I was thinking about the complexities of “labor” today, on this Labor Day eve.
I was thinking about the labor or role of the teacher. The possibilities and power of relationship and transformation that can happen in a learning environment is on my mind as this new school year has begun. For me this is in the Atelier or Art Studio at SWS.
It made me jump to the phrase “Labor of Love.”
Last Spring I became part of a year-long 12 person Art Educator DCPS Fellowship. ACES Art Fellowship. ACES stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. The fellowship I am a part of aims to create a cadre of trauma –informed art teachers to develop strategies and practice within their art classes and then share and spread this work within their school communities and throughout DCPS.
What is ACEs science?
ACEs science refers to the research on the prevalence and consequences of adverse childhood experiences, and what to do to prevent them. It comprises:
- The CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study and subsequent surveys that show that most people in the U.S. have at least one ACE, and that people with four ACEs— including living with an alcoholic parent, racism, bullying, witnessing violence outside the home, physical abuse, and losing a parent to divorce — have a huge risk of adult onset of chronic health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, suicide, and alcoholism.
- Brain science (neurobiology of toxic stress) — how toxic stress caused by ACEs damages the function and structure of kids’ developing brains.
- Health consequences — how toxic stress caused by ACEs affects short- and long-term health, and can impact every part of the body, leading to autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis, as well as heart disease, breast cancer, lung cancer, etc.
- Historical and generational trauma (epigenetic consequences of toxic stress) — how toxic stress caused by ACEs can alter how our DNA functions, and how that can be passed on from generation to generation.
- Resilience research — how the brain is plastic and the body wants to heal. This research ranges from looking at how the brain of a teen with a high ACE score can be healed with cognitive behavior therapy, to how schools can integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building practices that result in an increase in students’ scores, test grades and graduation rates.
“ACEs are still experienced by more than one in three children under the age of six. Even in higher income families, more than one in four children have ACEs.”
Here is a wonderful link (where I copied the above info from)
So what does this mean for the my work?
It means a more intentional and informed practice of being the safety net for children within the context of the SWS Atelier/Art Studio.
A child does not need to have 1 or more ACES to benefit from me cultivating a compassionate and inclusive classroom based on ACES science. A child who does have one or more ACES has the added potential and benefit of altering their neurology, developing a sense of healthy connection, and developing necessary resiliency.
One of my favorite simple strategies within this work is to offer “unconditional regard.” It means taking a breath and offering love, even when a child presents in an unlovable behavior. It means routines, rituals, and language that lessens triggers. It means learning how to de-escalate children who are acting out with care and thought. It means thoughtful planning and facilitating of materials, environment, and lessons through this lens.
And let us not forget the power of the arts to heal. Materials or the 100 Language of children offer children (and adults!) opportunities to express, explore, experiment, and take risks. It allows one to reflect, make beauty, destroy, make mistakes, construct, and transform.
When opportunities to create art occurs within a safe inclusive space, with a teacher who verbally and non-verbally defines boundaries, offers freedoms, and unconditional regard, there is fertile ground for growth. And for joy.
SWS and DCPS are systemically committed to this work. It is an honor and privilege to meet consistently with the DCPS ACES Art Fellowship cadre under the facilitation of Lyndsey D. Vance, ATR-BC, LPC from ProjectCreate, DC in Anacostia.
This year, all the ongoing Reggio practice, Constructivist theory, Art Theory, Art Ed, Early Childhood pedagogy, DCPS Standards, Developmentally Appropriate planning, Project Approach, and Mindfulness practices that are embedded in my teaching at SWS, have a new connecting thread. Unconditional regard. Trauma informed practice. Love.
“Relationship is the evidence based practice.” Dr. Allison Jackson
Intuitively I have always known this. In my life, I have been both on the receiving and giving end. Now I have the science and fellowship to truly understand, share, and further develop my practice.
It seems most appropriate today to declare this work, this year, sincerely, as a Labor of Love.
