What an interesting question. At first my response was, “I really don’t know. I just write.”
But, on further introspection, nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t ever, or rarely, just write. I always write to understand, to teach, or to create the perfect moment. Often I do it to create a space of positivity, affirmation, encouragement, and hope, that can be returned to as often as needed.
Sometimes I do it for me. Sometimes I do it for others. But it’s always the same. It starts with an idea, or a need, and it moves forward through many iterations. It’s a lot like my art making. I do it for the fun of the experience, the process, the flow, and the product.
I write and create art to tell stories — for myself and others.
More and more I am discovering and experiencing the power of stories. I want to fill the world, or at least my little part of it, with stories of goodness, truth, beauty, courage, and kindness.
That is who I am as a writer, artist, creative. Heck that is who I am as a human being. Or at least, it is who I strive to be.
Here is a shot of the latest story I am telling myself, and anyone who needs to hear it.
There is joy and possibility even in the wonkiness. And amazingly enough, sometimes there is great joy and possibility. I am loving the wonkiness of the mandala — created purposefully — and I’m thinking of working on a series!
I’ve been wondering how to transform the building portion of our social studies work into something that the girls can do if they are at home, or at school with restrictions due to the pandemic. And, I’ve been thinking of ways to see the need for change and the limitations of the pandemic as opportunities rather than road blocks.
Our social studies builds include many opportunities for collaboration, thinking, spatial reasoning, community building, engineering, imagination, and communication. Often we do them with wooden blocks filling our maker space with buildings that the Kindergarten architects and builders must travel between with careful purpose. At other times the builds are even grander as our maker space becomes a supermarket with life size walls, working doors, and handmade products, cards, cash registers, and shopping bags.
I decided to give the PLUS PLUS – 240 Piece Basic Mix blocks a try. They come in a small tube, and seemed to have a plethora of ways one could use them to build, create, and tell a story. And, since they are small, creations could be made at a desk, and easily captured by a photograph to share with one another if we are working remotely. I bought a set for myself to experiment as I constructed lessons and provocations for the girls.
I was excited as I dumped the 240 pieces onto my desk. I can only imagine the joy the girls will feel. I was happy that even though there are 240 pieces they can stay in a rather small space, and since they have flat sides they didn’t roll away from me at any time.
I started my exploration by simply playing with them, and seeing what I noticed along the way. It was a lot!
My first noticings:
What do I like? Trees. Let’s see if I can make one.
My first inclination was to use the rectangular nature to create a bottom square base. I’m not exactly sure why. I almost think i was distracted from the nature of the tree, by the nature of the blocks. But no worries.
I noticed plus plus printed on one side of the blocks. I considered turning them so as not to see them — I found them distracting. So might some of my learners. It’s a good thing to notice, honor, talk and wonder about, but also to encourage the possibility of breathing through — especially as one is in the playing mode.
The square base seemed like a logical starting point. But instead of giving me a place to start, it became an obstacle as the sides are all different and made building up from the base quite difficult. Dare I say impossible? Perhaps, I will, but just for now.
My fiinal noticing for this shape helped me as I moved forward. You really have to be willing to fail, notice, think, wonder, and start again with no fretting. It’s a basic design thinking principle. There was actually a course at the Stanford d.school entitled “Fail Faster” highlighting the idea of failing early and often. I love that we can begin encouraging some of our youngest learners — and ourselves — to embrace a basic tenant of design thinking through the use of block play.
Failing Faster and Noticing more:
After being mesmerized by the rectangles, I decided to focus on the tree. I wondered if I could make a circular trunk? Close, but not perfect by a long shot, and it seemed to become more wonky as I added more blocks.
I felt a moment of frustration and then reminded myself — “It’s play, Molly. It’s about discovery, learning, and joy.”
So I considered embracing the imperfections. What story could I tell if I worked with the imperfections instead of against them? What could I learn by just moving forward? I imagined animals that might live in the tree, or that the spaces were the knots found in the wood grain. As I began to have more fun, I become more proficient, I actually began to find a bit of flow.
