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The Art of Collaboration

Rachel Echelbarger (left) and Kendal Reilly (right), Suzhou Singapore International School, China

This article shares how the Arts can spark passion and prepare students for the PYP exhibition when teachers and students collaborate. 

As a Visual Arts Team, we started the year by reflecting on how to better enable our Grade 5 students for the PYP exhibition in Art classes. We decided to start the year with a ‘How We Express Ourselves’ stand-alone Art unit focusing on installation art, with the central idea of ‘exploring spaces presents opportunities’. Our goal was to give our students the opportunity to explore space, convey a message and connect with their audience in unique and interesting ways.

The plan was to do a nine-week unit of inquiry in our 80-minute weekly art lesson involving the creation of three student-led art installations. We were aiming for three due to the large nature of these works, time constraints and we were trying to make sure it was something two teachers alone could manage. However, our students had ideas of their own. Their ideas had meaningful messages and they were passionate about creating all of them. We listened to them and chose to act on what they were saying; but we had a problem. How to create so many large-scale student art installations when we were only two teachers with limited lesson time?

We decided to reach out. We talked with our PYP Coordinator and our Grade 5 Homeroom Team and they listened. This discussion turned into a collaboration that enriched the unit by giving us the time, support and extra ideas we needed. Working collaboratively enabled us to lead a unit that empowered students to bring their ambitious creative ideas to life.

After our discussion with the Grade 5 Homeroom Team we were able to allocate time to this Art unit, which made a big difference. Those extra two times each week meant the student groups and team of teachers could collaborate regularly and more effectively for several weeks.

The students formed 17 art installation groups ranging from 1-14 students. Student artists collaborated around painting, printing, drawing, building, cutting, sculpting, video projects, land art, mobiles and more; even spending weeks blowing up hundreds of balloons. The Art rooms were a constant buzz of excitement. We had to remind students to go and eat at lunchtime as they just wanted to keep working on their art projects!

However, it was not always easy with so many collaborators. Both students and teachers had to work on their communication, time and self-management skills to work together and solve the challenges along the way.

Even though there were challenges, the students genuinely took on the roles of lead and supporting artists. They were committed to their message and dedicated to ensuring their vision became a reality. This included creating artist statements instructing the audience on how to be involved in their art installation. Whether it was jumping in a pile of balloons, walking through a giant shoe, drawing on or scratching into an artwork, posing for a photo, watching a video, or viewing a final installation. These 17 art installations were all theirs; from the beginning stages of gathering ideas, to creating and installing the final pieces.

In the end, this unit became a semester-long project that was far from a stand-alone Art unit. It was embraced by the Grade 5 students, supported by the Grade 5 Homeroom Team and PYP Coordinator, and the resulting artworks took over the school. Regardless of this being an unanticipated event, the school community, including students from other grade levels, teachers, parents and administrators made a big effort to experience the artwork and support the Grade 5 students.

Students and teachers took great pride in this unit. Everyone had a real sense of achievement at its culmination. It also enabled students, Art teachers, and Homeroom teachers to recognize personal strengths, weaknesses, and so much more in laying excellent groundwork for the PYP exhibition. Perhaps our biggest takeaway though is that collaboration is key; without everyone supporting each other our students’ artistic visions would never have reached their full potential.



Rachel and Kendal teach Grade 1 to 5 PYP Art at Suzhou Singapore International School (SSIS).

Rachel is a visual arts educator from Iowa in the United States. She has been teaching art internationally for seven years in Saudi Arabia and China. Rachel enjoys running, baking, and traveling the world. She blogs about her teaching experiences at and goes by @r_echelbarger on Twitter.

Kendal is an Australian international educator who has been teaching Art to students from Grade 1 to 12 in Australia, China and the United Arab Emirates for 12 years. She likes to create photographic art and Lego jewellery, and show her daughters the world. Kendal blogs at and can be found on Twitter at @Kendal_tweets.


4 Responses to The Art of Collaboration

  1. Leonie McLaren 3 July 2019 at 12:01 am #

    This sounds so worthwhile. Would love to see photos of the finished products. Great job

  2. Komal Dass 3 July 2019 at 4:19 am #

    Hi , this is wonderful work done on the theme how we express ourselves, given me a way to move forwardinto my next theme. I will be ever greatful if you could please share some pictures too of the art instalations that your students have done. It will give me a fair idea of how to proceed.

  3. Raksha Lapashya 5 July 2019 at 5:12 pm #

    Wonderful. Could you please share some pics and ideas of students.

  4. Kendal 9 August 2019 at 4:04 am #

    Thanks Leonie, Komal & Raksha for commenting!

    Unfortunately our collage featuring photos of 10 of the student’s artworks didn’t make it into the article, but I posted it on Twitter. Here is the link…

    Feel free to connect with me through Twitter or via my blog if you want more information.

    We’re figuring out what this unit will look like this school year with the Grade 5 team over the coming weeks so I’ll try to tweet or blog our plan for this time around soon-ish.

    I hope you’re having a great school year.

    🙂 Kendal

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