There are some key factors helping high school art teachers Teresa Wallsten and Colleen Hewitt to get through their pandemic schoolyear. They’re the same things that have always helped them: art and each other.
“The background that we have in creative problem solving, because that's what art is,” began Hewitt during an internet interview from her office at Paul Kane.
“That's what the kids are learning too. I really believe that that has become a very crucial outcome for kids in school now. We're going to have to be creative about how we move forward in this world.”
Wallsten, from her station at St. Albert Catholic, added, “I think it's not about being an artist; it’s also about being resilient and finding ways to work around the situation.”
Both are quick to point out that all teachers have had to dig deep into their wells of resiliency and creativity during these times. It’s just that having a background in art means having solid training in creativity and collaborating. Of course, there’s also the added bonus of continuously creating new works, which is something that is not only satisfying and enriching in many ways but it’s also profoundly therapeutic as any artist will attest.
Hewitt, a trained graphic designer, has been teaching art for 24 years, nearly a decade and a half longer than Wallsten, a mixed media painter. Both of them graduated from post-secondary Art programs before pursuing their Education degrees. Both of them also keep up with their personal practices out of love for making art and out of necessity.
They work in different schools – and in different school districts – but they have found in each other essential resources for class projects and full-on partners for the annual High Energy exhibit at the Art Gallery of St. Albert. Each year, these two (along with art teachers and students from four other schools in the city) come together big time on an inter-school collaborative installation for the show.
Collaboration and creative problem-solving are built into their day-to-day and year-to-year work.
“We do it a lot. In most schools, there's only one art teacher. That's the case for Teresa and I. What happens is you're one of the teachers in the school that doesn't have a colleague that you can bounce ideas off of, and that you can say, ‘How about if we try this?’ The collaboration – reaching out across to the other schools – just came naturally,” Hewitt said.
It's been really good, she continued, because every school has its own culture, which organically brings its own ideas to the table. Sharing those ideas outside of your own school’s culture can be very stimulating, leading to especially creative work.
As COVID-19 hit and teachers had to work remotely, their workload has only increased and it continues now that school is back in. Working together has helped them tremendously.
“Collaborating has really helped us,” Hewitt said.
“I have become a better teacher because of what Colleen has added and taught me. I feel like we're just always going back and forth: Every time, I feel like now I need to improve,” Wallsten noted.
“Because we work together, we always are trying to improve our teaching.”
“One of the things that we're trying to develop and convey to our students is that artists are not in competition with each other. The artistic community works in a collaborative way, not in a competitive way, for the most part. That's what we try to do,” Hewitt ended.
The two are planning a new collaborative art project where the students will explore a medium inside of a specific theme each week as part of their art learning. Some of these works will be highlighted each month in a new online forum coming to the Gazette’s website, StAlbertTODAY.ca. The first installment is set to appear on Thursday, Sept. 24.