Steal Like an Artist

I love this book–Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.  Austin Kleon probably wrote it for adults, but I think it would be a great to use in the classroom.  What kid doesn’t steal from other artists?  It’s what we DO.  It’s a quick read, has lots of inspirational quotes (for when you need something get you through the day), and contains some cool artwork, too.

What is the meaning of this?

“Making meaning is good.  Doing meaningful things is better.”  I read this quote by Peter Johnston on Ann Marie Corgill’s recent Face Book page and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  It’s a little sad that we have to be reminded to do meaningful things with our students.  We wouldn’t have to be reminded of this with our own personal kids, so why should school be so different?

Well…it’s school!  We’re there to teach them what we think is meaningful, right?  We can’t just let a bunch of five or ten or fifteen year olds choose what’s meaningful, can we?

I’ve been thinking about my son’s learning, watching him grow into a seven year-old who really likes to write and I think: he likes to write because he understands what it’s for.  He uses writing as a tool to communicate.  When he wants to tell a funny story, he writes it.  When he wants to express his feelings, he writes a poem.  When he wants to plan or explain how to do something, he makes a list.  He writes because it means something to him to have his voice heard in the world.

We need more of this in school.  But what would that look like?

If I want to organize my teaching life around providing meaningful activities for kids, I have to start with the kids themselves.  I have to find out what matters to each and every one of them.  And then figure out how can I make sure that each one gets a chance to read about it, write about it, build it, make it, think it, do it, live it, in school.

I recently attended a middle school performance of Beauty and the Beast that was so heartfelt it brought tears to my eyes.  When the assistant principal introduced the play, he said, “This is what school is about: finding what you love to do and then giving it your all.”

This is what we, as adults strive for every day.  We strive to “do meaningful things.”  We strive to find something we love.  Why should school should be any different?

Your Story Matters…

So…the funny thing about this plaque?  I was working as a staff developer in a district where I felt really, really appreciated.  Every time I visited, teachers oohed and aahed over my conferences.  They loved my ideas for teaching strugglers.  Administrators invited me to present to very big groups.

So there I was, loving my time with them, feeling almost like a celebrity, when one of the coaches gave me this wall hanging.  I had been talking about how I wanted to publish a book about teaching and she had been encouraging me.  I was so flattered when she presented me with this little gem.

I didn’t know it was a good-bye gift until a few weeks later.

The district had decided to ditch me and go with a more developed consulting organization, a well known NYC group connected to a large university.  I could understand that, but I was heartbroken.

When I finally figured out that I wasn’t going to be asked back, I hid the plaque.  I didn’t want to tell MY story, or any other story, again. I didn’t want to be reminded that maybe my story didn’t matter?

After a long time and a lot of tears, I pulled the wall hanging out.  I asked my husband if I should trash it.  He looked at it and said, “Your story matters…to everybody but them.”

We had a good laugh, then he helped me figure out where to hang that inspiring quote, so I’d see it all the time.  To remind myself that my story does matter.  And to tell it every day.