The Metamorphosis of a Poem: Validating Process


Jacques Le Moyne De Morgues, Wild Strawberry and Female Emperor Moth. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum

Often, it’s easy to see in any work of art the unattainable glow of perfection. It’s easy to believe the artist sat down and produced their masterpiece without breaking a sweat or weeping silently into a pool of red wine. We assume “real” writers never feel like failures and “successful” artists aren’t ever crippled with self doubt. We tell ourselves that the process should feel easy, natural, and that all true talent comes out dazzled the first time or it never reveals itself at all.

As a poet, I’ve had to remind myself creativity is rarely like this. There’s a lot of frustration and downright agony involved. There are endless nights of feeling stuck and defeated. There are rejection letters and writer’s block and poor reviews. Yet, instead of discounting these moments as a waste, I’ve come to celebrate them. I’ve learned to wade in, steadily push against my own fragility and keep going.

I believe this is where we birth creativity and that it’s in the muck that we make meaning.

I’m not alone in my experience. Carol Dweck reminds us in her bestseller, Mindset,  that perfection or success is rarely (if ever) achieved on the first go. Sometimes it is a lifetimes of trying before the going get us somewhere. Anne Lamott celebrates the “shitty,” unpolished drafts in her book on writing, Bird by Bird and  Adrienne Rich recommends “diving into the wreck” and getting lost for awhile. To this end, I am constantly reminding my students that creativity and artistic production is never perfect and that the process is just valuable as their finish product. I remind them that frustration is powerful. Even beautiful.

It keeps us leaning in.

In my next post, I’ll outline how we can encourage (and even celebrate/showcase) more process-driven work in the classroom, especially as it relates to The Object Lesson. In the mean-time, below I’ve included a poem-map of one of  my recent pieces. Basically, it’s just a life-cycle of the messy, vulnerable stages of my work, but moments I believe are worth sharing and even celebrating.

Version 1–Birth: Initially, I had several lines swimming around in my head. Some felt connected, others didn’t. I wasn’t critical with my first draft. I allowed myself to be generous, abundant, greedy with the language. I let myself run in circles until the core revealed itself. I forgot about censorship. I indulged. I believe in making fat first drafts.

Version 1

The mice are scratching at my heart again.

They want a love poem I will not give them.

Maybe I’ll put it in a bottle and sending it out to sea for a lonely shark.

Maybe I’ll cremate this epistle

the long, timid body of our irregular love affair

and spread all our  withered bones

across the sea to swim with all the lonely sharks.

and cave in the shape of mouth.

I’ll blend this into corkscrew  alphabet,

serve it to you in soup, watch you savor the taste of each dropped vowel.

Don’t worry, darling,  only humans have a need for things to shut.

A door, a mouth, a locket

Even the moths eat through a silk blouse.

It is possible to love the past and the past only.

This is nothing but tea leave in a cup.

Trapped in our star dust, withered bone and in a mouth-shaped cave.

Version 2–Adolescence: Here I knew what I needed to say. I identified the heartbeat of the poem and turned the rest loose. I spliced out the excess and studied what remained.

Version 2

They want a love poem I will not give them.

Maybe I’ll put it in a bottle and sending it out to sea for a lonely shark.

Maybe I’ll cremate this epistle

the long, timid body of our irregular love affair

and spread all our  withered bones

across the sea to swim with all the lonely sharks.

and cave in the shape of a mouth.

Version 3–Adulthood: Here, it became all about streamlining once my direction was evident. I had my arrow notched in my bow, now I just had to set it to the wind. I trimmed, played with line breaks, adjusted punctuation, and added a title. I primped and pinched a bit and deemed the poem”finished.” The original intention was to experiment with Instagram poems (given the measurement constraints of an iPhone camera, so here it is in its final version.)

Version 3

Proces poem 3


–Joy Sullivan

Mindfulness Strategies to Provide Self-Care

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As we move through this first month or two of school,  I wanted to revisit the conversation of your own self-care as teachers, and specifically explore how you are incorporating mindfulness practice in your own life.

