A Daily Haiku Practice

I recently read about starting a daily haiku writing practice. I offer my gratitude to the person who suggested it because it’s a fab idea. And, since I cannot remember who they are or where I read it, I also offer my apologies. Hopefully they’re feeling a cosmic ripple of gratitude and happiness right now.

It seems many people have adopted a daily haiku practice for various amounts of time. I enjoyed this post by Daryl Chen and this TEDx talk by Zezan Tam. Their witnesses about their haiku writing practice were inspiring and encouraging, and removed any doubt about whether or not I should embark on this journey of a daily haiku.

I’m imagining a few moments of haiku play each day. Perhaps it will happen first thing, but I’m not going to force it. I chose a notebook small enough to carry with me so I’m free to find moments — wherever they may be in my day — that best serve joy, reflection, observation, word play, writing, peace, breath, and me.

I’m on my second year of my daily affirmation and art journaling, and want to continue that. I envision the haiku play as a complimentary practice. I’m hopeful the haiku will be a way to notice the good, and express gratitude. Zezan Tam said his haiku practice also helped him grow in courage and humility. I’ve been thinking a good bit about those two things as well. I’m excited to see how the haiku practice might help me be open to increased courage, learning, and growth.

I’ve done two haiku poems since my Daily Haiku poem. Lest you think my process as I play and write is a rather direct line from idea to poem, I share this image.

My process is, instead, quite circuitous — filled with pause and mental fermentation. This morning, I got up before the rest of my family, grabbed my notebook, pencil and pen, and headed downstairs. I put on some water for tea, and did a bit of stretching, breathing, and praying. As I moved, I felt my spine adjust and my muscles warm and soften. It was a moment I wanted to remember with gratitude, so I sat to write. I jotted some phrases — counting syllables as I went. No poem yet. I got up, cut vegetables and began to cook them. New possibilities came to me, so back to the notebook I went. I was up and down a few more times as I fashioned the mix of words, beats, rhythm, meaning, and feeling that made me say “Yeah, that’s it.”

After much writing, thinking, counting, and speaking. I settled on the haiku poem you see above. Funny, as I type it today, I’m not as pleased with the passive voice ending. So, here I share Day Begins #2.

Day Begins #2
In. Out. Up and down.
Body and breath move as one.
Peace and ease emerge.

I love this practice and play for me, but I also think it could be amazing for my Kindergartners as well. Earlier this summer, I read Shifting the Balance: 6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into a Balanced Literacy Classroom by Jan Burkins and Kari Yates. (A great book, by the way.) A haiku practice seems to fit right in with some of their ideas.

Just like me, my Kindergartners don’t have to write profound haiku poems — they just need to explore, play, and write. The 5-7-5 pattern gives them the opportunity to do a great deal of thinking, persevering and creating. Just imagine them playing with words! They will have ideas, count beats, think of new words and new ideas, rephrase, ask for help, give help, count again, and write!

As I thought of my Kindergartners playing with Haiku, I thought they might simply repeat words. They could use any words — as long as they follow the 5-7-5 pattern and enjoy the process. I came up with this as an example.

Dogs
dogs dogs dogs dogs dogs
barking barking barking woof
woof woof woof woof woof

Then I listened to Zezan Tam’s TEDx talk and laughed out loud. He shared this poem as he explained the basic pattern of the Japanese haiku poem.

Haiku
five, five, five, five, five
se-ven, se-ven, se-ven, se-
five, five, five, five five

How fantabulous is that? Perfect for Kindergartners!

What if they just use their names? The Kindergartners know and love their names. This might make it easier to find, count, and write the Haiku beats. How awesome to use your own name to practice phonemic awareness, orthographic mapping, and poetry. To help them out, I might make up three lines of Elkonin-like boxes — big enough to write in – following the 5-7-5 pattern.

My most recent thought?

“OH! We can have a classroom Haiku Board!!!!”

Me
Molly, Molly, Mol
James, James, James, James, James, James, James
Molly, Molly, Mol

Kindergarten Haiku
K poets unite!
Count and own your words and beats
Haiku soon you’ll share.


Some Haiku links:

Akita International Haiku Network

The Haiku Foundation

Examples of Traditional and Modern Haiku

A Difficult Year Or An Amazing One?

I found myself in an unusual emotional space at the end of this school year. I had the same bittersweet feelings about my students and I leaving one another. But, I also had rather strong feelings of angst, frustration, stress, and honestly, just overall ick. Top it all off with the perception that I couldn’t shake the ick, but instead was somehow stuck in that grey, disgusting, frustrating, depressing, putrid space.

How’s that for an image?

So, what’s an educator to do when she finds herself in that spot? Choose a new story.

Kindra Hall says “In life, the most important stories are the ones we tell ourselves.”

If I were in the audience when she said it, I might have jumped up and yelled “Preach it, sister!”

Ah, but how to do that? It seemed the story I was telling myself was quite true. It certainly felt true. And, in some very real way, it was true. But was it the whole story? Was it the only story? Was it the story I wanted to choose to tell myself about the year, or me, or teaching, or the world? No, no, no, and no, it certainly was not.

Well then, what was that story? What was the truth I was overlooking, or not highlighting as the star of my story? What is the story I want to tell myself about this year, and perhaps about every year?

It is a story filled with love, triumph, learning, and inspiration. Listen as I tell myself (and you) the truest stories about this year.

