Courage, Challenge, Learning and Excellence

“Although my students are only five or six years old, I work hard to establish egalitarian, collaborative relationships with them. I am interested in their thoughts and always respond to their questions of “Can I tell you something?” with “Yes, please tell me something!” I value their stories as a way to get to know them, and I really listen to them as they share. I sit or kneel to speak with them so I am not so far above them, and I often sit on the floor with them when I teach them. This helps us develop a relationship of trust, and ultimately empowers courage, challenge, learning and excellence.” (Managing the Classroom for Creativity)

When I wrote that for the Creative Education Special Issue, I was thinking of the courage, challenge, learning, and excellence that my students develop and live in our classroom.

As I re-read the section now, I still believe my students benefit from our collegiality. But, I am fascinated by the realization of how much our relationship of collegiality and trust impacts me as well. It helps me to be courageous and more open to challenge, and it encourages and enables me to develop deeper learning, and greater excellence!

This became very clear to me the other day. I joined a kindergarten alum and her family (she just finished first grade) for an afternoon at Turtle Back Zoo. Part of our day included participating in the Treetop Adventure.  The course is about 15-20 feet in the air. Not too high unless you are afraid of heights – which I am!

My alum and I hit the course together. We chatted with each other as we waited for our turn on the various elements. We watched others and commented on things they did well, and the things they might do better. We talked about being a little afraid. I told her I was afraid of heights. She assured me it wasn’t that high!

We decided I would take the lead for the first half of the course. I cheered her on as she worked each piece of the course, and offered suggestions the few times she seemed a bit stuck.

The second half of the course, my alum went first. This section was a little higher and a little more challenging. Nothing terrible, but I was beginning to feel fatigued from my fear of heights and my effort to overcome it. I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth – just like I tell my kindergarteners to do when they need to relax and get their bodies to know all is well. As I paused at one challenge — to take one of those calming, strengthening breaths, and decide how I would step — I heard the most awesome thing …

“You can do it, Miss James!!!”

It was my alum yelling to me, “You can do it, Miss James!!” 

How fantastic is that?!?!?

I’m not sure if she was completely confident in my ability to do it. I am sure she was completely confident in herself, and in our relationship.

Our relationship based on respect, trust, collegiality, and love, let her know it was appropriate for her to encourage me. And, our relationship assured her it would make a difference to me.

And it did! It helped me! Her egalitarian and collaborative relationship with me, empowered and enabled me to embrace “courage, challenge, learning and excellence!”

It wasn’t just that day. It happens in the classroom too.  But there, on the ropes course, it was very clear.

artistic skylar and me

Here we are, on the carousel together. I love the photo for the memory, and the symbolism.

May I always have a beautiful kindergartener, or kindergarten alum, by my side.

 

RESOURCES:

James, M. (2015) Managing the Classroom for Creativity. Creative Education, 6, 1032-1043. doi: 10.4236/ce.2015.610102.

 

 

 

Leading for Creativity with IDEO U

Woo hoo!!! I am officially  an IDEO U student in their Leading for Creativity Course.

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, is one of our instructors, along with many other creatives. Oh, and did I mention there are lots of other creative types from around the globe as my fellow students?

I’ve been craving something like this since the day I finished my Creative Thinking MA, with my cohort, and the fabulous Karl Jeffries, at the University of Central Lancashire.

I’m a combination of mild nervousness and tremendous excitement as I begin working with IDEO U and my fellow learners.

Together we shall …

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Yes, that’s my plan — change the world — or at the very least, my little part.

 

 

Cancer, Creativity and Possibility

Never let it be said that creativity is purposeless! If you have ever thought that, or begin to think or say it now, bite your tongue! lol

Creativity has many joyous, important, and profound purposes in our lives and world. Not the least of which is the ability to express ourselves, sort through our thoughts and feelings, and emerge, a bit stronger, with more understanding, and possibly, a nice piece of creative work.

