Monthly Member Highlight: Joy Danila

The kids call me Miss Joy. I teach PreK-8th grade at a small Title 1 public school in Northern Vermont. On the weekends and in the summers, I run a small face painting business called Vermont Face And Body. 

 Part of my teaching pedagogy is to support my students becoming more independent and confident in making their own choices. Having a smooth flow of procedures and systems in place allow more freedom in their work; if the basics become systematic and engrained in them (such as where to get their supplies and what is expected of them during setup and cleanup), the students’ minds are open for creative expression and freedom to think outside the box. 

 The designer in me is always searching for ways to change things up. I continue seeking ways to be more efficient, ergonomic and organized. I find it helps with stocking/maintaining supplies, as well as providing less chaos so the kids can get into a creative flow without being distracted by clutter. 

 I really do thrive on making changes, whether major or subtle, and one of my previous principals calls me a “culture shifter” … I tend to influence settings, slowly creating change, trying my best to open minds and sprinkle inspiration throughout the schools I am in. I find inspiration when bringing JOY to the spaces I am in, whether through displays, studio space organization, curriculum, or more global influences. 

 The curriculum I provide varies greatly (global concepts, questions of self exploration/identity, foundational techniques, and more) and they are largely based on student- driven ideas and student requests. Whether content comes up in class (maybe I feel shocked they don’t know about a topic that spontaneously arises, and I notice a niche needing fulfilled), or kids specifically express desire for a functional item. As an example, at my current school which is high poverty and low income, I noticed that not all of the kids have the warm clothing they need in our Northern Vermont winters. Supplies are very scarce in my school, and I’ve been fundraising (so far this year, over $4,000 worth of supplies from organizations and private donations, to supplement our slim budget)... yet one of the only supplies we had when I arrived this fall, was a plethora of yarn. This prompted me to begin a fiber arts unit, teaching students 5th grade and up how to knit their own scarves, and the littles are learning knot-tying and how to tie their own shoelaces. This leads int0 a section on art weaving on looms. 

 Another example, of a more conceptual unit, was when at my last school, kids’ conversations greatly included struggling with questions of right and wrong, so we explored graffiti art. We discussed how it is illegal - yet crosses boundaries into murals, where artists can be paid to make street art, thus becoming legal/commissioned artwork. We examined the history of street art and how it slowly transitioned into museums through the 60s, 70s and 80s, and how we as artists can make statements about society, economics, politics, and more. We discussed famous street artists such as Banksy and Basquiat, and how their perceptions of fame and money greatly differ. I turned an indoor atrium wall into a massive mural. We dedicated this 20’x12’ space for an ongoing (two month long) public art space for the kids to “tag” and notice how it became a conversational piece, an ever-changing collaborative artwork, and it soon began to take on a life of its own. We added other pieces to the unit, such as chalk graffiti outside and on students’ lockers, and static sticker window cling “tags”. Writing our names in various styles of graffiti then transitioned nicely into a new unit once graffiti was over, into calligraphy.  

 My curriculum is based on the National Standards, and I integrate heavily with with the following: interdisciplinary art with core subjects, mindfulness, STEAM, the Principles of Design and Elements Of Art, color theory, art history, examination of artists (whether small and local, or famous), global concepts, and diversity. I creatively tie-in needs that arise, based on student motivated requests, with the bigger picture standards of art education priorities, in order to develop holistic, compelling and scaffolded lessons with free choice embedded in. Once I am in my school long enough to establish continuity with systems in place and kids knowing expectations, then I will be more able to open centers for TAB integration. Currently, I am only half a year in, at a new school with high populations of trauma and behavioral challenges, so we are working on expectations, systems and protocols for each medium, and I am opening up centers for free-choice in limited capacities. With ongoing relationship-building and growing mutual respect between myself and the students, I am able to add more and more choice into the curriculum. 

 My professional art education was conducted at The Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC (Interior Design & Fashion Design), followed by Hartford Art School (Fine & Studio Arts), then Johnson State College (Visual Art Education), then I finished my post baccalaureate at UVM (Art Education PreK-12). 

 I adore working in all mediums, but my favorites are painting, fiber art, jewelry making, and of course clay/ceramics tops my list of fav’s. Teaching is an art form all on its own, and I adore imparting knowledge and coaching kids to think more creatively, problem solve, and expand their autonomy. I began teaching art privately in 2007, but didn’t become licensed until 2017. 

 I joined VATA for professional development and networking opportunities when I was a post-bac student; but have truly seen those relationships grow into peer-to-peer professional support. VATA is a “place” full of other artists and art educators like me - it's become camaraderie. 

 I truly feel that what you get out of a VATA membership depends on what you put into it.  Don’t just be a passive member. I personally recommend that every VATA member goes to at least one member event (beyond the annual conference), to make art, and simply socialize with others like you… and I promise... you will feel your inspiration kick back in. Jumpstart your batteries and recharge YOU by surrounding yourself with other art teachers in the zone, and notice how much more supported and rejuvenated you will feel. 

 I am grateful each day for my opportunity to educate the youth of tomorrow, but recognize that self-care is necessary for all teachers. Taking time to be with “your people” at VATA is an easy way to do this. Art Education is such a niche that other teachers at our schools may not “get” all our specific concerns or certain daily struggles we face. This community spirit is why I remain a VATA member, and why I became active in Youth Art Month programming. Attending member activities throughout the year can be a great way to find your own niche in the VATA community, and to give back without over-committing (we all know about burnout). 

 Prior to teaching art, I was/am a professional artist, grant writer and non-profit fundraiser, small business owner, as well as a list of other “hats” I occasionally wear.  Please feel free to contact me if you wish to make a new friend or arty-co-worker from afar, at