One night this spring, I just broke down. Crying, I said “I don’t know what the matter is.” My brother paused and softly said “It’s been a hard two years.” It has indeed. I did cancer treatment – during a pandemic. I didn’t teach or coach for what seemed like forever. I felt awful more than I felt good during my six months of treatment. I taught Kindergarten virtually after spring break – that’s a remarkable new level of exhaustion. I took a 200 hour yoga, SEL, and mindfulness course as I recouped over the summer. I returned to the classroom in person this school year with a compromised immune system, no antibodies, masks, seating charts, tons of new tech, and tons of new teaching load. For sure it’s been a hard two years.

And yet, at the same time, and for many of the same reasons it’s been a year of triumph, grace, gift, and amazing strength, love, and overall fantabulousness. Let me explain.

I did cancer treatment, during a pandemic, with drugs that compromised my immune system more than it already was. I did it! Not by myself, mind you. I did it with the help of the amazing docs, nurses, and researchers. I did it with the love and support of family and friends. We did it! Me, and my tribe, did cancer treatment during the pandemic, and lived to tell about it with smiles and deep gratitude to God.

I taught Kindergarten — virtually! Not by myself. I did it with the help of many beautiful, kind people who helped me, encouraged me, affirmed me, and sometimes sat with me while I cried. And I didn’t just do it. I did it well. I proved that distance is not a deterrent to learning or to relationship. It’s an opportunity to rethink, to collaborate, and to figure out ways to make it amazing.

Fall of 2021, I returned to my Kindergarten classroom with a compromised immune system, no antibodies, masks, seating charts, tons of new tech, and tons of new teaching load, in a year that was difficult, exhausting, and taxing to the best of us. I returned. I struggled. I ideated and iterated. I breathed through a lot. I imagined possibility and I worked to bring it to pass. I entered into relationships with my Kindergartners and their parents. Together we created a year of learning, joy, discovery, and creativity. Together we created and lived a year of triumph!

A sentiment I send right back to all my Kindergartners and their families!
As I processed this to share, I noticed the Kindergartner’s handwriting. It is ALL correct upper and lower case letters with beautiful legibility. That is a triumph on so many levels!

At times this year was fraught with stress and anxiety. Unwilling to have that be our experience of the year, we worked together to fill the year with joy, peace, affirmations, breath, and mindfulness. As those dear sweet Kindergartners wept — missing their parents, unsure of what their friends where feeling — we breathed together. Sometimes I held their hands, and did the affirmation and breath practice while they simply stayed with me. I trusted that their mirror neurons would do their job and calm them by simply observing my practice of self-regulation. At other times the Kindergartners were the ones reminding me to breathe and practice mindfulness of doors, or helping their friends with affirming thoughts and suggestions of ways to proceed. They embraced their classroom jobs of peace person and positivity proclaimer and daily led their peers through mindful, beautiful moments of breath, affirmation, and peace. They even asked if they could increase their having a holiday job to include leading their friends in two yoga poses each morning. They also took their practice home and shared it with their families and friends. I know, because parents regularly shared their amazement and gratitude with me.

As I gathered my thoughts for this post I went through the notes from this year, as well as ones I’ve saved from years past. These add weight and validity to my stories. They strengthen the positive neural pathways in my brain.

The Kindergartner made affirmations for the letters that spell my name.
Love notes from the Kindergartners

Thank you for creating a warm, peaceful, exciting, artistic, free thinking and child driven classroom.

You are a warrior queen — determined and victorious!

Remember what an inspiration you are to so many.

You encouraged her to try new things no matter how scary they seemed. You taught her to not be afraid to ask questions.

We appreciate your fantabulousity.

I’m not the only educator who had a difficult year of triumphant teaching and learning. I’m not the only creative one. I’m not the only amazing one. There are so many others. I hope each educator that reads this post, takes the time to carefully choose the story you are telling yourself. Make it about your triumphs, your discoveries, the lives you’ve changed, the relationships you’ve forged, the difficulties you have overcome. Make it the best and truest story about yourself, who you are, and what you do.

With gratitude to God and all the amazing people who encourage me to be me, and who help make what I do possible, I say, “I am capable, and strong. I have a big beautiful brain and am always learning. I am kind. I am brave. I can do hard things — and regularly do. I have an awesome heart. I make a difference. I inspire others. I am deeply loved. I am, and always will be, fantabulous. My year was not easy, but it was amazing.”


Post Script:
If you’re anything like me, it may feel a bit uncomfortable to say all these things in such a public way. It may even seem somehow improper to do so.

But, the truth is it is completely proper, and absolutely necessary!

We must treat ourselves as we would a good friend or colleague. We acknowledge their foibles and the times they have fallen short, but we champion their fantabulousness and all their victories, and gains. We tell them the stories that help them understand who we know them to be. We tell others those same stories and more — because they are valuable stories — to tell and to hear.

Please tell your amazing stories! I’m happy to listen if you want to share them in the comments. But feel no pressure. Just tell them to yourself and at least one other.

It’s All Gift

Gosh it’s been a long time since I posted anything. I’ve crafted several posts in my mind, saved photos that I wanted to blog about, and sat down at the computer. But, my brain was mush attending to the plethora of items on my end of school year to do list. Finally I have a moment where I feel I can write. I think it might be because my topic makes my heart, mind, and eyes, brim over, and I need to let it out in words and witness.

It was time to make my end of the year gifts. Actually it was almost past time to do them in order to give them to my students before they left. I headed out to the store with my brother to buy photo paper, picked up some cute triangular sheets of paper that I thought might make nice cards, and hurried home to start the process. The gifts are ABC affirmation cards — 26 letters in the alphabet plus two cover cards means 28 cards per Kindergartner. 23 Kindergartners means I had to cut out 644 cards. It was Sunday night. I was giving the gifts on Wednesday morning. Can you say, “Oh my gosh?!?!?!” Perhaps you already have.

