One Sunflower


on June 13, 2011

It began a long time ago (well, it was last summer…)  in a school not so far away…..

Our school-wide art project is finally finished – and for those of you who have dipped in and out of my blog over the year or asked to know more about it, here it is, the whole she-bang-bang story:

Last August, at the first gathering of the staff for the year, what we (affectionately) call our retreat – an idea for an all school art project was planted – by my principal and me.  The theme of the art project was to be centered on the “habits of mind” described by Art Costa and Bena Kallick.  The high school and middle schools in our district have been working with the habits for the past three years so it seemed appropriate for the elementary schools to get on board.  We introduced the teachers to the various habits, asked them to think about which ones they might like to focus on during their school year and briefly described a vision of creating art work based on a children’s book that highlighted one of the habits.  The tiniest of all seeds was planted.  Then my principal tossed the trowel and gloves to me.   I became  “the keeper of the vision.”

As the school year began and the routines of the school year took over, the art project was fleshed out.  A contract with a local silk painting artist was drawn up with the PTO footing the bill.  The plan was for each student to learn about silk painting by working on a small 12″ silk flag in October.  Each class would sign up for a 2 hour session learning about how to mix the paint, draw on the silk with the gutta and then paint and set their work.  The flags would hang in the school until spring.

The next steps in the project would require more of an investment on the part of the teachers – and I was a bit chicken about proceeding  – knowing that I was now stepping into the realm of adding to their already-full plates of “have-tos.”  At our December staff meeting, the teachers were asked to name the Habits of Mind they thought our school should concentrate on.  They chose Persistence, Empathy, Managing Impulsivity, Applying Background Knowledge, and Wonderment.

It was more difficult for them to make decisions about what children’s book they were going to use and how they were going to help their students create a drawing based on that book.

owls and Owl Moon

I offered my help in all aspects of the project.  I put book lists in their mail boxes and said I could  help with design elements if needed. Mostly I put out the time line of needing a design by mid-March because the painting was to begin after spring break, April 12th.

class plans for Tsunami banner

practice pictures

A few teachers jumped right in and got started in January.  A few took some time figuring out what book they were going to use and then began the work in late February. One teacher didn’t really figure out what she wanted to do with her class until late March.

A couple turned the whole project over to the art teacher.  I worked with the art teacher to get students drawing things that I could include in final drafts.

Sal's mom and the bear

the ant queen

For most of the teachers, it wasn’t the curriculum with the book that was troublesome, it was creating art work that could be translated into a banner draft.   I kind of had to push one teacher to get some kid-art into her design – which was basically a copy of one of the pages in the book.

Pete the Cat and student drawings of cats on the sides

From mid-January until the end of March, I received all manner of art work in my mail box.

Some classes turned over 12″ X 18″  sketches from their students and then I assimilated them into a banner-sized design.

draft for Crazy Horse's Vision

A few classes had their students work in teams and vote on their favorite.

team contributions for The Recess Queen

draft for Martin's Big Words

Only two classes completely designed their banners from start to finish.  I invited the parents of my students to come and practice drafts of lions and mice.

I sat in on the lesson conducted by the 3rd grade teacher using The Recess Queen.  It was great to see her introduce the concept of empathy and connect it to books they had already read in class and then read the picture book aloud to them.

The fifth grade classes responded to the tragedy in Japan by adding flags with red hearts similar to the Japanese flag.

Our silk artist arrived the week after spring break and each class worked in small groups to paint their banners. She designed a special border for each banner that went with the theme of the book and even met with one class to add features to their design that were missing.

meeting to add Sal and baby bear

My mom agreed to sew the hems and rod pocket over Easter weekend.

I may have been a keeper of the vision in that I knew that the finished display would spark pride in the students and be a beautiful design element in the school hallway.  But I hadn’t anticipated the power of the student body having a common experience and the significance of that experience being one that was truly visible.  In the fall, the students were only somewhat aware of the fact that they had all painted the small flags  but when the banners began to be painted in April a certain electricity about the project began to buzz in the air.  When the tables for painting appeared in the primary pod and classes were parading their banners to their classrooms for  final photos, all of the students seemed to realize that the work of their classroom was connected to that of another.    They started asking each other about book titles and habits and I heard comments like, “Oh I read that book,” and “We did the same habit.”

My Fathers Dragon

That’s when the teachers finally caught my vision too, and realized what the project was going to mean for the students and the school as a whole.

display at children's museum

An added benefit – or inspiration – came when we were invited to display our banners in the local children’s museum for the month of May.  It gave us a time line to get them finished and ready for hanging.  They were beautiful in the space there – but they were hung so high up.  I knew they would be more beautiful in our boring, gray hallway.  The colors would pop and they would be easier to see.

We had a special ceremony at our spring concert to parade the banners in front of the parents and then a week later I met with the custodian early in the morning and helped hang them in the hallway.  I think they look amazing and so do the kids!

(pictures with titles and grade levels)

Blueberries for Sal (1) Crazy Horse”s Vision (2/3)

Martin's Big Words (4) Tsunami #2 (5)

Lion and Mouse (preK) The Very Busy Spider (K)

Owl Moon (3) The Recess Queen (3)

Tsunami #1(5) and Two Bad Ants (1)

Pete the Cat (K) and My Father’s Dragon (2)

hallway display


13 responses to “finale

  1. Diana Martin says:

    Stunning and beautiful! As always, inspiring.

  2. jwg says:

    Wow! And hearing about a school where time is alloted for this sort of thing is encouraging.

  3. This is amazing! Well done – I know it is hard to add to the work of our teachers but what a great way to build community.

  4. Linda Baie says:

    I hope you realize how much you gave to the school’s community this year-all that pushing & prodding & support must mean much to realizing this terrific project. The banners are such a tribute to the work by everyone & the students will have some special memories each year they return to their school and see them. Congratulations, & thanks for the photo parade of the story-it showed so much!

  5. elsie says:

    What an incredible project! The banners are gorgeous! Thanks for the whole story.

  6. Tara says:

    I am blown away – all that joyous work! Thank you for sharing the photographs – just stunning!!!

  7. Lori B says:

    Your “work” is so inspiring! What an incredible daily reminder for students of lifelong habits needed to help them persevere and ensure lifelong success. This kind of learning is so much more meaningful and memorable to students. Kudos to you and your team!

  8. Ruth says:

    “Wow, that was just about all she can say, wow.” (Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse)

    I’m thankful you shared this story with us. I’m thankful for your photos. It is beautiful.


  9. Elizabeth G. says:

    What an amazing community building project and great learning experience. It is awfully stunning work as well. I can only imagine the pride the students must have. Love it!

  10. Stacey says:

    So many wonderful photos. Thank you for sharing.

  11. grade4wizard says:

    Impressive. Thank you for sharing.

  12. the other ruth says:

    Absolutely beautiful! Thank you for telling this story–and for making sure to include pictures every step of the way.

  13. Donna Smith says:

    It is hard to push kids and even harder to push teachers, but when they make it to the finish line, what a sense of accomplishment. I’ll be there’s not one teacher who isn’t glad s/he participated! That was an incredible process and so well executed. A tricky thing to fit in in this day of “have to’s”…but not impossible!! Thanks so much for sharing that and inspiring others to take on a big school community building project.

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