Intent-based Leadership in Kindergarten

My brother just hipped me to the concept of Intent-based leadership. He sees value in adding it to our coaching practice. It sounds promising so I’ve started watching the plethora videos he suggested. As I watch I have to say I agree with him, and I’m thinking — “Wow! This isn’t just a good idea for our fencing team, this would be great to share with my Kindergartners!”

Leadership, responsibility, intent, learning, in Kindergarten
(created the photo art with goart.fotor.com)

Intent-based leadership looks like another awesome way for my Kindergartners to grow in their CASEL 5, as well as, academic excellence and joy. It will encourage my students to think about what they know, what they don’t know yet, what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and what and how they’re learning. My hunch is it’s going to be a powerful tool in the classroom.

Intent-based leadership was developed by L. David Marquet, while a Captain in the US Navy as a Commander of the nuclear submarine Santa Fe. Two quotes on his website hooked me! (I’ve adapted them for the classroom.)

Imagine a school (work place) where everyone engages and contributes their full intellectual capacity. A school (place) where people are healthier and happier because they have more control over their work – a school (place) where everyone is a leader.

Teaching (Leadership) is communicating to students, colleagues, and parents (people) their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.

How fantabulous is that? I’m still exploring and pondering, and there are a gazillion good ideas to consider, but here are five of my “OH!” and “AHA!” moments regarding using intent-based leadership in the classroom

#1 There isn’t one source of power, information, and leadership on the nuclear sub or in our classroom. Students and teachers share in the responsibility of learning and growing a fantabulous classroom community.

Do I have a lot of information as the teacher? Yes. Do I bear a large portion of the responsibility? Yes. Do I have a considerable amount of power? Yes.

However, do I have all the information as the teacher? No. Do I have all the responsibility? No. Do I have all the power? No. My students also have a considerable amount of information, responsibility, and power.

My Kindergartners are knowledgeable about many things — they understand what they love, what motivates them, what they think they know, what they think they don’t know, what they actually know and don’t know, what’s going on with them and their friends, what’s going on at home, and so much more.

Ask any of my students if they have any responsibilities in our classroom. Each will say yes. They have class jobs. They are responsible for how they behave, what they say, what they do or don’t do. It sometimes takes them a bit to realize just how responsible they are. Here’s a common conversation.

Student: “My mom forgot to put my folder in my bag, Miss James.”
Me: “Your mom forgot to put your folder in your bag?
Student: :Yes.”
Me: “Whose folder is it?”
Student: “Mine.”
Me: “Who forgot to pack it.”
Student “My mom.”
Repeat until ….
Me: “Who forgot to pack your folder?”
Student: “Me?”
Me: (with a big smile) “Yup! Hope you remember tomorrow!”
The folder always makes it in the next day.

My students are strong, rich, and powerful. Some understand that and use it well. Others don’t realize the power they have. Still others know they have power, but don’t always use it in the best way. I’m eager to help them recognize, embrace, and use their power well. The fantabulous humans in my Kindergarten and I are going to have a remarkable leadership journey together this year!

Our classroom community will flourish when we all co-exist as bearers of knowledge, responsible classroom citizens, and powerful leaders. As we step into our leadership opportunities, listen to one another, reflect upon what we hear, and value one another’s ideas, my Kindergartners will begin to blossom. They will experience and understand themselves as valuable and essential partners in our classroom community and in their learning journey.

If David is correct — and all the data suggests he is — this will reduce tension in the classroom while increasing productivity and happiness.

#2 It’s valuable to know what you intend to do, why you intend to do it, and how you intend to do it.
There are times my students need to do what I tell them to do. But there are other times when they are able to choose between various options. It would be amazing for them to be able to choose based on what is most valuable and helpful to themselves and their learning.

For instance, in reading they might listen to reading, read to someone, work on writing, or do some word work activity. How do they choose what to do? Do they simply follow a schedule I set up for them? If so, then they intend to follow directions. There is value in following directions that is true, but there are also times when it would be good for me to allow them to decide what they intend to do.

For instance perhaps they intend to — share a favorite book with a friend, or listen to reading so as to learn about snakes, or do word-work so they can learn their sight words and thereby grow as a reader. How awesome is that? They understand why they are doing what they are doing, and are working with intrinsic motivation.

I want them to know that even if they haven’t received specific directions from a teacher, they can still do wonderfully productive and fantabulous things. I want them to be confident in their ability to think, reflect, and make good decisions. And, I want them to actually make those good decisions.

This will require a good deal of trust on my part. I will need to trust myself, my students, and the process. And, I will have to be willing to take it one step at a time.

I know I will need do a good bit of frontloading, modeling, and scaffolding. We will have to build relationships, trust, and skill. There will be many discussions: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? What did we experience? What do we want to experience? What did we learn? How did we learn it? When might we do that again? Is there anything that might work better?

The process feels incredibly daunting, and, at the same time, amazingly powerful and exciting.

#3 Student: “I intend to …” Me “What am I thinking right now?”

