Learning to Look Summer Teacher Institute

The application for the 2019 summer teacher institutes is closed. Check back in January 2020 when the application will open for Summer 2020.

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

    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:

    “I was grateful that all learning styles and personalities seemed to be taken into account in the layout of this workshop. Best professional development workshop I’ve ever attended!“

    "I really appreciated the care that went into the organization of this Institute, from the initial application process to the immediate follow-up email questions and attention to detail throughout.”

    “The mix of hands-on and informative activities made me feel confident and excited to bring portraiture looking strategies to my classroom.”

    “Teachers can always find resources, but providing them with the strategies to make meaningful connections between art and students (and with other disciplines) has been extremely valuable.”

    “The information shared came from many different points of view—that of an educator, curator, and historian. There was no fluff! All of the activities were information packed.”

    “The structure, with embedded work time and presentations, let me leave with a useable product and products from other participants to share with my colleagues at school.”



    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.

    Important Dates to Remember:

    • Application Deadline: April 1, 2019
    • Applicants Notified of Application Status: April 8, 2019
    • Scholarship Application Due: April 12, 2019
    • Notification of Scholarship Status: April 22, 2019
    • Accepted Applicants Decision Deadline: April 26, 2019


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


    The National Portrait Gallery is pleased to offer a limited number of $1000 scholarships 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." The scholarship application deadline is April 12, 2019:

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

    Scholarship recipients will be notified via email by April 22, 2019

    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.