Thinking Through Art

Professional Development for Boston Public School Teachers

Teachers and students thrive at the Gardner Museum, where deep experiences with art spark critical thinking and social emotional learning.

You're Invited to Teacher's Day at the Gardner

Learn more about Thinking Through Art at a special event designed for you: Teacher's Day at the Gardner. This is a day of peace and inspiration for Boston Public School teachers, free of cost. Join us for interactive gallery visits, mindfulness experiences, and a delightful breakfast on April 27, May 18, or June 1, from 9 - 11 a.m.  

Click here to RSVP



The application for Thinking Through Art 2024 - 2025 is now available.

Please send questions to:

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View and Download a flyer for Thinking Through Art

Recognizing teachers as the levers of change, Thinking Through Art brings together educators from across Boston to learn about and through the Gardner and its collection. Thinking Through Art is a graduate-level course on teaching and learning that uses a student-centered discussion method called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). By prioritizing students’ observations and prior knowledge during these conversations, students of all ages and abilities measurably improve their ability to reason with evidence and think flexibly. They build confidence communicating in conversation and in writing, develop cohesion as a classroom community, and an appreciation for the unique perspectives that each individual brings to a work of art. Thinking Through Art uses culturally and linguistically sustaining practices and art from around the world to empower students to explore visual art and make meaning on their own terms.

Since 1992, the Gardner Museum has partnered with Boston Public Schools to build relationships with teachers and students, focusing on aligning with BPS standards and curricula with the process of learning to look at art. We invite teachers and their students to join us and connect with the Gardner Museum as a resource and respite.

Thinking Through Art Level 1

Learn to facilitate open-ended discussions of works of art using Visual Thinking Strategies, a method proven to develop students’ critical thinking skills and promote social and emotional learning. You and your students will experience the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum as a place of learning, inspiration, and community.

See the application for program dates


Throughout the program, teachers will: 

  • Attend all professional development workshops
  • Bring at least one class for two guided visits to the Museum (in person and/or virtual)
  • Lead six classroom Thinking Through Art lessons during the school year, each including 2-3 works of art
  • Write a one-page reflection following each classroom lesson
  • Write a 5-7 page paper following final Museum visit (for graduate credit)


$100 materials fee per teacher, plus $150 for teachers seeking to earn graduate credit. 

Looking to Learn at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Thinking Through Art Level 2

Through rigorous professional development and a supportive community of educators, deepen your facilitation skills and become an advocate for student-centered teaching and arts integration within your school. Build on your expertise with Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) as a peer mentor, and use the Museum as a resource for designing lesson plans and student assessments that cultivate open-ended inquiry in your classroom.

See the application for program dates


Teachers must have completed Thinking Through Art Level 1 to be eligible for Level 2. Throughout the program, teachers will: 

  • Attend all professional development workshops (in-person or remote)
  • Bring at least one class for two guided visits to the Gardner Museum (in-person or remote)
  • Lead four classroom Thinking Through Art lessons during the school year, each including 2-3 images
  • One-page reflection following each classroom lesson 
  • Design and implement a Thinking Through Art Extension Project
  • Write a 5-7 page paper about the Extension Project including an evaluation of the Project design (for graduate credit)


$100 materials fee per teacher, plus $75 for teachers seeking graduate credit. 



The Gardner Museum has conducted many studies on the effect of multiple-visit, discussion-based programs in Boston. Our research with elementary, middle, and high school students shows that students who participate in regular Visual Thinking Strategies discussions with works of art double their critical thinking skills, including supported observations and flexible thinking, compared with peers who do not participate.

Learn more about the Gardner Museum's educational research projects.

Thinking Through Art at the Gardner Museum

Teacher Testimonials

Seeing the transfer of skills from the classroom into the authentic setting of the Gardner Museum is a great experience. Most importantly, it allows the students who might otherwise not speak up, or who may not have a moment to shine, to put themselves out there, and to say something really insightful. I see that happen over and over and over again.

— Michael Baulier, Principal, The Mozart Elementary School

Kara Nemeth, teacher at the Condon School in South Boston, shares how Thinking Through Art has impacted her and her students

Charlestown High School teacher Julie Wright explains how her 11th and 12th grade English classes gained valuable experiences through group discussions that are part of Thinking Through Art

Schools that have Participated in Thinking Through Art

Blackstone Elementary School
Boston Community Leadership Academy
Boston International Newcomers Academy
Boston Latin Academy
Boston Latin School 
Boston Teachers Union K-8 Pilot School
Bradley Elementary School
Bunker Hill Community College
Butler Middle School
Channing Elementary School
Charles Sumner Elementary School
Charlestown High School
Chittick Elementary School
Condon K-8 School
Curley K-8 School
Dennis Haley K-8 School
Dever Elementary School
Donald McKay K-8 School
Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School
East Boston High School
Edward Everett School
Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers
English High School
Excel High School
Gardner Pilot Academy
Greater Egleston High School
Guild Elementary School
Harvard-Kent Elementary School
Henry Grew Elementary
Hennigan K-8 School
Higginson-Lewis K-8 School
Holmes Elementary School
Jackson-Mann K-8 School
James Otis Elementary School
James W. Hennigan K-8 School
John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science
John D. Philbrick Elementary

John W. McCormack Middle School
Joseph Lee K-8 School
Joseph P. Manning Elementary School
Joseph P. Tynan Elementary
Josiah Quincy Upper School
Joyce Kilmer Upper School
King K-8 School
Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School 
Lyndon K-8 School
Madison Park Technical Vocational High School
Mario Umana Academy
Mary K. Lyon High School
Mass Bay Community College
Mather Elementary School
Maurice J Tobin K-8 School
McKinley South End Academy / McKinley Elementary School
Mildred Avenue K-8 School
Mission Hill K-8 School
Mother Caroline Academy
Mozart Elementary School
New Mission High School
O’Donnell Elementary School
Orchard Gardens Pilot School
Patrick J. Kennedy Elementary School
Pauline A. Shaw Elementary School
Perry K-8 School
Roger Clap Elementary School
Roosevelt K-8 School
Russell Elementary School
Snowden International School at Copley
Taylor Elementary
TechBoston Academy
Thomas J. Kenny School
Timilty Middle School
Trotter K-8 School
Urban Science Academy
Warren-Prescott School
Young Achievers Math and Science Pilot School


The lead sponsor of the Thinking Through Art program is the Vertex Foundation. Additional support is generously provided by the Rowland Foundation, Yawkey Foundation, The Beker Foundation, Liberty Mutual Foundation, The Hamilton Company Charitable Foundation, Thomas Anthony Pappas Charitable Foundation, and Janet Burke Mann Foundation. The Museum also receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which is supported by the state of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts.