For anyone interested – I am working with Mindful Art Center to present 2 summer workshops on July 31, noon-2pm. The cost is $30 per person – all supplies included
Call Kelly at Mindful Art Center to register: 734-502-7920!
Zen Tangle Doodling – July 31st
“Zen Tangle Doodling is known to many artists and craftivistas as a way to create structured designs through drawing various patterns. It is a formalized process that defines itself as something other than mere doodling because of its theory and approach. You will learn several step-by-step basic designs and have ample time to create your own unique designs. NO EXPERIENCE is necessary, but seasoned Zen Tangle Doodlers are welcome. All art materials are supplied.”
Mandala Stone Painting – August 2, noon-2pm
“Mandala Stones are the latest trend in the craft world to go viral. The colorfully dotted patterns are a real eyecatcher and easy to recreate. You will learn several step-by-step basic designs and have ample time to create your own masterpiece. NO EXPERIENCE is necessary, but seasoned Zen Tangle Doodlers are welcome. All art materials are supplied.”
Workshops will be repeated in August at Repair the World Workshop in Detroit. The dates will be announced soon! Call Sasha @ 313-701-9856 for more information or to register.
I am worried about my students and their families. I have been for a long time. Over the last two decades of my teaching career, I have experienced “the change” – in the way we “do” school, in the eroding quality of living of the urban students I teach – both in their homes and in the actual brick and mortar of the educational institutions where my students and their teachers spend most of their waking hours.
I have experienced the change in the attitude of school administrators and their diverse definitions of “separate is not equal” and of “free and appropriate education” and the blatant violation of student’s civil rights in the daily life of our teaching and learning.
I have experienced the change in the laws and the growing negative public opinion of teachers and the teaching profession. When I first received my certification as an art teacher twenty years ago, I experienced the change in school budgets and cuts of art, music, gym and library programs and massive layoffs of general education teachers.
I experienced the change of the number of public charter schools in the city of Detroit when they grew from eight in the 1990’s to ninety-four in 2015. I experienced the change of local control to state control of our district, the flavor of the month curricular focus and million dollar adoptions with each emergency manager. I watched neighborhood schools close and the creation of turnaround schools and the EAA (Education Achievement Authority). The change I have experienced, as a teacher and school administrator over the past two decades has been a downhill spiral, progressively and violently taking our children and their teachers with each wave of change.
It’s like this. People standing on a beach often feel the water tugging the sand away from under their feet. This is the undertow, the current that pulls water back into the ocean after a wave breaks on the beach. School reform is not so unlike a wave’s undertow – and has caused the serious decline in the breadth and quality of educational services. I have felt the beach crumbling effect slowly over the last two decades of aspiring to “be the change I want to see” as I have struggled to stay afloat amidst the shifting waves of school reform.
I have felt for a long time that there is a relationship between the change and declining school achievement. It is not really rocket science, but it is extremely important (and understated) as we struggle to answer the question, “What to do about our American urban schools?” I have participated in an online trauma informed practice sponsored by IATP (International Association of Trauma Professionals) and my studies have confirmed that 1) adverse childhood experiences, known as ACEs are increasing in numbers and frequency and 2) they impact not only school academic achievement but the quality of life and health of those children when they become adults. My experience as an urban educator has been – as more and more of our children (and each year there are more and more) show up stressed by the effects of poverty, learning often takes the back door. This change is taking its toll.
Research tells us that children who are hungry, grieving, living in fear of guns and domestic violence and of ICE taking their parents away while they are at school can’t learn well. Nor can the ones that live in crowded substandard housing, that move frequently, that are abused or neglected, that don’t have anyone in their lives who are unconditionally crazy about them, Neither can the ones that don’t come to school with enough vocabulary or any books in their home or those who don’t live in safe walking distance of a public library or can enjoy a safe walk to the school they attend. The list of challenges goes on and on – ad nauseam – and quite frankly is beyond most people’s imagination and/or comprehension.
