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)

Seeing Spelling With New Eyes

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I read this the other day. When I reached the end and read buttufele, I had an epiphany about spelling!

Spelling is a remarkably daring journey into  possibility thinking, creativity and design!

When trying to share our ideas, encode sounds and/or spell words we all go through the following steps:

Possibility thinking: How might we use what we already have/know in a new way? What letters or letter combinations are possible?

Creativity: We have to be brave and take risks.We use what we know to make something new and useful.

Design: We define a design challenge. ( For instance, write the word – beautifully.) We ideate. (butfoolee, beyuootefooly, beeyutyfuly, buttufele), and prototype (see illustration above). Then we test. (Can I read it? Can someone else read it? Can the person I wrote it for read it?) Our test provides us with data, and perhaps, new understanding. The process then begins again for this, or some other, word.

I love this understanding of spelling. It brings an element of play, and ease into the process of spelling. It embraces the fact that the spelling process, like all other design processes, often includes failing.

I’m wondering if approaching spelling this way, might make it easier for our students. Understanding they are choosing a design (spelling) challenge might empower them. Being creative might infuse joy into the process. Embracing failure as a natural part of spelling might diffuse some fear, and increase learning.

I’m going to work on my language and give it a go with my learners. I’m hopeful!

And just a note: Conventional spelling can also be approached as a design challenge. except now the challenge might be “Spell beautifully as it is found in library books, or on dictionary.com.”

Translation in case it is needed: She is very pretty. She is funny and she is goofy. She is a kind princess. She lives in Westfield. She sings songs beautifully.

 

The Power of Language

Lately I’ve been struck by the profound power of language.

Last night at a mindfulness session someone pointed out the difference between saying: “I am a worrier!” and “I am experiencing worry.”

Do you hear a difference? Do you feel one? They are very similar statements, but the small variations cause large differences in meaning and impact.

The first statement says something about me, and therefore about the possibility of my actions or thoughts. I AM a worrier. If I am a worrier, I have no choice. I worry. If, instead, I am experiencing worry, I have choices. I can notice the worry. I can observe it. I can choose to turn towards the worry and learn from it. I can choose to do something to alleviate it. Or, I can worry, lol.

The point is, the change in my language opens possibilities for me! It gives me options. It creates space to be, and to do.

I share the worry example because it helped me to understand my experience of another rather subtle change in language.

I’m writing an article on creativity and leadership. My editor suggested I change “How might we?” to “How can we?”

What do you think? Say the questions to yourself a few times. What do you experience when you read the questions? Do you notice a difference? Do you have pull or preference for on or the other?

I definitely experience the questions differently, and I have a clear preference!

I am experiencing — in my life and in my practice — that the power of “How might we?” far exceeds the power of “How can we?” Sounds a bit crazy, right? But, it’s not!

“How can we?” offers two options: we can, or, we can’t. That’s it. Too often, when given the choice of can, or can’t we choose can’t.

I can’t do that! I can’t walk a half marathon! I can’t solve that problem. I can’t write a story. I can’t do a multimedia presentation. I can’t pass this test.  I’m not able. There is no way. (sigh)

If we avoid the “I can’t!” quagmire. We may fall into the “I don’t know” trap because”How can we?” suggests we are looking for the correct way to do whatever we are doing. If the person being questioned is at all unsure, this often leads to the answer: “I don’t know.”

In both instances — “I can’t” and “I don’t know” — the problem remains unsolved understanding stagnates, learning is limited, and, perhaps, most tragically, the one questioned is now more convinced than ever that they really don’t know, and they really can’t .

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In contrast, “How might we?” is more flexible and less prescriptive. “How might we?” invites divergent thinking, allowing us to go wide with our answers. Even the uncertain can offer ideas because the “rightness” of the answer is not demanded.

Often the answers which fail, are more valuable than those that immediately succeed. They allow us — demand it actually — to reflect, examine, explore, talk, learn and try again. In this process many positive things happen. To name just a few:

  • Understanding (of ideas, materials, students, ourselves, others) deepens.
  • New strategies emerge.
  • Trust, confidence and relationships grow.
  • Thinking and ideas are valued.
  • New ideas are formed.

The power of simple changes in language is intriguing. I’m super excited by the possibilities of HMW questions, and am working on using them more often in my life, and in my practice.

Give them a try. If you do, I’d love to hear your reflections.

