Teachers are one of the most influential figures in a student’s life.  This could not be more true than when it comes to arts teachers, whose instruction has the ability to unlock creativity and empower their students.  Such an experience can inspire a student so deeply, that the rest of their life path is guided by the creative instruction they received in the classroom.  Just ask ArtsEd Washington member Jessica Holloway, whose life is directly connected to her arts education experience and the instruction of her teachers.

Starting back when she was a young student, Jessica has been highly involved in the arts.  She has vivid memories of creating art in her elementary classrooms, as well as attending after school art programs.  It was in the fifth grade that she first started playing the clarinet.  That experience began a long and joyful journey with music.

When she met Mr. Bresnahan (Mr. B.), her junior high and high school band teacher, she had found her niche and was a valued member of the school band.  In fact, Jessica recalls band being part of her family, “it kept me in a good place, kept me positive, and wanting to do my best.”

As Jessica continued through her secondary education, her involvement in the arts continued to grow.  In addition to band, she participated in choir and drama productions.

As a college student, Jessica began to fully understand and appreciate the depths to which the arts had shaped her as a young adult.  The connection between arts concepts and other subjects became clear, and now years down the road, Jessica finds herself serving and inspiriting students as a visual arts teacher, just as Mr. Bresnahan did for her as a band teacher.

Mr. Bresnahan recently retired, and Jessica made sure that her favorite and most valued teacher was not forgotten.  As a gift, she created a beautiful handmade book filled with her appreciation for all that her teacher brought to the lives of his students.  “I know how important and influential he was as a teacher.  He is one of the reasons I became a teacher.”

Read more about Jessica’s experience, her hopes for arts education, and why she is inspired to support ArtsEd Washington and arts education for students across Washington state.

1. How did Mr. Bresnahan’s instruction specifically resonate with you as a student?

Mr. B. was larger than life as a teacher.  I think you need to be when you are working creatively with kids.  You   need to  be dramatic, passionate, and more than a little nutty; Mr. B. is all of those things.  He translated the music into something we felt, we latched onto, we worked hard to make our own.  I was not an amazing clarinetist, but I put my heart and soul into that music.  I was lucky enough to have Mr. B. as my teacher in a time where my own family was dealing with my dad working in D.C. and coming home to New Hampshire on weekends and my mom holding it all together.  Band was my second family.  I had a purpose and a channel for a lot of that teen-age angst.  But beyond that, I loved playing music with people that I loved.  I loved being part of a wonderful community, being challenged and stretched.  It was magic!

2. From your experience as a student and now a teacher, what do you believe are the positive impacts of the arts to students – both in their education and their life experience?

The arts provide so many opportunities for students to learn about themselves and the world.  The arts were where I found my friends and developed my values.  The beauty of the arts is that every individual has a voice that is waiting to be expressed, and every student can benefit from the experience of expressing.  Working together toward a shared goal, such as a musical performance or an art exhibit, helps students to develop a respect for the diversity of opinions, strengths and backgrounds of the group, which leads to greater empathy towards others.  Above all, the arts provide chances to practice perseverance, creativity and curiosity that will help students to be lifelong learners, innovative in any pursuit they choose.

3. What do you hope to personally contribute to your students through your work in the arts and delivery of arts programming in school?

On a daily basis, I hope to help my students practice taking creative risks and to evaluate their choices.  I have a lot of students who are very concerned with getting the “right answer”, and art can be very frustrating for them.  It’s also very good for them, since it gives them a chance to cultivate flexibility: try, possibly make mistakes, evaluate, adjust, and repeat.  I tell my students that you don’t have to love every piece of art that you make, but that you can learn by determining what was difficult, what was successful, and how you would try it differently next time – that’s a huge life skill.  My biggest hope is to awaken a hunger in my students.  I want them to find the thing that they are most passionate about in the world, and to get more than a little obsessed with it, because that’s when there’s a chance of really becoming excellent.  That’s the gift that Mr. B. gave to me, and I want to pass it on.

4. What would you suggest to teachers, parents and the community as best ways to engage with their school board members or elected officials to advocate for arts education and programs?

Communicating with decision makers and getting out information about your arts programs is crucial. Sometimes it feels like advocacy could be its own full-time job, but how else will anyone outside your program know about the amazing learning that’s going on?  I’ve learned that it’s easier in the long run to promote your program consistently, rather than trying to prove how beneficial the arts are when facing program elimination.

We live in data-driven times, so any time you can include research data about the benefits of the arts in your communications, do it!  ArtsEd Washington has a TON of good research based resources on the website.  As an art teacher, I find that visuals get my point across.  I set up “Visual Art Focus Walls” throughout the school building that displayed information about the learning objectives, resources and examples of student work in process, as well as hanging finished student work.  My principal was able to discuss these displays with school board members when they toured our building.

I really think that decision makers need to see the creative process to be able to get a feeling for what actually happens in art class, and how valuable creative time is to developing well-rounded individuals.  It is part of our job to provide the snap shot decision makers will see.

5. As a committed supporter of arts education, what inspired you to become a member of ArtsEd Washington?

Becoming a member was the right thing to do.  ArtsEd Washington was instrumental in helping to get the word out to the Bellevue community when elementary arts instruction, as well as 5th grade band and orchestra, were facing elimination due to budget cuts in the spring of 2010.   The support and voice of ArtsEd Washington reminded decision makers that the arts are core to a well-rounded education, and part of the definition of basic education in Washington.  ArtsEd Washington has a plethora of resources on the website that I have used in my continued arts advocacy.  I feel like my membership is a way of saying “thank you” to ArtsEd Washington, and making sure that arts advocacy is alive and well in our state.

Jessica Holloway is starting her thirteenth year of teaching elementary visual art, and currently teaches at Clyde Hill Elementary.  In her spare time, she loves to read fiction, draw, make clay sculptures, tell stories, and is training for a 5K marathon.  Her favorite ice cream flavor of the summer is Coffee Oreo.  She is the mother of two daughters, who delight in dressing up in costumes, drawing, painting, reading books, and impromptu after dinner sing-a-longs.

Want to see a closeup of the book that Jessica created for Mr. B?  View it here.

Share your inspirational arts education or arts advocacy story with us! Where have you seen the arts change outcomes for a student? How has your personal engagement made a difference in a policy or budget issue? What arts teacher changed your life?  Let us know. Your submission may be selected for a future Take 5 member profile!