On July 8th, Creekside art teacher Jane Montero arrived at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas for a valuable week of leadership training, networking and professional development at the National Art Education Association (NAEA) School for Art Leaders. As one of only 25 art educators selected for the program, Montero joins a seven-month learning community of diverse peers from around the country in the NAEA’s flagship program. In recognition of her selection, the Michigan Art Education Association (MAEA) generously awarded Montero a $1000 grant for program expenses.
Beginning in June with an introductory webinar, School for Art Leaders participants spent the early weeks of the program preparing for the intensive five-day residence experience at Crystal Bridges. In addition to pre-reading and reflection assignments, Montero and her peers were instructed to narrow down their core values from an extensive list detailed in the book, “Total Leadership,” by Stewart D. Friedman. From that, Montero created her personal leadership vision to be shared and refined during the program.
Educators in the cohort were also assigned to read, “Mindfulness and the Art of Drawing: A Creative Path to Awareness,” by Wendy Ann Greenhalgh. “Dexter Community Schools has been doing a lot with mindfulness recently,” Montero shared, “and this book is a more art-based approach to that topic.”
For those who may not know about the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Montero was effusive in her description of the natural beauty of the area and the extensiveness of the art collection housed in the museum. Located in Bentonville, Arkansas, the museum building was designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, and is a work of art in itself. The grounds cover 120-acres of Ozark woods with miles of trails and many outdoor art installations including Fly’s Eye Dome by American designer R. Buckminster Fuller. A Frank Lloyd Wright home, the Bachman-Wilson House, was relocated from its original site in New Jersey and now resides on the museum property.
Upon arrival at the museum, Montero and her peers attended a meet and greet where they engaged in their first activity – sharing an object of value that can fit into the palm of their hand. Designed as an icebreaker, each attendee explained why their object was important to them, then placed them together with others’ items on a table. Seeing 25 items, individually selected for its importance to the owner, but placed together on a table as a group, was a visual indication of both the group’s diversity and their common purpose. The activity struck a chord with Montero, who hopes to share it with her fellow staff at Creekside as a bonding exercise.
From there, the week went quickly – filled with personal reflection exercises, small group work and instruction on different leadership models and tools. Throughout the experience, Montero kept one thought at the forefront: “What can I bring back to my district? How can I implement this valuable information with my peers in Dexter?”
The objective of the School for Art Leaders is to position participants to excel as leaders in education, the arts and advocacy. Following the 5-day workshop at Crystal Bridges, Montero’s next steps are to conduct three leadership experiments and a final capstone project before the March 2020 NAEA Annual Conference in Minneapolis, which signals the end of the seven-month program. From there, participants are encouraged to convey what they’ve learned by stepping into leadership roles within their professional communities and mentoring other emerging leaders.
Montero is eager to share her experiences with fellow Dexter staff members. As the Specials Department chair at Creekside (music, art, language, physical education), Montero participates in a monthly meeting of her fellow department chairs called the Building Leadership Team (BLT). Using the techniques and leadership strategies gained at the Crystal Bridges, she is eager to aid her colleagues in delving into what motivates and challenges them.
For her first experiment, Montero plans to conduct the valuable object exercise mentioned above with the Creekside staff sometime early in the school year. Another possible experiment is introducing visual notetaking, or “sketchnoting,” to either her students or the staff. The premise of visual notetaking is that one is better able to remember information when they write it down or draw it on paper. Montero is also considering a structured mindful walk exercise; participants would take a walk and concentrate on how they are walking – how their feet feel on the ground, their stride, etc.
These techniques are designed to push the participant to be mindful of what they are doing and why, which in turn helps them to better communicate ideas and instructions – a vital requirement for educators.
“I wish everyone could take this kind of leadership training,” Montero says. “Our most important job as educators is to model behaviors for our students.”
Montero has been a teacher with Dexter Schools for 18 years, teaching art exclusively since 2002. Collaborating with her fellow district art teachers, she facilitates the Dexter Art Walk, a display of over 250 student art pieces in downtown businesses. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors for the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original, Montero has also written, illustrated and published a children’s book entitled, “Tree.”