We Are All Storytellers

A storyteller, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a:

a. a relater of anecdotes
b: a reciter of tales (as in a children’s library)
c. liar, fibber
d: a writer of stories

I’m a bit aghast as I read the definitions.

I talk to the dictionary webpage “That’s all you have to say about storytellers? A relater of anecdotes? A reciter of tales – as in a children’s library? A fibber? A writer of stories?”

Yes, I know they are — technically — definitions of storytellers. But, in my humble opinion — with all due respect to G&C Merriam and Noah Webster —  they are such pedestrian, dry, uninspiring, and perhaps even, incomplete definitions.

What is a storyteller according to me, you ask? So glad you’re wondering.

A storyteller, is:
a. a wielder of power
b. a connector of seemingly unconnected things
c. one who deals in possibility, magic, truth, inspiration, hope. 
d. a teller of stories — written, spoken, shown, lived — to children and adults.
e. me, and you

Are you suprised by my definitions? Are you thinking, “I’m not a storyteller. Storytelling isn’t my thing, I’m a teacher, a doctor, a parent, a crossing guard — I’m just me, I don’t tell stories.”

Ah, but it is your thing. Storytelling is our thing as humans. We are all storytellers. We craft our own stories, and we help others craft theirs.

Maybe in the place of the definition, the dictionary should just have a mirror, or the instructions: To discover what a storyteller is, find your nearest mirror and peer inside.

Still not convinced? Read on.

As you read, listen for the stories being encouraged and told.

Scenario #1

I’m in for an MRI. I’m feeling all the classic nervous symptoms, but I’m, doing my best to use positive self-talk, prayer, and my breath as anchors to peace and hope. 

I’m greeted at the door with hand sanitizer and a scanning thermometer. “Any cough, fever, recent loss of taste or smell?” “No,” I reply, adding, “Woo hoo and praise God! Have a good day.” She looks at me as though not quite sure how to respond. We make eye contact during her brief moment of hesitation. Finally she says “You, too.” before turning to the next person who has come through the door. 

Arriving at imagining I’m handed paperwork to fill out. It includes a laundry list of “have you ever …” Except for the fact that I’m able to answer no to many of the questions, this doesn’t do much to assuage my anxiety. Now I wait. The only noise is the TV which fills the silence of the waiting room with less than positive banter of some news broadcast.

My name is called and the tech takes my paperwork. Looking at the paperwork rather than me, she asks me some questions as she walks quickly — ahead of me — down the hall. She points to where I am required to change out of the clothes I specifically chose to increase my sense of personal power, courage, and fantabulousness, into a significantly less than attractive, dull, hospital gown that seems to mock me by incessantly whispering “you are most certainly not well.” I quiet its voice with my new baby Yoda hat and mask. They speak to me with the optimism of the child who gifted them to me. “Keep breathing. You can do it, Ms. James. You ARE fantabulous.”

As I walk into the MRI room, my tech matter-of-factly hands me the panic button, as I lie down on the machine.  She says, quite casually, “it’s going to take 35-40 minutes.” I do my best to control my voice so as  not to yell at her as she disappears behind a door.  “THIRTY TO FORTY MINUTES?!?!!!” 

I close my eyes and take a deep breath as the table slides inside the remarkably small tube. I remind myself of my dad’s words as I left the house “Remember, even though it’s small, there’s plenty of room for some angels in there with you.” My tech’s voice, as though from some far off land, jolts me from that space of safety. “Ok, the first one’s going to be about 3 minutes.” 

Scenario #2

My oncologist’s office and infusion room is on the second floor. No matter how tired I am, I eschew the elevator, and head to the stairs. Today is no different.

As I start up the stairs, I unzip my coat. My eyes fall upon the hot pink superman emblem on my tech-shirt. With each step, I focus on my breathing, and repeatedly run through a set of affirmations. “I am safe. I am sound. I am well. I am whole. My body is working for optimal health. Life is good. I am good. God is greater.”

I refrain from even thinking “I’m nervous or anxious.” I’m feeling nervous and anxious – but they are most certainly not what I am.  As I open the door at the top of the stairs, I borrow an affirmation from my kindergartners  “I am peace.” My hand closes on the rosary in my pocket as I walk down the hall from the elevator. In the office, I laugh as I’m greeted “Good golly, Miss Molly! How are you today?” 

