Allison Fuller-Mulloy

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Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee

College: Art Institute of Atlanta

Currently Teaching: K-5 Art, but she has taught pretty much everything before.

Twitter: @AFMulloy

Classroom Twitter: @BargerArtRoom

Instagram: @AFMulloy

Websites

Former HS blog: mrsmulloy.blogspot.com

Former HS wiki: http://mulloy.pbworks.com/w/page/16576128/FrontPage

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Her classroom in a sentence: “The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” –Robert Henri

Can you give me a quick bio? Where you grew up, went to school, where you’ve taught, and what you’re doing now? Also, what made you want to teach art?

I grew up in Chattanooga, TN. I always loved art and fell in love with Photography in the darkroom at my high school. I spent countless hours in that red-tinted light growing more infatuated by the process and the images every year. I’m sure I smelled like Fixer my entire Junior and Senior years of high school. My art teacher, Andy Smith, was an amazing architect and educator who was doing then-groundbreaking work teaching us through studio methods in Design class. He was not only a great art teacher, he was also a great personal support system for me at a tough preparatory school. Because of his support, I did well and focused on my studies, newly confident in my desire to pursue art.

I went on to study undergrad art at the University of Georgia before transferring to the Art Institute of Atlanta where I earned my degree in Photographic Imaging.  I had plans to be a studio photographer and was moving to NYC. After a bit of soul-searching, I decided Mr. Smith’s influence on my life was too great not to repay, so I went back to school for a degree in Art Education. Upon graduation, I got married to my graphic designer husband and moved to Portland, OR for a few years. I began teaching middle school art in a rural area near Portland called Forest Grove, OR. I knew immediately I found my calling. I loved teaching.

Missing family and the South, we moved back to Chattanooga and I taught 4 years at Red Bank High School, a local public high school in our district, Hamilton County. In addition to teaching Art I-IV and AP Art, I also taught an Arts in Education class for our students in the Teaching Academy. Teaching high schoolers who wanted to be educators about the importance of arts integration and hands-on learning was so much fun. I knew I was “infiltrating” them early. Several of those students are now teachers in the county; that’s so exciting. I was also Student Council rep and loved being involved with the students in extracurricular activities.

When I heard that Signal Mountain High school was finally being built, after 50 years of efforts from that community, I jumped at the chance to build a new art program from scratch. I love curriculum design, so the opportunity to create the entire vision and program for 9-12th grade students was exciting. I had a wonderful 4 years at SMMHS, teaching Art I-IV, Intro to Photo, Intro to Ceramics, and IB middle Years and Diploma Programme Art courses. I helped with Prom, sponsored the Junior class, and taught so many amazing young people. I still have close relationships with many of those SMMHS students.

When a new magnet school to be focused on PBL and using 1:1 iPad implementation was announced, I jumped at the chance to be on staff. Instead of Art teacher, though, I was asked to be the Lead Teacher at STEM School Chattanooga. I researched and created the framework for all our students and teachers to conduct flipped-model PBL-based courses. We used backwards planning to create PBL units in total collaboration. I trained teachers in the tech using what I call an “organic PD” model and also taught all 75 students at once in a “Tech Time” class. We did everything from sign up on Edmodo together the first week of school to digital citizenship lessons to TED talks to learning the basics of programming.

I had so much fun researching and implementing at the STEM School, and the students responded so well. There were so few barriers and my principal gave me such autonomy that I could literally find an idea one night and try it with students the next morning. My love for EdTech deepened immensely at the STEM School as I witnessed students taking control of their learning. It was the lever they (and teachers) needed to force the shift in learning.

I missed being a classroom teacher, however, and I missed the art room immensely. One block I subbed in the art class and one of my students told me I’d make a good teacher. My heart broke. My role was very administrative, and I was often referred to as the assistant principal by those who didn’t know my title. I knew the principal track wasn’t for me, though; administrators have a tough job, to say the least. After more soul-searching, I decided to head back to the Art room, but this time to try elementary. I currently teach about 420 K-5 students each week, and I’m learning so much. For any of you who have never taught both elementary and high school: holy shnikes is it different. I feel like I’m a brand new teacher again. Although challenging at times, it is so invigorating to be learning alongside my students every day.

