Wow! What an Experience!

Sometime tired, rainy days hold untold treasures! I was on vacation a couple weeks ago, deep into a tired and rainy day. Lazing about, and looking for something to do, I discovered the LPCA was offering a 3 hour watercolor class. I hoped for good things and secured my spot.

Sarah Yoeman — one of four artists featured in the LPCA The World Through Watercolor exhibit was the instructor. She is a talented watercolorist, and a superb teacher.

The workshop was filled with instruction, experimenting, playing, painting, conversation, laughter, and lots of learning. I learned about paint, paper, brushes, gravity, erasing, taking risks, value, shapes, moving paint, using water, and being in the moment. I took photos and notes. I experimented, kibitzed, taped, painted, and created watercolors I enjoy.

My brother joined me for the workshop. We spent a lot of time looking at Sarah’s art, and our own. We discussed the things we noticed. We talked about value and shape, and how she created various images.

It was a great afternoon. I left with increased skill, confidence and joy.

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When I looked at my notes that evening, I discovered I had inadvertently skipped a few pages in my journal. Eee gads. I wasn’t loving that mistake. I stared at the blank pages, wondering what to do. After a few moments, inspiration hit. Why not fill them with my reflections about the experience?!

My thoughts quickly filled those pages, and overflowed onto others. I was struck by my level of enjoyment, motivation, and ability to engage deeply with the process. It felt like I had experienced 3 hours of an optimal teaching-learning relationship.

With that thought, I excitedly thought of my paper — Managing the Classroom for Creativity. I wondered if I might find all the elements of my amended KEYS classroom management system in Sarah’s workshop. I pulled up the paper to remind myself of all 8 points in the system and compared them to my experience in the workshop.

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Freedom

Our goal for the workshop was to explore the world of watercolors and  let Sarah guide us in creating your own watercolor work or art.

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Even the goal offers a great deal of freedom — a watercolor work or art. Sarah shared information, made suggestions, and demonstrated technique. Then she set us free to explore and experiment.

We were free to use one sheet of paper or more. We could section the paper into multiple sections, or keep it as one. If we didn’t like our piece we could try again on the back. She suggested we stand as we paint — giving us her reasons for doing so — but she allowed us to explore and choose what worked best for us. While she demonstrated various techniques, she didn’t require us to use any one in particular.  She encouraged us to experiment, be bold, and take risks.

Positive Challenge

The ideal level of challenge is one that engages without overwhelming. Sarah helped maintain this level of challenge by affording me the freedom to choose my challenge. But, interestingly enough, I found it was her presence and interaction with me that helped me maintain the optimal level of challenge. As I became overwhelmed, she offered help in the form of a thought, a suggestion, or simple encouragement. If I took too easy a route, she encouraged boldness. And, she normalized the struggle inherent in positive challenge by freely sharing her angst with her process and product.

Supervisory Encouragement

Right off the bat, Sarah shared The Three Laws of Art:

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They cracked everyone up and helped to establish an environment free from fear and worry. The laws suggested failure was to be expected, and helped us to accept it with a modicum of grace and ease.

Although Sarah was far more accomplished than us, she interacted with us as equals. It was clear she had more experience, expertise, talent, and knowledge. It was clear she was the teacher. But, or perhaps, because that was true, treating me as a colleague, a fellow artist, helped elevate my own sense of self, and consequently my thought, process, and product!

Sarah wandered about the room, observing, noticing, and commenting on our technique and product. She found things in everyone’s work to notice, praise, or share with the group. She pointed out the beauty she saw in entire paintings, color choice, shapes, expression of depth, or small portions of our work. Sometimes she encouraged new points of view by physically turning, or moving our paintings farther from us. By doing these things, she showed us the value of our work.

Work Group Support

Our group was diverse in experience and ability. Sarah’s banter and sharing of our work helped me to feel at ease. I began to appreciate my fellow painters expertise, courage, risk taking, and ideas. I was challenged by some of them, but always felt safe and secure.

Sufficient Resources

The materials we used in this workshop were excellent. We had unlimited access to lovely paper, juicy, pigment-rich paint, and professional level brushes of various sizes. This spoke to the importance of our work, and elevated us to the level of “real” artists. I appreciated that tremendously!

20180821_150037-01Access to these quality resources helped us succeed and accomplish our goals.  At one point I was having a tough time. Sarah happened by me, and suggested I use a different size paintbrush. Then looking at the paint I was using, she went and got her own palette to share with me! She brought several of her own palettes and brushes to share with us, and did so with a great generosity, and zero sense of indebtedness or worry on our part.

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Some of the best resources Sarah shared with us were her artistic-eye, her brain, her experience, and her hands and skills. These were invaluable.

Organizational Support

While just a short workshop, Sarah established great organizational support for us. She shared her vision of creativity available to all of us. She constantly suggested problem-solving strategies to help us succeed. Risk taking, boldness, and fresh ideas were welcomed and encouraged.

Profound image of child/student

Loris Malaguzzi (Reggio Emilia) knew children are “strong, rich, and powerful.” He would have loved Sarah. She saw each of us this way, and she helped us to see it as well.

Profound purpose and possibility of education/learning:

It’s clear Sarah loves to paint, and experiences something profound when she does so. She shared that love with us, and invited us to enter into the depth of the experience. And, I think, she gets the value of what she is doing when she teaches and shares with others.

