Create Space

A while back I was experimenting with ideas from Joanne Fink’s book about zenspiration dangle design.

I’m not quite sure if Joanne suggested dangling a circle or if I came up with the idea. But it enjoyed playing with it. After finishing the exterior side of the circle, I decided to dangle the interior portion as well. Even now I’m intrigued by the different sense of the design on either side of the circle.

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For some reason the outer design maintains its outward flow. When I look at it, it doesn’t change. It is strong, steady, open, and ever reaching. I am attracted to the balance between white space and color, between lines, shapes, and openness, between straight lines and curved.

My relationship to the inner circle work feels much different. I am at one and the same time attracted and somewhat disturbed by it. The structures do not maintain a particular direction, but seem to move depending on where my gaze lands. I notice the same elements of line, color, and open space. But, I feel a sense of conflict as the various elements converge on the center.

As I wondered what to do, I remembered a henna design the awesome Catherine Lent did for me. In the midst of her beautifully intricate design, she had an empty circle. We chuckled about it as she worked around it. After checking with me to be sure I was ok with it, she left it empty. She said something like, “Sometimes it’s good to leave a bit of space.”

Hmmmm. Space. Yes, leave a bit of space, or create a bit of space.

I went back to my drawing and covered the tightness of the center with a small circular piece of white paper.

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I love it! I am intrigued by the space I created in the center. It is at one and the same time empty and yet full of stillness, openness, wonder, and possibility.

This speaks to me for my life as much as it does for my art.

In art, and in life it’s good to have space. Space for possibility. Space for stillness. Space for breath and being.

Space.

Sometimes it’s hard to find.

But, just like with this piece of art, I can step back, make a choice, and create space in my life, my heart, my mind.

Breath, prayer, times of sitting, a walk, are some of the small white circles that I place upon my life to create calm, still, open moments.

Sometimes it’s nice to leave a little space … or to create it.

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Be A Bit More “Freddish”

Just read this 2018 article in The Atlantic – Mr. Rogers Had a Simple Set of Rules for Talking to Children.

Mr. Rogers was something else. He was insightful, caring, intentional, thoughtful, and creative. I’m sure he was much more, but that’s what I took away from this article.

We could learn a lot from Mr. Rogers.

“He insisted that every word, whether spoken by a person or a puppet, be scrutinized closely …”

What if, in our classrooms, we had that same insistence regarding our choice of words?

Yes, a classroom is quite different from Mr. Rogers’ TV show. He had the luxury of a script he could study and edit, as well as writers who would help him perfect his words. We are often working in the moment, on the fly. That makes it harder, but not impossible!

We don’t have scripts and writers, but we do have plans and colleagues. We also have the opportunity to reflect and revise. What would our plans, lectures, mini-lessons, conferences, and conversations sound like if our minds, hearts, and language were a bit more “Freddish”?

They’d be pretty fantabulous, don’t you think? Let’s start a movement.

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*According to the Atlantic article,  Rogers’ team of writers coined the term “Freddish” as a way to describe Rogers’ on air language.

 

Connecting Seemingly Unconnected Things

I love connecting seemingly unconnected things. Finding inspiration in disparate arenas has always fascinated me. I even thought of having that be my MA Creative Thinking dissertation topic, but I couldn’t figure out exactly how to approach it.

None-the-less, being open to finding inspiration in unexpected places, and actually doing so, serves me well. It is especially helpful when a more straightfoward or common answer is eluding me. Here’s a great example.

My foil squad qualified for our State Championships. I knew they needed some mental training to help them relax, believe, enter the fight, and fence their best. But, at 3:30pm as I was driving from school to coaching, I was still at a loss as to what we should do. As I drove I thought of many things. Most resulted in a resounding “Ugh! That’s not it.”

Then, thank goodness, my creativity loving brain saved the day. I had a bit of a eureka moment. My brain connected two seemingly unconnected things.

Jimmy Fallon’s Games with Guests – particularly the whisper challenge – rarely fail to crack me up! Here’s an example.

I’ve always wanted to play the whisper challenge. That would be the mental training exercise!

When I got to practice I wrote down various positive affirmations. I included ones we had used throughout the season, and ones I wanted them to hear. I explained the game to any who were unfamiliar, and we started.

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My fencers exhibited behavior they would need at the championships. They laughed. They struggled. They worked together in order to succeed. They never gave up. And, they repeatedly told each other positive phrases. It was AWESOME!

