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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles: Implement Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment

Art That Heals
by Sharon Pettey-Taylor

As the world rallies to help the people of Haiti rebuild their proud nation after a devastating earthquake, the High School For Global Citizenship, located on Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights Campus, is determined to live up to its name. In alliance with their partnership organization, Global Kids, the moment the tragic news broke, the school community united to mobilize students into action.

One very talented staff member, Ms. Caryn Davidson (whose creativity as the school’s art instructor knows no boundaries), assisted by her students, overwhelmed the hallways and bulletin boards with messages of hope and inspiration (see photo gallery below). This ability to align her instruction with issues of global citizenship and the school’s contemporary inter-circular themes is not unusual.

The following conversation expands on the Professional Teaching Standard advising “to value and respect the student community and increase [our] understanding of the cultures and dynamics outside of the classroom.”

SPT: Ms. Davidson, in a learning environment devoted to raising global and social consciousness, you seem to elevate this kind of awareness into your artistic curriculum with ease. Am I right in imagining your priorities have always connected art with reality – in good times and in bad?

CD: The reason I became an art educator was because I wanted to use my artistic interest and talent not only to expand my own social consciousness, but to engage with others in their expansion of such. It was with distinct intention and purpose that I chose to become an art educator rather than (or, as of now, in addition to being) a professional artist; rather than be isolated in more individualized artistic explorations, I wanted to connect my artistry to the collective consciousness and the capacity for human beings to create whatever they can envision upon this planet. I got my Masters in Art Education at New York University in a department that was considered “cutting edge” for its emphasis on teaching-for-social justice and I was privileged to continue in that tradition with my second teaching job here at the High School for Global Citizenship. I was attracted to this learning community exactly because its mission and curricular vision support the kind of art-for-social-justice philosophy of education that I’ve always been passionate about. One thing that I have learned through experience and intensive reflection is that “connecting with reality” does not simply mean reacting to it or commenting on it; a great amount of contemporary art does such and I honor all the contemporary artists I studied at NYU whose work helps to raise awareness about injustices and issues very real in our current global context. Nevertheless, as my awareness of art activism and activism in general has grown, I have learned that the world is more desperately in need of vision than reaction. I am very excited to continue creating collective expressions with my colleagues and students that forge a vision of possibility; a vision of the reality that much more is possible than we often allow ourselves to believe. A great profundity of art is how powerful a tool it is for expressing visions that we may not readily see or recognize in the world around us; it is a magnificent means by which we can translate the treasures of truthful thought we access within ourselves into tangible manifestations that can and will move the whole of humanity forward.

SPT: In collaborating with your colleagues, what impact does the art department have on “making and implementing school-wide decisions, events and various learning activities?”

CD: As an active member of my school community, I have always been inclined to have an impact on broader school-wide decisions, events and learning activities. In fact, on a number of occasions I’ve encountered stereotypes about art teachers being less engaged, less professional, or less likely to emerge as leaders within their school community; however, given my encounter at NYU with a number of truly visionary art educators, I have not witnessed such a stereotype myself. But more importantly, this question relates to the issue of how art itself, as a subject, is perceived, valued, and connected to all other disciplines of study. I have been very lucky to work with three principals whose educational visions embrace the arts as invaluable components of a substantive and multi-dimensional learning experience (including of course the leaders of HSGC). Art has proven to be an indispensible aspect of our school community and a central tool for bringing the school’s mission to life. Projects that have and continue to successfully do this include: hallway murals that convey the theme of global citizenship and our mission’s tenets of peace, justice, diversity, sustainability, and democratic participation; art workshops connected to “theme” days including “Democracy Day,” “Peace & Justice” and “Earth Day;” our Haitian Heritage hallway campaign comprised of artistic presentations about Haitian history, culture and all the activism surrounding its contemporary history and current crises; artworks that highlight and elaborate the theme of our annual Global Kids Conference in which students facilitate a day of workshops and events to educate the school community about a critical global issue; and the list goes on. It is an honor to be able to help shape the larger community efforts at realizing global citizenship within the context of our school. I look forward to further facilitating the visualization of global citizenship, in creative collaboration, with the artistic agents of change here at HSGC.

Thanks again, Ms. Davidson, for sharing your unique talent and gift “for making the world a better place” and inspiring others to do the same.


Engaging and Supporting Students in Learning. Creating and Maintaining Effective Environments for Student Learning. Developing as a Professional. The Professional Teaching Standards. New Teacher Center at The University of California, Santa Cruz, 2004.

Many thanks to:
the students, staff, and administration of The High School For Global Citizenship (HSGC); Prospect Heights Campus, Brooklyn, NY
Stephen Rau, Principal
Michelle Rochon, AP Administration

Global Kids, Inc  http://globalkids.org/
Kevin Murungi, Senior Trainer
Nassim Zerriffi, Senior Trainer
Coco Killingsworth, Associate Director of Programs
Tene Howard, Assistant Director of Programs

Do you have a comment, question, or suggestion about this article? E-mail Sharon.




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