This is a big noticing I think. Play is important. Discovery is important. Joy is important. We need to remember that as educators. We need to model it, encourage it, and celebrate it.
I love my tree!
As I looked at it, I imagined a classroom discussion.
The comments could be negative: “It’s got a really short trunk, and not many branches.” “I’ve never seen a trunk like that. Why is your trunk multi-colored?” Positive: “Wow. That’s awesome!” Self–deprecating “Wow. I could never do that!” Seekinginformation “How did you do that?”
I noticed that my creation which made me feel so good, could become something that made me feel bad, made others feel inadequate, or could be a source of continued joy, discovery, collaboration and learning. It’s all in how we talk about it. It’s critical that we give our students the language they need to engage in positive, collaborative, respectful, learning driven conversations.
Simple phrases like — I notice. I wonder. Tell me more. What if? How might we? — are great ways to collaborate and share ideas. Oh! I’m reminded of the great questions in James E. Ryan’s Book.
His questions encourage conversation, understanding, and teamwork. Wait, What? I wonder…? Couldn’t we at least …? How can I help …? What truly matters? If you haven’t read his book, you should. It’s easy reading, funny, and super insightful. Imagine if you and your students embraced his 5 essential questions in the classroom, and life!
What else could we do?
I loved the idea of creating letters or favorite words. Again it wasn’t as easy or straight forward as it sounds. It was important to remind myself to play, and to stick to the basic form I was after rather than chasing a very elusive perfection. After I created my letters in 2D form I worked to add feet and allow them to stand. Interestingly enough, the different letters required different types of feet in order to stand. And, even though I was successful creating feet for one didn’t mean I could immediately create another pair — even tho they were the same!
This brought me to some critical thinking. It’s vital that we find a way to share this with parents. Play is important. Struggle, failure, noticing, wondering, trying again are integral parts of designing, but also of learning in all its forms! I want to construct some sort of a fact sheet for parents that gives them the same phrases we want their children to use, and helps them understand play, and how they might enhance their children’s play and learning!
My last noticing and thought is, funny enough, I think I want to open each tube and remove the instruction sheet. I found it a hinderance to my play and discovery. It was quite prescriptive rather than inspiring. It’s unfortunate because the blocks have such potential. I found this video showing children playing with the blocks. It was inspirational, so I might direct parents to it at some point. But really I want to steer them away from the already done and encourage play, trust, try, do, learn!
Testing my theory:
Is play, trust, try, do, learn really the best approach? I decided to find a video that showed how to make a top. It was made by a kid, which was fantabulous. It was fun to watch, learn, and create. I learned a bit about how the blocks can fit together. But, I must say I was also left at a stand still. What could I do with those blocks? There is value in learning to make a shape I am sure, but I think there is a danger as well — of getting stuck, of thinking that is the way to go, of wondering if you need someone to tell you what to do.
So, yes, play, trust, do, question, learn. It’s the way to go! Now to embrace that as I notice, think, wonder and create spaces for block play and learning in social studies!
I’m part of a fab blogging community. This week’s invitation was lists. When you can’t write, or don’t feel like writing, write a list.
I didn’t immediately respond to the prompt. Instead I made books.
I sent them to a handful of friends. As I was putting them in the envelopes, my mind turned to random acts of kindness, and of others I could gift with these little books. Then I thought “Me! I want one.” So, in the spirit of being kind to myself, my name was added to the list!
Turns out I was making lists, I just wasn’t aware of it.
As I added color to the pages I thought, “OH! This book is actually a list … of sorts.” Then, while photographing and processing the photos for this post, I was struck by how blessed I am, and chuckled “Another list — gratitude.”
And just like that, I went from no lists, to several lists.
I’ll share the book, and simply encourage you to create your own list of gratitude. It can start as a very small list. But whether it is small, medium or large, be open to it growing. In my experience as soon as I begin to take note, and be grateful, I notice more. It’s as though my eyes and mind are more able to not only see, but to perceive, the plethora of blessings in each moment.
