Classroom Highlight: Vinalhaven School Art Students Cannot Make Mistakes

Sign that says, Fail a lot! Failing is really just practice

Heather White started teaching at the Vinalhaven School in 2002. For the first nine years, she was the third-grade teacher, bringing art into the curriculum as much as possible. In 2011, she made the big leap to teaching k-12 visual arts and hasn’t looked back. It was exciting for her to go back to school to finish up her remaining classes to become a certified art teacher, she absolutely loves what she does, and it shows.


Art Teacher Heather White
Art Teacher Heather White at May, 7 K-12 Art Show, Vinalhaven School

Maine Department of Education’s Katherine Warren visited the May, 7th K-12 art show and spoke to Heather about her successful teaching strategies. Heather focuses on process over product and mistakes just come with the territory. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly where she believes the learning is. A sign in the art room reads, “Fail a lot! Failing is really just practice.”

This is the message that Heather works to convey to her students each day. She told Katherine, “I know the message is getting through when a project comes out of the kiln broken, which happens once in a while, and a student simply says something like, ‘that’s OK . . .I bet I know what happened, I bet there was still some moisture in the clay, I’ll just make another one.”

K-12 Art Show Poster
K-12 Art Show Poster

Another one of Heather’s recipes for success in the art room is “do the work.” She conveys to students, on a daily basis, the importance of showing up and doing the work. It’s the only way to move forward no matter what the task. Students from kindergarten all the way up to twelfth grade know that when they come to the art room, they’re there to work. No matter what the outcome, they always feel knowing they did their best; this philosophy results in more learning opportunities, and more artistic growth.

These teaching strategies really work for Heather and the proof is in the painting. This past winter Heather displayed second and third grade artwork on the Story Trail at Vinalhaven Land Trust’s Granite Island Preserve. It was an art show in the woods and families were encouraged to plan a winter hike to take in the scenery and the stunning artwork. These art pieces were juxtaposed against Vinalhaven’s real winter forest. It is difficult to say which trees were more beautiful, those imagined by Heather’s students, or the real things. Either way, she has done an exceptional job connecting her students and their artistic work to the environment from which it was inspired.

Student Artwork
Student Artwork, at Vinalhaven School’s “Winter Branches” 2nd-3rd Grade Art Show.

As with the “Winter Birches,” Heather is always looking for opportunities to try something new or unexpected. Another successful collaboration she worked on this year was with the k-12 music teacher Bill Trevaskis. Together they worked with students to produce stop. Motion short films. Heather said, “I was already doing stop motion films, and Bill was already doing a sound design unit. It was the perfect integrated unit, so why not just go for it!”

The results were thoughtful, beautiful, and downright funny ranging from a peeling out sports car to the sinking of The Titanic. Students were certainly proud of their work, as was their teacher.

K-12 students at Vinalhaven are fortunate to have such dedicated teachers. These alternative and collaborative methods for art and music instruction are exciting examples of the many amazing things Maine teachers and students do on a daily basis to improve education across the State.

This story was written by Maine DOE Intern Simon Handleman in collaboration with Vinalhaven Art Teacher Heather White and Maine DOE Staff Katherine Warren. If you have a story idea or would like to submit a written story for the Maine DOE Newsroom, email Rachel Paling at