Many Heathwood families who have gotten to know Melissa Brookshire as a Kindergarten Associate Teacher over the last few years are already aware that she has a gift for teaching art. So when the school was searching for a new Early Childhood and Lower School art teacher, it's no surprise that Melissa's name rose to the top of the list. She's already making her impact felt through the enhancements she's made to the EC Art Studio, through the rock painting project she initiated, and more.
Here she talks about what why she's excited about her new role, how art contributes to students' overall growth, and why she transitioned from wanting to be a primatologist to becoming an art teacher.
You’ve been at Heathwood for several years as a classroom teacher—what attracted you to the art teacher position?
Teaching art has always been my dream job! I studied studio art in college and have always tried to incorporate the arts in my classroom. The highlight of my day would be the time my students and I had exploring with materials and the discussions that stemmed from that. With this position, I am allowed to expand this and really cultivate an art community in the EC and Lower School.
What have you liked about the job so far?
I have really enjoyed getting to work with all ages and some of my previous kindergarteners. I love to see the growth that the now-4th graders have made since I had them. I was pleasantly surprised by their talent and willingness to try new things!
What do you appreciate most about teaching at Heathwood?
I thrive in a creative, supportive and happy environment and Heathwood provides that for me! Heathwood is so special because we really teach to the whole child and realize that relationships build a strong educational foundation.
How does Heathwood’s new art studio expand or enhance your students’ art experience?
I believe in the Reggio Emilia philosophy that the classroom environment is the third teacher. My goal in the new studios was to provide an inspirational place that welcomes creative thoughts and processes, allowing a child to discover and explore. The studios have mediums, materials, child created artwork, and party lights! Art is fun and the spaces should reflect that.
How does art contribute to students’ overall intellectual development?
Art is an important part of a child’s education. It is a natural way to learn. A child inherently understands that art is language. It is a different way to communicate, explore and self-actualize. Art is a wonderful tool to further learning in the classroom. Without focusing on the idea of right or wrong answers, art provides critical thinking skills. Also, it is self-expression, explaining what a child is feeling and how they view their world.
What might your students (or their parents) be surprised to know about you?
Growing up, I only wanted to be a primatologist. I was obsessed with Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas. I read every book about primates and hoarded any National Geographic issues that had my heroes on the cover. I was ready to spend my life observing the great apes in their natural habitats, but then I realized my aversion to insects, birds and Ebola would override my career aspirations. I settled for the next best thing- observing children in their natural habitats.