As noted in previous posts and our own conversation as a community, teaching mindfulness begins with your own practice and experience in order to be authentic.

I will start by sharing a few of my own strategies to deepen and enrich a sense of presence in life.  I hope some of these techniques and ways of being will enrich your repertoire of mindfulness tools to use.  For each, I will provide additional information from my own blog or other sources via the links.

A beautiful moment from an afternoon walk.

A “Beautiful Moment” from a late afternoon walk.

  • Beautiful Moments Practice:  This is an on-going mindful gratitude practice in which I find and reflect upon the moments that bring joy and a sense of meaning to my daily life.
A "Why Not" moment when I took off my shoes and felt the dew on the grass before going to my classes for the day.

A “Why Not” moment when I took off my shoes and felt the dew on the grass before going to my classes for the day.

  • Why Not Practice: This is an on-going  mindful play practice in which I take time to explore the ways in which I can actively engage in the simplicity of the world and all of the opportunities for joy it offers.  Why not take off my shoes to walk through the grass?  Dance in the rain instead of running from it?  Stop and feel the bark of a tree, even hug a tree, as I go on my evening stroll?  Just because we are adults, it shouldn’t inhibit us from being explorers of the world.
  • Heart Breathing: This is a new practice for me, so I haven’t posted on my blog about it yet, but I have been practicing it lately.  It is a practice to use in times of stress to bring one back to the moment.  When I was taught the practice, I was told to place both hands on top of one another over my heart, and each three breaths, switch the hand that is on the bottom to be on top.
Words in a window display captured from my photo walk.

Words in a window display captured from my photo walk.

  • Photo Walking: For mindful creativity, I have gone a couple of times now on photo walks by myself where I silently explore the world and take photos of things of interest to me.  This is an “informal” mindful creativity practice, and a good way to see the world in new and creative ways, a main focus for developing mindful creativity.

Self explanatory- I am touching a tree. You may feel weird engaging in this practice at first, but after awhile, you probably won’t care anymore.


  • Tree Touching (or just a walk outside): This would be considered an “informal” practice.  However, in Japan extensively and more recently in the U.S., walking outdoors is a form of group and individual therapy.  According to The University of Minnesota, “Research has shown that, irrespective of socio-economic background, age or gender, natural environments are perceived as an important link to a more stable world, one that assists in reforming chaotic thoughts and feelings into more harmonious forms.”

These are just some of the ways I practice mindfulness and presence in my life.  As stated before, every night I make time to do a focused attention meditation for fifteen to twenty minutes.  This is a time when I close my bedroom door, light a candle, shut off the lights and just sit with myself.  At the end of the practice, I like to journal, reflecting on my beautiful moments or on what my practice was like that day.  I also attend the local Buddhist temple for an hour-long sitting meditation each Sunday.

A moment captured at the end of my day before I shut off my light and sat on the floor to sink into the silence within.

A moment captured at the end of my day before I shut off my light and sat on the floor to sink into the silence within.

You do not have to do all (or any) of these things to be mindful.  Remember, it is a state of being- not something to “do.”  I do, hope, however, that you are finding ways to make the “being” of mindfulness part of your own life.

So, this post is also a call to action.  

You all are experts in your own experience, so I am going to ask that you share your expertise either in a comment to this post or in a post of your own:

Are you engaging in mindfulness practice formally or informally right now?  If not, what are the challenges you are facing to doing so?  If so, has it been fun, difficult, interesting, centering, boring?  Are you becoming more mindful in your daily life?  How has mindfulness impacted you in general?

-By Brandi Lust

A Take On Speaking and Listening

ELA teachers sometimes gloss over the CCSS’s Speaking and Listening standards. Based on conversations with friends who employ 18-25 year-olds, this is evident in some graduates’ job performance. Our task is to help students work through problems with diverse partners in and out of class, assess information and data from a variety of media in a variety of formats, judge speakers’ use of rhetorical devices and their success or struggles therein, build and share presentations that go beyond [yawn] simply clicking through a PowerPoint, use technology for an authentic purpose in their talks, and adapt their speech to a given context at hand.

