Small School Summit – Engaging the Creative Mind

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend (and present!) at the Small School Summit, for the Upper Canada District School Board.  While the event could be summarized in a novel oozing of creative inspiration, I will do my best to wrap it up in just a few paragraphs.

One of my favourite parts of the conference was not the speakers, or the actual presentations … rather, it was the IDEA that we were meeting – nearly 400 of us, I believe – to discuss the importance of ART in our schools!  To be supporting the very thing I’d often felt alone with, with so many amazing and creative professionals, was an outstanding experience.  It will go down as a professional milestone in my career.  When I say that I’d felt alone, I simply mean that I’d often felt as though I were the only one thinking that engaging through art and giving it more and more time would be necessary to allow success in other areas.  Of course, I always knew I wasn’t alone, but the life of an artist hiding in the body of a teacher is a lonely one.  This conference changed all of that.  I am so inspired.

The speakers were incredible.  Tom Jackson stands out for me, as I admired him as a child, watching “Shining Time Station,” and even seeing him in concert at the Turtle Dome in Awkwesasne, when I was about 12 or 13.  I even got his autograph back then!  His calm, cool, collected persona and his highly spiritual “ness” (I have no other words to describe it) not only sucked us all in, quieted a room and inspired us, but engaged us in a way that I believe many of us have never been before.  In a world of flashy, quick moving environments, Tom Jackson’s stories were slow, calculated, spiritually engaging.  His voice alone, I could listen to all day.  His words of love and hope gave me courage and the belief that I actually could make a difference.  I was left with this quote as the only one from the conference I will remember word for word: :”You don’t have to change the whole world.  You only have to change your own.  The rest will follow.”

I particularly enjoyed the breakout session at the end of day one, listening to other educators and sharing ideas with them.  For the first time in a professional development session, I had the nerve to share my wild and extreme ideas on teaching with art.  It was rewarding to have others agree.  In fact, it gave me the confidence I needed to approach my own presentation the next day.

On day two, I presented with an amazing kindergarten teacher, Susan MacDougall, who had asked me to join her as her “creative” partner.  While I have no experience in kindergarten, and am sometimes even a little scared of the little ones, I do have experience teaching and facilitating art classes.  My growth in teaching math using the problem based approach also supports the new Full Day Everyday Learning in Kindergarten document.  So, we presented “Art in FDELK?!” – to hopefully inspire kinderteachers and give them some ideas on how to handle art – not crafts – with 30 kiddos in an all day, everyday setting.  (By the way, it is an amazing document and new program …. but that’s another story!!!)

The presentation went well – in fact, I’d even say it went VERY well!  Susan covered the pedagogy of kindergarten side, while I piped in with examples of projects and creative side notes.  We had centres set up, and the participants got to explore the tables of books, project examples, paint, clay, and even a projector with some flour on it (see video below for the inspiration behind this idea)!

One teacher told me afterwards, “I’ve been teaching for almost 30 years … but when I grow up, I want to be just like Patrick!”  I will never, ever forget that.  I have only been teaching for four years.

I also attended a session on the second day of the conference where the group performed the feelings that we had.  What?!  Weird, I know.  At first, I didn’t really get it.  I mean, I didn’t get it at ALL.  I was a bit uncomfortable.  It was that sort of weird improv stuff that I’ve never really settled well with (although I was a drama geek in high school, so I don’t know why it doesn’t add up).  But as the group continued to break into skits based on the people who were sharing their thoughts about the conference, it brought me in – I laughed harder than I have in a while, and was moved by some of the experiences explored through music, dance and acting on the spot.  It was an amazing thing to watch, and I will never forget how the actors used scarves to represent pastels and colouring.  Amazing!  To be honest, though, I was relieved that I didn’t need to participate.  Sometimes, it’s nice to just be an audience member.

This was a life-changing conference.  I am already approaching my teaching with the artist inside who I had been trying to tuck away, because I had felt I didn’t have time.  If anything, I feel that I’ve been permitted to explore creativity within my language and math classes.  My creative mind has been engaged!


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