Art therapist suggests “put down the guns, pick up the crayons”

Originally posted on John Wilson’s Unleashed blog by Deb Shoemaker, MAAT, ATR-Registered Art Therapist, LPC – Licensed Professional Counselor, who has a private practice in Wilmington, NC.

School started back on January 2nd in my county after a two week winter break. On that same morning I drove by my neighborhood elementary school as I do every weekday; and, as I always do, I looked at the school as I drove by it. On this particular morning I saw a sheriff’s car parked in the front lot. The sun reflected off the metal, calling even more attention to it and the armed uniformed officer standing at the school entrance. It was then that I became very sad.

Our local Board of Education had elected over the holiday break to mandate law enforcement officers in each of the elementary schools in our small, quiet resort town. This initiative was in reaction to the devastating massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The intent? To provide safety for our children.

I am a professional art therapist in private practice. Many of my clients are students in these schools. More guns, more security? These cannot be the only solutions, I thought. In fact, more guns and more tightened security only serve as reactionary Band Aids. They are not solutions to the problem at all. I’m not sure the whole problem has even been identified.

What is needed is for stakeholders to further examine the issues, to put magnifiers on the tragic events that have impacted our children, our schools and our nation. A great starting place is to ask, “What exactly lead someone like Adam Lanza to carry out that horrific act (killing 20 children, six adults and himself) on that morning?” A Band Aid won’t fix that problem; it will only make it worse because it gives the false perception of safety. A Band Aid hides the injury.

As it turns out, in the past two weeks, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, agrees that more guns and tauten security is not the only solution. He cautioned that firearms alone do not make schools safer…and an overwhelming majority of teachers are echoing that thought with pleas for more resources, stating that they do not want more guns in their schools. Duncan iterates that ‘fear prevents students from making the most of their time in the classroom.’ I would venture to say that the same is true for educators. Furthermore, Duncan reports that security officers at schools does not translate to reduced violence, citing former Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer, “I had schools who used to have nine security folks…I put all that money into nine social workers and I saw huge reductions in violence.”

The National Rifle Association-NRA-has indicated that they would like to help reduce (gun-related) violence in schools. Then let them fund school art therapy programs. Instead of placing more guns and fear in our children’s schools, place mental health professionals and art supplies in our schools. According to experts, currently less than 20% of students with mental health problems are receiving treatment for or even have access to mental health services, mostly because they cannot afford the services.

Teachers may and can be trained to identify students who have mental health issues and needs (they already do this), but they are professional educators not mental health professionals. Thus, the argument to make therapists accessible to students in their schools.

Art Therapy is the ideal application of such. It provides a two-prong solution: trauma recovery and prevention. With professional facilitation, drawing provides a safe outlet to communicate what children often have no words to describe, and it engages children in the active involvement in their own healing, providing a sense of control.

Art Therapy is a viable solution.

Adults just need to put down their guns, which only serve to model weapons as a solution, and students need to pick up their crayons and start drawing.


John Wilson is the former NEA Executive Director. He writes for EdWeek Blogs as “Unleashed.” Read more Wilson blogs.


State Board endorses statewide evaluation system

On Wednesday, the Colorado State Board of Education approved rules and regulations for the implementation of Senate Bill 10-191. CEA is generally satisfied with the outcome of the State Board’s deliberations and final vote. We view the new rules as a first step in implementing SB 191 and in the creation of a comprehensive, high quality, and meaningful statewide system of teacher and principal evaluation.

The framework for the new evaluation system is the core of the work on SB 191 to date. While there are unresolved issues about SB 191, such as how to measure educator effectiveness in non-CSAP subjects, our Association believes that when the law is fully implemented in 2014, we will have a solid statewide system because school districts must meet or exceed the state level standards.

The “statewide” issue arose in September as the State Board reviewed draft rules written by Colorado Department of Education staff. The issue was whether there would be a single statewide evaluation system or if districts would be permitted to have their own systems that skirted the intent of the law. CEA’s position continued to be, throughout recent debate, that the evaluation system must be a single statewide system. Yesterday the State Board confirmed our position.

Our Association began working on teacher evaluation when Gov. Bill Ritter formed a task force before the Legislature even passed SB 191 during its 2010 session. Three CEA members worked tirelessly on the State Council for Educator Effectiveness (SCEE) for more than a year to make sure Colorado’s evaluation system is the best it can be. On behalf of our 40,000 members, we thank Amie Baca Oehlert (District Twelve EA), Kerrie Dallman (Jefferson County EA), and Jim Smyth (Mesa Valley EA) for their contributions to SCEE’s work. These three local association presidents have been working with administrators, parents, students, and the business community on evaluation and are expert resources for our organization.

CEA is committed to continuing the collaborative work begun by the State Council and supporting the work that will be done by teachers and principals in the SB 191 pilot districts. Lessons learned from the pilot will inform the next steps in SB 191 implementation.

CEA members want accountability in public education and in their schools – accountability for educators and for everyone that results in improving the quality of teaching, increasing student achievement, and making schools safer, better places to learn.

Educators, use this Sunday’s Education Nation to speak up about teaching profession

NBC’s 2011 Education Nation Summit will be live this Sunday, September 25, at 10:00 a.m. (Colorado time).

Join educators from across the country to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing our schools in this teacher town hall, moderated by NBC anchor Brian Williams.

Learn more about “Education Nation” at CEA’s home page story about the September 25 event. We hope you’ll take advantage of this opportunity to talk about teaching and what works in your classroom and school.

Engage in educator effectiveness conversation, Friday night on RMPBS

We encourage CEA members to tune into a Rocky Mountain PBS program on Friday about educator effectiveness.

It’s “Colorado State of Mind” this Friday night, September 16, from 7:30-8:00 p.m. The regular 30-minute on-air program will be followed by a panel discussion that will feature Michelle Conroy, a teacher in Craig and Moffat County EA member, and Henry Roman, a Denver teacher and Denver CTA president. There will also be a live online chat from 7:30-9:00 p.m., moderated by Alan Gottlieb, publisher of EdNews Colorado, an online education news source.

CEA is a co-sponsor of this program. Rocky Mountain PBS is partnering with PEBC (Public Education & Business Coalition) and EdNews Colorado on this program with the goal of exploring the challenges of measuring educator effectiveness.

You can post questions and comments now and throughout the Friday night live program — and we hope you will.

Daniel Pink, “Drive” author, says no to carrot-and-stick approach

Popular author Daniel Pink said this week that schools and other organizations must focus on three things to increase employee motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Speaking at the annual conference of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), Pink said the carrot-and-stick approach won’t work with educators, blogged blogger Amy Dominello.

School management focuses on compliance, but should switch to encouraging teachers to engage through self-direction and autonomy. Pink said that motivation also depends on feedback and subject mastery, adding that society depends on instant feedback — and teachers get feedback about their instruction too late.

Pink asserted that schools and other organizations do not explain “why,” either. “If people don’t know why they are doing it, they are going to do it less well,” Pink said.

Are teachers more tolerant of challenges because they feel fortunate to be working?

The TELL Colorado Survey released its initial research this week, revealing that Colorado educators are somewhat more positive about their teaching-learning working conditions than they were two years ago when the first survey was conducted.

According to the New Teacher Center, the survey research partner, initial findings say that, overall, teaching conditions improved in the last two years across Colorado. On every question in the survey asked in 2009 and 2011, a greater percentage of educators agreed in 2011 that positive conditions are in place.

• More than eight out of 10 educators (84 percent) agree that their school is a good place to work and learn, up from 73 percent in 2009;
• More than nine out of 10 of educators (94 percent) agree that their faculty is committed to helping every student learn, compared to 88 percent in 2009;
• Three-quarters of educators (75 percent) agree that students at their school follow rules of conduct compared to six out of 10 in 2009 (62 percent).

The New Teacher Center commented that these results are “somewhat surprising,” given the economy in Colorado and the challenges it has created for educators.

Read three TELL Survey briefs on the TELL Colorado web site: What Are the Voices of Colorado’s Teachers Telling Us?; Supporting New Teachers; and Supporting Principals to Create Positive Teaching and Learning Conditions. There’s are also presentation slides on the “Voices” research.

Fifty percent or more of teachers in nearly 850 schools took the 2011 TELL survey and received school level survey results. Overall, more than 30,000 teachers and principals took the 2011 survey, an 11 percent increase over the 2009 survey in which there was only 36 percent participation.

Great Teachers Make Great Public Schools

This week thousands of communities take time to honor their local educators and acknowledge the important role teachers play in making sure every student receives a quality education. Why a celebration the first week of May? Because this week is the National PTA’s Teacher Appreciation Week and tomorrow, May 3, is National Teacher Day.

We encourage you to celebrate teachers by nominating a “Classroom Superhero” in your community. They don’t have the cape or the flashy tights, but educators rise to a superhero challenge every day. Few people have such an impact on the lives of children and youth and, therefore, on all of us.

You’ll find free teacher appreciation resources and ideas at NEA and the National PTA.

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
– Henry Brooks Adams