Are They Listening?

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

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

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

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

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

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And the words they chose were …

I cannot think of an adequate descriptor …

…. amazing, fantabulous, wonderful, overwhelming.

Take a look at two of the word lists.

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

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

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

Are they listening? Yes, they are! 

Note:

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

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

Relationships and Inspiration

 

“Education is always about relationships. Great teachers are not just instructors and test administrators: They are mentors, coaches, motivators, and lifelong sources of inspiration to their students.” (Ken Robinson) I love this quote and try to live it everyday. 

There is an equally strong and powerful benefit for us as teachers. When we build relationships with our students, we are forever inspired by them as well.  

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My kids and I do yoga together each week. We end each session with a ritual of gratitude and relationship. We go to each other – hands in the yoga prayer position – look each other in the eyes, and say:

Namaste (name). Thank you for practicing. You are awesome! 

It is a super powerful moment of relationship, caring, and affirmation.

As I affirm each child, I take their hands in mine  I want them to know they are important to me, and have my full attention. I want them to be assured I have them in my hands — now and always.

Several of my students have begun to take the lead in this ritual, and grasp my hands in theirs.

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I love the symbolism. I am not the only one who values relationship. I am not the only one offering inspiration, or holding others in my hands and heart. My students – these 5 and 6 year olds — hold me in their hands and heart as well.

This reality — and the image of their small, but mighty hands, holding mine — inspires me every day.

 

Note: I’ve wanted to capture these moments in photographs for some time now, but couldn’t figure out how to have both of my hands held, and take a photo!  Today I realized, “Ask the hands that are holding you!” After yoga today, I asked my students to take some photos. These are two of the photos they took. 

 

School can be amazing!

I’m reading Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros aka the Principal of Change. I resisted buying it and reading it for quite some time now because, whew, I am one busy girl. But, then I discovered the #IMMOOC – an Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course!

I was hooked!! Yes, I know, you are wondering, “Hmmm, Molly, perhaps I’m mistaken, but didn’t you just say you didn’t have time to READ the book? Isn’t a MOOC more work than just reading? Have you, by chance, lost your mind?”

What a great question! I do feel in some ways, that I have fallen over the edge into some sort of madness, lol. But, I know that feeling is not exactly accurate. My decision feels a bit mad because it will mean I get less sleep, more struggle, and more work.

However, feelings aren’t always truth. In reality the decision to be part of #IMMOOC is actually quite sane and wonderful. I get to be part of, and interact with, a huge network of people invested in their own personal learning, and passionate about impacting education (and the world) for the better!  How could anyone, much less me, pass that up?!?!!!!

So, here I am, in the midst of the #IMMOOC, unsure of where exactly we are supposed to be in the book and our blogging, but loving where I am! I’ve read some of the book, reflected, engaged in the twitter chat (And might I just say, the #IMMOOC twitter chat people had incredible energy and passion. It started at 9pm my time. By 9:40 my eyes were bleary and my head was exploding. I took the gems I had read so far, reveled in the excitement for a moment longer, toyed with the idea of staying, but decided discretion is the better part of valor, and quietly left the chat for some much needed sleep.) and now have begun blogging about the Innovator’s Mindset. So, with that said, let me get to it.

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My first “You go, man!” came in the publishers forward, when I read “School can be amazing.” Before I continue, I’d like to suggest an edit. I think it should read, “School can be amazing!” Or, even, “School can be AMAZING!”

All too often I hear people comment — in support of school NOT being amazing — “It is school after all.” Eee gads, people. School can, and should be, amazing! If it isn’t, we are doing something wrong. Learning is awesome. Exploration is amazing. Discovery is exciting. How do we go from that to “It is school after all?”

I heard Ken Robinson speak at the NAIS conference on Friday. (Magnificent as always!) He mentioned a horrifying statistic. He said “According to the World Health Organization, unipolar depressive disorders were ranked as the third leading cause of the global burden of disease in 2004 and will move into the first place by 2030.” I thought of that as I read the introduction to George’s book. George says:

“Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s kids. … our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or the mechanics of a task but to spark curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own.  To wonder. To explore. To become leaders.” (Innovator’s Mindset p. 4)

I would add to that list, if I may be so bold:

To struggle. To fail – and  through the failure, to learn and thrive. To consider possibilities. To find new answers and new questions. To know the joy of learning. To inspire, challenge, and teach each other, and us.

I believe in the profound work we do as educators, and the (to quote my El Sistema and Reggio friends) transformative power of education. It is not, in my humble opinion, that schools can be amazing. It is that schools should, and must be, amazing.

We have the power to positively impact the future of our youth and our world. The transformative power of education, in the hands of innovative educators who believe in the incredible beauty, goodness, power, and ability of all our students, can change the future, and cause the WHO to have to reassess and change their prediction for 2030.

A girl can hope!

 

 

 

Inviting Kindergartners Into My Process and Musing

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My hands will soon be covered in paint –  like hand in this photo. YAY! I cannot wait!