Looking forward to connecting and reconnecting!
I thought I was going to write about Wonder, but instead I’ve changed my mind.
I have been thinking about and researching the importance of Wonder within teaching and life for well over 15 years.
This lead me to create a video, I Wonder Why things are so Cool, with the help of my youngest students a few years ago. (Click link to watch!)
Thinking about Wonder as a residual of learning leads me to to thoughtfully create provocations in all forms.
Provocations connected to the senses, the environment, and social interaction
Provocations connected to light, collaboration, the self in the context of others.
Provocations to connect with Early Learning non-verbal children, senses, communication, delight.
Provocations to mark the changing seasons, giving, a sense of the “we” in community.
Researching Wonder leads me to seek out personal sources of Awe, and reflect on my own capacities, beliefs, and purpose.
From my own artwork, to professional interactions, to nature, to travel…
(Imvuselelo, Awakening 2016)
At The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, with one of the curators, Handirubvi Indigo Wakatama and fellow artist in the show Dr. Pamela Lawton at the opening of the important Implicit Bias; Seeing Ours Self Seeing the Other Exhibit.
The awe of being in the presence of the Baobab Tree.
The opportunity to take a tour of Robben Island, (the prison where Nelson Mandela was held) guided by one of the political prisoners who survived the horrific ordeal, to tell the stories of torture, survival, empowerment, and freedom.
The Wonder Exhibit at the Renwick, a powerful and provocative installation. Why is it one of the most popular and well attended exhibits in Washington, DC, with people lining up outside to view?
Why is wonder so important for all, but especially for young children?
Simple Definition of humility
the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble
When one is in a state of Wonder or Awe, one realizes that there is indeed something bigger than oneself out there.
Racecar the Turtle has lived in the SWS Atelier for 17 years. Recently, her very pricey filter broke and the tank became filled with algae and waste.
I went to each classroom and told the children what happened and asked if they could all bring in a dollar, that together, we could keep Racecar alive and healthy.
I located the pump and drove at rush hour to purchase the filter on my charge card. I did not know how long poor Racecar could tolerate her environment.
The next morning, hundreds, yes, hundreds of children filed into the art studio, with notes, dollars, and baggies full of dimes and nickels. I almost cried. Children emptied their own piggie banks. This went on for several days. “Ms. McLean is Racecar ok? Did you get enough money?”
Several adults asked, “Why didn’t you do a crowd sourcing campaign online?” Or “Why didn’t you ask the Friends of SWS to pay?”
Intuitively I knew that the simple act of asking the children to help a small creature that is a part of their daily lives, would work.
A parent told me a story.
Olive, in Kindergarten approached her Mom and said, “Mommy, I want to bring a dollar in for Racecar but I don’t have any money.”
Mom, wisely replied, “Well what can you do to solve that?”
Olive replied, “Can I work for you?”
Mom gave her 4 jobs, worth a quarter each.
And why is humility important?
Ever wonder about injustice?
Ever wonder about creation?
Ever wonder about relationships?
Ever wonder about the environment?
Ever wonder about invention?
Ever wonder about the unknown?
Awe creates a sense of something bigger than ourselves. Humility. Humility leads to wondering, which leads to questions, questions lead to thoughtfulness, thoughtfulness leads to conversation (or action), conversation leads to others, others lead to collaboration, and collaboration leads to relationship, new perspectives, awareness, and often transformation.
I introduced Kindergarten children to the concept of Yin Yang. I framed it as opposites that need each other. I asked them if they could think of some opposites and why they thought they needed each other. Here’s one example of the depth of conversation that prevailed.
“Old and young.
When you’re young, you’d have to figure your way to grow up and be an older person.”
Believe it or not, this philosophical thinking was the path I lead the children on to understand color theory, and specifically, contrasting or complimentary colors.
