Lynn McClain: Uplift Peak high school art teacher rebranding her department and helping scholars think critically

Lynn McClainLynn McClain has been teaching art at Uplift Peak High School for 10 years but she takes pride in teaching more than brushstrokes, shading and complementary colors.  Ms. McClain and other art teachers in the network, help scholars solve complex problems on the canvas of life.  That is why she would like to re-brand the department to more accurately reflect the growth scholars experience.

“I would like to rename it the Critical and Creative Thinking Department.  I want art to be seen as a way for our scholars to understand and own their creative problem solving skills. There is a lot of analysis and evaluation in the process of a scholar expressing something through their own lens to illicit a response from someone else.  Often the first idea is rejected, the process repeated and altered until it culminates in self-expression and finding a personal voice.  If a scholar can do this in the visual arts realm, the next step is to help him or her translate this to other subjects, to see themselves as a critical and creative thinker in ALL aspects of life,” Ms. McClain said.

Many scholars have been able to make the critical thinking connection through Ms. McClain’s art classes and when they do, it makes everything worthwhile.

“Seeing real engagement- seeing students feel empowered to be open and able to try new things and to express feelings and ideas is my best day in the classroom. Several students have had real turning points wherein they realized they were able to express important feelings or ideas through visual art. One in particular told me she saw herself in a whole new way, as an artist and woman who knew her own path,” Ms. McClain said.

Ms. McClain instituted the universal Artist Trading Cards unit at the end of the year for all her classes. Artist Trading Cards are traded around the world between artists who wish to collect the work of others while distributing work they own.  The project has real world applications and combined with her framing around collecting samples of all the techniques scholars learned in her classes this year, embodies experiential learning or learning by doing. She is also a key contributor to the 9th grade Highway Across Africa cross-curricular project at Uplift Peak. Students work with her to understand the nature of tribal art, components of African culture, and importance of preserving history through innovation.

Ms. McClain’s path to teaching started 12 years ago while she was working as an advertising illustrator for prominent nation-wide companies.   In her spare time she would lead special projects for students and parents at several schools in the Dallas area where she met a persuasive parent.

“The founder of an East Dallas Montessori school saw a creativity workshop I had done for parents and informed me that I should be a teacher. She asked me to join her Montessori school as a teaching assistant and art teacher, and I loved it. When I heard that Peak was opening, I had to convince them that I was a fit for the school. Uplift Peak only wanted to offer theater (for speech and language development) so I had to agree to take on Art, Theater and P.E.,” Ms. McClain said.

Ms. McClain started at Uplift Peak, teaching fourth and fifth graders, and she has seen the school and scholars grow.  And while her early focus was on primary students, today she is inspired by all of them.

“I have seen about five sets of those first kids graduate! I was lucky to start with young children because they are so open and excited to learn, but the older students have really challenged me as a teacher,” she said.

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