The Best Collaboration Ever, Part 1

I have been attempting to write about this for quite some time. How does one even begin to tell a story of such wonderfulness, such dumb luck, such serendipity?

I loved just about every minute of being a special education teacher and especially when I was assigned the EBD kids. I love the quirks, the challenges, the psychology of it. I love the connections, the advocacy, the push and pull, the puzzle of finding ways to address maladaptive behaviors so we can get to some academics.

The collaborative effort I am about to share with you was one I am most proud of for three reasons. The first is that I got to collaborate with an amazing art teacher. The second is that we were able to provide my students with much needed therapeutic ways to restore a sense of well-being. The third is that we saw immediate positive results that allowed our students to be seen by the rest of the school as experts, as makers, as contributors.

I can’t pretend that this would have happened without Wildabest, the best art teacher ever.  I cannot pretend this would have been so fairly and easily launched without my building administrator graciously supporting us by just letting us go with our idea.

Because it was a long shot, nothing else like it anywhere.

This is a long and rich story, so it will be told in parts. I will edit some of the details that do not move the story along and spend much time on how and why this collaboration worked.

Aunt Sally became an integral part of my EBD program and our school through a mix of dumb luck, naiveté, willfulness, and a strong belief we could make things better for the students in my care.

While you all might be thinking Aunt Sally is a person, in this case, she was a hundred year old, heavy duty weaving loom.

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OK, so Aunt Sally was originally a real person from way back in my lineage who wove rag rugs for seed money. And as Wildbest and I learned on this adventure, looms need names. Naming this loom provided us with unintended consequences that made the whole thing that much sweeter.UntitledThe Original Aunt Sally

Our Rhythmic Loom Project was born of so many missteps. I wish I could say that Wildabest and I had a solid plan and rationale. We didn’t. It was all instinct, intuition, gut and tenacity.

After failed attempts to get a used district loom in her art room, Wildabest suggested we go after a grant and see if we could score a loom that way. At this point we were not even sure why we liked this idea. We knew we could put the loom in my room, the kids I work with could use it. You see, Wildabest and I believe in kids using their hands to create. And that is all we were going on at that point. Helping the kids in my care be makers of something lovely. I had taught a few how to knit, to crochet, to invent contraptions from discarded crap I continually collected. Plus Wildabest had really fond memories of weaving in college.

At this time I had about 12 kiddos with EBD IEPs. They ranged in age, grade and ability. Some were coordinated, some not. Some could attend, some could not. Some were prone to fits of rage, some would rather be invisible. Academics came easy to some, no so much for others. I had 2nd-6th graders and we were in a small neighborhood elementary school.

images-13Our district has an exceptional Education Fund from which many wonderful ideas are made possible because of all the grants they honor. Although we felt this was a long shot, we dove in.

I had written a few other small grants in my career so I understood what needed to be one to get the right attention and how to demonstrate the need and describe the possible positive effects.  Wildabest was very supportive (she cheered me on) while I dug deep to find a rational for what we just knew was going to be a good thing.

I wrote weaving guilds across the country asking for testimonials regarding how weaving helped them. While I awaited responses (which I thought would maybe not even come), I started researching movement and how it affects the brain. I knew about Brain Gym, and used it successfully. Wildabest and I talked about how one moves while weaving. We landed on the repetitive movements, the rhythm, the pulling and banging, the back and forth. From there I fine tuned my research

I learned a lot about repetitive rhythmic movement and gathered facts for the grant. And then the testimonials started coming in. And they were wonderful. They were just beautiful stories about how weaving helped with coping, restoring a sense of well-being, of self satisfaction, of community building and what making something beautiful does for one’s self identity. I was so grateful for these testimonials. And they came from coastimages-12 to coast. Some from seniors, some from lone weavers, some from group homes and farms.

So our hunches were proving true. And we were learning how much more a loom in the EBD room could be.

One thing we were most excited about was the potential for the kids in the EBD Unknown-3program to become experts at something. Experts that could teach the rest of the school something. So we included that point in the grant. Our experts would invite others into our room to learn how to weave. This would further blur the lines that make a special education room ‘that’ room that others do not enter. How cool is that?

Way cool, that’s how cool.Unknown-4

After having satisfied ourselves with justifying the need for the grant money, we had to figure out how much to ask for. We had no idea. Fortunately I have a sister who knows about weaving and she helped us come up with a rough list of what you need in addition to a loom to make rag rugs. The most we could ask for was $1400. So we just asked for that.

Really, we were just groping in the dark. We spent almost no time pricing out the rough list my sister had given us.

For whatever reasons, we got the grant. All $1400.

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And we both laughed as we were so delighted.

And then it struck us what this meant.

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The story continues tomorrow. The really good stuff is yet to come.

I hope you will follow along as the story unfolds.

It really is a great story.

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