As I waited for my brother to print the cards, I thought how cool it would be to make an origami box that would fit the cards perfectly. Surely someone had figured out how to do that. They had. Here’s the video I used — with gratitude to the creator! And how cool is it that it involves using the math? (Yes, yes, I carry my math-loving-nerd card with great pride.) Thankfully, I had paper at home that would work for the project. Now I wasn’t silly enough to make a top and a bottom. I would never have slept if I did that. Instead I made a bottom, and then used the triangular sheet of paper to craft a sleeve that went around the box and served as my card as well.

My Kindergartners listened intently as I told them about the gift. They accepted the gift as though accepting something very special. I loved that, and was struck by how carefully they opened them. They flipped through every card. Some read them on their own, some with a friend, and others asked me to read them to them. When they finished reading them, they looked at me and asked “Can we make some?”

Make some? You want to make some?!?! I didn’t say that out loud. Instead I said “Of course you can!” Their next question was “Where can we get this paper?” referring to the photo paper I used. “Oh,” I replied. “I don’t have any of that here. But I have white index cards, and I have these colored post-it notes.” They gathered up their supplies and started writing and drawing. They made cards for their parents, siblings, friends, and themselves. One worked on many cards. “What can I write for D? I am …. Hmmmm… What’s something for D, Miss James?” I thought a moment and said “Delightful!” She liked the suggestion, and worked on. She took some post-it notes home to finish her deck.

The next day she came in, and handed me this.


She said, with a smile, “Here you go, Miss James. It’s for you” I opened it to find this. An deck of affirmation cards — one for each letter of the alphabet — made and gifted to me by one of my fantabulous Kindergartners.

How remarkable, right? I gift them. They are inspired and feel empowered to do their own work, to create their own cards, to affirm people in their lives. And then, they gift me right back. It’s all a gift — the opportunity to be together this year, choosing to gift them, experiencing their reactions, living our relationships, feeling their power, and receiving the sweet gift of these Kindergarten handmade cards from A-Z.

Teach for Delight: Part 2

I had a parent teach conference the other day. As we talked about the many ways the Kindergartner had grown and blossomed, the mom said “Her handwriting is the one thing I think can still use work.” I chuckled, agreed, and then said “But — and I mean this in the best possible way — I think her handwriting hasn’t improved because she doesn’t care about it. She isn’t invested in it.” Now it was the mom’s turn to chuckle. “Oh yeah, you’re absolutely right. She just wants to get it done so she can move on to something else.”

As I went about my day that stayed on my mind. I recalled this post of mine — Teach for Delight. How might I infuse our handwriting work with a bit more delight? Even saying it sounds funny, but I’m sure there is a way. Here are some of my first thoughts: practicing words they love, writing to people they love, writing sentences and phrases they love, writing jokes, making name tags, decorating their cubbies and the room. The possibilities are endless. I just need to embrace the idea that interest and delight are important and possible — even with handwriting — and then set to making it happen.

I thought about teaching for delight again last week as I prepared for art. My curriculum has many fantabulous inspiration artists, coupled with processes and products that are Kindergarten friendly and appropriate. The Kindergartners enjoy art, and their products are beautiful. But, I was sensing that there was just too much structure for them at the moment. They needed the freedom to simply and completely play. They needed an assignment that allowed them to embrace the process and product with the smallest amount of outside interference possible.

I thought and thought. What artist might we use? How can we do it in the time allotted? How might I structure it so that their process and product would be enjoyable and satisfying? I quickly landed on finger painting as the process. But, how to elevate it a bit to show them, and others, that their work is indeed art? That was a sticking point for a bit of time. Finally, I decided I could help by taping a boarder on their paper, and by trusting them as artists.

With a good bit more thinking, I had the process and rules in place.
* Each artist could choose up to 4 colors.
* Each artist must do at least one practice piece, but could do a total of three.
* Each artist would be kind to themselves and others by:
not touching their face or hair,
not touching their friends,
walk with clasped hands when walking around the room.
* I will prepare a tray, paper, and a paint holder/plate for each artist.

When I announced the project, there were audible gasps and expressions of delight. They listened intently as I explained the process and rules. They were patient, but clearly wanted to get started right away. I told them I would let them know when we were nearly half way through the class so that they could know they should begin working on their final piece. They all agreed that they understood, and had no questions, so I began handing out supplies.

Each artist placed their tray — lined with construction paper — at their spot. They placed one 9X12 inch practice sheet on top of the tray, and one underneath the tray. If they wanted to keep their practice sheets they placed their initials on the back. If they wanted to donate it to the maker trolley for everyone to use, they left the page blank. Then, they picked up their paper plate and stood in line for paint. Their choices were deliberate and purposeful. Each artist was clear about the colors they wanted to work with for this project. Once they received their colors they began creating.

It was interesting to watch the various ways they chose to interact with the paint. Some worked with one color at a time. Others worked with a few at a time. Some worked with one finger. Others worked with both hands, covering the paper — and their hands — with color. On some pieces the colors were distinct, on others the colors melded into one.

I wandered around the room, stopping at each artist’s work to comment on what I noticed. I frequently said “Oh! That is lovely! What a great idea. I never thought of doing that!” I also asked “Are you finished?” Most of the time, the artists responded to my question with a definite “No.” I was committed to allowing this to be a moment when I taught for delight, and to respecting the fact that this was their piece of art and delight, not mine, so each time I responded, “Okay.”

