So this one time… in grad school… we got to do arts and crafts.
No but seriously. Look:
Okay so on the surface, it does look like arts and crafts, and yes I did do this in my second week of graduate school. In Drama-Based Pedagogy and Practice, we each created a three-dimensional representation of our teaching artist philosophy.
Writing my teaching artist philosophy when I applied to grad school was no small feat for me. When I am asked to write or speak about something I am passionate about, one of two things happens: either I cannot stop writing or speaking because I get so fired up that I forget about everything else happening in the world. Or, my passion for said subject matter is so overwhelming that I am at a loss for words. It’s all or nothing for me. There is no in between. And when it comes to writing down what I believe, why I believe it and what it looks like in my classroom, it was a constant tension between word-vomiting everything through my typing fingers moving across my keyboard a thousand miles a minute, and feeling verbally paralyzed. Teaching is a huge part of my identity (according to Eric Booth 80% of what you teach is who you are) that it’s a challenge to find the “right” words.
Back to the arts and crafts.
First, we chose five essential phrases or words to extract from our written philosophies to help us focus and distill what we wanted to communicate. Then we had a crafting session and created three-dimensional representations of these five essential phrases. Arts and crafts are often therapeutic for me, but I got so much more out of this activity than I anticipated. By taking away the pressure to find the perfect words that I ran into a lot when I wrote my initial document, I was using a different language – a language of metaphors and symbols and visual expression. There was no wrong answer. For a recovering perfectionist like myself, THIS was quite a liberating moment.
After a few liberating, escapist moments, I had created something, and it was time to share. But instead of each artist sharing her 3-D sculpture, the rest of the class described what they saw in each person’s creation and relate it to teaching artistry. As I listened to my classmates draw conclusions that I had not deliberately intended to communicate through my sculpture, I evaluated each one as it was said: Do I believe that? Does that observation of different colors represent different populations I work with or different points of view or both? Does the imperfect shape represent my value of mistakes? The unique quality of each class? Or something else? Is that what I wanted the wrapping pipe cleaners to represent?
My 3-D sculpture sits on my bookshelf, and is a colorful, playful, imperfect reminder of what I value, what I have to offer and why I’m doing what I’m doing. As I think about the observations and conclusions my colleagues made about my 3-D craft, I’m also reminded that we’re all reading intentions and actions of others all the time. We see things differently, and isn’t that why we’re all artists in the first place?