Columns at museum's entrance

Calling All Teachers!

Bryan Hill
January 11, 2018

For the past four years, a small cadre of teachers from all over the country has convened at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The group of K–12 teachers comes from all disciplines and offers its expertise on developing strategies for working more effectively with other classroom teachers while also providing feedback on museum program development. This unique partnership affords these teachers an opportunity to work with museum staff to strategize, not only on the programs that are offered within the walls of the Portrait Gallery, but also on how to bring the Gallery to those outside the Washington area.

A group of people standing in front of a painted portrait
The Teacher Advisory Board

The Teacher Advisory Board meets four times a year with Briana Zavadil White, Student and Teacher Programs Manager, to strategize ways to improve resources for teachers and K–12 students and bring the perspectives of classroom teachers from around the country into the museum. Most recently the Board created self-guides that are designed to reach across grade levels and assist visitors with digging deeper into the museum’s collection.

From its inception, the Board was given the charge to be innovative in reaching teachers across the country and to see how they can use the Portrait Gallery’s collection in their own classrooms. The Board consists of 10 members from the Washington area, Indiana, Arizona, and Illinois. The diversity of the group allows us various levels of experience when approaching the collection. The way an elementary art teacher, such as myself, may view or use Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 Lansdowne portrait of George Washington is not the same as the way a high school AP history teacher may use it.

As unique as we are, we know that we can only scratch the surface of the multitude of ways that the museum can be utilized in classrooms across the country. That is why for the 50th anniversary of the National Portrait Gallery we are asking teachers to tell us how they use the Portrait Gallery in their classroom. We are using the Smithsonian’s Learning Lab, https://learninglab.si.edu/, as the platform for teachers to submit their lessons. The Learning Lab can be a tool for teachers to create collections using the Smithsonian's resources. It also affords teachers the opportunity to combine their own tried and true resources with those of the Smithsonian.

To learn about the guidelines for the call for lessons and to submit a lesson, click here.

Teachers submitting lessons must use both the National Portrait Gallery’s collection as their foundation and the Learning Lab as the digital platform for their object-based lesson.

A group of people from behind of people looking at a portriat

Guidelines for Lesson:

  • At least one portrait in the Portrait Gallery’s collection must serve as the foundation for the lesson.
  • Student-centered objectives
  • Grade level
  • Relevant subject areas (lesson must be interdisciplinary in nature)
  • Procedure

Guidelines for Learning Lab Submission:

  • “About Collection” section must be fully completed (title, description, subjects, age levels, educational features, standards).
  • Include portrait(s) resources.
  • Include Standalone Tool, which includes lesson procedure.
  • Include Quiz Questions, Image Hotspots and/or Sorting Activity in lesson.
  • Tag your collection in the Learning Lab with #NPGteach.


Bryan Hill is the visual arts teacher at Mary B. Neal Elementary School in Waldorf (Charles County), Maryland, and has been a member of the Smithsonian’s Teacher Advisory Board since 2014.

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