Wow! What an Experience!

Sometime tired, rainy days hold untold treasures! I was on vacation a couple weeks ago, deep into a tired and rainy day. Lazing about, and looking for something to do, I discovered the LPCA was offering a 3 hour watercolor class. I hoped for good things and secured my spot.

Sarah Yoeman — one of four artists featured in the LPCA The World Through Watercolor exhibit was the instructor. She is a talented watercolorist, and a superb teacher.

The workshop was filled with instruction, experimenting, playing, painting, conversation, laughter, and lots of learning. I learned about paint, paper, brushes, gravity, erasing, taking risks, value, shapes, moving paint, using water, and being in the moment. I took photos and notes. I experimented, kibitzed, taped, painted, and created watercolors I enjoy.

My brother joined me for the workshop. We spent a lot of time looking at Sarah’s art, and our own. We discussed the things we noticed. We talked about value and shape, and how she created various images.

It was a great afternoon. I left with increased skill, confidence and joy.

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When I looked at my notes that evening, I discovered I had inadvertently skipped a few pages in my journal. Eee gads. I wasn’t loving that mistake. I stared at the blank pages, wondering what to do. After a few moments, inspiration hit. Why not fill them with my reflections about the experience?!

My thoughts quickly filled those pages, and overflowed onto others. I was struck by my level of enjoyment, motivation, and ability to engage deeply with the process. It felt like I had experienced 3 hours of an optimal teaching-learning relationship.

With that thought, I excitedly thought of my paper — Managing the Classroom for Creativity. I wondered if I might find all the elements of my amended KEYS classroom management system in Sarah’s workshop. I pulled up the paper to remind myself of all 8 points in the system and compared them to my experience in the workshop.

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Freedom

Our goal for the workshop was to explore the world of watercolors and  let Sarah guide us in creating your own watercolor work or art.

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Even the goal offers a great deal of freedom — a watercolor work or art. Sarah shared information, made suggestions, and demonstrated technique. Then she set us free to explore and experiment.

We were free to use one sheet of paper or more. We could section the paper into multiple sections, or keep it as one. If we didn’t like our piece we could try again on the back. She suggested we stand as we paint — giving us her reasons for doing so — but she allowed us to explore and choose what worked best for us. While she demonstrated various techniques, she didn’t require us to use any one in particular.  She encouraged us to experiment, be bold, and take risks.

Positive Challenge

The ideal level of challenge is one that engages without overwhelming. Sarah helped maintain this level of challenge by affording me the freedom to choose my challenge. But, interestingly enough, I found it was her presence and interaction with me that helped me maintain the optimal level of challenge. As I became overwhelmed, she offered help in the form of a thought, a suggestion, or simple encouragement. If I took too easy a route, she encouraged boldness. And, she normalized the struggle inherent in positive challenge by freely sharing her angst with her process and product.

Supervisory Encouragement

Right off the bat, Sarah shared The Three Laws of Art:

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They cracked everyone up and helped to establish an environment free from fear and worry. The laws suggested failure was to be expected, and helped us to accept it with a modicum of grace and ease.

Although Sarah was far more accomplished than us, she interacted with us as equals. It was clear she had more experience, expertise, talent, and knowledge. It was clear she was the teacher. But, or perhaps, because that was true, treating me as a colleague, a fellow artist, helped elevate my own sense of self, and consequently my thought, process, and product!

Sarah wandered about the room, observing, noticing, and commenting on our technique and product. She found things in everyone’s work to notice, praise, or share with the group. She pointed out the beauty she saw in entire paintings, color choice, shapes, expression of depth, or small portions of our work. Sometimes she encouraged new points of view by physically turning, or moving our paintings farther from us. By doing these things, she showed us the value of our work.

Work Group Support

Our group was diverse in experience and ability. Sarah’s banter and sharing of our work helped me to feel at ease. I began to appreciate my fellow painters expertise, courage, risk taking, and ideas. I was challenged by some of them, but always felt safe and secure.

Sufficient Resources

The materials we used in this workshop were excellent. We had unlimited access to lovely paper, juicy, pigment-rich paint, and professional level brushes of various sizes. This spoke to the importance of our work, and elevated us to the level of “real” artists. I appreciated that tremendously!

