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Episode 111: A Clay Pot Creation in Art Class with Superintendent Godfrey

She is bringing out the inner artist in young students with creativity and confidence. On this episode of the Supercast, we meet an amazing visual arts teacher at Westvale Elementary School helping students realize their potential by engaging them in art projects that are fun and exciting. Find out what happens when Superintendent Godfrey gets his hands on some clay in the class.


Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:
Hello and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. She's bringing out the inner artist in young students with creativity and confidence. On this episode of the Supercast, we meet an amazing visual arts teacher at Westvale Elementary School, helping students realize their potential and possibilities by engaging them in art projects that are both fun and exciting. We're here with Mrs. Rachel Henderson, who is the visual arts educator for Westvale Elementary. Thanks for spending time with us today.

Rachel Henderson:
Thanks for coming, appreciate it.

Anthony Godfrey:
The reason I'm here is because I was at the school for some other reasons, walking around, and I saw your room. I couldn't resist it and I wanted to know more about it. So we're back and I just want to find out, first of all, tell us a little bit about your background in coming to this position. Then let's talk about what you do here and why it's so important.

Rachel Henderson:
Okay, great. So I have my degree in fine arts, so I have a BFA. I got that in Idaho and moved here with my husband's job. When you get your kids into the school system, they ask you to come and do PTA. So we do PTA. They ask you to come volunteer. So I did all those things. Then all of a sudden they're like, “Hey, you have a teaching degree, come teach for us.” So it kind of just fell into my lap. I've been teaching art here for about eight years now. My degree is in secondary, but I have a certification for elementary. So they hired me through the BTS, Beverley Taylor Sorenson Learning Arts Program. They hired me through that program, which is amazing. I've been doing it ever since, and I just love it the best job ever. I can't think of anything I'd rather do.

Anthony Godfrey:
The BTS program is really exciting because it has allowed us to expand the art offerings, performing and visual, in all of our elementary schools so that everyone has a specialist or a teacher that can help out. I love your enthusiasm for it. Your enthusiasm is obvious as you look around the classroom. There is not a square inch that isn't covered with something related to art, and yet it all feels very calm and very inviting. Can you tell me a little bit about what you have up around the classroom here to draw kids in? 

Rachel Henderson:
So I figure you better be, you know, inspired by the art room. I've got hard work cut out for me. So I just like to make it colorful. I want it happy. No matter what's going on with the kids during the day, I want them to come into the art room and be happy. Kind of have that aha moment like, ‘oh, I can breathe. I can relax. I can just be’. So the happier I can make it the better. The more inspiring I can make it the better. So color to me is the obvious choice. We take advantage of the rainbow for sure.

Anthony Godfrey:
Everything is color-coded and there are lots of messages that jump out. One of them, ‘The growth mindset versus the fixed mindset’. I suppose you probably run into that when teaching art. “I'm not an artist, so I don't, you know, I'm not good at art.” How do you address that? 

Rachel Henderson:
So our first project, this year, addresses that head on. We did a little project by Peter Reynolds, The Dot. It's about a little girl who's very, very unsure of herself. Doesn't think she's an artist. Doesn't think she can draw or do anything. Her teacher just gives her great advice and says, 'make a mark and see where it goes.' Our whole job is to really just give them a creative environment for them to let their creativity show through. So I'm not saying 'this is the next step, this is the next step.' I want to see what they can create by giving them some inspiration around the room, by showing them a few techniques, showing them different supplies. I love to put art supplies in front of kids that have never had them before. So they can explore, they can create, and then they discover what they like and what they want to make. So really it's just about letting them show me what they can create. Giving them the freedom and the space to do that in. 

Anthony Godfrey:
I love that. Part of what's fun for me is that you get the material in front of you. Whether it's clay or a watercolor crayon or whatever else. There's an instant impact from what you've done. You've created something right off the bat and you want to hone it and you want to improve it, but there's an impact. There's a sense of efficacy right away and not everything we do during the day has that. But art does offer that sense of efficacy and the sense of playfulness and creativity. I like the way you described that. Ken Robinson talked about an industrial approach to education versus an agricultural approach. The agricultural, creating that fertile atmosphere for learning and creativity. I love that you've created that fertile atmosphere. Like you say, you put the materials in front, you create this great environment and then you allow them to express themselves.

Rachel Henderson:
Exactly. That's the goal anyway.

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell me about some of the materials that you have around here. First of all, yarn, paper plates, glue. I wish my entire life were as organized as your room is.

Rachel Henderson:
We’ve got a little of everything. Everyone else's trash is the art room's treasure. We can make a project out of almost anything. So that's another plus in my job is to expose the kids to more than just paper and pencil, right? We get to explore a little bit more.

Anthony Godfrey:
I've never seen quite an array of not only paintbrushes, I think you have every size of paintbrush and foam paintbrush I can imagine, but you have like nine colors of tape as well.

Rachel Henderson:
We do. We make good use of all the colors around us, right? We'll incorporate that in one project or another.

Anthony Godfrey:
Stay with us. When we come back, we'll hear from some students about their canvas in the classroom.

Break:
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Anthony Godfrey:
Tell me your names and what grade are you in? You're both in sixth grade? Okay, cool. What are you working on here?

Student #1:
These are like dots from the book. It talks about the dot and you can make anything with just a blank piece of paper.

Anthony Godfrey:
So what are you making with your blank piece of paper? 

Student #1:
Types of like balls and like shapes in them.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. So what do you have here? What is this? Describe this to me.

Student #2:
So it's supposed to be a baseball. So I did the Xs first in a white crayon, and then I put red over it for the like side streaks, and then I put white in the background.

Anthony Godfrey:
Why did you choose a baseball?

Student #2:
Because it's one of my friend's favorite sports.

Anthony Godfrey:
How did you get these Xs? You did that with a white crayon in advance?

Student #2:
Yeah. 

Student #1:
That's how I did the flower and the star.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. So you did the flower and star the same way? What are some of the favorite projects that you remember doing?

Student #1:
In third grade, a turtle, like a clay turtle.

Anthony Godfrey:
You remember making a clay turtle back in third grade huh? Tell me about the clay turtle.

Student #1:
We sculpted it, then we created it and colored on it.  And we made a habitat.

Anthony Godfrey:
You made a habitat too? Where does your turtle live? What kind of habitat? Was it a city turtle or a country turtle? 

Student #1:
Country.

Anthony Godfrey:
Country turtle. So you made a pond? What was the pond made out of?

Student #1:
Paper and like Sharpies.

Anthony Godfrey:
Hmm. What's your favorite project?

Student #2:
Definitely when we did our portrait, like half of our face.

Anthony Godfrey:
So you did a portrait that was half of your face. So like a profile? What medium did you use? Was that a pastel, gouache, watercolor? 

Rachel Henderson:
I think we did, was it crayon? Was it crayon and then watercolor crayon, and then colored pencil. We used a little bit of everything, right? 

Anthony Godfrey:
What's a watercolor crayon?

Student #2:
It's like a normal crayon, except when you color it and then you put water over it and then it kind of looks like paint.

Anthony Godfrey:
Are there any of those around that we could check out? All right. We're going to check out a watercolor crayon. What did you like about your portrait?

Student #2:
How we got to like, like everything about it. It was really fun to make.

Anthony Godfrey:
Do you still have it? 

Student #2:
Yeah.

Anthony Godfrey:
Where did you put it? 

Student #2:
Up in my room.

Anthony Godfrey:
When you said, “yeah”, it's like, well, obviously I still had it. Yes. So you have it up in your room. What other work do you have in your room from this class? 

Student #2:
It was in third grade when we did the equations. Where you had to make up an equation and you had to kind of like disguise it, but they had to try to guess the equation that you did.

Anthony Godfrey:
So did you start with an equation and then make it into an image? Or how did that work?

