People: Works of Art

Until recently, I didn’t realize how much I missed college towns. There’s something about campuses ~ the nostalgia you feel as you watch students mingling between dorms, local cantinas, bookstores and pharmacies. And, of course, your local tattoo parlor, coffee shop and occasional diner give off an optimistic, freeing feeling.

Several years ago we lived in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, just 2 miles west of The Ohio State University. When the wind was blowing just right on a fall Saturday morning, we could open our back door and hear the OSU marching band warming up before a home football game (TBDBITL for those Buckeye fans out there!) It was exhilarating living in the midst of college campus happenings which is why when we dropped our kids off in Pennsylvania for summer camp, my husband and I decided to make a stop in State College on our trek back to New York. Although it was the quieter months of summer, we wanted to sense that college atmosphere again.

A fun night watching the “23 women who rocked the world” in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup at a local brewery coupled with a leisurely cup of coffee the next morning brought about some great relaxation and reading. As my eyes danced across the pages of both local and national news, I found myself stuck in Voices of Pennsylvania ~ Thoughtful. Fearless. Free. A local paper that’s mission is to be thoughtful, fearless and free? I loved the premise so I began reading.

This particular issue was packed with the top 10 reasons to visit an art museum, a first-hand account of the Baltimore protests, and an article that focused on summer reading and rethinking the beach book. While the paper was interesting and educational cover to cover, the specific article that I held on to was “People are a Work of Art.” Marilyn Jones’ article draws a parallel between art forms and people. She suggests that the following generalizations may hold true:


This article spoke to me. It held a certain truth for me that I knew I wanted to explore further. The sounds of people as artists, people as works of art kept repeating in my mind. Why does all of this matter to the work we do in education each day? How, I wondered, does this apply to the work I’m currently tackling? It’s simple, I guess. It matters a lot.

These ideas make me think about adult learners ~ the many ways of being and approaches of working together.   As an instructional coach, I care about the adult learners I support, their background experiences, their goals, their beliefs, their passions, their personal and professional inquiries, and what ignites them to take on each new day with their students. I work to see them for who they are and what they bring to each experience. As I launch our work together, I have to remember that I have artists in my presence whose center may be based on a different art form than mine. For example:

The Pointillist – while fragmented at times, they give you just enough to go on that you can then draw your own conclusion. They are co-constructivists where the sum is so much greater than each part. These are my big idea people. I have to listen closely to the ideas along the way and seek to put it all together by the end. My job is to recognize when I can’t connect the dots, to ask for clarification or redirection.

The Minimalist – they come to the “party” with the explicit, bare-bone facts. They search for the proof they need to move forward. These are my researchers and I have to harness their skill set by tasking them with finding the information out in the world that will move us forward. On the flip side, I have to push them to stretch themselves, not always coming to the table with one way or idea.

The Realist – don’t ask a realist a question you don’t really want their answer to because tact is not their middle name.   These are my pragmatists. When we need a barometer check, these are my peeps. My job is to use the voice of the realist to help set goals around the work that flows naturally and is doable.

The Impressionist – when you need a pick me up, hang with the impressionist. The glass isn’t half full, but ninety percent full…almost all of the time. Although it can be too “sunny” some days for others to be around an impressionist, these are my cheerleaders. Work in schools is exhausting and can wear you out. It is my job to give time and space for celebration.

The Surrealist – keeping life interesting is what you get when a surrealist is in your presence. Since they are often happy and beat to their own drum, these are my out of the box thinkers. Although sometimes difficult to follow, the surrealist requires us to be divergent thinkers. My role is to harness the spirit of seeing our work from a different lens.

Districts, schools, and classrooms alike are canvases. They are waiting to be filled with color – or reimagined with different colors. They are blank until we connect and impact one another – until our ideas collide with color. Because we are different, the work is interesting and important. In my case, the school year is in full swing. I’ve learned about the amazing adult learners with whom I am working. I’ve worked to figure out their art forms so that I know what they can give and what they need to get from our work together.  To do this, I ask them to fill in a two column chart describing what it is that they could teach, model or show others (that’s the give part) and then list or describe what it is that they need to grow as a learner and facilitator of learning (that’s the get part.)

In turn, my goal is to nudge educators to do the same for the learners in their care. I want them to see their students for who they are, for what they need, and for what they bring to the table. What can they give and what do they need to get from others? As I think alongside teachers, we often unpack students and their work as a piece of art, asking important questions:

  • What assets does each student bring to the table each day?
  • What is their center? Passions? Ways of being that make them get out of bed each day and hit the ground running toward our classroom?
  • What goals do we have for them and what goals have they set for themselves?
  • How do we develop/bring out the artist in each of them? What will they create so that they are not only consumers of content, but also producers?

It’s December. It’s winter break and I had the opportunity to stay over in State College, PA again. This time, the campus was quiet…taking a rest and re-charging. That’s what we, as educators, do over breaks, right? We rest, catch up, and refuel so that we can go back at it again at the turn of a new year.

I love my work and as a result, I will continue to spend my coaching days putting into action what Edgar Degas once said:

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”