Building Trust & Confidence


Quick Links:

Portfolio Page: Eric Rodrigues' Portfolio Page

Mini Course Homepage: Understanding & Increasing Visual Art Engagement

Module 1: What is art education and why is it important?

Module 2: Current page

Module 3: Incorporating Art Across the Curriculum

Looking and Seeing:

To begin this unit, please grab a piece of paper, a timer, and writing utensils. We will be creating a few drawings so please set aside 10+ minutes for this activity. You may use pen/pencil or go beyond if you choose and use markers, crayons, or anything you have on hand. (Color is not necessary.) Drawing skills of any level can complete this activity as the purpose of this activity is not to create beautiful outcomes, but to become intimate with our drawings.

For some, this may be an enjoyable activity and for others this may be stressful and overwhelming. The only way this activity will work is that you are completely honest and do not cheat. If you cheat by tracing or taking additional time, I would not know, but it may impact the way you understand the point of this activity.

Next step is to grab your shoe - yes your shoe. Place your shoe in front of you and set the timer to 30 seconds. Please draw your shoe in 30 seconds.

After the drawing:

  • Do you think that you captured your shoe accurately? Why or why not?

Without dwelling too much, please reset your timer to 1 minute and draw your shoe again.

  • What about now - Did you accurately capture your shoe?
  • Were you still drawing by the end of the minute?

This will be your final shoe drawing. Get a new piece of paper and set your timer to 10 minutes. My only advice for this is to draw what you see, not what you think your shoe should look like. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Were you still drawing by the end of the 10 minutes?
  • Were you unsure of what to draw after some time?
  • Did you cheat and end the timer sooner?
  • Did you draw what you observed or what your brain believes your shoe should look like?

After you create your drawings, please reading the following article: (copy and paste the url if the link does not work)

Once you have completed your drawing and read the article, “The Student, the Fish and Agassiz”, reflect on what you have experienced, and what it means to really see something. Please attach a picture of your 10 minute shoe drawing to the google slideshow. This is to hold you accountable for your work and allow for participants to build ideas off of one another. Click the link below to access the shared google slideshow. (copy and paste the url if the link does not work)

(Author’s note: This activity has been adapted from an activity created by Dr. Stephanie Conklin. Dr. Conklin is a professor here at Albany and has been notified of the use of the adapted materials for this course. She has approved of the adapted materials. Her email is if you would like to contact her. )

I am hesitant to put my thoughts of what I believe the shoe activity will lead to as if you read my response first, it may close off your thinking. You will most likely have different connections from me because we each have different experiences. Instead, I am going to put my own synopsis of the reading and the shoe activity at the end of this unit. I ask that you please do not read my response until the end of this activity.

Comfort, Trust & Art Making:

When starting this unit and reading the instructions for the shoe drawing, did you internally groan that I wanted you to post your results? Were you excited to create? While this is a completely asynchronous mini-course, I asked a few friends to complete the activity to understand some of the reactions participants may have. My friends are both birth - grade 6 certified working teachers. They personally hated the art project that I created above because they felt as if they were not good enough at art. While the point of the activity was not to create a beautiful piece of art, it is hard not to think in terms of beauty and what is impressive to others.

This happens in the art room quite often. Students compare their art to the person next to them and can become afraid of creating. Currently I have a 5th grade student that double checks with me at least 10+ times a class if she is doing the project “right”.

What do we do when the students are doubting their abilities so much that no learning is able to take place? What happens when the students are not confident in their ability?

“Trust and fear are inversely related; fear activates the amygdala and the release of cortisol. Cortisol stops all learning for about 20 minutes and stays in the body for up to 3 hours. Remember, when the brain feels there’s a potential threat based on past experience with a particular person or because of one’s own implicit bias or marginalized status in the larger sociopolitical context, the amygdala goes into action and “hijacks” the brain’s other systems, throwing the body into defensive fight, flight, or freeze mode. Trust deactivates the amygdala and blocks the release of cortisol.” (Hammond, 2015, p.134)

When students have fear, cortisol in the brain can block learning for extended amounts of time. As teachers, we have a duty to create a comforting environment for all. We have to build trust with our students and one way I do that is to teach the students about the growth mindset.

