On Being an Atelierista: letter to the next Atelierista

For the last 2 years I have been trying to define the job of Atelierista. If I were to write a letter to the person who takes this job after me, there is one thing that I would want them to understand more than any other. It is something that is not easy to  make happen, and that is true collaboration with teachers and children.

The kind of collaboration I'm talking about makes inquiry in the classroom richer. 

While preserving her voice as the voice of an artist in the classroom, it changes the studio teacher's point of view from someone outside looking in, to someone who is a vital part of the children's investigative process. 
  It's easy to help with project time as a warm body, watching the group while the teacher works with just a few children, or as an extra set of hands, helping students build a structure or find a material. It is even easy for me (because I have been at it for so long), to come into a classroom and make something happen, to see where the children are and to scaffold them to the next step of whatever it is they're doing. It is much more difficult to truly be 'in' the inquiry, because that takes a whole different level of communication with the teacher and with his or her documentation.

For instance, I have been having conversations with the teachers in the Meadow room all year. I know what their students think about birds, about the media they like to use, and about the relationships and interests of those students. I know this because the teachers share the children's drawings, transcripts of their conversations, and have me in circle. We talk and email and brainstorm together at odd moments, but enough so that I understand. The children know me and think of me as one of their teachers. So, even when I have a small group in the studio I feel like I am supporting the work of the classroom. Somehow the studio teacher has to make that happen with all of the classes in the school, if the atelier is to be as good as it can be.
 Garden room teacher Sara and I often talk about the 3 year old children's theories about sound, light and danger, and we have our own informal research project into how to use the echo-y, dark basement space as a provocation. We talk occasionally, and we email a lot, and Sara sends me photos and drawings and links that go along with our questions. Mostly, our collaboration consists of meeting regularly with small groups of children and going down to the basement to try things out. 

Today we set up the overhead projector down there and observed the children's interaction with the projected images.

How to help the teachers let you in to their process is so difficult. They are busy every second of the day, and the studio schedule is packed trying to find time to work with children from 2 to 8th grade. Often when teachers want me to spend time in their classrooms I can't. There must be a way to change the studio day to make collaboration happen more easily. The key seems to be in sharing of raw documentation, the kind of in-process stuff that teachers might be shy about showing to someone from outside the classroom. This documentation is how I can get a look at the children's inquiry even when I'm not in the room with them.

It is important that the school reach intersubjectivity about the studio, and it is hard to know how to deepen the perception. There are so many ways to see it as an add-on or special place, but I hope that eventually the studio and the Atelierista will not be a voice from outside the classroom, but will seem an integrated part of the school and the teachers' and children's inquiry process.

and ps. Sorry if I scared anybody, I have not turned in my notice or anything like that...YET (mwah ha ha)


  1. Upon seeing the title of your post, I had a moment of panic: oh, no, Anna is leaving! It had dawned on me a few days ago that nobody stays at one school forever, and while I have seen some teachers join or leave the preschool staff, I wondered how the atelierista/studio position could be filled by somebody else. Not an easy job.

    Another thing I have wondered lately: is one atelierista enough for 13 classrooms? It seems like an overwhelmingly big task for one person.

  2. But you're not leaving, right? RIGHT!!?!?!?

  3. PHEW!!! I started to panic then kept reading...
    Jess raises an interesting point; must be exhausting to provide support for the whole school. I know that you have risen to the challenge though, however daunting it has been...

  4. This post is a wonderful account of the real life of an atelierista. Thank you for verbalizing the complexities and subtleties of this very unique position. I agree with Jess, that for 13 classrooms-I would want 3 atelieristas. Not sure how you manage it all. You are pretty amazing.


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