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.

Join me for a piece of PIE #3

Today’s PIE is served up by Peter H. Reynolds. It’s a delicious slice of Ish PIE. In Ish, Ramon, Leon, and Marisol are powerful characters whose words, actions, and the stories they tell, make a profound difference in their lives and the lives of others,

Ramon loves to draw — anytime, anything, anywhere. He believes he’s an artist and finds joy in his creativity. Harsh words from his brother Leon change all that. Ramon doubts his abilities and even puts his pencil down, convinced he cannot draw. Marisol — Ramon’s younger sister — sees things with eyes, mind, and heart that are very different from her older brother Leon. Her words, and actions — I will not spoil it for you — bring about a change of heart and understanding for Ramon.

It’s a sweet story with a lot to teach us. I read it to my Kindergartners just the other day.

“I know you are all fantabulous artists. And, I know you know it too. But maybe someday, someone will say something that makes you doubt yourself. So, I want to share this story with you, and do a little art project, so you don’t every forget how amazing you are.”

We prepped our papers by writing “I am _____” across the top. They filled in the blanks with wonderful words — fantabulous, marvelous, awesome, excited, good, me, and many more. Then after the story they painted, drew, and wrote — without fretting. I joined in as well. Here’s mine:

I’m keeping my artwork on my wall — even though today was the last day of school. I want to remind myself of my own fantabulousness, my remarkable girls, and the Ish-lessons learned.

I think we all need those lessons. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been teaching remotely since I came back in March. In many ways it has been absolutely fantabulous, in other ways it’s been difficult and frustrating, and like Leon, has kind of yelled in my mind’s ear that I’m really not so fantabulous and not an essential part of the classroom community.

Experiencing those feelings has made me think deeply about the ways I interact with others. Do I do my best to let them know they are fantabulous? Do I set up the infrastructure of my class so as to include others? Do I preform small acts of kindness to let them know they’re important and I’m thinking about them? Do I consider what the small acts of forgetfulness, or words not carefully chosen say to those in my learning community?

This whole week has been a bit emotional — for me and my students. It’s hard to end a year. Don’t get me wrong, the break is absolutely wonderful, but saying goodbye — even when you know you will see each other again — is sad. To end it remotely has proven to be even more difficult. I have to rely on others to sign onto my zoom, to be sure the environment will allow my students and I to hear each other, to take me to other rooms when our activities move, and to affirm that I am an important and valued part of the community.

Today was our very last day. There were many small acts and small conversations — much like those in Ish — that impacted me and my day in both wonderful and distressing ways.

…. When I signed onto Zoom they were having a dance party! I love dance parties. But the music playing through the D10, was so loud it was really hard to talk with the girls or join in in a meaningful way. When I commented to a colleague she responded, without looking at me, “I’m working on it.” Small things. Yes. But painful things. Lesson learned? Small things matter. Think about the other. What are they experiencing? What do they need? How might I help. Try to be proactive.

…. I switched links and zoomed into one of the class iPads. A colleague picked me up and said “Let’s see if this works outside!” She proceeded to carry me out — facing out — and I was able to see and interact with colleagues and former students. We laughed, chatted, and waved. It was spectacular! Lesson learned? Small things matter. Going out of our way to help others, to make them feel a part of our group, and to allow them to experience what we are experiencing is incredibly important, and in many ways, priceless.

… Back in the classroom, girls crowded around the laptop wanting to chat. Again the music was too loud, so a colleague carried me into a side classroom. It was lovely to chat with the girls. We laughed and talked, until they were called to morning meeting. Then I was left in the room — alone. Lesson learned? Small things matter. Helping others is valuable. Forgetting others is painful. Don’t get so involved in what you are doing that you forget about others. Breathe, pause, and think of others.

… Another colleague checked in with me. Was there anything she could do to help me? It was good to be seen, listened to, and helped. Lesson learned? Small things matter. Taking the time to really see others is powerful.

Like Ramon, Leon, and Marisol my colleagues and students were telling me a story through their words and actions. And, each time they did, I told one to myself — for better or worse. At some point I took a breath and reminded myself that, like Ramon, there’s no point fretting, and no reason to listen to the negative stories. I always have a choice in the stories I listen to and the stories I tell myself.