Oftentimes, I remind the students that their artwork does not have to look a certain way as we are all learning. The students forget that I went through art school and that this is probably my 20th+ time creating a sample throughout my years. Just like whatever subject area you teach, you are going over the same material each year. It would be reasonable to assume that you can recall information you are teaching and revisiting each year more easily than a student being introduced to the information for their first time. Remind the students of your experience and teach them the power of yet.

The Power of Yet:

The power of yet is a topic covered by Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset theory. She has an excellent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success that I would recommend to become both a better teacher and better learner yourself. Because this is only a mini-course and growth mindset encompasses such a large amount of material, this section could be considered an introductory to growth mindset or the tip of the iceberg.

Please watch the following video of Carol Dweck’s Ted Talk.

Fixed and growth mindsets can vary based on the activity. You may have a fixed mindset in terms of relationships with a family member or perhaps a hobby, while having a growth mindset for other aspects of your life.

Think about your hobbies, goals, professional life, and personal life. Do you have a fixed or growth mindset in these instances?

As we take an active role in our learning, our brains actually change. When we take on a focused and active role with opportunities for practice, myelin will start to cover neurons more completely. According to Hammond (2015, p. 269), "Myelin acts like a conductor in an electrical system, ensuring that messages sent along the neuron are not lost as they travel to the next neuron. Myelin enhances the function of neurons and dendrites." The more myelin we have covering the nerve, the faster and easier it will be to access information from our working memory.

In addition to myelin assisting in growing new stronger connections (Hammond, 2015), Dweck also takes note during her Ted talk (Stanford Alumni, 2014) that different parts of the brain are utilized when taking on growth or fixed mindsets. See the image to the right of the difference between two people who are attempting to process errors. The fixed mindset has less activity than an individual embracing a growth mindset.

Additionally, in Dweck's Ted Talk (Stanford Alumni, 2014, 8:00) we learned about a student who felt that they did not have to “be dumb forever". By teaching a growth mindset, we are opening up opportunities for our students to grow and better themselves. Being aware of the mindsets allow for us to challenge our own thinking. This does not only apply to art, but any subject area, hobby or even relationships with others.

A suggestion to improve engagement in and out of the art room is to praise wisely. I have seen it time and time again where teachers will exclaim their excitement for students who are naturally talented. In art, a lot of people look at aesthetics and "product over process". I implore you to consider teaching process over product and to praise accordingly. Do not give praise to your favorite looking art project, instead praise specific areas that they were successful in.

This can look something like: “Nice job with your drawing, I love how you used a ruler to create straight lines and used warm colors to fill in your background.”

As opposed to: “Wow, you are so good at art. That looks so good!”

Praise specifics. Praise perseverance, not talent or intelligence. If you are constantly rewarding the answer/ product over the process, when that student hits an obstacle, they will most likely feel hopeless. If you only care about the product/answer and that student did not get the exact result desired, they may learn to feel like a failure. This comes out of a complex of praise, whereas challenges threaten fixed mindset students because if they fail, it discredits all their previous work or so they may believe (Dweck, 2006). If everything else came easy and natural for them thus far, why would they want to face a challenge that they may "fail" at?

Think about it:

Imagine an overgrown path. It is filled with weeds and thorns with plants higher than your head. If you are to pass through this path, your clothes will be ripped. You will get scratched and have to maneuver your body in awkward positions.

When you create something for the first time, you have to get scratched up. The next time you revisit the same obstacle, you now have small garden clippers. You can access the information faster and get through that path with your small clippers slightly easier. Each time you access the path and try to pass, you are now equipped with better tools to protect yourself and the footpath starts to develop into a high traffic area.

