While we figured out how to get Aunt Sally ‘dressed’ (threaded), we busied ourselves with other necessary work.
Remember the sheets I mentioned earlier? They became our weft thread. That’s the thread you pass back and forth under and over the warp threads. Since we were going to make rag rugs, we dyed the sheets as they were our ‘rags’. Aren’t we clever?
Well, Wildabest and I are not inclined to follow directions on packaging, so we bought a bunch of RIT dye and crammed as many sheets possible into 4 art room sinks. It was a bit tedious wringing out all those sheets by hand. Wildabest and I are the type of gals that wing it. We problem solve as we go. So this is how we dried all those sheets. It’s a good thing we did this on a Friday afternoon. We did this about 3 different times.
The next step was to cut the sheets into strips. Luckily we had used some budget money for a rag cutter. Did you know there was such a thing? It is quite the clever piece of equipment.
Since cutting the sheets was a repetitive and rhythmic activity (we found that out by accident) and the kids were chomping at the bit to get the whole project up and running, we had them do the sheet cutting. And because Wildabest and I are so clever, we turned that into various learning opportunities. We had kids predicting how many meters of strips they could get out of a single sheet. Wildabest brought some of her art classes on mini field trips up to my special ed classroom to look at Aunt Sally (we had labeled all of her parts) and to take a turn using the rag cutter. To avoid having to sew or tie strips together, we had the kids cut the sheets in a continuous circle around and around.
Soon the whole school knew what we were doing and the kids were beside themselves in anticipation. Wildabest and I couldn’t get Aunt Sally dressed soon enough. I learned that the art and science of dressing a loom is all about getting the tension and spacing just right. Many found it tedious. But I found it to be akin to deep meditation. It was very satisfying work for me to stand back and look at all those perfectly aligned threads. It really is a thing of beauty. In my next life I could be happy as a loom dresser.
Keep in mind that I was in charge of 12 kiddos with emotional and behavioral challenges. My room was never still and quiet. I am not that kind of teacher. Kids were in and out as needed all day. Some came in and out for help and support with academics. Some came in and out only when they needed help regulating big emotions. Some were sent to me due to disruptive behavior. Some came in looking for food. Some came in to sleep for any number of reasons. I did not have a seclusion room or a time out corner. I don’t believe in either. I did not have individual desks. We worked at tables. My cabinets were full of things to build with, craft supplies, puzzles and games. And none of that stuff was ever a reward. My students didn’t have to earn anything.
We didn’t have points and prizes. By now, if you have read much of my blog you know how I abhor behaviorist methods. If my students needed to get lost in a maker project to stay calm and feel safe at school, then that is what they got.
In all honesty, I have been greatly criticized for this in every position I have had. For the most part, with time, my methods gained credibility.
I believe that meeting student’s basic needs comes first. Period. I will never expect a kiddo to perform academically if a basic need is not being met, if they are not feeling safe and comfortable in their environment or in their own skin to be able to attend academics.
How well do you concentrate when you are hungry, anxious, angry, tired, scared, jumpy, neglected? How easily do you learn something new when you feel out of sorts?
There were times each day when one student or another was in a rageful, unhappy state that manifested in physical aggression. But since Aunt Sally’s arrival, there were fewer of these episodes. And when they did happen, not one student ever touched Aunt Sally to harm her. Never. She was sacred to the kids even before we had her up and working. I believe the kids saw some sort of salvation in her. She gave us all hope. We knew she was going to help us. Some kids just sat at Aunt Sally and rubbed the front beam and daydreamed. I have to admit, I did the same.
Many adults in my school predicted the kids would trash Aunt Sally, that they would go after her with scissors, they would use the heddle hook as a weapon, they would dismantle her bolt by bolt. Many adults questioned me about how I was going to use Aunt Sally. Surely only as a reward when work was done?
That was not Aunt Sally’s purpose.
As our grant proposal stated, Aunt Sally’s purpose was to help restore a sense of well-being to students who rarely felt safe, competent or cared for. Her purpose was to provide the students in my program an opportunity to be experts at something other than destruction and obstruction. Her purpose was to help my students make some shifts in how they defined themselves. Aunt Sally was going to give my students a new identity. They would be makers of beautiful things. They would be positive contributors. They would be teachers.
You see, before Aunt Sally was even dressed and ready to go, there was a subtle shift already taking place.
It was magic.
Tomorrow in part 4 I will share all that Wildabest and I discovered along the way about the power of Aunt Sally. The unintended consequences were many and profound.