Featured Wonder Teacher: Chrissy Greenman on Arts Integration

Teacher Interview about Arts Integration















Have I mentioned before that my kids have AWESOME teachers? I could (and hopefully will) interview all of them for the Featured Wonder Teacher Series.

Today I am featuring my son’s 1st grade teacher, Chrissy Greenman. Chrissy is new to arts integration this year and has jumped in with tremendous energy and enthusiasm. I have been so impressed by the creative work happening in her room. Possibly the greatest endorsement is that my son absolutely loves going to school every day and is thriving under her care.

Before you read her interview, know that Chrissy is a “regular” teacher with a “regular” life. She is a wife and mom to two young children, is an avid horsewoman (and owns a horse that she rides as often as possible,) is an accomplished scrapbooker, teaches full time, and single-handedly creates the school’s full-color yearbook. Oh- and she also happens to be the 2012 Teacher of the Year at her school. Whew! How’s that for having it all?

I spent a lovely hour interviewing Chrissy about her experiences integrating the arts and have some great stuff to share with you. Today and tomorrow I’ll focus on her journey into the arts. Then I’ll share some posts that highlight her approach to differentiation, thematic units, and teaching poetry. I know you’ll be inspired. I was! Without further ado… meet Chrissy!

What is something you love about teaching through the arts?

I’d have to say it’s the new energy and excitement I have for teaching as a result of learning how to integrate the arts.

Before I joined the faculty at Laurel Hill, I worked in a low-performing school. I loved my students but there was a lot of pressure to move the kids up academically. It was a very “old-fashioned” teaching culture without much opportunity for collaboration.

I found myself questioning whether I even wanted to teach anymore. I thought, “This isn’t for me. It’s not inspiring. I need something different.”

I am a creative person and I love to be creative.  While I have an outlet in scrapbooking and working on design teams, teaching just wasn’t meeting that need.

When I transferred to Laurel Hill it got much better, but there was still something missing for me. I needed some kind of outlet where I could use my creativity.

Finally last spring I enrolled in a class offered in our state called “The Creative Teaching Institute.” It was all about arts integration and creative teaching strategies. The light bulb went off for me and I saw teaching through a totally new lens.

Since that class, I’ve never been more excited about teaching. I look at my plans and just can’t wait to get to school and teach my kids! I’m excited and they’re excited and it never gets old. I am invested in my teaching and the children are so invested in the work. Learning how to integrate the arts has given me a completely new outlook on my career.

Talk about your personal journey into arts integration. Where did it start?

It truly started with the Creative Teaching Institute. Before that, I really didn’t know the difference between a visual arts lesson and a craft project. I used to do crafts with my students. Crafts are OK sometimes but that’s not art. Art comes from within the child. It’s not something that is “cookie-cutter.” Everyone’s will end up looking different.

Understanding that difference has been so empowering. A big part of this journey has been about learning to let go and not be so controlling of the final product.

Arts Integration- Students painted original cat in the hat artwork.

Students painted original portraits of The Cat in the Hat. They explored color and pattern. While the project was guided, each piece of artwork is unique and full of personality. Students also wrote original stories about the Cat.

What is something important you’ve learned in this process? 

Arts-based learning usually doesn’t happen in one day. I think I was like most teachers in feeling that a lesson needed to start and end in 40 minutes.  We have a map of the year and we give ourselves a set number of lessons to hit a standard and move on. It’s so choppy!

When you (Susan) came in and led the project onMartin Luther King Jr., I was shocked to find that you didn’t intend to get through it in one day! It took several days, but it was so deep and rich! There was literature and art and writing… one project that addressed multiple standards through various strategies.

It’s such a breath of fresh air that I don’t have to do something in one day and hope that my children “have it” because we have to move on and “cover” the next standard. With arts-based thematic teaching, you can spiral and revisit concepts and the learning is much deeper.

Of course, it can feel a little scary. You look out at your students drawing and painting and wonder, “Is this a worthwhile use of class time? Are they really learning the standards?”

But the more you do it, the more confident you get. You start seeing the payoff in terms of student engagement and learning and it makes you want to take even bigger risks.

Where did you start?

