We Are All Beginners

I had grand plans, this summer. I would create art, progress on the ukulele, nap, travel, read, learn, and refresh my body, mind, and spirit. I haven’t done nearly as much of any of those things as I might have liked, but I have done some, and it’s been wonderful!

Lately, I’ve developed a love for watercolors. I’m no pro, but I enjoy dabbling. I think my love affair started when, on a rainy day, unable to hike, I wandered into a local bookstore in search of a literary diversion. Instead, of a good book, I discovered a wall of art supplies — real, professional grade art supplies. Paint, paper, watercolors, pencils, pens, rulers, paint brushes, and more! No lie, for a moment, my knees went weak! I adore creating art, and all the tools and supplies connected to it. It brings me great joy to simply touch beautiful art tools and materials. I left the store with a simple watercolor travel kit, and a watercolor paper block. I was hooked.

The other day I discovered these beauties. 37635898_10217065659493192_6164546794509303808_o

If it were appropriate to describe watercolor as delicious, these would be the ones! Of course, perhaps there are other, more expensive, more professional ones that are even more delicious, but for me, I was satisfied.

I enjoyed looking at, and admiring them for a few days. Then, as luck would have it, I found this wonderful artist online — Watercolor Wednesdays. She has some fabulous videos on youtube.

I watched a few, and was impressed by her process and product, as well as the spirit she brought to the table. I decided to break out my supplies and give it a go. Here are my products from today.

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Nice, right? Not perfect by any means, but I think I am beginning to understand more of the essence of watercolors. By that I mean, I am beginning to understand a bit more about how they work, and what they are meant to do, as well as how I might work with them.

It was a fascinating experience to take a breath and jump in. Don’t get me wrong, it was mildly daunting. But, it was fun!

In one of the first lessons I watched, she said she doesn’t worry about the end result.  “Really?” I thought. “You aren’t concerned about the end result?!!!” I decided to set aside my skepticism, embrace her point of view, and not worry about the product. Instead, I would just paint. Removing my focus and feelings from the final product, I was more able to be in the moment. Existing more fully in each moment as it happened, I was more able to experiment, observe, notice, learn, and do.

It was fun, but not particularly easy. It’s tough sometimes, to allow myself to be a beginner. As a beginner, I’m vulnerable. I must embrace my foibles as well as my less than perfect products. I have to be brave, and not fret about what others may think about me, my process, or my product. Perhaps most difficult, I must not be hard on myself as I experience all of the difficulty of learning something new. If I can manage to do all that, or at least some of it, I am more able to enter into the joy of discovery, and the exquisite, child-like joy of one who is discovering something new and fantabulous!

As I sat and looked at my finished paintings, I had an epiphany!

This is what I ask my students to do — every moment of every school day. Try new things. Embrace being a beginner. Be brave. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Don’t worry what others think. Don’t fret. Be kind to yourself. Keep trying. Be in the moment. Experience the joy!

Wow, right?!

It makes me think differently about the work educators and students do every day. It’s profound. Learning to read, doing math, writing stories, interacting with each other. It’s all like my experience with the watercolors. We are often beginners, and that can be intimidating. But it is also powerful. There is joy and incredible potential in being a beginner. Perhaps even more joy and potential than in being an expert.

I have a lot to think about!

I want to take this epiphany and let it help me grow as an educator and lead learner in my learning space. For now, I am going to think about how I might give my girls more time and opportunities to experience the joy and potential of being a beginner. I want to think how I might shine the light more brightly on the ways I learn, struggle, try, persevere, find joy in little things, and embrace me as me.  And, I want to find time for them to be in the moment — able to explore and try, without fretting about the product. Hopefully this will enable them to more fully understand and experience the essence of whatever it is they are exploring.

I’m excited to see where this light will lead me — and you!

Comments, thoughts, and stories of your own journey are always welcome!

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Cancer? Yes, and …

Each summer I head to Boston for my yearly Dana Farber visit. I’m happy and grateful to have these remarkable people on my healing team. At the same time, as my appointment approaches,  I experience a relatively serious amount of stress and anxiety. Even looking up the website to share as a link sent waves of nausea crashing over me!

The nausea isn’t about them — it’s about the cancer and my relationship to it. I’m relentlessly positive, and do  many really wonderful things to strengthen myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But, my positivity, and all my other good work, is sometimes overshadowed by my angst.