What are your strengths as an artist? What role does your personal artmaking play in both your classroom teaching and in your own life?

My strength as an artist is in my passion for art and ideas. Art is a part of my life in such a way as it cannot be removed. It is part of who I am, what I see, how I take in and respond to the world. Art is about materializing ideas through different processes, and that’s how I approach the world as a whole. I’m so lucky that I was able to enter the pre-digital world of photography, as the processes and techniques were as much a part of the art as the image itself then. I learned so much about the discipline of observing, about the huge changes seemingly minute details could make, and about experimenting with literal chemistry to manipulate images into expressions of ideas.

I am a big fan of alternative processes in addition to precision gelatin silver prints. I love Polaroid transfers, cyanotypes, liquid silver, printing on all kinds of alternative materials. That being said, I’m primarily an iPhoneographer these days. It both thrills me and worries me that tweaks on an image that would take a week to perfect in the darkroom are a swipe away. I hate that so many don’t know the thrill of the original process, but I remind myself there is a new process in which to take part that provides its own rewards. I will say that I miss the physical aspect of pre-digital photography immensely; the feeling of the materials in your hands is quite visceral, and digital can feel so detached sometimes. I think this has affected my view of my role as teacher and the the role of my classroom immensely.

I try to expose students to as many different processes and materials as I can, both traditional and non-traditional. I try to balance presenting them with opportunities to experience materials and processes while exploring ideas, both of others and their own. I try to practice and share my own journey with the materials and processes whenever I can. Many of my high school students follow my Instagram, where I post most of my pics. I also love to do the projects with the students whenever possible, although I’ve noticed when I’m really into the work, the students don’t seem to interrupt to ask a questions, so again, I try to balance. I’m all about the Jung.

What do you do outside of school to keep yourself happy and healthy (physically and mentally) and avoid getting overwhelmed or dealing with burnout? On a related note, what do you enjoy about where you live?

I love spending time with my family, friends, and nothing beats a good campfire. I spend a lot of time outside (honestly, I spend so much time with technology, outdoors is important) and really do sit by a fire at least every weekend, even if its just a friend’s backyard. My husband and I love camping and love taking our two daughters for weekend car-campng trips in the mountains. I love paddling, although I don’t do it nearly enough.

One of the amazing things about Chattanooga and the surrounding area its its abundance of outdoor activities. Not only hiking and biking, but rafting, rock climbing, paddle boarding, etc. Our position on the TN river (it runs through downtown) and at the foothills of the Appalachians make us a playground for outdoor activities. Another great thing about Chattanooga is its commitment to the arts. We have a thriving visual and performing arts community in Chattanooga, a great art museum, tons of public art, arts festivals, and arts organizations. Chattanoogans understand the benefits of arts both to the individual and to the community, and they put their money in support of it. Chattanooga’s Gig network also means that we are becoming a hub of startups and tech innovation. With some of the fastest internet speeds in the world, community members are racing to find the best ways to utilize this resource and springing up innovate ideas and practices in both business and education. It’s an exciting time in Chattanooga, thats for sure.

What things do you do to continue to grow as a teacher? How much do you change yourself, your teaching style, or your lessons each year? Where do you think you will be as a teacher in 5 years?

I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs personality spectrum, and one of the traits of my personality is the need for constant growth. I am always looking for ways to be a better teacher, new ideas for connecting with students, better ways to connect material, more ideas and images to cull and present to students, When I teach K-5, I reflect and refine my lessons hour-to-hour based on my observations and feedback from the previous students. On Monday, we’re not so perfect, but by Thursday, we’re rockstars. My lessons, therefore, are very different from year-to-year. Although the standards and even the content may be the same, I cannot help but reflect and refine and test new ideas in pursuit of the best for my students in my classroom.

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And bt-dubs, they’re different little people each year. It’s my job to change for them. In 5 years, I hope to be 5 wonderful years wiser and more experienced. My goal is to keep growing, never live the same year over again, and never force my students to either. I hope for new ideas, new experiences, new knowledge, new questions, and new people to share with and further enrich my wonderful life and the lives of those around me. I plan to do more experimentation with using technology as a lever to change our current educational system as well. So much work to be done, yo!

What are the ideas, or who are the people, or what are the websites, that influence you as a teacher? Where do you look for inspiration?