20180821_150037-01Access to these quality resources helped us succeed and accomplish our goals.  At one point I was having a tough time. Sarah happened by me, and suggested I use a different size paintbrush. Then looking at the paint I was using, she went and got her own palette to share with me! She brought several of her own palettes and brushes to share with us, and did so with a great generosity, and zero sense of indebtedness or worry on our part.

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Some of the best resources Sarah shared with us were her artistic-eye, her brain, her experience, and her hands and skills. These were invaluable.

Organizational Support

While just a short workshop, Sarah established great organizational support for us. She shared her vision of creativity available to all of us. She constantly suggested problem-solving strategies to help us succeed. Risk taking, boldness, and fresh ideas were welcomed and encouraged.

Profound image of child/student

Loris Malaguzzi (Reggio Emilia) knew children are “strong, rich, and powerful.” He would have loved Sarah. She saw each of us this way, and she helped us to see it as well.

Profound purpose and possibility of education/learning:

It’s clear Sarah loves to paint, and experiences something profound when she does so. She shared that love with us, and invited us to enter into the depth of the experience. And, I think, she gets the value of what she is doing when she teaches and shares with others.

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Every single one of the components of the modified KEYS approach to classroom management had been present and employed in Sarah’s workshop! WOW!!!

My research had been about other people — those in literature I had read, as well as my own students. This was the first time I experienced the Amended KEYS Classroom as a learner. Let me tell you, it was powerful!

Having experienced them myself, increases my desire to intentionally and deliberately incorporate them into my learning environment and management practice. It also makes me wonder how I might share this information on a grander scale?

 

POST SCRIPT: 

I blogged about my angst as I painted a few days after the workshop. At first I was incredibly surprised by the intensity of my angst, and my seeming lack of any learning and ability!

Taking a break, I sunned myself on a rock, feet dangling into the freezing river water. I took a moment to breathe and assess the situation. Certainly I didn’t lose all my learning and ability. But clearly something had changed.

I realized the change was that I was painting by myself. I no longer had the resource of Sarah and her skill and expertise right beside me. That is huge! Huge as a learner, and huge as an educator.

I didn’t enjoy the angst, but I’m glad I experienced it. And, I’m super glad I took a moment to reflect and had that epiphany.  Now to remember it, allow it to inform my practice, and look for opportunities to share it with my students.

 

 

 

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Bringing Ideas to Life

Creativity is an interesting mix of thinking and doing. It’s about having new ideas, conceiving of new ways to do things, imaging a particular physical product — and then working to bring any, or all, of these things to life.

Both the thinking and the doing require a significant amount of

  • curiosity
  • wonder
  • imagination
  • team-work
  • risk taking
  • confidence
  • playfulness
  • resilience
  • perseverance
  • knowledge
  • research and learning
  • struggle
  • pro-typing and iterating
  • the seemingly magical, but often hard won, moments of “aha” and resolution

My girls worked on their Thanksgiving build from the beginning of November until winter break. They had a plethora of ideas. Some were created, some were not. Through out their thinking and work, the girls exhibited all the things listed above.

Some of the most interesting observations for me, occurred as they struggled to negotiate, and embrace and enhance each other’s ideas and thoughts. It’s a tough line to walk — advocating for your own ideas while at the same time being open to the ideas of your friends and fellow workers. It’s especially problematic when other’s ideas are significantly different than yours. Emotions occasionally ran amuck, and sometimes required interventions — with recommendations of alone time, breathing, thinking, listening, and sometimes suggestions of how to speak to one another to understand and resolve differences.  Particularly interesting to me is how similar these young work groups are to the work groups I belong to as an adult. New ideas are not always welcomed, different ideas are sometimes hard to imagine or embrace, old patterns are sometimes very strong, and emotions often make things more complicated.

I loved their conversations and subsequent research as they wondered, and imagined things they would have liked to have as a citizen of England and Holland, a passenger of the Mayflower, or a Native American. — Would the castles of England and Holland have had elevators? What about trap doors? Where did the Native Americans get their food?  Did they have toys? Was there a hospital on the Mayflower? Did people fall in the water? How did they save them?

