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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Possibility, Power, Perception … and Transformation

Yes, lol, such a long blog post title, but I couldn’t choose just one word. Clearly I couldn’t even choose two! Perhaps you will think of a better title. Good! If you do, share it with me.

I was on Facebook today, and noticed a photo and article a friend shared.

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(photo from Facebook post of http://www.amightygirl.com)

I was pulled in by the idea and the awesome photo. Heading to the website link I discovered this video: (from http://www.Yuwa-India.org)

Let’s Put Every Girl’s Future Into Her Own Hands

Give it a look. It is compelling and joy-filled!

Watching the video, I was struck by something I noticed and loved about Reggio Emilia and El Sistema – two educational systems/approaches I researched for my MA – a deep belief in the transformational power of what is being done.

The soccer coaches are not teaching the girls to play soccer simply to play soccer, or even to become good at soccer. Yes, of course  playing soccer is important, becoming good at it is important, but it is so much more!

Education and creativity are like that, too! Yes, of course education is important for education’s sake, and creativity is important for creativity’s sake. BUT if we leave it there –if we stop at education, or creativity, or sports, without perceiving, and believing deeply, in the profound possibility that is found in them — we miss the opportunity to share, and be touched by, their transformational power.

Sewing, thinking, and creating with Faith Ringgold

Tar Beach is, in my opinion, both simple and profound. it is easy to understand and yet filled with illustrations and ideas that inspire both wonder and discussion. It is an excellent platform from which to explore a female artist/author, and to integrate arts and creativity into the curriculum.

We did an interactive read aloud of the book – actually reading it two or three times at different points along the process of the project. We watched videos of Faith talking about her writing and art – especially her story quilts. We examined pictures of the quilts and noticed that the stories were told in word and illustration. We inquired about, reflected on, and discussed many things.

Why is the book called Tar Beach? What is the tar beach? Have you ever been to a tar beach? Do you think it would be fun? Why or why not? Can someone really fly over the city like Cassie? Do stars come lift you up so you can fly? What could Faith Ringgold possibly mean? Why does Cassie fly where she flies in the story? Have you ever wanted to belong to a club but couldn’t? Have you ever wanted to do something to help others feel better? Have you ever wanted to do something to help your parents feel better? What are your dreams? Where would you go if you could go anywhere?

The discussion was rich, and continued as the girls worked on the art/literacy project.

I combined ideas I found on the web (see resources) with my own ideas to create a project that involved drawing and a certain sense of mapping – choosing and implementing the body position of their flying person, as well as placement of their person on the paper, color mixing, painting, small motor skills (cutting, gluing), sewing, imagining and writing.

The project was not simple. It took a bit of prep on my part and a good bit of stamina and work by the girls. We worked together on this project for several days.

  • I measured the paper and cut many sheets of paper. We needed a background, a piece for the sky, a piece for them to draw themselves flying, a piece for them to write their dreams, and squares to glue around the edge for the quilted part.
  • The girls brainstormed how they might look if they were flying. Once the had an idea they liked, they set to creating it in pencil. Happy with their work, they went over the lines with sharpie markers. (There is something striking about children’s work in black sharpie.) Finally they added color to their person.
  • They pasted the square pieces – in the fashion of a quilt – along the edges of a 12 x 18 sheet of paper. By the way, it takes a LOT longer than you might imagine. I was impressed with the girls perseverance.
  • They created a night sky using various shades of blue and purple and filled the sky with glitter stars.
  • Once their sky painting dried they decided how they would fly and glued their person onto the sky.
  • They were very careful and deliberate with all their work!
  • Finally, after thinking deeply about where they would want to fly and why, they used their best spelling, and writing, to transcribe their thoughts onto the project.

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At first I thought that would be the end of the project – glue all the things onto the background and display them. However, it seemed unfinished, and somehow disrespectful of the strength and capabilities of the girls, to have quilt pieces devoid of any sewing.

