Finding My Peace

For years I thought that in order to share my passion for life, art and creative things I had to make everything “Good Enough”.. in other words.. Perfect. I knew that perfection wasn’t attainable, but I struggled to make things as perfect as possible. My head would not allow my heart’s creative efforts to flourish because I couldn’t move beyond the mindset that my work wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t talented enough. I just wasn’t…. enough.

Pink Peony Flower

But I realized that the only way my children, and my students for that matter, would learn to share their work, their passions, and enjoy creative pursuits would be to see me sharing my life and my creative effort as well.

So finally at age 45, I came to an understanding that while my personality type drives perfection and reward, I do not have to be defined by that. More, I determined to no longer live in that trap. I decided that I would rather have peace than perfection.

That’s why I started sharing my paintings last year. Do I think they are perfect, nope. Do I see every flaw, every mistake, every missed opportunity. YES. But I am choosing to move beyond the never ending quest for perfection and am instead enjoying the process.

Purple Flower

It’s hard. Every. Single. Time. There is something so incredibly personal about putting artwork out for public consumption. It’s weird. I’ve given speeches and preached sermons, presented at conferences and workshops, and have published articles about art and teaching, but none of those things feel as personal and defining as my music compositions, my playwriting, and my artwork.

And that is why the creative process is magical. When we go through the creative process, we leave something of ourselves in the work. In doing so, we have to come to a point where we say that just as we are, we are good enough. And that is hard. But when we come to that point, it is oh, so freeing.

And that is why I share my work. It’s my coming to terms with the fact that my work will never “be good enough.” After almost 25 years in education, and a lifetime in the arts, I have a firm grasp on the fact that I am not a natural talent. But I have so much drive and desire and a willingness to learn! And maybe that is the real lesson in the art.

I don’t have to be perfect, or a natural talent. In the grand scheme of life, most of us aren’t that slim percentage of natural talent. I just have to want to create, be willing to learn and more than that, be willing to fail as I find my wings. I know it’s trite. But you know, that’s kind of where I am these days. Letting go of the pursuit of perfection has allowed me to find my wings, my voice, and most importantly, my peace.

What I learned from having my students create a service project for Law Enforcement Week

When one of my friends, the wife of a law enforcement officer, asked if I would be interested in having my students create something for officers to help celebrate National Law Enforcement Officer week, I said sure.

I had no clue what to make and didn’t know how my students would react to me throwing another project at them this late in the school year, but I figured, why not. It’s art class.. we can punt. Hallelujah, we don’t have the dadgum STAAR test to so we can take a few days and work on a service project instead of curriculum.

So we did. I went and bought 8×10 canvas panels and washi tape and started cutting out the names of the officers with my vinyl cutter. I made a sample and showed my students what to do and we got to work.

And here is what I learned.

My student’s cared. A couple cared because they had dads and other family members serving the community as law enforcement officers. But in general my students cared because these officers had made an impact on their lives.

I heard stories that would make you stop and reevaluate everything you think you know about officers and teenagers. I heard stories of compassion in times of trouble, in times of grief and in times of stupidity. Students asked to specifically work on a number of the officers plaques because they had been to their house and had helped them during crisis.

I heard stories of faithfulness and sacrifice.

I watched my students blossom by taking 45 minutes out of their day for a week to focus on doing something nice for someone else. They questioned why we couldn’t do projects like this for all of our civil servants. They smiled more. They were more considerate.

In the end, my students made 80+ plaques for our local law enforcement officers. These signs aren’t perfect. In fact, some are not even close to “good.” But every sign was made with heart and every plaque was signed by a well meaning student with a personalized note.

When we handed off the plaques to the local police and sheriff’s department deputies it was with excitement and a little trepidation. What if they didn’t like them?!

But they did. 🙂

I have to say, the work was worth it. My students may not be the best at drawing 50 stars cleanly and evenly… but they have learned so much about being good citizens and that is worth all of the leaking paint pens and clogged white gel pens in the world!

Art Ambassadors

It’s been a couple of months since I blogged. Lots of happenings, too much to catch you up on for the most part, but I do have a really awesome update to my classroom.

First, I can say that shaking hands with students is a winner. It has been an amazingly easy transition.. except that it took about 2 months to feel normal to me. 🙂 Students responded immediately and now just expect that I will shake their hands everyday. So with this element in place, I felt comfortable adding a new piece of the “Capturing Kid’s Hearts” mindset, but I tweaked it to work in a fine arts environment!

This is the ambassador piece.. but I called it my Art Ambassador program.

After I welcomed all students into class today, I explained that I needed help with a few things in and around our room. I told the classes that I felt that it was wrong that the students in a class didn’t know each other’s names and that it’s hard to feel like your are on a team when you don’t know who is on that team!

So to that end, I wanted to invite students to take leadership roles in the classroom and that each week we would welcome a new ambassador who would shake everyone’s hands and say their names. I explained that shaking hands should be a natural and comfortable thing to do not just with a teacher or adult but with their peers.

The Art Ambassador will also be in charge of leading “Good Things” three times a week to start our class day. Why? Because as much as I want to lead “Good Things” and as much as I believe in the process, life and teaching get in the way of good intentions if there is no one keeping me accountable! So with students helping to keep us going and moving, I know that we can do it!

And finally, the Art Ambassador is responsible for welcoming guests in the classroom, for explaining to new people about our classroom and offering the new person an opportunity to sign our social contract.

And here is what I learned today. Quiet students who don’t necessarily get called on, were remembered. Students that have stories to tell, but are afraid to voice them did so. Students that had moved in late, had schedules changed or were otherwise “new” were given an opportunity to get acclimated and learn names.. and they smiled.

Bottom line. Asking for Art Ambassadors allowed me to ask for help from the students. I asked for leaders. I asked for accountability. I asked for teamwork.

And I got it.

I’m not a new teacher. I know that there will be bumps in the road. Heck, it wasn’t perfect by any means today. In one class, after three students gave very superficial “good things” I said that I realized that this class doesn’t trust each other with their hearts and that we have to work on being trustworthy friends and uphold our social contract better.

But my takeaway.. a quiet foster home student’s “good thing” that she barely whispered to the class.. that she is being adopted. Yeah. Gut check. We cheered for her.

My prayer is that I remember these moments of transparency and love and team and that I hold myself accountable and ask for my Art Ambassadors to lead the way.

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.

IMG_6924

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.

IMG_1805

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.

IMG_6736 3

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!

IMG_5411IMG_0774

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.

IMG_4684

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.

IMG_3117

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!

empty bowl project

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!

empty bowls
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.

cover-in-3d

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.

IMG_7387

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…

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 1.09.42 PM

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!

17952529_10155143075235675_913023311434332061_n

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.

18558732_10155242882145675_4130721276023562133_o

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.