“That’s a broken ship in a box,” she said, looking past my shoulder at a wooden crate under the window. She tilted her head and looked again. “Broken ship in a box. That’d be a great title for a poem.”
And while I don’t know that this delightful teacher, so observant and good humored, knew that I’d given over this school year to bring more poetry into my life, professional and otherwise, I applauded her suggestion.
“It could be a collective effort,” she went on, smiling. “We could all write it together.”
The possibilities seemed great.
In education we like metaphors, and at ACMA we like bending those metaphors a bit. Rebuilding our ship at sea is a familiar one, so too thinking outside the box. This object in my office, and my teacher’s noticing it, seemed to marry both in a marvelously unexpected way.
We left it at that, at least then; a bell rang pulling her to greater things (middle school social studies) and I had to run to a classroom observation, but I jotted down the title she’d suggested and snapped a photo of the ship, thinking to myself that we would do something with it. Something. Sometime soon.
That sometime soon happened the following week, during our staff development day.
Before we got to discussions of academics, digital citizenship, intervention, and student wellness, we started the day with something a little unexpected, a quotation by Austrian philosopher Otto Neurath: “We are like sailors who must rebuild their ship on the open sea, never able to dismantle it in dry-dock and to reconstruct it there out of the best materials.” How like education, I suggested, and how connected to thinking outside of the box.
I told the story of the teacher and the ship in the box, including the notion we all might work together to write some poetry, and invited them to consider that scene from Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams’ teacher tells his students:
We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion …and medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” “Answer. That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
I acknowledged that though I was a former English teacher, or perhaps because of it, I knew that not 100% of my audience was excited about writing a poem.
With that in mind, I’d reached out to my art teachers (every good educator knows that the best plans are plans shared and the best lessons aren’t hatched in isolation) and the result was divine.
Three teachers stood in front of the staff and introduced an art lesson that invited them to each work on a square that was a quarter of a ship. They could make it their own, complete with poetry or without, and would then collaborate with three other staff members to build their ship.
These astounding teachers, who I have seen do such great work with kids year after year, brought that same spirit to the work with adults. They toted in colored pencils, pens, and materials for collage. They circulated around the library where we were working to laugh, encourage, and help the teachers engage with the creative shipbuilding at hand.
It was fantastic.
We saw pirates, and rainbows, and clever comments on education writ large. A science teacher put plastic in the ocean, an English teacher brought in the Greeks, and one intrepid sailor tipped the lesson on its side and built a brigantine from newsprint. One math teacher brought out a protractor, a dance teacher found metallic gold foil, and more than one person burst well off the black rectangle of the mounting paper. Rebuilding ships. Breaking boxes.
A couple of crews even snuck in a little verse.
And we, as a staff, got to create together.
We talked, we considered why we do what we do, and we expressed those ideas in colorful and creative ways.
Too often we adults forget the importance of play and art and connecting with each other in whimsical ways. That morning we did all three.
What then is our mission as educators? Like Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets Society is our aim to inspire? Care? Support? Push our students to be their best?
Believe our art and it could just be all of the above.
At least at ACMA, where a teacher might notice an antique broken ship in a box, and…