Treasure Hunt

I’m on a treasure hunt. I’m looking for beauty in the every day. I’m searching out and documenting the fun in the normal, the ordinary, the forgotten.

I’m hoping that I’ll get a chance to draw or paint a few of these eventually.

 

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Embracing Vulnerability

I started teaching over 20 years ago and every year I start with huge goals and big dreams.

NOT THIS YEAR!

Why? Because, my philosophy of education and teaching has changed dramatically over the last year and I am going to go about teaching and mentoring and leading from a humanistic and empathic standpoint instead of a goal driven and data driven place.

And.

I’m tired.

And my students are tired. and beaten. and defeated.

I’d like to say that I had nothing to do with that. But the bottom line is that our deadline driven and mandated education has sucked the life out of students and teachers.

So this year, I’m fighting back!

And I’m starting with me.

This summer I have filled my soul with books by Brene’ Brown and Rachel Hollis. I’ve processed hurt and bitterness and despair. I’ve looked sorrow in the eyes and said that it doesn’t get to define me.

I’m embracing the exquisite torture of vulnerability.

I’m going to model this for my children and my students.

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And in doing so, I’m hoping that authentic learning and leading happens.

Yes, my expectations for my students will still be high. Yes, my expectations for myself will still tend to be unrealistic.

But I’m choosing to slow things down. I’m choosing to focus on smaller tasks. I’m choosing to (as Brene’ Brown describes) lean in to the uncomfortable space so that I can fly.

I know. All of this sounds rather vague. But how is this really going to be seen in my classroom and in my life?

Well, I’m focusing on SMALL TASKS that translate into COMPLETED PROJECTS!

My first one has been getting Back To School postcards out to 137 of my students!

In years past I would try to get personalized letters out to every student and family over the first few weeks of school and it was a beat down and often times I wouldn’t be able to complete the task. So instead of waiting until school started and life was insanely busy, I decided to go smaller and less personalized, but to just get the task completed!

And I did. 137 hand addressed postcards were mailed on Thursday.

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And it felt GOOD.

That’s the gift I want to give students the year. I want my students to feel a sense of accomplishment when they have completed a smallish task. I want them to feel JOY! I want them to find pleasure in the everyday.

At the end of the year my students may not win as many competitions. Heck, they may not enter as many competitions. But I’m choosing to not care about winning. I’m choosing to stop worrying over competition deadlines. I’m choosing to turn my back on prestige and championships.

Instead I’m focusing on relationships. I’m focusing on hope. I’m focusing on hearts.

And that means I’m going against the grain and putting this out for public consumption is scary.

But personally, I’d rather be known as authentic and a little wacko than for be unwilling to learn and grow as a person, as a teacher, and as a leader.

So there you have it… my new mantra.

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Brene’ Brown

It’s not ScreenPrinting, It’s SCREAMPrinting

My dad is a master screen printer. He has screened thousands upon thousands of paper/plastic/metal items over the years. We have screen printed flags and even blankets together. But he doesn’t screen print clothing items.

But we did this week. Last spring I was able to purchase a four color screen printing system for my classroom with an education grant. It is really cool and we used it with my students for one color jobs and have had great success.  We are working our way up to the more advanced projects!

So for our 14th annual Maxwell Lakehouse trip, I asked Dad if he wanted to screenprint shirts for all 22 of us. Kylie and Dad came up with the design, I fine-tuned it and printed it, and we ordered tshirts. We made the screens and are increasing our skills with the  emulsion process.

Finally we were ready to print. Kylie and Lexi had to come help. Given that I grew up screenprinting with Dad, no way were they not going to help us! Just getting the shirts ready to print was an undertaking given that our sizes start with a 6 month old and go up to an adult xl.

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I took a time lapse video of our work. If you watch carefully you can see Kylie and Lexi screenprint a little themselves at the end! Lexi was the master at loading the shirts exactly right and Kylie pulled the shirts and set them on the drying rack.

We were doing fine.. actually we did great until about shirt number 17. At that point the fact that we were not putting the shirts under the flash dryer between colors became an issue. I knew it would be.. but I had hoped that we would make it to the end first. But no. Dad was so disappointed. I wasn’t. I guess twenty years of teaching public school has me thinking that getting 16 of the 22 done without too much of a mess is a win. Dad said we weren’t screenprinting, we were SCREAMPRINTING!

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After we took stock of the shirts, we decided to run white on top of the blue. I LOVE the way it turned out! There are a couple of shirts that are not great, but overall, I consider this a successful project.

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And next time, we will stop and figure out that blasted flash dryer so that we can print all the colors without ending up with “psychedelic” shirts!