When my students tell me what they are motivated to do, and what they intend to do, it will be important for me to engage in conversation with them. Sometimes it might be — tell me more. Sometimes it might be “What am I thinking right now?” These questions allow my students to take ownership of themselves and what they intend, while at the same time having the benefit of my thoughts, experiences, and sense of things.

Some of the things I’m thinking might be:
Is it safe? Convince me that it’s safe.
Is it productive? Convince me that it’s productive.
Is it the right thing to do? Convince me that it’s the right thing to do.
Is it kind? Convince me that it’s kind.

This type of exchange is a learning experience for my students and myself. I get to learn what they’re thinking, and why they’re thinking it. I discover areas that aren’t clear to them and that might benefit from greater explanation or experience. They get to think through the process, consider their actions, and remember the purpose of the particular learning moment.

Again, I’m struck by the enormity of the process. And yet, if my goal is to begin to help my students become their best, most brilliant selves, I must take the chance. If I hope to help create not just students who can do what I ask them to do, but humans who can make good decisions and impact themselves and others in powerful ways, then it’s time to give it a go.

#4 We are all leaders and all followers

This isn’t about anarchy. We are all leaders, and all followers. We cannot just choose to intend to do something that is against the guiding principles of the organization. We choose to be part of the organization — in my case, my students’ parents choose to have their children be part of our classroom community. After making that commitment there are certain ways we must comply. For instance we must do our best, be kind, and treat each other with respect. There are other ways we can exercise our leadership and creativity. It’s always about learning and growing and being our best possible selves as individuals and a community.

#5 You can do it, *Molly (*Insert your name here.)

In one of the leadership nudges, David suggests we use our name when encouraging ourselves. Instead of “I can do it.” I would say “Molly, you can do it.” At first it feels a bit silly, but after trying it, I like it. David posits that using the third person way of speaking to ourselves puts us in a bit of a less emotionally charged space. I experience it as though a kind friend is giving me the encouragement. I’m definitely going to suggest it to my Kindergartners. I think it will be valuable, and be worth a few chuckles.


So, there you have it. I intend to embark on the profound journey of intent based leadership with my Kindergartners this year. And, I intend to have a fantabulous year together. Wish me luck!


Here’s a bonus nugget so you can get a feel for intent-based leadership from David himself. The three name rule. I’m thinking about how to incorporate it into our classroom community.

SEL and Setting Intentions In Kindergarten

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an essential part of living and learning. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has 5 core SEL competencies, called the CASEL 5 – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.

According to CASEL, the social emotional learning that happens as we develop and use these 5 core competencies “is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

I don’t know about you, but I think that list of outcomes is spectacular! I read it and say, “Oh, yeah. I want that!” And, I don’t just want that for myself. I want it for my family, my students, and gosh, for the world.

I’m always looking for ways to enhance the SEL in my classroom. My question is always how to most effectively and efficiently give my students agency over their own SEL. I think I’ve found an answer in intention setting.

We talked a lot about setting intentions in our B4C training. We considered: How do I want to show up? What do I want to notice? What emotion do I want to cultivate?

Sometimes our instructors would invite us to join them in a particular intention. At other times they would encourage us to take a moment, and then set our own intention for our practice, or our time together. As I set intentions, I noticed myself using the CASEL competencies.

Self-awareness and self-management: What am I feeling/thinking? What did I hope to feel/think? What do I need? What might help me reach my goal?

Social awareness: Who is around me? How might I influence them, and them me? How do I want to show up in relationship to them? How might I grow?

Relationship skills: How might I show up as a leader, speaker, listener, and/or collaborator?

Responsible decision making: Might I increase my curiosity, courage or kindness? What is my role? Might I think more critically, more creatively? What is happening today? How does all of this impact my decision of how I might show up?

My best intention setting happens when I am present to myself, others, and the moment. I’m able to breathe, notice, think, and choose an intention that actually helps me to become the person I want/need to be in that moment in time. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But, I tell you it’s true. Our minds are incredibly powerful, and our thoughts, emotions, mental images, and inner talk actually shape our brains, our experiences and our very selves. There’s tons of research out there if you’re interested. Here’s one article from Stanford News on the ability of our minds to shape our reality.

I definitely want to share the practice of setting intentions with my Kindergartners.

I imagine the power my Kindergartners will experience as they decide how they want to show up — kind, brave, happy, curious. I am sure there will be lots of modeling, lots of inviting them to join me in an intention, and lots of conversations about our intentions. We will have opportunities to share our intentions. We’ll wonder and talk about how it might look for us to live our intentions to be kind, or to be a good friend, or to be brave. At other moments we’ll check in with ourselves and each other to recall our intentions, reset them, or simply celebrate remembering that we set an intention. We might explore what happens if we set an intention and then forget it, or don’t actually do what we intend. It’s all part of our SEL and growth as our best selves.

I’m super excited to begin this work with my Kindergarten colleagues. My intention is to honor them as capable human beings, and give them tools they can use now and in the future. I’m hopeful this supported agency and growth in the CASEL 5 will empower them to be more self aware, more mindful, and more in charge of themselves and our classroom community.

