Flying Teapots and the Wonder of Transformation

In the Spring of 2012, when I realized that our school was really leaving our historical Peabody building for a barracks type  temporary building , I had to summon all reserve positivity.

OK, I said, we will transform our new school space into the extraordinary. I shouted this from the rooftops until I became a believer. The first inspiration came from the site STREET ART UTOPIA We declare the world as our canvas. Teapots filled with plants and buildings covered in flowers.

I sent out a call “…collect teapots this summer, scour garage sales, your basement and thrift stores.”

This image and call to action became the metaphor that became a mantra, especially during the challenges, We are growing a school!

The action gave us something to do when there was nothing else we could do as we waited for our new space to be ready for occupancy.

Now I will back tread showing you a quick visual of the reality of this move:

First the furious packing in June. It was hard to pack the moon.

This is July 20th, when I thought maybe I could come in and set up in the new space:

It was August 20th when we were allowed to move in, but oops, none of our furniture and boxes were there.

The district called in some movers, but it was the SWS staff and volunteers who literally made the move happen. One of the most heard questions was, “Does anyone have any ibuprofen?” We were some sore staff and volunteers. More importantly we were some visionary staff and volunteers eager to make an empty space home.

Here’s August 28th:

When the children finally entered, it all became a beautiful dream:

Thanks to Adrian (Bella’s father in Ms. Burke’s room) the original counter and hideaway space, that was made in 1994 by parent Mike Ryan was uninstalled, stored and then retro fitted to the new space. He also did the same with the studio curio shelf made 3 years ago by parent Charlie Territo and his brother. In addition to retro fitting, I asked him to raise it up so the coveted hideaway space could also accomodate our 1st graders without them banging their heads!

The spirit of the studio has come alive, with experimentation, conversation, creation, inquiry and new friends.

While most of the things that make the studio home could come to the new space (Racecar the turtle, the snowglobe collection, the moon, the materials, the hideaway space and soft stuffed dog, the piano, light table and overhead projector, many of the natural collections, most of the furniture,) I did have to forgo the beloved playhouse. Not a day goes by when a small friend asks me, “Ms. McLean, where’s the playhouse?”

The small bits of disappointment make way for great opportunities to transform. By embracing change as a thing of wonder, a climate of empowerment takes over. The sky is the limit.

Which takes me back to the teapot story.

My faith is humanity was overwhelmingly overflowing on beautification day. It was the weekend before school started (and the grounds were just an empty mess.)

The tasks I led were getting rocks from a quarry and the teapot project. J.T. (Carly’s dad in Ms. Burke’s room) and I met bleary eyed in the morning at Irwin Stone in Rockville and had a blast choosing and hauling rocks. Special thanks to his father-in-law for the truck loan. Whatever wacky idea I came up with, Nicole Mogul (1st grade mom to Sylvie) somehow made it happen.

 

After hauling the rocks (JT went back a 2nd time!) it was time for the teapot planting and hanging!

It was a cacophony of lids and kids and pots, flowers and rooted vines, toddlers to grandparents scooping pebbles and dirt. It was what makes a heart beat with great joy and gratitude.

Such a joyful entry.

With the project came a provocation…what should be done with the teapot lids?

I proposed to small groups, that they should think of ways to transform the lid into something else. And that their ideas could be turned eventually into a mosaic sign or piece of art for our new school.

In this group I asked each child one at a time, to select a lid and then tell the group what they wanted to change it into.

They then were asked to pretend their finger was a pen and draw the lines that would transform the lid. Sometimes other children made suggestions or added lines. They all were able to envision what was not there, First in their minds as the artist and also they were able to see the imaginary lines their friends had drawn.

One of the 8 Studio Thinking Frameworks/Habits of Mind (From the book Studio Thinking, from the Harvard School of Education/Project Zero) is Envision, Learning to picture mentally what cannot be directly observed and imagine possible next steps in making a piece. If you know me or have followed my blog,  I intentionally teach/facilitate through this body of work and research.

In the image above, Tayen chose a lid that looked like a roof. He drew the walls. I prompted, what else could you add? Soon windows, and a door were drawn by his finger. I asked his small group if there was anything else. They imagined chimneys and a garden and front steps.

Building on the habit to Envision, one is able to develop the capacity to solve problems, think out of the box, invent, and  discover new possibilities. This is not just an artist’s tool, but a tool for humanity.

The next step for the children was to select a lid and take it to the table. This time they would use black line marker and first draw the lid as it really exists.

They then were to change or transform it by adding lines. Color pencils were added as their ideas progressed.

The initial step of observing the lid and representing it, with it’s detail, shape and color was challenging since they also were envisioning the change simultaneously.

Emma (first grade) transformed her lid into an insect. She noticed the handle looked like a leaf, which she represented clearly, plus it looked like a nose for her insect.

Observe, Learning to attend to visual contexts more closely than ordinary “looking” requires, and thereby to see things that otherwise might not be seen.

This is another Studio Habit of Mind that is intentionally developed through projects and which requires persistance and practice. Once again it is a habit of mind that offers not only great possibilities but limitless joy. A child who is observant is a child who is curious and never bored.

“Alien”

When everyone was finished we met on the floor to share the work. The practice of looking at work is intentional. It is never good or bad, or I like it or it’s pretty. In this instance I utilized another technique from Project Zero/Harvard School of Education.

I See I Think I Wonder is a tool for talking about art and other interesting things that develops the habits of inquiry, curiosity and observation.

First children are asked what do you see? They are encouraged to start their observation with the words, I see.

Above, responses to Adinath’s lid transformation were “I see flowers on the cheeks.”  “I see a rectangle body.”