Sometimes that’s a difficult place for us to stand as educators. But, it truly doesn’t matter if I think it’s beautiful. It matters that the artist thinks it’s beautiful, and it matters that I respect that. The only time I intervened was if I thought the paint was so thick that it might crack off the page, or if artist’s hands were dripping wet after washing and were likely to destroy their paper or process.

The results — in both process and product — were remarkably varied and beautiful.

The delight they experienced helped them to be more invested in the process. Being invested in the process helped them stay on task. Seeing, experiencing, and supporting their delight helped me to breathe a bit more, which allowed for there to be increased relaxation and ease in our learning space. All in all, it was lovely, and served to reinforce my believe that teaching for delight is essential.

Six Impossible Things

The other day my Kindergartners and I were all feeling a bit out of sorts. All manner of things seemed to be wrong in our bodies, minds, and hearts. It seemed to be a steady stream of young ones coming to me to say (among other things) “My head hurts. My nose hurts. I miss my mom. I miss my dad. She was sassy to me. That was mean. I can’t do it. I’m tired. I don’t feel good. My belly hurts.” Their hurts and wonkiness were poking at all my hurts and wonkiness.

I realized we all needed a moment to regroup, and hopefully find a bit of ease and release from this ick that seemed to have settled on and in us. So, before we did anything else I said, “Hey Kindergarten!” They responded “Hey Miss James.” as they each did their best to give me their eyes, ears, brain, and body. Looking around and making eye contact with each one, I continued. “I’ve been noticing that a lot of us aren’t feeling so good. Would you be willing to do a little breathing with me?” We do breathing, mindfulness, and mindful movement with some regularity so it wasn’t a totally unusual request. They were willing.

We took a moment to become aware of our breath, to find a comfortable seat and a comfortable place to rest of our hands. I asked them with each inhale to imagine breathing peace and ease into any spot in their bodies, minds, or hearts that felt less than good — maybe it felt tight, or painful, or just kind of wonky or icky. Then I asked them to imagine exhaling the ick with each out breath. “Perhaps,” I suggested “you might imagine the pain or difficulty turning into sparkles or beautiful flowers as we exhale.” After we took a few breaths like this, I asked them to shake their arms and hands, imagining the last bits of ick, coming off their fingertips like glitter.

I’m not sure what I said as we finished, but one sweet Kindergartner with ginormous eyes, looked at me and said, “But it’s just our imagination, Miss James.”

I hesitated for just a split second, and said “You are absolutely right! It is our imagination. But, our imagination is amazing, and powerful, and beautiful.” Those big eyes were locked with mine, and I know all the others were watching and listening intently. “Our imaginations are powerful. They help us believe in ourselves. They help us do things we didn’t think we could do. They help us have fantabulous ideas of things to create, and make, and do, and say. Our thoughts make a difference!”

I could tell she wasn’t completely convinced so I mentioned something I knew they would all understand. “Have you ever been afraid at night? Have you ever imagined there’s something scary in your room? It seems so real, right? And the more you imagine it, the more real it seems. Even when your parents come and show you every thing is good and you’re safe, sometimes your imagination is still talking to you, making it hard to believe them.” There were nods of agreement. I continued, “Well our imagination is just as powerful for good things, too! When we imagine the pain and ick and wonkiness leaving our bodies, minds, and heart, sometimes it helps it to actually leave.”

As I drove home that day I was thinking about how amazing it would be to be able to figure out a way to teach the Kindergartners about the power of their brain, their thoughts, their imagination. I wanted to teach them about the connection between our brain and our bodies. I wanted to figure out ways to teach them about the fact that our brains have a tough time distinguishing between what is happening to us, and the stories we are telling ourselves.

As I was brushing my teeth that night, I noticed this magnet. It’s been on my mirror long enough for it to have lost some of it’s umpf. But this night I read it with the conversation fresh in my mind.

Yes! Practice. We must choose to believe, and we must practice. We must use our imagination to help us believe “impossible things.” The world is in great need of belief in impossible things — or, maybe it’s just me. Belief that God loves me, is with me, is working for my good — even amidst the craziness of life these days. Belief that I am making a difference, every day — even when I don’t feel it. Belief that I am deeply loved — even to the extreme that I read in a saved note from a dear friend “Everybody loves, Molly.” Belief that life is good, all is well, and all will be well. Belief that hope, and faith, and joy, and peace, and beauty is possible.

I’ve moved the magnet to my side table. I look at it and remind myself — yes, life is tough, yes, it’s not easy to believe all those things or a myriad of other “impossible things.” But, it is possible!

So, like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, I’m practicing my positive, hopeful, faith-filled thinking — believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast as often as I remember. I’m trusting it will rebuild the muscles of my faith, my trust, my joy, and my relentlessly positive mindset.

Then, after breakfast, I’m imagining, believing, and affirming way more than six impossible things for all those in my learning space.

Yes, you can read!
Of course you can do it. Try.
What do you think? Yes, you absolutely can add those together.
The monkey bars? Yes, you can do it.
Imagine it happening.
Close your eyes. See yourself doing it. Now give it a go.
I know you’re afraid. That’s ok. Do it anyway.
Yup. I’m right here. Nope. You don’t need my help. You can do it.
Didn’t do it yet? It’s ok. What did you learn? Can you try again?
You did it!

Share Your Gratitude

We are never more than one grateful thought away from peace of heart.
Brother David Steindl-Rast

It’s been a long few days with my Kindergartners. It seems like I was constantly having to bring them back, constantly having to ask for their attention, constantly having to scold them in some way. Now, to be fair, it wasn’t actually constantly. There were many moments of marvel, joy, laughter, love, and all around fantabulousness. Those beautiful moments far outnumbered the frustrating angst filled ones. And yet, those moments that were less than I hoped for, those moments when I was less than I hoped to be, weighed heavy on me. I struggled to figure out what I might do, and how to get both them, and me, back on track.

