Roaring with Positivity

posted on Jul 24, 2020

In the midst of summer vacation, I’d say the last thing most teachers want to do is think about the upcoming school year, but we art teachers are a different breed. Our heads and hearts are full of the beautiful masterpieces our young artists will joyfully create during those first few weeks of school.

Fourth-graders Ashton K., Brady L., Jordan F., Logan W., and Lucas W. proudly point to their contribution, “peaceful,” at the top of the mane.

So, one morning in late July, I began clicking around the internet searching for inspiration to the age-old question: What will we do on the first day of art class?


I stumbled across an image of a motivational poster from the company Big Life Journal titled The Confidence of a Lion. The poster showed a lion’s face with each part of its mane showcasing different words such as persistent, confident, and loved. At that moment, I was inspired to adapt the concept into a group mural/installation project for my Lindemann Lions to kick off the school year.


Day One
We always start the school year with painting. My upper-elementary students come in on the first day and work with their table team to create a collaborative painting. For this project, students initially collaborated with their table team of four students to create a section that, when joined with the other parts, creates a larger wall mural.


After our first-day rules and routines refresher, I explained to students that they would be working in groups to create one section of our large lion’s mane. The groups first drew then painted their section of the mane on a large, long strip of paper. They each used white paint to add their name somewhere into the work, mixing the white into the color below to create a tint of the original hue.


Finally, each team was presented with the challenge to finish, with a single word, the sentence: We are... Each team had to report their word to my student-teacher or myself for us to spellcheck and then add it to our growing list on the whiteboard. The word was to be painted clearly and extra-large with black paint onto their part of the mane.


The Lion’s Share of the Work
The first few classes brought in adjectives such as kind, brave, safe, and helpful, and some humorous ones such as fierce, unstoppable, and wild, but there was a catch—once a word was added to the list, it couldn’t be used again.


With six tables per class and three upper-elementary classes a day, our list grew by eighteen words on each day. Students who had to choose their word on the final day had a tougher task than the first few groups, but they didn’t disappoint. I was blown away with the responses from some groups: “We are fearless.” “We are dreamers.” “We are loyal.” “We are family.” “We are ourselves.”


Unexpected Evolution
The project began to evolve beyond the original plan in an organic way. Teams began excitedly reporting their word choice with pride, claiming it as a declaration of their identity and assigning it to their school community. “We are peaceful.” “We are important.” “We are graceful.” What began as a quick and easy first-day introductory project evolved into a peer contract, school agreement, and assertion to the greater community of who students are and what they think.


Positive Lion Pride
After merely two days of classwork, our lion had a full and healthy mane of colorful hair. I knew then that I would need to modify the project for the rest of my classes. I snapped a quick photo and turned to my art team for suggestions. My friend, who is a high-school art teacher, immediately responded with the suggestion of lion cubs or paw prints.


With that, we transitioned from head to toe and began creating pawprints to complete the installation. My student-teacher drew the lion’s face to look exactly like our school logo, and that is how our “paw-sitive” message mural was born.


During our open house night, the lion mural was a super-sized burst of color, roaring with positivity and possibility for the upcoming school year. Students gleefully posed with it, pointing out their team’s part of the whole. More than 300 students created this mural, and they generated seventy-two unique words to send one big message: We are Lindemann artists, hear us roar!


Rachel Trapani is an art teacher at Lindemann Elementary School in Allen Park, Michigan.


Presenting: Develop and refine artistic techniques and work for presentation.


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