Updated: Aug 10
By Katie Bril
Tuesday and Thursday mornings usually held moments of peace and preparation, especially before my incoming college students came in. A Thursday in mid-March, however, cast a very different feeling in the classroom environment… a feeling that would grow to be more normalized and comfortable, but that morning I struggled to prepare for the discussion of uncertainty.
I teach a class at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee called Multicultural Art and Visual Learning in Elementary Education, which focuses on preparing pre-service generalist teachers for integrating art into their future classrooms. We discuss and respond to contemporary artists and social justice movements, as well as use our own experiences to better understand art’s vital role in education.
I intended to spend most of the day listening to my students, to their worries, their needs, and anything they wanted to talk about in times of uncertainty and fear. I placed notecards and drawing tools in the center caddies, which usually provides a hint to our hands-on art activity for the day. These note cards wouldn’t be used for an art project, but rather a guide to our sure-to-be challenging discussion about the transition of our course from in person to online instruction.
As expected, my students came in buzzing about the pandemic and recent news about the university’s plan to extend spring break an extra week. The rest of the semester hung in the balance, leaving us all unsure and questioning the future. Normally we begin class by discussing and responding to a weekly contemporary artist I post about on the board, but today I was standing with no clear presentation, just a few notes in front of me about what I wanted to say. There were things we needed to complete according to our course outline and syllabus, but content took a backseat for the day.
I asked students to answer 3 questions on the note card: 1. What they’re most worried about today, 2. What they’re going to do to take care of themselves during this time, and 3. What they need to feel supported and be successful in this class in an online format. This provided a starting point for the rest of the semester, and allowed us to confront our fears head on. Students stressed their appreciation of the transparency and authenticity of the conversation, and even though we still had countless unanswered questions, we identified something that would come in very handy the next few months… resiliency.
I spent the next two weeks reading through those note cards, reflecting on what my students were telling me they needed during this time. I reached out to students about internet accessibility at home as well as devices they were using. I tuned in to online communities of art teachers also experiencing this transition. I started brainstorming hands-on art activities that could be done with found objects around the house. I knew my students deserved an educator who was going to show up each week, deliver engaging and thoughtful content as well as support their social and emotional well-being.
I took the time to take care of myself as well, and I continue to make sure I am showing up to be who and what my students need. I looked at teaching online as an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to lead with purpose. This mindset was highly prioritized, and continues to be as I continue my career as an art educator. Resiliency can come in many forms, but for my students I want to model that it becomes a part of our teacher identity, confidence, and positions of power to lead change.
Resiliency plays an important role in the classes I teach because I noticed a pattern- when I strived to be resilient, my students did too. We strengthened our classroom community through conversations of both success and struggle. Overcoming fears and identifying areas of growth growth allows for space to make change in ourselves and each other. My students were immersed in a process to further shape their teaching philosophy and culturally sustaining pedagogical practice.
Teaching online requires resiliency, flexibility, differentiation, and communication. Each of these takes time to learn and implement, but are powerful assets in education. We are living in a world that is making strides toward true social change. As teachers it is our responsibility to listen, to learn, to support and take action for the change we want to see and the resilient leaders we are capable of being.
Virtual Learning Projects & Examples taught by Katie Bril:
Find more of Katie's projects and follow her journey on instagram