I’m going to stick to the story that I am fantabulous. I am fantabulously loved. I am essential and irreplaceable. And, I’m going to do my best to act and speak in ways which allow others to hear and tell the stories about their own awesomeness.

Thanks, Peter H. Reynolds, for this scrumptious piece of PIE.

A Little Something

A few weeks ago I got a message from a former colleague.

Hey wonderful woman. Would you mind sending me your address? I have a little something to send you.

I chuckled at her beautifully affirming greeting, and sent my address without delay. I felt the delight of a child who knows a little something is in the works.

The package arrived the other day. It was a good size, but extremely light, and made no noise as I moved it into a space for quarantining. I wondered what it might be, and with all the patience I could muster, I waited for its quarantine to end,

Yesterday was the day. Eyes wide, I opened the box. As I folded back the flaps, a smile burst forth on my face, and I laughed out loud.

It was a veritable flock of paper cranes!

That flock is the perfect little something!

I often make paper cranes to share with friends, or leave for others to find. And here they were — with all the hope, joy, love, and wishes I try to infuse into mine — flying back to me. It was fantabulous to pull them out of the box.

My kids made the paper cranes — a symbol of healing — for you. You are always in my prayers.

Wow!

If you’ve ever wondered if kindness matters, wonder no more. It does. These cranes. Notes and thoughtful gifts from Kindergarten alums and their families. Zoom call check ins. Showing a friend how to use her sewing machine via zoom. Praying for and with one another. Listening, laughing, crying together. Chatting on the porch (over 6 feet away) bundled up with masks and a heater. Affirmations sent through WhatsApp. Appreciating one another. Breathing before reacting. Saying thank you. Sharing positive news stories. Walking slower or faster to keep up with your walking partner. Kindness matters! It all matters.

The cranes fly peacefully next to my chair. They accompany me with their wishes and whispers of health, happiness, resiliency, wisdom, beauty, strength, hope, gratitude, and kindness. When I see them out of the corner of my eye, they draw my gaze. Looking at them I wonder about the folding session. Often I reach out and touch them — enjoying the rustling of their paper wings and the shiny bead holding them together.

One more time. Kindness matters. Go be kind.

Lists

I’m part of a fab blogging community. This week’s invitation was lists. When you can’t write, or don’t feel like writing, write a list.

I didn’t immediately respond to the prompt. Instead I made books.

I sent them to a handful of friends. As I was putting them in the envelopes, my mind turned to random acts of kindness, and of others I could gift with these little books. Then I thought “Me! I want one.” So, in the spirit of being kind to myself, my name was added to the list!

Turns out I was making lists, I just wasn’t aware of it.

As I added color to the pages I thought, “OH! This book is actually a list … of sorts.” Then, while photographing and processing the photos for this post, I was struck by how blessed I am, and chuckled “Another list — gratitude.”

And just like that, I went from no lists, to several lists.

I’ll share the book, and simply encourage you to create your own list of gratitude. It can start as a very small list. But whether it is small, medium or large, be open to it growing. In my experience as soon as I begin to take note, and be grateful, I notice more. It’s as though my eyes and mind are more able to not only see, but to perceive, the plethora of blessings in each moment.

Gotta love lists!

I love these one page folded books!

Courage through Kindness

I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Kindness makes a difference in the difficulties surrounding me — whether they be deeply personal, or impact the entire human race. Kind thoughts, words, and actions assuage feelings, soothe souls, and make things right, or at least, more right. On the other hand, unkind thoughts, words, and actions, make everything more difficult, and more dark.

I’m saddened by how remarkably easy it is for us as  humans to adopt attitudes, behaviors, and words that are unkind. Lately, to make matters worse, unkind acts seem to be more readily accepted, magnified, justified, and even cheered on in news reports and on social media.

Enough is enough.

I’m reminded of the scripture “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, what ever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4) Kindness in thought, word, and deed, is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, so I am going to think and speak of them a bit.

Let me tell you about an act of kindness done directly for me. I got an email the other day with the subject “Have courage!” These three young friends learned I wasn’t well, and decided to do something about it. They wanted me to find courage — to fight, to win, to get well, and to be ok in the process. Their desire was kind. And I am incredibly grateful for it.

But, they weren’t done. They didn’t just wish me well, and encourage me to be strong. They chose to think and act with creativity and kindness, and actually send me courage! How fantabulous are they? The canvases are en route and I can’t wait to receive them and hang them.