I can’t wait to get our Maxwell Lakehouse family picture taken in a week or so.

String Ink Art

Well, for once something seen on Facebook actually works as shown!

Here is the video I was tagged in and messaged about. My experience with videos such as this is that they never really work the way it appears on screen.

Well, Wow!!

It works!

I didn’t use ink in a jar.. I used what I had on hand.. Bingo Markers!

Here is my video about the project.

And a close up of the finished project. So cool.

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Empty Bowls

Months ago one of my colleagues, Beth, the Culinary Arts teacher came and asked me if I would be interested in having my students work with her students on a community service project. Beth told me about the concept of Empty Bowls and how if my students would make the bowls, her students would make the meal and we could donate the proceeds to a worthwhile organization. Sounded great!

So my students got to work. And work they did!! Oh my. They made hundreds of bowls. Some really great ones.. some not so hot. But everyone of my 150 students made a couple of bowls!

Once the bowls dried, the kiln was either running or cooling constantly for more than a month! So many bowls to fire to bisque and then to glaze and fire and then, we had issues with the glaze and many had to be fired again!

It was a tedious process, but the students learned so much and had so much ownership in this project. Students truly cared about their bowls.. significantly more than they would have if it had just been a clay project where they made a bowl.

These bowls had meaning!

We were also incredibly fortunate along the way to have a number of bisque ware pieces donated to my students, so we had some really great serving pieces and mugs that were already fired and just had to be glazed. This gave us a jump start for sure!

So finally it was time for our Empty Bowl Project. We decided to donate to Backpack Buddies of Erath County as this organization makes sure that students that would otherwise go hungry over the weekend and during school holidays have food. Given that a number of my students are recipients of this program, it was nice that they were able to give back without anyone realizing it!

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The night of the event it was cold and rainy.  The soup was PERFECT! The culinary arts students made a perfect meal and some of the board members of Backpack Buddies were able to come and help sell tickets and pottery.

By the end of the evening, we had sold lots of soup and 2/3rds of the pottery was gone. Whew. One of the really cool things from the event was being able to see the pride the students had in their work and their ability to give back to the community.

It was a great event and SHS Culinary and Visual Art students
were able to donate $744 to Backpack Buddies!

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SHS Students with Backpack Buddies of Erath County Volunteers

It’s not just about HAVING an innovator’s mindset, you have to USE it!

I’m reading George Couros’ book, The Innovator’s Mindset.

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I love everything about this book! What I am finding interesting is that even though I have always had an innovator’s mindset and have embraced all that being an innovator entails in both my personal life and as a teacher;  I have not always empowered my student’s to embrace the innovator’s mindset.

As I am reading this book, I am pondering many of the norms in my classroom and in my school and asking myself lots of questions. For example:

  • Why do we have to do ______ a certain way?
  • Why do we come from a place of negativity when it comes to rules and expectations?
  • Why do we expect kids to fail/get in trouble/do things wrong?
  • When are we giving students choices?
  • When are students leading learning?
  • When are we modeling the innovator’s mindset?

All of my questions come back to Couros’ examination of student compliance vs student empowerment. It shames me to think about the fact that even in an artistic environment where students are asked to innovate and create everyday, I have always required compliance! OUCH.

But guess what? I am required to comply everyday as well. I have always hated the posted rules, class room procedures and expectations requirement for “good” classroom management. For years I bucked the system and didn’t post things.. but in order to be an “effective” teacher it was necessary to  post these guidelines.

So I did.

And guess what, students that didn’t comply didn’t care which rule they broke. Students that didn’t behave responsibly didn’t check my posted expectations and procedures to see how they deviated from the posted signs. The only thing that my signage did was to show adults that walked through my class that I had “good classroom management.”

So today I yanked my signs off the wall! These signs take up valuable wall space and I’d rather post positive messages and show off student work! What gave me the courage to take down the warning signs? Well, Couros made me do it!

I want my classroom to be a place of empowerment. I want students to be willing to risk it all and try new things in my space. I want to push students to expand their mindset and become an innovator. And I can’t do that from a place of compliance.

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No, I’m not going to have a free for all in my classroom! I am way to organized and driven for that nonsense! But I need to move past the statements that demand compliance.

Instead, here is one of my new posters…

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So yes, in a way I am still demanding compliance.. but the mindset is different. Instead of requiring that students all put the pencils away the same way or put their name on their papers in the same two inch space on their papers, I am demanding that students imagine. I am demanding that students dream, collaborate and inspire others with their work and their choices.

I can’t wait to see how the shift in mindset frees my students and my own personal creativity. I’m sure it will be wild ride, but I know that it will be worth it.