Many ELA teachers have received little or poor training for these standards. At one institution I know, almost every single professional development session in the last three years has been structured around collecting and using data to inform instruction; that’s useful, of course, however informed and interesting PD built around mastering the CCSS’s Speaking and Listening standards would likely spurn a sharper understanding of how and why we’re collecting said data and ultimately how to improve our students’ ability to articulate their thoughts, use their voice to elevate their places in the world, and give authentic attention to other communicators.

It’s essential we value our students’ skills in speaking and listening and it’s essential we structure class time to speak to these skills beyond merely a presentation or speech a year. After all, how can our graduates get what they want out of life if they can’t speak fluently and cogently to those that can facilitate opportunities for them? Even the professional literature falls short of a thorough discussion of these standards. Pathways to the Common Core (Calkins, Lehrenworth, Lehman) devotes a meager 5% of their book to aiding teachers foster success with these skills. Provided we remedy our lack of attention here, we can grow effective communicators, but any other course of action seems flawed. Having students sit quietly and zone out to our lectures isn’t the same thing as building sharp listeners, though in my observations this can sometimes be what some teachers think. Below are some of the key power standards in this strand:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric (CCSS, 2014).

Above, we are shown to be responsible for a comprehension of the nature of sound itself: how it persuades us and can be used in presentations to great effect. I suggest using Julian Treasure’s work as a starting point here. To introduce yourself to some of his work check out: The Four Ways Sound Affects Us and Sound Health in 8 Steps

Additionally, we are held to show students the importance of image selection and how images tell a story and are needed to aid human memory of key issues and details. I like Nancy Duarte as a resource to help me here. Check out her free digital book Resonate:!page0.

We even have to discuss the nature of film: scene construction and choice, cinematography, and how these artistic choices can alter a message. Having students make propaganda films for and against an issue of their choice can really make this point come alive and the film festival you have with your students will make a great (and often humorous) impression.

The third strand above asks ELA teachers to employ tactics for students to use rhetoric and students can’t be left isolated to use strong metaphors, sound reasoning, and to avoid logical fallacies like ad hominem attacks without our guidance.

Speaking is about more than formal presentations or speeches. We need to value developing oral communication skills for all verbal communication situations our students might face. See below:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5: Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6: Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate (CCSS, 2014).

Having students conduct a speaking project is not the same as modeling to students how to do that project efficiently and effectively. And even if we do model speaking and listening behavior and show examples, students might not see the importance of these skills in school as they’re rarely valued in their other classes either. I take a term score to assess their speaking as a form of active learning and participation in the construction of our class knowledge using this rubric:

In some ways, I wonder if Speaking and Listening might be the most important skills for students to hone. I think of powerful and successful people like former President Lyndon Baines Johnson who basically never read a book in his life and yet achieved an immense amount for himself, his family, for Texas, and for civil rights in this country (obviously, Vietnam tarnished his legacy). JFK wasn’t much of a congressperson or Senator (achieving little) but he rose to the presidency out of nowhere, in part, due to his gifted orations and ability to listen and connect with others. I think of the multimillion dollar businessperson Keith Ferrazzi whose writing skills aren’t much to be admired, but whose business acumen (listening for what matters and ignoring what doesn’t) and speaking skills (quite seductive to audiences and customers) rival anyone’s. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was an incredible writer and thinker, but his inability to connect with others and speak confidently about his ideas relegated him to obscurity in his own lifetime. I suppose my point is immense success and financial stability can follow simply if one knows how to listen, what to listen for, how to speak well, when to speak, and to whom you should speak to get what one wants out of life.

Ultimately, I suggest students listen to people who have what they want and then borrow ideas as they build their own path to wellness. I suggest speaking like the people who have what they want in life and seeing if that edges them down the road to whatever it is they seek. And, since many students—and adults for that matter—don’t know what they want, listening out for what they might want and using their voice to get closer to finding what they might want seem essential skills we should take better care to nurture.