I believe in the goodness and ability of my Kindergartners, and I believe in the power of this process. I know that there may be times I will need to intervene, so I will of course, remain in the mix. But, my plan is to remain more as a lead learner and model, rather than an arbitrator of all things necessary. I’m confident we will experience a positive difference in our classroom community – socially, emotionally, and academically.

Oh.my.gosh!

My fingers stand poised above the keyboard, waiting for directions from my brain. For many moments, nothing comes. It’s not that my brain has nothing to say. It’s almost as though it has too much to say. So I wait.

Perhaps it will help to say it again. OH.MY.GOSH! Yes, somehow saying it again has helped.

So. This happened just a few days ago.

I graduated the 200 Hour Training Intensive with Breathe for Change!

I am a certified SEL facilitator and (200 hour) yoga teacher.

OH.MY.GOSH!

How amazing is that?

It’s very amazing — not just because I graduated, but because I learned, I did, I experienced, I grew, and I glowed. It’s amazing and fantabulous how much I did of each of those things. Here’s a bit of what I gleaned and want to remember for my life and my teaching practice.

BE AN UNAPOLOGETIC HUMAN CRUISING ALONG WITH AND TO GRACE
Be kind. Be your best self. Show up knowing that there is grace and goodness in each moment. Apologize for being unkind, don’t apologize for being human. Did something touch you and you were overjoyed? Live it. Were you overwhelmed — enough for tears to flow? Experience it. Being alive is a huge gift. Honor who you are, and be open to greater transformation and grace. 

Wouldn’t this be an amazing lesson for our students? I imagine things like: Don’t apologize when you make a mistake or don’t understand something. Notice it, accept it, learn from it, use it, but don’t apologize. Celebrate the struggle. Celebrate being willing to say “I don’t get it.” Celebrate the learning. And also perhaps, start noticing the things for which we should apologize and the new ways we want to show up.

THERE IS POWER IN MY BREATH, BODY, MIND, AND BEING
It’s amazing how powerful simple things like noticing my breath, and accepting it can be. As I practiced mindfulness with my breath, I noticed myself becoming more aware and mindful in other ways. Just yesterday I was outside and thought, “Have those flowers always been there like that?!?!” It was as though I saw them anew. It was wild.

As I experienced the power of the mindfulness practices, I kept thinking — “Oh.my.gosh. I want to share this with my students! How amazing and empowering would it be for them to experience and embrace the power they carry around with them every moment of the day!”

SHOW UP – MAKE MAGIC
Show up as your best self in each moment. Even if it’s difficult — and it’s often difficult.

Isn’t that a great message to share with others? “Yes, showing up is hard. I get it. Sometimes it’s hard for me, too. It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, or you’re doing something wrong. It just means some things are difficult.”

I’m thinking of my Kindergartners as they walk into school the first day. It’s a gigantic struggle for some of them. Sometimes it’s a struggle for their parents, too. I wonder how it might feel to have somehow say “Yup, it’s hard, no doubt about it. But guess what. You did the hardest part! You’re amazing, and fantabulous, and super brave. You showed up. You came in. I’m so glad you did. I can’t WAIT to see what kind of magic we create together today, and every day!”

CREATE A PROCESS AND SELL IT
I laughed as I decided on the heading for this section. Sell it sounds so anti-mindfulness and yoga, and yet, I still like it.

Sell it! Help others buy into the process. Use language that conveys the beauty and power of the process. Allow your emotions to express more than your words might express on their own.

The B4C trainers said things like, “I can’t wait to share this incredible process with you.” or “This is my favorite form of meditation. I’m so excited for you to try it.” Their excitement and conviction, made a difference. It heightened our interest level, and encouraged us to about take risks and give it a go.

I’m always doing my best to use my language, emotions, and behavior to rock the peace, positivity, and possibility vibes in my learning space. Intentionally and regularly selling the process and product of learning is a perfect addition to my teaching practice.

I really like the idea of being clear about my excitement and enjoyment of whatever I’m presenting. This also means I need to be assess my process and product. In order to share my excitement, I actually have to be excited. If I’m not excited, why am I teaching it the way I am? And, if I am excited by it, then, yes, share the love!

I CAN CREATE AND HOLD SPACE – LET ME MAKE IT GOOD SPACE
The B4C training was an incredible 6 weeks of creating and holding space for ourselves and each other. The affirmation, joy, and love were palpable and powerful. From the first welcome “Hello fabulous educators!” to the graduation goodbye — “”You matter! We love you!” B4C spoke to us about how they saw us. They spoke to us about who we are. They spoke to us about how they want us to see ourselves. Amazing isn’t it?

Teaching is about so much more than the information I’m sharing or the activities we’re doing. It’s even more than the thinking and creating. Teaching is about helping others to see and know themselves as the amazing humans they already are, and the even more amazing humans they are becoming.

