Empty Frames #sol18

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Empty Frames

November 20, 2018

For the last ten weeks, I’ve been listening to a podcast on Mondays on my way to work and on my way home about the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum Art Heist called Last Seen.  Perhaps this has been so compelling to me because I live here near Boston and have seen the empty frames hanging in the museum myself but after hearing the final episode this morning,  I think it’s more than that.

To catch you up just a bit,  this art theft happened in the 1970’s.  No one has been arrested in connection with it.  Not one of the paintings has been recovered.  To date, it is the largest art theft in history.  Isabelle Stewart Gardner was a wealthy philanthropist at the turn of the century who began collecting art and created her own museum to house it.  She made a stipulation in her charter for the museum that the art in it could never move from the place she originally envisioned it to be.  Currently empty frames hang where that art was once, the art itself’s empty frames.

Why would a literacy coach write a blog about this art heist or this podcast?

Isabelle Stewart Gardner was by all accounts eccentric but she had a vision. She believe in it and she stuck with it.  The reporter from the Globe Spotlight team who wrote a book and countless articles aligned himself with this podcast because he thinks social media might be the answer to recovering the paintings. Again a vision.

Oh,  you think,  she’s going to write about her legacy,  her vision.  No,  I’m going to write about dogged determination.   When someone thinks of me later,  they won’t say oh she was just happy to contribute.  They won’t say she was a team player.  They might not every say that I was open minded.  What I hope they might say is that she had a vision… and she wasn’t the least bit afraid to tell you what it is.

I wonder if we lose sight of the vision for the proverbial trees.  We are so busy making the minilesson that we forget about the learners.  That sounds a little harsh.

One of the things that was true about Isabelle Stewart Gardner is that she was a control freak.  She wanted certain stucco, certain paintings, a certain look and she didn’t consider at all that past her lifetime, museum experiences and the enjoyment of art would change.   Classrooms can be beautiful filled with amazing books, perfect anchor charts, inspirational posters.  That isn’t the sauce.  Those criminals took away the paintings.  Who are we letting take away the learning?

We mostly learned in teachers’ college about what we should do, how we should maintain order, how we should teach like a pirate, how we should communicate with parents.  They rarely teach you about the most important people in the room,  the students.  I used to tell my own children that I already was in third grade or sixth grade, that I had already learned all these things and done these projects.  The projects were for them to do.

It’s difficult to let go of things we love, old books,  old projects, and even old ideas.  There’s an old saying if mama’s not happy,  no one is happy.  I might say if the teachers aren’t learning, no one is learning.  If it is not fresh and new based on those very new students in front of us, then I’m sorry to say,  it’s stale.  That makes everything not easy.  That makes it significantly harder, but it gives the work life.  Isabelle Stewart Gardner’s museum is a relic, a beautiful relic, but a relic.  Let’s not refuse to move the empty frames or any of the beauty that we surround ourselves with.   Let’s make a living lab for the learners at hand.

6 thoughts on “Empty Frames #sol18

  1. I’m going to need some time digest this one, Sue! The paradox of being tenacious and persistent about change has my mind spinning. Cultivating the momentum of a perpetual learning lab that manages movement towards some identifiable and agreed-upon True North might partly explain the pull that keeps me in classrooms. Respecting the past without being held prisoner by it (pinned in its empty frames, so to speak) feels like a tightrope. Thanks for sharing your musing.

  2. As Brian so perfectly commented, this slice is a lot to digest. I admire the entire piece and your thought process. The idea of a living lab and fresh and new thoughts/ideas/teaching based on the kids in front of us is one we must hold on to so we do not become stale! It really reminds me of jcareyreads slice today about seeing the child in front of you. Both beautiful reminders about what really matters in our work – the child. Thanks for sharing!

      • We are soul sisters! The vision piece had me cheering hooray! I agree whole heartedly, that if we aren’t learning, the kids aren’t either. It’s so exciting to constantly outgrow yourself- to see that impact in kids. I could never imagine doing it the same way year in and out.
        I’ve been longing to be a classroom teacher again… for the excitement of seeing those kids more closely each day. Selfishly, I think it’s more to have a former grasp on my own vision for how it could look.
        Your ideas and writing invigorate me. Happy Thanksgiving my friend! ❤️

  3. This is an excellent metaphor!

    Believe it or not, this isn’t the first slice I’ve read about the ISG Heist. I even had a grad student who once wrote about it for their informational writing piece assignment. I’ve learned SO much about it, as a result, over the past few years.

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