With that on my mind and heart, I headed to my coaching gig. As I entered, I ran into a friend. “Hey!” I said, smiling under my mask. Seeing me she said, “I’m sorry, I just have to …” as she reached in and gave me a hug. I laughed out loud as we embraced before hurrying off to be with my HS athletes.

At the end of the night I popped over to say goodbye and my friend handed me a bag and a lovely vase of flowers. “What’s this?” I asked. “Just a little something to say thank you.” she replied. I thanked her, and gave her a tight squeeze as we got her daughter to take a quick photo. Then, we were both on our way.

My way included having to wait with some athletes whose parents hadn’t yet arrived. I was tired and none to happy to have to wait. But wait I did, and as I waited I opened the bag, read the card, and looked at the gift. In the card, my friend detailed the first time she met met me. She was late to pick up her daughter and I waited, outside, with her daughter. I made sure she got into the car alright, and pleasantly said hello before heading off for the night. She told me how much that relatively small act meant to her. The note, the flowers, and the gift — You make a difference. That’s all. — touched my heart and mind. They were the one grateful thought that allowed me to see the truth, take a breath, and find some peace.

How amazing, right? Her gratitude for my waiting with her daughter came at the moment when I was miffed at having to wait, in my exhausted state, with someone else’s daughter. Her acknowledgement, affirmation, and gratitude for the difference I make in the lives of others — with the smallest of acts — was the one grateful thought I needed. Her gratitude, shared with me, helped me to see the truth, helped me to take a breath, helped me to be present — present to truth, to opportunity, to joy, to peace. As I took a breath, I turned to the athlete still waiting. Instead of expressing any impatience, I simply chose to enter the moment with another human being. The peace and joy were much nicer than the angst.

Later that night, I realized I had received another grateful thought at the very beginning of the day. If you notice in the photo, there’s a bit of a yarn chain nestled in front of the flowers. That was a gift from one of my Kindergartners. I taught them how to finger knit a couple weeks ago. First thing in the morning, Jay came into our learning space, and came to me, as she does every morning, to greet me. It’s a routine I treasure. Today she held the finger knitting up for me to see. I told her it was beautiful. She said, “I made it for you!” I responded, “Thank you so much!” as I placed it on my neck.

That finger knitting chain stayed on my neck all day. I forgot about it until I got home and looked in the mirror. Seeing it, I realized my sweet Kindergartner had shared a grateful thought with me at the very beginning of our day. I love that her grateful thought had rested close to my heart all day. As I placed it by the other gifts for a photograph I again took a breath, embraced the truth, and experienced peace and joy.

Never underestimate the power of gratitude. Never hesitate to express it. Your gratitude — for yourself, your life, and towards others — may be the one thought of gratitude needed to find peace and joy.

Was I Kind Enough?

Wow, I just read this excerpt on the Pedagogy of Play blog. It’s a post by Ben Mardell entitled Vivian Paley: In Memoriam.

Vivian asked me if I remember the questioner and then queried, “Was I kind enough?” I explained that I thought she was extremely kind, but Vivian was not convinced. She mused, “I think she wasn’t comfortable. I hope I was kind.”

There are many lessons we should take from Vivian Paley and her work. Asking “Am I being kind enough” is certainly one of these.

Pedagogy of Play Blog – August 26, 2019

When I read that, I was immediately transported to my Kindergarten classroom. I saw many students — past and present — behaving, and interacting with me and others, in all sorts of different ways. As I look at each, I wondered “Was I kind enough?” Like Vivian I respond “I try to be kind. I hope I was kind enough.”

Vivian’s other comment bears a bit of thought as well. “I think she wasn’t comfortable.”

Again I think of my students. There are so many times that they aren’t comfortable.
They miss their loved ones.
They aren’t sure they can do it.
They are having strong emotions.
They make a mistake.
They hurt a friend.
The reasons are nearly endless.

Do I bear them in mind? Do I notice their lack of comfort? Do I consider whatever behavior or emotional moment they are having might be because they are not comfortable? If so, do I respond with kindness, or do I respond in a less than kind way?

This past week I had a few girls who were being quite unkind to one another. I raised my voice at them and told them to “Sit down!” After they apologized to each other. I asked them how I sounded when I told them to stop and sit down. They said angry. I agreed. “I was angry. What you were doing was very unkind, and you could have hurt each other.” They looked at me without saying a word. I continued. “It was right for me to feel angry, and to tell you to stop, but it wasn’t ok for me to sound, or be, mean. I could have felt angry, but then I could have taken a breath and told you to stop and sit down in a much kinder tone” I paused. “So I need to apologize you.”

I used our apology protocol. I went to each girl, looked her in the eyes, apologized, asked if she were ok, and if she needed anything. One of the girls said “It’s ok.” I responded, “No, it’s not. You don’t need to tell me it’s ok when it’s not ok, just accept my apology.” She did. When I asked her if she needed anything, she said “Please don’t ever do that again.” I told her “I will do my best. Would you please do your best to be kind to your friends?” She shook her head yes.

Notice each other. Take a breath. Be kind. And when you aren’t as kind as you might be, apologize and try again. Such a great way to live and teach.

Way back when. Back when we were some of the wee ones in school.

Intent-based Leadership in Kindergarten

My brother just hipped me to the concept of Intent-based leadership. He sees value in adding it to our coaching practice. It sounds promising so I’ve started watching the plethora videos he suggested. As I watch I have to say I agree with him, and I’m thinking — “Wow! This isn’t just a good idea for our fencing team, this would be great to share with my Kindergartners!”

