Sunday, April 12, 2015

Being Schooled at Soulcraft by B. Stupp

The post seen below was written by my colleague, art educator extraordinaire!  Enjoy!

Being Schooled at Soulcraft

I entered the Soulcraft educator cohort this past January encouraged by a colleague who expressed her overwhelmingly positive experience.

I am an art educator, have been for 25 years. I am retiring at the end of this year. My selfish interest in Soulcraft was to learn for myself, as an artist, how to make things out of wood. I am a painter and a fiber artist and am interested in how to tie my work with fiber into wood working…but, I am not a sculptor, and I know nothing about wood working. I also am lame at constructing and making something structurally sound. I am all about the form but not so great at the function.

I am already a maker. I understand the intellectual rigor that goes into making something…how in the process of making one must construct content and knowledge, solve problems, and persist to make meaning-the creative thinking process. I love working through this process with my students. At the level I teach, K-3 grade, the kids are wildly creative.

I teach, however, in an environment of non-makers. Making is not valued and domains of learning are compartmentalized to the point that art teaching is marginalized. In this environment, art class is: for students who cannot succeed academically, a planning time for real teachers, not measured with big data so really has no relevance, pretty pictures hung in the halls to make administrators look good to parents.

In this environment, art class is never thought of as a space where students actually learn. Art teachers have some responsibility for this, always scrambling to meet mandates that seem to require art to be measured, like….jeez, I don’t even know. It’s never about innovative ideas to further art education.

So, I am done as an art teacher. I am retiring partly because of this frozen state of art education. I was not sure if this experience at Soulcraft would influence me as a teacher.

It was a tough and chilly January for me and my attendance at Soulcraft was erratic. Each Saturday I was there, Peter and Jim took the time to support my formal ideas and teach me the tools and provide the materials that I needed to realize them. Each educator in the cohort was working on their own project. Each brought their level of skill and knowledge to the studio. I needed a lot of help…but every time I met a block, the community at Soulcraft was always there for help. Each person was working autonomously on their own unique idea. Observing all these ideas and their processes was truly inspirational and taught me even more. Sean, Dave, Morgan, Karen, Julie and others I can’t name…were always willing to answer a question, help find a tool, help me put together my shelves…unbelievable generosity and kindness. The enlightened conversations I have had with this community have been so different from those I have in my work environment and reaffirmed the value of my job as an art educator and maker.

I have taken away much from this experience. First, as an artist, I have a lot more to learn about making things out of wood, a lot more mistakes to make and a lot more questions to ask. I made a simple set of shelves that I installed in my kitchen and they actually function. I crave the ability to make freely at Soulcraft, to use the tools and methods as needed to create. Second, as an art educator, I want to explore the idea of projects that that open out to unexpected possibilities instead of pre-determined channels. I tried this for our art show in March. I had 200 second and third grade students create a project of their choice based on a theme. 200 students working with unique and different ideas and mediums…it was crazy and messy, and so exciting and meaningful. They envisioned their ideas, they explored and stretched mediums, they made mistakes and problem solved….The results were outstanding (I could go on about this, but…time and space.) Third is the idea of creating within a community. I owe so much to the community at Soulcraft for my learning. When my students were creating their projects for the art show, they were so engaged with each other’s ideas and processes. They critiqued each other, they
helped each other. They communicated their assessments and meanings with me and their fellow artists (all quite informally.) It was amazing, a real open studio, artistic, aesthetic experience in the classroom…but no one in this environment noticed…the projects were hung, the students artists’ statements were attached, the halls looked pretty for the administrators and parents, but no one took the time to look and read the individualized ideas of the students…so how do I communicate? This is my soul dilemma in my work environment.

I have been so schooled at Soulcraft.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Week 75- What IS this thing?

A six week Saturday morning class.  Is that what I agreed to?

It's now week... I don't know what number... and I am still going back.

Soulcraft Woodshop.

How has this journey changed me?

Well, it's hard to say.

In September of 2014, I was working a job at school that I didn't want.  I was told I needed "a break" and basically put into time out.  I was searching for life outside of my career.  I was going home at a normal hour each day and truly only working the 8 hour day.  That was brand new to me after 11 years of working 11-12 hour days.  I was unhappy.  I missed my team.  I missed my students.  I was getting to know new students, but it wasn't enough.  I was searching for something.

Fast forward to March 2015.  I am begging for spring break to get here.  I am still not totally happy in my job, mostly because it just doesn't feel like enough.  I could do more.  I give a lot of assessments.  I follow intervention scripts.  But, I do feel like I am making a difference.  The kids are growing and changing and that's success.  It feels good.  But I am not defined by my career anymore.  I am not defined by my school district.

Being part of Soulcraft has given me some courage.  It's given me even more voice than I had before.  It's helped me hone some of those communication skills that were still less than "diplomatic."  I've met great people, formed some incredible relationships, grown professionally and personally.  I found the thing I was searching for, though I'm still not really sure what that is.

