Exemplary OCT

Jane Dewar, OCT

Getting students hooked into giving a stitch

by Leanne Miller, OCT

"Look what I got last night," calls out gangly 15-year-old Tyler as he walks into Room 126.

Tyler is wearing jeans, a hoodie, two large presumably fake diamond studs and an earbud in one ear. He excitedly pulls two balls of bright multicoloured yarn out of his backpack to show his teacher and says, "I wanna make mittens."

"That's awesome, Ty," replies Jane Dewar, OCT. "I'll find you a pattern on the Net tonight, and you can start crocheting tomorrow."

Dewar is Tyler's Grade 10 art teacher. The self-described school mom also teaches leadership and is one of the five 2009-10 Premier's Awards for Teaching Excellence's Teachers of the Year. Her award citation praises her ability to make the curriculum come alive to create authentic, rich and engaging experiences for her students.

Dewar completed her 17th year of teaching in the spring and has spent the past 10 years at Nantyr Shores SS in Innisfil, south of Barrie, in the Simcoe County DSB. Dewar was part of the team that opened the composite high school of 1,400 students in 2001. She began her career in the Toronto DSB teaching core and visual arts to Grade 7 and 8 students.

"I laugh every day in this job; there's nothing else like it," Dewar says. She came to the profession later in life - she originally worked as a headhunter. "The thing about teaching," Dewar continues, "is that only you know how good a job you are doing."

Every day, she says, she thinks of something she could have done better and that's what keeps her coming back.


Jane Dewar connects with her students and helps them develop a solid foundation for artistic design and expression.

"I could have connected with that kid. I could have explained that concept better. I could have given another example to clarify that point." During the first semester Dewar's day began with 24 at-risk boys like Tyler in Urban Arts for Social Change (AWU20), an alternative art and design course she developed two years ago.

"As a school we were seeing too many boys missing credits, showing poor attendance and starting to disconnect," she explains. "We needed to do something to catch them and start building success in their lives."

The course description says that students will explore urban street design and art forms in relation to social justice issues. It emphasizes the elements and principles of design, observational drawing using various techniques and media, and critical creative thinking. It takes a hands-on approach to the creative process through which students learn, ultimately, how to use art as a vehicle to express themselves and examine the world. It's that last sentence that drives the course, Dewar says.

They need to see that adults care about them, that they matter and that school can be relevant and useful to them

"I wanted a visual arts course that would give these boys - young men really - a voice in our school by first giving them a better understanding of themselves. They need to see that adults care about them, that they matter and that school can be relevant and useful to them."

Through topics such as Street Art: Graffiti; SK8 Board of Education; Word Up: Stencils; Stickers; Say Something; T-shirts; and Guerilla Art: Yarnbombing, the boys soon have a better understanding of themselves, their role in the classroom, the school and their Innisfil community.

Dewar knows the Grade 10 visual arts curriculum inside out. She has helped rewrite the Ministry curriculum documents and course profiles. She also has a strong sense of what it takes to connect with and motivate disengaged young men.

"I would never lower the bar," she says. "The class isn't about making it easy for them. It's about keeping the bar high but changing it to what interests them and then helping each one of them get over that bar."

She explains the important distinctions between what she calls students "doing" and "learning." What they do is research and draw graffiti, design and build skateboards, and spread positive messages throughout the school with guerilla art. What they learn is how to expand the quality of their creative process through the expressive use of design, colour and pattern elements while working co-operatively within their brainstorming and problem-solving groups. The medium is art but the results are sophisticated learning goals and life skills.

For the past four years, John Phillips, OCT, has led the Ministry's work of revising and updating the arts curriculum. He counts Dewar as a significant contributor to the visual arts component. She was featured in a series of Ministry-funded webcasts that illustrate exemplary teaching within the arts.

"While the artwork the boys produce is quite good," comments Phillips, "it's their engagement and motivation that really stand out. Jane connects with them on their level, in their world, and she encourages them to succeed and shine."

Don't think of the course as an opportunity for crafts or busy work, Phillips cautions. These students develop a solid foundation for artistic design and expression. Dewar models strong character-education traits in her classroom, including mutual respect and support, as well as collaborative and independent work.

"There are clear learning goals being met in her art class. It's about much more than getting boys to crochet."

And the goal, explains principal Heather Hamilton, OCT, is to have the success the boys experience during first period spread to their other classes.

They choose topics and activities that interest and motivate them and quickly experience success. Soon they come in at lunch to work on projects, and a few even arrive early in the morning. These are boys who couldn't get up and get to school on time last year. Angela Taylor, OCT, has taught art next door to Dewar since 2001. She admires her colleague's ability to see a different side of students, especially those who are struggling.