Now I have my brain working on how to do the whisper challenge in Kindergarten!

Creative Spark!

Yesterday, I picked up my copy of Journal Sparks: Fire up Your Creativity with Spontaneous Art, Wild Writing, and Inventive Thinking. I was hoping for a creative spark from Emily Neuburger. She did not disappoint.

Flipping through the first few pages I came upon suggestions of what my journal might be. I’d used that list before to great results. This time I was struck by this possibility:

This journal is a small, handmade, accordion journal (see page 132) that is meant to be completely filled in one day.

Hmmm. I know how to make accordion journals. They’re simple and fun. I flipped to page 132. But, it was page 133 that caught my eye. I’d made these books before as well. I even taught them at a book-making workshop I led for educators. It’s a quirky little cut which allows for many possibilities as you use the book.

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When I presented it to my fellow educators, they were a bit unsure of its quirkiness. The ambiguity of the way the pages progress was a bit disconcerting. I encouraged them to just give it a go and see what their students did with it.

At the time I was thinking book, not journal, so I could understand their discomfort. We typically think of books as progressing in a particular manner. But, now, approaching it as a journal, I absolutely love it! The concept of a journal, filled in one day, on an unconventionally folded piece of paper is fantabulous! The ambiguity actually adds to its fantabulousness. (Note: Perhaps we need to be open to ambiguity in our books as well! It may turn out to be an equally remarkable twist.)

At first I was a bit unsure how I would fill the journal in one day. Would I just sit and fill it? Didn’t know. Didn’t care. Just wanted to do it.

I folded, cut, and folded again to create the journal. I played around with it for a bit before I did any writing/drawing. It’s super interesting the different ways you can open and turn the pages. After a considerable amount of folding, refolding, opening, looking, wondering, I chose the way I wanted to proceed. I put my first entry on the cover. I had places to go and things to do, so I put the journal down and set about the next part of my day.

In my car, I noticed an old tea bag tag I’ve had in there for what seems like forever. Perfect! When I got back in the house, I glued it to the next page. Later in the day I was feeling the need for some stretching so I did a bit of yoga. Awesome. I added it to my journal with simple stick figures and words. Still later I noticed my impatience (I’m working on that) so I added a quote about gratitude versus complaining.

I was struck by the awesomeness of this simply, small, out of the ordinary journal as a opportunity for mindfulness and reflection. Since each page is so small it’s really simple to fill them. You can make a really quick jot, or you can be more involved if time allows, and it makes you happy.

The idea of filling the book in a day was key for me as it forced me to create small moments in my day. The last pages were done right before my night prayers. It was a lovely way to wrap up my day. It gave me an opportunity to record the things I wanted to remember as I closed my day and my eyes.

I shared the finished journal with my brother. As I talked to him, I opened the journal in several different ways. As I did, I realized you could do two days if you wanted. The folds allow the blank pages to be accessed easily, so I could fill in another day if I wished. I also noticed I hadn’t stayed on the same side with all my entries. It might be interesting to do that. He remarked “Perhaps you could watercolor each side and then follow that. It’d be an easy way to maintain each side.” True! And it would be pretty!

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I’m in the process of making this ridiculously simple journal for my friends. It has profound possibility and potential. I love it for the opportunity to be curious, to flip back and forth between possibilities, make choices, reflect, have fun, breathe, be mindful, and do some writing and drawing. I may do several of my own. They’d be great to have to return to, reflect, remember and be inspired.

I kind of want to send one to each of my colleagues — to encourage stopping, breathing, reflecting, creating, and mindfulness. I definitely want to use them with my Kindergartners — and not just as a book (though books are spectacular) but as an opportunity to be, and experience all those lovely fantabulous things.

 


Make your own:

If you use a rectangular sheet of paper (as Emily does) you end up with rectangular pages. You can use a square piece of paper if you prefer square pages.

Fold the paper in half long ways and short ways. Then, fold each half in half. This should get you 16 rectangles/squares.

Following the folds, begin on one of the outer folds and cut to just before your final rectangle (if you don’t stop, you cut the piece off). Turn your paper and continue cutting along the fold to just before the last rectangle. You continue in a spiral-like manner until any cuts would result in cutting a piece off the paper.

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Then re-fold, explore, and enjoy.

Feeling Like A Kindergartner

Have you ever worked in an art journal? It’s an interesting experience.

There is no throwing away the pieces you don’t like. They stay there — forever — mocking you.