Student #2:
So you came up with an image or not an image, an equation, like a multiplication equation. Cause we were in like third grade, so you always multiply. So you choose the numbers, you write them. Well, you wouldn't fully write them down, but you would like make them into something else other than the actual number. Then you'd have to go through the entire paper doing like, let's say you did two, then you'd have to do how you did the two the same way down the paper. So they have to kind of like, guess the equation that you did.

Rachel Henderson:
Do you want to show him how these work, guys?

Anthony Godfrey:
Yeah. Let's see how those watercolor crayons work. I think you kids call it a mashup. Is that correct? Combining those two things. Oh no, you didn't have to do it on that work of art, but is it feeling right? Does it feel right to add it to that one right there? Okay. Good. 

Student #2:
So you color in whatever you're coloring in.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. Do you mind if I tried a little bit just to see if it feels like your regular crayon, am I going to mess it up? All right. Let me know if I go astray. I'm pushing a little bit hard to start with. So it feels maybe it resists a little bit more than a normal crayon, a little more drag,

Student #2:
A little nicer. 

Anthony Godfrey:
That's a good color. Okay. Keep going. Sorry. I got carried away. I kept coloring once I got started.

Student #2:
So after you color the whole thing in where you want it to be colored in.

Anthony Godfrey:
It just looks like crayon so far. 

Student #2:
Yeah. And then you go 

Anthony Godfrey:
There’s some white paper showing through. Are you going to color it all the way to that end too? Or do you need to?

Student #2:
Yeah, in a second.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. Sorry. I got in the way of your process. Go ahead.

Student #2:
Then you take water and it will start like going together.

Anthony Godfrey:
Oh, I like that. So it kind of blends as you've just put the water over there. Yeah. Yeah. That's nice. Now it doesn't make a totally solid color yet. Now you use this for your portraits, huh? That's nice. I can see that working out nicely.

Student #2:
We did like a cityscape and it was like where you were looking up at like tall buildings. Then we would color these in and then we would paint them with water.

Anthony Godfrey:
Lots of different colors of the buildings. Okay. You have a really interested me in this turtle project, can you show me a couple of those methods that they learn in first and second grade?

Rachel Henderson:
Here is our clay bin and we have colored clay. I usually get them going with white. Little pouch, just perfect for little hands so that they can also paint it.

Anthony Godfrey:
Can we try it with big hands? 

Rachel Henderson:
Yes, absolutely. No, you're great. You just tear it open. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Now these are all for those listening and these are all single serving packs of clay.

Rachel Henderson:
Perfect. For little hands.

Anthony Godfrey:
All right, Crayola Model Magic. Bust it open. It is great because it's nice and soft. All right. Well, let's see. I'm going to pull up a brightly colored stool, even the stools are color coded. Okay. So tell me what's one of the methods that you teach them in first or second grade, that would help me make a turtle.

Rachel Henderson:
In first and second grade, we learned how to do things like pinch pots. Exactly what you're doing with the clay right now. You're working it with your hands. You're working it with your fingertips, pinching it, getting that sticky feeling gone so it can make a shape. 

Anthony Godfrey:
I just started doing that, I couldn’t resist it. It feels good.

Rachel Henderson:
It is. It’s very tactile. Kids want to do it.

Anthony Godfrey:
Plus, nobody else touched it. It's only mine. 

Rachel Henderson:
It’s purely yours. Everyone gets their own. They don't have to share.

Anthony Godfrey:
All right. So now I've kind of kneaded it a little bit and played with it. So what happens next? 

Rachel Henderson:
The thing about clay, the thing I love the most is that it's so forgiving, right? If we make a mistake with clay, guess what you do? You roll it back into a ball and you get to start over. There's no tears. Everything can be redone. It's all okay.

Anthony Godfrey:
Yes. I'll bet you do encounter some tears when a project isn’t going just this way and ‘oh no, I messed up.’ 

Rachel Henderson:
We’ve got some perfectionists with us for sure.

Anthony Godfrey:
That's a good lesson too. How do you fix the mistake? 

