A teacher left an indelible mark on Dr. Michaelann Kelley, director of visual arts. She was in a new school. The fourth in five years due to several moves. Up until that point, going to school was a mundane experience. A passage she had to go through. Teachers had labeled her “acceptable.” They had not expected her to achieve or set the bar higher for her. That is until her fifth-grade teacher at her new school, Mrs. Fire, pulled her aside.
Within the span of a few minutes, Kelley felt connected. Mrs. Fire asked how she was doing. Her teacher shared that she had looked at the records from Kelley’s old school and they didn’t make sense to her. Based on what she was seeing like Kelley doing well in math, Mrs. Fire felt that Kelley should be placed in a higher, advanced group.
“I felt like my story had changed,” said Kelley.
Kelley went on to work hard and do well. Mrs. Fire was also the first to acknowledge and honor her artistic work. She remembers an art project she created. Mrs. Fire took the artwork and proceeded to escort Kelley along with her artwork throughout the campus knocking on teachers’ doors to brag about Kelley’s work.
“I remember how proud I was in that moment,” said Kelley. “I was so happy that I had made Mrs. Fire so thrilled by something I had done. By something I had created.”
As the years went by, Kelley never did have that same experience as in fifth grade. By the time she was in high school, her grades had slipped. She had allowed herself to believe the old story of “Michaelann the non-achiever.” Even her school counselor labeled her “not college material.” Those words left her so devastated that she didn’t even apply to college. Fortunately, her parents had a different story for Kelley. It was one that included her attending college.
Once in the classroom, Kelley wanted to inspire students as Mrs. Fire had inspired her. She wanted her students to leave her classroom, her school with positive experiences and stories.
“I think that my bad experiences are the reason I am passionate about school change,” said Kelley. “One of the initiatives I am most excited about is Critical Friends Group, which through feedback and support helps teachers improve instruction and student learning. This has immense potential to affect the stories about school being created by both teachers and students.“
Kelley states that it was her time in the classroom at Eisenhower High School that she learned how to teach. It is where she learned how to connect students to their learning. It is also where she learned how to mentor teachers to be the best they can be for students.
Kelley chose art as her area to teach because she feels art saved her. She recognized the power of a great teacher who sees and acknowledges a student’s hard work and creativity. Kelley realizes that not every student will go on to become an artist. However, art is essential in today’s workforce that demands creativity, problem-solving skills and thinking outside the box. Students also learn time management and perseverance, which are all essential in helping students succeed in their future. Kelley also works to ensure students find their voice.
“Art class should be a place to express your artistic voice and create a place to be whoever you want to be — not what others perceive you as,” said Kelley.
Kelley took the position of program director of visual arts in 2014. She is currently the director of visual arts. Kelley was recognized early this school year for her dedication, commitment and significant achievements in art education in public schools. The Texas Art Education Association (TAEA) bestowed Kelley with the Supervision/Administration Division Outstanding Art Educator Award.
Colleagues describe Kelley as a teacher, mentor, and educational leader. Those who nominated Kelley list many qualities. There is one common descriptor. Her colleagues agree she is a champion for arts education. She sets a high bar for quality art education and collaboration.
“Dr. Kelley’s dedication and support motivates art teachers. She encourages us to be our best for all students,” said Kaleigh Rosplohowski, a former art teacher and current assistant principal at Eisenhower HS.
She shares that passion and encourages her art teachers to do so as well. Even after 27 years with the District, Kelley’s energy and creativity are still boundless. Ever-willing to experiment, she created “TACO ’bout It.” The TACO (Teaching Art Collaboratively Online) webcasts feature art teachers. The segments help art educators to continue to learn and be inspired. They also learn how to integrate art into core subjects to help meet the needs of diverse learners. For Kelley, art isn’t just painting or drawing; it’s something bigger that helps the kids grasp what they’re learning in their other classes, too.
Kelley is a prolific Twitter user posting and retweeting about the work art teachers are doing in the classroom. She continually shares staff and student accomplishments — numerous AISD students have won awards over the years at the district, regional, area, state, and national levels. Under her tenure, TAEA recognized AISD’s art program in 2015 when it bestowed the District with the Youth Art Month (YAM) Award. The honor recognizes districts for their leadership and support of quality arts education.
She continues to walk the halls of her former campus Eisenhower HS and schools across the District. She sees past teaching colleagues and a few who are now principals and assistant principals. She sees former students coming out of science, math and English rooms. Kelley makes time for the kids to let them know she cares about their success as artists. She frequently visits art classrooms. It is not unusual to see Kelley sitting down to guide students or to sit down to work on her own project alongside them. She also attends many of the events that feature students’ work.
