Want to Teach Art at an International School?_Part 1

Teaching Art

So, you want to teach art abroad, eh? These five tips can help you take the first steps toward making the big leap.


Mosaic mural at my school’s Lower Primary Campus.

1. Pay Your Dues

Large, well established international schools will not consider any candidate without at least 2 years of full-time teaching experience within the grade, department or subject matter that you are applying for…period. I learned this the hard way. After driving 16 hours to Philadelphia in the middle of February to an International Recruitment Fair, I was told by every school from across the globe that I should, and I quote, ‘save myself the paper and the ink’ because they wouldn’t even look at a resume without at least 2 years of teaching experience. Because international schools are private, parents pay tuition, therefore, schools are not willing to spend the time nor money to help new teachers cut their teeth.

Art Shed

I taught art in a shed at one point in my career as well as art from a cart.

2. Do your Homework

An international school is a school that promotes international curriculum, in an international environment, either by adopting a curriculum such as that of the International Baccalaureate, Edexcel or Cambridge Assessment International Education, or by following a national curriculum different from that of the school’s country of residence. A good place to start when researching international schools is looking for schools that are connected to your home country i.e. American International Schools. Experience gained within your home country will be seen as valuable and sought after when applying to such schools. If you are interested in teaching within a particular country, then research what international schools are there and begin viewing their websites and application requirements.

IMS was the first international school I ever worked at. I am glad they took a chance on me as I had the bare minimum experience when I started.

3. Make What You Do Visible

The international teaching realm is competitive. Bigger packages mean greater expectations of teacher’s experience, education, and influence. It is very important to have an online presence when applying for international schools to be able to show who you are, what you do and what you’re all about. Be a brand and promote your self as such. This does not mean having a public Facebook account with your weekend exploits, it means having social platforms such as Instagram, Weebly, WordPress and/or Facebook devoted to documenting your teaching. This is on top of your school’s required blog page for your class or subject, this is an account that can go with you if and when you move on.

When I was at IMS I began building my brand and generating new content. I then created my Instagram account devoted to documenting my art teaching and posted art education videos on Youtube.

4. Make a Plan

Make a plan and work your plan. International school begins recruiting as early as September for the start of the next school year. Therefore, planning ahead is crucial to help your chances in being offered a contract. There are recruitment fairs in many large East coast cities in the United States every January and February as well as International Teacher Recruitment fairs in London and Bangkok around the same time. The goal for most schools is to secure all teacher contracts before the end of April for the start of school in the fall. Search Associates and CRS are two large international teaching recruitment companies and are a good place to start your search regarding job opportunities and recruitment fair listings.

Student Teacing

After my student teaching in Perth, Australia, I knew I wanted to teach abroad. It took me years to land a job at my dream school in Hong Kong but every journey starts with a single step.

5. Once you go abroad, it’s hard to go back

Once you have taught in at international school with ample resources, your own art room, small class sizes, and parent communities that support what and how you teach, many of the institutions that you have come from are going to seem less appealing. So, be prepared, this decision to go abroad might be the beginning of your life abroad for a decade or more. Venturing into the unknown with clear eyes and an open heart will help you take full advantage of the opportunities that lay ahead.

Hong Kong Inter

Me in my brand new art room at HKIS! Hong Kong International School is one of the biggest and most reputable international schools in Asia. Planning, preparation, resilience, and determination got me to where I am today.

Space Invader Pixel Art

Teaching Art

Invader, is a French urban artist, is known for his ceramic tile mosaics modeled on the pixelated art of 1970s–1980s 8-bit video games. His creations can be seen in highly-visible locations in over 65 cities in 33 countries. 


As a massive fan of Invader, I have been dreaming up a unit to incorporate and connect Pixel Art with the Lower Primary Visual Arts curriculum. So when I wound up with a crazy amount of small papercraft tiles, I pinned down a unit that combined art, math, and spatial planning. WINNING!


To introduce the concept of a pixel, Reception 1 students practiced using grids and pom poms to make simple pictures. Learning that a pixel is a small part of a bigger picture, students practiced following a template as well as planning their own picture using the grid and pom poms.

After making a grid that matched the size of the paper pixel tiles, I drew different colored Space Invaders on the grids to match the color paper tiles I had. Students then glued the tiles to the grid using glue and Q-tips.

Students then created their own Space Invader grid template by using colored pencils, colors that matched the paper tiles and then gluing the paper pixels to their grid. The photos below show the grids before and after the pixels were placed.