Rachel Henderson:
That’s a lot of over time saying, “It’s all about the process. Not so much about a beautiful finished product, but the process. What did you learn? How did you feel when you were making this? Was it a good experience?” And 9 times out of 10 it is. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Another great lesson that transfers to other classes and to life in general. So I've pinched.

Rachel Henderson:
So roll it into a ballI. Roll it into a ball and we'll do a simple pinch pot.

Anthony Godfrey:
Should I roll it against the table? Is that the best way to do it?

Rachel Henderson:
You can do either one. I have the kids roll it on the table, they roll it in their hands. That way, if they have this supply at home, they can do it at home.

Anthony Godfrey:
All right. Now I'm feeling perfectionist because it's feeling more like a 20 sided die than like a round piece.

Rachel Henderson:
We say all the time, there's no perfect in art, right? There's no perfect in art. Perfection does not exist. We do not strive for it.

Anthony Godfrey:
So if there's no perfect, then you are excused from trying to pursue that. Right?

Rachel Henderson:
Right. Then you're free to just work and try your hardest. So we have a ball and now the essence of a pinch pot is to take your thumb and just push right in almost making a small donut. Right. You don't go all the way through the clay. You just make that round little circle. And then, because it's called a pinch pot, we take the ends of our fingers and we just start pinching. We start pinching and pulling and pinching and pulling. We're making a circular shape and we're working the clay up as we go. And from time to time, we'll get saucers that are flat, that don't keep the shape. So we show them little techniques. I'll show you.

Anthony Godfrey:
I've got a little bubble forming.

Rachel Henderson:
There's different things with the clay that you can do. So if you're like, ‘oh, this is more of a bowl, not a pot.’ I can say, let's fold it back in. Let's make it more upright. Let's fold it back in. Like I said, clay’s very forgiving, right? We can always smooth things out later.  Hold your hand in a cupping shape. Use the end of the table to make a nice lip. There are lots of little tricks you can do. We don't even need any tools for this. This is just our hands. We're going around and around. If we wanted to add maybe a stem or if we wanted to add a handle, we could pull some clay off there and do that. But then at the end we dry them upright, so they're little domes. Then the following week, they come back and they get to paint them. So that's a very simple project. And this actually, incidentally is the shell for our turtle. So skills that they learned way back when we utilize again, when they come back for third grade.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, I think it's great that first, second and third grade, there's this progression of skills. And that the sixth graders we talked to remembered the turtle as their very favorite project right off the bat.

Rachel Henderson:
It’s a favorite for sure. 

Anthony Godfrey:
That's really cool. Okay. Well, um, what is the fate of my turtle? I guess I will just smash him back into the clay from whence he came.

Rachel Henderson:
The beauty of clay. Roll back into a ball, put it in a bag and you can come back to it another time.

Anthony Godfrey:
That this feels really good. When you had it in your hands showing me stuff, I kind of wanted it back. Because it's quite fun.

Rachel Henderson:
Very relaxing.

Anthony Godfrey:
Very nice. All right. I'm going to put it back in your package here. What ideas do you have for parents who may want to incorporate more art in their kids' lives or give them more of a creative outlet at home?

Rachel Henderson:
This was really apparent when we went on soft closure, right? We had lots of kiddos that were like, ‘wait a minute, Ms. Henderson, I don't have clay at my house. I don't have watercolor crayons at my house.’ And I assured them, there were numerous things we did online with pencil and paper. If you could just give your children pencil and paper, and time, and a space. I've noticed that if there was a designated spot in the house or a designated space for them, they felt more free to create. Rather than cluttered with everything else. So if you just give them a little space, paper, and pencil, there is no end to what they can do.

Anthony Godfrey:
Thanks for letting me get a little taste of what the kids get to experience here. It's obviously a great experience for them and an important part of their education here at Westvale. So thanks again.

Rachel Henderson:
Thank you. Appreciate you coming.

Anthony Godfrey:
Thanks for joining us on another episode of the Supercast. Remember education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see you out there.

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