Ashley Weinard, Educator
“Before I can be generous and put things out into the world, I have to be my most authentic self, which is painting. That is my voice. That is my expression. And, then, it makes me a better teacher in the classroom.”—Beverly McIver
Last week’s Spring Educator Expo in Rocky Mount, N.C., celebrated our identities as educators, creative problem solvers, colleagues, and lifelong learners. It was an opportunity to feel nourished, supported, and encouraged for the very hard and generous work of teaching. The food, wine, camaraderie, laughter, breakout sessions, and artist talks were fuel that reignited our collective desire and energy to teach creatively. The experience was a pat on the back and a friendly push forward.
On this night it was artist Beverly McIver’s presentation “Knowing Yourself” that provided the sweetest and most nurturing food for our weary spirits. We listened as Beverly talked about her own journey in coming to understand herself through painting, the encouragement of her own art teachers, and the constant love and support of her mother and sisters. Her authentic paintings reveal so much of Beverly, but there is still something very introspective about them that keeps you from really knowing what she is reflecting on internally. Having her speak words into her images added another luscious layer of color and humanity to the dried paint. We began to see her paintings as exercises in honest self-exploration, which Beverly says gives her the ability to graciously share her own talents and encouragement with others.
Group discussion with Beverly also raised the questions: How many different identities do each of us have? What is the common strand that runs between them? How can we help students make sense of who they are?
In one expo breakout session, a group of teachers tried out selfies as a format to help kids explore themselves. We are teaching a selfie generation, but how often do our students stop to consider what their handheld reflection communicates to the world around them? This group of teachers tested a new version of the ArtNC.org Concept Explorer to see how it could be used as a tool to help students stop, look, and reflect before they put their best face forward. This online concept-mapping tool, due out early this summer, allows teachers and students to create concept maps with their own images, selfies included. The selfie maps give students (and teachers) a chance to identify a set of concepts that define them and then explore how those concepts play out in their lives and identities. With some coaching students can transfer personalized selfie maps (think rough draft) into more refined portraits of word and image that reveal their own complexity and beauty to themselves and let them confidently shine their faces to the world around them.