"I think it will mean I have more time to play"
"I'll be able to learn side by side with my siblings"
"I hope grandma will tutor me"
I looked at their faces and thought...is this it? Is this our last time together this school year? Is so, then, what can I give them? What can I say to help them transition?
I Can Paint my Own Silver Linings
My mind kept fixating on the loss I would soon experience as the reality of COVID teaching came into focus. I went into the building in early August to find the art room, the place I’ve taught in for the past 28 years, stripped of the cozy spaces and collaborative seating. The class set of iPads was distributed to the kindergartners for remote learning. The floors were marked with dots six feet apart. I’ve never seen the floor tiles so abundantly. They looked cold.
Before the schools closed on March 13th I had been influenced by a session I attended at IDEA conference to redesign my classroom. They suggested I pull down distractors, declutter, and make the space more intentional. I had begun that work hesitantly in early March, but felt determined to rip the bandage off quickly now. I took down every poster, silly art print, monster mask, speech bubble, and gimmicky sign until the canvas was blank.
What will be my silver lining? I can choose one. I can paint a silver lining on anything I want because I own the paintbrush.
I unboxed the Kindness Campaign Posters. 4th graders (now 5th) had spent weeks on a unit where they developed a unique kindness statement, spoke it expressively in a green screen video, digitally animated wings, layered in the text, and set it up to come to life with augmented reality. The grants I received for this project paid for beautiful full color prints with the intention of creating a kindness gallery where students could scan the posters and hear kids teach kids about kindness. I stared at my blank walls wondering where I should hang them. It’s funny that it never occurred to me before to make the art room into a kindness gallery. It made perfect sense when I imagined my masked students, spaced apart, with their clutch of art supplies, staring at dozens of friendly faces sharing messages of love, compassion, empathy, and kindness.
After I hung these posters I felt better seeing their sweet smiling faces fill the space. I filmed every poster coming to life with augmented reality and edited them into tiny kindness episodes that were eventually shared with all students at the beginning of each remote learning class session.
I went home and began trying to re-imagine synchronous art classes through zoom. I had some experience presenting to teachers through professional development webinars. I knew the tools, the limits, the formality, and the strange quiet of a muted audience. Thinking about little kindergarten students in this environment seemed unfathomable. How can they feel seen and heard when we have never met in person? How do I make our online time feel personalized, fun, and child-centered? I wondered if this method of instruction could have a silver lining? That’s when I remembered one of my childhood wishes. I had always wanted my TV programs to be interactive. I wanted my name spoken, my words heard, and my thoughts to potentially change the outcome of the show. This is when I realized that our art time could be framed as an interactive art show. I called it Fuglevision, based on my last name. I developed a logo, art-related video shorts, and even made a TV themed hat to wear while zooming with my students. I wrote a theme song/video to play at the beginning of each class period that would embody my mission statement and become our classroom mantra:
No matter how we gather
Each one of you matter
And I’m so glad
That we are here together
Let’s sharpen our pencil
As we sharpen our mind
And remember to be
Creative and kind.
It’s a good decision
To tune in to Fuglevision
After the first few weeks of class I noticed students bopping along and mouthing the words when the video played. It occurred to me then, that they should remake the video with their own faces and voices. I gave this opportunity to the 5th graders and soon replaced the old with this new one oozing with life and authenticity. It was no longer me saying what I hoped for the class. It was kids telling other kids to engage, take risks, and make good decisions. That had power.
I found many silver linings over the past year around the edges of each color wheel of feelings experienced. I had to be able to feel all of them to paint them. Then, look at them closely to see the glimmers of silver on the edges. Not every aspect of my classroom design was intentional. Much was out of my control. However, the most peace I experienced in the chaos of COVID came when I picked up my own paintbrush and dipped into the silver paint.Resources:
I shared a more in depth version of my story in this interview from K12ArtChat the Podcast:
Art show on display outside the art room (image on cover page)
View of the art room with kindness posters (image on cover page)