The complex problems of our public schools require comprehensive, multifaceted revitalization strategies that are grounded in more than improving high stakes standardized test scores which I can’t address fully in the breadth of this article. But I know from my own teaching experience and academic studies that we must begin to focus on building resilience to heal the traumatic experiences that our children living in poverty suffer.
I recently read “Resilience” published in “Waldorf Today”, an electronic newsletter. The author rang a bell for something I know and care a lot about.
“We know that what enables children to work through trauma more than anything else is art or artistic activity … This fact has been documented in lots of places and it confirms the healing power that can come from art. Art needs to become a normal part of every form of education.” Christof Wiechert
He states that the researchers on resilience or the ability to bounce back and overcome the impact of traumatic experiences found that resilience is not innate but it’s learned in early childhood. To teach resilience, several conditions need to be present in early childhood. It includes many things educators don’t have control over in the school setting but there is one condition that educators (and politicians through policy making) have the power to provide – a surplus of positive school experiences. In particular, children need to feel fully accepted by their teachers, to go to school in a warm, loving environment. As children experience emergencies in life (natural disasters, a loved one gets sick or a parent loses a job, etc.) and live in less-than-desirable environments and live through the childhood traumas that create toxic stress – our schools need to provide opportunities for children to work through those traumas they experience. Research has shown that creative free play and artistic activities can heal trauma. Hence, art needs to be a part of every educational curriculum. Children (of all ages) are – after all – more than just a test score (any parent knows that).
We can’t solve the problems that are a direct and indirect result of the change in the way we do school that has come about over the last twenty years, but we can quite easily support the development of creative and innovative thinking and problem-solving through supporting the arts in our schools. This is a public problem that is our responsibility to address and resolve.
As an important and related side note … author and educator, Steve Van Bockern published, Schools That Matter, a wonderful article with an important reminder …
“Time will tell what kind of life this new administration will build. While I point at politicians and criticize, my dad told me, “Remember, when you point a finger, three of your other fingers are pointing right back at you.” I don’t want to spend my professional life as a naysayer. I want to be part of the conversation about creating schools I would be happy to see my grandchildren attend.”
Lakota leader, Sitting Bull said it well … so “Let us put our minds together to see what kind of life we can build for our children.” Please, next time you go to polls, vote with children in mind. Remember, Art Works! And perhaps, you can take a minute or two and make something with a student at a school near you.
One Social Re-constructivist’s Journey On the Road to Building a More Just & Ecologically Resilient World
I consider myself a social-reconstructivist artist, educator and curriculum designer. Many people ask me what I mean by – all that. According to Wikipedia, “Social reconstructionism is a philosophy that emphasizes the addressing of social questions and a quest to create a better society and worldwide democracy. Reconstructionist educators focus on a curriculum that highlights social reform as the aim of education. I like to say that when you get smarter, the world becomes a better place.
As educators, we shouldn’t ever claim to know precisely the unique gifts each individual has to offer the world and the exact right path leading to manifestation, especially in this rapidly shifting and increasing difficult world. I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every individual but I don’t believe educators are the “sage on the stage.” It is educator’s “duty” to guide and accompany learners to construct knowledge they will need on the journey of becoming who they are – not unlike the work of a midwife who attends a birth (the mother does the work of bringing the child into the world) or Michelangelo who created David from a piece of marble that had been twice discarded by other sculptors (David’s shape was revealed to Michelangelo in the process of working with the stone).
Author Sir Kenneth Robinson, educationalist, British author, speaker and international advisor on education in the arts, speaks about creativity and questions whether or not schools kill it. (Click on the link to view a very clever animation of his Ted Talk). My response to his question, based on my experiences as an urban educator who taught children with diverse language, learning, and behavioral challenges … yes, we do.
