Breathing and a Kindness Circle

The week before winter break was filled with changes to our classroom schedule. It may not seem like much, but extra rehearsals, making and wrapping gifts for parents, making cards for parents, and adding glitter to the cards, were filling our already full days to overflowing. We were all feeling excitement, joy, anticipation, and let’s be honest, some stress. And, if you’ve ever experienced that, you know, it’s all good, until it’s not.

I had recess duty the last full day of school before break. The lunch duty teachers greeted me with smiles and shaking heads. “Good luck with recess. They are really having a hard time.” I raised an eyebrow and thought “Alrighty, then.”

Out on the playground I carefully watched to see if the time outside would help them regroup. Sometimes they just need time to run around, be free, and get rid of their extra energy. This was not one of those times.

What was I going to do? I heard the voice of a former professor in the back of my mind, “If you’re having classroom management problems, look at yourself, not at your students.” Ok, what was I asking them to do that wasn’t appropriate for them at this time. What was I missing? What could I do to help them?

I had less than 20 minutes to figure this out. I went into creative problem solving beast mode. Have you ever experienced that? For me it means relentlessly pursuing a solution, with the energy and drive of a big, powerful beast — cloaked of course, in the gentle trappings of a kindergarten teacher! I thought laterally, divergently, creatively, critically. Heck, my brain was standing on its head trying to figure it out.

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It was time to ring the bell and return to our classroom. I didn’t have it all figured out, but I did have the beginning of a plan. I took a leap of faith. I rang the bell, and trusted my big, beautiful, creative problem solving brain would continue to work as I moved the girls forward.

I stood — breathing — and calmly waited for them to join me. Then I began to speak in a rather quiet voice. I could see the ones in the back of the line straining to hear me. I paused, and with only the slightest elevation in volume, I asked if they could hear me. Many answers of “No!” filled the air. I responded, “Ok, I’ll speak a bit louder, but you’ll have to listen closely, because I’m not going to yell.” They strained with body and brain to hear every word I said.

“When we go in, we’re all going to take off our coats and get a carpet square. We’re going to be silent when we do this. Once we have a carpet square we’re going to find a spot to lie down and breathe. Find a spot that’s comfortable, where you have some space to just be, and breathe. Are you ready?”

There were some quiet questions which I answered with the least words possible.

Them – “Get a carpet square?” Me – “Yes.”

Them – “We’re going to lie down?” Me – “Yes.”

Them – “We’re going to breathe?” Me – “Yes. Once we’re all set I’ll set a timer for about 3 minutes. Then we’ll come together at the carpet.”

I asked again if they were ready. They quietly responded “You beddy!” (Our call and response to “Are you ready?”)

Once we entered the learning space, I barely spoke above a whisper. I encouraged them to find a space, breathe, relax, and just be. Most of them did it easily. Some needed a bit of help. Still others asked “Can we do this every day?!?”

In those few minutes, while they breathed, I was still in silent beast mode —  thinking, problem solving, and breathing. My inner conversation went something like this. “Yes, the curricular content I have planned is important, but will we actually be able to cover it? Will it be a time of joyful learning, or will it be a time of distracted learning punctuated by my constant call to learn? They need time to breathe. They need time to practice self regulation and pro-social behavior. They weren’t going to do it on their own. I need to help them. I need to give them time, and a structure that allows them to succeed. They need to experience success, and the joy of pro-social behavior.”

By the time I rang the chime, my plan was set.

While they put away their carpet squares and gathered on the carpet, I quickly collected my supplies. I joined the circle and began. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been having a tough time these last couple of days. It’s seems like it’s been a lot harder to listen, and harder to be kind to each other. I don’t think that’s the best way to end our time together before we go on break. I’d love if we could leave each other with a time of peace, love, and kindness. So I thought we’d give a kindness circle a try.”

I’d never done a kindness circle before, nor had I ever heard of one, but it sounded good to me. I took another breath, trusted in the power of my words, my intention, and my students, and continued.

“Each of you will get a name — not your own — and you’ll have 10 minutes to make something nice for them on this card. Do you think 10 minutes is enough time?” They all agreed it was a good amount of time.

I forged ahead, “You can draw something, write something, or even make something. It’s up to you. There are only 2 rules — You must keep your name a secret until we come back to the kindness circle to exchange kindness with one another. And, you have to do your best with whatever you make.”

They liked the rules and waited — with some impatience — for me to give out all the names. With names in hand they set off to work.

As everyone was settling in, I noticed some angst and tears. I popped over to find out what was wrong. The girl who was crying said, “By accident I said the name of her person. I didn’t mean to do it. I want to switch with her so everything is still a secret.” I affirmed her act of kindness in admitting her mistake, being sorry, and  wanting to correct it. They switched names, and all was right in their world.

The 10 minutes zoomed by. I rang the chime again, and they gathered back together on the carpet with quiet excitement. Before we started, I mentioned that both the giver and the receiver of the card were practicing kindness. The giver was kind by working hard for her friend. The receiver was kind by being gracious. “Perhaps it’s not what you hoped to get. Or maybe you can’t read what they wrote. That’s not what really matters. What matters is that they worked hard to make something nice for you.”

It worked out better than I imagined.  Each exchange was lovely. Givers and receivers were kind and gracious. They practiced beautiful pro-social behavior. They looked each other in the eye. The givers said a little bit about what they made and why. The receivers accepted the gift, gave it a look, commented that it was very nice, and said thank you.

I sat back, took another big breath, and basked in the glow of our kindness circle. My inner conversation was calm, satisfied, and affirming. Taking a risk; pursuing a creative solution like a beast; trusting myself and my girls; taking time to breathe; giving the space and opportunity to be kind, is fantabulous! I gotta find a way to include these super powerful happenings more regularly in our days together.

Beast mode has been called off, but rest assured, the thinking continues. A solution will present itself in due time.

 

 

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My Watercolor Process

I’ve spent a good bit of time watercoloring these past few weeks.  Today, I decided to share my process with you.

Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting you adopt my process in its entirety. Just saying you might learn something from it!

  1. Take a 3 hour watercolor class.
  2. Learn some cool things.
  3. Fall in love all over again with watercolors.
  4. Head out for a hike and some plein air painting.
  5. Forget I am a beginner.
  6. Fail to remind myself — “”Bad art happens to good artists!”
  7. Experience angst — lots of angst.
  8. Nearly fall out of love with watercolors.
  9. Resist throwing everything in the river.
  10. Drive 5 hours.
  11. Sleep 8 hours.
  12. Go to church.
  13. Breathe.
  14. Eat.
  15. Nap.
  16. Do things that have nothing to do with watercolors.
  17. Catch sight of an unfinished painting.
  18. Give in to the allure, and bring the paints out of hiding.
  19. Paint with more wonder, and less judgement.
  20. Experience the joy of process and product again.

 

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Learning through Rapid Prototyping

I recently presented a workshop on Design Thinking with a fabulous NJAIS colleague.  It was an incredibly thought-provoking experience for me. Teaching educators about using design thinking in the classroom forced me — or, more correctly, allowed me  — to immerse myself, again, in a plethora of creativity and design thinking resources. I read, listened and thought deeply, as I searched for the connections, and inspirations to share with the participants.

The idea of rapid prototyping was particularly provocative. It’s not the norm for education, and yet it has the potential to be profoundly valuable. By prototyping rapidly — with ideas, strategies, or products — we gather large amounts of information in a relatively short period of time. In the process, we discover our own strength and agency, and we experience the hidden potential of failure.

Rapid prototyping and gathering information from each failure, is a natural mechanism for learning, problem solving, and innovating.  I experienced its value as I watched my students attempt the Tower of Hanoi math game.

I prepped them for the process. I emboldened them in their willingness to try. I told them they might not get it  — the 1st, the 5th or the 100th time —  but they should keep trying, and learning with each move, mistake or failure. After listening to the rules, they gathered their three blocks, and set to work figuring out the puzzle.

One of the  girls was  the epitome of rapid prototyping. Rarely taking her eyes off the blocks, she moved them without discussion.She made hundreds of moves. She appeared undeterred by her failure to solve the puzzle, and seemed to find joy and interest in the process.

The number and quickness of her moves, might suggest her moves were aimless or unstudied. Someone watching might  wonder whether she were learning anything, or making any progress. But, looking at it with the eye of a design thinker, it became clear she was rapidly prototyping.

 

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Her movements were speedy, and many. But, they were definitely not without observation, noticing, thought, or purpose. As she made her moves, she clearly learned about the blocks, the puzzle board, and the ways in which everything worked together. After what seemed like hundreds of moves, she paused, looking at the board. Then, she  made the seven moves necessary to solve the puzzle!

(I particularly love this photo that captured the rapid movement of her hands as a blur of motion.)

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It was fascinating and a bit humbling to watch her! I was struck by how wonderfully it illustrated how we learn, as well as my role as an educator.

I must create a culture and environment that supports my students. A culture with resources that bolster their knowledge and understanding, while encouraging them to be brave, and to believe in their ability to work and learn. I must give them provocations and opportunities to problem find, and problem solve.

Then, I must step back and let them do their thing. I must resist any urge to jump in and rescue them before they actually need my help. I must sit in my own discomfort, and trust. Trust the process of learning. Trust creativity and design thinking. Trust rapid prototyping and learning from failure. And mostly, trust them!

Finally I must breathe! My breath helps me pause and gift my students with time and space. It helps me remain calm and confident, unafraid as my students heroically brave the unknown.

It’s a spectacular process that inspires and teaches me. My students — our students — have a tremendous amount of courage, insight and capacity to do and learn. All they need is the opportunity — and our trust and breath.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Breathe, Pause and Listen

golden windows

 

“I love your gold windows” I said to one of my young painters.

I smiled and began to move on to the next student, and the next thing to notice.

As though she sensed my attention was moving she said with urgency and haste …

 

“It’s the sun, shining off the windows!”

 

 

It’s the sun, shining off the windows! Of course it is!

I love that, for her, the gold windows were purposeful and beautiful. She didn’t use the gold simply because it was sparkly and pretty. It was the sun, shining off the windows!

I love too, that she shared her thoughts with me

I am struck by the profoundness of that moment – her words, her joy, her sharing, my being the recipient of her beauty, awesomeness and understanding – and how easily we could have missed that encounter!

I took the briefest of breaths as I began to move on, and she grabbed that moment and shared her noticing, remembering, joy, beauty and understanding with me.

I am grateful for her deep desire to share, and her willingness to call me beyond noticing – which is good – into sharing and conversation – which is great.

Take that extra breath, that extra moment, and just listen.

 

 

Hiking boot canvases

I found a pair of Asolo hiking boots. Loved the fit, but the color? Not so much … red. I was conflicted. A good feeling boot is hard to pass up, but whew, red? Definitely not my thing.

I walked around the store for a good long time trying to decide what I’d do. Then It hit me – tangle them! If that worked, they would rock! The black sharpie would soften the red, and the tangles would create a functional piece of art.

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It worked! (Don’t you think?) Turns out they were a fantastic canvas for tangling.

hiking shoes 2 Now I can’t imagine hiking in anything else.

I am the rockin’, creative, hiking girl in the fabulous, one-of-a kind boots.

 

Quieting my mind with a good tangle

Wow I had a tough time turning off my brain … and to be honest, my spirit … last night. It seemed everything just wanted to stay wound up a bit too tight to allow for sleep.

Thankfully, as I went up to bed, I noticed my black art squares sitting with a pack of white, gold and silver gel pens. “Oh!!!” I thought, “That’s what I’ll do! A zentangle ©.”

I’ve zentangled – or did my version of a tangle – many times previously. I have always enjoyed it but never really experienced it as zen-like as some suggest it might be. But I have to say, for some reason, last night it was really a zen experience!

I picked up a sheet of paper I had previously discarded because I had been unhappy with my placement of the strings (zentangle boarders). I used the parts of the strings I liked, and casually reworked just a bit of the string placement. I decided to work using only white ink (because I didn’t use any white the last time I tangled). I worked with some designs I’ve used previously, and allowed myself to be inspired by others’ designs, in order to create new ones of my own.

Perhaps it was because I was so tired. (Did I mention it was 1AM?) Perhaps it was because I wasn’t really trying to create something – I was just playing, treating the page almost like a piece of scrap paper. Perhaps it was using the form but not feeling bound by the form. I’m not really sure. But whatever the reason, the process was particularly peaceful, free, and enjoyable.

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I added the paraphrase of a Thich Nhat Hanh quote as both an affirmation of what I was doing, and as a reminder of what I always want to do…

Breathe, believe, and be. Smile, cultivate calm, and be cognizant and grateful for the present, wonderful moment.

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With gratitude to the creators of Zentangle and the many people doing great inspiring work, here are a couple links:

http://www.zentangle.com – The website of Zentangle Method creators Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas

http://sandybee.weebly.com/ – The website of Sandy Steen Bartholomew.