Saturday, April 21, 2012

Keeping up with the Kaos: Creative Ideas to Prevent the Burn-Out.

Yes, it’s been a few months since I put up a post, and I’ve felt extremely guilty about it.  It just goes to show that a busy year can burn you out!  A lot has happened since I last posted…a trip to New York for NAEA, school-wide art projects, and not to mention the fun we’re having at home with a 3 ½ year old! 

Every year, I notice my busiest time is from January to April.  Since I travel, the bulk of my displays, shows, and kiln loading take up most of the time.  So yes, I apologize.  As a result of my collection of recent challenges, I would like to share with you some suggestions for making it through those times you don’t even feel like getting out of bed.  I would like to ask the question out there if you have your own ways of working through the challenging times, and what you would recommend for readers as well.  We’re all collaborating!

Follow your calendar.  In the beginning of the school year, I write everything down in my calendar.  I collect dates for displays, musicals, contests, and anything else that would be extra on top of my teaching.  Having it on paper and knowing how long I have when events come up have been a wonderful tool, and over time, I’ve been perfecting it.  I can’t deny that items pop up without me knowing, and as much as I want to gripe, if it’s in your job description, it must get done!

If the workload gets heavy , find a lesson that lightens the load.  One example of a lesson I’d like to share is the “Chihuly Flowers” I use with kindergarten (I give my friend Anne full credit for introducing me to this!).  All you need is coffee filters, markers, spray starch, tape, and plastic cups.  I printed out pictures of Dale Chihuly’s glass flower sculptures, talked about how glass is fragile, and explained how the students will make their own sculptures with paper.  Have a coffee filter already colored to show them how much the filter should be colored, and spray the filter over a plastic cup to have students watch the colors blend together  (the tape is to mark the students names on the cup so they can be re-used for other classes).  It’s a neat, one day/40 minute lesson that the kids love, and the kids take them home the next day.  It’s easy because it is affordable, takes up less space, and the teachers love it.  It’s easy because you’re pulling out fewer materials on a cart, and teachers can let the cups dry in their own classrooms.  There are plenty other lessons that are quick, and still have good objectives that fit a well-rounded curriculum. 

Learn how to say no.  I consider this a double-edged sword.  You are the go-to person for visuals in the school, but you also have your own curriculum to worry about.  If another colleague asks you for a display, or a prop, or visuals for their own program, think about what you have to do first.  I have a hard time saying no myself, but that’s also because I have a lot of pride in my work.  Over time, I thought of how I could accommodate many of the favors, and it goes back to my first main point with travelling:  communication.  If a co-worker asks for help, ask what it is they need, when they need it, and if the students are capable of doing it.  I am a huge fan of student involvement, which leads to my next point…

Get the students involved.  Students have a lot of pride in their own work and are more than willing to help out.  When school props are needed, I try to see what the students can do.  When students have ownership over their own work and work well with others, they gain more pride in themselves and in their school.  I encourage students to do more because I want them to see that they can make a difference.  It’s not that I don’t want to do the work…I’m still there guiding them.  I help them start the ideas and plan to framework of their designs.  Once the main shapes are started, the students take off with their own creativity.  I would like to share a recent idea in my next topic that was a great success.

Collaborate!  This past week, I collaborated with the school social worker for this month’s theme “Integrity.”  We worked together to pan a project around Earth Day, which gave many ideas for themes related to integrity, like caring for the environment, taking responsibility, and working together to keep the community clean.  My co-worker and I collaborated to plan the day, classes participating, and where to work.  At the end of the day, 22 classes created 8 foot wide paper murals that were hung around our school gym, and we ended with a gallery walk!  There were so many bonuses from this event: the students got to collaborate and work together on a theme, teachers worked together to plan meeting times and materials, it was a nice break from normal routines, and everyone included had so much pride in their work, not to mention an opportunity for a school-wide press release!

At the end of the school year, we’re tired and burnt.  Don’t lie, we all get that way even when we’re super motivated.  The key is to never give up, and always try new things.  You need to find ways to prevent the burn out, and spicing up the curriculum is a key motivator.  Don’t get tired of your job, even with travelling.  It’s a rewarding experience and I wouldn’t give it up for the world.  I hope my daughter has amazing creative experiences when she goes to elementary school!