Hiking Art – Part 2 – Using the Wind

14114866_1464197210263831_6637948970428154399_oOur final hiking day in NY included a jaunt into the Ausable River across from Copperas Pond, and then a rather lovely hike to Cobble Lookout. I found a nice seat – lightly shaded, good view – and broke out the paints and paper. Much like other days, the wind was gloriously present.

I’d done art with my Kindergarteners were we supplied the breath to move the paint around the page. Inspired by that, I decided to see if I could let the rushing wind move my paint.

Much like the leaf painting, it was more difficult than I imagined. The wind was gusting at times, but seemed unable to combat the inertia in the domes of watercolor that sat on my page. I was surprised!

I tried more water in the paint, but the small domes still seemed impervious to the wind. Very interesting!

I thought it was a combination of inertia, and the small surface area of the paint. Even though the wind seemed very powerful on my skin, it didn’t push strongly on the drops of water and paint.

So, I stopped trying to control how the wind impacted the paint and paper. I did my best to give the wind full rein. I placed the watery paint onto the page, and lifted the page into the wind. Thankfully, my grasp was firm, because the wind whipped the page about like a kite! The wind won the inertia war (if that is what it truly was) and the paint moved about the page – small bits splashing onto my hands and legs.

I quickly ran out of water in my brush reservoir – as clearly I was using the brush in a much different way than anticipated! I filled it with water from my water bottle, but ended up spilling more than I got in the pen. Providentially, the water fell into a perfectly formed indentation on the rock where I sat. A natural water holder! I was able to wash my brush, and get enough water to make the paint wet and moveable.

Using that indentation in the rock really added to my experience.

  • It made me feel more immersed in, and connected to, nature.
  • It opened my eyes and mind to the possibilities that surround me – sometimes within reach – that may go unnoticed.
  • It encouraged me to embrace “what is.” There was some very fine gravel at the bottom of the indentation which transferred to my paper. The first time it happened, I gasped! Then I remembered something I had read, or heard, about Jackson Pollock. Bits of things sometimes ended up as parts of his work. That made me chuckle and helped me breathe as I thought “Oh! No worries! It’s just like Jackson Pollock!”

After letting the wind do quite a bit of work. I sat with the piece and watched it as it dried. I looked out at the view and noticed the grey rock, the green trees and the blue sky. I decided to fill in the unpainted areas with grey, green and blue – in that order – as I saw them sitting there.

When I got home I set about finishing this piece. I wanted to add some sort of detail, and words. I had been thinking of using parts of a John Muir quote that had been in my mind for days.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” (John Muir)

I loved how much the painting reminded me of a map, or the view you might see from the summit of a mountain. I hesitated about adding the words, fearing I might wreck the work I had already done.

But, I decided they had to be added! I love that quote. It blesses me each time I recall it when I am out in nature. It increases my breath and my ease. Plus the wind’s freshness had actually created the painting! How could I not acknowledge it?

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” Climb mountains … peace flows … like sunshine …winds blow freshness and storms energy … cares drop off like autumn leaves.” (John Muir, as per me)

 

 

Cancer, Creativity and Possibility

Never let it be said that creativity is purposeless! If you have ever thought that, or begin to think or say it now, bite your tongue! lol

Creativity has many joyous, important, and profound purposes in our lives and world. Not the least of which is the ability to express ourselves, sort through our thoughts and feelings, and emerge, a bit stronger, with more understanding, and possibly, a nice piece of creative work.

I have cancer. A rare form with a ridiculously long name — Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia (WM). It’s a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I used to joke that once I learned how to spell it, I should be granted a cure! lol

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But, though I can spell it, I still have it. I’m doing great, but from time to time, I am a bit overwhelmed sharing my body with WM. And, sometimes even more overwhelming than sharing my body with it, is sharing my mind and spirit it.

A couple days ago, I had the idea to write a poem – in the hopes that it would help me pull my thoughts and emotions back from the edge, into a place of greater strength, joy, and positivity — really just a place that is more me.

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For truly, I am strong, fierce, powerful, joy-filled, positive, awesome, and full of life! I am a warrior. My life is full of possibility.

 

Impossible?

Is anything undeniably impossible?

My spirit rebels at the suggestion that good things might be impossible.

Possibility surrounds me, and gives my soul joyous pause.

Of course, fear and doubt mingle in, at times rising to the top, obscuring joy and hope.

So much is unsure.

