Location: Des Moines, Iowa
College: University of Northern Iowa
Currently Teaching: Findley Elementary School
Fun Fact: Lisa is the 2013 Iowa Middle Level Art Educator of the Year
Her classroom in a sentence: My room is open to every idea and bursting at the seams with endless possibilities.
What makes a Middle Level Art Educator of the Year not teach at the middle level anymore? A few things, actually–a long commute, a new opportunity, a desire to learn more about oneself; but most of all, for Lisa M. Jorgensen, a need to continue to seriously challenge herself and avoid stagnating where she was. She has decided to go all-in at the elementary level, in no small part because it was a terrifying thing to do :)
I wanted to talk to Lisa because I’ve enjoyed reading her work for a while. She is a prolific poster on her blog, Art Class with LMJ, and has so many great ideas to share. She edits the Art Educators of Iowa Newsletter–I always sneak a read, because I’m literally just across the river–and the National Middle Level Newsletter. She also runs #ArtsEdChat, one of the many great resources that comes from the world of Twitter. She was kind enough to give me some (really long) answers to questions I had:
Can you give me a quick bio? Where you grew up, went to school, where you’ve taught, where/what you’re teaching now, etc. Also, what made you want to teach art?
I was born on the East coast but graduated from Urbandale High School, a suburb outside of Des Moines, Iowa. I attempted life at University of Iowa but ended up with an education degree from University of Northern Iowa with an emphasis in graphic design. I do freelance graphic design on the side and dabble in Photography. I found myself drawn to art education because I knew how important developing a sense of individual creativity was for me as a student and wanted to share that process with others.
I have taught at three locations and am now working at Findley Elementary School in Des Moines, Iowa – one of eight Turnaround Arts Schools in the United States. I also student taught in Australia, where I would LOVE to go back, but my fiancé teaches Buildings Trades and that’s nearly non-existent in Oz. I am currently the Communications Chair for Art Educators of Iowa, the editor of our state newsletter, editor of the National Middle Level newsletter, on the committee for #edcampiowa and I co-run #ArtsEdChat.
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 art form involves multiple mediums but focuses primarily on clean lines and geometric shapes due to my addiction to organization and processed planning. I am, what many of my friends and family call me, a bit OCD in all that I do. Because that structure can become a bit heavy on my shoulders, lately all of my artworks show my original mistakes – something to push the organized structure out and let the spontaneous moments in the process itself, show.
Accepting the “spontaneous” has helped in my teaching with my ability to adapt to various situations. For instance, I want to build a choice-based classroom, even at the youngest levels, and being more adaptable in a moment’s notice has begun to make that a reality – a successful one, too.
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?
I love PD. Okay, let me premise by saying it has to be GOOD PD. And relevant but when a class or a speaker comes in town or near me within a good drive, I can’t say no. My principal is supportive whenever I find something relevant and sends me on my way. I just love hearing what’s new and what’s working – and I am addicted to change!
I change my style by day, by hour and every year I am hoping for what’s better and what can be more successful than the last. If I am not challenged by what I am trying to do with students, I feel unsuccessful and I have to spend time seeking out what will challenge students and I most.
Tell me about your classroom. Organized, messy, or in-between? Bright colors and fun posters to engage your students, or simple colors and bare walls to minimize distractions? What are you trying to accomplish with the way you set up your room?
Knowing that I’m considered OCD, you can probably guess that my classroom is clean and organized – most the time this is the case. If a project calls for organized chaos, then of course it’s present but labels, clean floors and organizes cupboards are my staple. I have posters everywhere – I used to make them on the computer and have them printed but I have begun enjoying handmade goodies that definitely seem to catch students’ eyes more. I figure if a student is easily distracted, I’d rather them be distracted by something imaginative and fun than counting the bricks on a blank wall.
I strongly believe that if you are unorganized as a teacher you are inviting your students to behave the same – not to say that unorganized is the same as messy. You can be a messy teacher and completely organized, of course – and that’s completely different. When students enter my room, they know that I set them up for success and we seem to have a lot more time and effort to be thoughtful and careful in our work.
Where do you stand on the neverending art teacher debate: Process, Product, or both? Why?
I’m all about the process! Don’t get me wrong, the product is always nice to see but I want students to understand the process or purpose before the product so they can always take what we are learning and apply it in different situations and different ways rather than just recreating the “same old”. And having students focus on the process and work through it really fosters their problem solving skills.
What do you want students to take away from your class? What do they learn, and how do they develop after spending a year (or part of a year) in your classroom?
I want students to leave knowing that they are someone. After a few years of teaching, I saw this in so many of my students – comments like “I really feel like this is mine, that I made it my own” were constant compared to the first year when I had arrived and students were hesitant of what they could do. I want students to know they can succeed in life, without hesitation – that it’s not about going on to be a famous artist – but it is knowing how to use creativity and problem solving to make a difference in life. I also want them to know how to collaborate and successfully work with others so that they can do so in their futures – a lot of my teaching focuses on group work lately because as the process unfolds, outcomes as so fantastic!
What traits/habits/skills do you value most in your students? Why?
Sometimes they make me nutty but their random questions – even off topic, keep me on my toes and sometimes bring elements into the classroom I hadn’t thought of. I also value their needs – what they want out of my classroom – I always want them to feel like what we are doing is relevant to them and their future, not just a project on the side.
It is so important to me that I make a difference in these kids – that they see how creativity can really help them foster a purposeful life. Many of my students come from broken homes and troubled backgrounds – so many of them have reason to give up because of these things and I want, along with co-workers, to drive them to a better purpose and show them that giving up is not an option.
For you, what determines your success as a teacher? How do you determine success for your students?
Academically speaking, when students can understand a process and apply it in whatever way is best for them, I know they’ve been successful and I measure this with observation, rubrics, one on one, peer observation – pretty much any means necessary so that I get the most accurate assessment.
My success shows when my students are successful beyond the classroom; when their creativity shows through in what they do, wear, act and what their dreams and goals for life are. When students go from shut down and quiet to open and excited because of creativity for a future they know will take work, I know I’ve been successful. When students shine with creativity and innovative thinking and it stems from ideas in my classroom, I’ve been successful.