Imagine starting your very first class — or each one of your classes — with this statement, “Hello fantabulous learners. I’m so glad you’re here. I can’t wait to share this incredible thing with you!” Now imagine ending it with “Wow! Look at all you’ve done, and learned! I’m going to open some space for you. I’d love to hear how you feel, and what you think …”

Talk about transformational!



So, yes! OH.MY.GOSH! The B4C Wellness, SEL, and Yoga Teaching Training is amazing. I’m so glad I took the risk and did it. It’s been transformational.

If your interest is at all piqued give them a look. Here’s a link to their digital 200 hour Wellness, SEL and Yoga Teacher Training information and application — no pressure, no commitment, just an opportunity to talk about the program and see if it makes sense for you.

And, whether or not you choose to become part of Breath For Change, remember you make a difference every moment of every day — for yourself and others! Keep being remarkable.

Join me for a piece of PIE #4

I’m finally taking a moment to write. As I sit wondering what to share, the sweet smell of freshly cooked waffles is finding its way into my space. “Mmmm, waffles.” quickly becomes “PIE! I can share another piece of PIE!” I hope you’re hungry, and ready to enjoy a delectable piece of PIE – Picture-book Inspiration and Encouragement.

Today’s PIE has been baked by the talented Skye Byrne and Nic George – The Power of Henry’s Imagination. The ingredients in this delicious PIE #4 are Henry, Raspberry (Henry’s beloved stuffed rabbit), Henry’s grandpa, the mailman, love, and the incredibly flavorful ingredients, Henry’s imagination and creativity. Henry and Raspberry do everything together — until the day Raspberry goes missing. Henry can’t find Raspberry anywhere – and no amount of looking seems to help. Henry’s grandpa tells him there’s only one thing to do — “Imagine Raspberry is with you!” Clearly, Henry and his grandpa love each other very much. So, given the advice, Henry does just that.

The illustrations in the book are lovely. They’re a delightful mix of photographed items and hand drawn images. The illustrations and wonderfully crafted words encourage us to imagine along with Henry — and perhaps into our own lives. The Power of Henry’s Imagination is a beautiful story, and a scrumptious piece of PIE just begging to be shared.

One of my favorite illustrations — I love how real Raspberry looks!

Henry’s imagination is awesome — and as the title suggests powerful. For me, what makes it so powerful is his willingness to enter into the process. He doesn’t just sit and think about Raspberry, he goes about his days as though Raspberry is with him. Raspberry and Henry go on adventures together. Henry goes on the adventures in the physical world. Raspberry adventures through Henry’s mind, heart, and imagination. These imaginative experiences brings joy, peace, and much less fretting into Henry’s life. It’s amazing, really.

Perhaps as you’re reading this you’re thinking. “Oh, come on. This is a made up story, and it’s about a kid and his stuffed toy. What does this piece of PIE have to do with me in my life?” It’s a good question — especially when the situations we find ourselves in often feel more real, more important, more fraught with anxiety and possibly dire consequences than the simple losing of a beloved toy.

Amazingly enough this piece of PIE has a LOT to do with us and the situations that cause us to feel things like worry, stress, anxiety, fear.

The neural pathways of our brains are strengthened by use. The ones we use the most transmit information the fastest. If you’ve ever hiked, or spent time by water you’ll recognize this phenomenon. The paths that most people walk are cut deeper, and are easier to notice and follow. The ones that are less traveled — by humans, animals, or water — are harder to find, and following them is much more difficult and time consuming. So, if we spend a good bit of time fretting, reminding ourselves of our fears, or the things that cause us to feel worried, those are the neural pathways that get strengthened and become easier to to travel. Happily that is also true of the pathways that might bring us joy, peace, and ease.

Our imagination and creativity — much like Henry’s — are remarkably powerful. The essence and power of imagination and creativity is the ability to bring something new into existence — new thoughts, new ideas, new emotions, new things. We imagine what is possible — or perhaps, we open our minds to the possibility that something else is possible. Noticing a new possibility, we choose to believe — crazy as it may sound — that this new thought, reality, option, item, emotion, possibility might be able to become a reality. Then, we open our hearts, minds, and lives to this possibility, and actively work with our creativity to bring it into existence.

For instance when I’m feeling anxious, I entertain the possibility that I can feel peace and joy — even in the midst of whatever is causing me to feel anxious. Then I work to make the possible real. I might become aware of my breath, my emotions, my thoughts. Deepening and slowing my breath is a physiological way to ease my feelings of anxiety. Bringing a smile to my lips and recalling a time I was, or a way I can be, calm, peaceful and happy, begins to allow my anxious feelings and thoughts to dissipate. The smile, and my imagination begin to feel and be real. Might there still be a reason to be anxious, sad, whatever I am experiencing — yes, of course, but my imagination is allowing me to create space, to create possibilities for moments of peace and joy. And as I do so, my brain is creating those neural pathways. It’s a remarkable thing.

