During Art21’s yearlong professional development initiative, Art21 Educators, we ask that teachers coordinate a one-on-one or group conversation that allows them to reflect on and explore major successes and challenges in the unit of study they developed during our week together in the summer. Once teachers have had a chance to share the unit of study with their students, or for some, once they are immersed in the unit itself, they call together colleagues and some of us who facilitate the program in order to have a focused conversation about how they explored a big question, theme and idea with their students.
This year, some of our Art21 Educators are presently exploring questions such as:
- How does the media define gender roles, stereotypes and expectations?
- What is the nature of creativity?
- What makes current environmental issues so complex, and why do they often involve conflicting interests or ideas?
- How do people express individuality?
- How do we find beauty in the ordinary?
But what’s the point of having a Spotlight Conversation?
Much like a critical friends group, a spotlight conversation allows one educator in the program to call together a small group of colleagues for, in most cases, an online conversation where they share highlights from a specific unit they developed incorporating Art21 artists and the study of contemporary art to investigate interdisciplinary questions and ideas. The Art21 Educator who is coordinating and hosting the spotlight conversation gives all participants in the group a chance to review any related materials, the written unit plan, an online curriculum journal, photos and classroom video in advance of the conversation in order for everyone to be ready to have a productive discussion on the Spotlight Conversation date.
You know, the more I think of it, the more I realize that teachers across the country don’t have enough spotlight conversations in general. Too often, quite frankly, we are engaged in dimly lit conversations around how to navigate the latest set of requirements and mandates. With structured time for conversations with trusted colleagues that emphasize how to build on successful lessons and improve on specific challenges, professional development can become a meaningful part of the school day rather than something else to accomplish in an already-jammed after school meeting. In the Art21 Educators program, this kind of structured time becomes beneficial for everyone involved because it improves our own practice and allows for brainstorming that affects future planning.
In the coming weeks we will begin some of our first spotlight conversations for this school year. I know that Jess, Flossie and I are all very eager to be part of these discussions because they often make way for sharing important ideas, strategies and resources with a wider range of educators.