Scenario #3

I’m holding a plethora of cardboard tubes as some of my young Kindergarten architects and builders work to secure them with duct tape. They decided our classroom supermarket needed a door, and after studying a few, they have enlisted me — and my hands — to help with the construction. 

The room is buzzing with voices and bodies, as  Kindergartners do their best to move without knocking into anything, or anyone. In the corner I see two builders in some sort of power struggle. One face is angry, the other timid. Unkind words come from the angry one’s mouth. Unable to extricate myself from the door, I raise my voice to get the angry one to stop. 

When my task with the door creators is done, I go check on the formerly angry and timid builders. We chat for a bit and settle the dispute that had precipitated the problem. 

I then ask the owner of the formerly angry face if I might chat with her. 

We find a quiet spot and sit together. I ask her if she understands why I raised my voice. “I was being mean.” she says. “Yes,” I reply, “You were.” She didn’t completely meet my gaze. I asked if she would please look at me. She did. 

I proceed. “How did I sound when I spoke to you?” “Mad,” she whispers. “Yes,” I say in agreement, “and maybe even a little mean, right?” Now she is really looking at me. “I was right to ask you to stop.” I explain. “I wasn’t right to be mean when I did it. I’m sorry.” 

Scenario #4

I finally finished zipping the remarkably long zipper on my comforter-like winter coat as I walk out the door for recess. As I slip on my mittens, I notice my boots have come untied. “Drat!” I say to myself, or perhaps even out loud. I take a breath and remind myself it will only take a minute to tie them, no worries.

Out of nowhere two Kindergartners appear — eyes wide, faces glowing — “Do you want us to tie your shoes for your Ms. James? We can tie them!” 

I chuckle and refrain from saying “No, that’s ok. I can do it!” Instead I smile and say “Thanks! That would be fantabulous!” 

Did you notice the stories that were being told in each scenario? Not just the events themselves, but the stories being told. What stories did I tell? What stories did others tell me? What stories did I help others to hear, and hopefully, to tell? What stories did others encourage me to tell? 

We tell stories by the things we think and say, the way we speak, our body language, the clothes we wear, the things we have in our spaces, the way we do or do not look at one another, the background noise we have in our environment, the relationships we encourage, and so much more. We tell stories with each little piece of our everyday lives. 

Sometimes the stories we tell are very purposeful and intentional. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes we tell stories without thinking about the stories we’re telling. Sometimes — as in the case of Doug Dietz designer of MRI  – we tell stories that we never intended to tell. If Doug is any example, and I think he’s a great one, that’s ok. We always have the opportunity to be intentional, and to change the stories into the ones we want to tell.

So my fellow humans, my fellow fantabulous storytellers, remember, we always tell a story. And, others always listen.

Let’s be intentional. Let’s tell the best stories possible. And, let’s help others hear, tell, believe, and live, their best stories too.

Beautiful One You Can Do Hard Things!

I got a wonderful gift from my friend Jojo. A bracelet that says “Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.” It’s fantabulous! It isn’t inked so it’s not screaming the message, just whispering into my eyes and my ears.

Beautiful girl, you can do hard things! There’s so much power in that little phrase. It felt right to use it in my latest inspirational journal post. I loved placing the words in my own handwriting and art-writing. I illuminated and elucidated them to capture the remarkable fullness of the things — or at least some of them — a beautiful one (me and others) can do. Hard things, yes! But not just just hard, difficult, painful things. Yes, hard difficult, painful things, AND hard, profound, awesome, creative, life changing things. And, lest I forgot, easy things as well.

It was a great creative endeavor. I took inspiration from a few journal prompt ideas, and then mish-mashed them with some of my own loves. It was — all at once — fun, refreshing, peaceful, and challenging. Perhaps because I was quiet and in the moment, I noticed a lot of thoughts, feelings and actions as they occurred.

MANAGING MESS
Mess and I are friends! I embrace it as a part of my creative process. I know there is great power, potential, and possibility in mess. And yet, I also know at times, I need to clear my space — and my mind — so I don’t become distracted by it.

I found notes, and photos to be helpful as I managed the mess, or to be more positive, the plethora of ideas and materials I had. They kept the spirit of fullness with me, allowed me to manage many things at once, and assured me that my ideas would not be lost or forgotten.

Funny how both full-exuberant-mess, and cleared-expansive-emptiness are both beautiful and generative.