I discovered the phrase cultural humility while reading Empowered Feminism and Cultural Humility a blog article written by Sue Wallingford and I experienced an “ah-ha moment.” I talk a great deal in my presentations to graduate students (who are studying to become teachers) and teachers attending professional development about cultural competency. Cultural competence requires that organizations have a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally. This is a well-recognized term and considered as best practice in educational circles. Wallington asserts that this term should be replaced by the term cultural humility.
Cultural Competence asks us (as author Lisa Delpit beautifully frames it) to understand that we are always teaching other people’s children, who differ from us in ways that are both visible and invisible but always impacts the access, participation, and progress of the learning. The folks at CADA explain, “While cultural competency implies that one can function with a thorough knowledge of the mores and beliefs of another culture; cultural humility acknowledges that it is impossible to be adequately knowledgeable about cultures other than one’s own.” This shifts the “center” focal point of teaching and learning and keeps it shifting. The teacher is no longer solidly at the top and center! It challenges us to examine our white privilege and not always to always ask “who’s story is being told and whose is being left out” but to listen to the stories that people different from ourselves are telling and ask ourselves how can I change from listening to this story? Wallingford suggests that …”cultural humility positions educators to speak from a place of curiosity and compassion and it constantly puts the student and teacher in the place of not knowing; never assuming to have the answers; opening always to the moment at hand, and the people encountered as worthy of their own history and complexity.”
The people at CADA also say Humility has traditionally connoted a kind of meekness or humbleness, but it can also be used to “denote a willingness to accurately assess oneself and one’s limitations, the ability to acknowledge gaps in one’s knowledge, and an openness to new ideas, contradictory information, and advice. Why is cultural humility important? According to CADA (and in my opinion), there are three big reasons:
This sort of thinking not only turns the table on educators but keeps it spinning. It is not an easy path to walk your talk because it demands that we can’t “do school” they way we have been doing it over the centuries. In his presentation, Sir Kenneth reminds us that we don’t even know what specific jobs we are preparing today’s kindergarteners for. They will graduate in year 2029! So re-creating curriculum and re-designing schools and professionally developing teachers in this changing spinning world is going to take some creativity, hard work and self-reflection. I’m in – are you?
” We live in an era in which the educational system in the United States seems increasingly removed from the drift of global events … schools are seen as little more than the institution most responsible for preparing young people to be successful participants in an increasingly competitive global market. Yet the world that schools are supposed to be preparing young people for is (increasingly) precarious.” ~Gregory A. Smith
It has been four months since the urban k-12 public charter school (where I was sure that I would be spending the next 10 years) was suddenly closed permanently, after three years, due to high rent and the financial challenges of maintaining a building constructed in 1923. I mourn the school’s closing not only personally but professionally. I became a public school teacher two decades ago because I wanted to be part of the solution to the educational crisis in my city. This school “was born” for the same reason. The school’s vision and mission supported a place-based curriculum that encouraged creative problem-solving and active civic engagement. It served 400 children in K-12th grade, all of them living below the poverty line and most of them categorized as English Language Learners.
I recently read an older article by Educator and author, Gregory Smith in Can Schools Help Create a Post-Capitalist World? He writes that creating a school with a curriculum grounded in learning and knowledge and issues central to the human and natural communities surrounding the school is a difficult imperative in these times of high stakes standardized testing. While I continuously grieve the loss, I can look retrospectively back on the lessons of building up and watching the tumbling down of a school, as well lessons learned as important tools in my tool box for the journey ahead.
Through interdisciplinary learning (units of study that span and involve students across English language arts, social studies, science, art and Spanish) K – 12 students explored compelling topics, conducted research, did field work, posed questions to local experts and presented their findings in written papers, oral and visual presentations, workshops, dramatic productions, visual expressions, Photo Voice and handmade books. As a result, the students deepened their understandings of the topics (Common Core and State Standards intact) and their personal relationship with it. Smith describes this as, the interconnections that link different disciplines and phenomena, and the role citizens can play in preserving, maintaining, and restoring the integrity and stability, resilience, and self-renewal of … communities. In other words, as these students got smarter, the world became a better place. That is something no one can ever take from them.
