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Spotlight on Teachers: Michal Litvak-Moses - Creativity

Friday 22 May 2009, by Frances Simmons

Michal Litvak-Moses has been a teacher of creativity classes at WAS-NS Primary School since the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year. She was born in Israel and studied to be an educator first at the Kibbutzim College of Education, then at Oranim Academic College and the Hofen Institute for Experimental Education at the David Yellin Teachers College. Later she received a Masters Degree from Lesley University, USA. She has three children who all attend WAS-NS Primary School; Ma’ayan in first grade, Nativ in fourth grade, and Ofek who is in the sixth grade, and about to graduate.
In her professional life, she has worked as an educator for many years, both freelance and at the Hofen Institute. She has taught specialized programs for adults and especially teachers. Her area of specialty is in “Junk Therapy”; personal development, creative thinking and assisting individuals to realize their personal dreams.
What stands out the most about this teacher is in fact her absolute un-teacher-ness. Michal has an approachability that made me forget to introduce myself until about halfway through our interview; I just assumed we’d met already and jumped straight into the chaotic task of making sense of a secret junkyard world in a Portacabin. The interviewer’s natural habitat, I was delighted and astonished to find this class when I first arrived at the school. Astonished to find such a familiar setting so far from home; and delighted that this was a regular part of a wonderfully open curriculum.

It is clear that Michal’s passion for her subject is all-consuming. Even the furniture in the Recycling room was found or already used. Michal is a born collector, this is not something that is new to her, and whereas now recycling has become part of fashion, consumerism even, “in my case it’s not something modern; it’s just part of me.” So this is a way of life, it’s not work.

The aim is to build a bridge between the spirit and the objects and materials in a person’s environment. She likens the human to a broken object, saying “if part of you is not working, you must be creative in order to solve the problem, to find the solution that fits.” The creativity that “junk therapy” stimulates can apply itself to other parts of life. Garbage and recycled materials are her metaphors for a deeper need to use the material, conceptual and human resources, and personal relationships that are available to us, in order to create rather than destroy.
Classes began with Michal’s arrival two years ago. The class would often begin with a short story from Michal, or something else to jump start the creative process, but from there on the children take the lead role. The children’s initial instinct, Michal says, was to ask for guidance and ideas from the teacher; they would ask her “What shall I do?” Her philosophy is to let the children express themselves creatively, and this means bringing their own ideas out of themselves. “I want them to see the connection between what they have, and what’s inside them. They create a world with what’s around them, and get something different from the process they usually experience in other classes.” The usual Art classes are indeed a different experience for the children. There, they learn techniques and follow instruction more closely, but in Recycling classes they do what they want, and as a result don’t become frustrated or focus on beauty. In today’s class every child’s work was completely different from their neighbour’s, showing how they took inspiration from the idea Michal initially presented to them, and interpreted it in their own way, or just brought an idea with them to class. This means that there is no way of comparing the work of two children sitting side by side, and no way of saying one is better, or more beautiful than another. “They know now that if they put themselves into it, it will be great.”

Michal expresses amazement at every new idea that the child brings to the lessons, which is the kind of genuine encouragement that has led to the success of these classes. Learning to be creative, and knowing how to tap into their own ideas took some getting used to, but after some time, she has noticed a change in the way the children relate to the materials they use in class. She doesn’t believe that certain people are “uncreative”; comparing creativity to any other form of exercise, Michal recommends that all it requires is practice, and the creative muscle becomes stronger. The children find something that they didn’t know they had inside themselves.

Since they got used to looking to themselves to work from their own creativity, their excitement in creating things in this way is extremely tangible. They relate to these creations in a different way to the toys and objects that are bought, and that appear to come from nowhere.

Michal’s dream is to start a gallery of interactive workshops that involve adults and children from a wider area. “The greatest thing at [last week’s] ‘Green Day’ was seeing the parents and children, Jews and Arabs, coming here and being brought together by joint creativity.” This is what WAS-NS strives for.

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