CONVERGENT AND DIVERGENT THINKING
It was fun to allow my thinking to work as a team — collaboratively and freely informing one another. If I were going to illustrate what I experienced, I’d depict them as two beautiful humans, working in peaceful, profound partnership, with lots of conversation, observation, aha moments, and laughter.

COLOR, COMPOSITION, SPACE, SHAPE CONSIDERATION
When I began, I had a vague idea and structure I was playing with, but that was all. I didn’t have a clearly defined color palate or composition. As I chose papers for the collage element, I was open to every piece of paper that spoke to me in any way. I didn’t worry if I couldn’t figure out the connection, I just chose. Only after I had gathered all that I loved, did I then begin to consider the path I wanted to take — keeping some while returning others to the box. Once I surrendered to the process it was quite liberating and enjoyable.

The negative space was the most interesting and complicated. Where should I put it? How big should each space be? Will I fill each space? What will I put in the space? Should I connect the spaces? Keep them similar? As with the paper choosing, I endeavored to be both intuitive and reasoned.

COURAGE, EMOTIONAL REGULATION, RISK TAKING, SEEING AND EMPLOYING MY GIFTS
It was almost funny to experience the amount of courage and emotional regulation I had to employ — or at least be aware of — as I worked on this piece. It happened as I made new connections, tried new things, or old things in new ways. made mistakes, and even thought of filling the blank space.

I managed it a bit with the use of pencil before permanent ink, and experimenting on other pages first. The saying on the bracelet came in handy now as well — I can do hard things! I’m talented, experienced, able to take risks, learn and grow!

PLANNING, REVISING, ENGINEERING, CHOOSING
It was wild to notice the plethora of decisions I was making as I planned and produced the piece. There were tons of problems I noticed as I went along, as well as an abundance of opportunities and ideas I hadn’t thought of in my original plan. All these things required, or enabled, re-planning. Funny isn’t it, how revision can be seen as a problem — an ugly must do — or a wonderful opportunity.

As I worked to fit the pieces of paper, as well as the words, and then doodles, onto the page I was amazed by the amount of spatial manipulation going on in my brain and hands. I was comparing widths and lengths. I was imagining how a particular shape could be split into two or three other shapes. I was comparing percentages covered with those uncovered to find the sweet spot for my piece. I felt a bit like an engineer planning some sort of complicated structure.

The agency in all of this was at times overwhelming, and at others completely exhilarating. Thankfully the overwhelm was momentary and easily foiled with a pause, look, and breath.

DISCOVERING, UNDERSTANDING, LEARNING ABOUT MYSELF – WHO I AM, WHAT I DO, WHAT IS IMPORTANT AND ESSENTIAL AND LIFE GIVING … AND THINKING OF MY STUDENTS

I noticed how my choice of words, and font was incredibly important. I was making meaning with what I said and inked in my own handwriting and art. I tried various fonts, and used the thesaurus to see if there were synonyms that seemed more wonderful in meaning, sound, or feeling. I played with the word order to give me the rhythm I wanted. And, even when finished I kept looking at the piece wondering if I had missed anything. Turns out that little word yes, at the bottom made it complete.

I did my best to be open and honest about myself. I embraced and proclaimed what is true about myself. It’s not that I’ve arrived, not that I’m all I can be, but it is what I am. I am beautiful. I can do hard things, easy things, profound and awesome things, kind, creative, and life changing things. And, in all these ways I can continue to grow.

Now, my students. So many of the things I experienced as I worked are things I want my students to experience — planning, revising, social emotional regulation, finding their voice, speaking their truth, loving words, creating fonts, finding their beautiful and unique handwriting, courage, consideration of composition and all its parts, reflection, agency, creative and critical thinking, and above all, an understanding that each one of them is a beautiful one. Each one of them is beautiful — in all ways — capable of hard things, easy things, profound and awesome things, kind, creative, and life changing things.

I want to take these realizations into my teaching practice. Some of my students have a hard time telling one story at a time. Perhaps it is not that their thinking is a mess as some might suggest, instead, their thinking is remarkable and their brain is incredibly full with ideas and possibility. Perhaps they need a photograph, or a notebook to store and protect their ideas. And, perhaps they need to be applauded for their mind that has so many ideas. My students who are more fearful may need the opportunity to play with all their ideas of story line, character, and setting, before settling on one. Opening them to possibility in the safety of a scrap copy might be incredibly freeing and joy-filled.

