Meaghan Shomion, Educator and Cultural Leader
Meaghan Shomion (ACL ’22) loves to teach. She’s been an art teacher since 2001 at every level–high school, middle school, and elementary, where she currently teaches.
“You know it's such a difficult profession,” she says, “that the first years I was always like, should I stay? Should I go? And then the more I stayed, the more rewarding it was and the less difficult it was. So I ended up staying and loving it.”
“A Brilliant Idea” for a Final Project
After graduating with a BS in Art Education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Meaghan thought she would eventually earn an advanced degree. But she didn’t want to follow the traditional path to education administration. She wanted to stay in the classroom, inspiring and making art with kids.
Meaghan was drawn to the flexibility and customization of the Arts and Cultural Leadership master’s (ACL). The program encourages students to tailor their assignments around their individual passions and goals as cultural leaders. Meaghan focused her projects around education. She took electives from the Curriculum and Instruction department alongside other educators and doctoral candidates, which she found “exciting, challenging, and interesting.”
For her final project Meaghan knew she wanted to dig deeper into inclusive teaching practices and become a more culturally informed leader. She also wanted to create something of actual use in the classroom. The ACL program allows students to push the boundaries of a standard capstone project, so one of Meaghan’s classmates, Christina Martinez, suggested creating a 12-month calendar.
“I use a planner every week, like every week,” Meaghan says. “Most teachers have a planner where they lay everything out, and then I was like, oh, my gosh, that's a brilliant idea. I'm going to take your 12-month calendar, and make it a 40-week planner.”
The Master Planner
The result is a colorful, highly applicable 40-week planner for teachers. Meaghan, who paints, draws, and works in mixed media, created something that is both practical and lovely. Each weekly page contains a space for lesson plans on one side and beautifully displayed historical and cultural facts on the other side. It is the multicultural, interactive tool that every classroom deserves.
“By connecting the two most important aspects of your students' lives, school and home, you honor your students' lived experiences and empower them to safely bring their whole self into the learning environment."
The introduction to the planner reads:
“This weekly planner is specifically tailored to St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) in terms of holidays and in-service dates, but more importantly, this planner is specifically tailored to the diversity of home cultures within SPPS. As you plan your week you are invited to learn about important ceremonies, festivals, traditions, cultural norms and holidays of the home cultures of your students.”
Meaghan’s planner is adaptable for anyone to rework the contents to reflect their specific student population. “By connecting the two most important aspects of your students' lives, school and home, you honor your students' lived experiences and empower them to safely bring their whole self into the learning environment,” the introduction continues.
Choosing What to Include
Meaghan worked intently on her project for months. She started by gathering demographic data from the SPPS to find out who the major cultural groups were. She wanted it to be specific to her and the people she sees every day.
“Then I looked for information about those home countries: what were some holidays and gatherings and celebrations from those cultural groups.” She then plugged those celebrations and holidays into the planner by week.
Each page has multiple sources and items to highlight. If there was a week that was blank, she would step back and look at the month, like Black History Month or Women's History Month. The information might influence what she’s teaching or it might just be a point of connection with her students.
“I might just ask, hey, did you have a celebration this weekend with your family? It says that you know something important happened. I can bring that up and talk to them about it.”
She leaves the planner out on her desk for all to see: students, teachers, parents, administrators. Anyone can sneak a peek, read it, and learn something new.
Next year she’ll adjust the dates and possibly add more or different facts. “Eventually our cultural groups will start to shift,” she says. “We might have an influx of different people coming in and other people moving out. So the data will change and who is represented might change.”
Meaghan doesn’t have bigger plans for the calendar right now, but she says, “if somebody wants to edit it and take it apart and make it into something that works in Madison, Wisconsin, that’s awesome.”
Her Main Takeaway from the ACL Program
“The people in my program came from all different backgrounds and walks of life. They were different ages and had different undergrad degrees and professions and family arrangements. It was such a varied group of individuals that every time we had to present our findings on anything, there was never any redundancy. We were teaching each other.”
Pro Tips for ACL Students
Make connections. “The more connections I made with my peers and the more effort I put into a range of study groups, the more I got out of it. I'm an introvert, so it was hard for me to make those connections, but it definitely made the last few semesters much more enjoyable.”
Ask for help. “I found all the instructors to be very student centered and flexible. If you need extra help or support, you just have to ask for it. I realized how much easier the first few semesters would have been had I been more open to doing that at the beginning.”
- OLPD 5048 – Cross Cultural Perspectives on Leadership with Dr. Gerald Fry
- CI 5145 – Critical Pedagogy with Dr. Timothy Lensmire