Friday, April 17, 2015

Reflections with Staff at Emmanuel Preschool

I returned to Emmanuel Preschool after a week as Artist-in-Residence for processing and planning next steps with the staff at the school.

The best part of this discussion was how the engagement and energy of the adults mirrored the engagement and energy of the children the previous week.  Teachers shared new perspectives on individual children as well as stories that confirmed and deepened earlier impressions of a child's process.  I was reminded why it can be so energizing to work in a collaborative environment.

At the same time I also appreciated each teacher's honesty in sharing ways that a new way of working was challenging or different for them as facilitators.  For example, one teacher tried a follow-up activity  where the children had a large shape with the directive to fill it with collage items in shades of a single color.  This was a class that dove into the collage activity in the studio, with students creating 3 and 4 collages  and two boys stayed for both groups, working a full 90 minutes.  She was disappointed to see they worked as quickly as possible to fill the shape with painted green glue and then moved on to something else.  In our conversation, we were able to explore how the studio exploration of collage focused on getting to know materials and building in an open-ended way on small square papers.  In contrast, filling a shape may have felt more task oriented - it was easier to determine when they were "done" - when the shape was filled - so they worked to get to that end as quickly as possible.
Mostly I was just really grateful to this teacher for sharing what didn't work - that takes confidence and courage and allows for clarification as well as the insights of the group to help with new ways forward.
We broke into small groups to brainstorm next steps for teachers to continue collage exploration in some way in their classrooms.  The four year old teachers focused on patterns and building and ways to extend these and the story telling associated with creations.  The twos teachers discussed exploring color themes and sorting materials with children so they could explore different textures within single color families.  As they discussed ideas, there was an energy in the room and a sense that one idea built on another so that they began to see how exploring variations on a single media could take them through not just one follow-up activity but many.
At the end of the session, one of the threes teachers shared a classroom story.  She read the children a book featuring collage dogs in the illustrations.  Afterward she took them to the recycling center to collect objects and had them work in pairs and groups of 3 to assemble a creature of their own of some sort with the objects.  She photographed the creatures and then the kids told her stories about them and then they took the objects BACK to the recycling center.
I loved this story of taking this open-ended process art idea a step further by just doing the arranging.  The only record of this creation was her photos and notes and yet, perhaps because of this, it was so rich.  The other fun piece to this was that the children did this activity the day before they visited the studio, to help prepare them for the idea of creating with recycled objects.  A lovely example of scaffolding their experience - from just arranging to arranging and gluing.
I left the meeting feeling I had learned as much as the teachers and wishing there were more time for the layered sharing of learning stories - stories of what the teacher learned, what the kids learned, how the teacher set up the experience, how children took it in new directions, how children suggested learning experiences and how teachers witnessed these.  Similarly I am grateful for how much I learned from hearing ways teachers extended the work we began in the studio, sharing my reflections but even more so from hearing theirs.  There were layers of reciprocity in the sharing among teachers, children and myself and I am thankful for the way that will enliven and enrich all our practice.

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