The learning and growth that I did through a creative endeavor was remarkable. My students can do the same. They can do it because they are beautiful ones. And, they can do it if I am intentional and help to guide them, be present to them, provide tools they might need, and marvel at their beauty. It doesn’t all happen in purely academic endeavors.

I am a talented, beautiful, competent, capable, and relatively confident adult, and yet it was powerful to receive those words from Jojo. When as an educator, I speak them to my students, imagine the power they have. When they learn to speak it to themselves …. wow!

Beautiful. It’s a good word. A word to see and embrace in myself. A word to see and be in the world. A word to encourage and affirm in others. Might we all be, act, believe, affirm, think, do, beautiful. Surely the world will be better for it.

Every Day Is A Beautiful Day!

My creativity, positivity, and art challenge this week is to use things found in some sort of print form — magazines, papers, letters, cards, coloring books, even junk mail is fair game — in my calendar journal posts.

Today I grabbed an old Bella Grace magazine for inspiration . As I flipped through the magazine I was drawn to two pages with images filled with words. I decided to do a riff on a black out poem.

I clipped words and phrases that meant something to me. I looked for words within words. I cut and rearranged the words to create new phrases and thoughts.

These are some of the words, I didn’t use. I didn’t see any connections that struck me so I stashed them in a bag for future use. Now, I see phrases that eluded me as I worked the first time. Here are two: Positivity is healthy, and Turn goals into friends.

I enjoy the black out poetry process, and see more possibility, when I cut the piece apart, rather than use the typical method. I think it’s the ability to see things together, and apart, as well as the increased opportunity to move the words around. Seeing the words from different angles — even upside down — increases my brain’s ability to concoct new phrases, see as yet unseen connections, and have aha moments.

It reminds me of Edward DeBono’s concept of lateral thinking. The easiest way to explain lateral thinking is to imagine looking at something from the side. When you do, you see a completely new item. For instance, a rectangular sheet of paper suddenly becomes a line. And, depending on which side you look at, it could be long line, a short line, or even a line with a point somewhere in the between the two ends. Oh, and if the paper doesn’t stay perfectly straight you can see all sorts of other shapes.

But, back to my cut out poem.

I arranged and rearranged the words in today’s space. I returned to the pile of cut papers and searched out other words. Every once in awhile, I spoke the words out loud to see if I liked the phrasing, meter, and emphasis.

I always kept in mind the vibe I hoped to create, and the story I wanted to tell. The general tone and direction remained the same, but the words themselves changed as I pondered and noticed new possibilities.

Finally pleasantly satisfied, I glued them to the page.

Other than some fab advice in my journal, what are my take aways? As the lead learner in my classroom what did I learn? What do I want to bring to my learners and incorporate into my teaching practice?

Remember, use, and teach about lateral thinking.
It’s good to be inspired by others.
If you take the ideas of others and make them your own it’s not copying, it’s not cheating. It’s collaborating, creating, and being inspired!
Look for things you know.
Look for things that are unique, unusual, or that surprise you.
Take time.
Play.
Breathe.
Enjoy.

Be open to new ways.
Connections are important. Search for them, see them, and make them — especially ones that surprise or entertain you
See possibility
Wonder about the connections and possibility you noticed, as well as those you didn’t.
Embrace the importance of your story
Explore and enjoy the sound of words and phrasing
Search for the best but enjoy the rest
Iterate, iterate, iterate.
Remember there is always tomorrow rich with possibility and new opportunities to go again.

Join Me For A Piece of PIE #1

Sometimes it’s tough to maintain one’s sense of hope, positivity, and peace. Lately I’ve felt weighed down by the struggles around and within me, and discouraged by the remarkably large number of people suggesting there’s no hope, and all is lost.

I cannot abide that kind of thinking. I find suggesting hopelessness amazingly wrong and dangerous. It’s one thing to feel hopeless, it’s a completely different thing to suggest it’s the truth.

So, I’ve decided to combat hopelessness by serving up some fantabulous PIE! Luscious, life-changing PIE.

“Pie??!!” you say?

“Indeed!!!” I respond. “PIE – Picture-book Inspiration and Encouragement.”

Today’s delicious piece of PIE comes to us from the awesome team of Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds.

I AM ONE: A Book of Action

I Am One is full of hope and possibility. Hope and possibility that begins with one — one person, one action, one kind word, one gentle conversation. Sometimes the one is acting alone, sometimes the one inspires others to join in, or to begin their own world changing journey of one.

