“The arts must play a greater role in curriculum.” Donald Graves, Bring Life Into Learning
Last Thursday evening I heard Kate DiCamillo talk to an audience of adults and children here in Fairfield, CT. She shared many stories. Stories from her childhood. Stories about her dad who always encouraged her to tell stories. She told stories about the books she wrote. She shared about what she calls “radiant strands of story”. She believes we are all connected by story.
Last Friday, our District held it’s third annual Westport Learns. Westport Learns is designed for teachers to teach each other, share their passions, connect with each other. Each year, I have presented. Each year, I have run a workshop for teachers to begin to grow themselves as writers using a visual literacy approach.
The first year, I did it on my own. My colleague and friend, Christine, was my consultant as I prepared my slides and searched for clarity in planning. Last year, my colleague and friend, Megan and I presented. Our purpose was to provide mindful experiences with art and writing that would begin to grow teachers as writers. This year I presented alongside my colleague and friend Jess. This year our presentation was infused with quotes and big ideas from Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write.
As I drove home last Friday, I thought about the fact that I had done this three years in a row. I wondered why I kept doing it? I wondered what made each year different? I wondered what was the common thread from year to year? Suddenly, I stopped wondering.
The common thread from year to year was that each presentation was formed around visual literacy experiences. Each year, teachers had time to read paintings, copy paintings, observe objects in sketches. Each year, they were told that the goal was not to make a pretty picture, but to connect with one’s own ideas, to find the hidden stories within themselves.
“There is no right or wrong when you are on the hunt for ideas and stories.” I always say.
I remember last year, a teacher was copying an art card and found herself in tears. As she drew and colored, she felt emotionally connected to her emerging story about her dad and grandfather. This year, I learned about a colleagues’ struggle with weight. A story many can connect to. Last year I watched and learned as a colleague played with the ideas that came to mind from sketching a leaf. One administrator shared this year, “I didn’t write a lot, I appreciated the time to sit and think. I appreciated the time to sit and study, to be mindful . As I sketched and observed the inside of the shell, I thought about the cosmic heavens.”
As I watched the twelve teachers and three administrators work, I stopped to sketch and write myself. Then, I walked around and read over their shoulders. Kate DiCamillo’s words were ringing in my head – “radiant strands of story”. Their sketches, their reflections, their poems were the seeds for stories.
For me, my story as a writer began with sketching and art…in school…as a teacher. Twenty six years ago, our art teacher, Karen Ernst daSilva, invited me to join my second graders in the art room to create and discover connections between art and writing.
Through my own experience with pictures, art and writing, I discovered that I am a writer. If, what Kate DiCamillo says is true, that the radiant strands of story connect us all, maybe one child, one teacher will discover they, too, are a writer from the experiences I create for them based on my story.
“Art brings together in one place an image and a response that goes directly to the heart of real thought.” Donald Graves, Bring Life Into Learning