The Cloud Appreciation Society

“In the middle of my Ph.D., I was hopelessly stuck. Every research direction that I tried led to a dead end. It seemed like my basic assumptions just stopped working.” (Uri Alon)

Yay, baby, me too. When working on my MA, and again yesterday!

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I was all set: overhead projector rigged up, design sketched out – fabulous! Then I stepped back to admire my work, and …. hated it! Everything that had been clear and lovely, was now out of proportion and displeasing. What had happened? Why hadn’t I thought about the distortion that would occur when I enlarged the design?

Frustrated I thought “Eee gads! What am I going to do now?”

I'm in the cloud,- and I say, -Great, you must be feeling miserable.- (Laughter) But I'm kind of happy, because we might be close to the boundary between the known and the unknown, and w

Thankfully I recalled I’m a card carrying member of the “Cloud Appreciation Society!” I said “Come on girl! Acknowledge you’re in the cloud. Be happy. Breathe. Trust the process.”

24 hours and several attempts later, I’m back on track.

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But, now I’m thinking about the cloud and my students. Have I told them about about the cloud? Are they card carrying members of the Cloud Appreciation Society? I don’t think so.

I’m going to make some cards and remedy that ASAP!

Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

I’m in the second week of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC. I’ve been thinking about George Couros’s Critical Questions for the Innovative Educator(Chapter 2, pages 39-41). They are fantastic!

I love the first question!

Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

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This question implies a deep sense of respect for our students. We are treating them as ourselves. We are acknowledging and treating them as:

  • people who can learn.
  • people who love to learn.
  • people who, when given the chance, will choose to learn.
  • accomplished learners.
  • people who know things.
  • people whose ideas are valuable.
  • people whose needs and wants are respected and considered.
  • people with interests and passions.
  • people who are good at some things, but not so good at others.
  • people who deserve, and are given,  reasonable freedom, choice and agency.
  • people who are teachers as well as learners.
  • people who inspire others.

What a fantastic way to approach our students and inform our practice!

I ask myself three additional questions when I reflect on my practice.

Will this increase my students’ love of learning? 

Will this empower my students to achieve their academic and creative potential? 

Will this position them for greater thinking and creativity in the future? 

My goal is to be able to answer, “Yes!” to each of these questions. Most of the times I can. Sometimes, though, I have to say “Hmmm … not so much.”

But, since I’m asking the questions, the answer “Hmmm … not so much.” isn’t so bad. In fact, maybe it’s actually good!

Now I have the opportunity to think, learn, ideate, iterate, and come up with new ideas. Ideas that will make me want to be  a learner in my class, and that will increase my student’s love of learning, will empower them to achieve their potential, and will position them for greater thinking and creativity in the future!

 

 

 

Relationships and Inspiration

 

“Education is always about relationships. Great teachers are not just instructors and test administrators: They are mentors, coaches, motivators, and lifelong sources of inspiration to their students.” (Ken Robinson) I love this quote and try to live it everyday. 

There is an equally strong and powerful benefit for us as teachers. When we build relationships with our students, we are forever inspired by them as well.  

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My kids and I do yoga together each week. We end each session with a ritual of gratitude and relationship. We go to each other – hands in the yoga prayer position – look each other in the eyes, and say:

Namaste (name). Thank you for practicing. You are awesome! 

It is a super powerful moment of relationship, caring, and affirmation.

As I affirm each child, I take their hands in mine  I want them to know they are important to me, and have my full attention. I want them to be assured I have them in my hands — now and always.

Several of my students have begun to take the lead in this ritual, and grasp my hands in theirs.

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I love the symbolism. I am not the only one who values relationship. I am not the only one offering inspiration, or holding others in my hands and heart. My students – these 5 and 6 year olds — hold me in their hands and heart as well.

This reality — and the image of their small, but mighty hands, holding mine — inspires me every day.

