There is a seat at my table for you

Watercolor Tree Painting

Over the last few months life has been shook up. It started with a rattle and then the quake began. If you had asked me back in December what 2020 would be like, I would have never guessed this. But the reality is that none of us would have foretold our spring to look like it did.

And for our family, while we have had some tough bouts, we have weathered the storms really well. I don’t say that lightly as I know there are so many out there who have lost family members and friends, who have lost livelihoods, who have lost faith.

I feel incredibly privileged that during these last few months I have been able to be at home with my family. We have been tucked away in our safe little boat while the storm has raged around us.

But being safe in our boat has not blinded us to the plight of others. If anything, we are more aware of those around us that don’t have any boat at all. And it’s because of that knowledge that I can’t just sit on the deck of my boat and tan myself and pretend that things are just going to get better.

As a teacher, I struggled through the spring trying to connect with students. So much of what I do as an art teacher on a daily basis is emotional. It’s connections. It’s face to face feedback and prodding and pushing students outside of their comfort zones. Many people think that teaching art is just lots of “fun” while we “just cut paper and color.” The reality is that much of what I do is forcing students to look at life from a different perspective. It’s challenging students to rethink everything they have been taught to believe about life and color and situations and draw/reflect on actual observation, not what they “think they see.”

Not having real interactions with students for the last 12 weeks of the spring semester left me feeling off and out of touch as I could see from the glimpse of their faces on zoom meetings that my students were struggling and hurting.

And these struggles and hurts didn’t just go away when they turned in their last assignment and called the school year over. Over the last few weeks I’ve seen students voice hurts and fears and frustrations. And I don’t have any platitudes. I don’t have any answers.

I’ve been listening.

I’ve been learning.

I’ve been loving.

That’s all I can do. As a teacher, I am struggling right now trying to figure out my place, my voice, and my role in not just the Black Lives Matter movement but the Pride movement as well. I live in a community that is staunchly conservative and quite vocally Republican. I am listening for words of affirmation, love and support for BLM and Pride, but the silence is deafening. And I am broken because of it.

So here is my promise to my students, my family, my community:

There is a seat at my table for you.
Not just any seat, but a reserved seat of honor with your name on the card.

There is seat at my table for you.
Whether you are privileged or under-privileged.
Whether you are white or a person of color.
Whether you are straight or LGBTQIA+.
Whether you are liberal or conservative.

No matter the label.
No matter how much space you take up physically, emotionally or mentally.
No matter if you bring a dish to share or come empty handed.

There is a place for you.

You are wanted.
You are valuable.
You are loved.


I know that in the past I have been too busy getting things done and focused on the next contest or goal. But I promise you this.

No more.

From this day forward, your heart, your peace, and your life are my priority.

With much love,

Emily

Here is a time lapse of the watercolor tree painting seen above. I was going to draw the tree, but I found this amazing cut file on Etsy and bought it as it was perfect. May you remember that we need all of the colors on the color wheel to fully enjoy life.

Time lapse tree stencil painting

The need for monotony

Over the last few months, I’ve been increasingly aware of my need for monotonous tech-free activities like watering the grass, pulling weeds or cleaning the pool. So much of life is run at full speed. It’s loud. It’s fast. It changes at seemingly warp-speed. We are in a constant state of hyper alert.

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In contrast, I spent much of my summer doing monotonous activities and could literally feel my body relax and reset in a way that I hadn’t noticed previously. There was something distinctly different about the way I viewed the world, the way I breathed and the way I thought about my body. Instead of being hyper-critical about all things, I stopped. I lived more in grace.

And yes, I know that I was in the blessed time of the year called a teacher’s summer break, but it was different. I wasn’t glued to the computer or phone screen. I wasn’t looking for constant entertainment. I was truly focusing on being present in the moment…. and those moments consisted of a lot of weed-pulling, grass-watering and pool-cleaning moments.

Fast forward to this past week of school and my students complaining about monotonous tasks. They are bored. They don’t know what to do. They want immediate gratification. And it hit me. We don’t know how to handle monotony. Life has changed so much that we don’t know what to do when we are asked to repeat the same activity or motion time and time again without expecting different results or being entertained. Even when we repeat the same game level, we handle it differently, so our brains are still on full alert!

