Meet John Headley

Meet John Headley
Dani Seiss

As part of our ongoing series Meet Our GDS Faculty and Staff, we are excited to present: Meet John Headley!

Read the Q&A below to learn more about John.

Primary Role: Lower / Middle School Visual Arts Teacher

Pronouns: he/him

Years at GDS: This is my 7th year, I’m going into my 8th with the new term.

What do you love about GDS?

I love the openness of the overall philosophy, which gives a lot of autonomy and trust to teachers to have a curriculum that’s creative and allows for flexibility with students. I like that kids also are not afraid to question, think, wonder, and challenge (when appropriate) because it makes the dynamic of teaching more fun and more challenging for me as an educator. I give the prompts. Based on information that I have given them—thematic threads—they just go out and do it. Some of their ideas are far out there and may not work, and sometimes I allow for them to do it and fail, because I think it is important for them to see what that feels like and that it’s not the end of the world. I like to check in with them once that happens and say, "Well, what do you think happened? What would you do differently? What are the things that you don’t know that you may need to know to do this in the future?” I like that there’s time to do that type of stuff. 

Why do you do your job?

I didn’t know what I should do when I went to college, and I ended up following the doctor/teacher/lawyer format. Education seemed safe and familiar already, as my sister was an educator and was my primary school teacher for two years. After art school, after Foundations year, I was thinking I’ll go do that. I ended up loving it. Teaching art is a fun job, but I don’t want to sound like there’s no structure or challenges for me as an educator or for the students. It’s just kind of cool because it is very imaginative: it’s them learning about materials; it’s learning about the synergy between their ideas and actual physical things, but also it’s about them learning about the world in a way that’s accessible. I think that art is a way to access cultures and different ways of thinking. 

A favorite part of your job?

A favorite part of my job is the quiet time! Ha! No, I mean I stay here quite late, and I like looking at the students’ work. Sometimes when I'm in it, [during the project-making process] I’m seeing but I’m not really seeing. I’m putting out fires or just kind of letting them do their thing and they’re figuring it out. Kids will come to me for help, and the focus is on individual, specific things. Sometimes I don’t know how much of the lesson they absorbed because of the distractions of the process: they’re talking, they’re laughing. At the end of the day, I can take a closer look and see that they really got the assignment. I love that time to see the voice at the end of the lesson. 

That’s kind of my favorite part, but also, I’m developing an appreciation for the little ones: I like their unbridled enthusiasm about things. They have an idea and they want to do a particular thing, or they get really excited about a color. And that’s wonderful. 

Your work style in a few words?

I like organized chaos. Even though this looks crazy, I work hard to have a place for everything. 

A top hope/wish for your students and/or colleagues?

I wish for the students, especially for the little ones going into middle school, that they keep the same can-do attitude that they have when they are in 3rd grade. For my colleagues, I wish them rest, because I know that they all work very hard, and everyone is super tired, and also to get the recognition-–they do, but I think that there needs to be more acknowledgement: everyone wants to do all the things well—they show up for ALL the things. 

Personal passions/hobbies/pastimes?

I love tennis. I think it’s the only thing keeping me alive! Tennis is a real passion of mine. I’ve  been coaching at the High School for six years. I also love good books and reading, and love painting whenever I get the opportunity. I would love to do that more, but teaching takes a lot of my creative energy and time. However, last summer I started making canvases and I have an idea of a show and work that integrates the stuff that I do as a teacher with my own explorations. 

I also collect toys: I have about 300 old, retro Barbie Dolls. And I love interior decorating. 

A few favorites…?

Favorite recipes: I like all different sorts of cuisines. I'm a pescetarian, so I was more “foodie” before. I grew up in Barbados and ate a lot of Barbadian cuisine. And then when I came here I lived with a Jewish family and with an Italian family. I’m partial to Italian-American food. 

Favorite music: I’m eclectic in my movie and music choices. I have a goal to listen to every Boadway soundtrack, and I listen to them driving in. And I’m getting into Hiphop. I’m all over the place. 

Favorite Movies: I like silly stuff, but I also like really well-crafted cinema. 

Tell us about your family.

My family is from Barbados and Belize. I grew up there and have family all over. Some are still there, some are here, some in England, some in Canada, so they’re spread out. They’re very community-based. When I go back it’s very calming. People keep their doors open and I like that.

One thing on your life "bucket list" you've already accomplished?

Buying a home! I didn’t think they would give me a loan. That was a big deal. Homeownership for African Americans is quite a Herculean effort. Not for everyone, obviously, but there’s lots of mechanisms in place against us. I feel very fortunate to have been able to do this. And I never thought I would be able to. (I lived in New York City where it’s pretty difficult to buy real estate.) 

Something on your life “bucket list” you have yet to accomplish?

I would like to really develop my art. I don’t really consider myself an artist. I mean, I make art, but I really don’t spend hours in the studio and I would love to be able to do that. I get pockets of time for that, and I admire people who can do this work and then go and do the other stuff. 

I think there are artists who teach. I consider myself a teacher who does art. 

I put a lot of investment into my students’ creativity. 


Meet John Headley
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