The artful classroom

teacher institute

Teresa Dankner and Rose Forina are a mother and daughter who teach in Winthrop, Mass. They participated in PEM’s Teacher Institute July 23-25. The professional development workshop immerses teachers in creative expression and writing inspired by art. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

Observations by Rose:

Imagine a three day excursion where you visit a Chinese village home, tour an American Federalist house, and see bejeweled eggs once owned by a Russian tsar. That’s exactly what we did during the Teacher Institute at the Peabody Essex Museum. This summer twenty-three teachers and I were immersed in art. Each day we were treated to eye candy that made our mouths water and our minds crave more.

The morning of our first session I felt like a kid on the first day of school. As a library media teacher, my art experience was limited. I was not trained in the arts and knew very little art history. My daughter Teresa was also attending the workshop, and on the drive to Salem she reassured me that I would be just fine. She was right. The PEM staff was so welcoming that I felt right at home.

On prior visits to museums, I would glance at a painting, read the caption and move on to the next piece. PEM taught me how to examine, reflect and converse with a work of art. Using Allan Crite’s painting School’s Out from the current exhibition In Conversation, Modern African American Art and Corinne Okada’s Rock, Paper, Scissors in the Japanese gallery as backdrops, they modeled open-ended questions that guided me to see art for the first time. I soon realized the key to unlocking the stories art tells is the questions you ask, not always the answers you get.

school's out

Allan Rohan Crite, School’s Out, 1936, oil, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from The Museum of Modern Art.

The most important lesson I learned was to include art in what and how I teach. The questioning techniques we used in the galleries will now be used in my library and computer classes. Works of art will be incorporated in my poetry writing pods and linked with books so that students can better understand what they read. Thanks, PEM, for a wonderful three days.

 Observations by Teresa: 

Interesting. Invigorating. Inspiring. These three words only begin to describe the Teacher Institute at the Peabody Essex Museum. Each day was packed with activities that made us think, talk and do art. We sketched Soundsuits (Inspired by artist Nick Cave), made of recycled objects, solved the problem of a mystery painter and drew with felt and ice! During a break, I even got to peek into the East India Marine Hall where my wedding reception was held – always a special treat whenever I visit PEM.

I especially enjoyed using Toshio Shibata’s landscape photographs as writing prompts and matching quotes to artwork in the modern African American exhibition. These writing-art connections and the brainstorming among museum staff and the participants provided me with great ideas to use in my classes.

Toshio Shibata Okawa Village, Tosa County, Kochi Prefecture, 2007

Toshio Shibata, Okawa Village, Tosa County, Kochi Prefecture, 2007 © Toshio Shibata

In September, when my colleagues ask what I did this summer, I’ll share everything I learned at the institute. I’ll especially let them in on what I learned about the initiative to promote science, technology, engineering, art and math — STEAM. Interweaving the disciplines to include art will bring out the scientist, engineer, and artist in ourselves and in our students. I can’t wait to begin.

Rose Forina is a library media teacher at Arthur T. Cummings School in Winthrop, Massachusetts. Her daughter, Teresa Dankner is a visual arts teacher at Winthrop Middle School. They both participated in PEM’s Summer Teacher Institute. 


  1. Alyce Forlani says:

    Your observations make me wish I was a participant – or a student in one of your classrooms this fall!! Thanks to PEM for sponsoring such a wonderful program for teachers.

  2. Elizabeth Sigrist says:

    I enjoyed reading the observations of Rose and Teresa.
    I am planning to visit “Faberge Revealed” very soon.

  3. Lonnie Maibor says:

    Winthrop school system is very fortunate to have these two remarkable women who continue to enrich our children by find unique courses such as this one.

  4. John Carroll says:

    There is nothing more important to our community than educating the next generation to create, to inquire, and to connect. It was great hearing how PEM is providing new tools and ideas to energize and support teachers, and it was terrific to share the passion and eloquence that Rose and Teresa bring to their learning and their students.

  5. Helaine Carroll says:

    What an interesting program! It certainly sounds exciting, fun, and, most importantly, stimulating! I’ve always enjoyed PEM because of the informative and innovative ways they display and juxtapose the art. They continue that same approach with their teaching programs.

  6. Meghan Wyman says:

    Wonderful observations! What a great way to share what an amazing 3 days PEM offered educators. I’ve been wondering just how to explain everything that we did to colleagues at school. There are so many ways to apply all that we experienced during the teacher institute. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Diane Barsotti says:

    Rose and Teresa’s observations have inspired me to enroll in art classes at the Peabody Essex Museum. The museum’s art collection, teacher resources and hands-on experiences with art materials are amazing!

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