Adopting a Growth Mindset as an Art Teacher: AME 134



Of the many daily challenges art teachers face, adopting a growth mindset may not be at the top of your list. Emily Gould, known as @sierramadres on Instagram, is a K-12 art teacher who has done it all.

Throughout her years teaching art, her one main focus is to never stop learning, always move forward, and do what’s best for the students.

Sounds like a good plan, right?


– What craftsmanship means to Emily, and how it plays a role in her career and teaching

– How the expectations she has for her students helps them grow as artists

– What can happen when people fall out of the creative habit

– The importance of practicing lessons you’re teaching before hand, and how this can help you make an art lesson your own

– The many uses of Emily’s favorite, unique art supply: joint compound



1. What was your path/journey to becoming an art teacher?

My first art teaching job happened by accident…I had just graduated from art school, and I was sharing a painting studio with three other artists in Chicago. I needed a stamp because it was time to send the bills. There was an elementary school on the corner near my studio, and I remember thinking…a school could have stamps! So, I went into the school, and I didn’t know I was talking to the principal. She said, “You look like an art teacher, and I need an art teacher.”  Maybe I looked like an art teacher because I had paint all over me?  I needed a job, so I told her…”Yes, I’m an art teacher!” I was hired! I immediately walked to the Chicago Public Library and checked out several books about teaching art (There was no internet in 1993.)

2. What do you feel is your best attribute or strength as an art teacher?

Setting a standard of craftsmanship in the classroom that encourages excellence.

Two  summers ago our summer reading book was, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students by Ron Berger.

I’ve never thought “that’s exactly what I think,” while reading a book as much as this one! Ron Berger is a carpenter, but also a teacher. He extends this idea of craftsmanship into the classroom. The book is all about setting a standard of excellence and how he inspires students to do this. I would recommend this book to all educators as an inspiration to revitalize the passion for excellence. The ideas in this book are truly inspiring and the educational goals are exactly what I strive for!

It’s also important to build an arts community, to keep faculty and parents aware of what is happening in the art room. Student artworks are displayed on bulletin boards and in our hallway gallery space. Every student has an online art portfolio or gallery at Artsonia.com.  Whenever an art project is completed, student artwork is uploaded onto an online school art gallery. It is always open for viewing and can be shared with family and friends internationally. Part of the art making process is getting your art out there to be seen! I’ve noticed that students work harder knowing that family and friends will see their art in school art displays or online.

3. What do you do well in the art room and how does that benefit your students?

I am good at inspiring students and teaching the life lesson of perseverance, by assigning art lessons that are challenging. I also feel that an environment that allows for some playfulness helps to promote creativity! 

I was intrigued by a TED talk by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. He spoke about the connection between playfulness and creativity. He attempted to understand how one may lose their creativity. Tim Brown notes that “preschools are filled with shelves of building blocks, bins of crayons, tubs of play-doh. As children grow and move through the educational system all of these supplies that facilitate the creative thinker and once filled the classrooms get taken away…” I feel that a creative environment must not be an environment where students are intimidated to loose their playfulness. When one is encouraged to play, one explores, and discovers, and thinks out of the box, developing new and, perhaps, wild ideas that they are not afraid to share! I want to create an environment where students feel safe to play and are not afraid to take risks. A judge free area, where students don’t fear the judgement of their peers. It is that fear that forces us to be conservative in our thinking. Tim Brown says, “as children learn to become adults, they also become more sensitive to the opinions of others and they loose that freedom and start to become embarrassed to share their wild ideas. And perhaps it’s this fear of judgement that causes us to become conservative.” 

4. Why do you feel teaching art to kids is important?

I want my students to hold onto their creative spirits and develop their talents. I inspire them with art projects they find interesting. I share several examples of finished possibilities, while making it clear that results may vary, and that’s exciting! I want to teach students that there is not always right or wrong in art, and the different possibilities are inspiring! I want my students to survive the future where creative minds are valued.

I read this great article. It was called, “Want your Children to survive the Future? Send them to art school!” Written by Dustin Timbrook, 2015. In the article Dustin writes about the importance of creativity. “The person with creative literacy — a basic understanding of the mental, emotional, and sociological tools used for creative thought and communication — is able to find purpose and apply meaning to her world, rather than having meaning handed down and purpose assigned to her.” I don’t expect all of my students to become working artists one day. My goal is for all of my students to develop an appreciation for art and creativity!

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Follow Emily on Instagram: @sierramadres

My Mini Burnout and How I Plan to Recover: AME 120

An Ethic of Excellence: Building a culture of Craftsmanship with Students by Ron Berger*

Tales of Creativity and Play: TED talk by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO

“Want your Children to survive the Future? Send them to art school!” by Dustin Timbrook, 2015

*Affiliate Link: we get a portion of the profits from products purchased from this link

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  • Carolyn Frances

    I so needed to listen to the podcast you shared with Emily today! Craftsmanship is so important and her thoughts mirror mine exactly about the role that aspiring to do their best plays in the overall development of children!!! It goes against the grain in the minds of some leaders in our schools, but striving for their best is such a positive if the children are having fun and have a good role model in their teacher. Administrators and others who only want the kids to explore with no pressures don’t always see the look of satisfaction a student has when they have done something they almost gave up trying to do!!! We have to know how to make the journey worth the effort for students with engaging and enjoyable lessons, and that is where I am at today. Thank you for all you do! My Sparklers subscription is well worth the cost. In our profession, I am one of the “weird people” who has never done anything else, and yet I always feel I have so much more to learn! I’ve taught art since 1980, wanted to teach art since age 10, and I am the only art teacher at my school. For years I was in a very lonely place. Not even sure how I found the Sparklers Club, but after listening to you a few times on podcasts I knew this was a good thing!!! Fellow Sparklers are so inspiring, and I love being connected through you to so many other wonderful art teachers!.. I’m not ready to ever say “I can do it all by myself, thank you”, or (even worse) RETIRE from teaching and exploring art with little kids, thanks to having found you! Keep up the good work and thank you so much for being willing to even give so much away for free in order to keep us all at our best (ie the circle challenge I just downloaded)!

  • Linda Tvedt

    I loved listening to Emily… and so agree about craftsmanship! Great podcast!

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