Dyan Branstetter | September 2016

Making Beauty Out of Life’s Stains

Last Sunday I visited a small, outdoor pop-up market in our town. It was a beautiful day to play in the park and pick up some local veggies. In addition, to producing and baked goods, a few artists were selling handmade goods. One artist, in particular, caught my eye. At first glance, it appeared that she was selling small drawings and creating beauty out of it.

Up close, however, I realized that most of her art included a circle; she had ingeniously turned the ring stain of a coffee cup into something new. Her creations were beautiful and intricate, and I started to think about how the concept behind them is PERFECT for the growth mindset culture I am trying to cultivate in my classroom.

Growth Mindset stems from the brilliant work of Carol Dweck. Dweck says, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” Of COURSE, this is what we want for our students, which is why it is so important to help them develop and embrace this mindset.

Speaking with the coffee stain artist, Carol Stamper, she explained that she was inspired by an artist that creating beauty and art out of popsicle drips, and she decided to try this with coffee. “Creating beauty out of life’s stains” is her slogan, and it is so applicable to the classroom. This idea goes perfectly with the books The Dot and Ish by Peter H. Reynolds. I shared it with my students after reading The Dot on International Dot Day, and the students were able to generate connections between the art and the theme of the text.

Artwork by Carol Stamper, Creating Beauty Out of Life's Stains, Education Closet

Artwork by Carol Stamper, http://carolstamperart.com/

This left us with some important lessons, which we posted. First, we determined that it is good to look at things in creative ways. Each of us could start with a circle and each of us would come up with a unique creation of what it could become. Our group is stronger when we put those different and creative ideas together. (The book Duck Rabbit by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld is another great example of how we see things differently, even though they are the same.)

We also found that it is ok to mess up- what may start as a stain could be turned into something amazing. The book Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg, while primary, has a great message to align with this idea. A growth mindset culture in the classroom puts emphasis on the power of mistakes.

Recently, I saw a poster that said “Mistakes Are…Expected, Respected, Inspected, Corrected’. With some mistakes, we can use our creativity to turn them into something new or better. Other times, we may need to use learn from our error or misconception and move forward. Either way, harnessing the power of those mistakes is a huge tool in helping students grow and succeed. The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires is a fantastic book with how to deal with frustration and working through/learning from possible failure.

Using This in The Classroom

If you’re looking to use these lessons in your classroom, I suggest doing a quick, 10-minute mini-lesson each day. Start by introducing the growth mindset topic with ClassDojo’s Big Idea Episode 1 from their Growth Mindset video series. Show an episode a day, followed by a class discussion. Start pointing out times when you notice students demonstrating a growth mindset, and you’ll find that students will begin pointing it out as well.

Then, move into the different books mentioned above. Use a book for each mini-lesson, and discuss after each. Guide students to notice the common themes, individual lessons, and connections between these books. Post a reminder from each that students can refer to throughout the year.  Use the coffee stain art as inspiration for students to create their own art as a reminder of thinking creatively and using mistakes, or have students create their own dot inspired by The Dot.

What could be more important than nurturing creativity while celebrating growth, creating beauty and decreasing anxiety while fostering academic achievement? We need a growth mindset in the classroom. Cultivate it, and watch your class flourish.

About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.