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National Arts in Education Week

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

After twenty-five years in the classroom, I can attest that every child is beautifully diverse, dynamic, and distinct. The late Sir Ken Robinson said, “Human communities depend upon a diversity of talents, not a singular conception of ability.” Our challenge, as I see it, is to create more opportunities for students to explore their interests, spark their imaginations, and cultivate their creativity.

Unfortunately, arts education funding is often reduced due to financial constraints or anxiety over low test scores. Yet reducing these areas doesn’t solve the problem, but rather, exacerbates it. As Sydney Gurewitz Clemens once said, “Art has the role in education of helping children become like themselves instead of more like everyone else.”

Passed by Congress in 2010, House Resolution 275 designates the week beginning with the second Sunday in September as National Arts in Education Week. During this week, the field of arts education joins together in communities across the country to tell the story of the impact of the transformative power of the arts in education.

I’ve asked Dustin Anderson-- one of our 2023 Wisconsin Teachers of the Year, and an art educator from Grant Elementary School in the Wisconsin Rapids Public School District-- to describe the role the arts have played in his life and how he uses the arts to impact his students. His perspective is important and inspiring. Please read on.  --Chris Gleason

Arts Education is Fundamental
A reflection from Dustin Anderson

You know the feeling you get when you open up that brand new box of 24 freshly sharpened crayons? It’s that feeling of hardly being able to contain your excitement as you begin to scribble and scratch the beginnings of a masterpiece. Art opens our eyes to the world, it allows us to see things through a new lens, and can transform something ordinary into something extraordinary.

My journey to being honored as a 2023 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year would never have started, had it not been for art class at school. I was a born worrier, a child filled with anxiety and fears. I remember clearly asking my mom who dropped me off at school each day to ride around the block just one more time, but the bell would inevitably ring, and I would be forced to enter the school whether I was ready or not. Knowing that I got to spend just a little time each week in art class creating was enough to help me make it through the next week.

I learned that making and creating could put my worries aside, and for that small moment of time each week, I could truly enjoy school. My love for art only grew as my teachers inspired me by helping me explore new and creative ways to make things. Art not only allowed me to share all of the emotions that I was feeling, but it also allowed me to excel, and shine. It gave me a purpose.

After seventeen years of teaching, the joy of watching my students share their stories through exploration of materials and processes is still my “why” for being an art educator. My heart explodes as I watch emerging artists delight in thinking, discussing, investigating, and creating art each and every day. I engage every student while making them aware that art is a safe place to play, learn, and create. I use art class as a time to immerse students in creativity, teach an appreciation for cultural art made by people from all backgrounds, help them build their life and art vocabulary, all while demonstrating the importance that art can play in our everyday lives.

The creation and appreciation of art can have wide-ranging and life-improving effects for all people, but especially for learners. It can improve physical coordination, fine motor skills, provide opportunities for implicit motivation and self-discipline, improve memory and visual/spatial intelligence. My art program also encourages personal reflection and imagination when creating artwork on their own, as well as problem-solving and teamwork when creating art in groups.

When you open the door to my classroom, you will see a room filled with visuals and technology to assist learning, modeling of creative processes, and students working in small groups solving creative problems and critiquing their fellow artists’ work. You will see creative play using Legos and magnetic tiles, and you will see students researching art and artists on iPads. Lessons reach across the curriculum– we look to science, technology, engineering, math, and literature to help ground our artistic explorations. Most of all, you will see excitement and student engagement.

I have been working hard to create opportunities for students to integrate social and emotional learning. We know students’ ability to feel comfortable sharing their stories while dealing with stressors helps them to develop empathy and community. I hope that my students understand and use art as an outlet when they feel like life is getting too hard and they just need time to breathe and be themselves.

Inspiring students about art helps them see and appreciate the art all around them. I hope to instill that same love and excitement for learning about art that I still feel after forty years on this planet. Art is everywhere; it can be made out of anything and created by anyone. May you all take time to find your joy this school year– in your students and in yourselves. --Dustin Anderson


This item was submitted by Chris Gleason, DPI Education Consultant for Teaching and Learning, and Dustin Anderson, art teacher and 2023 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year honoree.