 

Note: I’ve wanted to capture these moments in photographs for some time now, but couldn’t figure out how to have both of my hands held, and take a photo!  Today I realized, “Ask the hands that are holding you!” After yoga today, I asked my students to take some photos. These are two of the photos they took. 

 

School can be amazing!

I’m reading Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros aka the Principal of Change. I resisted buying it and reading it for quite some time now because, whew, I am one busy girl. But, then I discovered the #IMMOOC – an Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course!

I was hooked!! Yes, I know, you are wondering, “Hmmm, Molly, perhaps I’m mistaken, but didn’t you just say you didn’t have time to READ the book? Isn’t a MOOC more work than just reading? Have you, by chance, lost your mind?”

What a great question! I do feel in some ways, that I have fallen over the edge into some sort of madness, lol. But, I know that feeling is not exactly accurate. My decision feels a bit mad because it will mean I get less sleep, more struggle, and more work.

However, feelings aren’t always truth. In reality the decision to be part of #IMMOOC is actually quite sane and wonderful. I get to be part of, and interact with, a huge network of people invested in their own personal learning, and passionate about impacting education (and the world) for the better!  How could anyone, much less me, pass that up?!?!!!!

So, here I am, in the midst of the #IMMOOC, unsure of where exactly we are supposed to be in the book and our blogging, but loving where I am! I’ve read some of the book, reflected, engaged in the twitter chat (And might I just say, the #IMMOOC twitter chat people had incredible energy and passion. It started at 9pm my time. By 9:40 my eyes were bleary and my head was exploding. I took the gems I had read so far, reveled in the excitement for a moment longer, toyed with the idea of staying, but decided discretion is the better part of valor, and quietly left the chat for some much needed sleep.) and now have begun blogging about the Innovator’s Mindset. So, with that said, let me get to it.

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My first “You go, man!” came in the publishers forward, when I read “School can be amazing.” Before I continue, I’d like to suggest an edit. I think it should read, “School can be amazing!” Or, even, “School can be AMAZING!”

All too often I hear people comment — in support of school NOT being amazing — “It is school after all.” Eee gads, people. School can, and should be, amazing! If it isn’t, we are doing something wrong. Learning is awesome. Exploration is amazing. Discovery is exciting. How do we go from that to “It is school after all?”

I heard Ken Robinson speak at the NAIS conference on Friday. (Magnificent as always!) He mentioned a horrifying statistic. He said “According to the World Health Organization, unipolar depressive disorders were ranked as the third leading cause of the global burden of disease in 2004 and will move into the first place by 2030.” I thought of that as I read the introduction to George’s book. George says:

“Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s kids. … our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or the mechanics of a task but to spark curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own.  To wonder. To explore. To become leaders.” (Innovator’s Mindset p. 4)

I would add to that list, if I may be so bold:

To struggle. To fail – and  through the failure, to learn and thrive. To consider possibilities. To find new answers and new questions. To know the joy of learning. To inspire, challenge, and teach each other, and us.

I believe in the profound work we do as educators, and the (to quote my El Sistema and Reggio friends) transformative power of education. It is not, in my humble opinion, that schools can be amazing. It is that schools should, and must be, amazing.

We have the power to positively impact the future of our youth and our world. The transformative power of education, in the hands of innovative educators who believe in the incredible beauty, goodness, power, and ability of all our students, can change the future, and cause the WHO to have to reassess and change their prediction for 2030.

A girl can hope!

 

 

 

Sometimes it’s magic!

Back in December 2015 I blogged about the hard fabulous work involved in the creative process of designing, burning and painting my bathroom door. I reveled in, and blogged about, the “angst, sweat and splendor” of creativity.

Fast forward to today! I’m working on the other side of that door. Same door, same creative process, same art medium, but, significantly different awareness and observations!

Today I experienced the intense magic of creativity and the creative process! I know it’s not real magic, but, wow, it sure feels like it.

