Susan Riley: Welcome to Artworks for Teachers. I’m your host, Susan Riley. I’m an educator, entrepreneur, and arts integration evangelist. Each week we’ll explore how teachers can crack the code of creativity and use it as a hidden advantage in and out of the classroom. You’ll hear from authors. And educators sharing their stories and their strategies for unlocking the power of curiosity and creativity.
Let’s get going. Hey friend. Welcome back to another episode of Artworks for Teachers. I’m your host, Susan Riley. Today we’re gonna be having an interview with a teacher author who I really admire. His name is Kobe. Sharp. Now Colby is a fifth grade teacher and still practicing in the classroom right now.
And he is also the editor of The Creativity Project. Now this is a book that I’ve recommended on our summer reading list in the past that I think. Every educator should have it’s a book that pairs prompts with illustrators and you give the prompt to an artist or an illustrator and you just kind of see where the artist or illustrator runs with it.
And it is fascinating because, You would think that maybe the illustrator would do a comic or an illustration, but sometimes they pick a different avenue like writing a story or creating a play. And Colby is gonna share about this project during our, in our interview today. He’s also gonna share his love of reading how, how he started the nerd camp and, and what that looks like, as well as what it means for him to have self care and practice that as an educator.
Right now. And sometimes that means saying no, saying no to meetings, saying no to projects. And I found that really fascinating because I know a lot of us have difficulty saying no to things that are, are coming up for us. So I think you’re gonna find this interview fascinating. I also think you’re gonna find it really helpful in setting some of those boundaries for yourself this year.
So let’s dig. All right. Hello, Colby Sharp. How are you
Colby Sharp: today? I amazing. Thanks for
having me. No problem. Thank you so much for joining us today. So for anybody who’s not familiar with your work, and we’re gonna dive into your work in a minute would you just introduce yourself, give us a little bit of background information about who you are, what you do in any special projects that you’re working?
I am a fifth grade teacher in Parma, Michigan. I teach in the building that I attended as a kid, which is really fun. My parents still live next door to the school, so my children, as they’ve come through Parm Elementary, get to walk home to to grandma and grandpa’s house and get loaded up on a bunch of snacks before I take them home, which is lovely.
I am the co-author of the. The common Sense guide to your classroom library. Donald Miller and I also wrote a book, The Book Together, Game Changer Book, Access for All. I’m the editor of the Creativity Project and I host a podcast with my friend Travis Yoker about children’s literature called the Yarn.
Susan Riley: Wow. So you’re not busy at all, like you’ve got ton of free time, Right? ?
Colby Sharp: just do things that I like to do, so yeah, as long as I’m doing fun things, it doesn’t. Too busy.
Susan Riley: Right. So I think that’s such a, that’s such a key piece when we talk about being overwhelmed, I often think I’m not really overwhelmed. I just, I have a lot of things that I get to do that are fun.
Right. Yeah, absolutely. Nice. And well, how, what, how cool for your kids to go to the same building that you went to. I know in one of the, the buildings that I taught at Thunder Hill Elementary School, Was the, the same school that Randy Pouch went to, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Randy Pouch, but he talks about, like, he did a whole Ted Talk on the gift he had, pancreatic cancer was on.
Oprah talked about that whole thing. His kids also went to Thunder Hill and could walk right down to his old parents’ house and just, it’s just a very fun thing to be able to do as a family. Yeah. We love it. So I’m curious you on all of the projects that you’re working on, what, what makes you so passionate about, Because is there a common denominator between all of them?
Colby Sharp: Yeah, I would say books and reading. Getting kids excited about reading in ways that teachers can help them to fall in love with books. Mm-hmm. .
Susan Riley: And so why, why that passion? Why do you, or why are you so strongly believe in
Colby Sharp: literacy? Well, I think that if you love something, then you will wanna do it more and you’ll get better at it.
And I think loving literacy and loving books is a pathway to help kids live full, rich, amazing lives, and it opens doors for them to do just about anything that they want.
Susan Riley: Mm, I would agree with that. I love, I, I’m a full believer and our whole organization is the believer. Literacy is embedded into everything that we do.
I mean, you can be artistically literate, you can be math literate. It’s not just about quote unquote books, but I think that books open the world for, for kids no matter where you are, which I think is so important. So I wanna start with the creativity project because we are a creative proj podcast, but I, I’m very curious about some of these other projects as well.