I was reminded of a quote by Jerome Bruner. After visiting some Reggio Emilia schools (they are early education classrooms, by the way), Jerome commented on the level of respect afforded the children by the educators. “It is like a seminar at the graduate department of the university, with the same kind of respect, of exchange in talking about what you have just said, and about your former thinking” (Rindaldi, p. 58). While the quote comments on thinking, I believe it can be expanded to include respect for the students’ work as well as their thinking.

I decided I would bring in my sewing machine and have the girls sew their art pieces with my machine. We talked about the fact that I, and many of the adults in their lives, sew on a machine. I explained the way the machine worked – in all its glory as well as it’s potential for harm. (No one wants a needle sewn through their finger!) I told the girls that I was confident in their ability (with my help) to use the machine and generate beautiful things. Then, we got to work.

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I sat behind them as they sewed. We had a dialogue regarding where and how they should sew. We talked about going fast or slow. We discussed hand positioning. We agreed that if I said “stop” they would immediately remove their foot from the pedal. They were fantastic! For a five year olds, there was quite a bit of sewing – and it was all straight lines so they had to work on keeping the paper at the proper guide. After a bit of time coaching each girl, I was pretty much a watchful spectator.

When we were all finished, I created a used their pieces to create a quilt on the hall bulletin board. It was awesome to notice all the older girls and teachers who stopped to examine, and marvel at, our words and artwork.

faithringold quilt

RESOURCES:

Inspiration for art project:

  1. http://weskart.blogspot.com/2010/12/faith-ringgold.html
  2. http://pinkandgreenmama.blogspot.com/2010/05/art-in-schools-faith-ringgold-paper.html#.U-FFXoBdUoo

Video:

  1. Making the quilt –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=794M-mcOJY4
  2. Writing Tar Beach –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdPxHvGB1Xo

Faith Ringgold:

  1. http://www.faithringgold.com/
  2. http://faithringgold.blogspot.com/2007/03/faith-ringgold.html

Reggio Quote:

  1. Carlina Rinaldi, In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning. London: Routledge.

Relentless Creativity

MA cert

Over the last 2 1/2 years I pursued (and attained) an MA in Creative Thinking from the University of Central Lancashire. I focused on the classroom environment that might best support creativity and academic excellence. Occasionally I got a bit off track and wanted to stick a pencil in my eye (not really, lol, but you get my point), but, most of all it was a fascinating journey filled with discoveries, joy and inspiration!

I concentrated on three schools/approaches that endeavor to marry creativity and excellence – El Sistema, Reggio Emilia, and Oklahoma A+ Schools. If you haven’t read anything about them you really should! Or, just follow my blog as I’m sure to talk about them here!

I heard Tricia Tunstall (author of Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema and the transformative power of Music – a great book btw) speak at the NJAIS conference in 2012. She shared her experiences with El Sistema (a remarkable music program started by Jose Antonio Abreu). She said some great things, but the most profound idea – which I wrote in capital letters with numerous underlines – was RELENTLESS POSITIVITY! The El Sistema educators are relentlessly positive.

RELENTLESSLY POSITIVE! Wow. I adopted it as my mantra – relentless positivity.

When I decided to start a creativity blog, I struggled to find a title that adequately described who I am, and what I hope to achieve in my life and on this blog. I thought about relentless positivity and relentless creativity. Either would work for me because I see them as rather intertwined. Wanting to highlight creativity, I included relentless creativity in the title. I’m not sure it captures everything I’m imagining, but it’s a good start.

I am relentlessly creative. I love being creative, thinking about creativity, talking about creativity, encouraging creativity and experiencing creativity. And I mean creativity in all arenas – art, science, math, music, life, you name it – everything! Creativity is a way of thinking, learning and being, that has the potential to impact all academic disciplines and all aspects of life. Joy, knowledge, a great scarf, a new recipe, and life changing discoveries are just some of the treasures creativity offers us.

I may not always produce the most beautiful scarf, or craft the perfect recipe, or have the most profoundly creative thought, or make any life changing discoveries, but I will always be relentless in my pursuit of creativity in my life and in the lives of those around me.

Welcome to my blog! I hope you enjoy my thoughts, photographs, projects and posts, and I hope you join the conversation.

Have a wonderful day!

Molly