Renee Mitsunaga Teaches Perseverance Creatively

Teacher Renee Mitsunaga with a Daruma such as her students created during art class. Courtesy photo

LAPS News:

Teachers are always looking for ways to encourage students to go after their goals and dreams. Renee Mitsunaga, the art teacher at Chamisa and the district’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, found a unique and authentic way to teach a lesson on perseverance.  

During art classes, her students created their own Darumas. A Daruma is a Japanese toy modeled after Bodhidarma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. Modern Darumas can be painted to look like the person who owns it, or an animal.  

Darumas are made out of paper-maché, shaped like an egg and the bottom is weighted so that they bounce back up whenever they tip over. This symbolizes determination and the ability to overcome obstacles and recover from bad luck.

When someone receives a Daruma, they color in one eye and as they do that they set a goal. Once they achieve the goal, they fill in the other eye. Having the Daruma around the house is a visual reminder to never give up on your dreams.

Mitsunaga’s students created their own Darumas in art class. The project is a perfect example of how Mitsunaga seamlessly combines art with other subjects, creating a more meaningful lesson.

“Students see the connections and understand how meaningful it is when it is connected with a writing or math lesson,” Mitsunaga said. “Art makes concepts more concrete.”

Mitsunaga has other methods of teaching soft skills like perseverance and fortitude in the face of setbacks. She always emphasizes the process, rather than the outcome. She measures success in art by looking at the strategies the students used to get the results that they were looking for. Did they approach it using a completely new way of thinking?

She creates an environment where students are not afraid to make mistakes. She does this by drawing attention to her own mistakes. For example, once when she was preparing for a lesson she made a mistake that led to a huge mess and caused her to revise the lesson.

“I didn’t read the directions carefully,” she said, “so I told my class about it. I told them that I thought I was going to get this result, but instead this happened. I always show off my failures, because everyone makes mistakes.”