And, it’s not just imagination creating thoughts and emotions — powerful as that might be. It’s also imagination creating ourselves — or perhaps allowing ourselves to see the possible and to begin to live it. When my students repeat our affirmations “I have a big beautiful brain. I have an awesome heart. I am kind. I am brave. I can do hard things. I am fantabulous.” I want them to hear it — from me and themselves — and to begin to see it, to feel it, to know it in their imaginations, and then to begin to embody in their very selves and lives. Repeating these phrases changes their inner landscape — strengthening the neural pathways that help them be their most fantabulous selves.

And, wait, there’s more. Imagination and creativity is what allows us to do all sorts of beautiful, new things each day. How might I show my love more fully? How might I help my family, or my neighbor? How might I listen differently, react differently, and therefore get a different response? How might I envision my students as their best selves? How might I include parents in new ways as partners in the learning journey with their children? How might I use what I learned yesterday to create an even better lesson for my students today? How might I set up my learning space?

And, as I run through all those “How might I?” (which by the way grow in power when they are able to become “How might we?”) I am struck by perhaps the greatest quest for my imagination and creativity. How do I want to show up today, every day, wherever I am? And, how might I do that?

Yes, Henry’s imagination and creativity is powerful. My imagination and creativity is powerful. Your imagination and creativity is powerful. How might you use it to increase the love, joy, beauty, fantabulousness of your life and the lives of those you touch.

I read The Power of Henry’s Imagination with my students at the end of the year this past year. After I read it, we talked about our imaginations. We talked about these questions: Have you ever used your imagination? Have you ever used it like Henry did — imagining something to be real that isn’t yet real? Then, I asked them to think all the way back to the beginning of the year. What did they not know how to do, or not yet believe about themselves? Had they used their powerful imaginations to help themselves accomplish their task, or believe something about themselves. All of them had. Their answers were amazing.

(To honor the students I’ve kept their spelling in their sentences.)

“At the beginning of kindergarten I did not know how to wite lower cace
but I amagend that I cod now I can”


“At the beging of the year I had to amgin colering in the lines now I can.”



“I was shy so I imagined.  Then I made new friends.”


I was, and am, blown away by their answers.

This year I’m going to use the book earlier on. I want them to know, think about, and use their imaginations and creativity to be their best, most fantabulous selves from the very beginning. And, I want to do the same as well.

Where Henry and Raspberry ever reunited? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Or perhaps just continue to use your imagination, like Henry, and have many great adventures.

_______________________________________
An interesting read: The Neuroscience of Behavior Change


Why Teach?

Oh my gosh the list is long.

But, as I sit here, surrounded by sweet cards, notes, paper bracelets, assorted treasures, and art, I’m reminded of the most important reasons — perhaps the only reasons — I teach.

Love
Relationships
Changing lives — theirs, mine, and hopefully, the world


By the way, at first I wondered why I was in a box. Then I realized, that’s how they saw me, and how they know me. At first my heart broke just a little, then I remembered my MA study. That’s how I always saw Karl, and it was no problem. He taught me tons, made me laugh, encouraged me, and helped me be the best me I could be — all through the magic of technology. Just like me and my students this year.


I agree, my fantabulous Kindergartners, I can’t wait to see you “in prsin”, either! But first, enjoy your summer.

Join me for a piece of PIE #3

Today’s PIE is served up by Peter H. Reynolds. It’s a delicious slice of Ish PIE. In Ish, Ramon, Leon, and Marisol are powerful characters whose words, actions, and the stories they tell, make a profound difference in their lives and the lives of others,

Ramon loves to draw — anytime, anything, anywhere. He believes he’s an artist and finds joy in his creativity. Harsh words from his brother Leon change all that. Ramon doubts his abilities and even puts his pencil down, convinced he cannot draw. Marisol — Ramon’s younger sister — sees things with eyes, mind, and heart that are very different from her older brother Leon. Her words, and actions — I will not spoil it for you — bring about a change of heart and understanding for Ramon.

It’s a sweet story with a lot to teach us. I read it to my Kindergartners just the other day.

“I know you are all fantabulous artists. And, I know you know it too. But maybe someday, someone will say something that makes you doubt yourself. So, I want to share this story with you, and do a little art project, so you don’t every forget how amazing you are.”

We prepped our papers by writing “I am _____” across the top. They filled in the blanks with wonderful words — fantabulous, marvelous, awesome, excited, good, me, and many more. Then after the story they painted, drew, and wrote — without fretting. I joined in as well. Here’s mine:

I’m keeping my artwork on my wall — even though today was the last day of school. I want to remind myself of my own fantabulousness, my remarkable girls, and the Ish-lessons learned.

I think we all need those lessons. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been teaching remotely since I came back in March. In many ways it has been absolutely fantabulous, in other ways it’s been difficult and frustrating, and like Leon, has kind of yelled in my mind’s ear that I’m really not so fantabulous and not an essential part of the classroom community.

Experiencing those feelings has made me think deeply about the ways I interact with others. Do I do my best to let them know they are fantabulous? Do I set up the infrastructure of my class so as to include others? Do I preform small acts of kindness to let them know they’re important and I’m thinking about them? Do I consider what the small acts of forgetfulness, or words not carefully chosen say to those in my learning community?