This weekend while I watered the grass and pulled the weeds, I chose to not put in the earbuds and listen to the audible book. I chose not to listen to the latest songs on my play list. I chose to just work and listen to the natural sounds of my environment. And once again, I felt my body relax and reset. The monotony of watering the grass and pulling the weeds allowed my brain to rest and I processed the week.

And now, I’m looking forward to the week with a new since of purpose. I really want to offer monotony to my students! They won’t know what to do! No music? No technology? Nothing.. just a monotonous task? But dang, when was the last time 15-18 year old students were tasked with resetting their minds? When was the last time teenagers were asked to focus on repetition. That’s why they love calligraphy and weaving and melty beads! WOW!! My mind is kind of blown! They desperately need for their hands to be engaged in an activity that is slow and purposeful. Their bodies are craving the opportunity to reset.

So that’s what we are going to do later this week. I’m pumped about it. I’m sure they will love it as much I enjoyed boring tasks as a teenager too. 🙂 I’ll let you know how it goes.

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.

Shaking Hands and Making Eye Contact

I’ve never been comfortable with shaking hands. I guess it’s because girls aren’t taught to shake hands. I’ve always felt awkward and except for when meeting someone new in a business setting, I just haven’t ever been one to shake hands.

Until now.

The school district I work in has implemented “Capturing Kids’ Hearts” and since going to training I’m a believer in what they are doing as they attempt to transform schools into positive environments.

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As part of “CKH,” I was a happy to add social contracts and give more responsibility to the class managing their own behavior. I already did lots of stuff like that, so it was in my comfort zone. But shaking hands? Not so much. I was incredibly leery and cynical at first when it came to the need to shake student’s hands every day. I had fantastic reasons for why I couldn’t do it.

But, I’m an all in or all out kind of person, so I decided to just give it a try. If I didn’t see it as a good use of my time or students started acting up in the classroom while I was standing in the hallway, I could always go back to my old ways.

So for two weeks now I have been shaking hands with students as they enter my classroom.

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Here I am greeting a student at the door. I look like a dork. Oh well.. I’m being authentic. 🙂

And here is what I have learned.

It makes a difference.

I don’t know how. I don’t know why, but it makes a difference. I’ve been a teacher for 20 years and I have great classroom management and engagement, but there is a different vibe in my room after greeting students at the door and shaking their hands.

I’ve always greeted students by name when they entered my room, but I’ve always also been doing the twenty different things that need to be done before a new group comes in, so it’s been a distracted greeting at best.

Now, for those couple of seconds, as I clasp the student’s hand and say the student’s name, I give that student my undivided attention. I look at the student’s face. I look in their eyes if they are willing to look back at me, and I smile.

I’m happier.

Maybe because I have to smile at almost 150 students a day in a personal greeting, but I have found myself smiling and laughing more. I still get incredibly frustrated at times, but more often than not, I’m able to find the humor in the craziness of high school students.

My student’s are happier.

Last year, my middle school age daughter said that her goal for school was the same as Mia Thermopolis’ “My expectation in life is to be invisible and I’m good at it.” I wonder how many students decide the same thing, not because they truly want to be invisible, but since they already feel that way, they decide that they might as well make that their expectation.

Well, when you stop and look in a student’s eyes, smile and call the student by name.. there is no hiding.

And what I am learning is that when student’s don’t feel forgotten or hidden, they are happier and they smile more as well!

I’m committed.

Not having those 5 minutes to go to the restroom, return the phone call or prep for class makes things more challenging, but it is worth it. I’m committed to shaking hands with students.

And who knows, one of the best benefits may not be the connection I feel with the students, it may be that my students learn that shaking hands is a normal part of social interaction, no matter the gender!

My Enneagram Results

The last few months have been a season of self-growth and self-reflection. I have found it to be an interesting and rewarding time. Not necessarily easy, but an incredibly worthwhile effort. After years and years of taking classes, earning degrees and becoming the best teacher that I can be, I decided that it was time just to focus on being the best ME that I could be. For an achiever and goal-oriented person, this was difficult as there is no measure of ME and for/against ME that I can use.

