No Fretting Shields

Take a look. What do you see? What do you think is going on?

Yes, my students are writing. Yes, they have folders around their work. Nope, I’m not trying to keep my kindergarteners from cheating. I’m trying to keep them from fretting.

They want to be good at everything they do. They have big beautiful brains, and they use them in remarkably wonderful ways. They are constantly learning, discovering, and figuring out. The progress they have made since September — heck the progress they make every day — is fantabulous. None-the-less, they still fret.

I see the doubt, worry, and anxiety well up in their eyes. They don’t say anything out loud, but they stop writing, look at me, look at their paper, look at their friend’s paper erase, rewrite, and look at me again.

I imagine this conversation happening inside their awesome heads.

“Wait, what? Is that how you spell that? You mean I should think that? Is that the strategy I should use? Oh no, maybe I’m not right. Maybe they’re right and I’m wrong. Maybe Miss James will think I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I really don’t know what I’m doing. Ohhhhh nooooo!”

Phew! I want that internal conversation to stop. I want them to see and know how remarkable they are, how marvelous is their thinking, strategizing, struggling, and even failing. I constantly encourage them to trust themselves. I talk about strategies, and why they were powerful.

It doesn’t help. I mean, of course it helps some. They do try more, and perhaps stress a bit less, but wow, they do still fret.

Finally, I had an aha moment. I broke out the folders.

One of my girlies asked what they were. Another said “They’re so we don’t cheat.” Many eyes turned to look at my face. Almost as though they couldn’t believe I would even suggest they would do something so nefarious.

Before they could say anything I said, “I know a lot of people use these so kids don’t cheat. I’m using them so you don’t fret.” More eyes turned to look at my face. I continued. “You know how to do so many things, and you’re learning more and more every day. You have big beautiful brains, and you know how to use them. But, if you happen to look at a friend’s work and notice it’s different from yours, you fret. Instead of trusting yourself, or being ok not knowing it yet, you fret. And then you erase or change all your amazing work. So, I thought we could try some no fretting folders.”

One of them touched the folder and asked, “No fretting folders?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “No fretting folders. You put them up, and just do your stuff — without fretting about what the people next to you are doing.”

She repeated her question, but now it was a statement. “No fretting folders.” She paused a moment, and then with glowing eyes, and a huge smile, she said. “They’re like shields. They’re no fretting shields, Miss James!”

No fretting shields! Indeed. Perhaps next year we will each have our own personal “no fretting shield.” We can decorate them and keep them in our cubbies. We can decide when we need to use them. I wonder if that would increase the power of the shield. I think it just might.

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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.

 

 

Classroom Setup 2017-18

Merriam-Webster’s sixth definition of setup is “the manner in which the elements or components of a machine, apparatus, or system are arranged, designed, or assembled.”

I love to remind myself of this definition while I’m going about my classroom setup. I am designing a system in which I, and my students, colleagues, and parents, will work, create, play, and learn. If I’m any example, creating a classroom system requires a lot of thought, reflection, iteration, sweat, and muscle!

As I worked, thought, and sweated, I reminded myself of the truth about myself and my students. We are “rich in potential, strong, powerful, competent(Loris Malaguzzi quoted in The Hundred Languages of Children, 2nd addition, p. 275). I also thought back to my MA research where I considered the environment that might best support creativity and academic excellence.

I read so many thought provoking things as I researched for my MA. I synthesized them in an article in Creative Education.  If I were writing my dissertation, or the article now, I think I might title it Managing the Classroom for Creative and Cognitive Excellence. I want my classroom setup to support creative excellence, and cognitive excellence. To do that, it has to include and support the 6 elements of Teresa Amabile’s KEYS I adapted for classroom management in Managing the Classroom for Creativity:

  • Freedom which enables and and encourages ownership, motivation, and engagement of all the learners.
  • Positive challenge which helps everyone know the tasks/skills they engage in are important and valuable.
  • Supervisory Encouragement which values work and thought, and encourages inquiry and exploration.
  • Work group support which encourages the generation and exchange of new ideas.
  • Easy access to sufficient resources.
  • Organizational Support of our shared vision and an infrastructure that enables and empowers everyone in my learning space.

I’ve finished my initial classroom set up, and am super happy with the result. There is more work to be done, but I’m ready for my learners to join me in the space.

In addition to including the 6 elements listed above, I worked on including more visibility this year. I was mindful of balancing beauty and utility. I wanted our work, vision, thought, prototypes, iterations and our creative and cognitive “mess” to be visible. It adds a richness to the space — telling our story while increasing curiosity, inquiry, wonder, learning, understanding, creativity and excellence!

 

Here are a few photos with my reflections.

Last year our maker projects where stored in a classroom cabinet. This year, some awesome maintenance people ripped out the cabinet, and I replaced it with this open shelving unit. The wall behind and beside it is covered with a large art piece my students made last year. (How awesome is that?!!!) The use of that artwork, the trays for student work, and the words on the front of the shelving unit let everyone know these things are valued and supported.

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A second smaller shelving unit — on the coolest, gigantic wheels — keeps our tools neat and easily accessible. There’s opportunity for remarkable exploration and learning through the use of these tools.

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The maker trolley has always been a part of the makerspace, but this year I am repurposing the back to hold more materials, and storing our large item bins in the open. I am hopeful this will increase use and understanding.

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The two classroom easels provide opportunities for creative art experiences outside the regular art curriculum. The second is actually a double easel – fabulous for conversation and inspiration! I love leaving the dried paint on the easels. It adds an element of beauty and history to the space, and allows for freedom as one paints.

I’m thinking about the resources I have that might enable me to store paper beneath the easels — enabling the artists to be autonomous in their work. I have some ideas I’m going to try this week.

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I love the connection between my learners’ art experience and mine (the watercolors are my work). I also like the suggestion of a connection between painting, shapes, blocks and building.

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Print is plentiful and purposeful in my learning space. I want my students to read the room and learn. I want them to become more skilled at letter recognition and use, and to be inspired — to see, read, absorb, and live, what is important.

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I love all the little print treasures in my space, so it’s nearly impossible to choose a favorite. However, I am enjoying this one quite a bit!  I wonder what it will evoke or awaken in those who see it. For me it stirs up joy, possibility, positivity, and continuing even when obstacles arise.

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And this, partially hidden gem, out of the way of traffic, is a message from me, to me. “Be a superhero every day. The kids and the world deserve it!”

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All the best to all my fellow educators. Arm yourself with another Malaguzzi truth “Nothing without joy!” and have a fantabulous year!

 

NOTE:

Whenever I write, I think of all the remarkable people I’ve read, talked with, and researched . I think about adding tons of links to each post. Instead, I offer my deep gratitude to all those who informed my research and learning,  and remind my readers there is a great bibliography at the end of my Creative Education article.

 

 

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Hey, Kindergarten!

Our supermarket build is in full swing, and it is spectacular!

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In this build, perhaps even more than in our other builds, communication and collaboration are key!  (So too is breathing, lol, but that is for another blog post!)

As we prepped for the build, my builders, engineers and architects had tons of ideas, but they directed them only to me – the teacher – even though their peers were sitting with us. So many awesome ideas, and so much potential for collaboration and elaboration, were being wasted!

I couldn’t take it anymore! I said “Eee gads. May I say something!”

They looked at me. The looks on their faces said “Eee gads? Did you just say, Eee gads!?” but no one spoke, they just waited.

I continued, “You have so many fantabulous ideas. But, when I call on you, and you look at me, and tell ME, instead of telling EVERYONE, no one else realizes you want THEM to listen, too! But they should! Everyone needs to hear your ideas. That way we can talk about them, or change them, or use them just like you said them!!!”

I paused, just for a moment, to let that sink in. Then I said, “So, can we try something?”

“Yeah.” “Yes.” “Sure.”

“Ok, so, if you have something to say, and you want only me to listen, say Hey Miss James! But, if you want everyone to listen, say Hey, Kindergarten!

They seemed excited by the plan. They asked, “So we say Hey, Kindergarten! if we have an idea of how to do something, or if we something we want to tell everyone?”

“Yup,” I responded. “And when we hear it, we’ll stop what we’re doing, look at you and say Hey (your name)! Then you can tell us your idea. OK?”

“Ok!”

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We had at least 8 announcements of “Hey Kindergarten!” in that 30 minute building period. It was a bit overwhelming (at least for me, lol). I thought I might have to figure out something to say to rein them in. But, as the days went by, they began using it more judiciously all on their own.

Sometimes I forget and just say “Kindergarten” or some other attention getting rhyme we have established, and get no response. Then one of them says “You should try saying ‘Hey, Kindergarten,’ Miss James!”

The first time they said that I laughed out loud and said “You’re right! I should!!!” So, I did, and they responded immediately  – “Hey, Miss James!” It was awesome.

There are so many things I like about “Hey, Kindergarten!”

  • I love that they are teaching each other by sharing their ideas, reflections and wonderings.
  • I love that they are listening to each other.
  • I love that “Hey, Kindergarten!” shares classroom control with them.
  • I love the joy they express when using it.
  • I love hearing them say it, and responding along with their peers.

But, i think what I love most is how it empowers them. Their ideas are being told, heard, respected and valued. And, THEY are calling their friends — and teacher — to listen. We are partners in this learning journey. I’m glad to give them a way to experience and express the partnership.

The things they have shared after saying “Hey, Kindergarten!” have been remarkable. I don’t think it is coincidental. I think they feel the value, power, liberty, and awesomeness of “Hey Kindergarten!” and it opens them.

I’m published!!!

WOO HOO!!! My first academic paper is published in the Journal of Creative Education (June 2015). It’s based upon my MA Creative Thinking research.

Here’s all the info:

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

AMAZING to see my name – Molly James – as the author in a research journal. I hope it is the first of many.

Please feel free to join me in a happy dance and a lovely cup of tea!

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Then, pop over to Creative Education Journal and take a look at my paper. CE is an open access journal, so you will be able to download and read my paper without the need to subscribe. (YAY!) Here’s the link:

Managing the Classroom for Creativity

It’s a great read – if I do say so myself! My hope is it will help many educators create classroom environments that encourage deep thinking, academic excellence, and creativity.