Beauty

There were so many beautiful things to see at the museum. Spectacular paintings, sculpture, metal work.

This was the most beautiful.

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No, not the statue, or the paintings, or the stunning gallery — the woman and child huddled together.

They entered the gallery with quiet interest. The woman carried a folded stool which she casually opened out of the way of any traffic. I thought perhaps it was for her. I was wrong.

The girl scanned the gallery with a bit of child-like enthusiasm — notebook and pencil clutched in her hand. They whispered to one another. The woman moved the stool slightly, and the girl took a seat, opened her notebook, and began to sketch.

Their faces gazed up and down — contemplating the artwork of the gallery artists, and creating new work in the notebook.

The woman was always present — sometimes whispering, sometimes watching, sometimes gazing at something in the distance. The girl worked — her face buried in the notebook — for as long as I remained in the gallery.

For me, the beauty in that relationship far outweighed the beauty of any piece of art. I am not sure I can adequately explain why. But, I will try.

The girl was young and completely captivated by the art in the gallery and on her page. I don’t know if she was recording what she saw, or being inspired to make her own creation. It doesn’t matter so much to me. It was her joy, her passion, and her intentness that drew me.

And then the woman. She served as such a beautiful counterpart to the young artist. Everything she did appeared to encourage, empower and support the girl and her creative endeavors.

I hope to always be a beautiful counterpart to others. Might we all be!

 

 

 

Creating and Curating Their Own Creativity

We frequently visit our school art gallery. We go armed with sketch books and pencils — ready to sketch anything we can see from within the gallery. Sometimes this is art, sometimes each other, and sometimes things we notice through the windows.

Most days our conversation goes like this:

Them: “Miss James, can we take off our shoes?”

Me: “You may — as long as you understand if we have a fire drill you are going outside without your shoes.”

They always agree, and I always cross my fingers that we don’t have a fire drill! Typically, once their shoes are off, they stow them under a shelf in the gallery and happily get to work sketching.

On this particular visit, the removal of their socks and shoes fueled their imagination and provided a unique medium for their creativity.

As I walked about the gallery. I came upon this …

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Returning a few moments later, I found this …

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And, finally, a bit later, this …

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I love their creativity, collaboration and inclusion. Did you notice the number of shoes and socks increased in each photo? Each time someone asked to join, the original artists expanded their work to include their friends.

In the last photo, they are working together to collect the signatures of all the artists who contributed to their “double-flower art.”

I love that the freedom I gave them — to take off their shoes and wander the gallery in bare feet  — resulted in such beautiful, examples of their powerful and joy-filled agency and creativity! I never cease to be amazed how such simple things — though profound when you think about it — as time, space, freedom, trust, resources (bare feet, socks and shoes, pencils and sketch books) and agency, allow these young creatives to do their thing.

They are fantabulous.

 

Our Door

“I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather. Each work grows, stays, decays. Process and decay are implicit. Transience in my work reflects what I find in nature.” (Andy Goldsworthy)

I don’t know how Andy Goldsworthy does it – in a couple of ways! I have no idea how he makes the art he does. It’s quite spectacular. And, more importantly for my thoughts today, I have no idea how he deals with the transience of his work. It’s remarkable to work for so long on something just  to have to fade away.

I felt a bit of that as I took down the final vestiges of our supermarket build. The last thing to go was the door.

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I kept it up a few days after the girls left. It seemed odd, in some ways, to feel such a connection to the door. But I did. Funny, even writing about it feels me with emotion.

That door was a part of our classroom for months – first in our thoughts, imagination and conversations. Then in uncompleted form, forgotten it would seem, on the side of our build. Still later, in our day-to-day exploration, experimentation, and work to build it. And finally, as a working door, providing the only access to the main part of our classroom.

We went in and out of that door a zillion times! We marveled at it. We kibitzed with it – trying to make the hinges more stable, and prototyping different handles. And, we just lived with it.

Perhaps that’s it. Andy sees his art and creativity as a statement of transience. He creates it as such and in some way revels in the transient nature.

I, however, did not.

I knew the supermarket would only be up for a short period of time. But, I didn’t enter into the relationship with the girls and the build with transience as my goal, or even as my understanding. Each day we entered into the now of the build, the some time of our imaginations, and the ever deepening forever of our relationships with each other.

That door held deep meaning. It was the way we entered into a lovely, safe, joy-filled space in the classroom. Perhaps even more important, it was also a way we entered more deeply into relationship with each other. We imagined hard, thought hard and worked hard to get the door up and functioning – and that drew us together as a community.

I laughed at myself a bit as I looked at the door, standing alone in the classroom. What good is a door with no walls? Why would someone keep up a door to no where?

But, as I thought I chuckled. It isn’t so silly to be attached to this door. It’s not a  door to no where. It’s a door still open to all those moments, all those ideas, all that love, angst, joy, celebrating, collaboration, hope and possibility.  It’s a marvelous magical door, imbued with the spirits of all of us who worked on it, marveled at it and enjoyed it.

Perhaps after all, in some ways, our creativity is just like Andy’s. Our relationships, memories, hopes, and all the possibility that fills them, last forever. But, Kindergarten, is transient and brief. So too, is our build, and our remarkable door.