Her former students are now professional artists, lawyers, Houston City Council members, rappers and professional football players as well as many moms and dads whose children attend AISD.
“My legacy in Aldine and in the education field is reflected in my students and their work,” said Kelley. “It is reflected in the professionals that I currently work with and have worked with in the past.
“I am proud of the path they have chosen and grateful that I have been a part of their lives. I hope that I had some impact on their lives as my fifth-grade teacher had on me.”
I segued into administration after 23 years of teaching in the classroom. My journey into leadership began when I was at Eisenhower HS. The Houston Annenberg Challenge selected the campus as a Beacon School. Eisenhower received more than $2 million in grant money to use toward school reform changes. As the grant coordinator, I developed and implemented all initiatives funded by the funds. The role also entailed evaluating grant projects undertaken by the campus.
It was during this period that I became a facilitator for the Anti-Defamation League initiative A Classroom of Difference and a Critical Friends Group Coach® for the National School Reform Faculty. The training and continued work in these areas set the foundation of how I believe adults should and could work together.
Before being named the director of visual arts, I was the program director of visual arts. The then program director of 18 years had died suddenly. At the time, I wasn’t even considering the administrative position, but I applied and got selected. By having developed my leadership skills over the years, I was prepared for the role. Preparation also entailed earning my doctorate in curriculum and instruction, specifically in teacher mentoring.
I believe that working with teachers and students is my calling. Serving in an administrative capacity is a perfect fit for someone with a passion for art, art education, teaching, and learning.
The students I have taught. I enjoy hearing about where they have gone and about their families. Although there are lots of drawbacks to social media, one of the strengths is that no matter where you are in life or the world, we are only a “Like” away from connecting.
I sometimes feel sorry for the art teachers. It is no secret that I love to teach and work with the students. I have been guilty of taking over an art class. I apologize to my teachers, but the teaching bug is still strong inside me.
My greatest success is also my biggest setback. I helped build a program to provide the visual arts to students in grades K through12. Due to school budget cuts, we had to dissolve the elementary visual art program last year. While I wish we still had the program, I continue to work and collaborate with my staff and other content area educators to ensure our students have art experiences.
Some of my favorite projects included the development of a PK-12 visual art scope and sequence that reflects an integration of the tested subjects. Another favorite one is the implementation of the curriculum and instructional strategies as seen in some of the professional development videos on AldineTV.com. The professional development videos reflect our commitment to literacy and to quality art teaching and learning.
This is a great question. I work to make our students shine in a positive and creative way while ensuring that we teach the state-mandated TEKS. My responsibility is that we teach the TEKS as prescribed in our District scope and sequence. I also work to provide my teachers with quality professional development that highlights ways to use technology, art media and tested content in a purposeful way in the classroom.
I advocate for the District’s visual arts program as well as recognize students and staff members’ achievements. I like to share. So much so that I have been labeled a “prolific Twitter user.” I work with the community in continuing our arts partnerships and creating ways to provide our students with the experiences and opportunities afforded to children in other districts. I am always looking for ways to bring equity and access in the visual arts education to Aldine students.
My job requires organizational skills, content knowledge, networking skills, and the ability to implement content in the classroom. My biggest job qualification is a passion for the students and teachers of Aldine. You need endurance and an unending work ethic to ensure you support and highlight our outstanding students and awesome art teachers.
One of the most challenging aspects of my job is learning how to guide rather than tell. The challenge is to not be the teacher’s evaluator but be his or her mentor. If teachers are having classroom challenges, I work with them until they find a solution that works for them.
Listen and follow what someone with more experience tells you. For instance, he or she will know what the best structure in the art room is. I believe in an old adage that you need to know the rules before you can break them. Don’t get me wrong. I think novice teachers have a lot to bring to the table. However, sometimes the “newness” is not a tried-and-true classroom-tested idea. I believe that novice teachers should take the first and maybe the second year of teaching to listen to good, experienced teachers and follow their lead. The smartest thing I did was to listen and follow my mentor Mr. Ron Venable. I am still using the ideas I gained from him. I teach his methods to new teachers today.
It takes more than doing what is expected to be a great art teacher. You have to always strive to be better, to be the best. I haven’t always won every contest nor has every one of my students been the best at every project. But if I am a great educator and leader it is because I have learned from everything that has happened in my classroom, in my dealings with students and collaboration with teachers. Learning is the ultimate goal in life and education. I believe that because I am always striving to be better it is why I always feel that I am winning.
Director of Written Communication & Spanish Media
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