I just wanted to do something important.
If you ever are in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, treat yourself and take an hour to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. Nestled in the bucolic hills, the charming small museum celebrates Rockwell’s work and takes you through some of the key moments in America’s history from the last century.
What struck me in viewing the illustrations and reading about Rockwell was that he wasn’t an artist divorced from the everyday economic realities of supporting a family. His art was his income. He was always mindful of the need to take commercial commissions, sometimes more than he wanted, to support his family. It was an almost blue-collar, working-class approach to creating the pictures that touched so many as ideal representations of life in America. As time went on, the illustrations also nudged Americans to embrace social justice and equality. When you walk through the museum, you’re reminded again and again that Rockwell knew he had to work to earn a living, yet that didn’t mean he had to sacrifice his artistic passion and creativity.
I thought about Norman Rockwell recently when I read Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins. Jeff challenges anyone to embrace their creative passion as their life’s work, and gives a road map for how to be an artist and still pay the bills. The beauty of being a teacher is that there is always a choice between being an artist whose creative influence endures forever, or becoming one of the nameless, faceless teachers who fade from students’ memories soon after the last school bell rings for the year. I suspect anyone giving up time over the summer or on the weekend to read this newsletter is committed to the art of teaching already.
Jeff Goins shares many examples of the differences between “starving” and “thriving” artists, but four are especially relevant for teachers.
The Starving Artist believes you must be born an artist. The Thriving Artist knows you must become one.
No matter how much natural talent and empathy you may bring to the classroom, a teacher who respects the art and craft of teaching is always honing new skills.
The Starving Artist strives to be original. The Thriving Artist steals from his influences.
The excitement is palpable in teaching communities when there is a new book or idea that truly advances the quality of reading and writing workshops. We share and steal freely, knowing the way we each put the pieces of the teaching puzzle together differently makes each of our classrooms a unique work of art.
The Starving Artist believes he has enough talent. The Thriving Artist apprentices under a master.
Ask yourself, “Who was the most important mentor I had when I was learning to teach? Who is my most important mentor now?” I bet you can instantly answer these questions. Now think for a moment about all the work you put into cultivating and building those relationships. They didn’t just happen — you made them happen because you knew you needed them for your art.
The Starving Artist is stubborn about everything. The Thriving Artist is stubborn about the right things.
We know what is non-negotiable in our teaching, and it’s not everything. It’s the few most important things. And we do what we need to do to protect those right things, even if it means moving to a different job or district.
It’s a blessing that teachers don’t have to choose between their work and their art. And yet, just like Norman Rockwell, we have to make choices within our work almost every day to be sure we have the conviction and support we need to thrive as artists.
This week we look at learning from podcasts and audiobooks in classrooms. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
Free for All
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If you’re interested in launching student podcasts, Matt Renwick has resources and tips for getting started:
Suzy Kaback discovers podcasts are invaluable for building her knowledge of social justice issues. She provides links to many of her favorite online sources to explore:
Do audiobooks count as reading? Jen Robinson explains why it depends on a few different factors:
The Moth Education Program has a mission of building storytelling skills in school communities. You can scroll down this page to access their “Stories for the Classroom” playlist:
For Members Only
Listening stations are invaluable in elementary reading workshops, and can also be a hassle to set up and maintain. QR codes to the rescue! Stephanie Affinito shares how she helps teachers use simple online tools for setting up QR code listening stations:
In this week’s video, Gigi McAllister meets with two fourth graders who are reading the book Paper Things, talking about how using an audiobook can support comprehension:
Gretchen Schroeder adapts the popular “Article of the Week” activity with podcasts as an alternative in her high school classroom, and shares some of her favorite podcasts to use with students:
Mark Levine details a podcast assignment he used with his middle school students to explore civil rights topics, including software options, a template to help students get organized, and a realistic timeframe:
That’s all for this week!