Thankfully, similar to Andy’s art, it lives on in our hearts, memories and photographs!

 

 

 

 

Creativity and Leadership

I recently had an article published entitled Cultivating Dynamic Leadership through Creativity.

I give three examples of leadership in a creative venue:

  • She leads through her curiosity and sensible risk taking, and all emerge with new understanding and innovative methods.
  • She leads with empathy, which drives her to connect and comfort others.
  • She leads through her belief in the power of possibility, discovery, research and experimentation.

When a friend of mine read the article, and these examples, she said “I wonder if people just read these examples, if they’d know who you are writing about.”

I wonder that, too!

So, who do you think she (or he) might be?

A teacher? An entrepreneur? An artist? An IT professional? A psychologist? A parent? A scientist? A researcher? A doctor?

While each are suitable guesses, they are not who I had in mind when I wrote.

I didn’t write of a professional, or even of an adult. Instead, I wrote of my kindergarten students.

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They are remarkable, strong, powerful children. While they are fantabulous, these characteristics are not unique to them. All children, have incredible strength, power and potential.

My teaching practice is informed by my belief in this profound power and potential of children. I try, as best I can, to allow my teaching, and my reflection, to be nourished and driven by the “joy, passion, wonder and conviction” of my understanding of the truth of the strong, powerful child. (Managing the Classroom for Creativity, James 2015)

Children are natural leaders. Placed in an environment that enables and encourages creativity, their innate leadership abilities germinate, increase and flourish.

Resources:

James, M. (2017). Cultivating Dynamic Leadership Through Creativity. KPS Voyager, 2017, 8.  (https://issuu.com/kentplace/docs/voyager2017_final?e=1889902/47525909)
James, M. (2015). Managing the Classroom for Creativity. Journal of Creative Education Vol. 6, No. 10, 1032-1043 (http://file.scirp.org/pdf/CE_2015061915593867.pdf)

Hinges in Kindergarten

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How will we make our own hinges? Hmmm …

The girls and I have been thinking about this for some time now. Last night I ran out to the hardware store and bought a hinge so we’d be able to look at the pieces, and problem solve together today.

Seems we have many problems to solve:

  1. We don’t have a way to screw in the hinge plates.
  2. We don’t have the remarkable stable structure of concrete walls.
  3. We don’t actually have hinges or hinge plates for our door.
  4. We don’t yet have the door completed.

How might we:

  1. Make our door more secure and stable? (Tomorrow we’re going to take a look at some door designs.)
  2. Create hinges, or hinge-like things, to hang our door?
  3. Create a stable structure to anchor our door?
  4. Make our door workable?

When I look at all the problems, and all the how might we questions, I’m a tad overwhelmed. But, then I see, in my minds eye, my girls, this morning.

I told them I had tubes that might work for the door. With a good deal of excitement, they asked if they could work on the door. “Sure, go ahead!” I replied.

When I popped my head in the makerspace, it was a remarkable scene. Four large columns were being constructed by four groups of girls. They were talking, pointing, sharing ideas, collaborating, and working hard. Some were standing on chairs (the door is much taller than they are). Some were straining their necks to see to the top of the door. All were engaged, empowered, invested, and joy-filled. It was AWESOME.

There is hope!

 

P.S.

Perhaps you are wondering:

  1. Why do you need to make hinges?
  2. You’re making a door?
  3. Why do you need a working door, doesn’t your classroom already have one?

We are making hinges and doors as part of our Social Studies supermarket build.

More on that later!

 

Are They Listening?

I was inspired by a colleague to truly make my word wall interactional – student driven and written. It’s a whiteboard, so it’s easy to revise. I erased everything I had on it, and moved it a bit closer to the floor. They would still need a chair to write at the top, but they could do it!

During guided reading, I rolled out the plan. Everyone was to write 3 words. They could be words they really liked, or words they used a lot in their writing, or words they wanted to use in their writing. They could be any words, BUT, they had to be written the way they are in library books. (Usually, when we write, the words need to be encoded so that the authors, and I, can read them.)

They got papers and set to work with enthusiastic determination. As each finished, they shared their list with me. We worked to spell each word the way it was in a library book. Sometimes we worked harder at hearing sounds and encoding them. Other times we recalled spelling rules and combinations. Still others times I asked permission to show them how it would be spelled in a library book.

Finally, they joined me at the wall and added their words. It took us a few days to get all the words written, but it was worth it! It was such a joy to watch them work, and to work with them.

They reached as high as they could to add their words.

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And the words they chose were …

I cannot think of an adequate descriptor …

…. amazing, fantabulous, wonderful, overwhelming.

Take a look at two of the word lists.

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Yes, there are sight words on the wall such as  — we, and, of — and other words they know and enjoy like — candy, cup.

But the wall is filled with things I have said, written and encouraged!

One student wrote “I’m possible!” as an Ii word. It’s a reference to the statement “Impossible just says ‘I’m possible.”

Are they listening? Yes, they are! 