Courage, love, and kindness coming my way!

These girls reminded me of Leon Logothetis. If you don’t know Leon, it’s worth your while to give him a look. His gig and mission is highlighting the good in humanity, and if you ask me, being a champion of kindness. His definition of kindness is: The act of truly seeing someone and making them feel less alone.

That is what these three girls did. They saw me. As my kindergartners would say “They REALLY saw you, Ms. James!” and they made me feel less alone.

I chose the title of this post — Courage through Kindness — to highlight the courage that I received through these lovely humans’ kind thoughts and deeds. But as I wrote the words, I thought “Kindness is a form of courage.” To choose to think and act in kind ways is courageous — and fantabulous. I am honored and blessed to know these three and their families. Their kindness and love is powerful. I trust their love and kindness — and they themselves — will only grow in might, beauty, and influence. Reminding myself of that fact, I release a bit of worry, and breathe a bit easier for the present, and the future.

Breathing and a Kindness Circle

The week before winter break was filled with changes to our classroom schedule. It may not seem like much, but extra rehearsals, making and wrapping gifts for parents, making cards for parents, and adding glitter to the cards, were filling our already full days to overflowing. We were all feeling excitement, joy, anticipation, and let’s be honest, some stress. And, if you’ve ever experienced that, you know, it’s all good, until it’s not.

I had recess duty the last full day of school before break. The lunch duty teachers greeted me with smiles and shaking heads. “Good luck with recess. They are really having a hard time.” I raised an eyebrow and thought “Alrighty, then.”

Out on the playground I carefully watched to see if the time outside would help them regroup. Sometimes they just need time to run around, be free, and get rid of their extra energy. This was not one of those times.

What was I going to do? I heard the voice of a former professor in the back of my mind, “If you’re having classroom management problems, look at yourself, not at your students.” Ok, what was I asking them to do that wasn’t appropriate for them at this time. What was I missing? What could I do to help them?

I had less than 20 minutes to figure this out. I went into creative problem solving beast mode. Have you ever experienced that? For me it means relentlessly pursuing a solution, with the energy and drive of a big, powerful beast — cloaked of course, in the gentle trappings of a kindergarten teacher! I thought laterally, divergently, creatively, critically. Heck, my brain was standing on its head trying to figure it out.

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It was time to ring the bell and return to our classroom. I didn’t have it all figured out, but I did have the beginning of a plan. I took a leap of faith. I rang the bell, and trusted my big, beautiful, creative problem solving brain would continue to work as I moved the girls forward.

I stood — breathing — and calmly waited for them to join me. Then I began to speak in a rather quiet voice. I could see the ones in the back of the line straining to hear me. I paused, and with only the slightest elevation in volume, I asked if they could hear me. Many answers of “No!” filled the air. I responded, “Ok, I’ll speak a bit louder, but you’ll have to listen closely, because I’m not going to yell.” They strained with body and brain to hear every word I said.

“When we go in, we’re all going to take off our coats and get a carpet square. We’re going to be silent when we do this. Once we have a carpet square we’re going to find a spot to lie down and breathe. Find a spot that’s comfortable, where you have some space to just be, and breathe. Are you ready?”

There were some quiet questions which I answered with the least words possible.

Them – “Get a carpet square?” Me – “Yes.”

Them – “We’re going to lie down?” Me – “Yes.”

Them – “We’re going to breathe?” Me – “Yes. Once we’re all set I’ll set a timer for about 3 minutes. Then we’ll come together at the carpet.”

I asked again if they were ready. They quietly responded “You beddy!” (Our call and response to “Are you ready?”)

Once we entered the learning space, I barely spoke above a whisper. I encouraged them to find a space, breathe, relax, and just be. Most of them did it easily. Some needed a bit of help. Still others asked “Can we do this every day?!?”

In those few minutes, while they breathed, I was still in silent beast mode —  thinking, problem solving, and breathing. My inner conversation went something like this. “Yes, the curricular content I have planned is important, but will we actually be able to cover it? Will it be a time of joyful learning, or will it be a time of distracted learning punctuated by my constant call to learn? They need time to breathe. They need time to practice self regulation and pro-social behavior. They weren’t going to do it on their own. I need to help them. I need to give them time, and a structure that allows them to succeed. They need to experience success, and the joy of pro-social behavior.”