It is super important for me, as a person, and as an educator, to: get inspired, try new techniques, play, and make things. The whole process – anticipating, enjoying, searching, looking, researching, talking, trying, learning, failing, fretting and succeeding – teaches and touches me as a person and an educator.

The preparation is a time of excitement, joy and anticipation!

I relish the trip to the art store! Paper, paint, stencils, cutting tools, canvases, paint brushes invite me to explore, imagine and buy. I usually end up in line with much more than my original shopping list. If I’m lucky, my cashier is an artist. We kibitz over my choices, and share our passion and ideas. On my last visit, I discovered there is 300 pound watercolor paper! 300 lbs! The clerk said it is “Delicious!” (You do know I will soon be purchasing some, don’t you?)

I love scouring bookstores for art books or magazines. It’s a treasure hunt. If I’m lucky enough to find one or two that inspire me, I’m a happy girl! Just thinking about being creative makes me happy. It doesn’t bring me as much joy as actually creating, but it is pretty awesome.

And, of course, after all the prep, I love the doing! Surrounded by supplies. In the zone. Hands covered with paint. Mind buzzing. Spirit soaring.

But, occasionally, I notice less than positive emotions. Sometimes there is a vague sense of angst. Usually it’s when I’m faced with a technique that is new, outside my wheelhouse, or that doesn’t easily mesh with my usual sensibilities. It’s always somewhat surprising to notice the less than positive emotions. I love being creative and artistic, and I’m pretty talented. And yet, I still sometimes feel apprehension, the worry of not being good enough, or the fear of messing it up.

As I notice all my experiences, thoughts and feelings, my mind turn to my students. I want them to experience it all. The positive and the less than positive emotions. I want them to struggle, to think, to fail, to learn, to succeed. I even want them to experience the angst, and the truth that angst can be overcome.

Wondering how I might do that, I am considering these questions:

  • How might we facilitate anticipation, discovery and joy?
  • How might we participate in the excitement of the treasure hunt for ideas and/or supplies?
  • How might we provide inspiration?
  • How might we find the time to allow ourselves to savor the process?
  • How might we structure our time together, to enable more conversation, as artists, regarding our passion, our work and/or our materials?
  • How might we give each other the freedom to adapt a particular technique or project to better fit our own sensibilities?
  • How might we be more aware of thoughts/feelings of angst and fear?
  • How might we better support each other in angst and fear?
  • How might we continue to encourage belief/knowledge of ourselves as capable, awesome artists?

I’m not sure, but I’m wondering ….

 

Note:

My first draft of this blog post had a list of “How might I …?” questions. As I re-read my post, the I was in glaring opposition to the we of creative teams.  Yes, I am the teacher, so, yes, much is up to me. But, we are a creative team – my kindergartners, my colleagues, and I – and it is better that I ask “How might we …?” 

My students teach me, inspire me, problem solve with me, and often see things from an insightful prospective much different than mine. Inviting them into my musing will be beneficial for us all!

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Hiking Art

I bought a travel watercolor set to have with me in my pack on my hikes this week. It’s a nice Sakura Pocket Field Sketch Box. I got it in an awesome little bookstore on the main drag of Lake Placid that has an amazingly nice art section! It was an impulse buy on a rainy day walk into town.

I’m not a trained painter so I looked for creative ways to translate the nature and inspiration I experienced on our hikes, using  watercolors.

We did a short hike out to Moose Pond. It’s a beautiful spot to sit, breathe, pray, eat, and relax. The water inspired me that day. I thought about wetting the entire page with pond water, but wasn’t sure what I would do next. So, I did nothing! I sat, looked, and just experienced the place. I noticed irises growing between the cracks in a rock on the water’s edge. That sparked an idea! If I used one of the leaves to put the pond water on the page, I might be able to mirror the feeling of the water – movement, sunlight, colors, and flow.

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Baxter Mountain was our next hike. The wind at the top was sensational. It was my inspiration that day. But, how to show it?

The sound and force of the wind is hard to miss. It almost constantly moves the leaves and  actually changes the way tree branches grow. I love the sound and force of the wind, and the shaking of the leaves was a visual cue, so I knew I wanted to capture that … somehow.

It’s remarkable how awe inspiring, and moving (pun intended lol) the wind is to me. I absolutely love it. So, instead of of painting, I found several spots to sit, do yoga, eat, pray, and just let the wind buffet me. I collected a few leaves before we hit the trail off the summit, stuffing them in my pack to use when I got home.

Here’s my first leaf inspired piece.

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It took form as I worked. I wasn’t happy with it at first. But, I ignored my displeasure with the product, and kept going, enjoying the process. As I did, ideas came to me. I remembered a bubble art project I did with my Kindergarteners, and let that direct me.

I really like the abstract nature of the finished piece. And, I love the accessibilty and transferability of the method! I’m contemplating how to incorporate it into my class this year. It has nice potential as an art-science integration.

Rain has interrupted my hikes but not my art. Today I worked on getting watercolor paint to adhere to the leaves I gathered yesterday. My plan was to make leaf prints.