I needed a bit of a jolt to amp up my game. So, I buzzed off to see Catherine — a beautifully creative and awesome human being — for some henna and positive vibes.

She knew I wanted something powerful that could speak to me, and others. She didn’t disappoint.

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How fantabulous is it?!! In case you’re not sure, the correct answer is “Awesomely fantabulous!!!”

Beyond the artistry, it’s fantabulous for the power it holds. It’s a philosophy of open acceptance of what is, and what can be.

Look …

Yes, I have to go to Dana Farber each summer, and frequently have blood drawn, and that is a great privilege and opportunity.

Yes, I am experiencing angst and stress, and I am happy and blessed.

Yes, I have cancer, and I have incredible health.

Yes

and, I am happy.

and, I am loved.

and, my body is working for optimal health, my mind is working for optimal learning, my spirit is working for optimal awesomeness.

and, there are untold possibilities. Possibilities that I know, and ones I have yet to discover or imagine.

As I write my yes, and thoughts, I realize there is a better, more creative way to look at my yes, and lists. I can be creative, re-think, re-cognize.

Often my and, is actually my yes. 

I have cancer. Yes.

It feels huge, overpowering and all encompassing. It is a yes in my life, but absolutely, positively, not the essential yes of my life.

The essential yesses of my life are:

Yes, I am blessed, and … 

Yes, I am happy, and … 

Yes, I am loved, and … 

Yes, I am healthy,  and … 

Yes, my body, mind, and spirit are working for optimal health, learning, and awesomeness, and … 

Yes, the world is full of possibility, and … 

Yes, I am, and am surrounded by, incredible abundance, and … 

I’m digging the space that surrounds the yes, and in Catherine’s design.  It speaks of the space we take as we hear, say and wonder about yes, and.  It is a space waiting to be filled with breath, thoughts, conversation, prayer, openness, insight, creativity, being, and possibility.

Yes, and.

I embrace the power and possibility, and wait with curious and hopeful joy.

 

Grab A Moment

I’ve been thinking a lot about finding time in the day to “give” to my learners — time for them to make and invent, time to think creatively and critically, time to think about possibility, to experience joy, energy, challenge, freedom, and agency. It’s not so easy to find, but I just kept thinking and wondering.

I noticed I sometimes have small pockets of time in morning meeting. Not a lot of time for sure — maybe 5 minutes — but I thought I’d see what we could do in that time.

I searched around for LEGO bricks in the classroom, and found quite a few. I took out most of the pieces that suggested any thing in particular (trees, people, wheels). I hoped by doing that to have the creation be more open to possibility, and the imagination of each maker, and less led by the ideas of the LEGO makers. I found a basket that made it easy to send the bricks around our morning meeting circle, and eagerly anticipated our work together!

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By the way, we hadn’t used our LEGO bricks in some time, so they were in a need of a wash. I loaded them in a mesh bag, and washed them on the top shelf of my dishwasher on a cool setting. Worked great! Thanks to all the people who posted things online about ways to wash them.

The first two times we gave it a try, we worked together to create one structure. We each picked a lego, and added it to the structure as we passed it around our morning meeting circle. Here’s our first creation.

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Sometimes the girls were quiet, watching each other add their brick. Other times they kibitzed about where to put the brick, or shared with a neighbor what it might be.

When we finished creating the structure I placed it — with a pencil — next to a clipboard reading “Our morning meeting invention might be … ”

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Over the next few days, the girls continued to think about what the structure might be — not what it is, but what it might be — and when they had a moment, they added their ideas to our lists.

The girls loved creating together, and writing their ideas one the lists. In the process we all got to practice and grow in many ways. We

  • used our imagination.
  • thought creatively and critically.
  • were open to possibilities.
  • collaborated.
  • were flexible when our friends accidentally knocked a piece off, and replaced it in a different spot.
  • acted as individuals, and as a team.
  • practiced handwriting, and encoding our thoughts into words so others could read them.
  • were resourceful — figuring out how to create something with a small set of bricks.
  • worked on our communication skills — as we created, as we talked about the creations later on, and as we shared our ideas.
  • enjoyed each other and the process.

It may seem like there is no time in your day to allow your students to invent, create, make, think, dream, imagine, wonder, and enjoy. Don’t believe that. Be open and observant. When you notice a moment or two in your day, give it to your students, and yourself, as moments of possibility.