Smith uses a phrase from Paul Hawkins’ book Blessed Unrest and writes about this kind of teaching, place-based education as part a global social movement in history restoring grace, justice, and beauty to the world. As an artist, teacher, educational therapist and social re-constructivist, these words resonate deeply in me.
Yep, I am rolling up my sleeves and getting ready for another journey!
…the ability to change strategies or revise plans when conditions change …
I recently read an article by art therapist, Lisa Mitchell, about using art to practice resilience, flexibility and nimble thinking. I have been thinking a lot about this. I work with children in grades k-12 who experience challenges in reading and (according to the data) are performing far below grade level. Doing what we have been doing for years, providing traditional intervention (remediation and re-teaching) is not working for these students! If it were – my struggling students in the fourth, fifth, sixth and all grades beyond would have “learned how to read” by now. I truly believe that these students are lacking executive functioning skills (have ADHD symptomatology) and have fallen through the cracks.
The folks at Understood.com remind us that executive skills develop gradually and at different rates for different people. Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps us connect past experience with present action. They are the air traffic control tower for our decision-making. Most children struggle at one time or another with planning, organization and follow through. Executive function skills are developmental and vary from person to person. Children who behave in ways that are inflexible have trouble when a familiar routine is disrupted or a task becomes complicated are an example of ADHD symptomatology (executive function deficit). They get frustrated when a first attempt to solve a problem isn’t successful. They are unable to see new ways to do familiar tasks or to make another choice when the first choice proves unworkable. These behaviors negatively impact their school success.
Neuroscience supports the positive benefits of artistic expression. Through activities that involve creativity, children with executive function deficits discover new ways to concentrate on what they enjoy most and do best, to focus, to forgive and appreciate themselves and to cope with their impulsivity with new tools they can transfer into other parts of their school life (Safran,2002). Making art actually grows neurons that strengthen executive functioning skills and build resilience, flexibility and nimble thinking.
The research shows that making art benefits individuals with ADHD symptomatology when provided sensory motor and neuro-academic activity that is designed to improve brain connectivity. Ultimately these activities lead to improved self-esteem, problem-solving, academic, social and behavioral and executive function skills – the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Author and researcher, Kathy Malchiodi (2002) writes, making art, using their hands, offering children a chance to do something provides a structure … that helps school-age children stay focused and understand the next steps of any problem or task at hand.
Many adolescents with ADHD symptomatology/executive function deficits thrive on out-of-the-box interests. Parents, in supporting their teen’s quest to find activities to pursue enthusiastically should allow all doors to remain open for consideration. Theater, dance, visual arts, stand-up comedy, creative writing, journalism, entrepreneurship and consulting are just a few of the possibilities to keep in mind.
School reform does not often include a focus on creativity and art making at the center of academic success. Perhaps we should rethink and realign our thinking to what the neurologists are now telling us – that art works!
Perhaps, if educators better understood the positive impact that art has on children with ADHD symptomatology, then perhaps, there would be less art teacher’s laid off and more demand for art therapists service for children struggling with lack of access to, participation and progress in the general education curriculum and perhaps we would see an increase in the number of children with ADHD symptomology making typical academic progress and succeeding in the school setting. In this author’s opinion, the area of art therapy and the brain and its application to the school environment needs further study – art is such a hopeful alternative to school failure for students – how can we not embrace the research and run with it. So many children are depending on us.
Malchiodi, K. (2011). Handbook of Art Therapy (2nd ed.). New York, New York: The Guilford Press.
Mitchell, L. (2016). Online Blog located @ http://www.innercanvas.com/2015/10/11/art-practice-resilience-flexibility-nimble-thinking/#comment-34869
National Center for Learning Disabilities (2013). Executive Function 101. Located online @ https://www.understood.org/~/media/040bfb1894284d019bf78ac01a5f1513.pdf.
Safran, D. (2002). Art Therapy and AD/HD: diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsly Publishers.
