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

 

Necessities

sylvie

I am continuing thought/research from my last post, The Evolution of Mark Making.

A week after that post I had my younger PreK children in the studio to create their first self portrait at SWS. This year, I am also held accountable by the school system I work for to produce data that shows either growth or mastery in “Art.” I am still developing the method for doing this, but  decided that collecting self portraits perhaps could be an excellent vehicle for collecting said data.

I am always extremely careful with “firsts.”

“Firsts ” offer leaps, but also can offer failure.

I have met too many people young and old (including myself) who stopped pursuing something because of a first experience with an adult who was not aware how vulnerable we are the first time we dare try something new.

The PreK’s, I will report, were brave, proud and glorious in creating their first self-portraits. Once again, we used mirrors and together discovered the wonder of the human face. Those nose holes are something when we squeeze them and talk, and  the kids were surprised to discover that they have a bridge on their face (nose bridge.) Looking, laughing, touching and then finally sketching…

SPMerov SPKatie

I love looking at these representations. While some children clearly  are comfortable holding a pen, for others, the act of steadying the pen in their hands and having their hand “Kiss” the paper was a great feat in and of itself.

Observing how they organized their face parts was also thrilling to observe. I suggested they make the face large, so they had room to fit all the parts in. Look how  one child accommodated my request, and her sense of space at the same time.sasha

Notice the shaky lines filled with intent

SPGabriel

as well as the strong lines discovering new details.

SPMayaF

They are equally powerful. It would be unconscionable to “grade” this work or make judgements on mastery to fulfill my data collection. Instead, I am determined to develop a system for identifying the evidence of  visual thinking and visual habits of mind.

SPAmira

josiesnowWhen I shared the self portraits with their teachers, some stories emerged. It turns out that one child, in the classroom only drew “snowstorms,” no matter what they were asked to record. In the studio her control and choices were intentional. I remembered  how she made her hair, using long strokes of the pen, instead of the usual one or two strands that most kids draw.

I realized in that moment, that it wasn’t any Ms. McLean magic that happened.

josie

How do we learn to tell stories?  At first humans/babies are non-verbal and then we begin to talk but we lack vocabulary and we don’t understand the idea of a beginning, middle, or end. (We have all listened to children tell a story  in this stage, “and then the man got the bird and then the man ran and then he had some lunch and then he saw his mommy…”)

Adults tell the stories, we read the stories, we engage in conversation. It is the act of listening that teaches children how to tell stories.

Similarly in drawing. It is the act of seeing that teaches children how to sketch. And how we do this is not with “lessons” per se. It is also not by chance or luck. It is by engaging the child’s senses in experiences that set off  synapsis. Synapsis that make everything connect in a visual way. To “see” in multiple ways.

Yesterday the PreK children of SWS went to the National Arboretum.

They engaged in a program about growing, harvesting  and eating vegetables and fruits through some wonderful hands on opportunities.programprogram taste

They used paint swatches and looked for color.

They did observational drawings of the Koi.

draw

I hypothesize however, it was the total engagement of their “being” in relationship with the environment and caring community that will foster their growth and mastery of drawing.

Following Ms. Scofield through the cold sprinkler.

sprinkler

Feeding the Koi in the pond.

koifeed

“I wish I was a fish so I could walk in the water.” Maya F.

KoiMouthP1080591

P1080592koi draw

Running to the Capitol Columns.

columnrun

Open space.

run

“It feels like a running day to me!” – Samantha

cricketWhen we walked through a field, the crickets were strikingly loud. “It sounds like it’s night time.” -Carrington

Walking under the arbors. “Somebody put sticks up there, and then stuck leaves.” -Robertvine

“It’s like Jack !” (in the beanstalk) -George

Laughing on the bus.

bus

butterflyFinding butterflies and crickets.

Adinath at one point stopped, turned and just gazed silently at the immensity of the Arboretum.

adi

Through planning provocations like this trip, valuing  moments,  and revisiting through photos and/or shared memory with the children & community, relationships deepen.

rainbow

koi

observe koi

The children’s vision also deepens and with this, their need to communicate through mark making or graphic representation (and many other ” languages”) deepens.koi draw2

It does more than deepens, it becomes a necessity.

As Loris Malaguzzi said, “…relationship is a necessity of life.”

and I will add  “…and so is the act of sharing it.”