Slice of Life: Remove the Negative/Keep the Positive

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Every single year that I have taught (16 years), woodcarver Elton Braithwaite has arrived in early June to work with our sixth graders on a woodcarving project.

For a full week, as an artist in residence, he teaches our students the ways to be creative with wood. More than that, though, his message of tolerance, of perseverance, of making opportunities, of learning what others want to teach you — these are the most important parts of Elton’s visit. Those are the things that will resonate after the school year ends.

Yesterday, his message included the following phrase, in which he used woodcarving as a metaphor for life. He was talking about how a woodcarver’s job is to surface the art by removing that which surrounds it, to envision what you want to remain strong and vibrant by taking away things that hide it.

Remove the negative. Keep the positive. — Elton

I really love that phrase, and appreciate that my students will have a chance to learn from Elton, not just about art (although the art they will make is magnificent and woodcarving projects decorate many of our school hallways and rooms) but also about what it means to live a positive and fulfilling life, to dream and then to make those dreams become a reality.

Elton Comes to Visit

Peace (surfaced on the plane of the world),

PS — I show this to my students before Elton arrives.



  1. Love the parallels between wood carving and lliving in this post. The video also has so many lessons about how we approach tasks, how we think about the work we do. Your classroom always amazes me, Kevin.

  2. What an incredible opportunity for all of you. Elton’s phrase is simple and powerful. I’m going to write it on my classroom whiteboard this morning and also put it in my notebook. Words to live by. I will come back to watch the video later–thanks for sharing!

      • I shared the quote and the video with my students today. We then had an amazing discussion about what they learned from Elton–it was the highlight of my day. One of my students said ,”It’s like he takes the dead wood and makes it living again.” Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. This is a powerful message to carry forward. These are negative times where turning on the news could make you feel hopeless and helpless. Focusing on the positive we can do and the good around us is crucial, I think.

  4. First of all 6th graders doing woodworking? That is wonderful. Can I join your class?
    More importantly the message you shared this morning is one I needed to read. keeping the positive can be difficult at times and Elton’s words reminded me that the effort to remove the negative will indeed reveal a beautiful piece of art.

  5. While reading your post on the negative and positive, I was reminded of Patricia Polacco’s book, The Art of Miss Chew. Young Trisha had trouble reading because her eyes are drawn to the negative space; her art teacher realized it, whereas a sub was judgmental & skeptical of Trish’s abilities. So much in your post, in Elton’s quote, so much in Polacco’s book, have to do with the art of living well by focusing on the positive spaces …

  6. Your students (and you) are so lucky to learn from Elton. I love what he says in the video about how to approach the work. Thank you for sharing!

  7. I adore the fact that you have an artist in residence in your school for a week. What a fantastic gift this is — in so many ways — to the school community.

  8. As I write this I am listening to Elton’s voice in the video. There is a warmth and kindness to his teaching. The way he talks about how to approach the wood and what it requires feels like just what I need today. Thank you for this, Kevin.

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