All for the +1, tweet, share and a follow

Social Media. It is a significant part of our lives.. whether we acknowledge it, believe it, or even if we want to run from it.

Good or bad, social media isn’t going to go away and refusing to figure out how to harness the positive attributes of social media because you hate the bad is like telling a teenager that “rock music is of the devil” and expecting the teen to stop listening to it!(And while no, I don’t believe such nonsense about rock music… I did hear that comment regularly from the ultra-conservative church that I went to as a child… but that is a blog story for another day..)

As a mom of daughters 17, 12, and 7 I am scared to death of what they will see and experience because of social media. But I can’t let that fear drive my decisions. I pray that they don’t have fake accounts and live secret lives on Instagram (if they have a “finsta” account I want to KNOW!!), but I hope that they don’t have choose to live fake lives in general! It’s my job as a parent to invest myself into their lives and make secret social media profiles so difficult that it isn’t worth the effort.

And I feel the same way about social media in the classroom. As a high school art teacher, I am constantly having to redirect students to spend more time on their art than on their phones. Snapchats are sent at a few hundred per minute. I’d like to believe that the majority of my students don’t use social media inappropriately, but given that they can’t stop themselves from looking, checking, snapping and posting everything that comes into their lives, I know that they are not going to consistently make decent choices. That is life.

So how do I model appropriate use? Because truly, that is where the teaching starts.. modeled behavior.

At home, I try not to post pictures of my children that they truly hate. My oldest daughter, Maddie keeps me in check. 🙂 Maddie is such a wise soul and reminds me that not every moment needs to be documented for the world and that basically life is a personal journey, not a social media journey. Yeah, I’m very grateful to have such an awesome 17 year old!

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At school, I takes dozens of pictures every day of students working. I have Stephenville High School Art Facebook and SvilleArt Instagram (that i forget to post on, so I have to tag my pictures from my personal account..eek.) but I post pictures regularly of students working. People love seeing my students in action and chronicling a work in progress is crucial for my students to see where they started and how far they have come by the time they finish their projects.

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One of the benefits of taking so many pictures of students at work is that there are no secrets in my classroom.  If a parent or an administrator wants to know what is going on, check my Facebook or Instagram feed… or better yet, come visit personally! There is no expectation of privacy in my classroom and that is a very good thing. No student or teacher needs to get so comfortable within their environment that they feel like it’s is a private room. What goes on in V21 DOESN’T stay in V21! Yes, I am a mentor and have lots of confidential conversations with students that I would never share on social media, but the general essence of my classroom isn’t a private or protected environment. And even if I wanted it to be, the reality is that with students and their devices, it wouldn’t be private anyway!

So as the world of technology gets murkier with each passing day, I firmly believe in the value of social media. I love that through the use of Facebook and Instagram the families and friends of my students get to see what they are learning and creating on an almost daily basis. No matter where in the world they live!

Are there problems? Of course there are. And this whole fake Instagram “finsta” stuff has me rattled for sure! But I have to keep asking questions and not letting the problems of social media scare me away from the benefits. As parents and teachers our job is to push, to prod, to teach, to encourage, to correct, to forgive, to inspire and to love.  Modeling appropriate use of social media for my students helps me to do that.

And those are my thoughts on the use of social media for  #EDUBLOGSCLUB PROMPT 19.

Teaching in a Problem/Project Based Learning Classroom

PROJECT BASED INSTRUCTION – #EDUBLOGSCLUB PROMPT 17

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Teaching in a project based learning environment is:

  • exciting
  • fun
  • loud
  • interesting
  • chaotic
  • engaging
  • different everyday

It is not however easy. If a teacher is looking for a simple and quiet environment, a project or problem based classroom is not for him or her…. for that teacher, my suggestion is to stick to the ole’ worksheets and sit back and be bored! A project based classroom is an incredible place to be, but it is work!

Case in point… my classroom. Yes, for the last 9 years I have taught art, but prior to that I taught Economics, Debate, Reading, Creative Writing, Career Investigations, Math, Speech and Theatre and in all of these courses, I used project based instruction. So from a veteran twenty year teacher, I feel like I am a perfect advocate for this type of instruction and learning environment!

So how does project based instruction work? Here is an example..

Over the last few months my art 2 – 4 students have been learning to create logos and to screen print their design on shirts. This project has been a huge undertaking and has lingered on and on!

One of the hardest parts of project/problem based instruction for the teacher is understanding that your schedule, your bundled curriculum, and your lesson plans might just have to be thrown out of the window for the good of the students!