Often times this is my mantra: “Small moments. Small creations. Big impact.”

Give it a go. Grab the moment! Your students, and you, deserve it.

 

By the way … 

If you find a moment and do something, leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what you did, and how it went.

If you find a moment and have no idea what to do, ask a colleague, or leave me a comment. I’d be happy to brainstorm some ideas.

if you look at your schedule and say “Molly does NOT know what she is talking about. My day is packed, and there is NO WAY I can do one more thing!” leave me a comment. Maybe we can look at your day together and find some time.

 

 

New Blocks

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An educator friend was getting rid of her wooden Cuisenaire rods. She wondered if I might have any use for them.

Lovely colored, wooden blocks?!?!!! OF COURSE I can use them!

Happily, my students are as excited by new materials as I am! As I put them into containers yesterday, this conversation ensued:

Them: “What are they, Miss James?!!”

Me: “New blocks!”

Them: “New blocks?!?!!! For us?!!”

Me: “Yes!”

Them: “What are we going to make with them?”

Me: “I don’t know. What are you going to make with them?”

As others gathered — helping to put the blocks into the containers — conversations and gasps of delight erupted around me.

I love when excitement, joy, imagination, creativity, conversation, problem solving, and possibility surround me. And when it’s precipitated by wooden blocks saved from the trash bin, it’s extra special.

 

 

Kindergarten Creativity Does Not Disappoint!

Wow.

My girls, the process, and me — we did not disappoint. Not one single bit! Look at the creative art products they made. Creative. Beautiful. Striking. Brave.

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They followed the rules, considered the suggestions, and bravely embraced their own ability to make good creative and artistic decisions. Although they all used the same materials, rules, and suggestions, their creative and artistic choices made each work unique.

It was an amazing experience for me! I worked hard to:

  • be cognizant of my words — and their power to teach and empower.
  • breathe and allow the girls to make their own decisions.
  • trust the decisions my young artists made — even if they were different than the ones I would make.

It was hard work! Some of the girls were a bit afraid to really jump in. One said she wasn’t going to do the watercolor. I said “Oh yeah, you are. It’s part of the process. Trust yourself.” She looked at me with big eyes, and didn’t respond. A few moments later she asked if she could get a drink. I chuckled to myself, fairly certain she was trying to escape. I replied, “Sure, you can get a drink. But come right back so you can start painting. Don’t run away from me!” She chuckled and said, “Ok.”

She came back quickly, and with incredible braveness, painted like a pro.

I am so impressed with all of us. I worked to create the environment that would support creativity, critical thinking, joy, trust and bravery. And my young artists … well, they were fantabulous.

I made sure to acknowledge their bravery, and the many times they used a technique that inspired me.

My heart, and mind, are full!

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!

 

 

Beauty

There were so many beautiful things to see at the museum. Spectacular paintings, sculpture, metal work.

This was the most beautiful.

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No, not the statue, or the paintings, or the stunning gallery — the woman and child huddled together.

They entered the gallery with quiet interest. The woman carried a folded stool which she casually opened out of the way of any traffic. I thought perhaps it was for her. I was wrong.

The girl scanned the gallery with a bit of child-like enthusiasm — notebook and pencil clutched in her hand. They whispered to one another. The woman moved the stool slightly, and the girl took a seat, opened her notebook, and began to sketch.

Their faces gazed up and down — contemplating the artwork of the gallery artists, and creating new work in the notebook.

The woman was always present — sometimes whispering, sometimes watching, sometimes gazing at something in the distance. The girl worked — her face buried in the notebook — for as long as I remained in the gallery.

For me, the beauty in that relationship far outweighed the beauty of any piece of art. I am not sure I can adequately explain why. But, I will try.

The girl was young and completely captivated by the art in the gallery and on her page. I don’t know if she was recording what she saw, or being inspired to make her own creation. It doesn’t matter so much to me. It was her joy, her passion, and her intentness that drew me.

And then the woman. She served as such a beautiful counterpart to the young artist. Everything she did appeared to encourage, empower and support the girl and her creative endeavors.

I hope to always be a beautiful counterpart to others. Might we all be!

 

 

 

Creativity and Leadership

I recently had an article published entitled Cultivating Dynamic Leadership through Creativity.

I give three examples of leadership in a creative venue:

  • She leads through her curiosity and sensible risk taking, and all emerge with new understanding and innovative methods.
  • She leads with empathy, which drives her to connect and comfort others.
  • She leads through her belief in the power of possibility, discovery, research and experimentation.

When a friend of mine read the article, and these examples, she said “I wonder if people just read these examples, if they’d know who you are writing about.”

I wonder that, too!

So, who do you think she (or he) might be?

A teacher? An entrepreneur? An artist? An IT professional? A psychologist? A parent? A scientist? A researcher? A doctor?

While each are suitable guesses, they are not who I had in mind when I wrote.

I didn’t write of a professional, or even of an adult. Instead, I wrote of my kindergarten students.

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They are remarkable, strong, powerful children. While they are fantabulous, these characteristics are not unique to them. All children, have incredible strength, power and potential.

My teaching practice is informed by my belief in this profound power and potential of children. I try, as best I can, to allow my teaching, and my reflection, to be nourished and driven by the “joy, passion, wonder and conviction” of my understanding of the truth of the strong, powerful child. (Managing the Classroom for Creativity, James 2015)

Children are natural leaders. Placed in an environment that enables and encourages creativity, their innate leadership abilities germinate, increase and flourish.

Resources:

James, M. (2017). Cultivating Dynamic Leadership Through Creativity. KPS Voyager, 2017, 8.  (https://issuu.com/kentplace/docs/voyager2017_final?e=1889902/47525909)
James, M. (2015). Managing the Classroom for Creativity. Journal of Creative Education Vol. 6, No. 10, 1032-1043 (http://file.scirp.org/pdf/CE_2015061915593867.pdf)

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! 

Hey, Kindergarten!

Our supermarket build is in full swing, and it is spectacular!

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In this build, perhaps even more than in our other builds, communication and collaboration are key!  (So too is breathing, lol, but that is for another blog post!)

As we prepped for the build, my builders, engineers and architects had tons of ideas, but they directed them only to me – the teacher – even though their peers were sitting with us. So many awesome ideas, and so much potential for collaboration and elaboration, were being wasted!

I couldn’t take it anymore! I said “Eee gads. May I say something!”

They looked at me. The looks on their faces said “Eee gads? Did you just say, Eee gads!?” but no one spoke, they just waited.

I continued, “You have so many fantabulous ideas. But, when I call on you, and you look at me, and tell ME, instead of telling EVERYONE, no one else realizes you want THEM to listen, too! But they should! Everyone needs to hear your ideas. That way we can talk about them, or change them, or use them just like you said them!!!”

I paused, just for a moment, to let that sink in. Then I said, “So, can we try something?”

“Yeah.” “Yes.” “Sure.”

“Ok, so, if you have something to say, and you want only me to listen, say Hey Miss James! But, if you want everyone to listen, say Hey, Kindergarten!

They seemed excited by the plan. They asked, “So we say Hey, Kindergarten! if we have an idea of how to do something, or if we something we want to tell everyone?”

“Yup,” I responded. “And when we hear it, we’ll stop what we’re doing, look at you and say Hey (your name)! Then you can tell us your idea. OK?”

“Ok!”

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We had at least 8 announcements of “Hey Kindergarten!” in that 30 minute building period. It was a bit overwhelming (at least for me, lol). I thought I might have to figure out something to say to rein them in. But, as the days went by, they began using it more judiciously all on their own.

Sometimes I forget and just say “Kindergarten” or some other attention getting rhyme we have established, and get no response. Then one of them says “You should try saying ‘Hey, Kindergarten,’ Miss James!”

The first time they said that I laughed out loud and said “You’re right! I should!!!” So, I did, and they responded immediately  – “Hey, Miss James!” It was awesome.

There are so many things I like about “Hey, Kindergarten!”

  • I love that they are teaching each other by sharing their ideas, reflections and wonderings.
  • I love that they are listening to each other.
  • I love that “Hey, Kindergarten!” shares classroom control with them.
  • I love the joy they express when using it.
  • I love hearing them say it, and responding along with their peers.

But, i think what I love most is how it empowers them. Their ideas are being told, heard, respected and valued. And, THEY are calling their friends — and teacher — to listen. We are partners in this learning journey. I’m glad to give them a way to experience and express the partnership.

The things they have shared after saying “Hey, Kindergarten!” have been remarkable. I don’t think it is coincidental. I think they feel the value, power, liberty, and awesomeness of “Hey Kindergarten!” and it opens them.