"Stargazing" by Spencer Robinson

Student Project

The Spirit of Reciprocity

A student project inspired by the writing of Robin Wall Kimmerer
Grade Level: 5-16
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Project Summary

In this project, students will take a photograph or create an original illustration that reflects the spirit of reciprocity and kinship with the living world. 

Inspired by the writing of Robin Wall Kimmerer, this contest encourages students to reflect on their relationship with the living world. As we continue to be challenged by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, how might we bear witness and listen to the living world in new ways?

An author, botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer writes in her well-known book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants: “Paying attention acknowledges that we have something to learn from intelligences other than our own. Listening, standing witness…creates an openness to the world in which the boundaries between us can dissolve in a raindrop.”

Driving Question

How might we listen and respond to the living world in ways that honor our interconnectedness and reciprocity? 

Instructional Goals

  • Explore the ecological concept of “reciprocity” using photography or an original illustration
  • Learn how to witness and care for the living world with respect and curiosity 
  • Discover how to cultivate a personal relationship with the living world
  • Learn how to appreciate the intelligence, wisdom, and personhood of plants
  • Illustrate new ways of seeing during the Covid-19 pandemic

Andrea Trejo 


What is the spirit of reciprocity?

Reciprocity is an act or process of exchange where both parties mutually benefit. The origin of the word reciprocity in Latin, reciprocus, means moving backwards or forwards. The actions of giving and receiving are both included. 

For example, if you look up a diagram documenting the process of photosynthesis and respiration, you’ll see a circular motion. Plants are living and breathing systems.

According to Kimmerer, “Reciprocity is rooted in the understanding that we are not alone, that the Earth is populated by non-human persons, wise and inventive beings deserving of our respect.”[1] As she writes in Braiding Sweetgrass, “We are surrounded by teachers and mentors who come dressed in foliage, fur, and feathers. There is comfort in their presence and guidance in their lessons.”

1. Robin Wall Kimmerer, "Returning the Gift." Center for Humans and Nature, October 1, 2013. [^]

Project Instructions

  1. Visit a place in the living world that you love. This could be a tree nearby, a park, a plant in your home. It could also be the land on which you live, observing the birds, for example. What do you notice?

  2. Consider the word reciprocity. What does it mean to you? Read the background section. It describes the meaning of reciprocity from both a scientific and sociological perspective.

  3. Read the following quote from Robin Wall Kimmerer: “How, in our modern world, can we find our way to understand the earth as a gift again, to make our relations with the world sacred again?” Especially during COVID-19, think about the ways in which we can bear witness and listen to the living world in new ways. Think back to the place in the living world that you love.

  4. You will take one photograph or create an original illustration. Your photograph or illustration will be a response to one or more of the following excerpts from Kimmerer’s writing. Think about how the excerpt(s) you select help to inform your photography or illustration:

    • “I hope my grandson will always know the other beings as a source of counsel and inspiration, and listen more to butterflies than to bulldozers.”
    • "Birds, bugs, and berries are spoken of with the same respectful grammar as humans are."
    • “Do we treat the earth as if ki is our relative—as if the earth were animated by being—with reciprocity and reverence, or as stuff that we may treat with or without respect, as we choose?” (As Kimmerer writes, “Ki is a parallel spelling of chi—the word for the inherent life energy that flows through all things.”)
    • “To replenish the possibility of mutual flourishing, for birds and berries and people, we need an economy that shares the gifts of the Earth, following the lead of our oldest teachers, the plants.”
    • “Living beings are referred to as subjects, never as objects, and personhood is extended to all who breathe and some who don’t. I greet the silent boulder people with the same respect as I do the talkative chickadees.”
  5. Write a short reflection, also called an artist’s statement, about your photograph or illustration. In your statement, respond to at least two of the following questions. The aim of this statement is to tell the story of what is captured in your photograph or illustration.

    • What informed your decision to take your photograph or illustration?
    • What story does a plant (or other living element) in your life have to tell? How are you included in that story?
    • What are the names and origins of the plants that are captured in your photograph or illustration?
    • In what ways can we listen to the living world with our whole selves?
    • In what ways has the COVID-19 pandemic revealed new ways of seeing and being with the living world? Has the pandemic increased your compassion for the living world? If so, how?
  6. Your illustration or photograph should help to express your human relationship to the living world as well as take into consideration the Global Oneness Project’s mission statement: Planting seeds of resilience, empathy, and a sacred relationship to our planet.

Showcase and Publish Student Work

Encourage students to voice their power of perspective by showcasing their artwork with others. Share students’ work with classmates, family members, and communities in a variety of ways to promote thoughtful dialogue. Create a gallery walk or virtual presentation in your classroom or school to encourage students to engage in meaningful conversations.

Students can submit their photograph or illustration for consideration to be published on the Global Oneness Project student gallery! Contact us at info@globalonenessproject.org for details. 

Student Gallery

From artifacts and portraits to landscapes of the living world, explore student photography and original illustrations to foster curiosity and inquiry in the classroom.

Explore Student Gallery

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