This summer, I have had the amazing opportunity to be an intern in the education department at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. I’ve been working as an intern assisting with the museum’s Summer Institutes – a week long professional development for teachers. The Institute draws participants from across the nation to learn how to engage with American Art in their own classroom. I loved getting to meet a different cohort of teachers each week. While they taught different subjects and grade levels, the passion for education was found in all.
Throughout the week, participants attended sessions that focused on different visual thinking strategies, pairing art with text, and ways that art can communicate complex ideas. During each session, the teachers were put in both passive and active roles. Though there were moments were participants were sitting at tables taking notes from lectures, each session also provided the opportunity for practice and hands on application. At the end of the week, the teachers gave five minute presentations on a lesson plan they created that week that integrated a piece of artwork from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection with their curriculum. It was amazing to watch the teachers grow throughout the week and see their final ideas. I kept thinking, “Sign me up for that class!”
I learned a lot about what it takes to organize a week long professional development conference. These institutes were well organized and prepared for. One of my main responsibilities this summer was making sure that we were prepared for each new week of teachers. While this mainly consisted of hours of printing, stapling, collating, and organizing, it was rewarding to see how smooth sessions went when all of the materials were easily on hand or how appreciative the teachers were of simply using card stock! I was also given the opportunity to lead several sessions during the institutes. It felt like quite the role reversal to suddenly be leading discussions and giving directions to groups of teachers! However, it was very rewarding to see the activity I had led included in many of the lesson plans presented.
Overall, this summer has been an experience I will never forget. Living in Washington, D.C. (my first city living experience) was amazing. I caught on very quickly to the unspoken rules of the metro (like the fact that we don’t call it the subway) and within a few weeks mastered navigating the streets (fun fact: there are five C Streets. One in each quadrant but an extra one in SE for some weird reason). I got to take advantage of the plethora of free museums in the area and explore so much of what DC has to offer. Perhaps what was most rewarding, was seeing how well museum education and schools can work together. I was used to thinking of the two as completely different spheres but the Smithsonian American Art Museum showed me that the two can play together and feed off of each other to create amazing experiences for teachers and students.