"She knows what all students - not just those at risk - need to function and do well in school. She makes them feel comfortable, confident and ultimately successful. She builds one thing atop another.

"She's as inspirational with her colleagues as she is with her students. She encourages us to try new things. She's the same no matter what she does: teaching art, math, leadership or coaching the curling team. She's a do-er, our Dewar."

Dewar's citation also mentions her work as president of the Ontario Society for Education through Art (OSEA). It was through OSEA that she worked on the Ministry's arts curriculum writing team as well as on the Literacy GAINS writing team to develop differentiated activities for Grades 7 to 10.

"It's important to network, share and advocate for visual arts teachers across the province," says Dewar. "And if I can help come up with an innovative curriculum that embeds literacy into our programs and brings more success to students, then it's worth the work."

Learning through leading

Dewar also teaches the school's senior leadership class - although the kids do all the leading, she says, and she just facilitates their efforts. Students learn about themselves and learn to share their gifts with others. They organize major school events, ensuring positive school culture and student community.

Wednesday Night Lights (WNL) is a good example. Five Simcoe DSB schools host one nighttime football game per season. Dewar sees it as a chance to get busy parents, local elementary students and their parents, neighbours and other community members into the school to connect with the kids. She says the event showcases how wonderful teenagers are.

The leadership students organized themselves into groups during the first week of school and ran a successful WNL in October with food, contests, security, entertainment and concessions. They connected with several local businesses to sponsor the necessary supplies, charged a $2 entrance fee and raised over $5,000 for charity.

"It was a vehicle for these kids to bring school and community together and do some real good for others," says Dewar. She jokes that the leadership students were so focused they forgot there was a football game being played.

The class donated $1,000 to the nearby Canadian Forces Base Borden's Operation Hero campaign to fund a postsecondary scholarship for members of Canadian military families. They also donated $500 to a postsecondary scholarship they created for a Nantyr Shores student. They even raised enough money for the whole school to enjoy a special week of activities to help beat the November blahs. Additional proceeds were given to the football program.

Today, the leadership class is gearing up for Spin 4 Kids, a Friday night event where students get sponsors and ride stationary bikes all night. There are games, prizes, music, song and dance, plus an art auction.

Their goal is to raise $20,000 to support co-curricular programs at the school and the construction of the Royal Victoria Hospital's new Simcoe-Muskoka Regional Cancer Centre. They also donated 10 per cent of the WNL money to these causes.

"Being in Dewar's class is like being in summer camp," says Daniel. "Sure it's school, and we work every day, but it's real-life work: ethics, decision making, organizing, planning, communicating, fundraising, teamwork and getting the job done. She's the most wonderful woman in the world." Matt was in Dewar's AWU20 class last year; he's now shining in her leadership class.

"Last year in art, she showed me who I am and what I needed to change to be successful in school. I see school differently now, and I see that doing my work benefits me. It's for me, not anyone else."

Dewar sees Ryan as she patrols the hallway on her lunch duty. He explains what he learned about guerilla art last year. "Think about it this way: You build a sandcastle on the beach and it's beautiful and it takes a lot of time. It's real art, and you're proud of it. Then you go home and some other kid comes along and plays with it. And then a wave comes in and it's gone. But don't think of it as destroyed. It makes an opportunity for someone else to come to the beach the next day and make art. Dewar taught me that."

Teacher Appreciation

When the boys learn that Jane Dewar won a Premier's Award for Teaching Excellence, they aren't surprised. They applaud and then start asking questions.

Urban Arts for Social Change handout

The arts resources

Learning through the arts

Curriculum Services Canada received $1 million from the Ministry of Education to develop webcasts that illustrate exemplary teaching in all English and French subject areas. There are also teacher-developed resources aligned to the curriculum, which include the recently revised guidelines for the arts.

For more information visit www.curriculum.org/index2.shtml (English) and www.curriculum.org/index2f.shtml (French).


The Ministry also gave three arts associations $1 million to develop curriculum-support materials, including black-line masters. Check out these resources at:

Differentiated instruction teaching learning examples (Grades 7-10)

This repository of professional learning supports from the Ministry's EduGAINS team includes multi-session workshops, video presentations, print files, video clips and interactive web-based instructional trajectories. The resource units reflect literacy and assessment strategies for various subject areas, including visual arts. For more information visit edugains.ca/newsite/di/dilearningexamples.htm.

The Premier's Awards

The Premier's Awards are open to anyone who is employed by a publicly funded school or board/authority in Ontario. You can nominate teachers, support staff, principals and vice-principals, supervisory officers, directors of education and many others.

There are six different award categories, recognizing a range of people and skills:

For more information, visit www.edu.gov.on.ca/teachingawards/FAQs.html.