Conversations with Pete, Jim, and Sean are sometimes above me.  I shake my head and hear their words and most days I go back to my car and Google something they were talking about.  I don't always understand their political references or even their references to literature that I have not yet read yet.  The cool thing is, if they know that I am clueless (sometimes), they don't show it.  OR, if I'm particularly brave that day, I ask or say "I don't know what that means."  And they explain it to me.  Hopefully without judgement.  Or it seems like without judgement...

Conversations with Julie and Karen... Ahhhhh... I wish we could all work in the same building.  Strong women.  Empowered women who know who they are and what they stand for.  They don't let others get in the way, and if they do, they reflect and go back.  They put kids first.  They vent. And then they move forward.  WE move forward.  They help me to move forward.

And there's Tom.  Tom and I see eye to eye. And it's just comfortable to be there with Tom.  With all the men who don't appear to be judging my skills as a woodworker or furniture designer or artist at all.  They are there learning too.  "Who knows how to use this machine thingy over here?"  Yeah, I might, and I can show you.

One realization that I have almost weekly is that I don't like to do stuff that I am not good at.  And for my first few projects, I was great.  Realizing now that Pete and Jim had a LOT to do with that skill, I am a little humbled at the fact that in the past three weeks, I have screwed up at least 100 times.  I really messed up those dados.  And I typically would trash them, never speak of them again, start over, and excel at it the next time.  But WOW, I REALLY screwed up those dados.  And I can talk about it. And even laugh.

I'm not good at the measuring.  I'm not good when something needs to be perfectly measured or perfectly symmetrical.  I stand in awe when Jim says something like "well, it's just about 7/16ths."  Again, I was great at math, but in regards to the tape measure, I have no idea what this means.  I smile and nod.  And I don't think he judges the fact that I have no idea what this means.  He probably does realize it though. I'm not so good at the hiding of facial expressions.

So, I've had some time now to really get to know what I'm good at and what I'm not.  And for some reason, I keep coming back to this thing that I am not particularly great at.  I wonder why.

I told someone yesterday, "I'm not sure if I actually like making things out of wood, or if I just like the people here enough to keep coming back, or both."

Courage to be honest.

So this adventure has also given me courage in my own school building.  Last year, I couldn't say or do the right thing to save my life.  This year, I decided that I needed to still stay true to myself and maybe it would work out.  It has.  I had the courage to ask if I could start a Makers' Club.

Makers' Club has taken off like I never knew it would.  As I felt like my job as a reading interventionist was lacking creativity, and I knew that what I was doing on Saturday mornings was meaningful, I wanted to incorporate the two.  On Thursdays, second graders (any who want to on any week) come to my room and make stuff.  Usually I give them a challenge.  Sometimes I give them prizes for fulfilling the challenge.  Second graders are really working on how to share, how to ask for someone to share, how to put their ideas together.  On Fridays, third graders come.  They get a slightly more detailed challenge, and typically blow my mind with what they create.  They are better at sharing, better at working together, and need little assistance in their "design thinking."

After 4 weeks of Makers' Club and close to 75 kids a week going through our room, I've only seen 3 kids cry.  Two cried because their project did not work and they did not have time, before going back to their homeroom class, to fix it.  One cried because no one would share.  I've gotten to use my powers of conversation and behavior skills (ha!) to talk through situations with these 7 and 8 year olds and somehow all three came back the next week.

The principal and other teachers are on board with the Makers' Club AND the PSO even sends volunteers and gave me a budget.

So, how has Soulcraft changed me?

It's given me more courage.

It's broken down on typical gender biases (or barriers) for me.

It's given me a group of friends that I can't wait to see on Saturday mornings.

It's helped my communication skills.

It's opened my eyes to learning again.  To starting over.  To failing.  To doing stuff you aren't good at.

It's.... well.... stay tuned. Because I am sure there will be more.

P.S. I am purposely not proofreading this and just pressing publish.  I want this to be honest and open and not rethink everything I just typed.  Please forgive any typos.  Yikes... Here goes... 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

More on OETC15...


I am so happy that my district was generous enough to send me this year, along with several of my colleagues to OETC. As usual, I had a fantastic time and learned a ton.

What's interesting to me, however, as I reflect on my time in Columbus last week, is the difference in my own learning style and learning needs since the last time I was there.

In the past, I came away with tools and tools and more new tools to use at school and with kids. Tools for efficiency, tools for creativity, tools for "drill and kill..." 

This time, it was more about what to do with the tools AND what to do with education.

I learned more about the Google Apps for Educators, tips I didn't know after using it for over 2 years (or has it been longer?). I learned how to find more fonts in a Google Doc which will truly help some elementary teachers to finally make the switch from Word.

I also had time to play around with "add-ons." Typically in a school day, this doesn't take priority but it was nice to know some extended features like EasyBib and the highlighting tools. I realize this is easy and I could've figured it out in time, but I wasn't spending the time to do so. It was nice to have that time. 

We heard a keynote speaker, a woman coder for Pixar. Danielle Feinberg (@dafeinberg) spoke about giving opportunities to everyone, regardless of gender. Of course this keynote felt like it was written for me because of my recent realization of and struggle with these gender inequalities.

I spent more time with my friends Sean Wheeler and Peter Debelak (@peterdebelak) discussing these same gender issues and feeling empowered because they often help me to realize that we can change these inequalities, one by one, slowly but surely. They are big time dreamers and doers. This is why I like them.

