"The true purpose of arts education is not necessarily to create more professional dancers or artists. [It's] to create more complete human beings who are critical thinkers, who have curious minds, who can lead productive lives." -Kelly Pollock
In 2nd grade we have started a project inspired by Georgia O'Keeffe's large-scale flowers. This artist was known for her beautiful, large imposing flowers. The first composition style we learned about was open composition versus closed composition. We then moved into color schemes and how artists used different colors to represent different moods. While looking at a color wheel, we each picked out a limited color palette to represent our flowers and our background. We are using tissue paper in various colors creating layers in a papier-mâché technique.
You will notice music playing in the video while the 2nd Graders create. Listening to music in the classroom engages both sides of the brain, facilitating learning. Tests show that music alters brain waves which makes the brain more receptive to learning. It also helps them work on some new dance moves!
While meeting with our 8th grade families and helping their seniors apply to various high schools, I have found myself in several conversations about the tension parents felt when it came to academic supervision. Parents expressed the challenges they faced choosing between the "let them fail and learn" mindset (that as teachers we often espouse) and the inherent desire to oversee and manage their child's studying, homework practices, grades, and friendships.
I find that this is a confusion that exists almost universally among parents. How do we support our children to get good grades, develop strong study habits, and be joyfully engaged in their school and social lives, while also refraining from being a "helicopter parent" who hovers over them, or the newly coined "lawnmower parent" who metaphorically mows down any adversity their child may face?
To be honest, I have no single answer to solve this conundrum. It often is a thin line we must walk as parents to support our child(ren)'s healthy development of the skills needed to face adversity they will surely encounter in high school, college, and life beyond: independent problem-solving, conflict resolution, autonomy and ownership of the quality of the work they present, as well as their ability to navigate multiple perspectives with whom they may not agree. And yet, to develop these skills, they must confront the times in which they face these challenges and learn from the times they fail. Fail sometimes, they must, as a process of learning and healthy development. Though, what do we do when those failures coincide with the consequences of poor grades or struggling in school, sports, or with friends?
While I have only been a parent for a mere 11 years and served as an educator for 20 years, my personal, professional, and anecdotal experiences parallel with what educational and psychological research posits: we need to embrace and model that "failure" is only a step of the learning process. When your child has tried something that doesn't work (like NOT doing their homework and getting a "0"), they are one step closer to finding what does work (e.g. getting their homework done early so they can play and feel good!). This reinforces the concept that we as individuals are not fixed in place (e.g. "I'm not good at math"), but rather, with perseverance, effort, and practice, our skills and talents can develop and grow. In his article about Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset, James Clear illuminates this change of mindset that many of us struggle with ourselves.
In terms of the consequences that come with embracing failure, we have to acknowledge that there are ways to support our children which both encourage a growth mindset and help to support their success: open communication, brainstorming solutions, recommending that they talk with their teachers, and reminding them that problems don't go away by avoiding confrontation. Let's lean in together to help our students build the skills necessary for success - rather than "mowing down" the problems for them.
Happy almost-Thanksgiving! I want to send out a heartfelt "Thank you!" to all the Westerly community members - teachers, students, parents, and grand-parents - who made last Friday so overwhelmingly special and powerful. Every classroom and learning space I walked into was filled with gratitude, food, and lots of love and nurturing. From the classroom feasts at which students presented their well-written reflections, to the amphitheater where sixth grade mentors and first graders collaborated on a musical number (after eating pie of course), to the costume-filled ocean unit presentations in Ms. Cherin's classroom; it was a day of meaningful moments and communal celebrations for all that makes us so very grateful.
As always, I have an educational plea to make to all the families reading this: take some time with your children this week to read together. Even for an hour, put away your phones, close up the laptops, switch off the TV, and power-off the video game console. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let's all be tremendously thankful for the power we have to read - unparalleled in its vitality to discover new ideas, venture to new places, expand the imagination, and envision the future we can create.