This whole week has been a bit emotional — for me and my students. It’s hard to end a year. Don’t get me wrong, the break is absolutely wonderful, but saying goodbye — even when you know you will see each other again — is sad. To end it remotely has proven to be even more difficult. I have to rely on others to sign onto my zoom, to be sure the environment will allow my students and I to hear each other, to take me to other rooms when our activities move, and to affirm that I am an important and valued part of the community.

Today was our very last day. There were many small acts and small conversations — much like those in Ish — that impacted me and my day in both wonderful and distressing ways.

…. When I signed onto Zoom they were having a dance party! I love dance parties. But the music playing through the D10, was so loud it was really hard to talk with the girls or join in in a meaningful way. When I commented to a colleague she responded, without looking at me, “I’m working on it.” Small things. Yes. But painful things. Lesson learned? Small things matter. Think about the other. What are they experiencing? What do they need? How might I help. Try to be proactive.

…. I switched links and zoomed into one of the class iPads. A colleague picked me up and said “Let’s see if this works outside!” She proceeded to carry me out — facing out — and I was able to see and interact with colleagues and former students. We laughed, chatted, and waved. It was spectacular! Lesson learned? Small things matter. Going out of our way to help others, to make them feel a part of our group, and to allow them to experience what we are experiencing is incredibly important, and in many ways, priceless.

… Back in the classroom, girls crowded around the laptop wanting to chat. Again the music was too loud, so a colleague carried me into a side classroom. It was lovely to chat with the girls. We laughed and talked, until they were called to morning meeting. Then I was left in the room — alone. Lesson learned? Small things matter. Helping others is valuable. Forgetting others is painful. Don’t get so involved in what you are doing that you forget about others. Breathe, pause, and think of others.

… Another colleague checked in with me. Was there anything she could do to help me? It was good to be seen, listened to, and helped. Lesson learned? Small things matter. Taking the time to really see others is powerful.

Like Ramon, Leon, and Marisol my colleagues and students were telling me a story through their words and actions. And, each time they did, I told one to myself — for better or worse. At some point I took a breath and reminded myself that, like Ramon, there’s no point fretting, and no reason to listen to the negative stories. I always have a choice in the stories I listen to and the stories I tell myself.

I’m going to stick to the story that I am fantabulous. I am fantabulously loved. I am essential and irreplaceable. And, I’m going to do my best to act and speak in ways which allow others to hear and tell the stories about their own awesomeness.

Thanks, Peter H. Reynolds, for this scrumptious piece of PIE.

I Crossed My Fingers and Hoped for No Crying

I’ve been having my Kindergarten artists work in a sketchbook before they tackle the blank page of their final piece. I want them to get used to the artist practice of sketching without fretting, and without erasing. I want them to have the freedom to try all sorts of things without the concern that sometimes comes when they are creating their final piece.

They’ve been doing so much good work. They are filling the pages of their sketchbooks with a plethora of fantabulous experiments. Their faces beam as they show me their work, tell me if they love it or have more to add, and give me virtual high fives (which become high one hundreds) through the classroom D10.

This week I decided to try something new. No sketching. No exploration. No pencils. Just a sharpie, our big beautiful brains, awesome hearts, courage, and creativity! At least two colleagues chuckled and said “You are a brave woman!” I responded, “Nah! They can do it. I know they can. I’m going to tell them that!” I paused, and laughed, and then added, “And then, I’m going to cross my fingers, and hope for no crying!”

When art rolled around last week, I did just that. I started sharing that I have a sketchpad and often do sketches before I paint. But, other times I just use watercolor or pen and ink directly in my journal. As I spoke, I shared some pages from my hiking art journal. “That’s what we’re going to try today – no sketching, just being free and working directly onto our watercolor paper.” No one said a word, and since I’m on the D10 I can’t always read their facial expressions. I kept going forward. “You can do it. You’re amazing artists with big beautiful brains, awesome hearts, and lots of courage and creativity. … Are you ready?” Shouts of “Yes!” were music to my ears. With a huge smile on my face I said. “Awesome. Let’s get started.”

I led them through a few steps to create the shape of the face — complete with the asymmetry, unusual scale, and a crown we noticed in Sandra Silberzweig’s original piece. I encouraged them to follow along, but to also make decisions as the artist of their piece. Once we had finished the outline, I set them free to add details. I suggested they take time to look, and think as they drew.

The learning space was quiet as they created. I worked, and waited, with all my fingers crossed.

I am overjoyed to report that there was no crying! There was only excitement, enthusiasm, joy, and awesome art making.

Look! (There’s more, but I figured I’d just share a few.)

These young artists aren’t artists because I think they are. They’re artists because THEY think they are. They’re artists because they’re noticing, thinking, wondering, trying, making decisions, and creating their own art. They’ve embraced themselves as competent artists, and creative thinkers who can have ideas, think creatively, take risks, solve problems, and make great art. They are artists, they know it, and they’re loving it! So am I.