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Every single one of the components of the modified KEYS approach to classroom management had been present and employed in Sarah’s workshop! WOW!!!

My research had been about other people — those in literature I had read, as well as my own students. This was the first time I experienced the Amended KEYS Classroom as a learner. Let me tell you, it was powerful!

Having experienced them myself, increases my desire to intentionally and deliberately incorporate them into my learning environment and management practice. It also makes me wonder how I might share this information on a grander scale?

 

POST SCRIPT: 

I blogged about my angst as I painted a few days after the workshop. At first I was incredibly surprised by the intensity of my angst, and my seeming lack of any learning and ability!

Taking a break, I sunned myself on a rock, feet dangling into the freezing river water. I took a moment to breathe and assess the situation. Certainly I didn’t lose all my learning and ability. But clearly something had changed.

I realized the change was that I was painting by myself. I no longer had the resource of Sarah and her skill and expertise right beside me. That is huge! Huge as a learner, and huge as an educator.

I didn’t enjoy the angst, but I’m glad I experienced it. And, I’m super glad I took a moment to reflect and had that epiphany.  Now to remember it, allow it to inform my practice, and look for opportunities to share it with my students.

 

 

 

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Classroom Setup 2017-18

Merriam-Webster’s sixth definition of setup is “the manner in which the elements or components of a machine, apparatus, or system are arranged, designed, or assembled.”

I love to remind myself of this definition while I’m going about my classroom setup. I am designing a system in which I, and my students, colleagues, and parents, will work, create, play, and learn. If I’m any example, creating a classroom system requires a lot of thought, reflection, iteration, sweat, and muscle!

As I worked, thought, and sweated, I reminded myself of the truth about myself and my students. We are “rich in potential, strong, powerful, competent(Loris Malaguzzi quoted in The Hundred Languages of Children, 2nd addition, p. 275). I also thought back to my MA research where I considered the environment that might best support creativity and academic excellence.

I read so many thought provoking things as I researched for my MA. I synthesized them in an article in Creative Education.  If I were writing my dissertation, or the article now, I think I might title it Managing the Classroom for Creative and Cognitive Excellence. I want my classroom setup to support creative excellence, and cognitive excellence. To do that, it has to include and support the 6 elements of Teresa Amabile’s KEYS I adapted for classroom management in Managing the Classroom for Creativity:

  • Freedom which enables and and encourages ownership, motivation, and engagement of all the learners.
  • Positive challenge which helps everyone know the tasks/skills they engage in are important and valuable.
  • Supervisory Encouragement which values work and thought, and encourages inquiry and exploration.
  • Work group support which encourages the generation and exchange of new ideas.
  • Easy access to sufficient resources.
  • Organizational Support of our shared vision and an infrastructure that enables and empowers everyone in my learning space.

I’ve finished my initial classroom set up, and am super happy with the result. There is more work to be done, but I’m ready for my learners to join me in the space.

In addition to including the 6 elements listed above, I worked on including more visibility this year. I was mindful of balancing beauty and utility. I wanted our work, vision, thought, prototypes, iterations and our creative and cognitive “mess” to be visible. It adds a richness to the space — telling our story while increasing curiosity, inquiry, wonder, learning, understanding, creativity and excellence!

 

Here are a few photos with my reflections.

Last year our maker projects where stored in a classroom cabinet. This year, some awesome maintenance people ripped out the cabinet, and I replaced it with this open shelving unit. The wall behind and beside it is covered with a large art piece my students made last year. (How awesome is that?!!!) The use of that artwork, the trays for student work, and the words on the front of the shelving unit let everyone know these things are valued and supported.

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A second smaller shelving unit — on the coolest, gigantic wheels — keeps our tools neat and easily accessible. There’s opportunity for remarkable exploration and learning through the use of these tools.

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The maker trolley has always been a part of the makerspace, but this year I am repurposing the back to hold more materials, and storing our large item bins in the open. I am hopeful this will increase use and understanding.

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The two classroom easels provide opportunities for creative art experiences outside the regular art curriculum. The second is actually a double easel – fabulous for conversation and inspiration! I love leaving the dried paint on the easels. It adds an element of beauty and history to the space, and allows for freedom as one paints.

I’m thinking about the resources I have that might enable me to store paper beneath the easels — enabling the artists to be autonomous in their work. I have some ideas I’m going to try this week.

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I love the connection between my learners’ art experience and mine (the watercolors are my work). I also like the suggestion of a connection between painting, shapes, blocks and building.

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Print is plentiful and purposeful in my learning space. I want my students to read the room and learn. I want them to become more skilled at letter recognition and use, and to be inspired — to see, read, absorb, and live, what is important.

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I love all the little print treasures in my space, so it’s nearly impossible to choose a favorite. However, I am enjoying this one quite a bit!  I wonder what it will evoke or awaken in those who see it. For me it stirs up joy, possibility, positivity, and continuing even when obstacles arise.

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And this, partially hidden gem, out of the way of traffic, is a message from me, to me. “Be a superhero every day. The kids and the world deserve it!”

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All the best to all my fellow educators. Arm yourself with another Malaguzzi truth “Nothing without joy!” and have a fantabulous year!

 

NOTE:

Whenever I write, I think of all the remarkable people I’ve read, talked with, and researched . I think about adding tons of links to each post. Instead, I offer my deep gratitude to all those who informed my research and learning,  and remind my readers there is a great bibliography at the end of my Creative Education article.

 

 

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