As a teacher my goal is to create a sense of community in my classroom. Although the majority of the time my students work on individual projects, I still want them to respect, interact, and grow with each other. Often my projects focus on teaching and refining skills such as drawing, painting, and building with clay, however there is always a deeper learning goal. I try to include topics that can be personalized to each students’ interests, experiences, and tastes in order to make it more interesting and relevant to them.
Nothing makes me happier than seeing a student connect to a project. I love seeing how far they reach, how deep they are willing to go to express themselves.
While in college I created lesson plan after lesson plan, and discovered artist after artist in the process. During one of these lesson making binges I stumbled upon a very interesting artist, Frank Warren. He started a community art project by placing blank postcards all over Washington DC, in art museums, bathrooms, and handing them to strangers on the street. The directions on the card were simple enough, it only asked that the recipient share a secret on the card, and mail it back to Frank.
What was so amazing about this project is after he received his original postcards back, they continue to roll in. People began making their own postcards, and decorated them with their secrets through words, images, drawings, and collages. The art project grew, and continued on, by word of mouth. Now, nine years, five books, multiple speaking tours, and thousands upon thousands of secrets later, Postsecret is still going strong.
This project inspired me to create a dead end lesson plan, a lesson I thought I would never teach. It was interesting to research and consider, plus it fulfilled a graduate assignment, however my fear made me realize this project would never see the light of day in my classroom. This fear was solidified when my former co-worker did a Postsecret assignment the year before I began teaching with her. The secrets were put on display at a school art show and disillusioned parents, who couldn’t handle the secrets their own children held, demanded they be taken down, and shortly after they were.
My fear stayed with me for a year of teaching, until I ended up with a very special class my second year. It was an interesting group, a divided group. I had never seen cliques, whispers, or glares like I had in this class. By no means was the class out of control or poorly disciplined, it was the passive aggressive that got to me, as if they had vendettas that could only be carried out through empty smiles, double edged comments. At the end of the semester, before I lost the group for good, I decided it was time to give Postsecret a try. I wanted to show them they really didn’t know each other, if you only take a person at face value, you don’t truly know what lies beneath. I wanted to show them they still had a lot to learn before they made their final judgements.
I presented the project in all of my classes. I showed an in depth PowerPoint, shared the two Postsecret books I own, and played a couple of video interviews with Frank Warren. They were enthralled. The majority of class was consumed by flipping through the books, discussing the range of secrets, and passing out the blank cards they had to take home and confess to. I was pleased with their engagement, however the fear was still there, prepping me for the following days.
The second to last day of class the students returned, secrets in hand, and one by one they placed them into a a covered box. It was completely anonymous, no names, signatures, or initials. The completion of the assignment was based on faith alone. As the day wore on the box filled up, and the knot in my stomach grew. Christmas break was upon us, first semester students were wrapping up classes, ready to start a brand new schedule in January, and I began to prepare myself for our final critique, the big reveal of the secrets.
On the final day of school I walked into my classroom, it was dark, the sun just below the horizon, about to start off a new day. Dread slowed my trek to the box, I took a breath, and mentally prepared myself for what confessions lay inside. One by one I pulled them out, and taped them up on my critique wall. As the wall filled up it grew heavy with secrets. I felt my heart lift as I read about love for sisters, friends, and secret crushes, and my heart sank as I discovered drug abuse, sex, self mutilation, and molestation. My students, my innocent, teenagers had the deep, darks I feared most. What was I going to say, how would I lead a discussion of such disturbing truths?
My challenging class was the first to participate in the critique. I put my stern face on, ready to silence snickers, finger pointing, and whispering as soon as they walked in the door. Slowly they began to file in, backpacks thudded against the floor as they hurriedly abandoned their items and made their way to the wall. I stood and watched them, carefully eavesdropping on each conversation. Secrets were pointed out, chuckles rippled as the lighter confessions were read, faces dropped as they moved through more difficult ones. I realized as I watched them absorb the secrets of their peers I did not need to be stern, they understood the weight and meaning of this assignment. I began the critique by pointing out a variety of cards, and putting in my two sense before I handed it off to them. Once I was done talking they didn’t stop until the bell rang. I have never seen my students so genuine and concerned. Former rifts, judgements, and preconceived notions were put aside, at least for an hour and a half, as they began to scratch the surface of their classmates’ confessions.
Every class came and left, and my fear began to lift. Each student was respectful, caring, and truly appreciated the opportunity to be honest, despite what was put on paper. Once the day was done I was exhausted, excited, and sad. I was thrilled with how well the project went, and how meaningful it was, however, the weight of those secrets stayed with me. I couldn’t help but wonder which secret matched which creator, and how I could help them if only I knew. I can only hope the opportunity to release it was help in itself. The secrets were packaged up and mail off to Frank Warren himself, to be confessed once again.
Since then I have yet to do this project again. It disappoints me to admit it, but the fear is still there, the worry of what I will discover. But I have to remind myself it scares me to think about it… but it’s worth it… because I think it’s so important… for you…To learn more about Postsecret visit the website here.
- Visual journal
- Rubber cement
- Magazine images
- Book pages
- White construction paper
- Water colors
- India ink
I am in love with the way this page turned out. It is so simple, yet the background is so interesting, and I am incredibly happy with my splatter “Postsecret” logo. I decided when I began the focus needed to be on the postcards, so I choose random, but interesting images for the background. Once I chose a few images I realized I was using a lot of yellow and green, and decided to stick with that color scheme. By using only two color variations it kept the background less busy. Once I had all of my images selected I ripped them into strips and glued them down.
Next I drew out the Postsecret logo on a piece of white construction paper cut into the size of a postcard. I then took India ink and used a thin paintbrush to outline the “Postsecret”, filled in the hand, and carefully wrote “community”. I then took the paintbrush and created a small puddle of India ink along the outlined “Postsecret”. Once the puddle was placed I lowered my face parallel with the card and blew the ink to make it splatter. By getting close to the puddle and blowing away from the words I was able to control the direction of the splatter. I repeated this until the words were completely surrounded by splatters.
After the logo was added, it still didn’t look complete. I decided I needed to make it look like an actual postcard by adding all of the elements of a real postcard. I carefully drew out an American flag stamp, and the post office shipping stamps. I then painted them in with India ink and watercolor.
Next, I glued down three blank postcards, with book pages glued along the overlapping edges to help them stand out from each other, with the Postsecret card on top. Last but not least I wrote the words along the edge of the postcards with sharpie.
Submit your own secret to Frank Warren (go here for more information) and then create a page about the secret you sent in, without revealing what it was.
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