Leadership, responsibility, intent, learning, in Kindergarten
(created the photo art with goart.fotor.com)

Intent-based leadership looks like another awesome way for my Kindergartners to grow in their CASEL 5, as well as, academic excellence and joy. It will encourage my students to think about what they know, what they don’t know yet, what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and what and how they’re learning. My hunch is it’s going to be a powerful tool in the classroom.

Intent-based leadership was developed by L. David Marquet, while a Captain in the US Navy as a Commander of the nuclear submarine Santa Fe. Two quotes on his website hooked me! (I’ve adapted them for the classroom.)

Imagine a school (work place) where everyone engages and contributes their full intellectual capacity. A school (place) where people are healthier and happier because they have more control over their work – a school (place) where everyone is a leader.

Teaching (Leadership) is communicating to students, colleagues, and parents (people) their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.

How fantabulous is that? I’m still exploring and pondering, and there are a gazillion good ideas to consider, but here are five of my “OH!” and “AHA!” moments regarding using intent-based leadership in the classroom

#1 There isn’t one source of power, information, and leadership on the nuclear sub or in our classroom. Students and teachers share in the responsibility of learning and growing a fantabulous classroom community.

Do I have a lot of information as the teacher? Yes. Do I bear a large portion of the responsibility? Yes. Do I have a considerable amount of power? Yes.

However, do I have all the information as the teacher? No. Do I have all the responsibility? No. Do I have all the power? No. My students also have a considerable amount of information, responsibility, and power.

My Kindergartners are knowledgeable about many things — they understand what they love, what motivates them, what they think they know, what they think they don’t know, what they actually know and don’t know, what’s going on with them and their friends, what’s going on at home, and so much more.

Ask any of my students if they have any responsibilities in our classroom. Each will say yes. They have class jobs. They are responsible for how they behave, what they say, what they do or don’t do. It sometimes takes them a bit to realize just how responsible they are. Here’s a common conversation.

Student: “My mom forgot to put my folder in my bag, Miss James.”
Me: “Your mom forgot to put your folder in your bag?
Student: :Yes.”
Me: “Whose folder is it?”
Student: “Mine.”
Me: “Who forgot to pack it.”
Student “My mom.”
Repeat until ….
Me: “Who forgot to pack your folder?”
Student: “Me?”
Me: (with a big smile) “Yup! Hope you remember tomorrow!”
The folder always makes it in the next day.

My students are strong, rich, and powerful. Some understand that and use it well. Others don’t realize the power they have. Still others know they have power, but don’t always use it in the best way. I’m eager to help them recognize, embrace, and use their power well. The fantabulous humans in my Kindergarten and I are going to have a remarkable leadership journey together this year!

Our classroom community will flourish when we all co-exist as bearers of knowledge, responsible classroom citizens, and powerful leaders. As we step into our leadership opportunities, listen to one another, reflect upon what we hear, and value one another’s ideas, my Kindergartners will begin to blossom. They will experience and understand themselves as valuable and essential partners in our classroom community and in their learning journey.

If David is correct — and all the data suggests he is — this will reduce tension in the classroom while increasing productivity and happiness.

#2 It’s valuable to know what you intend to do, why you intend to do it, and how you intend to do it.
There are times my students need to do what I tell them to do. But there are other times when they are able to choose between various options. It would be amazing for them to be able to choose based on what is most valuable and helpful to themselves and their learning.

For instance, in reading they might listen to reading, read to someone, work on writing, or do some word work activity. How do they choose what to do? Do they simply follow a schedule I set up for them? If so, then they intend to follow directions. There is value in following directions that is true, but there are also times when it would be good for me to allow them to decide what they intend to do.

For instance perhaps they intend to — share a favorite book with a friend, or listen to reading so as to learn about snakes, or do word-work so they can learn their sight words and thereby grow as a reader. How awesome is that? They understand why they are doing what they are doing, and are working with intrinsic motivation.

I want them to know that even if they haven’t received specific directions from a teacher, they can still do wonderfully productive and fantabulous things. I want them to be confident in their ability to think, reflect, and make good decisions. And, I want them to actually make those good decisions.

This will require a good deal of trust on my part. I will need to trust myself, my students, and the process. And, I will have to be willing to take it one step at a time.

I know I will need do a good bit of frontloading, modeling, and scaffolding. We will have to build relationships, trust, and skill. There will be many discussions: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? What did we experience? What do we want to experience? What did we learn? How did we learn it? When might we do that again? Is there anything that might work better?

The process feels incredibly daunting, and, at the same time, amazingly powerful and exciting.

#3 Student: “I intend to …” Me “What am I thinking right now?”

When my students tell me what they are motivated to do, and what they intend to do, it will be important for me to engage in conversation with them. Sometimes it might be — tell me more. Sometimes it might be “What am I thinking right now?” These questions allow my students to take ownership of themselves and what they intend, while at the same time having the benefit of my thoughts, experiences, and sense of things.

Some of the things I’m thinking might be:
Is it safe? Convince me that it’s safe.
Is it productive? Convince me that it’s productive.
Is it the right thing to do? Convince me that it’s the right thing to do.
Is it kind? Convince me that it’s kind.

This type of exchange is a learning experience for my students and myself. I get to learn what they’re thinking, and why they’re thinking it. I discover areas that aren’t clear to them and that might benefit from greater explanation or experience. They get to think through the process, consider their actions, and remember the purpose of the particular learning moment.