The unit totalled six, 30 minute lessons. Two lessons were spent on practicing with large girds and pom poms, the next two lessons, students glued pixels on to a pre-made template and the last two lessons students designed their own template and finished gluing.


Students worked on a large Invader at the early finisher corner each week to help create large pieces of pixel art to use for the display as well as hide and hang-up around the school.

Pixel Art Space Invader Template_RainbowIMG_0593

I also printed 20 pictures of Invader’s Pixel Art and put them in various places around the school. This created intrigue from other grade levels who spotted them and wondered what they were. Despite only facilitating this unit to Reception 1, the entire school, including teachers and staff, learned about the art of Invader. The hope is that students continue to try and spot Invaders around the world, wherever they go!

Pop Art Patterned Puzzle Portrait Prints

Teaching Art

When I left for maternity leave (3 weeks earlier than expected) one of the units I had loosely proposed was further planned and facilitated by my teaching partner, Augustine Tse and my maternity leave substitute, Kim Campbell. Combining the styling of Andy Warhol’s Pop Art Prints, printmaking vocabulary and processes, portraiture and pattern building, these Pop Art Patterned Puzzle Portrait Prints produced by our second graders are positively…phenomenal.


After discussing the life and art of Andy Warhol, students began by taking selfies using the iPad. Their photos were then printed out, in black and white, on A4 cartridge paper. With their picture on top of thicker weight paper, students traced over prominent lines of their face. The pencil marks push enough through and into the paper beneath to act as a guide for them to then trace over in black marker. Students then added other hatching lines to add value and details in their face, clothing, and hair. This traced portrait from a picture acted as their template to transfer to a foam printing plate.


Once engraved into the printing plate students cut around their head and torso then glued their portrait print plate to a cardstock weight paper backing to help make printing easier for them to align their edges (an ingenious move by Kim and Augustine).


Students used four different ink colors on four different pieces of colorful paper to pull their prints. The prints were them clipped together with a binder clip and students followed guiding instruction to cut around the outline of their head and torso, cutting the background pieces into two parts, then cutting out their hair, dividing their torso as well as their face. Students were left with puzzle pieces of their portraits which were then put back together varying the colors in the four different portraits glued to an A2 dark colored base paper.

Lastly, students drew from prior knowledge to add pattern using only line and two colors to the background and highlighted areas of their face and torso. The final product truly pops and students were pretty proud of their pasted portraits.

This unit is an example of three art educators working together on various parts and pieces of the lesson plan to provide a uniquely punchy piece of…GOLD, PURE GOLD!

Indian Woodblock Printing

Teaching Art

My former art teaching partner, the fabulous and ever talented Claire Kirk, dreamt up this richly layered unit ladened and linked with many different levels of learning.


With our Kindergartners participating in a unit centered around the Hindu Festival, Diwali, in their Kinder classroom, The Indian Woodblock Printing Unit was designed for students to then further explore how art is influenced by and connected to culture. Students are introduced to the intricate and symmetrical designs synonymous with Indian textiles and learn about how to create artifacts that celebrate the traditional arts and crafts of India, specifically woodblock printing.


The unit begins with inquiry about how patterns are transferred to cloth and fabric. Students are then introduced to the idea of woodblock printing with a focus on the designs and techniques found in India. Students learn about symmetry and how to create a symmetrical design. The first lesson is devoted to practicing and creating symmetrical designs in pairs using paper shapes.

In the following lesson, students begin by planning designs in their sketchbook based on the adhesive foam shapes provided for them. Once they have created a successful symmetrical design, students transfer the adhesive foam shapes to the surface of a woodblock. The shapes are cut from larger shapes to ensure a variety of sizes are provided to make a developed design.

Ink trays are prepped by soaking felt squares in salt water before ringing them out and putting them on a plastic try. The salt helps delay the felt pads from drying out so the pads can be covered and used over and over again. Water-soluble printing ink is painting on the felt ink pads and are reinked twice within a lesson by students or the teacher.

Students practice printing on paper before they print on fabric. A great emphasis is placed on ‘hovering’ over the spot they want to print on to ensure they are being mindful about each print’s placement. Once the fabric dries, it can be used for a variety of things. From gluing it to a bag or sewing two printed pieces together, the results are luscious and lend themselves to lots of variations for creations.


This unit is one of my favorite for its integration of culture, math, the design cycle, and printmaking. It gives a great foundation to show young learners that art is more than painting and drawing but a part of many different aspects of life and learning.