By the time I rang the chime, my plan was set.

While they put away their carpet squares and gathered on the carpet, I quickly collected my supplies. I joined the circle and began. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been having a tough time these last couple of days. It’s seems like it’s been a lot harder to listen, and harder to be kind to each other. I don’t think that’s the best way to end our time together before we go on break. I’d love if we could leave each other with a time of peace, love, and kindness. So I thought we’d give a kindness circle a try.”

I’d never done a kindness circle before, nor had I ever heard of one, but it sounded good to me. I took another breath, trusted in the power of my words, my intention, and my students, and continued.

“Each of you will get a name — not your own — and you’ll have 10 minutes to make something nice for them on this card. Do you think 10 minutes is enough time?” They all agreed it was a good amount of time.

I forged ahead, “You can draw something, write something, or even make something. It’s up to you. There are only 2 rules — You must keep your name a secret until we come back to the kindness circle to exchange kindness with one another. And, you have to do your best with whatever you make.”

They liked the rules and waited — with some impatience — for me to give out all the names. With names in hand they set off to work.

As everyone was settling in, I noticed some angst and tears. I popped over to find out what was wrong. The girl who was crying said, “By accident I said the name of her person. I didn’t mean to do it. I want to switch with her so everything is still a secret.” I affirmed her act of kindness in admitting her mistake, being sorry, and  wanting to correct it. They switched names, and all was right in their world.

The 10 minutes zoomed by. I rang the chime again, and they gathered back together on the carpet with quiet excitement. Before we started, I mentioned that both the giver and the receiver of the card were practicing kindness. The giver was kind by working hard for her friend. The receiver was kind by being gracious. “Perhaps it’s not what you hoped to get. Or maybe you can’t read what they wrote. That’s not what really matters. What matters is that they worked hard to make something nice for you.”

It worked out better than I imagined.  Each exchange was lovely. Givers and receivers were kind and gracious. They practiced beautiful pro-social behavior. They looked each other in the eye. The givers said a little bit about what they made and why. The receivers accepted the gift, gave it a look, commented that it was very nice, and said thank you.

I sat back, took another big breath, and basked in the glow of our kindness circle. My inner conversation was calm, satisfied, and affirming. Taking a risk; pursuing a creative solution like a beast; trusting myself and my girls; taking time to breathe; giving the space and opportunity to be kind, is fantabulous! I gotta find a way to include these super powerful happenings more regularly in our days together.

Beast mode has been called off, but rest assured, the thinking continues. A solution will present itself in due time.

 

 

A Joyful Rebellion of Kindness

Awhile back I participated in the UC Berkeley’s MOOC The Science of Happiness. It was a great course — a ton of work — but a great course. One of the interesting things they suggested is that children have innate altruistic tendencies. Their research and information was compelling and hopeful!

The other day, my Kindergartners and I watched Joyful Rebellion by Brad Montague (Kid President’s brother-in-law).

It’s a great little video with encouragement and challenge. He invited us to to acknowledge our greatness and power, to dream big, and fill the world with more hope, more love, and more beauty.

After we watched the video, and talked about it a bit, I shared the idea of  Mirror Messages with them. I asked them what they thought about them. Could we do that for others at our school? They were intrigued, and asked many questions.

I told them our messages might not look exactly like the mirror messages. We might use index cards, or regular paper. Perhaps we’d place them on desks, or lockers, instead of mirrors. Maybe we’d pick a particular grade to gift. They were remarkably excited at the idea that we might encourage first graders, or *gasp* 12th graders! They responded with an enthusiastic “YES, we can do this!” But, their questions continued.

Them: “What about each other? Can we make them for each other?!?”

Me: “Sure! That’d be great.”

Them: “What about you? Can we make them for you?!?”

Me: “Absolutely! I’d love it.”

I got these that day …

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And these in an envelope the next day.

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If my experience is any example,  the Science of Happiness people are right. Children are fantastic, altruistic beings, who find joy in encouraging others. All they need is the opportunity. Let’s provide them with many!

I’m excited to see how this plays out for my girls — and those we gift with our messages.

Letting My Learners Lead Me

We had the best social studies learning time today! It was spectacular. I know I always say I wish I had a videographer, but wow, I really wish I had one today. My girls were fantabulous — full of energy, passion, and awesomeness.

Let me explain.