LOL!!!

Yes, quite dramatic. But, it does feel that way. And yes, I suppose I could just gesso the page, or collage over it, but I’d still know it was there — mocking me.

I continue my dramatics to make a point. My Kindergartners feel that way! When they make a piece of art they don’t like, the emotion they feel is often so strong as to be painful. I’m glad I’m engaging in a form of art that allows me to experience, and learn to regulate, these feelings.

Yesterday and today I experimented with a mixed-media piece. I began with watercolors and masked circles. Then I collaged in pieces of water birch bark, and torn pieces of sheet music. I was intrigued by the common color of the two. Then I used acrylic paint to add bits of bolder color, and to begin to incorporate the collage elements more fully.

I had only a vague idea where I wanted to go.

  • I wanted the circles to be my repeated marks.
  • I knew at some point in my process, I’d use gel pens or paint pens to add some lines, dots, and words.
  • I have circle stencils I thought might work to continue my repeated element and give an added depth.
  • Words salvaged from magazines would be fab if I could find ones I liked.

Here’s where I landed next.

I liked it, but I wanted to add more. True to form with this project, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to add. Makes sense, I suppose, because I began the project without a clear end, more with a desired process.

So, I repeated the stenciled elements on the right side of the piece. Then I added spirals with a light blue acrylic paint marker. I liked the spirals. They reminded me of water being hit with drops of rain, and added another element of depth.

I added lines and marks using white, silver, and gold paint pens. Several times I considered stopping. Each time I thought “Nope.” and continued.

At that moment I remembered my Kindergartners. There are moments when they are making an art piece that I think to myself. “Oh, that is good.” Do they stop? Sometimes. But other times, nope. I struggle with suggesting they might want to be finished. Perhaps they are experiencing what I was experiencing with this piece. It’s a unique combination of flow, joy, and pleasure with the process. It’s cool!

Here’s the finished page.

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It’s busy. But it was so much fun. And, even though it’s busy, I think it’s quite beautiful. The dots, lines, words, patterns, ideas, collaged pieces, and decisions are all a reflection of me and my process.

Perhaps another time I wouldn’t make it so full. But perhaps I would. Either way is fantabulous. Either way is me. That’s what I want my Kindergartners to experience. Flow. Joy. Agency. The fantabulousness of them and their art.

There is so much about this project that I’d love my girls to experience.

Now to consider — what, when, and how.

My thinking cap is on.

_______________

Btw:
The AP Stylebook tweets: Our preferred spelling is kindergartner, not kindergartener. 

 

How Fascinating!

Have you ever heard of Benjamin Zander? No? Until about a week ago, neither had I.

I’m happy to finally be in the know. I enjoy his quirky positivity and joie de vivre, and his commitment to possibility.  I’ve been exploring the many resources on his website and the net, and am interested to notice how many of his thoughts and actions are similar to mine.

He has a saying — “How fascinating!” — which is only fully expressed by proclaiming it with raised arms, and a gleefully smiling face. Take a look at a clip from his Poptech 2018 presentation.

“Now, don’t make a face. (Raising his arms …) How fascinating!”

That cracks me up each time I watch it — and I’ve watched it quite a few times!

Benjamin suggests the movement counteracts the tendency to contract our body when we make a mistake. I think — and bet he would agree — that it also counteracts our tendency to contract our brains. “How fascinating!” signals to our brain that something interesting — something positive rather than negative — is occurring. It encourages us to view the moment, and the mistake, as an opportunity to explore and examine, rather than a problem to fret over, hide, and regret.

I fence. I’m taking lessons from my brother (a rather brainy, fantabulous coach). Lots of  times our lessons are filled with ambiguity. Hence, being frustrated and making a mistake are quite probable. I know mistakes aren’t a big deal. But boy, do I hate making them!

I’ve been trying to reprogram myself and change my reactions when I make a mistake. My goal is to be a bit more alright with my mistakes, and most importantly, to learn from them. I’ve been doing ok, but it’s still a struggle.

When I heard, and saw, Benjamin’s “How fascinating!” I decided to give it a go in my next lesson — mostly, I think, I found it so amusing. Turns out, that exact fact — that it makes me laugh — may be a large part of the effectiveness of “How fascinating!”

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson — University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Professor, and Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab — has researched and written a lot about positive emotions and how they affect us.

