Building self-esteem and ensuring success through the creation of adapted art.

by Brett Bigham

All Grades


As a special education teacher, I’ve discovered that you can use art to build self esteem, social skills, and academic performance.

I design art projects that ensure that kids have success and feel as if they have done something extraordinary. It’s critical to be flexible and to adapt projects to the wide range of abilities of students that you find in a special education class.

In my room be we do all sorts of art and my job as a teachers is to make sure that they can do it in a successful way. Any time students gets a taste for success, they become hungry for more.

I see art as a bandaid for the soul because no matter what you create or whatever your passion is for that day, it’s coming from inside the student and there’s no wrong way to do it.



What I did well…

When I made my film for Teaching Partners local teachers were invited to sit in on my presentation.  They were a terrific audience and I felt really connected to them.  Many offered feedback that they were inspired to use some of my ideas in their own classrooms.

This bond allowed me to put a little more of my feelings into my presentation.   I knew that if I could touch the audience’s hearts they would go home with a valuable tool in their teacher’s toolkits.

Art for art’s sake is always reason enough to be creative.  Art as a tool to build a kid up?  There is nothing like it!

What I would do more of or differently…

I really wish I had taken some time to discuss the resources I use to find or create art projects.  I know a lot of teachers who can create a masterpiece out of half of a paper plate and I know other teachers who simply see half a paper plate and wonder where the other half went.  I think sometimes I see my role as mentor to those people who have half-a-plate and no idea what to do with it.

We were limited time-wise but that extra minute or two sharing favorite books, websites and ideas might have made the role of art teacher much easier for the attendees!

I still want to grow this practice by…

My use of art is a layered process that you would see if you volunteered in my room for a year.  Those structured art projects that I use in September (each piece carefully cut out by me so the student’s end product has a very good chance of looking as good as mine) slowly morph into art where the student is in charge of the creation.  By providing sure success in the beginning it builds confidence to not be afraid of creativity later on when I am asking them to make their own individual works.  I suggest to them that the bravery they have developed in art can be used to build up other areas of their lives.

Because I use art as my foundation for building up my students, I see incredible growth and success for my kids across all areas.  What teacher doesn’t need to know that trick of the trade!

About Brett Bigham

Brett Bigham is the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year and received an NEA National Award for Excellence in Education in 2015. He is an NEA Glob...

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