So, okay. Start, Let’s start with the creativity project. What exactly is it and how did it get started? So the Creativity Project
Colby Sharp: is a book that I published with little Brown books for young readers, and I basically got to invite a bunch of friends and like authors and illustrators, I think there were 44 of them.
Mm-hmm. Into the book. And each creator sent two prompts. So it could be a picture, it could be a sent, like a story starter, it could be just like some rules of something to create. And we sent. Those two prompts to another creator, and that creator got those prompts in the mail and we told them that they had to pick one and they got one to five pages in the book to make whatever they wanted.
Susan Riley: Wow. Yeah, I mean, having read the book and having recommended the book to our audience for a long time now thank you. I really, I think the prompts themselves I think are valuable, but also seeing how people interpret those is something that’s fascinating to me because it’s not, sometimes with some of the prompts, I don’t know that I would’ve interpreted it the same way.
So it was really interesting to see somebody else’s thought process there. What gave you that? Well, I
Colby Sharp: think it’s really interesting to see how kids create and how authors create and. So often, like we control so much of what kids make and it’s like, oh, you have choice, but here are all of these rules within that to limit your choice.
So when I was talking with Susan Rich about, about the idea and, and it kind of morphed into this idea where we wanted kids to see all of the different ways that you can make. So a lot of times when we do these prompts in my classroom, the kids will think that they’re supposed to write a story right in paragraphs and, and tell us we’re beginning, middle end
And so I’ll give them a prompt, but it, and then it’s really fun for them to see how the creator, their favorite creators, took those prompts and, and responded, whether it’s, you know, Dave Pke, he did write a story in paragraphs and you, they might have expected him to create a comic. And it’s just really, I think, fun for kids to, to get a chance to see what’s possible.
And it’s so fun to, to share them in class and to see what each other, their classmates make, and for them to, they just get more and more comfortable. Today, we’re filming this, recording this on a Wednesday, and we do quick write Wednesdays. So this afternoon after we’re done recording, we’ll get a chance to respond to one of the prompts in class, and they look forward to it every week, and they will get so upset with me if we don’t, I was talking yesterday, we’re finishing up a, a writing, a narrative writing unit and like, All right, tomorrow, we’ll, we’re gonna do this with our stories and we’re gonna.
I’m gonna teach you this revision technique. And they’re like, No, you’re not. I’m like, What do you mean? No, I’m not. And they’re like, It’s Wednesday, we have to do a quick write. I’m like, Ah, you were right. So it’s,
Susan Riley: it’s a lot of fun. So that’s, I love this and I, I think this is such an interesting concept in, in education right now.
The I, a couple of things. One, the idea that, that we’ve trained our kids to think that creativity, Writing a, a structured, mm-hmm. or, or performing in any way, whether it’s writing or even a performance. In a structured kind of box. And that which is for me as a former music teacher, that’s so sad cuz I want kids to be able to use their imagination.
This is the thing that I think we’ve lost so much, and I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but when I go in schools in the last five years, I feel like imagination is the thing. Kids struggle with, which as a kid, you shouldn’t have to struggle with imagination, right? Yeah. So I think giving them opportunities, but they can stretch their imagination is awesome.
And also do you find like they, they crave it, right? Like they’re, they will not let you forget that Wednesday, right? Mm-hmm. , like if they crave the opportunity to
Colby Sharp: do it, Yeah. They’re, they are, we’re creative beings and, and any lack of creativity, I think is in large part because we’ve had taken it away from them, right?
Mm-hmm. , we’ve forced them to be in these boxes and, and with Covid and with school the last few years, I totally get like, yeah, we’re just trying to survive and I don’t blame anyone for anything that we’ve done. Right. Getting to this point and still being in education, I think is a win right now. Yeah.
So, yeah, I think that they want it and they love it and they’re pretty uncomfortable with it at first. Choice and freedom and, and play. Yeah. Especially when it comes to something like writing and just watching them get it back is, is really, It’s really amazing. A lot of times we’ll have some, well, we always have some time to share, and if it’s like a lesson that I teach about something and then I want like, Oh, like will you share your ending to your story?
