How to Engage and Connect with Children with Emotional Disabilities: AME 140



Patty chats with Gold Star Sparkler, Jennifer Ford Pace, who was recently named Teacher of the Year in her community of Henrico, Virginia.

It’s a dive deep conversation on how Jennifer engages with her emotionally disabled students. 

If low attention spans, below grade level art skills, or technology hungry kids are part of your classroom landscape, listen in to hear how Jennifers transcends these issues by creating connection.

If you enjoyed this episode and it inspired you in some way, I’d love to hear how it impacted you. Take a screenshot of you listening on your device, post it to your Instagram stories and tag me @deepspacesparkle.


– What type of school Jennifer teaches in and how she is able to help her students through art

– Jennifer’s journey to becoming an art teacher

– How to meet children at their level and strategies that can help you connect with them

– Why it’s such a good idea to captivated your students through story (and how to do it!)

– How to deal with obstacles that may come with using technology in the classroom




1. What do you love most about being an art teacher?

My favorite thing is when a student makes a mistake and then turns the mistake into the most interesting part of the project. When one of those precious moments presents itself,  I will say, “Did you see what just happened? You just tripped and fell into a puddle of art! Accidents can be awesome things!” I simply love instilling a “can do” attitude within my students. I work at a school that services student with emotional disabilities. Self confidence and stamina are huge areas of struggle for my students. I teach that, in art, a mistake is an opportunity to learn.  

One of my most important classroom rules simply says: 

“OOPS! Making mistakes is OK! Don’t give up! Keep on trying!” 

2. When are you happiest in your art room?

I am the happiest when I see the stresses that my students struggle with melt away when they allow themselves to disappear from the world, and disappear into their work. Those quiet moments when I am hanging up finished pieces, anticipating the look of pride on their faces when they see their piece, and hear all of the positive comments. Nothing beats that feeling of giving them these moments to shine!

3. Can you share an experience or moment that defines you as an art teacher?

When I arrived at my current school, the art room and the program was not where it needed to be. The room was a mess. Weeks before school starts, I came into school to clean and organize the room. I wanted my room to be a place the kids would be proud to visit. I wanted them to see that they were important to me and I wanted to give them the most welcoming environment possible. Their faces as they walked in on day one was priceless.

One of my goals for this program was to show my students, and the community, that anything our students would do in the art room would be on par with any other school in the county. Yes, our school is an exceptional education center, but that doesn’t mean that our work will look any different than any other school. At the annual county wide art show, I took time to survey the works of the comprehensive schools. My kids nailed it. Many of my fellow art teachers commented on the quality of their pieces.

4. What’s your favorite thing about the Sparklers Club?

Yes, I am an art teacher. I am also a mom of 3 amazing kids. I am a friend. I am a nerd. DSS gives me the gift of time. DSS allows me to plan at school and do all those other things when I am not. My evenings and weekends are mine thanks to DSS!

5. What advice would you give to a brand new art teacher?

My most important art room rule applies here too:

“OOPS! Making mistakes is OK! Don’t give up! Keep on trying!”

Not every lesson is going to be a hit. Be organized with your materials. Adapt lessons on the fly to keep reluctant artists engaged. HAVE FUN! YOU HAVE THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD!


AME 88: Classroom Management Strategies That Work For You

The Kubert School


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What do you think?

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  • Kara Sabatella

    What an inspiring podcast. Thank you Patty and Jennifer. I think many of us art educators can take away nuggets or big pieces of wisdom from this whatever type of art environment we teach/create in.

  • Karen Siwak

    Wonderful podcast! I loved hearing about the storytelling aspects. If you do eventually get iPads, Jennifer, you can use Apple Classroom to monitor/freeze/manage the apps you choose to have students use. You can pause students in their app use to give a quick direction as well. This gives you peace of mind and keeps students on task. I’m not a big tech person in the art room, but if the district requires it, this may help.

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