Papier-mâché Pumpkins

Teaching Art

If you know me, follow me or ever met me, you are aware and often obnoxiously reminded of my love for Yayoi Kusama. As an art teacher, I have always wanted to create a student art exhibition of all Yayoi Kusama inspired artwork. So when I learned that my school hosts an annual Pumpkin Festival for our school and the local community, I began plotting.


All of our Grade 2 students, which includes 200 kids, all constructed their own papier-mâché pumpkin sculpture inspired by the artwork of Yayoi Kusama. The enduring understanding for the unit was, ‘Artists make art to express their thoughts and feelings.’ Yayoi, using art as her medicine, uses repetitive mark making to cope with her mental illnesses. Incorporating vocabulary such as Shape, Form, Organic, Geometric, Pattern and Infinity Nets, Grade 2 students not only learned perseverance through the pumpkin making process but also practiced talking about their art and their artmaking – an opportunity which I think is often missed in primary art education programs. Below is an outline of the step-by-step process toward creating the pumpkins sculptures but I must warn you, if you plan to participate in this pumpkin project be prepared to experience potential highs and lows throughout the process.


Preparing the Pumpkin Form

To create the pumpkin form, balloons were blown up for each student. If you can, procure an air compressor to speed up this long-winded part of the project. Make sure to really tie the balloons extra tight to ensure that they do not deflate too soon. Also, different balloons have different elasticity backed on their size and age. Balloons, not blown-up all the way, allow for the rubber bands to push into them more so the indentations are more prominent. With that said, the rubber bands move more easily which can create a problem in the early stages. Balloons that are more taunt and feel tighter, the rubber bands will stay on easier but the indentations are not pronounced.

Pumpkin Forms

We had students put their own rubber bands on in partner pairs – one stretched the rubber band while the other person held the balloon and helped wrap the rubber band around the bottom. This is challenging for kids but they CAN do it. Just be prepared for a few popped balloons and some rubber band flingage.


I have always used flour and water for my papier-mâché mixture but due to Hong Kong’s humidity, I thought I should use watered down latex glue instead. BIG MISTAKE! After the first layer, with 200 kids mind you, the balloons stuck to the latex glue and as the balloon shrunk so did the entire pumpkin forms looking like real pumpkins come Thanksgiving – a shriveled, shrunken patch of pumpkins! DISASTROUS! RIP the first batch of the papier-mâché pumpkin patch.


After some screaming and repetitive head-banging against a wall, I returned to my old stand-by – GLUTEN! Students started over and they successfully applied three layers of flour and water based papier-mâché to create a strong pumpkin form. Due to my allotted class time (40 minutes per lesson), students worked together on one pumpkin with a partner and then the next lesson switched. The third lesson they papier-mâché their own. This made sure that the forms were strong enough if the balloon began to delate.

IMG_5906Papier-Mache Pumpkins_7


For the stem, students used newspaper and masking tape. By scrunching the newspaper, folding it in half leaving the two ends out before wrapping the shaft with tape, students taped the stem down and then applied a layer of papier-mâché.

Grade 2_Pumin Sculptures

Pumpkin Painting

To help cover the newspaper print, students applied a layer of gesso to their entire pumpkin, allowed it to dry and then painted it one solid color. We mixed our own paint colors for students to ensure the colors were rich and varied.

Papier-Mache_1Painting Pumpkins_2

Lastly, students drew guidelines on their pumpkins and then used the line to guide the painting of their polka dots.

Drawing Guildlines_1IMG_6339

Students also had the choice to paint their stem, polkify it or leave it one color. Painting uniform dots is not easy and students needed a lot of guidance and reminding about how to be successful. Last but not least, the pumpkins were coated with a thin layer of varnish to help protect them from the humidity.

Painting Polka Dots_6

Storage & Management

Each class painted their class one color which helped for the organization of the pumpkins. Also, be prepared not to see your floor for several weeks as the pumpkins take up a lot of space! We found it helpful to use masking tape name tags which were used to place next to the drying pumpkins, stuck on once dry if needing to be moved and later writing names and class codes on the bottom. Large moving bags worked great for later storage, moving and returning the pumpkins to the classes. We see students once every 3 days for a 40-minute lesson, note that this project spanned 1 and half months (about 10 lessons = 6 to 7 hours) but can go faster with a smaller group. 

Colorful Pumpkins_2

Polka Time

The real power of the pumpkins is having them displayed collectively. Like Kusama’s artwork, the repeated forms and patterns presented together provides a punchy and dynamic display. Although visually appealing and producing Instagram worthy pics, this project is challenging nor can be done quickly. Heed my warning, it is messy, it is smelly, it is long and sometimes scary but like we teach our students, if you persevere, great things will happen! Like Yayoi, greatness came from such perseverance and we now have the artwork to prove it!