I Am One encourages belief in oneself and others, an understanding that no one is too small, and the certainty that the power of one is really quite strong. The words are simple, and well chosen. It’s the kind of writing that is easy to read, and even memorize, yet still full of awesomeness and strength. The illustrations seem simple — at first — but given a second a third look, or even a really good first look, they add richness and meaning to the story.

If you’re feeling like you could use a lift, or some encouragement to take action, this book is for you. If you have little ones in your life who need to be affirmed in their understanding of their own power and awesomeness, this is a book to share.

I am one. You are one. We matter. We — alone and together — can find one thing, one thought, one word, one deed, one something, to help beauty, goodness, kindness, peace, joy, love, and respect increase in this world.

I am here.

You are here.

Hope is here.

Always.

Be in Awe of Everything

Be in awe of everything. I love that! Be in awe of everything.

Be in awe of the amazing sky.

But also be in awe of the fork you use. Be in awe of the beautiful red tomato. Be in awe of the green tomato tops that dance like stars after they’ve dropped their weighty fruit. Be in awe of the cutting board, the kitchen counter, the floor, the house, the air, your breath, your very self. Be in awe of everything.

Being open to awe, inspiration, and wonder changes things. It transforms the way I think, what I notice, how I feel, how I interact with things and people, perhaps even how they interact with me.

I didn’t come up with the idea. I’m taking a poetry course with Jacquiline Suskine over at One Commune. Be in awe of everything is her title for Day 1. I haven’t listened to the talk yet. I will tomorrow.

For now I just want to sit, breathe, and be in awe.

Mark Making and Repetition

I love being inspired late at night. There is something magical about losing oneself in the creative, artistic process, without regard for time or the need to sleep.

In Paint, Play, Explore, Rae Missigman talks about mark making (she calls them art marks), repetition, and embracing whomever one is as an artist. Her thoughts jumpstarted my creative thinking and process last night. I scrambled out of bed and began a renewed exploration and experimentation of roses and leaves.

It was fun — and freeing — to work with familiar, loved shapes. I moved from color pencils to acrylic paint as I created a plethora of roses and leaves.

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I considered painting the background black but worried the intense contrast might wreck the piece. Instead I chose a rich blue color. I may experiment with black another day as I do love black and white, but for now I’m pleased with the blue.

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I appreciated the “rustic” look I achieved by painting with a bit of abandon. But, the mark making artist in me was unsettled and less than satisfied.

Clearly, the piece was unfinished. So I continued. I added lines, dots, and embellishments. My inner artist was happy with the additions. And, as I embraced my own unique marks, repetitions, and style, my inner critic was quieted.

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Today I continued my mark making and repetition.

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Nice, right? I really enjoy the mark making and repetition. It’s fun, and clearly the repetitions and art marks make the piece! I love the fullness and pop of the roses and leaves in the center. And, the white outlined roses in the sea of blue add a surprising layer of depth.

I think perhaps I tweaked Rae’s idea of mark making and repetition. I’m not sure, I’ll have to keep reading her book to find out. But, in the meantime, I’m super happy with my interpretation of her idea, and the space and possibility this has opened in me.

Thanks, Rae!

The Beauty of Imagination

A colleague of mine — who is equally enthralled with imagination, curiosity, wonder, and creativity — shared this article with me. It’s a nice article, with things that made me go “Hmmm…” as well as ideas I definitely want to work with my girls.

My only tsk moment happened when I re-read the article for this post and noticed the subtitle is “Three strategies for helping upper elementary and middle school students develop their mind’s eye.” Perhaps the author thought lower elementary and early childhood children don’t need to have strategies to stir their imaginations. Perhaps she thought her strategies were beyond their young minds.

My experience says nothing could be farther from the truth! (If you’ll allow me to be a bit hyperbolic!) My Kindergarteners enjoy using their imagination, and they benefit from language that values and encourages it, as well as strategies to use it in new ways in their learning and life. So, that said, I hope all grades will give the article a read.

The author of the article, Diana Rivera, studies imagination in the field of psychology. Who even knew you could do that? I think it’s fabulous, but I had no idea! Now that I do, I’m going to be doing a bit more research!

Anyway, I like her suggestions for “stirring students’ imagination.” I will definitely be using her thoughts to enhance my own practice of stirring my students’ imagination. But first, I allowed her ideas to stir my imagination!

