Saturday, 7 February 2015

Elmo and The Element

Last night, for family movie night, we watched a really fantastic documentary on Apple Tv. Our eleven year old daughter hasn't stopped talking about it. It was called Being Elmo and was the story of Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who brought us Sesame Street's much-loved Elmo.

The documentary tells the story of a young boy growing up in a working class neighbourhood in Baltimore. From a very young age, he was passionate about puppetry, becoming obsessed with Jim Henson's muppets as seen on a new show at the time, Sesame Street. He spent many hours designing and sewing puppets and creating their personas. His dream was to work for Jim Henson and the documentary tells the inspiring story of his path to making his dream come to fruition.

 Kevin didn't have support at school, in fact he was bullied for his obsession with puppets, but what he did have were two loving parents who were strong advocates for him, encouraging and supporting him every step of the way despite the fact that wanting to become a puppeteer was an unusual dream in 1970s Baltimore.

This story resonated with me because our school is committed to helping our learners find their passions. We strive to help them identify their strengths and the things that they love doing and to celebrate each girl's uniqueness, giving them the time and space they need to really explore and become fully immersed in their passions. Each year group has a different form of passion-based learning so our girls are constantly reflecting on who they are and what makes them tick? In Year 8, our primary medium for passion-based learning is the incredible Passion Project. These are a full year self-led inquiry into one of their passions and seeing what the girls create is the hands-down highlight of my school year.

There are so many things I love about these projects and for so many reasons. My greatest fear is that education is becoming too standardised, that we are turning our learners into carbon copies of one another. I know we can all think of schools that pride themselves on creating the XXXX boy or the XXXX girl . I strive, in my classroom to do exactly the opposite, to enable and empower each of my learners to be unique and to celebrate that unique identity by becoming the very best version of themselves. I want my learners to be individuals who are aware of their strengths and are working towards finding that thing that Sir Ken Robinson refers to as The Element, the place where their strengths and passions meet.

Kevin Clash found his element and then he put his head down and walked straight towards it. Sure, the line to get there was wiggly, not straight but he never gave up, always keeping his eyes on the prize, that illusive job as Jim Henson's puppeteer.

I can't wait to share "Being Elmo" with my Year 8s.

I have lots more to say about this documentary but my 28 minutes is up. I thought I'd leave you with an Elmo clip that was a favourite of my son's not all that long ago. I hope you enjoy it!


  1. That's a great doco and one I'll be sure to share with students (and my own boy). Thanks. Love the song at the end - have you seen Elmo and Andreas Bocelli? That's just awesome, too.

    1. Thank you, Dianne. I will go and hunt down the Andrea Bocelli clip. Apparently "The Story of Pixar" doco is also very inspiring. I think these documentaries provide a great tool for showing the struggles of some highly successful people...certainly makes them more relatable for our learners. I can't wait to show my girls.

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  2. HI Bridget,
    As always a fabulous, inspiring post. I would love to watch this. I too worry about the learners who are challenged or deprived in a curriculum that is too standardised. Teachers like you restore my faith in meeting the needs of all. I think the more we share ideas, connect and network, the greater the power to share the important news of educating the 'whole child'! Universal Design for Learning is a great place to start for us and is the umbrella for our way of working this year.
    Thanks for a great read! (PS isn't this #28daysofwriting MAGIC?
    Anne K

    1. Thanks so much, Anne! I totally agree with you on UDL....I think kiwi teachers are very open to these principles...
      To create a better world, we need a wide range of skills and of my favourite moments last year was when I student told me she felt really prepared for high school (though still very anxious) because she had a very good idea of who she is and what her strengths are and therefore what she has to offer. I nearly cried.......
      Thanks for your comment. See you soon. x