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.
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.
Yesterday a fantabulous colleague and I presented — virtually — about maintaining play as a core learning resource as we move forward this school year. It was spectacular to dig into the research, and then enthusiastically share our findings and thoughts with one another. I never cease to be amazed by the power of play in our lives — whether we are kids or adults!
Classroom culture is a key component of play and playful learning. Collaborating with Maribel was the perfect example of that — she is a beautifully kind, joy-filled, and playful educator. Much of our time was spent laughing and saying “Oh yeah! And then we could do this …” Positivity, listening, sharing ideas, practicing “yes, and” and being willing to risk and play, made our time together super productive and enjoyable.
We talked a lot about our classroom culture. What does it look like? What does it feel like? How will it exist, change, or stay the same, if we aren’t together with our kids in the classroom.
How might we create — and help our students create — our classroom, culture, and community when we are separate from one another? Where are our bulletin boards to share art, ideas, work? How do we post our inspirational messages and quotes? If we are stripped of the comfort of our communal learning space how might we recreate it in our own individual homes? We’re all different, with different homes, different comfort levels regarding sharing, and different ideas of what is appropriate for school. How might we enable opportunities for equity and comfort within our own homes for ourselves, our students, and our students’ families?
We had so many questions — which felt a bit daunting — but we decided to look at them as opportunities.
As we speculated, I chuckled and mentioned Sesame Street: Elmo’s World News. Each of the muppet characters created their own cardboard set for the news cast. “Perhaps,” I suggested ” We could have our students make some sort of classroom background for themselves.”
“That’s perfect! Each student can create their own personal classroom at home. They’re doing that anyway, now they’ll actually make the walls,” said Maribel. “Everybody has boxes now. We don’t even have to buy anything!”
I didn’t have to buy anything, but I did have to rescue a box from the porch before the storm hit this week. So rescue I did. Then, in rescue mode, I noticed all the treasures hiding in my recycling bin. As Tropical Storm Isaias raged outside my windows, I got to work.
Occasionally the storm grew in intensity and pulled my attention away from the work at hand. But, for the most part, creating my walls occupied me so fully that I was granted a respite from any worry about the storm. I experienced flow of playful learning as I wondered, thought, researched, drew, painted, measured, cut, folded, looked, tested, and reworked. It was a great experience of the power of play.
I had so much fun creating, thinking, tinkering, and making. And I must say I learned a lot — about construction, possibility, perspective, and much more. Here are my homemade classroom walls.
I chuckled at just how much it is me. Even in the classroom I rarely if ever put colored paper or boarders on the bulletin boards. I want the student work to be the highlight and pops of color. I much prefer making things to using store bought things. I’m always intrigued by various types of design and engineering one can do with paper and paper like products, and I love making unexpected connections. Even my laptop stand and table were improvisations — a stack of canvases and my ironing board!
As I sat in front of my homemade classroom walls, and watched myself present for the virtual workshop, I was reminded of some of my Kindergarten learners who were anxious about this unusual method of being together. They were only able to join us on our synchronous calls if they were participating from within their cardboard box fort. We established a few rules, and it worked remarkably well. But, as I saw myself surrounded by cardboard I thought — Wow! Talk about a great equalizer. If I had thought about this in the spring we could have all been in our cardboard creations together.
As I created, I realized there are a zillion ways to use this for playful learning at any age or ability level. Here are some of my thoughts:
Differentiate the possibilities for age, ability, and purpose. Which of the following would you encourage? * only color * color and decorations * words or sentences Imagine the possibilities for learning through the play of making the background. Might you encourage engineering exploration and problem finding/solving? * Add 3 dimensional elements – shelves, containers, doors, drawers, or a spinner. * Create the 3D elements using found objects. * Create the 3D elements from scratch. * Create the 3D elements from a combination of found objects and from scratch. Imagine the possibilities for assessment through the play of making the background. How might our learners show what they know and have learned with their background? I am finding a ton of thought provoking ideas for this from Tony Ryan’s Thinkers Keys. * Create a background that represents a particular artist without specific artwork or name. * Create a set to use for a video presentation showcasing learning.
A large part of my playful learning happened because I reflected upon my thought and working processes. Sometimes I think we as educators give the impression that fast work, done well the first try, is somehow the goal. But, I find it’s in the iterations, failures, research, struggle, and problem finding/solving that I experience the most joy, satisfaction, and learning. So, I’m going to encourage my learners to reflect and document their own process — including the ways they failed, and failed forward.
Enabling our learners to engage in reflection and documentation will add to their experience, and our understanding of them. Don’t let their age or ability stop you or them. There are so many ways they can document — photos, writing, recording videos. It’ll be great. I promise.
I’m feeling quite ill today. Took my chemo meds this morning – so it is to be expected. It helps to rest in the cool, quiet, darkness of my room. While I do, with any energy I have, I pray, and think of ways to help myself find more strength, more joy, and more ease.
The first time I did cancer treatment, I kept a journal of all sorts of wonderful thoughts and prayers people sent me. For some reason it’s been difficult to do that this time.
None-the-less, I’ve made an agreement with myself to make an art journal of encouragement and beauty. So, I direct my thoughts to that.
What might help me now, and inspire me each time I turn to it? I am drawn to the power of words and images, so I set to work.
I carefully choose and craft the images and words. Repeatedly I read the words. I let their meaning and sound fill the space around me. I notice how they make me feel. I search for words that create the palpable sensation I seek. Then I string them together in ways that increase their power. My hands shake as I lay down the words and images. Interestingly enough, I’m able to breathe through that and actually allow it to form my drawing in ways that please me.
Do I still feel ill? Yes. But I also feel soothed.
The power of creativity – in thought, design, word, and deed – is strong. I think I will take my journal back to bed with me, and rest with it in my hands. I will imagine the sweet smell of beeswax and roses seeping out — bathing me in warm, luscious peace, as my sister and brother Saints sit and keep me company.
In the March/April 2019 Ideas Issue of Good Grit, Brad says his workshop is “the kind of space where if someone comes to work with us, they would feel like anything is possible.” How awesome is that?
I love that idea, and this cover shot. It makes me smile and chuckle — but it’s also super profound right? Anything is possible. Grab hold of your dream — and your trusty colander — and make it happen!
My thoughts immediately go to my students. I can see us — goggles on, capes flapping behind us, dripping with jewels, multiple bags on each arm — laughing out loud as we run to join Brad in his time traveling machine. I revel in the joy I see on our faces. Then my thoughts turn to the makerspace where we turn ordinary objects into extraordinary inventions. And finally, I see us sitting together in reading groups — eyes wide with amazement as they read!
One of the practices Rosamund and Benjamin Zander suggest in their book The Art of Possibility is stepping into a universe of possibility. What if all educators worked to create a space in their minds and hearts, as well as in their physical learning space, where anything is possible and miracles happened every moment of the day? What if we created universes of possibility for ourselves and our students?
It would be amazing and world changing!
But how? How do we create universes of possibility that others can feel? We can’t just say it’s a universe of possibility where anything is possible, we have to work to make it a reality. Our choice of words, classroom design, norms, agreements, rules, and beliefs have to support everyone in the universe of possibility. We need to believe it’s true, and then speak and act in a way to make it real for others.
I’m thinking what that might look like for me.
Model curiosity. Engage in conversation. Listen. Wonder. Marvel at ideas and give them a go. Even, and especially, the ideas of a 5-6 year old. Laugh. Collaborate. Make mistakes. Use, and teach, “How Fascinating!” Explore. Investigate. Think. Problem-find. Problem-solve. Be creative. Be teachable. Learn. Regularly engage in What if? moments with myself and my students! Believe the best about others. Help others see and believe the best about themselves. Radiate positivity. Speak from a mindset of abundance. Speak of beauty and goodness. Be grateful. Invite others to join in.
And what if we didn’t just create that space in our classroom? What if we created universes of possibility fin our everyday lives? Again, amazing, and world changing!