P.S. The reading of this blog post can double as a drinking game. Every time you read ‘Pumpkin’ you drink or every time you read a clever alliteration, you drink! After the positively preposterous pumpkins making process, you’re gonna need a drink…DRINK!




White Rabbit Color Mixing with Pre-K

Teaching Art

Color Theory is an obvious choice when introducing your youngest learn to art experiences in the art room. It provides a foundation of color mixing knowledge as well as introduces students to key vocabulary. For my Pre-Kindergarten students, I adapted and redesigned a unit that I facilitated with partner last year. Using Alan Baker’s White Rabbit Color Book as a color mixing catalyst, students follow White Rabbit as she mixes different colors of paint into her fur discovering the magic of primary colors!

Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 8.11.19 AM.png

This series of units is similar to the ones you have seen with Mouse Paint but includes a fun final color mixing task that learners will not soon forget!

The video and lesson outline below gives a brief look into the steps within each of the three lessons within the White Rabbit Color Mixing Magic Unit.

Lesson 1: 

  • Introduce White Rabbit and read White Rabbit’s Color Book
  • Introduce the Primary Colors
  • Use inks in water jugs to show color mixing in action
  • Use primary colored inks on coffee filters or transparent circle rounds to experiment with color mixing

Lesson 2:

  • Review the Primary Colors and facilitate call and response practice with color mixing of orange, green and purple i.e. red and yellow make…?
  • Demonstrate color mixing on the color mixing paper palette
  • Students mix paint to make orange, green, and purple
  • Students mix all three Primary Colors to make brown


Lesson 3:

  • Review the Primary Colors and facilitate call and response practice when mixing to make orange, green and purple
  • Present the color mixing magic using the inks in the water jugs again to review
  • Draw White Rabbit on student’s Brown painted paper using white paint markers or white oil pastels
  • Read White Rabbit’s Color Book and say goodbye to White Rabbit

There are so many ways to introduce the Primary Colors and color mixing theory to young learners. This unit ties in a fun book to reference, color mixing exploration, painting practice, and drawing practice. Also, in a way, the lessons are linked together like a story which is helpful to learners this young. I must warn you though, your little learners may magically turn into brown rabbits when painting but it is part of the fun right!?

Collaborative Art: Together As One

Teaching Art

This year I began the school year with a whole-school collaborative artwork and it was so successful I plan to do it every year! Yes, bold statement, but from having all the same theme, objectives, materials and focus for all grade levels, it helps set a tone for the whole school year as well as makes the first week of school less stressful and overwhelming than it already is AND it provides a large display before you have student art ready for show.

With our whole school year theme this year being ‘Together as One’ I decided to use an idea that the Art on Ed had featured on their website (SHOUT OUT!). Based on the artwork by Vasily Kandinsky, each student creates a concentric circle painting that will become part of a larger piece. Like the circles in Kandinsky’s painting, each circle is like all of us; different, shapes, colors and sizes but all of us together make one school, one community showcasing our unique differences.

Kindergarten through Grade 2 used watercolour paints and Pre-K used tempra cakes of only the primary colors.


Pre-K Primary color circles

For the final display, Kindergarten through Grade 2 was displayed together and Pre-K was separate. Both works are mesmerizing and each has a different mood, feel and strength.  The kids were very excited to see them displayed in the school and they could no doubt stare for hours trying to find ‘their dot’. This collaborative artwork is also a great segway into Dot Day which is typically in mid-September or can be hung to help celebrate the day.


All in all, collaborative artworks to kick off the year are the way to go! Not only for the ‘wow factor’ but to help you from going a bit dotty at the start of the year and oh, boy, it is going be dotty for me, we, together as one come December!


Beetle Invasion!

Teaching Art

My partner, Claire Kirk, created the Beetle Sculpture unit as a way to integrate 2nd Grade’s learning from the classroom to the art room. Studying habits in class, 2nd Graders started by drawing from observation beetles found in Hong Kong. With an emphasis on symmetry, students drew half the beetle and created the other half by painting over their pencil lines, folding the paper, and creating an ink blot to present the other side and complete the beetle.


After an understanding of symmetry and proportion, students began building the structure of their beetles using newspaper, newsprint, and masking tape. Students demonstrated their understanding of proportion and symmetry by trying to  construct their beetle’s head, thorax and abdomen accurately to their reference picture. Wire was then used to create the legs and antennas of the beetles and then were attached to the underside of the thorax and abdomen.

