During the staff retreat at the beginning of the school year, a theme was set for Bagdad Elementary School: “Lead, Inspire, Grow.” Leigh Dufeau, the school art teacher, said she was particularly inspired by the theme, and that inspiration led her to try a different approach to teaching art.

“I always think that students learn better when the ideas come from them,” Dufeau said. “It’s a transition from more step-by-step projects to a more open concept where students are creating their own ideas. To me, that really helps in every area.”

This year, Dufeau has made an effort to align the students’ art projects with what they are learning in other school subjects and even schoolwide initiatives, like the school reading goals.

“I give them themes, and I show them artwork from artists who have used that theme in the past, and we talk about how the artist has ideas and how they create ideas and how ideas are the most important part of that process of creating,” Dufeau said.

For example, her fourth-grade students are currently learning about storytelling and how ideas can come from unexpected places.

“We talk about where you find stories,” Dufeau said. “It can be in songs or your favorite book. It’s not just about illustration, but also about finding inspiration. It doesn’t have to be about a whole story, but about one piece that inspired them.”

While this year’s theme has helped her grow as a teacher, Dufeau said, she has really seen a passion in her students as well.

“They’re really excited about coming to art and working on their projects,” she said. “I think our kids are so creative, and they do great things.”