By Trina Harlow, PhD, University of Central Arkansas, Founder and Co-Director of OATK12

Posted on August 10, 2021; written on April 30, 2020.

Online Art Teachers K-12 is excited to reveal our NEW BLOG! In the coming months, we hope to bring a rich array of art education insight and creativity to you! Team leaders will write blogposts, as well as some of our group members. In this very first OATamental Ideas Blog Post, I’d like to document the short history of OATK12. The following article was written on April 30, 2020 and provides an early glimpse of how OATK12 started. We will update the historical progression of OATK12 through 2020 and 2021 in future blog posts. I thank Bob Reeker, OATK12 Co-Director, Dr. Sarah Ackermann, Kate Miller, Danny Bryant, Christine Wellman, Holly Bess Kincaid, Caitlin Johns, and Jane Montero for their service as team leaders to OATK12, and we miss our dear friend and colleague Randy Robart – one of the founding team leaders of OATK12 – who we lost suddenly in June of 2021. While today OATK12 has almost 20,000 members, below are memoirs noted when OATK12 was just one month old:

“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow,” sang Bill Withers in Lean on Me, a song known across generations and also across the world. The song continues “but if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow.” On December 31, 2019, China announced a cluster of pneumonia virus in Wuhan and the world began to hear of the pain caused by Coronavirus 2019 (COVID19). In early 2020, the United States, as well as the rest of the world, was shockingly and painfully impacted by the appearance of this global pandemic as it made its trek across the world. As “social distancing” was implemented in most states, schools were swiftly impacted and most schools across the United States began to close their brick and mortar buildings and moved to home-centered instruction. Some estimates stated that at one point 91% of the world’s children were out of school due to the virus (UNICEF, 2020).

In March of 2020, as art teachers began making frantic social media posts about school closings, it was apparent that teachers quickly needed assistance from those who resided in geographically calmer areas. Knowing my professional skills and experiences could possibly help – including teaching in parts of the world where I literally faced challenges of having no available teaching resources or art supplies – and having great empathy for these teachers, I felt compelled to help. I knew I had the time and I knew it would be a bit more time before the virus reached where I lived in Texas since it had first appeared in Washington state. It was logical that these school closings would spread across the U.S. and that art education must take immediate action. Art teachers faced unique challenges in moving to continuous, home-centered instruction. When I woke up on March 11th, I decided to ignore the voice in my mind saying “don’t get involved,” and instead listened to the uncomfortable, larger voice that said “do something and do it NOW.” I made a video to reach out to art teachers and posted it all over social media.

Within 24 hours, the Online Art Teachers (K-12) Facebook Group was started and the first official tagline of the group was, “Teaching Students With & Without Access to Home Technology.” In every video that we made for group members, it was explained that OATK12 was a service project by art teachers for art teachers in uncertain times and “YOU ARE OATK12.” We began as a service project for our profession; we continue to be a service project. We also created a Google Folder for housing resources.

The Google Folder link is: https://tinyurl.com/onlineartteachersK12

Within a couple of days, seven other art education leaders from several states joined in leading this group: Dr. Sarah Cress-Ackermann, Beth Dobberstein, Kate Miller, Bob Reeker, Randy Robart, and Marie Taylor. Marie Taylor gave insight into what early career teachers were feeling and experiencing. Later on, Holly Kincaid also joined as a team leader. The team quickly organized, bringing their full and accomplished talents to our organic, collective action.

By April 27, the group had 10,000 members – from more than 110 countries and more than 130K posts – who were freely and collaboratively sharing resources they made for their own students with their fellow art teachers. Membership quickly grew. The OATK12 Facebook Group, formed as a service project by art teachers for art teachers, more than exceeded the initial plans for the group. Group members took the recommendations provided by team leaders and other art teachers to focus on the methods for delivering communication with students, curricular choices that gave students options so that those students with and without technology could be successful, and factored in an effort to not add additional stress for students and their families as they dealt with all of the challenges associated with the social distancing required or suggested by most of the United States, as well as financial and health issues that students’ families might face. Group members made or adapted highly valuable resources for teachers, which they freely shared within the Group. Choice Boards, using found objects of all kinds (painting with things such as coffee and blueberry juice, using clothing to recreate famous art works, remaking historical masterpieces with photography, and using nature to make art), and how to improve digital instruction quickly became notable resources. The Group held digital conferences, produced newsletters, developed a Google Site, and hosted other events such as Friday Night at the OAT. The Group also made plans to assemble at the next NAEA Convention. Ideas abounded from Group members and Group leaders. Group members shared art work completed by their students, their own thoughts of thankfulness for the group, and even in troubled times, this Group found something to be thankful for.

Found object art, such as the Snowman Challenge that I conjured up, became a part of 2020 pandemic remote instruction. As art teachers moved rapidly to delivering remote instruction from their homes, choice and using objects readily available around the home helped art education make the transition.


The best colleague a person can have! Bob Reeker!


The memories of sitting at my home office desk in March of 2020, while making videos for OATK12 to support and lift up my fellow art teachers, is a vivid memory that I'll have the rest of my life . . . . of an uncertain time with a certain goal for colleagues. OATK12 became an place of comfort for members during early pandemic teaching.


Withers’ song also reminds that it is sometimes our time to help, and sometimes we need to lean. OATK12 gave art teachers a place to lean during this history-making period of art education. While Withers passed from this life due to COVID19, his song remains for eternity. In troubled times, teachers have an unparalleled resilience. An army of art teachers – now a part of art education history – came together in an organic, humanhood of sharing and generated a new structure for emergency instructional practice.

Sometimes in our lives

We all have pain

We all have sorrow

But if we are wise

We know that there's always tomorrow

Lean on me

When you're not strong

And I'll be your friend

I'll help you carry on...

For it won't be long

Till I'm gonna need somebody to lean on.

(Withers, 1972)


Withers, B. (1972). Lean on me. On Still Bill [CD]. Sussex Records.

UNICEF. (2020). COVID-19: Are children able to continue learning during school closures? UNICEF Data. https://data.unicef.org/resources/remote-learning-reachability-factsheet/

In the below Image, OATK12 team leaders wished our members a happy holiday season. Top row, left to right: Trina Harlow, Bob Reeker, Caitlin Johns, Jane Montero. Middle row, left to right: Christine Wellman, Kate Miller, Danny Bryant. Bottom row, left to right: Randy Robart, Sarah Ackermann, Evan Thomas, and Holly Bess Kincaid.