Dear Hiring Manager,
I am applying for an art teaching position, because like Jean Houston, I believe that art educators can change the world! My urban public charter school is closed in June 2016 and I have made the decision that I want to get back to I love most! I believe that imagination, play, and creativity are important for human brain development, and the arts are one of the ways students can get that stimulation. Education that is hands-on, sensory-rich, experience-laden, which calls for the whole mind of whole child, can develop our human potential.
I have many academic, work and volunteer experiences and the skill sets that would enhance any team dedicated to creating a school with great learning experiences for ALL children learning well together!
So begins my cover letter as a begin the difficult journey of “career shift” from Public School teacher/administrator to the wide world beyond it.
Here’s the deal … The more I studied “special education” the less I believed in it and instead fully embraced the idea that there is no such thing as a standardized child. Humans are diverse. I like to say that in schools, we grow humans, not corn crops – period. It is dangerous and non-productive to think otherwise. The way we “do school” is changing with each mandated high-stake standard and standardized test created. Textbook companies follow the money leaving thousands of children behind in the wake.
I envision public school as a giant vice grip. As we turn the handle, the sides of the grip narrow and children keep popping out right and left as we scramble to label them with one of the thirteen federal categories that document eligibility for specialized services. These categories for which students can be evaluated and made “eligible for services” drive federal funding (and national budgets), not local school teaching and learning. In reality, teachers need to get to know students’ individual strengths and weaknesses of the students sitting in front of them in order to create the on-ramps (specialized learning and classroom accommodations) to the grade-level-common-core-curriculum. In my experience, in most urban public schools there is just not the capacity to do this job well. Creativity is often left out of the equation. As a special education “resource” and “intervention” teacher, I have had more than one principal direct me to, “pull them out of art or music to teach them reading or math basic skills.” In other words, they can miss those classes without dire consequence!
I am leaving special education as a job inside the school-as-institution box and trying to make the leap outside the box to better align with what lives inside me. I am a constructivist reading teacher by training and an artist and social-reconstructivist by nature. Using what I know about learning and creativity I want to do my best to develop human potential (especially children with diverse learning, language, and behavioral needs). Numerous studies highlight the loss of creativity that happens to students during their time in schools. We cannot let that continue: we need the arts in schools, on a consistent basis, for all students. If you haven’t watched Sir Ken Robinson make his entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an educational system that undermines (rather than nurtures creativity) watch him @ https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?language=en.
We write common core standards that dictate whether or not a child is making typical growth in reading, writing, and language and then use those scores to subjectively measure the teacher’s teaching skills in order to determine whether or not that teacher should continue teaching. I have grown weary with this system that is not sensitive to measure growth such as a tenth-grade student reading at the third-grade level moving up one grade level in a semester. I have no doubt in my mind that the one level increases that child’s potential.
Emily Wheling argues for the need for creative minds on the blog @https://www.rubicon.com/field-notes-understanding-and-fostering-creative-thinkers/ that creativity is a critical 21st-century skill necessary for successful problem solving within the current economy and workplace. She goes on to say that according to the Harvard Business Review, the creative sector of the U.S. economy currently employs more than 30% of the workforce, or over thirty-eight million architects, artists, designers, educators, engineers, entertainers, scientists, and musicians. Corporate recruiters are visiting art schools around the United States looking for innovative talent, “…because of abundance, businesses are realizing that the only way to differentiate their goods and services in today’s overstocked marketplace is to make their offerings physically beautiful and emotionally compelling.” Check out what she has to say about more ways to foster creativity. The Partnership for 21st Century Learning offers an extensive study that includes key actions to help enhance student creativity in educational contexts and beyond:
Perhaps my path to out-of-the-box educator will lead me to a position as an art teacher, or art therapist (with further study), educational consultant or as a member of a team that designs another school. The path is not yet charted (and probably not paved) but I am packing my bags and getting ready for the journey. Wish me Bon Voyage!