Along the way I read about the Enneagram Type Indicator. This test is a personality test, but it’s more than that. I really enjoyed taking the process. I took the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator online at the Enneagram Institute. I chose the long test as would by my norm. If you are going to do something, go all in!

My results overview were that I scored highest on The Challenger, then second was The Achiever, and third was The Enthusiast. No shock!

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But what I really enjoyed reading was the report that came with the test. The report gave insight to my strengths and described me when I am at my best. It also talks about how I view and handle relationships, who I am most compatible with based on enneagram type and how I can work on all relationships from this framework.

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One of the take-aways for me after reading the report is that I felt acknowledged. Yes, I know it’s a weird word to use for a generic report from an institute that has never met me, but yes, acknowledged! My frustrations with my job and career path isn’t a bad thing, nor does it mean that I’m not doing my job to my best of ability. What is means is that YES, I was created for more and I will feel frustrated and stifled as long as I am not being given opportunities for growth and leadership.

Oh how I wish organizations would use personality inventories like this to help make decisions about employees career opportunities and growth potential.  After twenty years in public education, I can say without a doubt, if a type description like the Enneagram was used appropriately for job placement, everyone would benefit. Teachers like myself with challenger and achiever personalities would be given leadership roles and administrators with personalities that don’t lend themselves to leadership would be able to look at themselves and be able to overcome their weaknesses by creating the right team.

At the end of the day, I’ve been both in the right place and worked for people in the right place and have been in the wrong place and worked for people in the wrong place. What inspires me is about Enneagram is that I can look at myself and others in the wrong place and find ways to thrive despite the circumstance. I know that after reading the nine types, I am looking at others and myself from a place of understanding and not from frustration. And that is worth gold.

Education’s Greatest Thief

Over the last two days I’ve had the opportunity to attend an incredible teacher training called iChampion Summit at Tarleton State University. The school district that I work for is a partner in presenting this conference and it truly is a worthwhile event! Heck if you attend, you could even see me present a workshop or two. 🙂

The keynote speakers challenge and engage.

But this post isn’t about the incredible things that these speakers are asking us to do.

Instead, I am just going to be real for a minute and while some might label me an “awfulizer,” I’d tell Jimmy Casas (the really good keynote who had awfulizer as a slide..) that until we can talk about Education’s Greatest Thief, then we can’t really move forward.

And what is Education’s Greatest Thief?

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Think about it.

We all have stories of bitter teachers. In all likelihood we have all commented on that bitter teacher and how he/she needed to retire ten years ago.

But have you ever stopped to wonder about the generations of bitter students, much less the teachers!!

And why do we have so many bitter people in and around education?

Because….

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Unfulfilled Expectations + Justified Disappointment = Bitterness

And in education we don’t talk about unfulfilled expectations nor do we acknowledge justified disappointments. We are just supposed to pretend that everything is fine and that leads to bitterness.

No! I’m not saying everyone is bitter.. but I am saying that until we are ready to have a conversation about the reality of education and the challenges that students and teachers face in the classroom on a daily basis, we will always have unfulfilled expectations and justified disappointment.

I feel so passionately about this, I’ve made a little video. If you feel so inclined, I ask you to watch my video and join the discussion.

And yes, I completely messed up the title of my new favorite book.. It’s called The Gifts of Imperfection.

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Comments appreciated. Haters not so much.

Educators Need To Do Hard Things

As an educator, it is important to remind myself that learning new things and mastering new skills isn’t always easy. I think educators and those in the business of education often found learning to be easy.. and so we forget that for some, learning is HARD.

So for the third time, I’ve selected the month of May to be my month of hard things… in the form of my Handstand Challenge.

Why? Because handstands are HARD. Because handstands force you out of your comfort zone and require not only that you trust your hands and shoulders to hold you up, but require you to balance and hold your core tight at the same time. In essence, handstands require physical effort and mental strength.

I also really enjoy watching my progress over the month. It fits my grit mindset of 20 times to learn it, 200 to master it. So over the course of a month, I’ve captured my learning process over 20 times (31 to be exact) and I’ve done more than 200 handstands because with every up there are 5 to 10 failures. By the end of the month, I haven’t mastered handstands, but I’ve made a lot of progress!

