From a Fashion Designer’s Studio to the Elementary Classroom

There are so many things to appreciate and love in life when you look at them through a different lens, especially when things don’t go the way you expect them to. Normally, I find the littlest things inspiring (hence this blog was born so that I can share them with you!)  But in this post, it wasn’t something little that inspired me. It was big, and I had to immediately share it with my students.

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About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a Master Class with my principal that was offered by the Academy of Teachers. These classes involve a small group of educators who spend the morning learning a craft from an expert and in the afternoon make connections to teaching. This particular class was led by fashion designers, Isabel and Ruben Toledo, two of the most inspiring people I ever met.

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Isabel Toledo is a fashion designer who is well-known for designing Michelle Obama’s first inauguration suit and has been sewing and designing for 35 years. Her husband, Ruben Toledo is a well known illustrator and artist. They famously collaborate with one another on many projects as well as with others in different fields. When we sat and toured their Manhattan studio overlooking the Empire State Building, we listened to them speak about their family, their history, their passion. There wasn’t a minute where I wasn’t taking (or thinking of taking!) notes and pulling inspiring quotes! They have been through so much and have very strong visions of their work and their lives. We had previously read Isabel’s must-read book, ROOTS OF STYLEbut to hear her speak in person made everything in the book come alive and real. Anything is possible – we just have to keep doing and build on our passion. Of course I left that day and went home to clean as one of my first steps so that I can create that environment the Toledos spoke about that represents my vision and who I am. It’s a work in progress.

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I walked away that day with a lot of insights and new ideas in my personal life and in my teaching, but for the purpose of this post, I wanted to share how the Toledos inspired the next self-portrait of my students. (See previous examples of my students’ work here!)

I was really fascinated by the Toledos’ studio environment. Ruben’s whimsical black and white tiles fill the walls as well as his paintings, and I thought, why not have my students make their own “tiles” representing what they love and who they are? I asked students to think about what was really important to them and pose an action that would create a silhouette of this. They had a ton of fun posing for my camera and creating silhouettes afterwards with detailed backgrounds to the best they can. This was the result.

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From dancing to reading, gymnastics to fashion design, and hula hooping to piano playing, I was overwhelmed with excitement with my students’ work. It was wonderful to see them working on details, making decisions whether or not to use tools such as rulers, deciding how to represent themselves and learning how to implement foreground, middle ground, and background. I marveled as they shared about their work and listened to one another, discussing how Ruben used lots of lines to show details. We studied a couple examples of Ruben’s tiles and they concluded that “he must have taken a long time and he works hard because he puts so many details!”  : )

The Toledos are a couple who are wonderful examples of integrity, humility, diligence, and love. I hope to see them again in the future and continue using this inspiration in all that I do, especially in my classroom.  Ruben and Isabel, if you’re reading this, thank you for sharing your stories, your thoughts, your advice, and your studio with us!

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