I was prepping a read aloud and connected project. I love the Gus Gordon picture picture book — Herman and Rosie. and had decided to use that for my read aloud. I discovered this amazing AUSLAN online reading of the book. If you do nothing else, watch the video, and read along with the book as it shows in the background. It’s really a joy.

I wondered what to do as a project. I’m not one for specific “do this” kind of projects, and everything I thought of left me a little blah. Then I received and read Diana’s article.

Dare I just let the girls use their imagination? Did I trust them, and me, and the process that much? What if it didn’t work out? What if they were disappointed?

I took a breath, or more precisely let out a big sigh, and thought “What’s the worst that can happen?” They may not enjoy my idea. They may not be able to imagine anything they would like to create. I may be disappointed in myself fi I cannot help them imagine, create and have fun. I may have to say, “”It’s an experiment, and sometimes experiments don’t work out as planned — at least not on the first try.”

So with really nothing to lose, and lots to gain, I decided to give it a go!

It was fantabulous!!! At first they seemed a bit perplexed as I explained the project.

Them: “What are we doing for project?”

Me: “We’re going to use our imaginations and think of what we might create that has a connection to Herman and Rosie.”

Them: “But what are we going to make?”

Me: “I don’t know! We have to think about it. Use your imagination. What can you think of in your brain that we could make?”

Them: silence …

Me: “It could be anything. Maybe we want to imagine a place we’d explore and make a map like the one in Herman and Rosie. Maybe we like to sing so we’d make something for singing.”

One of them: “Maybe we can make musical instruments!”

Me: “That is an awesome idea. We can make musical instruments!

Them: “Musical instruments? We can make musical instruments?!”

Me: “Sure. Let’s give it a go.”

It was a beautiful day so we moved outside to our play area. Several girls crowded around the table and set work. As they worked they had to also problem solve how to keep the papers from flying away — it was beautiful because of a rather strong breeze.

The first to make a guitar brought it to me.

Her: “How do I get inside it?”

Me: I was stumped. “Get inside it?”

Her: “Yeah,” she said, as her fingers moved along the string lines she had created, “Inside it. So I can play it.”

Me:”Oh! You want strings?!!”

Her: “YEAH!”

Me: “Wait right there!” I hurried inside to get a pack of rubber bands and some more cutting tools.

We worked together to decide on the number of strings she wanted, and the number of strings that could fit on her guitar. We problem solved — adding popsicle sticks for strength and stability — when the strings caused the guitar to bend in half. Finally we basked in the glow of a mini working guitar.

As she strummed it, she looked at me and said, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll make a guitar pick.”

WOW!!!

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She wasn’t alone in her imagining and creating. Several others created instruments too. Many of them created guitars and my original young guitar inventor was able to act as expert and help them. 

One of the next days as she was dismissing, she popped her head back into the room and asked “Why are so many people making guitars, Miss James?” “I’m not sure, but I think it’s because they really liked your idea, and your guitar.”

She didn’t say anything, just looked at me.

I continued, “What do you think? Do you think maybe you inspired them to create guitars?” A smile I will remember forever illuminated her face. She  shyly shrugged, and left the room, aglow, saying “Maybe!”

Perhaps, along with asking myself “What’s the worst that could happen?” I should have also asked “What’s the best that could happen?”

Several remarkably wonderful best things that could happen were shown to me by all my creators — most especially the smiling, glowing girl.

We can imagine things and create them.

We can help each other.

We can inspire one another.

And best of all, we can learn that we are inspiring!

Learning through Rapid Prototyping

I recently presented a workshop on Design Thinking with a fabulous NJAIS colleague.  It was an incredibly thought-provoking experience for me. Teaching educators about using design thinking in the classroom forced me — or, more correctly, allowed me  — to immerse myself, again, in a plethora of creativity and design thinking resources. I read, listened and thought deeply, as I searched for the connections, and inspirations to share with the participants.

The idea of rapid prototyping was particularly provocative. It’s not the norm for education, and yet it has the potential to be profoundly valuable. By prototyping rapidly — with ideas, strategies, or products — we gather large amounts of information in a relatively short period of time. In the process, we discover our own strength and agency, and we experience the hidden potential of failure.

Rapid prototyping and gathering information from each failure, is a natural mechanism for learning, problem solving, and innovating.  I experienced its value as I watched my students attempt the Tower of Hanoi math game.