And interestingly, each year I start from a stronger place. Just like the educational foundation that we hope students have as they are given new content; my handstands are significantly better than last years handstands when you look at the data (date and photo).  Even better, when you go back three years, the progress is quite impressive. In 2015, my day 1 handstand was up against the wall outside of my house. I remember clearly being scared that I would fall, that I would slip, that I would break something!

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But even braced against the wall, I was so proud of the fact that I DID IT!

Moving to 2018, my day 1 handstand this year was in the middle of my living room with no wall to brace me, no helper to stabilize me and no pillow to catch me should I fall. The difference this time was that while I knew the handstand would be ugly, I knew I could do it. In fact, my Day 1-8 handstands are all pretty awesome in my opinion.. even though they only last a second or two!

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Isn’t that what we want for our students? Yes, some learning and some processes are ugly, but students NEED to know that they can do hard things! Progress needs to be celebrated and efforts acknowledged.

When was the last time a student was asked to CHOOSE something outside of their comfort zone that would be hard and then given the tools to accomplish it? And I’m not talking about passing the STAAR (state mandated test) test.. but a student-driven academic goal.

So as I look out at my classroom and watch 150 students pass through my door each day, I tell them about my handstand challenge. I invite them to follow my progress on instagram.. not so that they can make fun of me.. some will no matter what… but so that they can see adults in their lives doing hard things.. things that aren’t in their comfort zone.. things that don’t come easy. Because maybe, just maybe, some of these students will remember my sad attempts at handstands when they are in the midst of their own handstand struggles in life and keep going.

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!

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SHS Students with Backpack Buddies of Erath County Volunteers

Fostering Creative Thinking

Children are innately creative. I know this. I see this everyday.  Yet I regularly hear adults say that their children aren’t creative. I try to be nice. I’ve learned to just keep my mouth shut and not call out these parents, but oh it is difficult! Children NEED to be creative. It is who they are! From invisible friends, bringing soldiers and dolls to life, and even simply playing house, being creative is a necessary part of a child’s growth and development.

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Why do parent’s say that their children aren’t creative? Well, over the years I’ve decided that it is a control issue. Creativity is often messy.  Creativity requires a suspension of disbelief. Creativity embraces differences and pushes boundaries. All of these are areas that make adults uncomfortable. Believe me. I know! Even in my world where creativity is a prized treasure, it is still messy and at times drives me crazy.

But it is worth it.

So what do you do if you can’t fathom the thought of glitter in your carpet, paint on the back porch,  a million legos underfoot or blanket forts in the living room?IMG_5539IMG_7590

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, start simply.

There are some great games that you can play. While Kylie is the one pictured here, all of my girls are willing and happy to play the games in the pictures together! And that is a win in and of itself! Our family plays games. We play card games, board games and dominoes. We put puzzles together and build lego creations. If the idea of Playdoh crumbs smushed into the kitchen table and chairs gives you the willies.. start with games like Otrio, Trax or Mental Blox.

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(FYI.. this is NOT a paid advertisement.. these are my real life recommendations!)

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Fostering creative thinking is a soapbox issue for me. Why? Because I’m amazed at how many adults DON’T KNOW HOW TO PROBLEM SOLVE! And we as a society are not teaching nor are we modeling to our children how to problem solve, how to come up with new or different solutions to problems or even how to think for ourselves!

While I am a huge advocate for technology and I want equal access to information and all that technology brings, I am worried about the immediate reaction to just “google it” when something doesn’t work.

Resiliency is more than being able to survive when the internet is down!

We have to model and teach children that when there isn’t a clear answer, sometimes we have to simulate the what-ifs and work through options. We have to not only allow FAILURE, but embrace it and show our children how to move through failure to success!

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So there you have it. I challenge you to go be creative today. And no, you don’t have to go paint a picture or create a sculpture to be creative. Go play a game, create a fairy garden in the flower bed, build a treehouse.. do something that doesn’t already have a set finish point and that requires your brain and your body to work together in a new way!

And finally, enjoy the journey