Is my life a universe of possibility? Yes. I am the Queen of Possibility.
Do I always live in that knowledge? No. Sometimes I forget I live in a Universe of Possibility, and get mired in the slog that the day brings me.
Clearly, even as the Queen, I can deepen my practice of believing, speaking, and living possibility.
So, the universe of possibility I’m working on today.
Cancer? A cure is possible. Side effects? No problem, I can manage. The pandemic? Brilliant creative people are working on a vaccine and treatment. Prayerful people are praying them closer to it. It can end. People hating and being less than human to one another? We can choose to love and be kind. We can make a difference. Experiencing stress? I can breathe, pray, nutraceutical up, and move through it. My washer and drier are old and hanging on with a thread? They can continue to work. And, if they need to be replaced, I can stay safe and comfortable in the process. Feeling small in the face of it all? God is greater. God is generous. God is trustworthy. Hope? Always good to have, and never disappoints. Joy? Absolutely. Possibility? Everywhere.
And, thanks to my good friend, Jojo, I can leave you with one of my favorite Universe of Possibility creating quotes.
When nothing is sure, everything is possible. (Margaret Drabble, The Middle Ground).
“Poetry is a type of literature, or artistic writing, that attempts to stir a reader’s imagination or emotions. The poet does this by carefully choosing and arranging language for its meaning, sound, and rhythm.”
I am a poet. I am a poet a meaning maker a lover of language
I am in awe of the profound power of the tiniest words strung together
I am amazed at the pleasure I experience by crafting these simple poems. It is the meaning making that most enthralls and feeds me.
I’m struck by the realization that all my writing is about making meaning. It makes no difference if it is a poem, a note, an observation about a child in my classroom, or an entry in my journal. I work — so I’ve discovered — with the heart and soul of a poet, always looking for the beautiful and powerful meaning in every moment.
Poets, I’ve learned, sometimes notice and acknowledge meaning, and at other times we assign it — creating symbols in our own personal mythology. Part of my mythology involves fireflies. I love them. They always remind me of pleasant nights from my childhood, in my backyard, surrounded it seemed, by the dancing lights of the fireflies.
I was reminded of this the other day. My brother and I were on a late day hike, and as dusk fell, we walked past a field flush with fireflies. I was immediately transported back to those peaceful, awe and joy filled evenings of my youth. We stopped for a moment, and I put out my hand to once again trap one of those beautiful creatures. Amazingly, I got one on my first try.
When I returned home, I decided to speak the meaning of that moment, and the simple firefly, into existence and remembrance.
Fireflies and Messages
Flashes twinkle on and off in the darkness,
As I stand the darkness appears less dark
Is that shadow the flight of a firefly?
In anticipatory hope my hand glides through the lightened darkness
In a moment of intuition I gently close my hand hoping to seize that flash of light
Slowly I open my fingers and gaze within a firefly walks across my palm
We look at each other with recognition he has let himself be caught
Flashes twinkle, on and off in the palm of my hand
Light lit message delivered he lifts his wings and is gone ~M. James July 5, 2020
As you probably already know, I’m doing cancer treatment right now. It’s a difficult process during a difficult time for us as human beings. So, it’s not easy, in fact it’s pretty tough. But is it doable? Yes. And not as bad as it could be? Yes.
There really is so much good in this world — beautiful people, edifying messages, helpful caring behavior, and many wonderful things. But sometimes it’s hard to maintain my focus on them because the difficult, negative, concerning, and fearful stuff is so ridiculously loud.
So, what do I do? Among other things, I turn to possibility thinking, and creative thinking and doing. Lately my creative doing has been writing — in particular poetry and the stories I tell myself.
It’s amazing really, how deeply my thoughts and stories impact my emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. Do the words I choose, and the stories I tell, actually change my situation? Hmmm … that’s a tough question because they answer is no, and yes. Or perhaps to quote John Daly from the old What’s My Line show, “We’ll give you a qualified yes.”