OMG this is the one that will be 11 pages if I answer it fully. The WORLD is my inspiration. Everything inspires me and gets me thinking. It makes me curious, are most people more narrow in their sources and I need to focus? I see things on the news, and I hear things in songs, and I see an image of a photo I should be taking, and I notice something a student doodled, and I read an article, and I see a photo, and I read an idea shared in a Tweet, and I  open my blog reader, and I see a sign at a restaurant, and I… you get the point. (Did I just admit to adult ADD?) Somehow I synthesize all this information and new ideas pop in my head that I simply must try. If I had to narrow it down for someone looking, though, I would recommend Twitter and Pinterest as great sources.

My Twitter PLN has changed so much since I joined in 2007 and wasn’t even sure what to do with it. It has changed me so much as an educator; it has taken me from feeing like I’m teaching in my classroom in isolation to feeling like I’m co-teaching with a world full of fantastic teachers at my side. I want to give shout-outs to specific tweeps, but I also don’t want to leave anyone out. (That’s why #FFs make me nervous, I’m always leaving someone out) From the well-known #artsed rockstars to the newbs on the block, I learn so much from each person who is willing to share and really do value those connections equally.

So Pinterest… when a student invited me in 2010, I was immediately enamored. I had, since I was a little girl, kept tons of manila folders of images, colors, flyers, maps and any visual inspiration I found. (Early signs of paper hoarding, danggit.) I never made actual bulletin boards from them, but my walls were plastered with images of all kinds once I moved into the basement of my house as a teen. I used them for art, they inspired my art, and I found joy just in looking through those images. Pinterest came and was like a digital version of my folders, except the images came to me! Now I use it in so many ways, as so many people have joined and shared such amazing material. Because of my desire to fuse ideas is so strong, I rarely present any lesson ideas exactly as I find them, but use them more as a starting -or connecting- point to other ideas, materials and processes.

Can you tell me a little bit about your classroom?

I have posters up everywhere. Mostly art reproductions, some quotes, some vocabulary, some Justin Timberlake. I think it’s important for students to see as much art in my room as they can. The more they get used to seeing it around, the more they notice a lack of it in other places and want that to change. Also they begin to form personal connections with specific pieces of art from having to interact with it everyday. We recently took the 5th grade to the Hunter Art Museum in town, and the students freaked out that they had the Chuck Close painting I have a poster of in my room. I have not intro’d them to Chuck yet, and they were completely drawn in when they made that connection with an image they’ve been looking at for 3 months (and yes, I do have 5 reproductions on my walls from the local museum for just that reason).

A 3rd grader mentioned the other day that the poster on my wall was just like the commercial she saw the other day and she had some questions about it (Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”). That’s compelling stuff to me, and worth the distractions for those with -oh wait, look at that!- syndrome like me. And Justin Timberlake posters? That’s just cuz I love me some JT. My fave is one from 2003 that my middle schoolers in OR bought me at the bookfair. It has all their signatures on the back with a note.

What are your strengths as a teacher? What do you do best? On the flip side, what are you trying to do better?

I love these kids so dang much. I sincerely want them to see their own value, to make connections with the world and offer their talents, to feel good about school and learning and to know that they are loved. I couldn’t be stronger in my desire to see each of these individuals succeed.

On the flip side, my constant need for new ideas can also lead to frustration with my competing desire for execution of ideas and closure. Sometimes I have to turn off my brain and stick with one idea so I can see the idea through, especially when collaborating.

What traits/habits/skills do you value most in your students? Why?

Risk-taking- because it’s hard but necessary. I tell my students every day: I would rather see you fail trying something new than keep doing what you already know how to do. You’re here to learn and practice new skills, not just repeat mastered ones.

Looking- I don’t even need them to see yet, but if students are looking, that’s what will matter. They have to observe, observe, observe. Life, art, images, culture, people: taking the time to look at what’s in front of them will make such a big difference in both their art and their lives.

Curiosity- because my cat’s still alive. Curiosity is the ultimate motivator for learning. I want them to wonder, to ask, to seek, to explore, to open up, to imagine. The content I introduce them to will not make them successful alone, but the fire starter of curiosity will lead them to learn and imagine more than I could ever impart.

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