My idea was to design a tree for the door. I thought it would be cool  if the tree seemed to begin, and continue, past what the eye could see. Problem was, I couldn’t quite figure out the layout. The shape of the door was too skinny to accommodate my design.

There was no way the tree I imagined was going to fit on the door. It was impossible. But for some reason, I couldn’t let go of the idea. There had to be a tree on my door. And, not some skinny, little tree, but the big bold tree of my dreams.

I wasn’t being stubborn, or trying to force my design upon the door. I was simply doing what seemed right. The tree already existed, right there, on the door, in my mind’s eye. It seemed completely inconceivable that it wouldn’t, at some point, be on my door in real life! Somehow I knew it would work out. I just had no idea how or when. So, without any real plan, I kept thinking about it, believing in it, looking for it, and frankly, often just forgetting about it, as I waited for the answer to find me!

And, today it finally did!

This afternoon I was overcome with an urgency to sit down and design my door. No matter where I turned, or what I did, I couldn’t escape the feeling. I finally just gave in.

I gathered up a large sketch book, a favorite pencil and eraser, a cup of tea, and my laptop. I did a bit more online research, and printed out a few trees and branches that struck my fancy.  I measured the door, and prepped my sketch book with some boxes of the correct ratio.

I made a few iterations of possible trees. I looked at my creations and the images I printed, from various angles. After only 3 or 4 tries, I developed a design I liked. It is both similar, and completely different from, my original idea. But, despite the differences, it is ideal in its ability to bring me joy, and fit on the door!

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Once I reached this point, I could move no further. The time of clarity, inspiration, and ease was past. For a few moments I struggled to press on, and felt the angst of being unable to do so.

So, I just sat, holding my pencil, breathing, looking and thinking. Slowly the angst dissipated. What remained was wonder and gratitude. I was amazed by the drawing before me, and even more so, by the process. That process, those moments of creative lucidity and productivity, were beautiful, and mysterious.

I want more, and I believe they will come.

Meanwhile, I trust in the process and proceed accordingly.  I think. I look. I notice. I breathe. I work, and I walk. I love the suggestion that my walks in the beautiful outdoors will help my tree to bloom on my door!

For now, my sketch waits in my bathroom … close enough to be seen, far away enough to be forgotten …

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as I await the next time of creative magic, angst, sweat and splendor!

I can’t wait!

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Student Voice in Art

I enjoy Andy Warhol’s use of bold, sometimes unexpected colors in his photographic prints. Some of my favorites are his flowers and Marilyn Monroe. Oh, lol, and his pink cow on a yellow background!

I pondered many Warhol inspired art projects for my Kindergartners. I wanted the project to have Warhol’s repeated images and use of bold colors, but I also wanted it to be child and time friendly. After many iterations I decided I would have them use their hands as the repeated element.

The steps I decided upon were:

  1. Trace each hand, with some overlap in order to create spaces on the page, and then go over their tracing with sharpie markers of their color choosing.
  2. Use liquid watercolor paint to create the background – filling the different spaces with different colors.
  3. Place their hand-print inside each drawn hand. (Painting each palm with a color of their choosing.)
  4. Use colorful dots and rectangular pieces to create bracelets on each of their wrists.
  5. Finally, create something to glue onto the palms of their hands.

I was very happy with the process, and mildly happy with how my sample turned out. I wished I could be very happy with my sample, but no matter how I tried to change it, I couldn’t get it to a place I loved, so I decided to stop fretting, trust the process, and see what my young artists were able to create.

Soon after beginning someone expressed alarm, “I painted the watercolor on one of my fingers. I wasn’t supposed to do that, was I?” All eyes looked to me. “No worries,” I said, “Look at the art Andy Warhol did. Does it look like he stayed in all the lines?” They responded with a relieved “No.”

Shortly thereafter, someone noticed a friend painting the inside of her hands. She seemed to have forgotten, or not really heard my instructions, or was just enjoying her process. “You’re not supposed to paint inside your hands with the watercolor! Right, Miss James? She’s not doing it right!”

The hand-painting artist looked up with a look of dismay. I took a breath and thought … What is really important here? Is it OK? Might she, and any other, paint inside the hands?

With that brief moment to think I realized what was important, and I said, “Well, I did say we weren’t going to paint inside our hands with the watercolor. But, do you think she is being inspired by Andy Warhol? Is she using bold, unexpected color? Is she making each hand different in some way?” They all responded, “Yes!” I smiled, and continued “I didn’t think about painting inside the hands with watercolor, so I didn’t do it. And, I didn’t suggest it to you. But, I think it’s a great idea. If you like it, give it a go. Let’s see how they come out.”

Everyone went back to work. As I walked around the room I was amazed by the beauty and depth in these Kindergartner artists work. It was far more lovely than mine. I told them “Wow! I love your ideas and your work. Painting the insides of your hands, and using so many colors for the background were really beautiful ideas! I think what you have created is so much better than mine. Thank you for sharing your ideas and art courage with me! I’m going to share your ideas with the artists tomorrow! (Art is done in half groups.)

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I could have easily said “No!” when asked if they could deviate from my process. I could have required them to work with my ideas, my thoughts, my creativity. But, I – we – would have lost so much if I had! Being clear about what was important – following the big ideas of Warhol’s prints, and finding our own artistic voice – I was able to let go, quiet my voice, and let their voices grow strong.

I’m so glad I did.

 

Student Voice

This is always one of my favorite Kindergarten collaborative art pieces.

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I create some sort of stencil and we all (students, teachers, PS Director, Admin. Assistant, and Head of School)  use our hands and fingers to fill the stencil and create the piece of art.  This year I chose a flower with hearts inside.

I cropped the photo so the children’s names are not posted on the blog. The canvas is actually rectangular. The top has the year and the bottom has all the participant names.

Every other time I wrote our class rules on the canvas, and used the hand and fingerprints as a way to “sign” our promises to each other. “I will work hard. I will play fair. I will be kind.” They are super important things I want my students to remember and live.

But this time I didn’t do that! I happened to do yoga with them the day I finished the canvas. We did a relaxing yoga, finishing lying down, hands touching, saying our affirmations.

We are safe. We are sound. We are well. We are whole.

We are lucky. We are brave. We are joyful. We are fantabulous.

We are great. We are kind. We are smart. We are not the same.

We are strong. We are awesome. We are good. We are nice. 

We are joy. We make friends. We are relaxed. We like each other. 

Lovely right?

My students’ words were in my brain as I wrote their names on the canvas. As I considered how I might place the rules, I realized a more powerful statement for them to remember might be their own words of affirmation! Then they would be “signing” their own greatness. Saying “Yes!” to all the wonderful words of affirmation that they created during our yoga time.

 

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No need for my voice to always be the one speaking!

I hope, when they say the affirmations in yoga, or see them on the canvas, they feel empowered, strengthened, and joyed, by their own words and thoughts. It is a small thing, but I believe giving voice to their voice, highlighting it in my classroom,  will teach them that power, peace and affirmation reside within themselves as well as in others.

The Magic of Ideas

I love the book What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom. The illustrations are wonderful and add a profound depth that is accessible to all. If you haven’t read it yet, find a copy and read it! You won’t be disappointed.

Perhaps even better would be to read it with some children. Each time I read it to my class, they notice new things in the illustrations, and make unique connections and wonderings. They encourage me to open my eyes, mind, and heart, a bit wider, stay in the moment, and notice all there is to see.

I read the book aloud – stopping often for their eager noticing, sharing, wondering, conversing and questioning. It took us almost 30 minutes to read the book! We talked a lot about ideas – having ideas, feeding them, sometimes being afraid to share them, sometimes sharing our ideas freely, listening to other ideas, getting inspired by other people’s ideas, and, changing the world with our ideas!

I asked if they thought their ideas could change the world. There was a mixed response. Some thought yes, some no, and some were unsure. I told them I believed their ideas DO change the world. I asked them if they had every helped a friend who was sad, or if they had problem-solved with a friend. Of course, they all had. I continued, saying “Those ideas you shared when your friend was sad, and when you needed answers, helped right? So, they changed the world for that person and for you!”

I grabbed a notebook I carry in my bag, and shared some things I jot down – words, thoughts, ideas, images. Then I pulled out the small notebooks I made my students. The covers were decorated with circles and dots. Some were connected, some only partially formed, some mixing colors, some were off by themselves – just like our ideas. Finally I set my kids free to begin to fill their books with their thoughts, plans, imaginings, and visions.

Here are some of their ideas …

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  • Design and make dog clothes.
  • Make a big computer that converts into a small laptop

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  • Finger knit a headband like Caileigh’s.
  • I make board games.

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  • She will build a tower too. She’ll also build a bike.
  • Make a company. Make a new way to read.

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  • Make a blanket for Pikachu (finger knit).
  • Be myself. Dream big.

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  • Nothing can stop you from doing the thing you love.
  • I will always do crafts and drawing, even when I am angry.

Fabulous, right?

They cracked me up at the end of the time (about 30 minutes). I was wandering around telling them we had 5 more minutes, talking with them about their ideas, and taking photos. At some point I sat down, to chat or look at something more closely. The next thing I knew, I was surrounded by a circle of students – probably 2-3 deep at points – all saying “I have an idea, Miss James!” It was an incredible surge of joyful energy.

It was magical and wonderful!

 

Conscious Ink

My diagnosis anniversary date is December 16. My feelings each anniversary are a combination of positive and less-than-positive emotions. I notice, acknowledge and feel the sorrow and other less-than-positive emotions, but I highlight and emphasize the positive emotions by celebrating!

In the past I have dyed a fuchsia streak in my hair with kool-aid, distributed glitter, and shared sparkly temporary tattoos. This year I decided to continue the temporary tattoos, but wanted to find the perfect tattoos. After some searching, I found Conscious Ink.

Here’s the first paragraph from their site “Can a temporary tattoo leave a lasting impression on our disposition? Solidify our intentions and affirmations? Make a permanent mark on the world? Crazy as it seems, Conscious Ink founder Frank Gjata says yes! Conscious Ink is on a mission is to spread love and raise consciousness around the world, one body at a time!” lol! HOW AWESOME IS THAT??!?!

I looked at their many offerings and chose 3 that spoke to me.

  • Breathe
  • Be brave
  • Anything is Possible

Great messages, right?!

I eagerly awaited my package. It made it to me the day before my anniversary. YAY!!

I wasn’t disappointed when I opened the package and examined the stash. Everything had such beautiful spirit, joy, humor AND creative thinking

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The tattoos themselves are great (non toxic, safe, made in the USA), but, the instruction card that comes with them pushed them over the edge into fantabulous! lol. As I read it, and followed the instructions, I chuckled to myself thinking “Wow, this is some cool creative thinking!”

I don’t know what “How might we …?” questions Frank and his team asked themselves, but here’s one I thought they must have considered.

How might we infuse each aspect of the temporary tattoo experience with mindfulness, intention, joy and good energy?

I laughed out loud – not making fun, but from surprise and enjoyment – when I read their instructions for the actual tattooing. As with most things, temporary tattoos don’t just magically happen. There is a process, and it includes waiting. Waiting is sometimes a drag, or something we endure and hope away, rather than experience with mindfulness and purpose. Not so, the Conscious Ink people.

What do they say? “Patience is a virtue.” LOL! That still makes me laugh out loud. They suggest you take the time to think about what it is you want to manifest. I love that!!! Take those 30 seconds or more and be present. Think. Breathe. Have the thoughts (joy, gratitude, hope) and do the things (breathe, celebrate) that were the reasons you chose your tats.

I followed the instructions – patient, mindful, purposeful being, instead of just waiting. It was a lovely 30-60 seconds. I am going to have my K students do this when I share the tats with them in January. I may even have them join in some writing about their tattoos and intentions. We shall see.

I am impressed with the thought and creativity of Conscious Ink. It enhanced my temporary tattoo experience. But, it’s also a wonderful reminder to me of what can be accomplished when we approach our work and life with purpose, intention, humor, joy and creativity.

By the way, Frank has some other nice sites (and by nice I mean pretty cool, awesome, fun etc. etc. etc.) worth checking out. They seem to all be linked from his website Blississippi. Give them a look if you have a moment.

And always remember … Breathe … and be brave.

 

 

 

 

 

Inviting Kindergartners Into My Process and Musing

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My hands will soon be covered in paint –  like hand in this photo. YAY! I cannot wait!

It is super important for me, as a person, and as an educator, to: get inspired, try new techniques, play, and make things. The whole process – anticipating, enjoying, searching, looking, researching, talking, trying, learning, failing, fretting and succeeding – teaches and touches me as a person and an educator.

The preparation is a time of excitement, joy and anticipation!

I relish the trip to the art store! Paper, paint, stencils, cutting tools, canvases, paint brushes invite me to explore, imagine and buy. I usually end up in line with much more than my original shopping list. If I’m lucky, my cashier is an artist. We kibitz over my choices, and share our passion and ideas. On my last visit, I discovered there is 300 pound watercolor paper! 300 lbs! The clerk said it is “Delicious!” (You do know I will soon be purchasing some, don’t you?)

I love scouring bookstores for art books or magazines. It’s a treasure hunt. If I’m lucky enough to find one or two that inspire me, I’m a happy girl! Just thinking about being creative makes me happy. It doesn’t bring me as much joy as actually creating, but it is pretty awesome.

And, of course, after all the prep, I love the doing! Surrounded by supplies. In the zone. Hands covered with paint. Mind buzzing. Spirit soaring.

But, occasionally, I notice less than positive emotions. Sometimes there is a vague sense of angst. Usually it’s when I’m faced with a technique that is new, outside my wheelhouse, or that doesn’t easily mesh with my usual sensibilities. It’s always somewhat surprising to notice the less than positive emotions. I love being creative and artistic, and I’m pretty talented. And yet, I still sometimes feel apprehension, the worry of not being good enough, or the fear of messing it up.

As I notice all my experiences, thoughts and feelings, my mind turn to my students. I want them to experience it all. The positive and the less than positive emotions. I want them to struggle, to think, to fail, to learn, to succeed. I even want them to experience the angst, and the truth that angst can be overcome.

Wondering how I might do that, I am considering these questions:

  • How might we facilitate anticipation, discovery and joy?
  • How might we participate in the excitement of the treasure hunt for ideas and/or supplies?
  • How might we provide inspiration?
  • How might we find the time to allow ourselves to savor the process?
  • How might we structure our time together, to enable more conversation, as artists, regarding our passion, our work and/or our materials?
  • How might we give each other the freedom to adapt a particular technique or project to better fit our own sensibilities?
  • How might we be more aware of thoughts/feelings of angst and fear?
  • How might we better support each other in angst and fear?
  • How might we continue to encourage belief/knowledge of ourselves as capable, awesome artists?

I’m not sure, but I’m wondering ….

 

Note:

My first draft of this blog post had a list of “How might I …?” questions. As I re-read my post, the I was in glaring opposition to the we of creative teams.  Yes, I am the teacher, so, yes, much is up to me. But, we are a creative team – my kindergartners, my colleagues, and I – and it is better that I ask “How might we …?” 

My students teach me, inspire me, problem solve with me, and often see things from an insightful prospective much different than mine. Inviting them into my musing will be beneficial for us all!

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