seminar. I also teach a class called Art Processes and Structures: Material Investigations, where students explore various mediums throughout the semester in order to generate ideas for works of art. I supervise both pre-student teachers and full-time student teachers who are completing fieldwork in the Bethlehem Area School District and surrounding public school districts. In addition to teaching courses for the art education program, I have also taught Modern Art, Museum Studies, and a popular course called Yoga, Art, & Writing through our First Year Writing Seminar program. (I earned my yoga teacher certification in 2016.) I’ve also been an adjunct professor at Kean University in Union, New Jersey and Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, New Jersey.
Earlier in my career, I taught art in a public middle school in New Jersey and worked in various museums directing educational programs for diverse audiences. For instance, at Lehman College Art Gallery in the Bronx, New York, I directed the Arts-In-Education Program and taught art classes for students in kindergarten through grade eight, many of whom were English Language Learners. As a museum educator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Ideveloped and implemented art education programs for adults and families in support of permanent collections and special exhibitions. I worked closely with curators to write gallery guides related to the permanent collections and special exhibitions. While earning my MA in art history and museum studies from Case Western Reserve University, I interned in and was later hired by the Education Department at the Cleveland Museum of Art. There, I created and conducted PreK-12 educator workshops based on the museum collections and conducted school group and public tours of museum collections. Finally, as a museum educator at the Cleveland Children’s Museum, I wrote curricula, conducted tours and teacher workshops.
As the Director of the Art Education Program at Moravian College, my primary role is to prepare future art teachers. Because of this, I feel it is important to continue to teach children and teens. Therefore, since 2017, I have been volunteering at the Northampton County Juvenile Justice Center in Easton, Pennsylvania where I teach art to incarcerated teens. In all of my teaching settings, my students have unique needs, skills, and interests. Therefore, I continually adapt projects and my approaches to teaching based the needs of the students. It is important to me that all students feel safe, welcome, and believe that they can succeed.
2. In your recently published book Creating Vibrant Art Lesson Plans: A Teacher’s Sketchbook, you provide a space for teachers to artfully create lesson plans while finding inspiration in the process. What inspired you to write this book?
When I started reading 732-page Julia Cameron’s 2007 book, , I couldn’t put it down! In fact, I’d wake up in the morning and I couldn’t wait until bedtime so I could keep reading. Have you ever read a book where you’re disappointed because you’re falling asleep and your eyes just won’t stay open for another page? Well, that’s the book that inspired me! I wanted to write a book that felt like the author was speaking right to the reader, with interactive ideas for the reader, just like Cameron does in her book. Moreover, for the past 10 years, I’ve been supervising art education students at Moravian College who are completing their pre-student teaching as well as full-time student teaching. During this time, I’ve helped them learn about the structure of lesson plans. I’d assign articles or book chapters on the various parts of lesson plans, but there was really no one single source specifically written about art education lesson plans. There are, of course, many books on curriculum design. But I had been looking for a book that looked at lesson planning on the microscopic level! I wanted to provide a tool for my students to use as they deconstructed and wrote their own lesson plans.
My initial proposal to Teachers College Press included a book filled with scratch-and-sniff pages, stickers, a canvas cover to paint, and a pencil case bound into the binding of the book! Those features weren’t possible, but I do think the hand-drawn illustrations are inviting and fun. I worked with a former student, Sabrina Signorelli, who is now a practicing graphic designer. She and I worked together on the illustrations for the book and I love the way it turned out! I wanted to create a book that readers could use almost like a field journal -- -writing in it, gluing specimens right into it, coloring in it, etc. I wanted to write a book that readers would look forward to reading each night before bed!
3. In one of my classes, students go into classrooms to observe teachers and each week they are given something to look for or talk to their cooperating teacher about. One of those things is to ask their teacher about their unit and lesson planning practices. Generally, I hear one of two reactions from the teachers. They either laugh off the question (meaning they don’t really lesson plan any longer) or they share that they are given scripted lessons/units written by someone else. In your book, you make the case for lesson planning as a place of purpose, inspiration, creativity, and even solace. Explain as though you were talking to one of the teachers I described why you make that assertion.
Writing has always been a comforting place for me. Like art-making and reading, writing is a personal experience, one that we can do in the quiet of our homes if we’d like, or writing can be a trusted companion through our busy days. When we write, we’re processing our life experiences. As we form sentences and paragraphs, and look at how they’re woven together, there’s deep reflection going on.
Over the years, I’ve encouraged my student teachers to write out (very long!) lesson plans and sometimes (actually, most of the time!) students would resist this process. Lesson plans are seen as something to just check off our “to do” list, as if it’s another chore like emptying the dishwasher or paying bills. Yet, lesson plans hold so much more possibility! When we write out our lesson plans, we can see in black-and-white how we word our questions to our students. We can see our beliefs and values reflected back at us. In many ways, I feel that the “lesson plans” that I’m inviting my readers to create don’t resemble the garden-variety “lesson plans” that we are all too familiar with. I don’t know another phrase to use to describe the reflective writing that I invite my students and readers to engage in.
Through writing out the lesson plans that I suggest in my book, I believe that readers can see the architecture of their thought-process as they detect the origins of the art projects that they plan for their students. What’s the purpose of the lesson? How does the project emerge from students’ life experiences? And so on. Readers can also savor the chance to really take time to think about how their art projects emerge from contemporary art and current political and social circumstances, that have extended learning opportunities as well. I hope to inspire art teachers to see how their projects weave together, how one project builds on the one prior and lays the foundation for those to come.
4. This is a big question, but if you could change one thing about education in the US, what would it be?
Equal funding for all public schools. Like in many communities, there are school districts near my home where all the students receive iPads for their homework and in-school lessons. Then, literally five miles away, there is a school district where charity organizations donate new shoes and socks to all the elementary school children each year.
5. What is one thing, not education related, that you most think about?
I have two teenagers of my own already. But I think a lot about becoming a foster parent or even adopting a teenager. I often think about how I could serve others in this way.