Monthly Archives: May 2019

What Would You Hold?

During our first Make Cycle of the  SDAWP Invitational Summer Institute, we are each answering the question, “What would you hold?”  The make requires that we represent the answer to that questions with a photo of something precious held in our hands.

After too much thought and second guessing, here is my photo.

img_1261

I’m sure that a photo of me holding my camera isn’t surprising to many of you.  But I want to press beyond the camera as a tool to make pretty pictures.  It isn’t the camera itself that is precious.  In fact, sometimes it isn’t even my camera that I use for photography…sometimes my phone works just as well (or even better).  But the camera represents a practice that I value.  Taking photos encourages me to slow down, to pay attention, to notice the value and beauty in the ordinary…and it gets me writing.

I try to get out with my camera every day: walking, breathing deeply, letting my thoughts roam.  With my feet moving and under the influence of fresh air, I can let my worries float away and use my senses to tune into the world outside of my head.  I seldom take photos of people, instead I try to capture moments that capture my attention.  (The exception would be the many photos I take of my grandsons–none of which I post on social media to protect their privacy.)  I often find that the photos I take become metaphors to express ideas I am thinking about.

img_1097

With my camera I get low, checking out the vantage from the bug’s perspective.  I find myself thinking about times when teaching and mothering and living feels like pushing the world up a very steep hill.  Images of mythology fill my head and the strains and stresses of the day unkink, letting those tight muscles that run across my shoulders begin to relax.

img_1083

Out on the playground with my students I get to bring my passions to my students.  Photography also helps my students look in new ways, and like it does for me, that looking generates ideas and language for writing.  This photo was an example of looking for natural frames for photos–a composition technique I wanted my students to explore.

img_0990

With camera in hand, I learn…and sometimes I mourn.  Regular walks on the beach bring the realities of environmental damage front and center.  I see the daily human impact, the excesses of our disposable lifestyle, and get up close and personal with death and destruction. I am forced to pay attention to the lessons nature is teaching and encouraged to learn more as I walk with the rhythms of the tides and the seasons, appreciating the beauty and noticing the destruction.

img_1123

And I see the power of small children making a difference.  Little efforts, like teaching students to compost their leftovers from lunch will help them make the world a better place. (My students thought this photo was gross–but when I explained what it represented to me, they found it more interesting.)

img_1204

My camera also lets me celebrate life’s pleasures and express my gratitude.  My husband is an amazing cook and nurturer.  Some days result in food that doubles as works of art!

Mostly, though my camera helps me make space in my life.  Space for observation, space for an exploration of the senses, space for listening and learning, and space for making and creativity.  It gets me outside and keeps me moving.  It helps me connect with others–in person and online.  It reminds me to play, to take action, and to appreciate all that life has to offer.

 

At a Snail’s Pace

In my profession, May roars, leaving me windblown and mud spattered in the wake of the urgency to squeeze in every last bit of learning, every memorable project, and all the performances, displays, meetings, and endless, but somehow necessary, paperwork before school ends in mid June.

lrg_dsc03276

And May is rich.  Students have blossomed into their most curious, creative, innovative, and independents selves.  They seem to peak as the rains ease and the skies warm, classroom routines providing the inner rhythm, the back beat, that allows imaginations and a year’s worth of learning to come together in perfect synergy.  The classroom is busy in May, with students leading the charge…both eager for school to end and reticent leave the comfortable place the classroom has become.

But there is a week in May where time crawls to a snails’ pace.  State testing, mandated in public schools, demands that my students spend hours demonstrating their learning.  During those times I hear each click of the clock reverberate against my eardrums.  The room is unnaturally quiet as students work through question after question designed to test their mastery of third grade.  The work is not too hard for my students, but it is too long…and requires them to operate very differently from our typical classroom routine.

It seems almost from birth, our students were encouraged to collaborate.  They’ve learned to work in groups, sort out misunderstandings through discussion and conversations, negotiate roles and responsibilities, turn to each other for support and critical feedback…until it’s time for the test.  Then they are asked to be quiet, to read and understand complex questions independently, write and revise without feedback, and sit for long stretches of time.

The minutes drag as I roam the room.  I check to make sure these first time test takers are progressing through their tests rather than spending inordinate amounts of time on any one question.  I search their faces, ready to intervene when signs suggest they are ready to crumble.  I remind them to use their tools, to take a breath, to stretch, and to check their work. That clock slows to a snail’s pace, each click requiring the coil of the snail’s body to snap forward, oozing its slimy self toward its destination.

img_0832

After the second day of testing I can feel the mood shift.  Novelty got us through day one and two, but day three feels heavy.  The hands of the clock are now mired in sludge.  Students need more encouragement to keep moving forward.  I need to summon some super powers to settle the boiling tummy, churning with uncertainty.  A walk and a talk helps, we are able to settle in again.

I’m proud of my students.  They did it.  All persisted, all persevered, all finished the tests in front of them.  And honestly, that is accomplishment enough at this stage of the game.  Now we can get back to the real learning–the noisy, messy, complex, interactive projects that bring joy to the classroom.  I’ll be the one who is windblown and mud spattered and reveling in the mess.

Into Negative Spaces

The paths we follow through life seem to be self-determined, crafted from deep thought and consideration.  Carefully groomed and plotted, they take use from where we are to the next destination.  We know where we are going and the most effective and efficient way to get there. Except when we don’t.

Negative space is art terminology that describes the spaces not filled in with color or design. They are the open spaces that often define those more deliberate lines, brushstrokes, carvings.

What happens when you lean into the negatives spaces?  When the spaces between become the path you follow?

I think about the ways that dandelions find the cracks in the walls, in the sidewalks, along the sides of the road, plant themselves deeply and blossom–spreading both their roots and their seeds to ensure that they thrive.

img_0407

I think about the blue that is visible through the openings in the clouds, where the sun seeps through and warms our shoulders and relaxes our minds.

img_0766

I spy the scented geraniums hiding between the spiky arms of the aloe vera, soft pink flowers intertwined with the sharp spines of the succulent.

img_0792

I notice the children who lay low, distinguishing themselves by the ways they blend in, quietly doing what they need to while others stand out, spreading their brilliant plumage like colorful peacocks.

But I know that these negative spaces are not negative, not less than, not inferior.  These are spaces waiting to be defined by the traveler, marked as the feet step on this road less traveled.  There are many paths that lead to fulfilling and successful lives…so why do so many insist that we all follow a single pre-determined path?

Let’s remember that sometimes the right path is the one that is yet to be discovered.