EEK! Yes, I did just say that! But, what I have learned is that while I might have to adjust my plans to make problem based learning work, it is worth it. And, in order to give all of my students time to process and consider the problem or the process, I have students work through the project in stages or increments with breaks for other assignments built-in (this also catches me up on my bundle..) So for example, here is my logo design screen printing project timeline:

Early February: Create a logo for art using a custom graphic and just one color. Students created this by hand and/or digitally. The students that worked quickly set their design aside and moved to a different project. The students that worked slowly were given a couple more class days to work and then had time outside of class to continue working on their own time. Students were told at this point to bring a tshirt and a frame for their screen.

Late February: Students learned how to cut green screen film. This was time-consuming. As the students completed this they were able to adhere their film to their screen and print.. if they brought their supplies. However,  after a couple of class days, students were asked to move to a different assignment and finish cutting as they had time between other projects.

March: Students were expected to have frames and shirts at school. Some did. Some didn’t. As students would complete a different project they were given time to continue their screen printing project. This ebb and flow of the project worked to my advantage as students would get excited when they would see student’s completed work and then want to figure out how to finish their project. I would completely move on and not mention the project for days at a time.

April: Not much happening on the screening of shirts. We were busy with other projects and contests. If a student wanted to work on this project, I let them. But I pretty much ignored it until the late April when I gave a hard deadline that we would be finishing the project the first week of May.

This forced those that had been procrastinating or forgetful to get busy! This was a week of seeing months of on and off work completed.

And why now after all of this time? Because the second Tuesday of May is the day we take our big group picture where everyone wears their creation!

I can’t wait to show those off! I wore one shirt yesterday and am wearing a different design today!

So do all of my students have shirts to wear?

NOPE! And that is one of the real life lessons from project based instruction. I gave lots of opportunities to work, create, problem solve and get help, but in the end, the students had to complete the work for themselves. This week I had one of my oldest, most advanced students get left behind because she missed too many deadlines and never got her green film adhered to the screen. Sad, but that’s part of life and truly one of the best lessons learned with project based instruction.

Do I consider the project successful?

YES! The joy on student’s faces when they successfully created something that could be worn is worth the effort! Besides the fact that I cover a truckload of the required essential skills (TEKS) in this one project, I pride myself on the fact that these students leave with tangible job skills.

Do all of my project based lessons take so long?

YES and NO! Some project based instruction is fast, some is slow. After years and years of this type of teaching I have learned how to weave the projects and expectations of lessons in and out and have multiple things going on in my classroom at one time. This process works for me.. but it would drive some teachers crazy. I get that.

 Is project based learning or problem based learning?

Let me give you an example… I teach four sections of art 1. I really wanted to do a problem based instruction unit on ceramic molds. I knew that this would not work with all of my art 1 classes. So, three classes did a manageable PROJECT based ceramic project where they learned how to create a clay monster and a clay box.

This was PROJECT based… meaning I knew the exact outcome I wanted, but the students still had to experiment, learn and explore the entire process and create a product.

The remaining class whose class dynamics were right for the PROBLEM were given the option to do the project like the other classes or take on the problem. They of course, chose the problem which was to experiment, learn, explore and create using ceramic molds.

The outcome of their problem was not a given. I refused to be anything more than a facilitator and mentor. They loved the process and worked tirelessly for weeks!

For me, the difference between the project and the problem is the willingness for me to let go of the final product. In the world of art, students are constantly working with a project based instruction model.

But when I used problem based instruction, I have to take a step back and let the students drive the process. This happens less often as so much of what we do is for contests. However, when we do, magic happens!

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So in the end, whether you are interested in using Project Based Instruction or Problem Based Instruction, I challenge you to just do it. Giving students hands-on applicable work transforms classrooms, student’s attitudes about school and gives student’s a sense of pride and ownership. Yes, it is a lot of work, but it is SO WORTH IT!

Are you willing to “Crucify your Baby?”

Hang around V21 and you will here…

“Are you ready to crucify your baby?”

“I’m ready to crucify my baby.”

Visitors and new students whip their heads around with a look of shock and horror on their faces. Then they turn and look at me incredulously. I just smile and say “Good!”

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Yep, that’s how we do feedback in my art room. We acknowledge the fact that it is going to feel like someone is tearing your baby apart. And by giving it a name, we can laugh a little as we struggle to improve.

If you want to be a better artist,  you have to be willing to take hard criticism of your artwork. No one wants to find out that other people don’t like their creation.. their masterpiece! So in my art class, we have a saying for this difficult, but very necessary process. It’s called “crucifying your baby.”