As you access the information more and more, the path will clear exponentially, until it is metaphorically paved. This is a way you could teach the growth mindset to younger students. Being aware of the growth mindset can help you change your mindset, so why not start this lesson at a young age?

Next time you come across a challenging obstacle, think of your thorn path and how you will grow to use more effective tools as time moves on.

Eric's Response to the Shoe Drawing Activity:

Please do not read before completing the "Looking and Seeing" drawing activity and reflection.

What does it mean to see something? We have unconscious biases and it affects everything we do. The trick is to catch these biases and challenge them. When drawing your shoe, were you looking at your shoe more than your drawing or were your eyes glued to your paper? Were you looking at the small stitches of laces or the scuff of dirt you may have gotten throughout your travels? Did you add shading or a background? Our shoes tell a story of where we have been and my shoes are infamous for having paint on them. Everytime I buy new shoes, I vow not to get paint on them, but when you work with kids, it is bound to happen. I almost feel sad throwing away old shoes that have been beaten up after countless hours of wear. They are a part of me and my experiences in some weird way.

It is easy to just consider drawing the outline of our shoe and nothing more. We can assume how something looks and continue on with what our brains think something should look like. In our classroom, we can get impressions of how students are without actually knowing them. We can judge them based on our past experiences and connect students to what we already know. Do you have a “problem student”? Do you have a student that has so many behaviors that it is so much easier if they are absent? Why is this? Do they have the potential to get out of this box that you may have placed them in?

You are working with this student, but are you seeing them? Are you seeing what is in front of you or are you categorizing them based on similarities to other students or experiences you have had? Every shoe has a story, just like each student and it is important to look at the small details. The rips of leather, the scuff of dirt or small paint splatters on your shoe can be compared to looking at the small details of individuals.

I have a student named “A” for confidentiality purposes. Student A is my problem student in one of my 1st grade art classes because he often screams at the top of his lungs, elopes from the classroom, throws supplies and runs across the classroom when there are demands placed on him. This year, after spending so much time and frustration over getting A to not slam my supplies on the table, I took away my rulers from him. He was thrown into an emotional rage, where he attempted to run out of my classroom. I had to physically block him and turn him around, where he quietly returned to his seat.

Long story short, he sat quietly at his seat for about 30 seconds, before he flipped a bucket full of supplies (glue, rulers, pencils, and scissors) and screamed at the top of his lungs. After dealing with his behaviors for nearly 30 minutes and not having enough time to focus on others in the class, I was so defeated and frustrated. I wordlessly crossed the classroom, grabbed his hand and led him to a corner of my classroom. I looked him in the eyes and said that I wasn’t mad at all, but to please tell me what is wrong.

A, who is rarely quiet, was speechless with a face stone cold. A few seconds passed before his face twisted and tears flowed down his cheeks. I sat with him for a few minutes and talked to him about what he wants and how he can earn rewards he wants. It can be extremely frustrating to deal with students with extreme behaviors, but it’s almost arguably worse to feel unseen. How many adults asked this student about how he was doing? How many considered his voice important? How many adults looked at this student as a unique individual rather than something that had to be dealt with.

Remember your students have their own life and experiences that make them who they are. Be gentle, be kind and be patient when making observations. Teachers often assume their students will voice their thoughts and have an automatic trusting relationship built due to the sole fact that they are their teacher. Relationships take time and are an ongoing process. It takes time to see what is in front of you. It takes time to become intimate with these details, just like our drawing of our shoes.


Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Random House.

Hammond, Zaretta L. . Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Corwin; 1st edition. Kindle Edition.

Scudder. The Student, the Fish, and Agassiz.

Stanford Alumni, YouTube. (2014). Developing a Growth Mindset with Carol Dweck. Retrieved from

Quick Links:

Portfolio Page: Eric Rodrigues' Portfolio Page

Mini Course Homepage: Understanding & Increasing Visual Art Engagement

Module 1: What is art education and why is it important?

Module 2: Current page

Module 3: Incorporating Art Across the Curriculum