Again, I’m struck by the enormity of the process. And yet, if my goal is to begin to help my students become their best, most brilliant selves, I must take the chance. If I hope to help create not just students who can do what I ask them to do, but humans who can make good decisions and impact themselves and others in powerful ways, then it’s time to give it a go.

#4 We are all leaders and all followers

This isn’t about anarchy. We are all leaders, and all followers. We cannot just choose to intend to do something that is against the guiding principles of the organization. We choose to be part of the organization — in my case, my students’ parents choose to have their children be part of our classroom community. After making that commitment there are certain ways we must comply. For instance we must do our best, be kind, and treat each other with respect. There are other ways we can exercise our leadership and creativity. It’s always about learning and growing and being our best possible selves as individuals and a community.

#5 You can do it, *Molly (*Insert your name here.)

In one of the leadership nudges, David suggests we use our name when encouraging ourselves. Instead of “I can do it.” I would say “Molly, you can do it.” At first it feels a bit silly, but after trying it, I like it. David posits that using the third person way of speaking to ourselves puts us in a bit of a less emotionally charged space. I experience it as though a kind friend is giving me the encouragement. I’m definitely going to suggest it to my Kindergartners. I think it will be valuable, and be worth a few chuckles.


So, there you have it. I intend to embark on the profound journey of intent based leadership with my Kindergartners this year. And, I intend to have a fantabulous year together. Wish me luck!


Here’s a bonus nugget so you can get a feel for intent-based leadership from David himself. The three name rule. I’m thinking about how to incorporate it into our classroom community.

SEL and Setting Intentions In Kindergarten

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an essential part of living and learning. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has 5 core SEL competencies, called the CASEL 5 – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.

According to CASEL, the social emotional learning that happens as we develop and use these 5 core competencies “is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

I don’t know about you, but I think that list of outcomes is spectacular! I read it and say, “Oh, yeah. I want that!” And, I don’t just want that for myself. I want it for my family, my students, and gosh, for the world.

I’m always looking for ways to enhance the SEL in my classroom. My question is always how to most effectively and efficiently give my students agency over their own SEL. I think I’ve found an answer in intention setting.

We talked a lot about setting intentions in our B4C training. We considered: How do I want to show up? What do I want to notice? What emotion do I want to cultivate?

Sometimes our instructors would invite us to join them in a particular intention. At other times they would encourage us to take a moment, and then set our own intention for our practice, or our time together. As I set intentions, I noticed myself using the CASEL competencies.

Self-awareness and self-management: What am I feeling/thinking? What did I hope to feel/think? What do I need? What might help me reach my goal?

Social awareness: Who is around me? How might I influence them, and them me? How do I want to show up in relationship to them? How might I grow?

Relationship skills: How might I show up as a leader, speaker, listener, and/or collaborator?

Responsible decision making: Might I increase my curiosity, courage or kindness? What is my role? Might I think more critically, more creatively? What is happening today? How does all of this impact my decision of how I might show up?

My best intention setting happens when I am present to myself, others, and the moment. I’m able to breathe, notice, think, and choose an intention that actually helps me to become the person I want/need to be in that moment in time. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But, I tell you it’s true. Our minds are incredibly powerful, and our thoughts, emotions, mental images, and inner talk actually shape our brains, our experiences and our very selves. There’s tons of research out there if you’re interested. Here’s one article from Stanford News on the ability of our minds to shape our reality.

I definitely want to share the practice of setting intentions with my Kindergartners.

I imagine the power my Kindergartners will experience as they decide how they want to show up — kind, brave, happy, curious. I am sure there will be lots of modeling, lots of inviting them to join me in an intention, and lots of conversations about our intentions. We will have opportunities to share our intentions. We’ll wonder and talk about how it might look for us to live our intentions to be kind, or to be a good friend, or to be brave. At other moments we’ll check in with ourselves and each other to recall our intentions, reset them, or simply celebrate remembering that we set an intention. We might explore what happens if we set an intention and then forget it, or don’t actually do what we intend. It’s all part of our SEL and growth as our best selves.

I’m super excited to begin this work with my Kindergarten colleagues. My intention is to honor them as capable human beings, and give them tools they can use now and in the future. I’m hopeful this supported agency and growth in the CASEL 5 will empower them to be more self aware, more mindful, and more in charge of themselves and our classroom community.

I believe in the goodness and ability of my Kindergartners, and I believe in the power of this process. I know that there may be times I will need to intervene, so I will of course, remain in the mix. But, my plan is to remain more as a lead learner and model, rather than an arbitrator of all things necessary. I’m confident we will experience a positive difference in our classroom community – socially, emotionally, and academically.

Join me for a piece of PIE #4

I’m finally taking a moment to write. As I sit wondering what to share, the sweet smell of freshly cooked waffles is finding its way into my space. “Mmmm, waffles.” quickly becomes “PIE! I can share another piece of PIE!” I hope you’re hungry, and ready to enjoy a delectable piece of PIE – Picture-book Inspiration and Encouragement.

Today’s PIE has been baked by the talented Skye Byrne and Nic George – The Power of Henry’s Imagination. The ingredients in this delicious PIE #4 are Henry, Raspberry (Henry’s beloved stuffed rabbit), Henry’s grandpa, the mailman, love, and the incredibly flavorful ingredients, Henry’s imagination and creativity. Henry and Raspberry do everything together — until the day Raspberry goes missing. Henry can’t find Raspberry anywhere – and no amount of looking seems to help. Henry’s grandpa tells him there’s only one thing to do — “Imagine Raspberry is with you!” Clearly, Henry and his grandpa love each other very much. So, given the advice, Henry does just that.