Students then began to papier-mâché their beetles by using white tissue paper strips and watered down latex glue. The glue helped give their beetle a hard shell and smooth surface to paint on. Furthermore, the latex glue works better than a flour and water mixture for the mâché due to the humidity and potential mold issue we have here in Hong Kong.


Beetles swarming the art room! SAVE YOURSELVES!

After allowing the beetles to dry thoroughly, students painted a base coat. Students first painted the body and then used their hands to massage paint on the legs and used their fingers to get paint into the nooks and crannies of their beetle.

Storage and organization was a massive part of behind the scenes preparation for each lesson. From finding enough places to allow the beetles to dry to storing them in-between classes, it was a gigantic task. I utilized the art room balcony for drying and storing the beetles in larges baskets in between lessons.

Lastly, students then added details, designs, patterns and highlights to their beetle with a second layer of paint. Because each beetle was different, students had to use their problem solving skills to make decisions about their paint color choices, which areas to paint first and what details to paint last. Although we could have spent one more lesson painting and refining, what the 2nd Graders achieved in this unit is impressive!


The swarm left the art room before the end of the school year and now I am left with the task of putting the art room back together after Beetle Mania! HELP!


Teaching Art

Every Chinese New Year there is always an urge and an expectation to create something ‘Chinese’ to help celebrate the culture and holiday in which we live. And every year, we see the same projects being cranked out on Instagram and Pinterest. You all know them, the straw blown black branches with Q-tip pink cherry blossoms or the various versions of the construction paper lanterns. This year, my partner and I sought something different, a unit that would yield deeper learning of process while tying in a local Hong Kong artist. Our efforts paid off as we embarked on an ambitious project to begin the Year of the Dog!

IMG_1735 Wanting to glean inspiration from the city in which we live, our unit began with looking at the artwork of Francesco Letti. An Italian artist, Francesco lives and works in Hong Kong and is well known for his Hong Kong-themed collages and paintings. Although best known for his Hong Kong skyline collages, we focused on his lesser-known watercolor and pastel paintings of dim sum tables. After drawing their own teapots, bowls and dim sum baskets from observation, students looked at Franceso’s artwork. With Franceso’s artwork being more playful and exaggerated, students discussed the difference between drawing from your imagination and drawing from observations.

Dim Sum G1.jpg

Students then painted over their pencils drawings with white acrylic paint before using dark blue paint markers to add designs and decorations.

After painting the canvas blue or yellow, students used templates to mark where the table would be in their background and then painted the table top using a watered down maroon acrylic paint.


After a discussion about composition, students arranged their items on their canvas followed by gluing each item down with latex glue.

Students worked really hard to create these impressive works of art that showcased a variety of skills and technique – we put it all on the table!

As a self-assessment and a time to reflect on their learning, students participated in a Critique which all artworks were complete. In pairs, the students had to view their classmate’s artwork and place a Critique Card next to the artwork that they thought had the strongest composition, another card for careful painting and gluing, one for excellent observational drawing and a card for someone whom they thought tried their very best.

This unit was mutually rewarding as it taught many different processes, included inspiration from a local artist and life in Hong Kong and produced individually unique works of art by early learners.

These artworks unleashed the artistic abilities of our 1st graders and proved to them and others, that the Year of the Dog was going to hear them howl!

Critique Cards

Teaching Art

I have always been a fan of Critique Cards to help with reflection, discussion, and self-assessment. However, the cards that I have used or have seen online (ahem…Pinterest) seem a bit trite or trivial. So, I have created a set of Critique Cards that have a bit more critical thinking skills than deciding, ‘ Which artwork I would put it in a museum’ or ‘Which artwork I would buy’ (ahem…trivial).

Below are the pdf files for printing sheets of 8 cards in a set. The definition of the cards are labeled left to right corresponding to the names of the files.  The meaning of the cards can be changed based on the need or the objective.

Critique Cards_Strong Composition

Critique Cards_Excellent Observational Drawing

Critique Cards_Craftsmanship

Critique Cards_Most Improved

After laying out all of the student’s artwork, I gave one set of Critique Cards to each pair of students. Working together encouraged discussion and promoted students to provide reasoning in why they were giving the cards to individual artworks.


I was surprised by the conversations my 1st Graders had thanks to this simple concept. It also enabled me to assess students based on their discussions and the language they used when deciding on which artwork would receive a Critique Card (ahem…winning).