–Mr. Aaron Sherman, ELA Facilitator of Educational Opportunities


From Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff

This morning on Whad’ya Know, Barry Yourgrau shared his book, Mess: One Man’s Struggle to Clean Up His House and Act.  In the interview, Michael Feldman mentioned George Carlin’s “Stuff,” so I gave it a listen.  I am going to share it with my class.  It does contain the word “sh*t,” but other than that it’s clean for George Carlin.  As I’m typing this, I’m also reminded of the video many of you are familiar with, Story of Stuff.  As we are getting closer to our planning for our first visit, I thought I’d share these with you.


Student Empowerment: Goal Setting and Grit in the Classroom

SMART Goal Graphic

Mind tools describes the acronym SMART goals in the following way:

“S – Specific (or Significant), M – Measurable (or Meaningful), A – Attainable (or Action-Oriented), R – Relevant (or Rewarding), and – Time-bound (or Trackable)”

I like that there are multiple interpretations of these categories according to this definition.  For example, in any context, goals that are significant, meaningful and rewarding are factors that should be considered if one is going to take the time to plan and reflect on a new practice or strategy.

A few weeks ago, I worked with Laura Garber in the classroom on a lesson where she wanted students to explore grit as a way to meet meaningful SMART goals.  The lesson had the following learning targets:

  1. Students will explore the elements of grit and and assess their own “grittiness”
  2. Students will establish personal SMART goals and reflect upon how they may meet those goals.

Click on this link to see the rest of the lesson and download a goal sheet and a grit scale test for students for use in the classroom.

’53 Ways to Check Understanding’


Edutopia recently published a list with creative suggestions on how to acknowledge, assess student understandings. Opening up “measures” or ways to know what students know, allows for an assessment on not just an ability to retain content, but how that student can apply what is learned and understood. Tools like the ones suggested on the list, allow educators to take their own risks in seeing what students know, and give students outlets for their understandings versus disconnected destinations where students mark in multiple choice or essay, what they remember about a particular piece of content.

53 Ways To Check for Understanding

This notion of, “now that I know this, now what,” expands application of Carol Dweck’s theory of “growth mindset”, where she emphasizes effort, application, as “variables students can control.”

We talked about this notion of mindset during the Pages summer training, and Laura Garber, recently refers to encouraging “growth mindset” in practice with her post, Teaching Failure, where she reflects on creating learning spaces that give students breathing room, opportunities to “fail”, stumble, face an obstacle or challenge, allowing for time to reflect, and reason to take those reflections, lessons, and try again.

This slowing down for presence in the learning process and the tools employed to engage that presence, gives students permission to think, feel, and grow, an alternative to simply memorization or retention of content.


image source:

Six-Word Memoirs

This week, my students are working on six-word memoirs and flash fiction as an introduction to our short story unit. With an essential question of “What makes a story a story?” we are delving into deep discussions of Hemingway’s baby shoes and other impactful short works. After working with some of the memoirs in I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets and discussing both what is said and left unsaid in six-word memoirs, students were asked to compose their own!

First, students composed a draft in their journal for our class. They were asked to think it over last night, and continue modifying the draft as needed. Today, students were asked to write their stories – on their desks! 🙂 Using dry-erase markers, students graffitied the desks with their own memoirs. Subsequently, classmates were invited to comment on the stories using another color marker. While some were silly or simple, others were deep and inspiring. Six-word memoirs were discussed at length in our Pages summer workshop, and I’m so glad I made this a part of our unit! Students really worked hard to come up with meaningful memoirs, and really got a kick out of writing on their desks 🙂

Some of the class favorites can be seen below – I’m hoping that some of the students will also follow up and submit them online at!

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Teachers’ Guide To Constructing A Cut-up through drawing

Hello everyone

This blog post aims to serve as an aid for you (the teachers). The purpose is in giving you the confidence and comfort when going forth with your students while they create their masterpieces.

We will be exploring through the cut-up technique what visual imagery we can pull from the After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists.

The first “Cut-Up”:


The morality of the tale does

Wear dark blue jeans and wield-

decisions about life.


This is the finished version after photoshop.


