Henry Hunt

Nine Kentucky educators recently participated in the 39th annual WKU Mountain Workshops, an intense week-long experience that helps attendees tell richer stories through images and words. Each of the teachers worked extremely hard to create a story focused on the craft culture in Berea, KY. In the process, they experienced a greater understanding of what they could do to help students think deeply about a subject and more fully communicate ideas.

Tuesday morning the teachers from Breathitt, Clay, Hancock, Muhlenberg, and Morgan Counties, with various skill levels, started the process by capturing photographs with a wide range of photographic devices. By the end of the day, they were making pictures with purpose using light, composition, and varied angles.

Professional photographer, Jed Conklin, and LA Times multimedia photographer, Liz Baylen, added to the teacher’s knowledge-base and encouraged them to stretch their thinking. They helped the teachers move beyond the obvious answer.

By the next morning, the teachers were well on their way to collecting information about the people and places across this small community of artists and artisans: actually hearing the story of the people, their art and traditions. They were coming to an understanding of what made this community in the foothills of Appalachia a special place. The teachers had discovered something much different than the simple story they set out to tell. A deeper understanding of the ingredients and spirit of Berea’s unique was emerging from both the images and the people.

Writer and editor, Lynne Warren challenged the group to engage people in conversations so that they would reveal not only the facts, but their thoughts and emotions. The true stories’ powerful images and words were coming to life.

The teachers worked as a team to get the real story on video. Only two days before this many of the participants were hoping to learn how to operate their cameras “a little better”. Now they were trying to capture the secret and emotion of generations as they talked on film with people deeply entrenched in the magic that crafted Berea.

The team discussed sound, mood, message, and the subtleties of town that everyone thought they knew so well. As the deadline approached the teachers, now documentarians, were tempted to fall back in to their normal comfort zones. “Just tell me what you want me to do.” “What is the answer?” They came to understand that it was their story. They knew that there was not one “right” answer. The project would only come to life through hard research, thinking, and more work.

The teachers started to get distracted by the technology. We talked about the STORY being the focus, and using the latest digital equipment to convey the story. It is still about what you say, and yes, it matters how you say it.

Friday’s deadline brought pressure to not only finish their project, but also a deep desire to get the story right. Deadlines help crystalize our thoughts and cause resolutions. Deadlines force us to choose what stays in our project and what must be dropped.

These teachers put in 12 and 14-hour days to complete this project. They modified every aspect of what they were doing and how they approached it. Work and thinking are essentials for learning. This year’s teachers at the WKU Mountain Workshops in Berea learned a lot.

Look out students. They are back in class and have something to say.