In a 2004 article, she states that “positive emotions broaden peoples’ momentary thought–action repertoires, widening the array of the thoughts and actions that come to mind.” And in a 2011 article published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, she credits positive emotions with increased creativity,  idea generation, and resilience.

That’s how I experience “How fascinating!” It makes me chuckle, and injects a moment of positive emotion into an otherwise frustration-inducing moment. It suggests there is something valuable in my mistake. It helps me change my frame of mind from judgement to curiosity.  “This is fascinating. It’s not an indication that I suck! My mistake — the process — is fascinating! Find out how/why.” I’ve noticed when I use it, I’m more able to think, consider new ideas, see nuances in the process, problem solve, and try again.

My students are a lot like me as a fencer. They really want to do well. Often times they are pretty driven. Mistakes are rarely fascinating. Usually they see mistakes as a reason for negative self judgement or negative emotions, rather than opportunities for positivity and learning.

They need “How fascinating!” So, how do I incorporate it into my classroom culture? How might I increase positive emotions, and curiosity in my student’s learning, and as a response to mistakes ? 

I think it will need to be a multi-pronged approach:

  • My language and behavior has to suggest and affirm the fascination and possibility inherent in our mistakes.
  • My response to mistakes must include curiosity, wonder, and conversation. And, I must share my own “How fascinating!” moments — including how I felt, what I did, what I learned, and how I changed.
  • Exploration of our mistakes must become the norm.
  • Including “How fascinating!” in a lesson, read aloud, activity might help us begin to embrace it in the classroom.
  • A “How fascinating!” partnership with parents will be key.  Sharing research that backs it up might help.

It’s funny, I know in some ways it’s a mindset, and “How fascinating!” isn’t completely necessary. And yet, in another way I think there is something very necessary about it. I can remember moments when “How fascinating!” would have really helped my learners by inducing laugher, breath, enhanced posture, and a bit more conversation.

The silliness of “How fascinating!” may really grab my young students. While I want them to fully embrace and use it, I think I must also teach them prudence. Discussing when might or might not be the best time to use it will be helpful. Also, exploring ways to modify it so as to be able to always use it are key.

We shall see. “How fascinating!” is in my toolbox, and will definitely be pulled out this coming school year.

Looking forward to it!

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Making and Repetition

I love being inspired late at night. There is something magical about losing oneself in the creative, artistic process, without regard for time or the need to sleep.

In Paint, Play, Explore, Rae Missigman talks about mark making (she calls them art marks), repetition, and embracing whomever one is as an artist. Her thoughts jumpstarted my creative thinking and process last night. I scrambled out of bed and began a renewed exploration and experimentation of roses and leaves.

It was fun — and freeing — to work with familiar, loved shapes. I moved from color pencils to acrylic paint as I created a plethora of roses and leaves.

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I considered painting the background black but worried the intense contrast might wreck the piece. Instead I chose a rich blue color. I may experiment with black another day as I do love black and white, but for now I’m pleased with the blue.

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I appreciated the “rustic” look I achieved by painting with a bit of abandon. But, the mark making artist in me was unsettled and less than satisfied.

Clearly, the piece was unfinished. So I continued. I added lines, dots, and embellishments. My inner artist was happy with the additions. And, as I embraced my own unique marks, repetitions, and style, my inner critic was quieted.

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Today I continued my mark making and repetition.

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Nice, right? I really enjoy the mark making and repetition. It’s fun, and clearly the repetitions and art marks make the piece! I love the fullness and pop of the roses and leaves in the center. And, the white outlined roses in the sea of blue add a surprising layer of depth.

I think perhaps I tweaked Rae’s idea of mark making and repetition. I’m not sure, I’ll have to keep reading her book to find out. But, in the meantime, I’m super happy with my interpretation of her idea, and the space and possibility this has opened in me.

Thanks, Rae!

Be creative … and other things.

Just read an NPR author interview with Mo Willems. He’s working as the  first ever Education Artist-in-Residence at the Kennedy Center.  How super cool is that?!?!!!

Mo said he hoped to entertain and inspire — adults and children — to create. Love that! Me too.

He goes on to suggest that if you want your kids to create, you’ve got to create. You don’t have to be good at whatever you choose, you just need to do it.

I laughed out loud when I read this:

I think sometimes the greatest thing you can say to a kid if a kid says, “Hey Mom, will you do this for me?” or “Make me a sandwich,” or something — say, “Not now, I’m drawing.” (Mo Willems, NPR Author Interview, July 2, 2019, 5:07AM)

Can you imagine saying that, or hearing it? Such a simple sentence with a ton of meaning. Mom draws, and is into it!

