I Can Do It!

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Our “no fretting shields 2.0” have arrived! Or to be more precise, have been made.

I decided to be more intentional with the folders this year. I bought folders that would only be used as no fretting shields — nothing else. I decorated them, and then considered what words I might add to them.

I wanted the words to be an affirmation, encouragement, or a reminder to breathe. And, I wanted it to be something all my girls could read. I finally decided on “I can do it!” It seemed perfect because it was something they would say about and to themselves — I can do it — not something someone else said about them — You can do it.

I got to see the shields in action today.

There are tons of assessments to be done in the beginning of the year — they help me learn a bit about my students, and be a better teacher. As I started to work with one of my girls, she noticed the folders sitting on a chair next to me.  She asked what they were, and then asked if she could try one while we worked together.

Of course!!!

I asked her if she knew what it said. She did. She read it, and we got to work.

At one point she expressed a lack of confidence in herself. I chuckled, and asked her what she had just read on the no fretting screen. She repeated it, smiled, and tried again. (YAY!)

Then, in a bit, as I watched her struggle to write one of the numerals, I almost said. “Can I show you how to make it?”

Oh my GOSH!

Thank goodness I had the awareness, and self control to keep that thought to myself, and allow her to continue to struggle and try. She was unfazed by the struggle. It was me who was uncomfortable with her need for hard work, risk, and possible failure.

There will come a time when I will step in and help her perfect her work. This was not that time.

If I had allowed those words to pass my lips. I would have negated the affirmation of the no fretting screen. My apparent kindness — trying to help — would have only proven that I can do it, not that she could. I would have unintentionally said I didn’t believe in the value of hard work, hard thought, and struggle. I would have suggested she couldn’t do it without my help. Ugh.

As I looked at the folder I realized that as she spoke the words “I can do it!” to herself, she also spoke them to me.

“I can do it, Miss James! Trust me. Trust the process. Trust our relationship. It’s all good.”

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Gratitude and Awe

Have you heard of Brother David Steindl-Rast? I can’t recall when I first came upon him. What I do recall is listening to his audible book The Grateful Heart over and over again as I commuted to and from work. I love his voice, his spirit, and his ideas.

I recently rewatched his  TEDtalk — Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful  and short video A Grateful Day. I was nearly weeping as I finished them. There is so very much for which to be grateful. Moments of gift surround us every day, we need only, as Brother David says, open our hearts to them.

My heart was open the other day as I chatted with a dear friend of mine. As we talked, she told me that I am one of the people who most encourages her as an artist. I was kind of surprised. I admire her as a creative. She’s a creative thinker and has an artist’s soul. She’s definitely a creative, and a talented photographer and poet. Now that I write those words, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’m reflecting my true thoughts to her.

A few years ago I read Creative Confidence by David Kelley and Tom Kelley. I was struck by their desire to help others grow in creative confidence. To quote them, they wanted to “help individuals and organizations unleash their full potential— and build their own creative confidence.” (from the preface) I still remember reading that and thinking “SO DO I!!!!” (And yes, I do believe I actually yelled that! lol)

I no longer yell that — well, not very often — but it remains very true. Creating space for others to experience themselves for the creative we all are, is very important to me.

So when my friend shared with me, it was a “wow!” moment. I don’t think I acknowledged the wow-ness to her, instead I just stood in the moment and listened.  As I listened, she continued. In beautiful, humble gratitude, she told me I also helped her grow in her faith.

Again … wow! I always want — through my words, actions, and being — to encourage others in faith — faith in God, faith in possibilities, faith in themselves, faith in goodness, truth, and beauty.

The opportunity to make a positive difference in the life of another — for creativity and faith — is a gift. The doing it, and being told about it — again, a gift. I am so very grateful for my friend  our friendship, the ways we help each other grow, and for her willingness to tell me. It was a great gift to me. It was a moment to bask in gratitude and awe.

I don’t just have those opportunities with this friend. I’m blessed to be an educator and have those opportunities each time I go to work.  As educator I have the opportunity help each child who crosses my path believe in themselves as creatives, as thinkers, and as hopeful, faith-filled people. I also have the opportunity to grow in the same ways, due to my encounters with my students. And I have the opportunity to gift them with my thanks.

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I was talking with a young friend who is beginning her student teaching this year. I asked if she was excited. She said, “Yes, but honestly a bit overwhelmed as well.”