Then I think. “I think it’s a person.” “I think it’s a flower person.”

Then finally I wonder. “I wonder who that person is” “I wonder if it’s a boy.” “I wonder if the person is a kid.”

While his image was clearly a person, it is interesting when a  drawing is more ambiguos.

In one case, the image was thought to be a pullman rail car, a caterpillar, and a bench. This was a tremendous opportunity to talk about how often the artist has an intent but the viewer sees something completely different. I exclaim how intersting this makes the world, facilitating a culture of questioning and risk taking.

This  approach alters the dynamic of “getting it right” to “thinking and looking deeply.”

 

I learned another lesson from these first groups in the new studio.

The architectural open-ness, while visually and symbolically designed to be inviting and a part of the whole school, also is not conducive to small group discussions. There was so many distractions at one point Patrick (1st grade) said, “I don’t know who to be paying attention to. Them?” (he pointed to 2 staff in the kitchen) “Them?” (He pointed to the bathroom, echoing with sounds of children and teachers. “Or her?” (A 1st grader walked by shouting out greetings)

“You should have put a door in.” Said Emma.

I told them thank you and that they were absolutely right.

I rigged up some curtain panels. While not soundproof, they are a sign to the folks in the hall area that there is a conversation happening. It also psychologically offers a more intimate and calm space.

Together we are growing this school.

And together we will continue old traditions while transforming or changing them in ways that are meaningful. On September 11th SWS celebrates Kindness Day. Please reference this past post to understand the history “Kindness Day.”

In past years, all new incoming children to SWS received handmade gifts from the returning students. This year, since we all are in fact “new”, I initiated that each child would make a gift for another child, the fun part being, they won’t know who until kindness day.

Another change to this ritual is all the children were read the book Have you filled a bucket today?

It was recommended to me by my mother in law, and it has been a great provocation for actions, conversations and thought.

The premise is, that all people walk around with an invisible bucket. When you do something thoughtful or nice to or for another person, you are a bucket filler. When you are insensitive or mean, you are a bucket dipper. When you bucket dip, your bucket does not get filled. Bucket dippers are usually unhappy and in need of their bucket filled.

This simple analogy offers a way to reflect on how you are in the world.

This year, each child is making a necklace/sun catcher/overhead projector image as a gift.

Elilie, who is a new incoming 1st grader to SWS proclaimed. “Kindness Day is when you fill a lot of buckets!”

Each project that happens however small or large, is layered with potential for learning experiences.

In this case, the kindness gifts not only are a way to be bucket fillers, but an opportunity to explore and experiment with light, transparency, color and translucence. This idea of light as a method for communicating understandings and expression is one of the Reggio principles of 100 Languages.

Olivia’s unicorn gift

As I  reflect on the past weeks of furious change  and transformation of the Logan Annex  Barrack into the School-Within-School at Logan Annex I am humbled by this tremendous community. At times this work can feel overwhelming, but you wake up each day with great optimism and walk through the flying teapots just to enter our school. It is just a big rainbow of hope to me. We’re growing a school!

As I observed the children creating their kindness day gifts, I realized there was a kind of glow happening with each group.

This intense glow happened after they created their drawing on artist acetate and then brought it to the overhead projector.

There were private moments of seeing their tiny drawing take up a whole wall, there was the experimenting of layering images on top of images. Oh and then there was moving the images and distorting them, adding other objects, looking at the shadows of the hands.

But what was most powerful to observe was being able to see their very “being” embodying the wonder of encountering a transformation.

It is the expression of an epiphany, of learning, of joy, of relationship.

It is to me a challenge to catch this moment in my hands and then return it to each child when the work feels hard and the wonder feels far away for them.

We’ve heard it all: Change is good. Change is hard. The only constant is change.

Yes it is.

but change is also Flying Teapots

and  the

Wonder

of

Transformation

 

“This”

I believe that theory and practice are indeed the pedals on the bicycle and you need both to move forward. (Loris Malaguzzi coined this phrase)

 

It is a goal to share this belief within my blog. It is important.

 

Today, however, I want to show

 

gratitude through images.

 

beautiful moments,

small and large

private and public

hard earned through perseverance

spontaneous gestures

independence

help from friends

help from family

exhilaration

quiet

togetherness

chaos

making

flow

solitude

the lit fire

connection

joy

love

 

Embrace this idea:

Without deep relationships developed with children, hand, mind and heart-

“this” would not be possible.

 

This is creativity.

 

Thoughtfullness.

 

The data gathered is called humanity.

 

Trust.

 

It is the force that makes life remarkable.

 

Not always easy.

 

But remarkable.

 

 

In full gratitude,

Marla

 

Binoculars above and walkie talkie below

(Katy, PreK first self portrait)

The surprise of translucent transformation.

(BK Adams I AM ART exhibit at the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum) Both K classes got to view the exhibit and meet the artist. When I emailed BK the images he was just blown away. “Marla, wow, this is the reason I do what I do.”

Michael rummaged his hands through the jewels and held these two red ones up to me.

Me: You found two red ones. Your favorite color!

Michael faces me and presses them to my chest, “No, it’s your heart.”

I carried them in my pocket all day. Patting them. I took them home. They sit on my dresser.

Not always easy

but remarkable.

PS  I have made many connections through reading and commenting on visionary blogs especially ones in early childhood education.

One of my favorites is a West Coast PreK teacher who is nothing short of prolific. He is also passionate, committed and fearless. I am humbled and honored to be nominated by him for the best best individual blog through Edublog. Please take a look at  Teacher Tom .  His review of my blog warms my jewel red heart.(and while you are there, brew a pot of coffee and read his posts!)