Summer Institutes for Teachers

Teaching the Humanities Through Art

A group of teachers talking by an artwork
“This week was transformative. The best professional development experience of my entire career.”
–SAAM Summer Institute Participant

SUMMER 2021 UPDATE: As a public health precaution due to COVID-19, in-gallery education programs are currently suspended.  We are excited to announce that in place of on-site summer institutes, SAAM will offer two free virtual teacher institutes this summer in collaboration with multiple Smithsonian museums. Learn more and register at the links below for one of two parallel five-day institutes.

The Smithsonian Summer Sessions for Teachers: Interrogating the Stories We Tell
Register for Session 1: June 28 - July 2, 2021
Register for Session 2: July 12 - 16, 2021


Note: The description below relates to SAAM's on-site Summer Institutes: Teaching the Humanities through Art, which we hope to resume in 2022.

Be inspired this summer! Attend one of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s week-long institutes. Join a community of educators from across the country for an exciting exploration of the connections among American art, social studies, history, and English/language arts.

Through interactive sessions with museum professionals, you’ll gain skills and comfort in using American art to make interdisciplinary connections, foster critical thinking skills, and develop visual literacy. You’ll walk away with a tool kit of practical strategies for integrating art into your curriculum, as well as lesson ideas developed by your cohort that you can immediately put to use in your classroom.


Who Should Apply?

Our first two institute sessions are geared towards social studies, history, and English/language arts teachers for grades 6-12. Teachers of other subjects or grades may be considered if space is available. Newly added this year, our third session is geared towards teachers of grades 2-5. Teachers may apply as individuals or as part of a team of two or three, but each member of the team must submit an individual application. Efforts will be made to enroll a diverse cohort that will contribute a range of perspectives, based on geography, life experience, and teaching environment.

What will teachers accomplish during the Institute?

  • Gain expertise from museum educators, curators, and content experts, through gallery talks, discussion groups, and hands-on activities
  • Learn to use American art in the classroom to foster critical thinking skills, develop visual literacy, and deepen student engagement with content
  • Make interdisciplinary connections among American art, social studies, history, and English/language arts
  • Experiment with digital tools you can use to bring art into your classroom
  • Develop and share lesson ideas with peers

What is provided for Institute participants?

Teachers discuss artwork in gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

During Institutes:

  • Teacher’s Tool Kit including color reproductions, classroom discussion and writing exercises, project guidelines, and teaching strategies
  • Behind-the-scenes experiences at the Museum
  • Access to featured technology
  • Daily breakfast and lunch
  • Optional evening events and opportunities to explore Washington, D.C.

Throughout the year:

  • Connection to a national network of Institute alumni
  • Museum staff support for curriculum development

What is expected of Institute participants?

  • Completion of pre-Institute assignments
  • Participation in the entire Institute; plan to arrive each day at the Museum by 9:00 a.m. and leave at 4:00 p.m.
  • Active contribution of ideas during the Institute
  • Sharing of lesson ideas on the final day of the Institute

What are teachers saying about the Institute?

A woman sitting in front of a quilted artwork.
  • “The entire experience feels like hitting the reset button on my approach to teaching. It has given me concrete tools to utilize in my classroom. The scope of thinking routines, activities, and artworks is impressive.”
  • “All of my expectations were fulfilled and exceeded. I have found this to be the most productive and invigorating professional development of my teaching career.”
  • “I will look at art so differently from here on out. It won’t just be ’something to look at’ but something to learn from. I will also have a ton of strategies that I’m walking away with, which I really appreciate. In addition, I’m walking away with practice in them so I already feel like I know how to use them. And I will walk away with a much deeper art background than I came with.”
  • “This Institute is, without a doubt, impeccable. I am leaving with so many practical lesson ideas and resources, but also with a restored sense of wonder and excitement about using art in my classroom.”

What is the Impact for Students?

When Institute participants return to the classroom, they see positive outcomes from regularly integrating art into their teaching. Evaluation has shown:

  • Stronger student writing
  • Greater participation from hard-to-reach students
  • Improved student capacity for evidence-based inferencing
  • Increased academic confidence for students of all ability levels
  • Transfer of critical thinking skills from visual texts to written texts

How to Apply

Updated application information will be available in January 2022.

Acceptance and Registration

A committee will review all completed applications and notify accepted applicants via email by April 17, 2020. The Museum will attempt to accommodate accepted applicants' date preferences, subject to space limitations. Thirty spots are available per session. The registration deadline for accepted teachers is May 8, 2020.


The cost of the program is $200, due upon registration.* 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. A low-cost housing option has been provided in past years through a local university. For more information, please email

*The registration fee is waived for accepted participants who will teach in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) during the 2020-2021 school year.

View tips for funding your professional development


Conservator shining light on an artwork.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is pleased to offer a limited number of $500 scholarships per Institute. Scholarships may be used to cover selected participants’ registration, travel, and lodging expenses, as well as other potential costs of attendance. Scholarship decisions will be made based on the following considerations:

  • Demonstrated thoughtfulness, creativity, and collaborative spirit
  • Ability to increase diversity of the Institute cohort, based on geography, life experience, teaching environment, or other considerations
  • Rationale for attending and plans to implement learning
  • Professionalism

Our scholarship committee will review your Institute application when making decisions, in addition to the supplemental materials detailed below. To apply for a scholarship, submit the following to with the subject line "Summer Institute Scholarship." The scholarship application deadline is April 24, 2020:

  1. One-page letter addressing: a. What you value most about teaching b. How you anticipate applying lessons learned at the Institute to your work
  2. Letter of recommendation written by and emailed from a teaching colleague or school administrator addressing your collaborative spirit and creative contributions as an educator
  3. Résumé

Scholarship recipients will be notified via email by May 1, 2020.

Graduate and Professional Development Credit

Museum staff will provide documentation of participation, including total contact hours, for all participants.

Three graduate credits from an accredited university may be offered for an additional fee. If you are interested in receiving graduate credit for your participation in the Institute, please contact for more information.


For more information about traveling for the Institute and visiting Washington, D.C., please read the Teacher FAQs [PDF].

Direct inquiries to

Interested in participating in one-day teacher professional development experiences? Consider these upcoming Professional Development Workshops.


This program is generously supported by the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation.