Curiosity, Courage, and Creativity

Curiosity, courage, and creativity have been my constant companions these past few months. These three emotions, mindsets, and actions — they seem to be all three — help me survive and thrive with cancer; increase my experience of joy, awe, and wonder; and facilitate and strengthen my making and learning.

I’ve been making a lot of art lately. Perhaps because I have more time and opportunities for mindful engagement, I’ve had a uniquely fantabulous experience as I create. I seem to be able to watch myself make art — almost as though I were watching someone else. The closest I can get to explaining it is to say it’s like metacognition for art and creativity. I’m present, curious, and aware of what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, what I’m feeling, what I’m noticing, and what I’m thinking. I gotta say, it’s fascinating.  

I’ve been primarily studying and playing with watercolor and various kinds of sketching. The other day I watched a tutorial video with Liz Steele over at Art Toolkit. Wow, she has a beautiful process and product. I’m fascinated by her use of watercolor to lay down structure, and her balance between precise thinking and loose relaxed lines and painting.  Before I even finished the tutorial, I grabbed my watercolors, marker, and a black and white photo of a church I love, and set to work.

My curiosity  — Would her method work for me? How will it go? How will I feel?  Might I do that? Can I adopt her loose line method? Can watercolor really give me that structure? — combined with my love of making, gave me the courage to try.

Is it perfect? No. Was it fantabulous to try? Yes. Did I learn anything? Yes. Do I want to keep experimenting? Yes. Do I have more questions now than when I began? Indeed! Did I buy another journal to use for my urban and life sketching? You bet!

I’ve since subscribed to Liz’s blog, found Urban Sketchers, am waiting with anticipation for Liz’s book to make it out of quarantine, and am resisting the urge to buy any other books. There’s so much to learn!

My curiosity propels me, and, I’m noticing, helps me to engage with my process and art in an almost detached way. I’m less worried about trying new things, and when I make mistakes, I recognize them as opportunities rather than disasters.

Here’s an example. I’ve been making folded books to send to friends during the pandemic. As I flipped through one of the books, I saw the same quote on two consecutive pages – UGH! I didn’t want to redo the whole book, and I wanted to maintain the structure of a single sheet folded and cut in such a way as to create a folded book. What was I to do?  I took a breath and a moment to think and wonder “How might I … ?”

After a bit I realized I could cut the page, and paste in a piece of my collaging stash.

By approaching the mistake with curiosity, I was able to see it as an opportunity rich with potential and possibility. The problem opened my eyes to ideas I hadn’t previously considered, and encouraged me to make connections I hadn’t yet made. It turned out to be a happy mistake as I discovered a new way to create the books while adding color, interest, and a unique place for me to add art and inspiration!

Curiosity isn’t always all I need. There are times I am curious and still afraid. Just the other day I was working on my purposely wonky mandala-like designs. I had finished the design and inked in all the various elements. I loved it. My plan was to add color with the watercolor glazing technique — laying down light layers to create shades and depth of color. But, as I looked a the piece I hesitated. Dare I take the next step? Dare I follow through on my desire to try watercolor glazing? Dare I let curiosity lead me to take the risk of putting color to the paper — and possibly wrecking it. Eeee gads.

I did all those things, but not without first stirring up my courage. It’s remarkable, really, how much courage I sometimes need in order to do things, even, and perhaps especially, things I very much want to do. 

I made a few copies of my work so I could begin to experiment with the watercolors before placing them on my design. As I played with the colors, I noticed how they interacted with one another, and how they presented when placed together. It was fun, it taught me a lot, and it increased my confidence.

While experimenting and painting my actual piece, I was constantly stopping, looking, thinking, wondering. I looked from different angles — sometimes by changing the angle of the paper, and at others the angle of my head. I read an article that suggested the angled head posture is a sign of curiosity — trying to understand, to see in different ways, and to orient our ears in a way to gather more information. How cool is that? I laughed to myself thinking, ah, that is what I do when I’m listening or deep in concentration — nice to know it suggests I’m always curious and helps me learn.

My painting process was a blend of intuitive work and critical thinking. I was happy to have the time, quiet, and opportunity to experiment, notice, wonder, and learn. I was fascinated by my eyes growing ability to distinguish between very subtle differences in color. It was interesting to become aware of the things I saw, and didn’t see, each time I looked. It seemed my brain was able to perceive new things with each new look — things my eyes had already seen but my brain hadn’t been ready to process.

I’m super happy with my process, and product.

So, back to my wonderful companions — curiosity, courage, and creativity. 

Curiosity.

Curiosity encourages me to engage and persevere. The curious person is constantly asking questions, and looking to discover new things. I love when it opens the door to new ways of seeing by pushing me to ask questions like why? and why not?

Creativity.

Creativity births new ideas and opportunities as I problem-find and problem-solve. Creative thinking encourages me to make new connections and see possibility.  It encourages me to be open to new ideas, and enables me to create things and ideas that didn’t exist before. Creative thinking is crucial in our ever changing and increasingly complex world.

Courage.

Courage fosters my curiosity, creativity, and learning. With courage I am more willing and able to take risks, think, and learn.

My best work, learning, and enjoyment come when I am curious, courageous, and creative. If my best work, learning and enjoyment are championed by curiosity, courage, and creativity, so too for my students.

So I’m back to asking questions, and thinking about why, why not, and how might we?

Metacognition:

Do I encourage metacognition– even in Kindergarten? Do I teach them the word? What structures are in place in my learning environment that encourage my learners to value their own thinking — sometimes even over the solution?  When do they have the time to notice, think about, and document their own thinking? Perhaps even more powerful  — how do I discourage it? What are the subtle ways I value the end result over the process?

Curiosity:

Do I value and model curiosity? Am I teaching my students to wonder, ask questions, and strive for understanding? Do I provide time, opportunity, and my presence to their questions, wondering, learning, and understanding? And again, how might I unknowingly or unintentionally discourage questioning and self directed learning?

Courage:

Do I honor the fear my learners may feel — especially when they are deeply invested in learning or doing something? What strategies do I teach them to help them increase their own courage? Have I created an infrastructure in my learning space that can help them find the right level of challenge — neither too easy or too hard — so as to grow their courage? Do my learners and I celebrate mistakes, and actively search for learning and beauty within our mistakes? Am I courageous enough to allow my learners to fail? Am I creative and sensitive enough to help them learn from their mistakes and fail forward? How might I be foiling their attempts to strengthen their courage?

Creativity:

Do my students understand the power of creative thinking? Do I encourage dreaming, wondering, fantastical ideas? Is there time in the day for my learners to experiment, tinker,  and make? Am I encouraging creative thinking as well as doing? Are my learners empowered to find problems that mean something to them, and search for solutions? Am I patient, courageous, curious, and creative enough to find ways to allow my learners to find their own answers and way of doing things? Do I share my creativity without usurping theirs?

So much to consider. For now, I will let these thoughts ferment in the deep recesses of my mind. I’m on leave, and need to focus my energy on my health.

Courage through Kindness

I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Kindness makes a difference in the difficulties surrounding me — whether they be deeply personal, or impact the entire human race. Kind thoughts, words, and actions assuage feelings, soothe souls, and make things right, or at least, more right. On the other hand, unkind thoughts, words, and actions, make everything more difficult, and more dark.

I’m saddened by how remarkably easy it is for us as  humans to adopt attitudes, behaviors, and words that are unkind. Lately, to make matters worse, unkind acts seem to be more readily accepted, magnified, justified, and even cheered on in news reports and on social media.

Enough is enough.

I’m reminded of the scripture “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, what ever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4) Kindness in thought, word, and deed, is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, so I am going to think and speak of them a bit.

Let me tell you about an act of kindness done directly for me. I got an email the other day with the subject “Have courage!” These three young friends learned I wasn’t well, and decided to do something about it. They wanted me to find courage — to fight, to win, to get well, and to be ok in the process. Their desire was kind. And I am incredibly grateful for it.

But, they weren’t done. They didn’t just wish me well, and encourage me to be strong. They chose to think and act with creativity and kindness, and actually send me courage! How fantabulous are they? The canvases are en route and I can’t wait to receive them and hang them.

Courage, love, and kindness coming my way!

These girls reminded me of Leon Logothetis. If you don’t know Leon, it’s worth your while to give him a look. His gig and mission is highlighting the good in humanity, and if you ask me, being a champion of kindness. His definition of kindness is: The act of truly seeing someone and making them feel less alone.

That is what these three girls did. They saw me. As my kindergartners would say “They REALLY saw you, Ms. James!” and they made me feel less alone.

I chose the title of this post — Courage through Kindness — to highlight the courage that I received through these lovely humans’ kind thoughts and deeds. But as I wrote the words, I thought “Kindness is a form of courage.” To choose to think and act in kind ways is courageous — and fantabulous. I am honored and blessed to know these three and their families. Their kindness and love is powerful. I trust their love and kindness — and they themselves — will only grow in might, beauty, and influence. Reminding myself of that fact, I release a bit of worry, and breathe a bit easier for the present, and the future.

Painting Today

There will be painting today!

I got these beauties in the mail a few days ago, but they had to sit in quarantine before I opened them, so for all intents and purposes, I got them today!

I staged the photo as I did because it pleased me aesthetically, but also because it hints at a message. The brush is supported by hope and courage. The combination of the three make the image complete, and somehow — in my heart today — increases the possibility of my being open to the many miracles that are gifted to me each moment.

That brush is fantabulous. I cannot wait to see how much water and paint it is able to soak up, and how it moves across the page.

Yes, there will be painting today.

Perhaps on my porch, or — gasp — dare I hope, at the edge of a stream on a walk? Mask and glasses on, but heart blissfully open to the blessings that will surely come my way. And, if tears come, it will be alright. They will mingle with the watercolors bringing unexpected beauty.

Courage, Challenge, Learning and Excellence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can do it, Miss James!!!”

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

How fantastic is that?!?!?

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

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

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

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

artistic skylar and me

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

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

 

RESOURCES:

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

 

 

 

We are Superheroes!!!

 

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

superhero comicbook

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

The page might read:

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

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

Rock on, young superheroes. Rock on!

Dr. Seuss Creative Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

feet writing

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

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

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

feet painting

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

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

Here are some of the things I noticed:

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

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

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

Courageous Creativity

math canvas 1

Sometimes we have to show a little courage in order to encourage it in our students!

Our math coordinator felt, I think, a little left out of my Kindergarten classroom. It is a lovely space, rich in the opportunity to do math, but not so rich in the “in your face, obvious, look this is math” kind of way! I love math, yes, for real, I really do. So I thought “Let’s go all out!”

I pulled out two canvases. They were beautiful! Big, thick, pristine, white canvases. I was excited to make some sort of creative, statement piece. Something that was fabulous artistically and aesthetically, and actually said something about math.

You may recall, I’m sometimes a bit of a chicken when it comes to the big, blank, white page! And, let me remind you, this was not a only big, blank and white, it was a canvas, and not a cheap one at that. But I had no time for timidity! I had two days to create two canvases. Eeek!

I flipped through a couple mixed media art books, and came upon many ideas I thought I could use – putting paint on the canvas with an old credit or gift card, creating layers with stencils and cut paper – and perhaps most importantly, not being afraid of the process.

A deadline is not always helpful when you are being creative, but this time, it was incredibly helpful. I didn’t have time to entertain my fear of the blank page, or the possibility of destroying the canvas. I had to trust the process, the colors and me, and just do it! So I did.

It was super fun and super freeing. Hopefully it will inspire parents and students to wonder, investigate, think, share, strategize, question, problem solve, reason, make mistakes, try again and learn … even if they are feeling a bit trepidatious!

math canvas 2