Monday #49: Light A Fire

Teaching Out Of The Box - Summer Educator's Institute 2011

“I am still reeling from my two days spent in the company of such creative minds.  I can’t thank you enough for allowing me to share in the experience of attending your workshop.  I came away totally energized and ready to “light the flame”.  The students of the teachers who attended your workshop are truly lucky children.  For me, personally, the timing was perfect.  I feel like  I spent two days in a spa for the mind, body and soul.”

“I am just letting you know how inspiring your program was to me.  I loved the art work.  The connection to nature and saving our environment was great and wonderful to use for Earth Day and all year long.”

“I already have plans to use loupes for my classroom, make a science journal with my students, read poetry with a child’s voice, and continue to inspire them to be more observant of the world around them.  I applaud you for your enthusiastic, energetic, and information packed presentations!”

“Great location, awesome food, knowledgeable presenters…. I loved how many materials were provided for us. This was a great workshop on rediscovering the joy of learning and teaching.”

Last week, my friend and colleague, Deb Barends, and I launched our first, annual Teaching Out Of The Box Summer Educator’s Institute.  Based on the philosophies and principles which have governed both of our lives in education, this event was the creative result of many years we have spent collaborating, teaching and dreaming about ways to combat the stifling, test-oriented environments that have taken so many teachers hostage from their own wisdom of practice and have cultivated a negative frame of mind about the classroom.  We wanted to get teachers together for two full days of inspiration, learning and friendship so that they could face the next school year in a different frame of mind.  Sometime during this past winter we said let’s do it!  And, Teaching Out Of The Box was born.

TOOTB (“Toot-Bee!”) is the collective name for a variety of programs we will be hosting, both at go-to locations as well as within specific districts and conferences.  Our primary goal is to provide educators with ideas, lessons and strategies that are short, cheap or free, fun and easy and that will engage students, enhance learning and tap into national curriculum standards.  With a mindfulness of the growing chorus of concerns about the lack of creativity in classrooms all across America and an eye on the framework for 21st Century Skills, we believe that the time is right for frustrated, disgruntled and exasperated good teachers to join us in an underground way back into being the best versions of our teaching selves.

So, we banged it together.  We scheduled an all-star lineup that included Brod Bagert from New Orleans, Carla Sonheim from Seattle and Kimberly Carmody from Urban River Arts in Brooklyn.  Deb and I planned more activities than would be humanly possible but we truly wanted to deliver as much as we could and we know that blowing our proverbial wad is unlikely for two people who get together and have to make a conscious effort to stop thinking of new things in order to get the task at hand completed!  Here’s what happened over two, amazing, inspiring, educational and exciting days this summer…

We created beautiful writing journals and binders, we made great (and funny) poetry that was also a stealth grammar lesson and we wrote gorgeous, lyrical language to grace the pages of small, delightful books made from trash, and we looked at our world up close and thought of ways this could magnify our day to day lessons.

We saw a poet make a poem right before our eyes and learned how a writer works, we thought about the difference between our own voices and the voice of a child, we were witness to the awesome power of enthusiasm and how this simple thing can alter the course of a moment, a day, a week, a school year…or a life.

We quieted our minds and focused on the metaphorical horizon, we came to know the gestures of our own hands through a trio of images in colors both familiar and new, and we experienced an approach to learning that most of us had never considered and which came by way of this meditative process called sequence painting.

We all became people who could draw and teach someone else to draw, we let go of the notion that art has to be a certain way or look like a certain thing, we created bunches of wonderful drawings that could be connected with hundreds of poems, stories and pieces of writing or integrated into nature and science studies, and we laughed together and played with cool art supplies.

But, Deb and I have more to share, more to say.  We’re gonna do it again.  And again.  We hope that some time you’ll come and join us.  We promise to make you smile.

Finally, because the world is better with chocolate, and because I have a father who believes the Universe speaks to us through the wrappers of Dove candies, I took it as a sign that on the first day of the institute, the first chocolate I opened up delivered a powerful message…

No Child Left Behind is here to stay.  Standardized testing and curriculum standards aren’t going anywhere.  Teachers are smart people who, for the most part, got into education because they like being with kids and love learning but, at the moment, they are also being tested.  I think that we here in education can either get out now while the gettin’ is good or we can evolve.  For those of us who have been here longer than others, it’s even more critical that we bring creativity back to our classrooms in any way we possibly can so that younger teachers steeped in that bad brew of teaching-to-the-test can see the possibilities before we pass them the torch.

But wait!  Here’s the best part… we can do it together.  We.  We can get sneaky.  We can get crafty.  We can get it in under the radar.  We can light a fire.

TRY THIS WEEK: Don’t settle for a spark.

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About Dar Hosta James

I am an artist living in New Jersey. I write and illustrate children's books, paint, draw, blog, coach, teach and speak about creativity.
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One Response to Monday #49: Light A Fire

  1. Pingback: Together, We Lit A Fire! « Teaching Out Of The Box

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