And you know, like you’ll have to like, Maybe a kid will raise their hand and then another kid will feel sorry for me, and then they’ll raise their hand . But with this, it’s like so many hands are in the air and so many kids who maybe don’t volunteer to share in in other areas or at other times. So it’s really fun to see.
And then they’ll even. They keep working on them. Like we’ll spend like, I don’t know, seven to 10 minutes in a, in the quick write, and I always let them know like, this is just a start. If it’s something you like, keep going. See where it takes you. And a lot of them do, a lot of ’em will come back like a week later, two weeks later.
Like, you remember that prompt we did with that picture you showed us? Like, yeah, like I, I, I’ve been working on it. Can I share? So that makes me so happy to see, to see them taking that and giving it, giving it more. Continue. Not just what, Yeah, because so often, like even whether it’s reading or writing, like kids see reading and writing as a school thing often, right?
The school owns reading, the school owns writing, and that’s why so many of them don’t do it in the summer or don’t do it outside of school because we have created these kids who feel that that’s something that they do for school. It’s not something that they see. Brings value to their lives. So if we want them to be independent, like we talk about independent readers, but if we want them to be independent creators we have to give them some, some time to create what they want.
Susan Riley: So, and you answered one of my questions, which was how long you give them. So it’s seven to 10 minutes. And just to be clear, they can do anything, right? Like they could make it into an artistic piece or they could maybe create some music or whatever, right?
Colby Sharp: Yeah. Or they could, This makes me think of this thing that I did last week.
I’m gonna write about that. So, yeah, it’s wherever it takes them. They’ll create a comic, they’ll create a, a play, They can create a poem, whatever it is that, that they wanna create. Nice.
Susan Riley: So I’m sure this is not the only way that you embed creativity into your classroom, Right? One of the. The things that I hear most often, and I’m sure you do as well, is how to find time to embed that into the curriculum that we’ve already got, especially since we’ve gotta catch kids up from where they were since they weren’t in school for so long.
So what are some other ways that you find you can embed creativity in what you’re teaching
Colby Sharp: throughout the day? I think just any time that kids can make things right, and it’s not on like a worksheet. Gives it, giving them an opportunity to be creative, whether you know all of our kids, A good thing that came out of the pandemic is we all have iPads now.
Yeah. And for me, like the goal is can we make it so that they’re creating things on the iPads and not just like doing like, Screen worksheets, right? So any like, we’ll use, do a lot of like having like something like Flipgrid where they can record short videos and, and like, it’s so interesting because like they all wanna be YouTubers, not all of them, but many of them wanna, But they’re so bad at creating video content, like they just have no idea how to make.
They’re just so much of their life is consuming. So just getting them to create, create, create in all subjects as much as possible. Whether it’s a picture they’re just drawing. Yeah. Or it’s a Flipgrid or it’s some sort of, Organizing tool that they use and they draw, I don’t know anything to get them so that they’re making things and asking questions and trying to figure things out I think is a good way to be creative.
That’s, that is awesome.
Susan Riley: Okay, so I wanna move into something else that I, that I read about you on your about page, which was that you are kind of a leader of the, the Michigan NERD Camp. So can you, can you talk to me about what is Nerd Camp? I’m very intrigued. Yeah. So,
Colby Sharp: I’m the co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club, Don Miller and I run the nerdy book club.
And Katherine Sokolowski and Cindy Minick have been helping us run it since the very, very first days, and we ran that for years. And then these ed camps started popping up, which is like an UN conference where there’s not a schedule. You just go and. Pick what you wanna learn and have conversations.
And some friends, my wife and some friends here that I work with around here, we’re like, Well, that would be cool to do with like a literacy twist. So we thought we, and we would just call it nerd camp cuz of the nerdy book club. Yeah. And then if you capitalize the E and the D in nerd, it like says Ed Camp
So we went with that and we, the first year we had like 180 people and we’re like, Oh my gosh, who are all these people coming? And then within. We quit doing it two year, like right before the pandemic. Mm. And our last year we had people from, I think 25 states. We had thousands of people register.
The very first hours sold out. I mean, it’s free, but all the spots were filled. Mm-hmm. , we added a kid component. We had a thousand kids, 50 authors. Wow. Free for everything was free the entire time. No one ever paid for anything. That’s amazing. So people came from all over the country to Parmer. Nice. It was really awesome and that is amazing.
