Trevor Bryan is a K-5 Art Teacher in a New Jersey Elementary School who has two core beliefs about the arts. The first is that the arts foster joy and connection, especially when times or topics are tough. And the second is that the arts help us to make meaning of our human experience.
Trevor is a teacher, author of The Art of Comprehension and co-founder of Four O’Clock Faculty with Rich Czyz for educators looking to improve learning for themselves and their students. Enjoy Trevor’s journey!
You and your family
I grew up in Glen Rock, New Jersey, which is a small town in the northern part of the state about 20 minutes outside of New York City. I currently live down at the Jersey Shore, close to Asbury Park, which is the town Bruce Springsteen helped to make famous, with my wife Laura, and our two children, Johanna (12) and Owen (7).
We live close to Ocean Grove to which is a national historic town that is about one square mile with more Victorian homes than Cape May. My parents have a summer home there. We’re a bike ride away so we visit them often. We love living down near the beach and enjoy the art and great music scene there along with a bunch of wonderful restaurants.
What it was like when you were a student
My school experience was pretty good for the most part. I wasn’t always the best student but I was decent. I was really good at doing my own stuff but not always that great at doing the tasks that I didn’t find too meaningful. I had some wonderful teachers. I had a really rich writing experience in 6th-grade that ties into my work right now. I was probably one of the first students in New Jersey to go through the Writers’ Workshop model. My art education experience was where I had super art teachers with a lot of support. Because we were only 20 minutes outside of New York City, I had a lot of opportunities to see museums and shows on Broadway.
I loved to make things and was always in my basement where I had access to tools and supplies to make stuff. I also built things outside like tree houses, forts, all kinds of stuff. One of the things that have influenced me the most as an art educator is that one of my childhood friends who moved to town in 3rd grade grew up to be a well-known street artist. As friends from 3rd to 6th grade, we just made things constantly and explored together. Seeing how he saw things and worked as a child and then how he grew up to become a really successful artist has influenced how I approach art education and how I think about creating. His name is Momo and you can learn more about his work at https://momoshowpalace.com/About
Your journey as an educator
Since high school, I always wanted to be a teacher. As an art student growing up in an upper-middle-class community there weren’t a lot of artists or makers as models. I loved the arts but the only artists I knew were art teachers and my parents were educators so I went into education. I originally thought I was going to bring the arts into the regular ed classroom and studied at Bank Street College of Education to be a regular ed teacher in elementary school. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do the arts as a classroom teacher. There wasn’t enough time. It wasn’t structured that way, and I didn’t want to do all the stuff that classroom teachers have to do. That’s when I decided to go back to the art room because I missed the environment. I never regret that decision. Thankfully, New Jersey has continued to support art educators. Eventually, I figured out how to bring the arts into the regular ed classroom through my work which has turned into The Art of Comprehension.
Classroom Close-up, NJ Art & Literacy at Princeton Video Feature with Trevor Bryan
I met my wife teaching middle school a couple of towns over. I left there when I had the opportunity to work part-time and took the time to write a children’s book. It was a disaster. I went back full-time in another district and then moved on to Jackson where I am now. They are very supportive and allow me to explore some paths that I feel fortunate to have gone down. It’s where my book, Art of Comprehension, came into fruition. I’m really happy with where I ended up and with the administrators, I work with. Not to mention, it’s where I met Rich Czyz.
Rich Czyz and I taught together for a few years and explored all kinds of stuff together. It was really a fun relationship where we kind of tried all kinds of ideas with the kids and pushed boundaries. Although we never really talked about it back then, I think what drove our explorations was a sense that we thought there had to be better ways to do things. So we searched for those better ways.
He ended up going into administration so our professional lives separated but we still talked regularly. Then a few years ago, we started at Four O’Clock Faculty just to work together and explore again. Rich had the idea of starting the blog and so we started it. This is the fourth year since. We always said that we would keep doing it as long as we enjoy it. We still do and I think both of us feel like it helps our writing. The blog has been a great way for both of us to find our voices. I think it’s fair to say the blog has significantly impacted our book projects. The hashtag is #40CF and we share what we think about and learn from other educators on Twitter. Rich and I really believe that is our job as educators is to help kids find their voice. Adults too.
Your passion for Art and Reading/Writing
The way that I look at it, my book and the work that I am focused on now, creativity, including writing/story-sharing as a form of creativity, has its roots in my childhood when I was a student and has been a thirty or forty year plus journey. My mission is to inspire kids to share their voices and give them the means to do that. Here is a good visual representation of my mission: to help every child to find and share their voice. It was done by my friend, Kyle Stevenson. Prints are available at https://www.etsy.com/shop/ArtOfComprehension?ref=search_shop_redirect
The Art of Comprehension
The Art of Comprehension: Exploring Visual Texts to Foster Comprehension, Conversation, and Confidence is built on the idea that nearly all students, non-readers, striving readers and beginning readers can decode visual texts such as illustrations and paintings, effectively. Because these learners can decode visual texts it means they can also engage with meaning-making skills, such as inferring, using text evidence, recognizing symbols and patterns, identifying themes and big ideas and making rich, meaningful connections. Thanks to Peter and Paul Reynolds for believing in my mission and supporting me to help make my mark. I hope readers enjoy the eclectic collection of art and illustration by Peter Reynolds and other art from 19th-century masters.
Access Lenses and AOC Approach
Trevor Bryan has two core beliefs about the arts. The first is that the arts foster joy and connection, especially when times or topics are tough. And the second is that the arts help us to make meaning of our human experience. These beliefs, along with numerous, meaningful arts experiences as a student, established Bryan’s North Star as he entered into teaching 20 years ago: to show how the arts could positively and meaningfully impact every students’ academic career. For the first 10 years of his teaching career, Bryan struggled to transform his beliefs into meaningful educational practices and to clearly demonstrate the relationship between the arts and academics. Then, he had a breakthrough. Bryan started to explore the relationship between viewing artwork and reading comprehension skills. This is when his beliefs and practice finally began to converge.
Through this exploration, Bryan found ways to share his passion for the arts and to show how they can be used to support the academic growth of all learners. At first, this work solely focused on using visual art to teach reading comprehension skills. But slowly, Bryan began to see how visual texts could also help students explore and strengthen their writing. Ultimately, Bryan’s work has become about helping all students to comprehend their own lives and help them develop and strengthen their unique voices so that they can flourish doing work that truly matters to them.
Bryan’s journey has been a bumpy ride, filled with ups and downs. It is his passion for the arts (reading and writing included) that provided him the fuel that enabled him to keep moving forward, find his purpose, and learn to share it with others, which he does whenever he can. Over the last several years, Bryan has presented at numerous conferences, both large and small, and has worked with teachers and school districts across the country. He is grateful that his life’s passion has become his life’s work and looks forward to sharing them with both you and your students.
Bryan lives at the Jersey Shore. When he’s not creating, he enjoys long runs on the boardwalk, beaching it with his family and friends, great restaurants, and the thriving local arts scene.
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