"Lean on creating peace within our own minds first"


Dear Future Educators,

I would like to answer some questions in this letter.

What was the “big idea” of your project?

The big idea of my project was to explore how art-making can help us shift our attention from our emotions to our body through repetitive processes. How the process itself can be art.

How did the process impact your teaching practice?

At first, I was very ambitious and wanted to do a project about gun violence, building safe spaces in school and saving the community, but during the course of interacting with my students, I felt that what they needed first was tools for emotional control rather than “saving” their community.

What have your students taught you?

My students taught me not to skip steps and impose my thoughts on them. They also taught me that I should listen to them before I start planning the details and that plans will change.

What did you notice about the ways your students contributed to leading aspects of the project?

Students were happy to interact with tactile materials even though they made a mess of the classroom. They did not have much confidence about the changes that might happen in their neighborhood and they also felt unsafe to play in the playground if they shared it with people in the neighborhood.

What was one hallelujah / particularly noteworthy moment in your project?

A noteworthy moment was when students started taking materials as if they were shopping for the end of the world, because you can see they have passion for something.

What was one obstacle you encountered? How did you address this?

I only had three weeks with students per rotation and I only had two rotations max with one grade level. So I had to step back and see where students led me instead of rushing to finish something.

How did your students’ understanding of the issue they explored change over time?

At first, the question was: how can we create a safe space at school? Where in school do you want change to happen? Over time, I started to lean on creating peace within our own minds first, so the question became: how does the process of art-making make you feel?

Where do you go from here?

I will proceed with my project in a way that is more focused on the process and meditative quality of art making. I will be teaching them some weaving and painting skills and introducing them to Yayoi Kusama's art. Then, students can choose what they feel would help them relax, talk about what they feel in each step of the art making, and understand that as the art instead of the final product. I'm not sure if all students will feel art making can make them feel good or relaxed, but I want to do something that is related to shifting their attention from anger or emotions to their body.


How will you create a space in the school that will help you feel safe and relaxed? Students explore a sensory room.
What materials make you feel relaxed? Punching bag, to release anger.
Yarn toys; needs to turn into a playground.
Materials for relaxation: hugging toy.
Touch: pom pom.
Process: wrapping yarn ball.
Students took pictures of areas around the school that they feel need changes. After visiting the MCA, we created proposals for changes to the school playground.
Students commenting on Kampen Playground products.

Jia Zhao

Dewey School of Excellence

Jia Zhao studied finance at Beijing International Studies University and worked at a bank in China for 5 years. She also volunteered at an NGO organizing art university students to make art with migrant-worker children in Beijing. She then studied BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) as a prior degree student and earned her Master of Arts in Teaching at SAIC in 2017. She has been teaching K-8 art at Dewey School of Excellence for 2 years. It is a Chicago Public School based on the South side of Chicago near Back of the Yards neighborhood. She encourages students to take initiatives of their choice and focus on community issues through art.

She was born in Beijing and her family moved from China to Japan, U.S., Canada, and back to China again. She has been interested in how people have formed the knowledge of their surrounding environment by using their body and senses to explore. So, her work involves body and interaction, and are concerned with the process of art making and the experience.

The concrete parking lot needs to be turned into a playground.
The basketball court needs to be kept.
The kindergarten playground should have swings, monkey bars, climbing facilities, and a merry-go-round.
A future playground needs benches and shade for social space.