There’s a lot of talk around Maury these days about collaboration and empathy as a result of becoming one of the country’s newest Ashoka Changemaker Schools. These buzz words sound nice in print, but until you are actually asked to put them into practice, you may not ever fully understand what it means or how it feels to experience the challenges and rewards of working with others. Many of the specials teachers at Maury are making it their personal goal this year to give students the opportunity to work in teams so that they may become experts at recognizing the feelings and needs of their collaborators. As stated on the Ashoka website, “Everyone must be comfortable working in a team. In particular, as rules are in flux, as people move fluidly in and between formerly homogenous groups, cultures, and societies, and as power is shared by all, every person needs an ever higher level of empathetic skill in order to thrive. We need applied empathy—the ability to understand what other people are feeling and to act in response in a way that avoids harm and contributes to positive change.”
Collaboration takes communication, knowing when to speak up or back down, acknowledging other’s ideas and letting go of complete control. When people come together to collaborate on a task, their is the initial discomfort of accepting another persons help, wrestling with their input and finding ways to strengthen an original idea with additional insight. In the art studio we discuss the pros and cons of collaboration on a daily basis. We know that when we begin with an original idea and are asked to welcome someone else’s ideas into that space, there may be disagreement. The disagreement then opens the door for students to get practice speaking kindly with one another, offering suggestions, and reaching a compromise. On the plus side, collaborating with another person may prove to enhance an original idea, leading to a stronger, more successful product in the end.
During our third week of school, Ms. Bomba introduced paint to the list of media available in the studio and asked her art students to demonstrate proper painting technique on the empty canvas before them. She wanted students to create as many different line and shape combinations and for the shapes to maintain their negative space (remain empty inside). We discussed that all things are essentially made up of lines and that a shape is simply a line that connects. These are the images we looked at to get a better feel for line and shape. Then we used magic lines made of yarn to practice.
When the signal was given, students were then asked to travel with their paint palettes to a new canvas and begin adding their mark on the canvas of a former classmate’s. At first, students were nervous. “What if I don’t like the way my classmate changes my work?” asked students. “What if they don’t follow my vision?” Well, what if?
I asked students to trust themselves and the intentions of their peers and to look for the positive effects of collaboration. After 4 canvas switches, the tone of the studio changed from anxious to excited. The twists and turns their original painting took at the controls of 4 different artists was thrilling!
The gorgeous and lively canvases were then re-purposed to create one giant, collaborative Ashoka Empathy Tree! Come check it out at the entrance to the corridor between the East and West buildings.