Success is not guaranteed, and solutions are not yet seen, found, created, done, or lived.

I breathe deep breaths, and fortify myself with these thoughts:

Be brave and stubborn. Believe all is possible.

Live as though success is inevitable, and your actions and thoughts encourage its coming.

Expect, and eagerly embrace, the awesomeness and miracles that surround, and are, you!

 

Possibility, Power, Perception … and Transformation

Yes, lol, such a long blog post title, but I couldn’t choose just one word. Clearly I couldn’t even choose two! Perhaps you will think of a better title. Good! If you do, share it with me.

I was on Facebook today, and noticed a photo and article a friend shared.

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(photo from Facebook post of http://www.amightygirl.com)

I was pulled in by the idea and the awesome photo. Heading to the website link I discovered this video: (from http://www.Yuwa-India.org)

Let’s Put Every Girl’s Future Into Her Own Hands

Give it a look. It is compelling and joy-filled!

Watching the video, I was struck by something I noticed and loved about Reggio Emilia and El Sistema – two educational systems/approaches I researched for my MA – a deep belief in the transformational power of what is being done.

The soccer coaches are not teaching the girls to play soccer simply to play soccer, or even to become good at soccer. Yes, of course  playing soccer is important, becoming good at it is important, but it is so much more!

Education and creativity are like that, too! Yes, of course education is important for education’s sake, and creativity is important for creativity’s sake. BUT if we leave it there –if we stop at education, or creativity, or sports, without perceiving, and believing deeply, in the profound possibility that is found in them — we miss the opportunity to share, and be touched by, their transformational power.

When 2+2 does not equal 4

We had Back to School Night at our school this week. As I shared who I was with the parents, I began talking about creativity and creative thinking. I told them creativity, and creative thinking, are not just about art! Creativity, and creative thinking, are about noticing, seeing possibility, taking risks, making mistakes, trying new things and thinking new thoughts. They’re about learning. They’re about taking what you know and using that knowledge to go beyond. They’re about playing and communicating. They’re about life!

I was so excited to be talking about creativity, my hopes for their children, and the possibilities for creativity in all venues, that I found myself saying, “Even math is a perfect venue for creative thinking. I read this article once, that talked about when 2+2 isn’t 4!” As it came out of my mouth, and I saw the looks of surprise on some of their faces, I recognized the need to clarify that I would, indeed, be teaching their children that 2+2 was 4! But, I would also be encouraging them to think like mathematicians, and, when appropriate, look for those times when 2 plus 2 was something other than 4.

I want their children to be able, even as kindergarteners, to take what they know and are learning, and transfer it to other situations. I want them to see the more.

Here is how it was lived in my classroom this week.

One of my students loves to get “math problems.” She seems to have an insatiable appetite for them! I wanted to honor and encourage her love for “doing math,” but I also wanted to go beyond the rote “doing of math” and engage her in mathematical thinking! I wanted to give her the opportunity to be challenged to notice things, tinker, get stumped, and keep trying.

Yes, even in Kindergarten this is possible, and appropriate.

So, after several problems with numbers and symbols, I started using pictures. First, I gave her pictures that indicated addition and subtraction. I didn’t tell her whether the problem was addition or subtraction, I let her figure it out. Once she discovered an answer, we talked about why she chose subtraction or addition, and how she got her answer. (By the way, her answers – listed on the page – are great answers, but not the only possible “correct” answers!)

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Then I asked her to complete patterns or provide the next item in a sequence. She had to think about some of them, and occasionally gave me a quizzical look. I resisted the urge to chuckle, and instead just encouraged her to think about it. Sometimes I realized I hadn’t given her enough information, or I had been ambiguous, so, I amended my instructions.

Each time she got it! I decided it was time to take a chance, and see what she did with more of an open-ended question.

I wrote:

10 equals

She looked at me, and then at the problem. She looked at me again, this time with a bit of annoyance.

“What is this?” she asked.

I responded, “Well, what does it say?”

“10 equals. But what do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, what does 10 equal?” I asked.

She again looked at me with a bit of annoyance, and a bit of confusion. I just pursed my lips, and raised my eyebrows. “You can do it. Think! What does 10 equal?”

She looked down, thought a bit, and finally wrote “10 = 10”

“Yup,” I said. “10 sure does equal 10. Can you think of anything else?”

She thought for a bit and said “6+4.”