Yes, a bit overwhelmed! I think all educators can echo that sentiment. I think — within reason — it’s much like nerves in an athlete. It isn’t a bad thing. It’s an indication that we understand what is before us. We understand that we are doing something quite important. What we do matters.

I figure every year, I”ll experience a bit of that astonished, and sometimes heavy, sense of wow. I hope, pray, and trust that I will never cease to remember that the overwhelm and struggle is real and important. Then, with many breaths I hope, pray, and trust that I will treasure each opportunity as a gift, and always look with awe at the beautiful souls entrusted to me.

Blessings, peace, and joy to my fellow educators! Every day is an incredible opportunity,  a remarkable gift, a profound responsibility.  Be grateful. Enjoy them. Bask in them. Share them. 

 

 

On Point!

Have you read the Spring issue of Harvard Business Review OnPoint magazine?

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If you have, boy would I like to talk with you — especially if you’re an educator.

If you haven’t, you should.

Why?

  • It’s enjoyable.
  • It’s a nice balance of easy reading, and challenge-your-brain kind of reading.
  • It has a TON of thought provoking, and reflection-worthy ideas that I am certain will enhance my teaching practice, as well as my students’ learning.
  • And, on a silly note. The elephant.

I’ll blog about my thoughts after I’ve had a bit more time to read and reflect. Meanwhile, go buy it, read it, and change your little part of the world.

Note: You can pick up a copy at HBR – Unleash YOUR Creativity

 

 

 

Why teach?

It’s the end of the school year.

Contrary to what people outside of education think, things don’t wind down as the year ends. Instead, they ramp up, and come dangerously close to spiraling out of control. Holding onto the tail of that spinning mass is exciting — and exhausting.

Each night I tell myself I’m going to bed by 9PM, and at 11 PM I’m still awake, working. When I close my computer and my eyes it seems like only minutes until my alarm announces 5AM.

It’s the end of the school year.

I’m tired. I’m sick with a cold. I’m coughing enough to make my head hurt. I have tons of assessments to catalogue, reports to write, forms to fill out, orders to make, and curriculum maps to tweak for next year. My classroom no longer has children in it, but it has lots of stuff in it. Stuff that all needs to be gone through and placed in its proper spot.

That brief rant may make you wonder why I teach.

Sometimes it makes me wonder, too!

Thank goodness, deep down, under the weariness, I know why I teach. Teaching is me. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. It brings me joy.

Even though I know teaching is my thing, still, it’s really nice when someone else notices and points it out to me. Especially in these moments of fatigue and big work it’s super helpful to be reminded I make a difference. I value each and every one of those comments. But, every once in a while, I’m blown away.

This is one of those times.

A few days ago I got this note in my mailbox.

 

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Wow. Just, wow.

This is why I teach. I teach with that hope that I’ll touch hearts, minds, and spirits. I teach so I might spark a passion for learning. I teach so I can show each and every child that they are strong, rich, powerful, and important … foibles and all.

And, I teach because my students do the same for me.

I’m super grateful this 9th grader took the time to write to me.

I helped her see her worth and power. She helped me see mine.

Wow. Just, wow.

 

When the Smithsonian Invites …

You say “GET OUT OF TOWN!!” Then, you accept!

I have been meaning to blog about this for quite some time, but as I began to investigate the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation  I kept finding new things that made me go “WOW!” and kept me from blogging.

If you’ve never given their website a look, you really should. They’ve got some awesome thinking and resources.

Look at some of the things they believe, and attempt to live:

“In Spark!Lab, we believe everyone is inventive, and hope that our visitors continue to create and innovate long after they’ve outgrown us.”

I LOVE this. Even though I’ve read it several times, it still makes me shake my head. That’s exactly what I think and hope about my Kindergartners. They’re all creative, inventive, and fantabulous! My hope and intent is that they experience, learn, embrace, and live those truths, with me, and long after they’ve left me!

Another post said “Lemelson team members pride ourselves on ‘living the mission’ as creative problem solvers.” They tell the story of  trying to rescue a lost  phone, and document the process at the same time.

I laughed out loud as I read this story. This is my life as a Kindergarten teacher. Always trying to work with my girls to figure out ways to make things possible — all the while doing my best to snap photos.

And, as I think about it, this is my Kindergartners life too! They are living the mission as creative problem solvers as well! The other day I discovered two girls — bottoms up in the air, faces on the ground, arms reaching under a block cabinet — all the while talking furiously with one another. What was going on, you ask?