I have cancer. A rare form with a ridiculously long name — Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia (WM). It’s a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I used to joke that once I learned how to spell it, I should be granted a cure! lol

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But, though I can spell it, I still have it. I’m doing great, but from time to time, I am a bit overwhelmed sharing my body with WM. And, sometimes even more overwhelming than sharing my body with it, is sharing my mind and spirit it.

A couple days ago, I had the idea to write a poem – in the hopes that it would help me pull my thoughts and emotions back from the edge, into a place of greater strength, joy, and positivity — really just a place that is more me.

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For truly, I am strong, fierce, powerful, joy-filled, positive, awesome, and full of life! I am a warrior. My life is full of possibility.

 

Impossible?

Is anything undeniably impossible?

My spirit rebels at the suggestion that good things might be impossible.

Possibility surrounds me, and gives my soul joyous pause.

Of course, fear and doubt mingle in, at times rising to the top, obscuring joy and hope.

So much is unsure.

Success is not guaranteed, and solutions are not yet seen, found, created, done, or lived.

I breathe deep breaths, and fortify myself with these thoughts:

Be brave and stubborn. Believe all is possible.

Live as though success is inevitable, and your actions and thoughts encourage its coming.

Expect, and eagerly embrace, the awesomeness and miracles that surround, and are, you!

 

We are Superheroes!!!

 

“We are Superheroes!” rebounds off the walls, as my students laugh and run with capes fluttering behind them. The pause in a moment of stillness, so I can take their photograph.

superhero comicbook

I love this photo — changed, in a photo-editing program, to look more like a page from a graphic novel.

The page might read:

“They stand together, ready to soar into action. Eyes open wide as they survey the land — alert and ready. Their tiny pink sneakers belie their power, courage and ability. Some laugh at them, call them cute, and underestimate them. But, encouraged and empowered by their fearless leader, they stand secure in the knowledge that they are, in fact, superheroes, with the power to change the world. They turn to one another, and begin to make plans.”

Awesome, isn’t it? What’s even more awesome than the graphic novel version? The real thing, in my classroom — young students, dreaming big, writing down ideas, and making plans to change the world. All the while, secure in the truth that they are, and can always be, superheroes.

Rock on, young superheroes. Rock on!

Expected, and Unexpected, Process and Product

“Would you come up with something creative we can do together at our next ELA meeting?” That simple question was the beginning of what would become, for me, a fabulous process and product!

It was a crazy time of year. We were all a bit stressed, with tons to do. “Perfect!” I thought. “Let’s take all that angst and struggle, and use it to make something beautiful!”

Our tools:

  1. sharpie markers (preferably black)
  2. old gift cards or credit cards
  3. acrylic paint
  4. canvas panel
  5. old magazines
  6. white glue
  7. bravery
  8. boldness
  9. openness
  10. joy

Our process:

  1. Think of all the things that are making us crazy, or cranky or stressed. As the end of the year approaches, that list can become very long. I encouraged myself, and my colleagues, to think of things from all areas of our lives.
  2. Write them down, in permanent, bold, black ink, all over the canvas. Be free! Write them one on top of the other. Make lists. Write big. Write small. Print. Write in cursive. Cross them out. Make them bold. Add lots of exclamation points. Curse if you like. LOL!
  3. Remember this is for you, no one else. No one gets to check it before you add the next step. No one sees it unless you choose to share. Be bold. Be brave. Be honest.
  4. When done, put the cap on the pen, and set it aside. Look at the canvas. Good? Anything else you want to write? Anything else you want to add? If so, pick up that pen again, and add it. If not, move on to number 5.
  5. Choose some colors. I like to be free, but mindful, in my color choices. Some colors become mud when blended. Sometimes muddy is good, but other times, not so much, hence the mindful part.
  6. Put  small dabs of the paints on a paper plate or tray.
  7. Using one of those old cards as a palette knife, pick up some of the paint and get it on the canvas. The card allows for a thick or thin paint application. Thick application can add texture or the possibility to completely obscure your words. Thin application allows for more layering of colors, and causes the texture of the canvas and the written word to be more prominent.
  8. Be free with the paint application. Don’t fret about mixing colors. Use only one card for the entire work. If you have too much paint on it, or want another color free from any other, grab a paper towel and wipe off the card. Experiment with thick or thin. (I like a thin application so the handwriting can be seen, but when it is your art, use your own preferences.)
  9. Flip through the magazines to find words or images that are the opposite of the words you wrote on the canvas. Find ones that inspire you. Search for beauty, peace, breath, love, laughter, or whatever else makes you say, “Oh, this is good!”
  10. Tear them out of the magazine! Experiment with different angles, with how much space you leave around the words, and with tearing in different directions. You might be surprised with all the variations you can get.  (If you must, lol, you can cut them out. But, if you can live with the possibility of ripping something wanted, and the less than perfect edges of the tear, then please, tear them. I promise, the results can be beautiful, and meaningful.)
  11. Once your canvas has dried, place these images and words on the canvas. Explore varying layouts. When you find one you like, use the glue to make it permanent. Be aware, if you haven’t cleaned your hands you may end up with some unexpected color. Don’t worry if that happens, there is one more step!
  12. When the glue has dried, add one more layer. Find or make a stencil and use it. Add color with your fingers. Grab a stamp and see what you can do with it.

Here is my final product.

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Or so I thought!

This is my product, and I love it, but it turns out it was not my final product. There was more. There was the unexpected process and product, and it was fantabulous!

As I drove home, my thoughts returned to the meeting, my colleagues, our process, and our product.  So many thoughts, observations and wondering. And then, my thoughts turned to my product.

“I wonder if I can read what I wrote? Maybe if I look really closely?”

There was definitely part of me that wanted to read them again. Hold on to them. Feel them again. Experience their power. Another part of me speculated it might have been better to have completely concealed my words under a think coat of paint. I resisted any urge to pull over and examine my canvas, lol, and reminded myself that the point of the process – outside of pure creativity and joy – was to let things go!

When I got home I pulled my canvas out of my bag, and spent some time with it.

I liked it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was interesting. It wasn’t flawless, but it was beautiful. And those imperfections and flaws? They added to its interest.

I couldn’t read my words, but I could see my writing, and I loved that! The writing added depth and texture to the work.

Then I had an aha moment … my final product (at least for now).

The piece was just like my life. Multi-layered. Not perfect, but pretty fabulous. And those things that make me anxious, stressed or cranky? Endured, survived, embraced, laughed about, cranked about, talked about, prayed about, and released – even if they remain in some fashion – they make me better, more interesting, more awesome, more me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Encouraging Young Inventors

Recently, in our Kindergarten Maker Space …

Me: “Hey, may I take a picture of what you’re working on?”

Student: “Sure. It’s a bug playground.”

Me: “A bug playground?”

Student: “Yeah, because otherwise they just get stepped on.”

Me: “Wow, they do get stepped on, don’t they? What a great idea. I bet the bugs will like it!”

How awesome is that?

A 6-year-old,  using all sorts of creative thinking (human/bug design thinking, possibility thinking, positive thinking, lateral thinking, divergent thinking, convergent thinking) to problem-find and problem-solve. I love it!

It’s what happens when students are given recycled materials, duct tape, and, most importantly, the opportunity, space and encouragement, to think, risk and build.

Embrace the Mess

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I recently did a workshop for 4th, 5th and 6th grade students. I encouraged them to be willing to embrace the “mess” inherent in creativity, thinking, and great work.

My queen-size bed isn’t big enough to hold the “mess” of my presentation preparations. Fantabulous isn’t it?

Clearly, I embody my teaching.

 

Creativity in Unexpected Places

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My students have been cleaning up the building area this week. 