“Yes!” I responded. “That does equal 10. What about this? Does 10 equal this?”

10 petals

She watched as I drew. Looked at me when I finished, then back at the drawing, and said, “Yes.”

To which I responded, “Why?”

“There are 10 petals.”

“Indeed!”

We did a few more problems together – sometimes I drew or wrote for her, sometimes she drew or wrote for me. Then, I took it a step further. I gave her this problem.

not 4

Using what she had learned from the car drawing – they were coming together –  she said, “It’s 4.” I said, “True, but what else is it? Do you see? I wrote ‘not 4’ I want you to think a bit. What is it, if it’s not 4?” She looked at me for a bit. I said, “Think. I want you to think. What else can it be? Thinking is good. You can do it!”

After a bit she came back to me and said, “It’s 16!”

“Oh! How is it 16?” I asked.

She showed me the 16 dots. “Indeed! That is 16.” Now it could just as easily have been 8 because of the antennae, or the wings. It could have been 24 because of the legs. It could have been a lot of things! The importance, (outside of the math facts) was the noticing, the thinking, the sharing of thinking, the questions, the explanations, the affirmation that thinking was good, and finally the confirmation that her thinking was sound.

It would, however, also have been ok if her thinking wasn’t sound, because it would have given us an opportunity to converse, rethink, and to come to another conclusion.

So, I ask you? When is 2+2 NOT 4?

Amazingly enough, there are many times! Think. Draw. Write. Be creative. Think in ways that might not be your first choice. Think in ways that seem to defy mathematical sense. But think! Oh, and be sure to play, and have fun.

If you come up with some ideas, please leave them in a comment. In a few days I’ll post a comment with some of my ideas when 2+2 is not 4!

Enjoy!

 

 

A Tree Grows in Kindergarten

I recently attended a workshop at Bank Street College in NYC. They have a tree growing in the middle of their lobby! A BIG TREE! If I remember correctly, it actually goes up to the second floor.

It was fabulous! I wanted one in my space. It would add to the classroom environment. It holds incredible possibilities for all sorts of learning and playing – science, history, literacy, math, art, morning meetings under the tree, and puppet shows in front of the tree. And, the students would love it.

I chuckled as I wondered how I might convince my school to architecturally recreate the kindergarten and library (above our room) to allow a tree to grow within the school building. Realizing that was not likely to happen, I set about thinking how else we might have “a tree grow in kindergarten.”

Ages ago, a friend gave me all sorts of wire to use as sculpting material. I still had a lot of the wire left, in a beautiful basket, on top of my cabinets, waiting. “Woo hoo” for keeping things that have creative potential, even when I can’t figure out how to use that potential.

That wire held the answer! If I couldn’t grow a tree, surely I could make one out of wire!

In my mind, I imagined a grand tree. A wire trunk with real tree branches  “growing” out of the wire trunk. It would be spectacular!

I built the tree in my mind several times – often changing the structure on a long car rides. Finally, I was ready to give it a go.

There was a lot of prep work the night before the build – find fishing wire, fight off mosquitos to get branches, take the leaves off the branches, gather tools (wire cutters, clippers, pliers, a hammer, pencils and a tape measure), load the car, and, perhaps most importantly, try not to forget anything.

The day of the build also held a lot of work – including tons of measuring and re-measuring, a failed try at anchoring (which, thankfully, led to a better engineered tree), an incredible amount of wire work, the realization I had to cover the pointy wire ends (yay for silver duct tape), and many other niggly details and tasks.

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The process was an interesting combination of frustration, invigoration, exhaustion, perseverance and psych. It was an exercise in patience as I pro-typed, failed, thought, re-thought, tried again, looked, looked from another angle and perspective, adjusted, tweaked and took untold number of relaxing breaths. In the end, my fingertips and back were screaming, but the tree was there, “growing in our kindergarten room.”

I will, no doubt, rebuild it again in my mind. I am already imagining new ways to connect and support the branches to allow for greater artistry and larger branches! But for now, a tree, made of wire, paper, actual tree branches, hard work, and imagination, grows in Kindergarten .

(A close up of the wire bark – complete with knots.)

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 (The tree ready for our first day.)

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I trust the tree will bring joy to those who experience it, and encourage them to be open to possibility, creativity, imagination, hard work,

I hope, now, and throughout their life, they will be inspired, and empowered, to create something new and fabulous — perhaps, something incredibly useful and valuable.