Someone had washed a yogurt container, and when they placed it in the ‘use for making’ basket, the container fell behind the cabinet.  The girls could squeeze their arms under the cabinet, but they couldn’t reach the bottle. The flurry of conversation was about the blocks and other items they were trying out as tools to retrieve the container.

To add to their challenge, our classroom has art projects taped to the floor and the edge of the closest art project is about 18 inches from the edge of the block cabinet.

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The block cabinet is on wheels, and a visiting teacher volunteered to move it. The girls rejected this simple solution because they didn’t want to risk harming the art project. It was fantabulous to watch their intentness, inventiveness, and collaboration as they worked to retrieve the container.

Then there is the Lemelson Center strategic plan .

(This is just a small portion of their plan. I’ve put their thoughts in bullets form to make them easier to discuss here.)

  • Value creativity and embrace the potential rewards of risk-taking.
  • Inform and delight audiences and convey the enthusiasm and joy that are integral to the invention process
  • Encourage visitors to participate and see themselves as inventive
  • Push the limits of exhibition design to advance visitors’ curiosity and active learning
  • Our work has the potential to inspire millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide to view themselves as having inventive capacity and to build the skills and confidence needed to overcome barriers to innovation.

At the risk of repeating myself, I love these ideas, and they are a large part of my strategic plan as well. Perhaps it seems odd that a Kindergarten teacher would have some of the same strategic plans, hopes, visions, dreams, and goals, as the center of a major organization. But, if you think about it, it makes perfect sense, and seems to me, should be true of every educator.

Educators do remarkable work, with remarkable people — colleagues, admins, parents, and students. These constituents have limitless potential for imagining, thinking, creating, making, and impacting the world for good. Our work — informed and driven by our plans, hopes, visions and dreams — holds the possibility for profound and far-reaching impact. What we do influences those we  interact with each day. This in turn influences every individual and problem they encounter, now, and in the future.

I’d love to tweak their ideas — making them more mine — and create a canvas of some sort for my learning space.

  • Value creativity.
  • Welcome cognitive and creative risk-taking.
  • Be open to possibility.
  • Teach for delight.
  • Nothing without enthusiasm and joy.
  • Embrace and encourage curiosity.
  • Enable active learning.
  • Live the profoundness inherent in teaching and learning.
  • Believe in the incredible power and potential of my learners.

If I do actually make a canvas, I’ll be sure to share. Until then be inspired, and embrace the profound awesomeness that is you, your work, and those around you!

 

Classroom Setup 2017-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Here are a few photos with my reflections.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NOTE:

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

 

 

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Are You a Possibilitarian?

 

My friend Jojo gifted me with, among other things, a lovely pair of socks. The artist, Kelly Rae Roberts, whose work is on the socks has a tag line that reads artist – author – possibilitarian.

When I read that, I thought, “POSSIBILITARIAN?!?!?! Is there actually a word — possibilitarian — and I don’t know about it?!?! Oh my gosh!”

I laughed out loud, and grabbed my laptop to do a bit of searching.

Yup, possibilitarian is a word. It hasn’t yet made it to dictionary.com, but it can be found on UrbanDictionary.com, and google returned about 77,400 results to my search.

As far as I can tell, the word originated with Norman Vincent Peale.

“Become a possibilitarian. No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities – always see them, for they’re always there.” 

Raising our sights, seeing possibility — being a possibilitarian — has the potential to increase our ideas, exploration, discoveries, inventions, innovation, collaboration, creativity, life, and joy.

Really, how fantabulous is that? Super duper wicked amazing fantabulous?  Yes, I think so, too.

Now, how super duper wicked amazing fantabulous would it be to help our students become possibilitarians?! Even better, right?! Right!

Let’s get on it!

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As an added note: I wanted a photo to add to the post. I remembered this cool little piece of art my mom bought me for my classroom. PERFECT! After I took the photo I turned it over and guess what I saw. The artist is Kelly Rae Roberts. Rock on with your possibility loving self, Kelly! 

The Blank Page Revisited

I’ve written several times about the blank page – once about my own experience and then another time about my Kindergartners working to overcome the blank page.

Even so, I still struggle with the blank page. It fascinates and attracts me – enticing me with its beauty and possibility — while simultaneously intimidating and mocking me!

I love making art – letting other’s art inspire me, exploring new mediums, or creating beautiful things for myself and others. I’m pretty talented. But again, wow, sometimes I’m stymied by the blank page. It pokes at me — like a sneaky bully — with angst and doubt, and keeps me from doing what I might.