This is much harder than it seems. Close your eyes and imagine rain hitting the leaves. What does it do? Yup, it beads up! So guess what the watercolor paint does … beads up! Ugh! But, with a bit of stubborn persistence – wearing down the leaf it seemed, and getting the paint to the right consistency – it worked. The paint stuck to the water resistant leaf!

I am super happy with the result. The colors remind me of the leaves, sky and sun. The one in the middle is that one brilliantly colored red leaf we always come upon on our hikes. The black is the large rocks that encourage thousands of nature-filled step ups and downs on our hikes, as well as the small stones that sometime weigh down my pack. Next time I may put the black around the entire edge. We’ll see. It’s a process, and I’m loving it!

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Speaking of process, clearly my process involves mess! It never feels like mess while I’m working. It feels like (and is) immersion, beauty, intentness and art!

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But, yeah, my process is messy, and I’m good with that!

 

 

 

 

Gustav Klimt and Kindergartners

Gustav Klimt is a favorite artist of mine. I enjoy finding ways to share his work with my students. Take a look at this work of his.

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It is beautiful! Clearly it’s a masterpiece, and yet in many ways it is a work accessible to my kindergarten students. It is a combination of shapes – both in the detail and the figures.

I always have the girls work on a mixed media project when we are inspired by Klimt. I find it helps them express the detail he expresses when they have many mediums with which to work. Plus, it allows them to explore various mediums at the same time.

Typically, I bring in some of my art materials to share with them. They love the chance to use “real art mediums and tools” and treat all my things with the utmost respect. I love that my sharing expresses my respect for them as people and artists, and, hopefully, encourages them to be generous with the things they value.

This year I introduced them to Klimt while we were exploring shapes in math. I showed them full pieces, but spent most of the time drawing their eyes to the details and shapes found throughout his work. The girls enjoyed finding spirals, circles, squares, triangles, diamonds, rectangles and the many combinations of shapes Klimt created.

I decided to have the girls work on a trio of small art-pieces instead of one large piece. I hoped it might help them be more able to fill the paper with shapes. While I love having them work on large canvases, sometimes the size overwhelms them. We worked on 3×5 inch pieces of multi-media paper. When the girls were finished I mounted their work on a black background to create a triptych.

It was fabulous to sit and work with them. We shared pencils, artist markers, sharpie markers, a travel water color set, gel pens, crayons, pastels and security envelopes (fabulous idea I learned from Dar Hosta and Deb Barends).

“Oooh, I like that!” “Can I try that?” “How did you do that?” “Oh I never thought of that!” flowed across the tables as we admired each other’s work, and were inspired to give the new ideas a try. While they sometimes need a reminder, they are learning to see “copying” their ideas as a compliment rather than a transgression. I encourage those who “copy” to truly be inspired, and to make subtle, or large, changes in order to make the work their own.

I was, as always, impressed by their process and product. They have great, big, beautiful hearts and often it seems that beauty just flows out onto the paper. We learn from each other to be free with our work, loving the process and each other.

While I was working on a piece, one of the girls asked if I would like her to help me. “Sure!” I said, although I wasn’t sure what might be created. Her additions to the piece were wonderful, and made the piece much more beautiful than if I had done it alone!

I’m not sure anyone would realize we were inspired by Klimt, but we were, and we too created beautiful works of art. Here are a few from six of my students. Enjoy and be inspired!

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Resources:

Klimt Museum http://www.klimt.com

Quieting my mind with a good tangle

Wow I had a tough time turning off my brain … and to be honest, my spirit … last night. It seemed everything just wanted to stay wound up a bit too tight to allow for sleep.

Thankfully, as I went up to bed, I noticed my black art squares sitting with a pack of white, gold and silver gel pens. “Oh!!!” I thought, “That’s what I’ll do! A zentangle ©.”

I’ve zentangled – or did my version of a tangle – many times previously. I have always enjoyed it but never really experienced it as zen-like as some suggest it might be. But I have to say, for some reason, last night it was really a zen experience!

I picked up a sheet of paper I had previously discarded because I had been unhappy with my placement of the strings (zentangle boarders). I used the parts of the strings I liked, and casually reworked just a bit of the string placement. I decided to work using only white ink (because I didn’t use any white the last time I tangled). I worked with some designs I’ve used previously, and allowed myself to be inspired by others’ designs, in order to create new ones of my own.

Perhaps it was because I was so tired. (Did I mention it was 1AM?) Perhaps it was because I wasn’t really trying to create something – I was just playing, treating the page almost like a piece of scrap paper. Perhaps it was using the form but not feeling bound by the form. I’m not really sure. But whatever the reason, the process was particularly peaceful, free, and enjoyable.

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I added the paraphrase of a Thich Nhat Hanh quote as both an affirmation of what I was doing, and as a reminder of what I always want to do…

Breathe, believe, and be. Smile, cultivate calm, and be cognizant and grateful for the present, wonderful moment.

…………….

With gratitude to the creators of Zentangle and the many people doing great inspiring work, here are a couple links:

http://www.zentangle.com – The website of Zentangle Method creators Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas

http://sandybee.weebly.com/ – The website of Sandy Steen Bartholomew.