We are part way through our super hero unit. We’ve explored fictional super heroes, and created our own personal fictional superhero. After numerous discussions, we decided there aren’t just fictional superheroes, there are also real superheroes! We generated a list of superheroes in our own lives. They included: police officers, firemen, firewomen, grandmothers who get up early every day to make us breakfast, sisters who help us cross the street, dogs who bark at bad guys, teachers who teach us, dads who give us medicine when we’re sick, and nannies who always play games with us.

Today’s topic was  how we can be, and are, superheroes. I planned on showing them Brad Montague’s (Kid President’s brother-in-law) video This is a Joyful Rebellion, and then work on Mirror Messages as a way to give them concrete examples of them being superheroes.

I told them we’d be watching a couple videos this week. I mentioned Kid President and his pep talk for superheroes. None of them had heard of him, so I pulled up a quick photo to show them. They were enamored with his image, the fact that he is a kid, and the idea of a pep talk. They all wanted to watch him TODAY! They were quite emphatic.

I thought for a moment. I wasn’t prepared for an activity for this video, but they were definitely into it, so I decided to give it a go, and see what happened. I asked them “So you want me to change my plans so we can watch this today?” They responded, enthusiastically, “Yes!” I paused, thought a moment and said “OK, let’s watch it, and then talk about it.

OH MY GOSH!!! They got so much out of the pep talk! Their observations, insights, and discussion were amazing.

One said: “But Miss James, we can’t be REAL superheroes!”

I took a breath, put my hands on my hips, thought for a moment, and said “What do you mean?”

She repeated herself: “We CAN’T be real superheroes, Miss James!” and added “We can’t fly.”

“OH!” I said, “You mean we can’t be like Superman?!”

“Yes!” she replied.

As I began to explain that Superman isn’t real, but is a movie and comic book character, another girl interrupted. She practically yelled …

“But they’re NOT REAL! They’re FAKE!”

“Yes!” I said (giving her a high five).

She continued “We’re real, and we can be REAL SUPERHEROES. We don’t need to be able to fly, or shoot lasers out of our hands”

“YEAH!” another said “And we don’t need to have laser eyes!”

“That’s true! We don’t have, or need, lasers hands or eyes!”

Now came the big question. “So if we don’t have laser hands or laser eyes, and we can’t fly, do we have super powers?”

Their eyes seemed locked on me as they struggled with that question. The room was completely silent.

Finally, one yelled, “YES! We do have super powers!”

“What?” I asked.

“We have heart power!”

“YES!! YOU DO!” I exclaimed in return.

I cheered them on as they continued. We have:

  • Big Beautiful Brain Power
  • Our Own Ideas
  • Making Power
  • Kindness Power
  • Niceness Power
  • Friendship Power
  • Art Power
  • Science Power
  • Math Power
  • Loyalty Power
  • Brave Power
  • Strong Power
  • Muscle Power
  • Generosity Power
  • Loyalty Power
  • Creativity Power
  • Honesty Power
  • Helping Power
  • Inventing Power
  • Gift Giving Power
  • Listening Power
  • Thinking Power
  • Word Power

“Wow!” I said “This is fantabulous! I think we have to make signs with our powers. Shall we use big or small sheets of paper?”

“BIG PAPER. Let’s use big paper!”

Of course we had to use big paper. What was I thinking? Their powers, their hearts, their minds, their spirits, DEMANDED big sheets of paper. What else could even come close to holding them?

We each got our favorite color 12×18 inch sheet and set to work writing and illustrating our powers.

After social studies, we had choice time. One of the girls asked if she could work on our 120 chart — we had begun constructing it during math. “Sure! How many numbers do you want?

“Two.” she said.

She took two and placed them in the chart. Then she took a handful. A moment later she said, “I want to finish the whole thing!”

“You go, girl! Use your math power!”

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40 minutes later the chart was completed!

We sat and looked at it together. “Wow,” I said, as we high-fived. “That is so fantabulous! Thanks for using your math power to help us get this done.”

I’m sure social studies would have been good if we followed my plan to the letter. But, I’m also sure it wouldn’t have been this good. And I have no idea if this girl would have had the confidence in her power to finish this chart on her own. My decision to allow my students to lead me — to step into the unknown, trusting in them, me and us — made all the difference.

I’m so glad they asked to lead, and I’m super glad I said yes, and followed them.