My mind is always searching for connections between seemingly unconnected things, and the other day that trait helped me have an epiphany that helps me overcome my own blank pages.

The first part of the connection is a note and bracelet gifted me by one of my K students:

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I love that note and bracelet. I am even thinking how I might have a more permanent bracelet made that says “Imagine possibility!”

The second part of the connection was a quote on a friend’s Facebook post:

“Stop worrying about what might go wrong and get excited about what might go right!”

Ding, ding, ding!!! All of a sudden I got it!

I AM good at imagining. I imagine wonderful opportunities and ways of accomplishing them when I’m building with my kids. When I’m imagining art possibilities, I revel in all sorts of fabulous, positive possibilities. I enjoy imagining things I might make, as well as new ways to do things.

But when gazing upon the blankness of the page my imagining begins to change. Instead of the joy-filled optimistic possibility thinking, or the enthusiastic fun of trying new things, I imagine all the things that could go wrong. And, just like my more hopeful, lighthearted imagination, my fretting, angst-ridden imagination is powerful and thinks of many possibilities. Only problem is, these possibilities include the numerous things I do not want to happen!

This epiphany helped me as I worked on the door design I am creating. I did research. I prototyped. I discarded methods and color combinations that didn’t work. I refined the methods and color combinations until I was quite pleased. Finally, I mustered up my courage and took control of my own thinking.

Instead of allowing my imagination to travel down the dark path of doubt, doing it’s beautiful creative process to imagine all that could go wrong – destroying my hours and hours of work – I chose to get excited about what might go right! I imagined the fantabulous things that might occur – in my learning and in my actual product.

Sometimes I’m not able to come up with the actual possibilities because my thoughts of what might go wrong are so strong. In those times, I determine to embrace the excitement and possibility of what MIGHT go right — even if I’m not sure what they might be.

So one day, as sat in my workshop space, my door stared at me, daring me — or begging me, depending on your perspective — to come continue to work. With determined resoluteness, I accepted the challenge! I pulled out the colors, chose my brushes and began working.

It was a bit stressful for a moment, but as I worked, the stress eased and I developed a process that worked well. After just one flower was painted, my imagination was freed! I began to imagine — and believe — all the things that might go right. It was remarkable how interesting — intoxicating even — it was!

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I am now super excited to be in the process, and see where this will end up. I’ve made mistakes. But, I’ve chosen to breathe through them and let my imagination and process make good things happen. My fingers are crossed this will stay with me for future blank pages.

I’m wondering — imagining — how I will use this information with my students. I am certain there is something profound to share with them. My mind is already at work.

Now to await the marvelous, mysterious connections sure to come, and to become excited about all that may go right — for myself and my students.

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!

Memories of Clementines

Driving to a late day meeting, I unzip my lovely new cooler bag, and fish around for this …

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Before I even see it, I imagine peeling it, and think of where I might leave the peelings. In my mind’s eye (or is it nose? lol) I can already smell the beautiful, citrus fragrance. I can’t wait to experience it as it fills my car with lusciousness!

At that moment my mind returned to this fabulous little hand …

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This hand belongs to one of my kindergarteners from last year. I loved the exchange we had, so I asked if I could photograph her hand with the peel in it. She looked quizzically at me when I asked, but agreed.

“I love your idea,” I explained, “and I want to write about it on my blog! I never thought of it as a possibility, and I want to share it with others.” She smiled a soft, small smile, and agreed.

Finally, I am sharing.

When she came to me her eyes were bright.

She said “Look, Miss James!”

I looked at her hand, and then back to her face for an explanation.

She responded, “I’m going to use it in our supermarket build!”

(We visit a supermarket, create field guides, and then re-create the market in our classroom with blocks and various other items.)

I reply, “You are? What will you do with it?”

She said, “I’m going to use it to add an orange smell to my paper oranges. You know, like a scratch and sniff!”

I burst out laughing, and with a huge smile say “WOW! That is fantabulous!!! What a great, creative idea! I never thought of that! Thanks for sharing your idea with me!”

Amazing, right? I wondered why she was showing me a clementine peel. It didn’t immediately come to mind that the small piece of peel could be used so creatively.

Often, my students ideas are large, sometimes even bigger than mine. I enjoy their exuberance, and their big ideas. And, I trust that my support, my openness and positivity, and my joy in their awesomeness, encourages them to adopt, trust and live their big ideas!