I prepped them for the process. I emboldened them in their willingness to try. I told them they might not get it  — the 1st, the 5th or the 100th time —  but they should keep trying, and learning with each move, mistake or failure. After listening to the rules, they gathered their three blocks, and set to work figuring out the puzzle.

One of the  girls was  the epitome of rapid prototyping. Rarely taking her eyes off the blocks, she moved them without discussion.She made hundreds of moves. She appeared undeterred by her failure to solve the puzzle, and seemed to find joy and interest in the process.

The number and quickness of her moves, might suggest her moves were aimless or unstudied. Someone watching might  wonder whether she were learning anything, or making any progress. But, looking at it with the eye of a design thinker, it became clear she was rapidly prototyping.

 

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Her movements were speedy, and many. But, they were definitely not without observation, noticing, thought, or purpose. As she made her moves, she clearly learned about the blocks, the puzzle board, and the ways in which everything worked together. After what seemed like hundreds of moves, she paused, looking at the board. Then, she  made the seven moves necessary to solve the puzzle!

(I particularly love this photo that captured the rapid movement of her hands as a blur of motion.)

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It was fascinating and a bit humbling to watch her! I was struck by how wonderfully it illustrated how we learn, as well as my role as an educator.

I must create a culture and environment that supports my students. A culture with resources that bolster their knowledge and understanding, while encouraging them to be brave, and to believe in their ability to work and learn. I must give them provocations and opportunities to problem find, and problem solve.

Then, I must step back and let them do their thing. I must resist any urge to jump in and rescue them before they actually need my help. I must sit in my own discomfort, and trust. Trust the process of learning. Trust creativity and design thinking. Trust rapid prototyping and learning from failure. And mostly, trust them!

Finally I must breathe! My breath helps me pause and gift my students with time and space. It helps me remain calm and confident, unafraid as my students heroically brave the unknown.

It’s a spectacular process that inspires and teaches me. My students — our students — have a tremendous amount of courage, insight and capacity to do and learn. All they need is the opportunity — and our trust and breath.

I Wonder …

…what my Kindergarten artists will think, do, and feel when we work on this art process and product.

I am super hopeful …

  • their big beautiful brains will be filled with ideas and wonder.
  • they will jump in with confident hope.
  • they will experience the joy and excitement I feel when I create art.
  • they will know they are artists who can make decisions about their art.

 

These are my practice, and inspiration pieces.

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After making the first piece, I tried another using the new stamp pads I bought for my Kindergarten artists. As I prepped the page, I wondered what it would look like if I added a piece of tape down the middle.

I like it, and am adding it as an option for my Kindergarten artists.

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The boarders are created using frog tape. It creates a nice sharp edge, and even more importantly, can be removed without harming the paper. The circles are stamps created from some tubes one of the students brought in. I cut them on our bandsaw so I’d have enough to give each artist a small stamper and a large stamper.

My rules for the project will be:

  • Everyone needs a boarder.
  • Circles are colored with crayons.
  • The background is filled with watercolor.
  • Sign your work! (Which, by the way, involves many artistic decisions.)

My suggestions will be:

  • Consider overlapping the circles and letting the circles extend beyond the boarder.
  • Practice stamping on a scrap paper so you feel comfortable working on your piece.

My artists’ options and decisions will be:

  • What colors will I make the circles?
  • What color will I make the background?
  • Will my background be one color, or many?
  • Do I want a piece of tape to intersect my paper – creating two pieces?
  • Where will I put that piece of tape? (The options are endless!)

My jobs will be many:

  • To show the artists that unexpected things (tubes from shoes, painters tape) can be used to create art.
  • To expose them to the idea of combining various mediums into one project.
  • To encourage them to think.
  • To empower them to make decisions about their art.
  • To explain the rules … and the options.
  • To enjoy my artists, their process, and their products.
  • To document their process and work.
  • To be open to their interpretation of the process.
  • To be willing to allow them to modify the process … depending on their interpretation, desires, and/or needs.

All my jobs are important, but those last two, they are paramount.

If I want my students to know they are artists, and to actually BE artists, I need to give them the freedom and respect artists need, crave, and deserve. If I want them to learn to make decisions, problem solve, wonder, and create, I have to give them the space, empowerment, and opportunity to actually DO IT!

 

 

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.