LOVE!

What if we, as educators, took Mo’s advice to heart about all the subjects we teach? How might we share our love for all the things we are teaching — even if we’re not super good at some of them?

It’s interesting to consider, isn’t it? I do math — sudoku, cooking, dice games, building, art, measuring, dominos, counting, figuring stuff out, playing instruments. I read — books, magazines, blogs, knitting patterns, prayers, journal articles, art books, music. I write — letters, poems, journals, blog posts, affirmations, lists. I experiment — cooking, building, art, gardening, finding new ways to get places. I’m passionate about all these things and do them all the time. I know this, but I’m not sure all my students know it.

These are important skills, loves, and activities, for me, and for my kiddos. Sharing that with my kids in real, touchable, seeable, experiential ways would be super! I think the power is in being a fellow learner and lover of all these things, not just doing these things as their teacher.

Have you ever thought, wondered, hoped about this? Have you ever considered being that mom/teacher who says “Not now, I’m doing math … reading a story … building a castle.” Or maybe even the one who says “Not now, I’m doing math … reading a story … building a castle … wanna come join me?”

Hmmmm! LOVE IT!!!

Now to ask questions, use my imagination, imagine possibilities, and try new things. Now to find the things as yet unseen — time and opportunity!

If you feel like it, join me!

Here are some of my beginning questions:

  • How might I find the time in my day to share my passions with my students?
  • How might I be a mathematician, scientist, artist, reader, writer, builder, maker, side by side with my students?
  • How might I rethink our schedule to find time?
  • How might I use independent work as a time for me to be a learner/worker alongside my kids?
  • How might I tweak/use my language to share more about what I’m doing?
  • How might we all share things we’re doing outside of school as mathematicians, scientists, artists, readers, writers, builders, and/or makers?

Love to have you join in this wondering-questioning-problem-finding-and-solving conversation!

 

 

 

 

 

On Point!

Have you read the Spring issue of Harvard Business Review OnPoint magazine?

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If you have, boy would I like to talk with you — especially if you’re an educator.

If you haven’t, you should.

Why?

  • It’s enjoyable.
  • It’s a nice balance of easy reading, and challenge-your-brain kind of reading.
  • It has a TON of thought provoking, and reflection-worthy ideas that I am certain will enhance my teaching practice, as well as my students’ learning.
  • And, on a silly note. The elephant.

I’ll blog about my thoughts after I’ve had a bit more time to read and reflect. Meanwhile, go buy it, read it, and change your little part of the world.

Note: You can pick up a copy at HBR – Unleash YOUR Creativity

 

 

 

Why teach?

It’s the end of the school year.

Contrary to what people outside of education think, things don’t wind down as the year ends. Instead, they ramp up, and come dangerously close to spiraling out of control. Holding onto the tail of that spinning mass is exciting — and exhausting.

Each night I tell myself I’m going to bed by 9PM, and at 11 PM I’m still awake, working. When I close my computer and my eyes it seems like only minutes until my alarm announces 5AM.

It’s the end of the school year.

I’m tired. I’m sick with a cold. I’m coughing enough to make my head hurt. I have tons of assessments to catalogue, reports to write, forms to fill out, orders to make, and curriculum maps to tweak for next year. My classroom no longer has children in it, but it has lots of stuff in it. Stuff that all needs to be gone through and placed in its proper spot.

That brief rant may make you wonder why I teach.

Sometimes it makes me wonder, too!

Thank goodness, deep down, under the weariness, I know why I teach. Teaching is me. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. It brings me joy.

Even though I know teaching is my thing, still, it’s really nice when someone else notices and points it out to me. Especially in these moments of fatigue and big work it’s super helpful to be reminded I make a difference. I value each and every one of those comments. But, every once in a while, I’m blown away.

This is one of those times.

A few days ago I got this note in my mailbox.

 

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Wow. Just, wow.

This is why I teach. I teach with that hope that I’ll touch hearts, minds, and spirits. I teach so I might spark a passion for learning. I teach so I can show each and every child that they are strong, rich, powerful, and important … foibles and all.

And, I teach because my students do the same for me.

I’m super grateful this 9th grader took the time to write to me.

I helped her see her worth and power. She helped me see mine.

Wow. Just, wow.