And we decided to stop it, which it was really nice to be able to stop it on our own terms. Like it wasn’t like anything went wrong or people stopped coming. Mm-hmm. . It was just time for us to take back a little bit of our summers and focus on, on our families and a little more self care. So it was really fun.
I think we did seven or eight years. Wow. We got to meet. Some amazing people, some amazing teachers, and hopefully help help them help kids fall in love
Susan Riley: with reading. Nice. So what is what are you working on right now? You’ve got the, the yarn. When I, I’m gonna miss mess that up because I was so focused on creativity project, but.
What’s going on now?
Colby Sharp: I’m working on teaching kids how to divide with two digit divides. That’s focused number one, because man, when you go from dividing by nine to dividing by like 38, it gets real. It is. So, it is. That’s priority one, right? The kids are always the most important thing that we’re working on.
Yeah. So we’re having, we’re working on that. I am not writing any books this year. So when Donald and I finished the classroom library book, we’re, we’re like, I don’t know if we’ll ever write another book together, but we are not talking about anything like that for at least the next school year. So I’m not one to like ha like, I like to make lots of different things.
So I’ll make like TikTok videos and YouTube videos and podcasts and. Write blog post. But I don’t like to have like multiple writing projects at once. Mm. I like to finish one and then take time and then decide if I’m going to do another one. I don’t feel like I’m like someone who I wouldn’t, I. I guess call myself like a writer.
Like I don’t like just write every day. Mm-hmm. , but I write when I have something that I wanna write about mm-hmm. . So a lot of times if I have just like ideas, I’ll make a video about it. Mm-hmm. or maybe write a blog post, but I don’t like set out to write every day. Mm-hmm. . So there’s not like a book project right now.
Mm-hmm. . So I’m just, just trying to share what’s going on with my classroom and that’s, Help those kids as much as possible. So,
Susan Riley: and, and I think I’ve got an arts integration lesson somewhere back in my, like, archives for fifth grade teaching those dividing like, like with remainders, even like lookings and it’s in dance lessons, right?
Somewhere along the way, I remember having to write one of those and I was like, Man, this
Colby Sharp: is hard. So there’s, there’s always a bus question, like, we have this many students and this many kids fit on a bus, right? How many buses do you need? I’m like, What do you do with the nine kids? What do you do with them?
And some of them are like, Just leave them at home. Like, can’t
Susan Riley: they have to walk? Right? Yeah.
Colby Sharp: I’m like, Well, how do you decide? And they’re like, Well, maybe we would take out how they act in class. I’m like, becoming more than a math problem, .
Susan Riley: So that is true.
Colby Sharp: We build, So that’s fun, emotional learning. Yeah.
Absolutely. Thing we
Susan Riley: do. Right. So one of the things you just shared is which I think is really important, is the idea of being able to let something go on your own terms. Mm-hmm. for your own self-care. Which I think a lot of us struggle with. I know that. I struggle with that. We our organization actually just made the decision to let go of our summer online conference, which has been around for like 10 years.
Mm. And nothing went wrong. You’re right. Like nothing went wrong. But we were looking at it going, I think this is, I think this is done. And it’s, it’s kind of bittersweet. I don’t know if you felt like that. But prioritizing our summers as well and trying to be able to be of service as best we. by filling our own cup.
I know that you’re a dad of five. Mm-hmm. , and you do all of this other stuff as well as your primary job of being a teacher. So how do you prioritize your own self care? What are some ways that you do that for yourself? Cause I know you’re not taking bubble baths, right? ?
Colby Sharp: I run. Yeah, I run every single day.
The very first thing that I do. I’ve ran every day since August 4th, 2019. Wow. So like almost 1200 straight days. Woo. Between five and eight miles every single day. So that’s number one. I always take care of my. My health physically first. Like that is, I, that’s like the thing I feel like I do the most for me.
Mm-hmm. , like, I do a lot of things for my kids and my wife and for my students and try to help other educators with the content that I make. But I wanna start every day selfishly taking care of myself. Mm-hmm. . So that’s, that’s number one. I don’t do things that I don’t like to do as much as possible, or that I don’t feel that I’m.
