On being an Atelierista
I have had a couple of questions lately about how I do this job, so I thought I'd talk about what I've learned lately about being an Atelierista.First, some context; I have been teaching at this school for 14 years. For the first 12 years, I had lead teacher responsibilities for a classroom, and I tried to be as helpful as I could in opening a studio for children and consulting with teachers about art. It was just last school year that I became the Atelierista 'full time' at our pre-school.
Because of a lot of practice, teacher-research and reflection, I know a lot about scaffolding small group inquiry, the affordances of media, what materials have creative potential here, and knowing when to teach a technique and when to let someone 'mess about'.
As a classroom teacher I had the most fun with big groups. I like loud, boisterous play, and if it involves superheroes or magic, all the better. But in a reflective practice (at least for me), these nagging questions come up, and over the years the one that has ruled my thinking is 'how does learning happen?'. Despite Graduate school and lots of reading, I still don't know the prescription for that, but I do know that learning seems to be easier in a small group, in an 'amiable environment', and with scaffolding from a more knowledgeable peer (sometimes that's me).
So I've changed how I work a bit in order to satisfy my curiosity on this question.
Here's what is hard; Consulting with the teachers on what is happening in their classrooms, knowing what is the best use of studio time, integrating the studio with the rest of the school.
I am just starting to figure it out. I have learned to keep up with teachers and continually ask them how I can help. I visit their planning meetings and email them. I read their documentation and stick my nose in where ever I can. (-: I'm still not the best at it. This is the most important new thing I have learned this year -communicate.
I work with all of the classes, ages 2-5.5, sometimes in a pre-arranged inquiry group, and sometimes just as an open-studio. I give priority to groups, so a teacher can ask to sign out the studio for a time and I put the stop sign on the door. I also know it helps inquiry within the classrooms to send a few kids out of the room at times, so children visit the studio for that reason, and often those are the kids who can't get enough of art.
Children can stay as long as they like. Over the years we have worked hard to elliminate transitions that interrupt our day, so children eat snack when they are hungry and go outside when they want. Some stay in the studio for hours, most come for about 20 or 30 minutes and then go back to their classrooms. Some stop by to get a bug box or a piece of tape. Sometimes they come with a note that says "we need a brain", or "I want some sticks to make a skunk."
I do not have specific projects for the children to work on like an art teacher would. I try to have materials on hand for activities that support the intentions of the classrooms, but I also have things like beads, because sometimes you just feel better if you can make your Mom a necklace. I do try to support the whole school intention, which this year revolves around sense of place. Again, communication between teachers is most important.
Next year the pre-school will move across the river to join our lower and middle school. I don't know what this job will look like then, but I look forward to finding out.