What I mean is, even with all the positivity I can muster, even with all the real, beautiful, true things I notice and tell myself, there is currently still Covid, still unrest, and still cancer. However, and it’s a big however, the words I speak, and the stories I tell – to myself and others – make a difference. They make a difference in how I see things. They make a difference in how I react to things. And, they make a difference in how my body, mind, and spirit are able to manage the battles they are fighting.
I still remember working with my brother on his Strength Training for Fencers book. He wanted me to being able to power clean half my body weight. After laughing, I embraced the task. Much like now, it wasn’t easy. But, the ease of the task, and my experience of the weight on the bar, changed depending on what I said as I approached the task. When I approached it with an inner conversation of “yikes this is a lot of weight” I experienced it as such. When I coached myself through it differently “You’ve got this, it’s not that heavy” I had a completely different experience. As amazing, or unbelievable, as it may sound, the weight of the bar appeared to be less, and the task was easier, when I told myself it would be.
Our bodies and minds are incredible creations. They hear what we say, and act accordingly. There’s a doctor who suggests our brain is our second immune system. She suggests it isn’t our immune system that gives up first, but our brain. Our brain decides it’s hopeless and says, “We can’t do this.” Our immune system hearing it, says “Oh, we can’t do this? Ok.” and lays down its arms in defeat.
With all that in mind, I turned to the power of story — in particular written story through poetry. I found an online poetry workshop — or perhaps it found me — that has been perfect for my purpose.
Our first task was awe. Notice the things around us and be in awe of them — the big and the small, the extraordinary and the very ordinary. Our second task was making meaning. Find the things in our lives that mean something to us, remind us of something or someone, speak the truth to us, and then look even deeper, and articulate that meaning for ourselves and others.
Here are my poems. I used a photograph for the first poem’s illustration to show the detail and reality of my words. I sketched the illustration for the second poem — taking artistic liberty — so I could enhance the meaning. The orange pill really is quite tiny – not even 1/2 an inch long. It doesn’t say cancer crusher on it in real life – but wouldn’t it be fabulous if it did? And the plate is not covered with roses. But the story — the meaning — is about the shower of roses and blessing, and the power infused into that tiny orange cancer crushing pill.
I hope you enjoy the stories I tell. Perhaps even more so, I hope you are inspired and encouraged to write and tell your story. There really is power in the written word. Take the risk and write. You don’t have to share it with anyone but yourself. Perhaps you will, but either way, the power is there. It’s changing things with every letter written, and every word and sentence formed.
I am in Awe of My Silver Icon
I am in awe of my silver icon created by hands that love the Lord delivered by hands that love me
She stands surrounded by affirmations prayers and blank pages waiting to be filled
She is Queen Protectress and Amplifier of goodness and connection through time with great love to me ~M. James, June 30, 2020
Gather and Speak
Pink roses adorn the sides of my cup reminding me I’m not alone
Therese is letting fall a shower of roses from heaven itself
Her loving hands send graces as we gather at the altar and speak saints angels and me
A small orange pill rests in my hands I ask that it may be blessed
May its power be increased by the prayers love and presence gathered here
I set the pill reverently upon the pink rimmed plate
Then I speak to my beautiful body the house of my sacred spirit
Do not fear do not resist be brave
Embrace and welcome this little orange pill with joyful hope
Accept it as a gift and magnify its efficacy with your courageous participation ~M. James, July 2, 2020
I’m intrigued by the idea of creating a culture of helping. A culture where “colleagues support one another’s efforts to do the best work possible.” The authors of the article about IDEO suggest that a culture of helping is particularly important for organizations dealing with “knowledge work, when positive business outcomes depend on creativity in often very complex projects.”
I love considering how ideas like this might also benefit education, families, and society, as well as business organizations. Because really, doesn’t that description fit all of us? Especially now?
We are all dealing with knowledge work and often — if not always — very complex problems. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could support one another as colleagues to get the most creative, sustainable, outcomes to the many complex issues facing us today? Perhaps it is time — past time, even — to be willing to explore and learn from the best practices of others.