Note:

You might be wondering about the word fantabulous. You may not find it in a dictionary, but it is a word in our classroom. I made it up a few years ago. It’s a combination of fantastic and fantabulous — two words I say with some regularity. One day, while chatting with the kids I said it’d be great if there were a word that was both fantastic and fabulous … like … FANTABULOUS! 

It has joined the lexicon of our classroom, and appears to be moving on with the students and their families. Soon, perhaps, it will be found in the dictionary! 

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.

Card Carrying Members!

If you read my blog with any regularity, you know I’m a fan of the cloud – blogging about it least 5 times! (In the Cloud with Uri Alon, The Cloud in the Classroom,  Yes And In the ClassroomLittle Tweaks Big ResultsThe Cloud Appreciation Society)

The reality of “the cloud” is super helpful to me as I think creatively, venture into new arenas, learn, create, and live.  About 2 weeks ago I blogged about being a proud card carrying member of the Cloud Appreciation Society!

Remarkably I realized I didn’t think my students were card carrying members of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Crazy, right? I love the cloud. I know it’s helpful. I believe Uri when he says the cloud “stands guard at the boundary between the known and the unknown.” I believe the cloud is a fundamental and essential part of learning.

WHY hadn’t I ever talked to my students about it?

I have no idea. But, I’ve changed all that!

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The other day I shared the secret of the cloud with them! I drew a cloud on the board and we talked about clouds and fog. Then I told them there are a lot of times when learning is all about being in the cloud, and being brave enough to stay there – even though we can’t quite see where we are going. I shared that I am often in the cloud when I am learning new things. I said I’m even in the cloud sometimes when I’m preparing a lesson for them!

Then, I told them I believed in them so much I was going to throw them right into the middle of the cloud!

I told them I was going to ask them to do some math, and not just any math, but math that is even hard for some adults! It’s a math puzzle called the Tower of Hanoi. (You can play it here if you’d like to give it a go.)

I grabbed 3 blocks and a 3 square template, and explained the rules. My kids asked some great questions – showing me they were already thinking of ways to solve the puzzle.

I assured them they would all be able to figure it out. It might  not be easy, but they could do it. If they got stuck they should just remember they were in the cloud – and that was GREAT! If they needed help to guide them a bit in the cloud they could talk with a teacher or a friend.

I challenged them to stay in the cloud. “If it’s hard, don’t fret. Stay in the cloud. Take a breath. Believe in yourself. Keep going. … If working with 3 blocks is easy, throw yourself back in the cloud by challenging yourself to do 4 blocks!”

It was FANTASTIC!!! It was hard for some of them. And the fact that it was hard, was frustrating and discombobulating to some who felt it shouldn’t have been hard.

I’m glad! That in itself is learning. Thinking is hard. Math is hard. But it’s also good, and possible, and fun … exhilarating even … as you struggle through the cloud.

We worked on the Towers for 3 days – reworking the ones we had figured out the day before, adding blocks and trying again. Each day we talked about the cloud. Each day I told them how spectacular it was to be in the cloud with them.

After our inaugural jump into the cloud, we each signed an “I love the cloud! I am a learning superhero!” sheet. On Friday, I presented each of them a laminated card (a reduced copy of their signed sheet) and welcomed them as “card carrying members” of the I love the Cloud Club. It was awesome.

One of the girls asked if she could make an announcement during closing circle on Friday. I said “Sure.”

Confident in her thoughts, but unsure what she would share, I listened attentively. I nearly melted as I heard her thoughts.

She extolled the greatness of being in the cloud, the joy of thinking you couldn’t do it, but then realizing you could.

It was amazing.

Seeing Spelling With New Eyes

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I read this the other day. When I reached the end and read buttufele, I had an epiphany about spelling!

Spelling is a remarkably daring journey into  possibility thinking, creativity and design!

When trying to share our ideas, encode sounds and/or spell words we all go through the following steps:

Possibility thinking: How might we use what we already have/know in a new way? What letters or letter combinations are possible?

Creativity: We have to be brave and take risks.We use what we know to make something new and useful.

Design: We define a design challenge. ( For instance, write the word – beautifully.) We ideate. (butfoolee, beyuootefooly, beeyutyfuly, buttufele), and prototype (see illustration above). Then we test. (Can I read it? Can someone else read it? Can the person I wrote it for read it?) Our test provides us with data, and perhaps, new understanding. The process then begins again for this, or some other, word.

I love this understanding of spelling. It brings an element of play, and ease into the process of spelling. It embraces the fact that the spelling process, like all other design processes, often includes failing.

I’m wondering if approaching spelling this way, might make it easier for our students. Understanding they are choosing a design (spelling) challenge might empower them. Being creative might infuse joy into the process. Embracing failure as a natural part of spelling might diffuse some fear, and increase learning.

I’m going to work on my language and give it a go with my learners. I’m hopeful!

And just a note: Conventional spelling can also be approached as a design challenge. except now the challenge might be “Spell beautifully as it is found in library books, or on dictionary.com.”

Translation in case it is needed: She is very pretty. She is funny and she is goofy. She is a kind princess. She lives in Westfield. She sings songs beautifully.

 

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!