Like matter to me or that I’m good at. For example, we’re gonna build a new school here in our community and there’s like lots of meetings and lots of visiting schools and. Know, I have no interest in any of that . Like, I don’t wanna be there, I don’t care about the design. Just like, give me the, I just needed like a square.
Like give me the biggest square I can have as my classroom and let me bring in bookshelves and I’m good. But they are people who are really good at that and are doing great things, and we’re gonna end up, hopefully with a really nice school because of that. But I don’t need to be involved in all of that stuff.
It just, it’s just not. A place that I wanna spend my time with right now. So I’m very choosy about what I say yes to. Mm-hmm. . And I try to never go to meetings. .
Susan Riley: I embrace that. So how do, I’m curious, how does that happen? How does that play out in your school when you have to,
Colby Sharp: you know, manage? I go to staff meetings and I don’t sign up for anything like, very nice.
Or I can just, unless it’s like something I can do with just like, Like a little conversation in the hallway or something. But yeah, I don’t, I, I can like all these people who like go into administration and like different things and like, I mean, I love the idea of like leading teachers and leading a building, but like they just go to meetings all the time, , which maybe that’s, that’s cool for them, but like I, I could never do.
A job where, Yeah, I have to go to a bunch of meetings. It’s just awful. Yeah, and I
Susan Riley: don’t, What’s funny is that I have an admin certificate and, And you’re absolutely right. Like I don’t think anybody knows that when you go to and into administration, you think you’re gonna be able to help lead teachers.
Colby Sharp: And I remember schedule lots of meetings. I remember,
Susan Riley: yeah. The amount of meetings that I would just block off a day, I think it was Fridays with my secretary and I was like, I don’t care. If it’s a superintendent of schools coming into my office, I am in. I’m in classrooms like, because it just, yeah, it just got to be too much.
So I admire the fact that you will are willing to say no. I think so many people are. Afraid either afraid to say no, or they feel guilty for saying no. But I think it’s the only way that you save yourself, particularly right now. Yeah. And we
Colby Sharp: have so many, I mean, how many, every building, every profession is like this where mm-hmm.
like a handful of people do a majority of the, the things to volunteer for. Yeah. So, you know, we have a really awesome staff here that everything everyone does there carries their weight and does their thing. So I think that me not, I don’t feel like I have to say yes to everyth. Nice. And I’m not like really good at everything, right?
Like, I’m not, that’s not my strength. Just like, like talking to you, like, I’m not gonna come on here and talk about like guided reading. Like I’m not the guided reading. Great. You don’t call me to talk about guided reading. Great. So I think that kind of knowing our lane, and I have lots to learn from other people, so mm-hmm.
I’m not gonna try to, I don’t wanna be the expert on that. I’m not gonna be like, I am now the expert on project based learning , and now I’m the expert on maker space, and now I’m the expert on, you know, I’m just, I’m just always gonna be someone who. Tries to learn about all of those things, but the things that I’m probably gonna be sharing are just gonna be the same thing.
Read aloud, helping kids fall in love with books, independent reading, that sort of thing. Nice. And I no meetings, Maybe I can be the no meeting guy. Yeah,
Susan Riley: no meetings. . Well before we go, I always end the, the show with the same question, which is if there’s one thing about creativity that you’d like educators to know, what would it.
Colby Sharp: I think that kids are creative at the core and they’re born to be creative and they desire to make things, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be flashy. We just need to give kids an opportunity to create things that they wanna create and have fun with it, and celebrate the awesome things that they make.
Susan Riley: Well, that’s perfect. So thank you so much, Colby. I really appreciate your time today. Thank you. It
Colby Sharp: was fun. All right, let me know when I can share this and all
Susan Riley: that. We’ll do, Oh, before we go, please let people know where they can follow you.
Colby Sharp: Oh, at Colby Sharp.
Susan Riley: Colby sharp. Keeping it easy like that. All right.
Thank you. Thanks, Colby. Have an awesome day. Thanks for listening to the Artworks for Teachers podcast. This has been a production from the Institute for Arts Integration and Steam. Be sure to tune in each Thursday for new episodes and head over to arts integration.com/artworks to download the accompanying resources.
And if you know another educator who could use creative inspiration, please share this with them. Together we can make a difference in education today.