The illustrations in the book are lovely. They’re a delightful mix of photographed items and hand drawn images. The illustrations and wonderfully crafted words encourage us to imagine along with Henry — and perhaps into our own lives. The Power of Henry’s Imagination is a beautiful story, and a scrumptious piece of PIE just begging to be shared.

One of my favorite illustrations — I love how real Raspberry looks!

Henry’s imagination is awesome — and as the title suggests powerful. For me, what makes it so powerful is his willingness to enter into the process. He doesn’t just sit and think about Raspberry, he goes about his days as though Raspberry is with him. Raspberry and Henry go on adventures together. Henry goes on the adventures in the physical world. Raspberry adventures through Henry’s mind, heart, and imagination. These imaginative experiences brings joy, peace, and much less fretting into Henry’s life. It’s amazing, really.

Perhaps as you’re reading this you’re thinking. “Oh, come on. This is a made up story, and it’s about a kid and his stuffed toy. What does this piece of PIE have to do with me in my life?” It’s a good question — especially when the situations we find ourselves in often feel more real, more important, more fraught with anxiety and possibly dire consequences than the simple losing of a beloved toy.

Amazingly enough this piece of PIE has a LOT to do with us and the situations that cause us to feel things like worry, stress, anxiety, fear.

The neural pathways of our brains are strengthened by use. The ones we use the most transmit information the fastest. If you’ve ever hiked, or spent time by water you’ll recognize this phenomenon. The paths that most people walk are cut deeper, and are easier to notice and follow. The ones that are less traveled — by humans, animals, or water — are harder to find, and following them is much more difficult and time consuming. So, if we spend a good bit of time fretting, reminding ourselves of our fears, or the things that cause us to feel worried, those are the neural pathways that get strengthened and become easier to to travel. Happily that is also true of the pathways that might bring us joy, peace, and ease.

Our imagination and creativity — much like Henry’s — are remarkably powerful. The essence and power of imagination and creativity is the ability to bring something new into existence — new thoughts, new ideas, new emotions, new things. We imagine what is possible — or perhaps, we open our minds to the possibility that something else is possible. Noticing a new possibility, we choose to believe — crazy as it may sound — that this new thought, reality, option, item, emotion, possibility might be able to become a reality. Then, we open our hearts, minds, and lives to this possibility, and actively work with our creativity to bring it into existence.

For instance when I’m feeling anxious, I entertain the possibility that I can feel peace and joy — even in the midst of whatever is causing me to feel anxious. Then I work to make the possible real. I might become aware of my breath, my emotions, my thoughts. Deepening and slowing my breath is a physiological way to ease my feelings of anxiety. Bringing a smile to my lips and recalling a time I was, or a way I can be, calm, peaceful and happy, begins to allow my anxious feelings and thoughts to dissipate. The smile, and my imagination begin to feel and be real. Might there still be a reason to be anxious, sad, whatever I am experiencing — yes, of course, but my imagination is allowing me to create space, to create possibilities for moments of peace and joy. And as I do so, my brain is creating those neural pathways. It’s a remarkable thing.

And, it’s not just imagination creating thoughts and emotions — powerful as that might be. It’s also imagination creating ourselves — or perhaps allowing ourselves to see the possible and to begin to live it. When my students repeat our affirmations “I have a big beautiful brain. I have an awesome heart. I am kind. I am brave. I can do hard things. I am fantabulous.” I want them to hear it — from me and themselves — and to begin to see it, to feel it, to know it in their imaginations, and then to begin to embody in their very selves and lives. Repeating these phrases changes their inner landscape — strengthening the neural pathways that help them be their most fantabulous selves.

And, wait, there’s more. Imagination and creativity is what allows us to do all sorts of beautiful, new things each day. How might I show my love more fully? How might I help my family, or my neighbor? How might I listen differently, react differently, and therefore get a different response? How might I envision my students as their best selves? How might I include parents in new ways as partners in the learning journey with their children? How might I use what I learned yesterday to create an even better lesson for my students today? How might I set up my learning space?

And, as I run through all those “How might I?” (which by the way grow in power when they are able to become “How might we?”) I am struck by perhaps the greatest quest for my imagination and creativity. How do I want to show up today, every day, wherever I am? And, how might I do that?

Yes, Henry’s imagination and creativity is powerful. My imagination and creativity is powerful. Your imagination and creativity is powerful. How might you use it to increase the love, joy, beauty, fantabulousness of your life and the lives of those you touch.

I read The Power of Henry’s Imagination with my students at the end of the year this past year. After I read it, we talked about our imaginations. We talked about these questions: Have you ever used your imagination? Have you ever used it like Henry did — imagining something to be real that isn’t yet real? Then, I asked them to think all the way back to the beginning of the year. What did they not know how to do, or not yet believe about themselves? Had they used their powerful imaginations to help themselves accomplish their task, or believe something about themselves. All of them had. Their answers were amazing.

(To honor the students I’ve kept their spelling in their sentences.)

“At the beginning of kindergarten I did not know how to wite lower cace
but I amagend that I cod now I can”


“At the beging of the year I had to amgin colering in the lines now I can.”



“I was shy so I imagined.  Then I made new friends.”


I was, and am, blown away by their answers.

This year I’m going to use the book earlier on. I want them to know, think about, and use their imaginations and creativity to be their best, most fantabulous selves from the very beginning. And, I want to do the same as well.

Where Henry and Raspberry ever reunited? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Or perhaps just continue to use your imagination, like Henry, and have many great adventures.

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An interesting read: The Neuroscience of Behavior Change