I spent time with folks from our district that I normally don't have time to chat with- Jacqui Berchtold (berchtoldj), Kim Taylor (@taylortchr), Scott Kinkoph (@scottkinkoph), and John Schinker (@schinker). We spent time talking about limitations and expectations in our own district while also having fun and gaining new rapport with each other.

Another keynote speaker, Yong Zhao (@yongzhaoUO) kept us laughing for over an hour. Nothing new but wonderfully fulfilling ideas about what's wrong with education and how we should change it. We ordered his book 5 minutes after he was done talking.

Spending time with so many like minded people was refreshing. So good to see Bob (@bob05), Ryan (@mr_collins), Toby (@tobyfischer), TJ (@tjhouston), Nevin (@mathremix), and Stacy (@stacyhaw) again! 

On Wednesday, I spent a lot of times in the "unconference" aka OETCx. The day was filled with conversations, not presentations, about education.  I engaged in one convo about "adult issues vs. student ones" where we discussed how adults should get out of the way already. Our own insecurities and fears are holding kids back.

I also stayed to talk about the Soulcraft Cohort with Sean and Pete. If you've been following this blog, you already know about it, but we all (along with Vicki Turner @Vturner8 and Jeremy Schorr @jeremyschorr) got to talk about our very authentic learning experiences thus far. By the way, we still go there every Saturday morning for our "six week class." I wish Tom Grodek (@mrgrodek), Jim McNaughton, Karen Wheeler (@mathcoachlkwd), Julie Rea (@juliesrea), and Christy Neider (@christyneider) could've been there too. Words don't do justice for what we've done with #soulco.

After that. A conversation about motivation and behavior... Since I am studying ABA currently, this was a major topic for me, and as I started the conversation, I realized its still a bit foggy for me, what I believe about intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards and motivation...

Then onto the FRED (Finding Real Education) talks where presenters had 15 slides at 30 sec per slide (or something like this) and shared short bursts of info with us.  Jon Smith (@theipodteacher) inspired me to start using iBooks and Michael Rousch (@mdrousch) had me in tears as he spoke about his daughter with ASD. I cried, not because I pity him (I don't), or because his life is sad (it's not), or even because his story is particularly unique, but rather, because I felt proud. He was showing that we can do it. We can integrate that little bit of "oh hey, remember 'those kids' too when you develop tech and curriculum and school" into a day with folks who are generally apathetic to the topic of special education. He is a great model for me to say "look, it can be done." His preso is here-

One thing that annoyed me was that there was not one female FRED Talker. I found out later that the document, which I never saw, was open for anyone yet "Why didn't any females sign up?" I believe I would've, yet after over a week pondering it, I'm still not sure what I would've talked about...

The tools I learned are important but the connections and conversations are priceless...

My friend Sean Wheeler (@mrwheeler or @teachinghumans on twitter) says "I became a teacher because I hated school." 

For me, it's the opposite. I loved school and I played the game.  I was great at the game of school. It's only now that I see that our kids today shouldn't be playing that game. They don't have the time.  They are getting ready for jobs that haven't even been created yet. So why teach them with points and grades and worksheets and tests that make them cry?

More of these authentic experiences please!!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

#OETC15 Day 1

#OETC15.  Here we are.  I'm looking forward to some awesome learning and some engaging conversations.

So far, I've been near some like minded colleagues which always helps make a conference (or any day) better.

Today, there are the pre-conference workshops.

Currently, I'm hanging out in "Google Power Users."  It's a little dry, BUT I've learned some things so far.  I don't typically have time to check out all of the "add-ons" and extensions, but this workshop is show casing these things.  It's nice to have time to sit and look around.

I already found an awesome Google Add-On called Easy Bib.  I'm sure you know this, but, I can get a source cited in APA style right within the document!  This thrills me because Citation Machine has changed and I'm not a fan.  (Remember when we actually wrote out our own citations?  Me neither.)

Who knew that I could make my own memes in Google Draw?

And now it's so cold... I can't think.

Sunday, February 8, 2015



It's the running joke at the woodshop now, that you can always find me sanding.

I'm the master sander.

Okay, not really the master, but I do enjoy the sanding.  I even asked for (and received) a circular sander for Christmas. 

What is it about sanding wood at Soulcraft that I love, I wonder?

Well, first, it's my new comfort zone. While I know how to use other machines there, I can use a sander without any help, not even reminders or prompts. :) I love the comfort zone. I could go back to it every time. Every piece can be sanded. And sanded again. And maybe a little more...

Next, although it's cliche for a special ed teacher, of course I LOVE to take a piece of rough wood and turn it into something smooth and beautiful.

Making something beautiful with your hands is such an experience... 

And the vibrations... I feel calm. And zen... If zen is something you can feel...

And if I want to learn and work this way, why wouldn't a student at school want this? Would this motivate more students? It motivates me.  Would more students want to come to school? Would more students succeed?

What motivates your students to come to class? 

Can you provide them with a comfort zone? 

Can you push them outside of their comfort zone?

Or enjoy their zen state?