So much about my students, and their thinking and work fascinated me! I often laughed out loud in awe and enjoyment of the fantabulousness of their ideas, and their beautiful confidence.

This person did it for me this build:

IMG_9226I don’t recall any other student making a person with  three-dimensional components. I exclaimed “Wow. I love that! What a great idea!!” when I noticed her work.

She responded as though surprised by my awe. “I just think it, and I do it, Miss James!” I think I laughed out loud AGAIN when she said that to me. That is some beautiful confidence — in her thoughts, and creative ability.

Other times, my delight and fascination came from stretching their thinking, as well as their belief in their own abilities. One student this year wanted to make a dog. Her first try was lovely, and she was quite happy. I chuckled to myself as I opened my mouth to speak. “Would you mind getting your person? Let’s see if this would be a good pet for her.” She looked at me with a bit of incredulity, and perhaps even the slightest annoyance, but she quickly went and retrieved her person. Her dog’s head was the bigger than her person was tall. She reacted with amazement and a bit of disequilibrium! But, she was used to making dogs this size, didn’t believe she could make it any different, and told me it was fine. I laughed and asked her to stand up. When she did I asked if she would want a dog this big (and showed her how big her drawn dog was compared to her person). She laughed and said no, but when I suggested she re-draw her dog she said she couldn’t. I pushed back a bit and told her “Of course you can! Give it a go.”

She redrew that dog at least 10 times. The first 6 were almost identically sized. We cut the paper smaller, and she only fit the on the paper. Finally at about try 12, she created this:

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Perfection!!! She added a speech bubble filled with barks, and gleefully added her dog to the build.

Both experiences are valuable parts of creativity, thinking, learning, and life. Sometimes you simply believe in yourself and know that you can “just think it and make it!” Other times, when it seems impossible, and you doubt your ability, you have to struggle, and keep trying over and over — sometimes embracing the encouragement and pushing of someone you love, even when it’s uncomfortable  — until it happens.

With luck — and reminders from me — the one with belief in her abilities will be able to access that confidence when she has to work hard in order to succeed, and the one who had to struggle will experience those deliciously magically moments of creative ease.

Replace Negativity with Creativity!

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What a great thought! Replace negativity with creativity.

I found this gem while reading Beautiful Faces by Jane Davenport. (Which by the way, is an awesome book. The link is her website.)

When I first read it “replace negativity with creativity,” I laughed out loud. Not because it was funny, but because it was remarkably good. It is such a brilliant, simple visual that holds profoundness beyond its uncomplicated beauty. I adore artistic creativity and engage in it often. But, when I read Jane’s words I immediately thought of creative thinking.

“YES!” I thought. “Let’s replace negativity with creativity. Let’s replace negative thinking with creative thinking!”

Unlike negativity, creative thinking “bridges the gap between what is dreamt and what is desired; it knows no bounds and is not restricted by possibilities.” How fantabulous is that?!!

I recently returned from my yearly appointment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I gotta say, those doctors, nurses, and researchers are some seriously brainy men and women! They are constantly engaging cancer, and all its destructive negativity, with their brilliance and creative thinking.

This visit, my oncologist and I talked about a drug they are creating specifically for Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia. He shared a myriad of thoughts, ideas and wonderings that they are encountering in their work. He was apologetic as he told me they hadn’t yet completed the drug.

I chuckled inwardly and said, “Oh my! I’m not surprised at all that it’s super difficult and entails a boat load of hard work. It is one crazy, fabulous, brilliantly-complicated piece of creative thinking and doing!”

Like me, and all creatives, my doctor and his team employ many processes and strategies as we work to replace negativity with creativity. Here are a few I regularly employ.