This is what I found when I came back into the room today. Beautiful isn’t it!?!!

With a bit of freedom, growing love for aesthetics, and joy-filled support, even cleaning up can be filled with moments of creativity and beauty.

 

Dr. Seuss Creative Fun

Wacky Wednesday, by Dr. Seuss, inspired our creative fun today.  — Shoes on the wall, on the ceiling and under the bed. Worms chasing birds. Hoses, while split, still watering the lawn. — My students giggled, and eagerly shared each wacky thing they noticed.

They didn’t want to stop, but I told them “We must! I want you to have plenty of time to have your own wacky Wednesday fun!”

They were not immediately convinced. But, I assured them we would keep the book in our library, and they could read it as much as they wanted. Finally, they relented and moved to the chairs I had prepared.

I reminded them of our time together in yoga, when I invite them to take off their shoes and socks. “Now,” I said, “I’m not going to invite you to take off your shoes and socks. I’m going to tell you to take them off. We cannot do our wacky Wednesday creative fun unless you take them off.” Giggles and talking increased as they hurried to their cubbies and back again — with feet bared!

Paper was taped to the floor in front of each chair. Plastic egg cartons filled with paint, rested on paper towels. I encouraged them to guess what we might be doing.

“We’re going to paint with our feet!” … “Yes,” I said, “but how?”

“We’ll stick our feet in the paint!” … “Good guess, but no. We’re actually going to use a paint brush.”

“We’ll paint our feet and put them on the paper!” …”OH! Great idea, but no.”

“We’ll paint our toe nails!” … “That would be fun, but not today.”

They continued guessing, each building on the next. They were doing a lovely job thinking divergently. They showed some fluency, flexibility, and elaboration – each idea building upon the ones that came before, informed by my responses.

Finally, nearly jumping out of her chair, R. said “I know! We’re going to hold the paintbrush in our toes!!!!!” …. “YES!”

Laughter and conversation erupted in the room – making it nearly impossible for me to speak and be heard. I encouraged their enthusiasm, but asked them to do try to stay quiet until we began. They contained themselves, as best as they could, and after some brief instruction and encouragement, they began.

Some jumped in with both feet — pun-intended, lol — and used their toes to grip their pencil, and write their name.

feet writing

When M. finished writing she said, “That was hard. And it doesn’t look very good. It’s messy.” … “No way!” I replied. “That’s fantastic! You did that with your toes! How awesome is that?”

Was it as good as she could do with her fingers? No. But did that matter? Was that the right criterion to use to evaluate it? No! Her process and product  were remarkable. She gripped the pencil with her toes. Figured out how to create each letter in her name, and wrote them in a rather straight line! Perhaps most importantly, she showed great initiative, courage, and grit, and I wanted to acknowledge that for her.

Everyone joined in the fun — even me. My students were enthusiastic and joy-filled painters — quite willing to try, and try again.

feet painting

I was surprised by my reaction to the experience. It was hard! Hard to hold the paintbrush. Hard to figure out how to dip it in the paint. Hard to guide it on the paper. Just hard!

I did it, but I didn’t enter into the experience like they did. I think their were multiple reasons why. Each is worthy of my thought, consideration and remembering as I continue to work with my students, and for my own growth as a creative and an educator.

Here are some of the things I noticed:

  1. My support of my students — in word and presence — is powerful.
  2. Time to practice and play with the tools and process before beginning is important.
  3. Embracing positive thoughts about ourselves as artists and learners is essential.
  4. Adopting the joy, freedom and openness of a beginner’s mind is helpful.

My students often return the favor and support me with their word and presence. Today I didn’t have the opportunity to allow them to support me. I also didn’t have the time to practice and experiment before beginning. But perhaps most interesting to me, unlike my students, I didn’t immediately embrace positive thoughts about myself or my process, and I didn’t adopt the the joy, freedom and openness of the beginner’s mind.

I can learn so much from my students. They are truly fantabulous!