That confidence, and ability to think, and take a risk– without tears — doesn’t just show itself during art. It pops up often, and each time it’s a joy to experience. Most recently it was wonderfully evident in a homework assignment I gave them to record a video on flipgird,.

If you’re a teacher and you’ve never tried flipgrid, give it a go. It’s a great platform for you and your students to share ideas, comment on the ideas of others, be inspired, and help one another problem solve. When they record, my students practice oral literacy skills in a friendly pressure free arena. I smile each time I decide to redo my video and get the “You got this! Try again” message. A bonus is that flipgrid provides us with playful opportunities to add boarders, stickers, writing, and other fun ephemera to our videos and screenshots.

Pre-covid we did a lot of block building. When we build with blocks we play and learn. We think creatively, critically, and spatially — and we grow in our ability to do so. The somewhat transient nature of block building allows for lots of ideas, quick iterations, struggling, failing, succeeding, problem solving, learning, and sharing — all while having fun.

When Covid hit I looked for ways to to engage and grow my students imagination, creativity, courage, spatial muscles, grit and resilience through building. I wanted a building option that was compact, portable, open ended, and relatively inexpensive. I finally decided on Plus-plus blocks.

Now that I’m back — but remote — my challenge was how to share all of the greatness of our time together in the Kindergarten Makerspace making all sorts of cool block builds when we weren’t in the same physical space. I decided to give flipgrid a try.

I created a flipgrid homework assignment. I encouraged my students to play with their blocks, create things, and then record a video showing what they made, what they learned, and what they still haven’t figured out. I posted my own video in response to the assignment sharing some of my struggles and asking for their help.

Flipgrid Plusplus Blocks Assignment

The things they made were fantabulous.

Here are a few:
A baking bird – brown and white for brown and white sugar.
A statue – which when you add the baking bird to the statue now has moveable arms.
Two cars and a garage.
A rainbow bridge, a sidewalk, and a bracelet.
Saturn, Jupiter, the sun, and Momo and his magic wand.
An adjustable ring, a flag, a plane that transforms into an eagle.
A cookie and apple who become friends.
Flower and all the characters needed for the story of her escape.
A girl named Anastasia

But, what really struck me was the builders themselves. I saw those same awesome artists simply working in a different medium. They shared their ideas bravely. They offered suggestions. They asked and answered questions. They explained their thinking. And, they interacted with their blocks in ways I never imagined — crafting stories and making connections.

One of them said this: “I love these blocks. You can make anything you want with these. You can just get creative and make whatever you want, and make your own dreamland.These blocks are just wonderful.” She had a beautiful, satisfied smile on her face she talked and shared her creation.

As I watched the videos — leaning in to see things more closely, chuckling at their stories, overwhelmed by their awesomeness — I was reminded of an idea of Loris Malaguzzi – Children are strong, rich in potential, powerful, and capable.

Yes, yes! Strong, rich, powerful, and capable. It’s important that we know and believe this truth about children. And, it’s essential that we reflect this belief to them. Our best selves, and our greatest sharing and learning, happens within relationships of respect, awe, and love.

They are artists. Yes. They are builders. Yes. They are awesome and fantabulous. Absolutely. But mostly they are themselves, and they are strong, rich, powerful, and totally capable. I’m so grateful I get to know them, teach them, and learn from them.

Brave One

My Kindergarten artists’ journals are finished and fantabulous. One, however, tugged on my heart and begged to be shared.

I love the art. But what took my breath away were her words:

Brave
(her name)
Love

Once my breath returned, I texted a friend the photo and this message ” Oh my gosh! My day is made. My work is done. My heart is full.”

Of course, my work continues, but wow, for today it is done. This young one knows and loves herself as brave. Simply fantabulous.

I Am An Artist

There is such power and joy in being able embrace oneself as an artist. An artist able to:

  • be inspired by other artists
  • use that inspiration to create your own art
  • inspire others
  • make creative and artistic decisions
  • carry out your plan or
  • enjoy the freedom of artistic and creative play and experimentation
  • speak your truth through your art
  • embrace your artist-self by choosing your own name (Hundertwasser)
  • share your understanding and vision by naming your artwork (Thomas)

The power and joy explodes, I think, when you can do all these things as a young child.

Last week my Kindergarten artists explored the work and life of Alma Thomas. She began her career as a representational artist, and later in her artist journey embraced abstract art. Amazingly, at the age of 80 in the early 1970’s she became the first African American woman to have a solo exhibit at the Whitney Museum in NYC.

The kindergarten artists loved Alma’s use of color, and enjoyed trying to guess what she named each of her paintings. They worked hard — first in their sketch books and then on the final watercolor paper — to recreate with crayons, the marks Alma made with acrylic paint. By the way, in case you’ve never tried it, it takes a lot of dedication to fill a 9X12 piece of paper with marks the size of your thumb.

As my artists worked in the classroom, I worked alongside them in my home studio. Like them I made my own crayon marks, and then added layers of watercolor wash. My work was often interrupted by “Hey Ms. James. This is …..,” as they slid their work under the document camera so we could marvel and talk together.