Visual art is closest to my comfort zone. I already express myself that way through my scrapbooking, so it seemed like a safe place to start. I have really enjoyed learning about all the new media and techniques. I don’t think my kids have touched crayons in months- they love using oil pastels and watercolors so much!

Students created their own "imaginary" maps when learning about map skills in social studies. Each child created a symbols list and named their imaginary island.

Students created their own “imaginary” maps when learning about map skills in social studies. Each child created a symbols list and named their imaginary island.










I also have loved integrating Drama through Reader’s Theater. I was totally amazed by how much progress my struggling readers made as we rehearsed those scripts. On the first day I was worried because they couldn’t get through them. Then, the next day it was a little better. The third day- they were much more confident and fluent, and it only got better! It was a fantastic experience for them. That’s one of my goals for next year- to do lots more Reader’s Theater and try some pantomime too.

Students perform a script based on an Eric Carle story. Notice their original character artwork on front of their folders.

Students perform a script based on an Eric Carle story. Notice their original character artwork on front of their folders.

You’ve come so far in one school year! How have you learned the art content?

Online! Pinterest is a wonderful resource for teachers. (Start following arts teachers!) I also love Patty Palmer’s blog at Deep Space Sparkle. She is terrific and offers some materials for sale that are very helpful for classroom teachers.

My favorite professional books right now are The Power of Pictures and Moon Journals. I also Google topics I need help with like “using oil pastels with kids.”

I’ve learned how to use different media like oil pastels and watercolors and resist techniques.  You can find anything through Google!

One of the things I have learned is how to search. For example, I am creating a new unit around the Kentucky Derby. When I Googled it, all I could find was coloring sheets. So I changed the search to “oil pastel horses.” I found several inspiring projects I could modify for my students. For example, one involves creating Eric Carle inspired horses out of painted papers. That’s the kind of thing I’m looking for: open-ended art ideas.

Another big part of this journey for me has been learning to let go. The work belongs to the children: I have learned to trust them with artistic freedom. The payoff in that has been huge. I watch their imaginations open up- they are so much more creative!

Their memories are so much deeper when we learn through the arts. They have a personal connection and powerful visual to hold in their mind. It becomes such a part of who they are that they can’t stop talking about it!

Arts integration just seems to trip something in their brain that takes learning to a whole new level. It simply doesn’t happen with traditional “skill and drill” worksheets.

Tomorrow: Chrissy talks about managing time and materials during arts-based lessons.

Jasper Johns Flags 1st grade

Students studied symbolism and color during a social studies unit on American symbols. They imitated artist Jasper Johns and painted their own flags. They then wrote an explanation of their color choices and the meaning found in their flags.

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  1. Thank you for EVERYTHING Susan!

    • No- thank YOU! You’re the one who is doing an awesome job. You are also the one who gave up over an hour of your workday to talk to me. That was a BIG favor!

  2. Carol Cook says:

    I can personally testify to the WONDER of Chrissy! And this blog is teaching me so much about the arts. My personally philosophy meshes perfectly with the student-centeredness of it. I consider myself creative, but not artistic, so the tips and examples are showing me that maybe I CAN do it!
    Thanks, Susan and Chrissy!

  3. Just finished an Eric Carle unit…now I want to go back and do some readers theatre with my beginning readers. Inspiring post…good work!

    • Jayne- Eric Carle is the perfect fit for reader’s heater with beginning readers. I just sent you an email. Let me know if you don’t get it. Also- I just saw your blog! How cool! Can’t wait to read through your posts!

  4. What a great interview. It’s wonderful to learn more about art integration and how teachers use it in their classrooms. I’m particularly pleased that my lesson plans can help with this! Love your blog Susan!
    Patty recently posted..Beyond the Basics…now enrolling!My Profile

    • Thanks Patty! Talking with teachers is so inspiring for me!
      P.S.-I just signed up for your “Beyond Basics” class and several of my friends are going to sign up as well. It looks fantastic! Thanks for pulling it together. I know it must be a ton of work!


  1. […] her recent interview, Chrissy Greenman raised the issue of worksheets when I asked her which weak teaching practices she would like to […]

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