New people to my world are horrified. Outsiders are uncomfortable. Students in other disciplines that find their way into my world for an extracurricular event are unnerved. But that’s okay. My students understand, and after the first encounter enjoy being part of the “club.”

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With that said, the crucifying comes with parameters, strict expectations and modeled behavior. I have learned over the years that the absolute best way to teach students how to take criticism of their work is to first require them to criticize mine!

For example, this painting of my daughter Lexi has lived in my classroom as a work in progress for over a year. As I work on it in class, I use the progression and development as an opportunity to teach students to discuss and comment critically about a piece. Just from glancing at it, I see every flaw and every incomplete area. But my goal is to teach students to look for those areas and to be able to communicate their thoughts and how they would fix the problem.

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Early in the year, I start off by choosing a student to come up to my easel while the rest of the class watches. I tell the student about the piece and that I know there are problems. I point out a few areas that I don’t like that I need to fix and then I ask him/her what areas he/she saw that needed work.

My conversation starter is deliberate. In order to get students to see that I want the criticism, because I want to improve, I  have to show the student that I could see the problems and voice them as well.  By doing so, I model the example of how to state problem areas. If I get in a hurry and forgo this vulnerability with the students, then their criticism is superficial and their ability to take criticism often suffers.

In the end, while the “crucifying your baby” process sounds scary and is a memorable moment in the art room, students that want to improve get daily opportunities for feedback and quality criticism. On the flip side, students that don’t want to improve,  don’t. I used to force student to go around the room and take turns giving feedback, but I have learned that a student that doesn’t want to improve isn’t willing to take criticism and always has an excuse for why or what they did. So instead of forcing criticism, we now have a code phrase and students that are willing to embrace the opportunity thrive.

As an educator and an artist, I am always looking for ways to improve. I am always looking for ways to reach further and climb higher. I am willing to crucify my baby.

The question is, are you?

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This blog post was part of the #Edublogsclub Prompt #11 on Giving Feedback.

Student Privacy vs Friends, Friends of Friends or Public

Student privacy is this weeks #edublogsclub prompt. Ouch and ugh and all of those step on toes feels here.

I LOVE taking pictures and sharing all of the cool and wonderful things that go on in my world both as a mom and a teacher. I took 86 pictures TODAY.. and today was a ho-hum Wednesday full of nothing special, but 86 picture worthy moments in my mind.

Here are some of the pictures from my classroom today.

Because I know that I am going to take thousands of pictures over the course of the year, I send a special release form home with the students at the start of school. While the vast majority of the pictures that I take are of hands in action, I do have clearance to take pictures of faces and video of students in action.

On my release form I also ask about posting to social media and the identification of students. While I have a couple of students each year that can’t be identified by name and face because of CPS issues and such like that, almost every parent wants the pictures of their student posted to social media so that they can share the pictures with their family and friends.

In fact, any of you readers who might be interested can watch the shenanigans from my world on:

  • Facebook at Stephenville High School Art
  • Instagram at emilymaxwellmclemore or SvilleArt
  • Twitter at artsymac or SvilleArt

If you are interested in seeing completed art projects, you can check out my student’s work at Artsonia at Stephenville High School I am very proud to say that I have published 1000 pieces of art just this school year! I can’t wait to see what we will be able to do next year when our campus goes 1:1 and the students can easily upload their own pieces!!

What is frustrating here is that Artsonia changed their user agreement this year and required parents to sign on with their email address and approve their child’s accounts. Previously, parents could sign a consent form and authorize the school to upload their child’s work without an email address.

In my world of economically disadvantaged students with a great number of non-English speaking parents, this has been a continuing problem as many parents will happily sign the consent form, but they don’t have access to go online and set up parent accounts. I expressed this frustration to Artsonia, but to no avail. Because of this, while all the parent/guardian’s approved their child’s artwork to be published online, 69 students or 418 pieces year-to-date are hidden from the public. Sad.

Nonetheless, I can say that yes, I take tons of pictures and post students in action almost on a daily basis. I understand privacy issues but sometimes get caught up in the moment. Living in the land of teens, I am usually just focused on making sure that I don’t get shots of cleavage while taking a picture of hands at work or making sure that I don’g get a clear shot of what is on their phone. While it is almost always the screen of their music.. you never know!

In the end, student privacy and social media is an ever evolving issue. In today’s world filled with constant scrutiny and fear over loss of educational dollars, using social media to promote the incredible authentic teaching and learning that is going on in public schools is crucial.  The best defense is an even better offense. I make sure that my community, district administrators and parents know that when student’s enter my classroom that their time is used wisely, that they are engaged in meaningful activities and that visitor’s are welcome.

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