Best Wishes for a New School Year

September 2021

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As former elementary art teachers, we instinctively feel the mix of excitement and nervousness at the start of a new school year, especially in these unique times. With fond memories of our own visual arts classrooms and the utmost respect for the essential work you do every day, we are writing to our visual arts, design, and media arts education family with a message of support, encouragement, and hopefully a little inspiration.

Our community of art educators has truly shown the value of creative leadership during the past 18 months, swiftly moving to support all learners, their families, and school communities through literally every method of instruction (remote, hybrid, and safe in-person); inventing new instructional methods, while reimagining past approaches to familiar materials and curricula; reflecting on our own identities and cultures as we each do our part to keep one another safe, while working to welcome, embrace, and include all aspects of each learner’s individual, racial, and cultural identities; and providing the levels of positivity and social–emotional support required to brace our local community during the present crisis, while struggling to remember that self-care isn’t selfish, but an absolute necessity in times like these. Our colleague, Krissy from Connecticut, says it well:

“So many times over the past year and a half I have found myself turning to my NAEA family for advice, guidance, support, and camaraderie. I am so grateful for this community and the friendships that I have made, and I feel confident that I can navigate another year of pandemic teaching with so many incredible art educators on my side. We have seen the resilience and the innovation of teachers having to pivot on a dime to prepare remote toolkits, provide ongoing emotional support, and present the indisputable case for the arts in school. If there is one thing I am certain of, it’s that arts education is more important than ever in providing opportunities for students to reclaim a modicum of normalcy and autonomy, and to help them make sense of our rapidly changing world.”

As we look toward the 2021–2022 school year, we know that in truth we are stronger, even if a bit more worn and weathered. Yet we now have a new set of tools to tackle the ever-evolving impact of the pandemic on visual arts, design, and media arts education at all levels. We embraced a bold, new Strategic Vision. And we have continued to share our best practices, contemporary woes, and common struggles, as well as inspiration and innovations—coming together for our first virtual convening of the NAEA National Convention, with more than 4,600 participants (with as much as half being first-time attendees) and 531 sessions. Building on what we learned, we’re preparing for what’s next by offering options for an in-person and virtual NAEA National Convention experience for 2022.

NAEA is constituted of, by, and for its members—this means that our members are in constant conversation with the Board and staff. We are striving to ensure that NAEA is your most effective professional support system in the years ahead. This means providing continued instructional resources, professional learning, research, and more across a range of relevant topics through webinars and webcasts and peer-reviewed journals; tackling relevant issues and tough conversations at Town Halls; further activating our existing library of advocacy tools and messaging; growing our Art Educator Toolkit (formerly the Remote Learning Toolkit), and differentiating our supports across our full spectrum to ensure that you see yourself and your learners in our ED&I work.

We hope that you will join us in celebrating the milestones wrought and lessons learned over the past 18 months that express the essential role of the art educator. Our colleague, Luisa from Virginia, reminds us of why we do this work. “It’s amazing to see the joy and excitement in my students’ eyes! They are so happy to be back in the classroom and making art in person. In the midst of the turbulence of the past year and a half, it reminds me of why I love teaching art!”

As NAEA approaches its 75th year as an association in 2022, we are filled with pride, determination, and optimism. We wish a safe, smooth reentry to school and work for each of you! We look forward to seeing you in person and online at local, regional and national gatherings in the months ahead. Please consider this an open invitation for continued conversation.


James (NAEA President) and Mario (NAEA Executive Director)

P.S. Please enjoy these images from our own elementary classrooms from back in the day!


The first image is of me working with students on a project in my elementary art classroom. The second image is a collaborative portrait/self-portrait of one of my third grade students (named Ian). In this piece I rendered Ian, while Ian rendered the entire background opening up a window on his own world of interests and imagination about the lives of cheetahs, jaguars, and flying dragons in the wild.

James Haywood Rolling Jr.
James Haywood Rolling Jr.


In the first image, I’m working with my fourth graders outside of Pittsburgh, PA. In collaboration with the Andy Warhol Museum, we were silkscreening images on banners for our annual outdoor garden installation project. The second image is one of my middle school students from Chicago, IL. He and I entered and were selected for a combined teacher and student art competition that the district held.

Mario Rossero
Mario Rossero

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