Learning to Look Summer Teacher Institute

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Learning to Look Summer Teacher Institute will not be held in summer 2021. Instead, the Portrait Gallery, along with five other Smithsonian museums, will host two virtual summer teacher institutes, called the Smithsonian Summer Sessions. The dates for these institutes will be June 28-July 2 and July 12-16, 2021.

Integrating portraiture into the classroom provides exciting opportunities to connect students with history, biography, visual art, and many other subjects. The National Portrait Gallery collection presents the wonderful diversity of individuals who have left—and are leaving—their mark on our country and our culture. The museum portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story.

The Summer Teacher Institute will take a broad look at the Portrait Gallery's collection. During the institute, the museum's curators and historians will provide in-gallery content lectures, introducing the collection. Utilizing an interactive approach, NPG educators will model a variety of "learning to look" strategies—unique ways to hook and engage students when they look closely at portraits. Participants will learn how to "read" portraiture and use the artworks as a springboard into a more in-depth discussion about biography and history. Teachers in grades kindergarten-12 may apply as individuals or as part of a team. Priority will be given to social studies, English/language arts, and visual arts teachers.

Curator in the museum galleries presenting to a group of teachers

A teacher looking at a portrait in the museum

Institute participants will:

  • Gain expertise from museum educators, curators, and historians through gallery talks, discussions, and hands-on activities
  • Learn to use portraiture in the classroom, identifying and analyzing key components of a portrait and relating visual elements to relevant historical context and significance
  • Make interdisciplinary connections among portraiture, social studies, and English/language arts
  • Explore and utilize Learning Lab to create a lesson idea to share with fellow participants

What the week looks like:

  • Institute hours are 8:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. each day.
  • Welcome reception the evening of day one from 5:00pm to 6:00pm for participants.
  • Sharing of lesson ideas on the final day of the Institute, which ends at 3:00pm.

What teachers are saying about the Portrait Gallery’s summer teacher institutes:

“Let me begin by mentioning that I try to participate in many summer professional development institutes, and without a doubt, this program was one of the most engaging and useful programs that I’ve done. It was extremely well planned, the instructors infinitely qualified and effective, and the activities were/are geared to classroom teachers and can be readily incorporated and adapted to their specific classroom situations. Excellent mix of participants – grade levels and disciplines.“

"I was very engaged and quite thrilled with the content, activities, and instructors. The content was exactly what I was seeking – art infusion across disciplines. The activities were immediately transferable to my classroom and teeming with possibilities for adaption. And, the instructors were exceptional – kind, gentle but empowered, full of information yet humble. Brava!”

“Yes, the program was one of the best I have attended. I came to the Portrait Gallery with the expectation to enhance student learning, but am leaving with so much more. I have interacted with portraiture in ways I was unaware existed, and it was all due to the incredible knowledge and insight of the instructors.”


The cost of the program is $100, due upon acceptance into the teacher institute. This non-refundable fee covers the cost of your take-home materials as well as daily breakfast and lunch. Participants are responsible for travel and lodging costs.

Application, Acceptance and Registration

Each applicant must submit a completed application online. Applicants will receive a confirmation email within two business days of their submission.


Please direct queries to npgeducation@si.edu or 202-633-8503.


The National Portrait Gallery is pleased to offer a limited number of scholarships up to $1,000 (which may be taxed per IRS regulations) per Institute to help offset costs for those traveling from outside the DC Metro area. 

To apply for a scholarship, after acceptance into the institute, submit the following to npgeducation@si.edu with the subject line "Summer Institute Scholarship." 

Letter of recommendation written by and emailed from a teaching colleague or school administrator addressing your collaborative spirit and creative contributions as an educator.

One-page letter addressing:

  • What you value most about teaching
  • How you plan to share the Institute experience with colleagues upon completion of the program and estimate the number of educators who will benefit.

Graduate and Professional Development Credit

If you are interested in receiving graduate credit for your participation in the Institute, please contact npgeducation@si.edu for more information.

At the conclusion of the institute, museum staff will provide documentation of participation including total contact hours.