I always think about this as an educator. What can I learn from other leaders? What can non-education based organizations teach me? What kernels of insight can I grab from researchers dealing with business organizations? And, how can I let these new ideas and insights inform my practice in the classroom?
One thing I do with great resolve is to treat my students — though they are only 5-6 years old — as colleagues who can and should, ask for and offer help to one another and to me. I do my best to create relationships, and lead by example. I model respect, kindness, curiosity, and seeking and giving help.
My young colleagues often think of things in completely different ways than I do. That is part of the power of a culture of helping. Their ideas and ways of helping are insightful and fascinating. They may not always be the best way to do something, or the ultimate answer. But, they always lead to something more — growth, deeper relationships, insight, joy, learning, and new possibilities.
So, I’m thinking again — after re-reading the HBR article — about how I might continue to encourage a culture of helping in this unique educational landscape we find ourselves in today. What sort of infrastructure might I establish — remotely or in person — that would afford each of my students the agency to be an active member in our culture of helping.
I’ve been learning from my experiences with the medical community these past few weeks.
In order for a medical center to run well, there has to be some sort of culture of helping. I see it on many levels — from the people who greet me at the door, constantly clean the seats, check me in, do my tests, to the doctors and nurses. In all instances relationships, trust, listening, opportunity, commitment, and a beautiful balance of courage, vulnerability, humbleness, and power are the key.
My doctors and I have worked, listened, and leaned into our relationship with one another, and have established a pretty sweet mini-culture of helping. They are always willing to listen, brainstorm, and even learn from the things I have experienced, read, and heard. It’s great to be able to work with people who are curious, humble, and always striving to learn. I am incredibly grateful.
But, I only spend a short time with my doctors. The rest of the time I spend with the nurses. Talk about a culture of helping!
I’ve been going to my infusions alone — just to reduce the risk of any family member being compromised. Because of that, I have more time to simply be. When I’m not knocked out by the various medications, I do my best to relax. I draw, breathe, and just take things in. I hear the nurses laugh, chat, look for things, and encourage one another. They ask for, and give help — without, it seems, consideration of rank, or age, or years of service. They learn things about their patients, and remember them. And not just important medical things — but things about us as human beings.
I like experiencing all that. It makes me feel safe. Clearly they have a culture of helping which is deeply ingrained within their very beings.
And then there is my personal nurse — I mean they all help me, praise God — but there’s been one assigned to me these first two times i’ve gone. She has been remarkable. From the very beginning Carmen established a culture of helping with me. She let me know — from the moment we met — that we were colleagues and partners in this great journey of health and healing. And for that I’m very grateful.
She didn’t call me her colleague and partner. She showed me — in a way that to me, seemed incredibly purposeful and intentional. When we met, Carmen sat down to talk with me, looked me in the eyes, listened, attended, and responded to the things I said. After listening to me that first time, she moved me to a new station so we had easier access to one another. She explained things, and asked for feedback. She made it clear I could trust her — and her nursing partners — from the very beginning. It was fantabulous.
I’m not sure what creative possibilities and discoveries come from this culture of helping that they have established with one another, and now with me. What I am sure about is its great benefit to me as a human being, and to the complex problems we face together.
And, I am grateful — not only for the ways Carmen has helped me in my healing journey — but also for the things she has cemented in my heart and brain. The infrastructure of my classroom has to do with me. It has to do with me being purposefully, and intentionally, available, trustworthy, curious, and present.
This is my infusion doodle from this week. I made it to occupy my mind and hands, and to bring peace, joy, and creativity into the moment. As I look at it now I’m struck by its representation of a culture of helping. The various elements have similarities, and differences, but the same purpose. They occupy their own space with power, and beauty. They overlap one another without diminishing the another. Depending on my focus, different elements recede and push forward. And finally, the various elements combine to create, a dynamic, beautiful, complex whole.
So, in the infusion room, the classroom, wherever — purposefully, and intentionally available, trustworthy, curious, and present. Always open to creating and being part of a culture of helping.