Encouraging them to include all the elements we noticed in Alma’s work, yet at the same time allowing them to make their own artistic and creative decisions and plans, is a delicate line to walk. I often wonder how close their work has to look to our inspirational artist’s work.

As I’ve worked with them this year, I’ve become more convinced that there are four non-negotiables. My fantabulous artists must:

  • include the elements of the original piece that we notice and spoke about together
  • be free to use their big beautiful brains and awesome hearts to decide how to incorporate the elements into their art
  • be allowed, encouraged, and enabled to find joy in their process and product
  • come to know themselves as artists

So, I work on pointing out what I see — what I see that reflects the elements we discussed, the things I notice are missing, and the many things I wonder about. I do my best to guide my artists to walk that delicate line of agency and requirements with me. Sometimes I set them free to make the decision as an artist, sometimes I request they put the artwork down for a bit and then look at it again to see if they are still happy with it, other times we find a compromise that allows them to have freedom while still following the guidelines.

Here are some of our Alma Thomas inspired works of art. I’m always interested to see how they interpret the current artist’s work, and how they incorporate some of the other artists we’ve explored previously. I’m amazed and edified by their title choices. The titles add to the power of the piece. They speak to the audience to share the artist’s thoughts and understanding, and speak to the artists themselves to affirm who they are.

The Master of Sjhapes
Magical Squares
Tornadoes Howling
A Meteor Shower
The Inspired Painting
Artist’s Lines

When I read their titles my heart is full. These Kindergarten artists are perceptive, thoughtful, confident, and invested in sharing what is in their minds and hearts. Everyday I do my best to affirm them “Indeed my young artist sisters, you are masters. You are inspired and inspiring artists. Don’t every believe anything less.”

World Changing Ideas

I shared the book What Do You Do With An Idea with my Kindergartners. Sometimes it’s hard to see them when I’m teaching remotely — especially when I’m sharing my screen. I was a little disappointed in my lesson, wondering if I had been able to spark ideas, and share the amazingly fantabulous idea that we ALL — no matter what — can have beautiful, world changing ideas.

After the lesson I shared 3 videos with my students — how to make a squish-squash book, an accordion fold book, and a silly fold book. I asked that each student make at least one book, put her ideas in it, and then share her book and ideas by video on SeeSaw.

I’ve been looking at the responses and leaving comments, and wow, I’m so happy. They are sharing their ideas, reading what they wrote, explaining their illustrations, and talking about things they wonder about from the book we read together.

Here are some of their ideas:

flying unicorns
making a tree to climb when she becomes seventeen
ice cream everywhere
writing a book about her favorite stuffy
sending her ideas to the clouds for them to get stronger
looking at the clouds to see what they look like
not holding onto her ideas but sharing them with others
making a car that goes wherever you tell it
reading more books,
being a superhero and discovering how to fly
stating what she knows, doesn’t know, and wonders,
helping others and saying “No problem!”
creating a cardboard igloo over the summer
making a robot that can help her and others

It might be easy to discount their ideas as childish, sweet, or silly — after all, flying unicorns and superheroes? How is it possible that these ideas are world changing?

Perhaps, for just a moment, imagine those same ideas from the perspective of a scientist, designer, or researcher. I’ll consider just a few but they ALL are equally full of potential.

Flying unicorns can easily become a cure for cancer or other devastating diseases. Much like flying unicorns, a cure seems far off. Imagine if the scientists didn’t engage in their fantastical dreams. Imagine if they didn’t try to attain them. Imagine if they had people around them saying “That’s a sweet idea. Too bad it can’t be done. There are no such things as flying unicorns or cures.”

Ice cream everywhere is a problem of ingredients, process, temperature, distribution, and end users. It’s reminiscent of a remarkable story of creative design thinking shared by Tom Kelley and David Kelley. The Embrace Infant Warmer helps save the lives of premature babies. Similarly to my student’s desire for ice cream everywhere, the warmer was the solution to a problem of ingredients, process, temperature, distribution and end users.

The idea of making a tree to climb when she reaches the age of 17 sounds a bit unusual to our adult ears, but it’s really quite spectacular. Don’t just hope there will be a tree to climb. Work to make it happen. Work to bring your ideas and dreams to life.

I’ve got some ideas and thoughts of how I might improve my next remote read aloud. I’m excited to try them and continue to grow my relationship with my students. But, I’m no longer worried that the idea of having ideas was lost or lessened by the remoteness.

I miss sitting next to them, creating, talking, and sharing. And yet, being able to watch their recordings is powerful. Watching and listening is a gift. It’s great to be able to have a recording of each student as she formulates her thoughts and chooses what to share, and it’s quite fantabulous to have the opportunity to reflect and respond to each one.

I’m hopeful they feel the power and joy of our remote conversation. And, my fingers are crossed that my enthusiasm and ideas about their ideas change the world for them just a bit. They really are fantabulous, and their ideas are game changers!