  • Possibility thinking
    • Being open to the notion that there are many possibilities. Possibilities not yet conceived, as well as those imagined but not yet realized.
  • Lateral thinking
    • Looking at the problem/issue from all different angles, even those that might seem a bit ridiculous, implausible or less than useful.
  • Divergent thinking
    • Generating all sorts of ideas — ones that are outside, as well as inside, the box.
  • Making connections
    • Many times these connections are between seemingly unrelated things.
  • Conversation
  • Silence
  • Fermentation
    • LOL! I’m not sure anyone else refers to it as fermenting, but I enjoy the image. This is when I stop deliberate consideration of the problem or any possible solutions. Much like actual fermentation it mught look like nothing is happening. But, nothing could be farther from the truth. My unconcious mind is working to make sense of my ideas, and at some point, clarity and/or new ideas blubble up to my conscious mind, bursting forth as flashes of insight or revised ideas.
  • Questioning
    • I’m like a 5 year old! I ask lots of questions – especially, but not limited to, “How might we?” “What if?” “How come?” “How do you know?” and “Why not?”
  • Sleeping
  • Walking
    • My MA tutor Karl K. Jeffries — also quite a brainy dude — suggested a walk, whenever I was being overcome by “existential angst” thinking my research and effort was meaningless, and would never amount to anything. The stepping away and moving — especially walking outside — was always valuable.
  • Deep sighs of relief
    • Uri Alon — yet another brainy guy in my universe — talks about deep sighs of relief in his systems biology lectures. In a relaxed state he says “we tend to be more curious, playful … it’s good for learning.” Uri states there is actually a feedback loop between the relaxed state and breathing. We breathe more deeply when we are relaxed, and we can induce that more relaxed state by breathing deeply  — by taking, as he explains “deep sighs of relief.” Try it, it actually works! I use deep sighs of relief regularly with myself and my Kindergarten students. Depending on the vigor of your exhale, it can be very funny!
  • Looking deeply
    • This deep looking sometimes involves research, but often is simply prolonged purposeful staring at my ideas and thoughts.
  • Openness to the new, surprising, and unexpected.
  • Risk taking
    • Sometimes all of the above is the risk taking endeavor, sometimes the risk is about the action, sometimes about the product.
  • Critical Thinking and evaluation
    • Having done all these things and more, I then need to think critically and see if my ideas, products or processes are actually useful.
  • Perseverance
    • It’s super important to continue — even when it is tough, frustrating, and we’re deep in the cloud. Rethinking, starting the process all over again, remaining open, hopeful and determined are essential if we are to replace negativity with creativity.

I’m going to keep at it in my life and my work. I have no doubt the Dana-Farber people will too. My fingers are crossed they will succeed in creating a drug for WM treatment sooner rather than later — successfully erasing a bit more negativity in the world.

How about you?

What will you do?

I hope you’ll give it a go.

Replace negativity with creativity!

I believe in you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes crack me up! I was reminded of them when I saw the documentary film Dear Mr. Watterson by Joel Schroeder. (http://www.dearmrwatterson.com/DMW/dearmrwatterson.html)

I think Bill Watterson and his characters are quite creative, so I thought I’d share a strip that cracks me up as a teacher (and a student!). It’s published in There’s Treasure Everywhere – one of many Calvin and Hobbes books I own and enjoy. Even the title is fab!

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Ok, now, before other teachers (or creativity researchers) crank and kvetch that Calvin isn’t REALLY being creative because his innovation isn’t useful in this application, let me say I get it! I understand that definition of creativity, but I LOVE Calvin’s possibility thinking (Anna Craft), his notion of loopholes, and his desire to use them. That sense of possibility, of playfulness, of seeing and using loopholes, of reckless abandon, of seeing and creating the new – that is important and useful!

Do I think Calvin needs to learn a bit of prudence? Yes, of course — though it would make his character much less amusing — but prudence cannot come at the cost of possibility thinking or illumination.

Illumination – that AHA! moment — and evaluation (prudence) — are two distinctly different things. Both are valuable and both must be given encouragement, thought, space and time. And, both must be celebrated!

So, one of my goals as a teacher is to encourage creativity, possibility noticing and thinking, dreaming, playfulness, and risk taking, while also teaching, and encouraging evaluation.

Oh, and I also hope to be open to those times when my question actually asks to be interpreted creatively! Cause really, read the question before Calvin once more. Didn’t he do what was asked? Hmmm ….