Thursday, May 1, 2014

Thinking About Our Year-end Showcase Together

For the last few years, our center has hosted Showcase, an evening when teachers create special displays or panels to highlight moments from the year we are ending together. In a center full of great teachers, we can feel stressed to perform, overwhelmed by all the possibilities or pressured to compete with all the incredible work happening.

I met with the administrative team and we agreed that in the three years that we've had showcase, not once has anyone "not done enough" or disappointed anyone. In fact, when we reflected on these past events, we felt like many people could have done less and still be very happy with their result. In order to head off some of the pressures felt by teachers, and to help us to create the kinds of displays we can be proud of with less effort, we had provocations this month all about Showcase. 

Part of my design of teacher provocation is considering who will attend. Sometimes it's random, and teachers appreciate working with people from around the school. Other times, I'll pick different aspects of the topic, so that teachers can choose which to attend based on their interests. Still other times, we ask people to attend based upon whether they are a new or veterarn staff because those groups have different needs or points of view. This month, I invited Team Coordinators to come first. These veteran teachers with added responsibilities on their team are often the ones cursing at the copier, or having Showcase nightmares in the weeks leading up to the event. I specifically invited this group to name the stressors, the expectations of different protagonists, and our values for Showcase.
Serena and Tracy list the stressors that coincide with planning Showcase.
Sammie, Sarah and Erin consider what families expect from Showcase.

Next, our newest teachers attended, most of them with only a vague idea of what Showcase would be, or with a huge impression from having attended early on in their time with us without having to contribute. We spent a lot of time looking at images of past Showcase displays and discussing what worked for us and what didn't. Finally other teachers, all of whom had been a part of showcase, but who didn't have the same weight on their shoulders as the TC's.

Amy and Sara discuss documentation of Showcases from before they joined our community.

Amy, Sara, Monica and intern Madhumita use Deiter Ram's 10 Principles of Design to analyze past Showcases.
All three groups spent some time reflecting individually in writing, and then sharing their impressions of Showcase. We thought about other events that we've been a part of like this one;

  • teaching a culminating yoga class during teacher training
  • a final gallery show in art school 
  • collaborating on a piece of published writing
  • a wedding 
  • numerous plays 
  • political events and how these shaped our assumptions and our thoughts about Showcase. 

Then we examined Deiter Rams’ “10 Principles of Good Design”. Most teachers have no training in design, and yet we design provocations, documentation and displays like these. We used these principles to guide our thinking about past Showcases as we examined books of documentation. We identified which principles we embraced already as a community (1,3, and 6) and which we could try to fold into our work this year  (2,4 and 10) . From these meetings, I created this summary of our collective wisdom. I wonder what will feel different about our Showcase this year.

What’s Your Metaphor? How do you view Showcase? Is it a marathon? An essay? A play? An art show? A final for a really hard class? A reunion or a wedding celebration? Sara shared how her history as a story-telling performer affected the improvisation and depth that she brings to designing documentation, while another teacher’s experience working in a gallery taught her to handle the stress of last minute design changes. We've all planned an event, or final draft. Those experiences taught us something and affect what we assume about showcase and how we prepare. Talk with your team about your history, and how you see Showcase now. One teacher told us that Showcase was a stressful event like having a tooth pulled. If she changed the way that she sees the event, would that change the way she feels about it?

How Much is Just Enough? Different teachers talked about how much text is the right amount to display. One teacher looked back at her brief interpretive paragraphs from last year’s Showcase and said that it looked a little too long to her now. Think about how long it takes you to read text, and how much time you can expect a viewer to spend in your room. Use this information to make decisions about how much writing to include on the walls. Teachers pointed out that it’s nice to have your collection of documentation in a binder nearby for anyone who would like to look for more depth. (Note, this document is 933 words. See how long it takes you to read.)

An excess of images can also lead to a sense of “overstimulation” that several teachers mentioned when describing their past encounters with showcase. Eileen brought up her own experience of choosing “the best of the best” for photography exhibits, a good tactic to keep in mind when selecting pictures for display. This also plays into honoring one of the principles of design - to be environmentally friendly. Consider what will happen to these images after Showcase ends: how many prints can you easily save for future use or give away to families to take home? Make your pictures count!  

What Have You Already Done? Many of our teachers have had the experience of displaying their past work in a gallery. Think about what you’ve already done this year and how you can prune it a little bit, change the look but avoid writing more than a small summary or interpretive piece. Since the second week of school, Toddler 2 North has been collecting documentation in a basket for possible inclusion in Showcase. You can also do this digitally on your computer by copying documentation into a Showcase folder if you like.

What is Too Big or Too Small? We heard that some people can’t read small print without their glasses, or that some people think that larger is more aesthetically pleasing. Eileen brought up her experience in a gallery “when I'm looking at a big piece with someone else, we might say something about what we see because we're seeing the same things at the same time. When it's smaller, I’m reading the whole thing on my own and having a private experience.” Consider what sort of experience you are trying to provide as you choose the size of your images and text - do you want to open up conversations between viewers or offer a moment for quiet, individual reflection?

What Does It Mean to Be a Team? I brought up that if a team can come together behind a shared vision, the display is often much more legible as a whole, and it can be more succinct and focused than the more common approach of three individuals telling their own stories. Katie realized that part of the panic in the last days and hours before provocation are largely due to an “every person for herself” mindset that occurs when each teacher is designing their own display. If the three people are working together, they’ll have communicated about what’s happening weeks before, and they’ll be working toward shared goals, finishing earlier and enjoying their pizza (Center-wide take out is our pre-Showcase tradition). How can your team decide together what to display from your shared work this year?

Is Showcase Just About What's on The Wall? Sara reminded us that Showcase is not the displays that we hang, it’s the interaction among community members and with the displays. We are creating a structure where Showcase can take place, one that invites people to consider big ideas, whole stories, or fundamental questions. The Showcase is found as much in the conversations as it is in the printed word or pictures. Consider the ways in which you can make space for them in the design of your presentation.

How Is Our Work Part of Something Larger? Showcase is intended as an opportunity for teachers, children and families to view the work happening all over the center. It also offers our own families and friends a window into what we do. Erin pointed out that our design can facilitate this kind of movement.

How can our design encourage readers to take in the work of the whole community, and make connections among all that they see? How can the stories we present work together to illustrate our identity as a center as well as individual classrooms?

Have you been a part of our Showcase in the past? What were your impressions? Has your center hosted a tour, or a culminating event like this one? What wisdom can you offer us?

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