Saturday, September 20, 2014

Creating Bravely

Last year I learned about International Dot Day, the creative global event established by Terry Shay and Peter H. Reynolds, fashioned after Mr. Reynold's book, The Dot. The positive and important message of Vashti's creative experience was one I could promote with students whole-heartedly, and so we shared the book and designed dots and posted about making a mark on our bulletin board.

This year, I anticipated the arrival of Dot Day from before the start of school. I knew it was a connected event I wanted to participate in with my classroom. And, I wondered if others in my school would, too, if they knew it was coming. 

So, I composed a brief description and a link and an offer to borrow my book on our staff email. My teeth clenched and my heart wrenched and I hit the button...send. And then I waited.

See, I've earned something of a reputation in my school for having crazy, big ideas, and while some embrace the spirit and join in, I get the impression that many would prefer I just do what I do quietly. And the truth is, sometimes that impression is strong enough to make me retreat inside the four walls of my classroom and hold to doing what I know is creating the best experience for my students. 

But other times, I try to stand up to the worries that restrain me. Sometimes, I grit my teeth and go for it. Sometimes, I summon the courage to take a chance and share what I think is good enough for my kids to be good enough for all of our students.

Nothing happened right away.

But then, slowly, enthusiasm struck and gained momentum. I went looking for my book (which I had left on the table in the teachers' room for easy, no-pressure access) and couldn't find it. It was being shared in other classrooms.

And an enormous, bright yellow dot filled one of the bulletin boards in the main hallway and signatures began to accumulate.

I began to overhear conversations about who had articles of dotted clothing in their closets and who didn't and needed to borrow something.

And a schedule for the book started taking place, it would travel upstairs and downstairs in the morning and afternoon. Because my one copy was in such high demand, the district librarian ordered a copy for each school in the district to add to our libraries.

And PTA volunteers and parents were glowing and telling stories about the kinds of designs and creations they made in the wee hours of the night and then plastered along all of the walls in our building.

The secretaries used window markers to draw dots all over the glass surfaces of the office.

The students arrived on Monday morning, Dot Day, to The Dot Song by Emily Dale and Peter H. Reynolds playing on the speakers overhead, and their eyes lit up.

I arrived on Monday to find 5th grade students sprawled across the courtyard using sidewalk chalk to make a visible mark that any visitors to our school wouldn't miss.

I stood back for a moment and took in the scene before I went inside, because truly, it was a beautiful thing that was being created: a school community unified by the spirit of creativity and the idea that anyone, everyone, could contribute.

Upstairs in my classroom, my students helped me collect the loads of art materials we would need, and we organized by table for our own dot creating time. The students set to work intently, designing their unique dots that only they could
make. They had already composed a few reflective sentences about how they make their mark in their notebooks. While they munched on dot-like snacks, each took turns speaking their writing into my computer. We stretched Dot Day a little in the coming days (because of technical challenges), but we paired each student's writing with a photo of their dot and created a digital poem, set to the performance version of The Dot Song. The students wore a distinct look of pride as we saw the video come together and were at last able to share the finished version.

The worry and the risk taking (and maybe even the wear on my teeth!) were worth it, to allow our students to create. Students revealed themselves to us through their art, their written work, and their conversations. My students shared a creative bonding experience that--I think--has us turning a corner to being a tighter learning community. I can hope the same is true for other classes, too.

And I have been served with a reminder:

Though it may seem easier or safer to retreat and operate with small brush strokes and subtle colors, that's not who I am or who I am meant to be. I have as much responsibility as my students to "make a mark." I must continue to create bravely in my school community.

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