(By Ruan and Peyton, Kindergarten)
I am concerned about the age of the “child expert”. I am concerned when a 5 year old tells me, I already know that, or I am better, stronger, smarter…
Just because we now have the answers to questions at the tip of our fingers in the form of a smart phone, does not make us smarter. In fact it stunts us.
Our children are not the smartest, strongest, most creative.
They are developing humans who need to be wondering, exploring, creating, questioning, developing theories, and having lots of wrong answers and mistakes along the way.
Children need an environment where the capacity to be humble is encouraged: asking for help, freely giving help, using vast resources around them to understand, grow, create, and connect.
Children must have opportunities to keep on trying, to practice, to take a healthy risk, to not know the answer and feel ok about it.
(PreK children pondered, the query, “Where does your skin come from?” “What would you name your skin?”)
Thanks to our wonderful SWS community, led by Margi Finneran, Foodprints Teacher and Facilitator, we have an awe inspired garden year round. I wanted to go deeper then the usual observational drawing I do with children. This time I wondered, how are we all connected to the garden? How do children see our connection as human beings to the rest of the world? How does seeing yourself as a part of the world create empathy, perspective, and humility?
I asked children to pick one single thing in the garden and draw it, say…a leaf. Then ask yourself what is the leaf connected to…a branch, and draw that…and then what is the branch connected to.
If you get stuck, just call for me, and I’ll ask you a question so you can keep on going.
Here are some of the awe-filled results:
Here’s Miles’ representation of his thinking: “It starts with a flower.”
Look at his progression. “Space is connected to God. Did you know God makes plants?” he asks
When he finished his face had a huge smile on it.
“Can I do another one? Now?!”
This is Charlie’s thinking. Notice he finds a different direction of thought, as well as his bold graphic representation. His progression goes from observations, to connection, to cooking suggestions, to the scientific process of elimination!
This is Lincoln’s thinking and representation: “I am connected to ground and plants. I am connected to animals. I am connected to my Mom.”
This is Emily’s ideas. “Running is connected to the tomato,” and “I was curious, they are hanging upside down!”
Humility allows children to search, ponder, and endeavor. Humility slows children to feel the flood of gratitude, community, and reflect when they figure something out, create a solution or make something new.
This is a completely different experience then knowing all the answers before you start.
This work gave me new perspectives on each child, and the depth and competency of thought each child possesses. When given the opportunity, look what children do.
This also connects to play.
(Sensory exploration and play with rainbow spaghetti)
(Dramatic play and light exploration seamlessly weave together)
(3 year olds playing office)
I have decided to stop children when they decide to play “Frozen” or “Star Wars” during free time in the studio.
“Hey, friends” I interject, “somebody already wrote the story of Star Wars and Frozen. They are really good stories! Now your job is to make up your own story and play it!”
And I stay present and help them by asking questions to provoke their own story of play.
“Hey what about if you build the fort for your story?”
Media driven or scripted play creates a hierarchy of haves and have nots.
It places burden on parents to buy, endorse, or allow children to watch content they may or may not feel comfortable with. These stories all have main characters who become the definition of standards of beauty and strength and popularity. What does this say to our children who do not look like Elsa or Luke, and never will?
And what does it do to the concept of “Wonder” when the story already has a preconceived ending? That only some children know?
Here is a wonderful brief article from the Washington Post with some ideas on helping your children expand beyond “media scripted play.”
Humility is deeply connected to perseverance and practice, and the beauty of creating together. Here are some images that document some of the Winter performances at SWS, along with the creation of the “Joy” backdrop for SWS.
Humility also gives children the opportunity to trust adults to set healthy boundaries, safe boundaries, and value-driven boundaries.
(There’s Mr. Jere playing the moon sax with the children during the Solstice Moon Ceremony in the Atelier)
Humility takes away the anxiety of not knowing the answers all the time,
and replaces it with creative capacities
to develop something bigger and better than ourselves.
Dear Rainbow Connection, That was really beautiful. Can you do it again???? From Payton
Bigger and better than ourselves.