Final version of Boundless


original Cut-Up

Step 1: The students will primarily be working in their sketchbooks.  (As a side note, I did utilize a sketchbook which is a bit larger than what’s required/cited on the supplies list, but alas, a minor difference – the quality is identical).

I pull the sentences for the “Cut-Ups” from just a random local newspaper, then glue them down.

While entertaining the loose imagery which comes with defining, “boundless,” I ask my girlfriend what comes into mind, and she says, “James Dean”.

Step 2: Using an Ipad, I trace a found photo of James Dean. The tracing technique will always assist you in achieving a very accurate drawing – it’s time efficient and generally helps alleviate a lot of that frustration or lack of confidence that comes from drawing free-handedly.  Now, if the students don’t have a device, than we can give them a heads up!  They can bring in their own photos.  We can also provide them with magazines, photo references, etc.

The exciting thing about the “Cut-Up” project is that there are so many directions we can take in order to reach our final goals.


Step 3: While still referencing the photo, I begin separating the highs and lows – the darks and lights.  By sketching into the contour line, or embellishing the drawing, I am able to give that traced image a more personal and authentic value.


Step 4: Referencing back to the Cut-Up, “Âhe  decisions about life”. James Dean, tragically and recklessly killed at such a young age, has me connecting life and death with the decisions we make and the paths we choose to take . We didn’t get to see his potential as he was living his life in the fast lane.  So, drawing a grave and the sun feel to be reflective and symbolic in finalizing the drawing – successfully conveying the tone of the piece.



I used the Japanese rising sun icon, for it is recognizable.


The intention of the Photoshop image is for everyone to see my vision clearly on this blog, and nothing more. There are no expectations, let alone resources, for your students to produce work in Photoshop.

This video is a reference for anyone wanting to try this at home or share with their students.



Teachers’ Guide To Constructing A Cut-up through Collage

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Hello Everyone,


This blog post aims to serve as an aid for you (the teachers).  The purpose is in giving you the confidence and comfort when going forth with your students while they create their masterpieces.

We will be exploring through the cut-up technique what visual imagery we can pull from the After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists.

The second Cut-Up:

Artists in in of impact

our potent

several vibrant this all occupying


This Cut-Up was created using, the “Cut-Up Machine”.

The text was pulled from the first paragraph on the “After Picasso” information page on the Wexner website.

Explore Pablo Picasso’s potent legacy and persistent impact on several generations of artists in this vibrant exhibition occupying all our galleries this fall.

Step 1: I use an old Picasso book, which I own, to pull my pictures and inspiration for the “cut-up”. The great thing about collaging, is that you don’t need any drawing or painting abilities. It is all about scale, depth and the composition.




Step 2: Since I’m using the “Cut-Up Machine” to create my words, I will be writing the text for this piece.

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Step 3: The key to a strong collage is knowing when enough is enough. We will now subtract from our creation.

I am using whiteout and white paint to subtract from the original collage. The reason for this is because the negative space (background) is white, allowing a push and pull effect to balance the art. I would say this is the only technical part of the entire project that may be challenging. Think of it like making a cake, you can always add more sugar, but if you add too much sugar then you may ruin the cake.


1 2


 The final version


Teaching Failure

    fail3    fail 1
It was our first week of school. On Friday a student walked in and asked, “What are we doing today?”“We are going to practice failing!” I announced enthusiastically.

The same student gave me a puzzled look, turned to her classmate and whispered, “I told you this class was going to be weird. I could tell when she had the desks different ways all the time.”

I want my students to develop and strengthen their growth mindsets. I want them to embrace challenge.  And when they fail, I want them to reflect, reflect some more, plan and try again. Students balked at the activities we had planned for them: create an origami butterfly using only a picture model, list all fifty states and capitals with no resources, draw your self-portrait while blindfolded.

After the first try, we gave them time to reflect, collaborate and plan. No group had exactly the same plan the second time around. Some used online resources and many used each other. What at first was an individual, competitive task became collaborative and fun.

I hope we can remember this lesson throughout the year, throughout our lives.  Failure is not a bad word.  It teaches us to reflect and grow.  It teaches us that working together builds ideas and resources.  It teaches us to redefine success.