Kim King’s fourth-grade students had a capstone art project to create, but for the first time in the history of the project, they had to create it during a global pandemic.
King inherited the capstone project when she came to Southeast Elementary School and Annie E. Vinton School in Mansfield six years ago and she’d been working to align it with the Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) method.
The method focuses less on teaching students to be artists and operates from the idea that the students already are artists.
Instead of an art teacher like King determining the ideas and materials students use to create art, students make those choices. They also have the chance to revise and receive feedback from their fellow students and learn from the artistic choices of other student artists.
“I guide students,” she said. “I don’t tell them what to create or how to create it. I support their learning using behaviors artists use.”
That’s exactly the type of creative opportunity King was looking for when she became an educator. King said she had initially envisioned a glamorous creative life as a New York City photographer.
But after spending long days as a commercial photographer’s assistant setting up lighting and hauling camera equipment for pharmaceutical photoshoots and then a stint as an editorial assistant at This Old House magazine, she said she felt a creative void.
I just one day had the revelation that I need to go back to school and explore becoming a teacher. I thought, ‘How wonderful would it be to have a profession where I get to be creative and I get to be around children and inspire them to be creative?’
Though King’s initial desire to be an art teacher focused on her personal needs as a creative person, she soon realized that it was her students who kept her dedicated.
“I very quickly realized my passion was the students and that's what drove me to stay in the profession,” she said.
And it was that passion for students that let King know that she had to find a way to allow students’ voices to shine in the capstone project. She said she wanted to give them an opportunity to break free from some of the parameters of the project, chief of which was drawing a realistic painting of an animal.
After Mansfield Public Schools returned to in-person instruction in the fall of 2020, King said she knew it was a good time to “go rogue” and do something different for the capstone project.
“I was looking for a way in which to add voice and choice to the creative process for my students,” she said.
Instead of painting animals, the student artists were tasked with creating self-portraits. Beyond the common elements of a silhouette based on a picture of themselves created from a recycled face shield, students had free rein to create their most authentic representation.
“We talked about this idea of it being a non-traditional self-portrait,” she said.
King said doing it this way allowed her to support every student regardless of their artistic and academic skill level and she couldn’t have been more pleased with the results.
“These paintings were amazing,” she said. “They just exploded with creativity.”
King said many students chose to collage and glue things to their canvases to complete their pictures. They created art so unique that teachers and parents could tell which students made which portrait, not based on the silhouette but on what else they added to express their personality, she said.
A student who loves poetry added a poem to her self-portrait, a math-loving student used numbers in his.
“They brought themselves into it and they were true reflections of who they were at that moment in time and everything they’ve gone through in a crazy year and a half,” she said. “I was just so touched by them. A lot of the pictures just look like they could have been in the Modern Art Museum. They were amazing.”
The Nutmeg State thinks King’s commitment to her students is pretty amazing and it is why she was recently named Connecticut’s 2022 Teacher of the Year.
King said she plans to use the visibility of the platform to talk to her fellow teachers about the value of creativity beyond the art room.
We should be giving students a voice and opportunities to express themselves to make sense of their experience through creativity. I just really think that it's so important for students if we can approach how we teach from a point of view that offers opportunities for students to bring parts of their personal stories in.
King said creativity can build bridges for students to enter any subject. She said when teachers value creativity, students have the opportunity to solve problems knowing that there can be multiple solutions.
“I think that it's a way in which we can help all our students,” she said.