But, as I sit here, surrounded by sweet cards, notes, paper bracelets, assorted treasures, and art, I’m reminded of the most important reasons — perhaps the only reasons — I teach.
Love Relationships Changing lives — theirs, mine, and hopefully, the world
By the way, at first I wondered why I was in a box. Then I realized, that’s how they saw me, and how they know me. At first my heart broke just a little, then I remembered my MA study. That’s how I always saw Karl, and it was no problem. He taught me tons, made me laugh, encouraged me, and helped me be the best me I could be — all through the magic of technology. Just like me and my students this year.
I agree, my fantabulous Kindergartners, I can’t wait to see you “in prsin”, either! But first, enjoy your summer.
Teaching — of every kind — is all about design thinking. Teaching remotely while your Kindergarten students are in school? That’s a whole other level of design thinking!
Much like when I teach in person, I’m currently doing whole class, half class, and small group teaching. I’ve been teaching number sense lessons during math in small groups. Depending on how you look at it, it’s been: … a lesson in patience … an example of how remarkable these Kindergartners are or … the perfect illustration that design thinking is an essential element of teaching.
Take this week as an example. I wanted the mathematicians to join me in some math talks. They love to notice and share. So, it seemed like a great idea.
I populated a slide deck with some photos that allowed for all sorts of noticing. There’s tons of great photos online – just search for images for math talks. Or, make your own. You can group the items to encourage seeing in certain ways, or leave it completely free and see what they notice on their own.
I spent some time reflecting on the photos myself so I’d be prepared to join the conversation. My plan was to leave things very open. I hoped for something like this. … “I see shells and stones.” … “I see 4 small shells and 4 bigger shells.” … “Hey that’s 8 shells all together.” … “I see a cup with a tea bag in it.” … “I see a circle on the top of the mug and one on top of the glass. That’s 2 circles all together”
We noticed things. We did math. But, phew, it didn’t go as I hoped.
Other than math, here’s what happened. … My Kindergarten mathematicians were all over the place. (Note to self: it’s the last full week of school and their energy and excitement is, understandably, remarkably high.) … The technology didn’t work so well. Mathematicians were getting kicked off zoom. They couldn’t hear me, or I couldn’t hear them. … The other mathematicians and teachers in the room seemed quite loud to us on Zoom. … My patience, self awareness, and self regulation was quite low. … And, my quest for open ended discussion turned out to be a little too open ended.
So, I gathered my observations, thought about what my mathematicians and I, needed, re-considered the task and goals, and designed June Kindergarten Math Talk Iteration #2.
Day 2, iteration #2: Included: …. Fingers crossed for better wifi connection. … More patience from me. … More self awareness and self regulation for me. … More breathing for me and my mathematicians. … A request to colleagues to monitor the classroom volume level. … A new prompt – What MATH do you see?
We noticed things. We did math. And, things went a bit better.
The tech worked better. The class was quieter. I was calmer and happier — so were the Kindergarten mathematicians. But, they remained a bit distracted by the very technology that allows us to meet together. They adore writing on the screen and wanted to do it more — and it was tough to be patient and take turns. They love changing their names, and found it difficult to focus on math instead of surreptitiously changing their screen names.
Once again, I gathered my observations, reflected, pondered, and created the June Kindergarten Math Talk Iteration #3 — unless, of course, you count the many tiny changes I did on the fly. If you do, then consider this iteration #453.
Day 3, iteration #3 (#453) included: … Mathematicians come to group with whiteboard and marker. … I give mathematicians 2 minutes in the beginning of our session to change their names. Four of … us are now Miss James! … Same question – What math do you see? … Mathematicians take turns choosing a photo to examine. … Mathematician who chooses the photo, share her findings by writing on the screen. …. I stop share so other mathematicians can share their findings on their whiteboards. … Repeat for each mathematician.
We noticed things. We did math. We had fun. I didn’t have to do much classroom management.
I don’t have a day 4 or 5, but my mind is already iterating. I’m taking what worked, combining it in new ways, and being inspired to make changes that allow for remediation as well as enrichment. … Choose an image. Each mathematician finds and circles a particular quantity (2 eyes, 1 nose, … … etc). We all then use our whiteboards and various strategies to determine how many we have all … together. Then we share how we figured it out. … Same as above but I get to remove a quantity., or ask what is one more or one less. My mathematicians figure out the answer and share how they figured it out. … We choose a quantity and each mathematician shares a way they see it in the photo. … We all use the chat feature (I disable private chat) and they each write the quantity they see into … the chat box, but we don’t share it until we count to three, or to 10 by 2s, or to 20 by 5s.
Empathize. Define the problem. Ideate. Prototype. Test. Repeat/Iterate. It’s what we do as teachers. I love the d.school design thinking bootleg deck. It keeps me thinking, and reminds me of the remarkably deep design thinking I engage in as I teach.
I’m teaching again! I’m super excited to be back, getting to know the girls, and doing my thing.
One big wrench in the works — or one gigantic and glorious opportunity for new thinking and wonderful possibilities, depending how you look at it — is that I’m teaching remotely. Most of my class is back in school, and one student continues to learn remotely.
It’s a lot of work to teach and develop relationships in person. Now I’m doing that remotely. Can you say “PHEW!”
This week I got to teach art. I could cry with happiness!
And, speaking of crying, I did cry — big ugly crying — as my colleague and I tried to work out the logistics for the art class. We went through many possible iterations, and each one seemed to have a reason it might not, or would not, work. Thank goodness, my colleague was super understanding and encouraging. She told me I was doing a great job and it was only the second day back in school. She assured me we would work it out. and it would be awesome. I decided to believe her, and signed off for a much needed moment and cup of tea.
Once I was settled and able to agree — It is only the second day. I am a fantabulous teacher. It is going to be alright, maybe even better than alright. — I was able to take a breath, and think creatively about what and how to teach. I settled on Hundertwasser.
First I considered how my image might be the large enough for them to see me, and the art I shared, while still allowing me to see all of them. A friend of mine signed on to a zoom call with me — along with her two daughters — to test out spotlighting and pinning. Pinning seemed to be the best choice.
Then I looked at my Hundertwasser books. What images did I have? Could I narrow them down to no more than 5? I wanted the Kindergarten artists to have time to notice, think, and wonder about the art, but I also wanted them to have plenty of time to create their own work, inspired by Hundertwasser.
What did I want them to know about Hundertwasser? I decided on these points:
Hundertwasser was curious and couragous. Hundertwasser did a lot of thinking and imagining. Hundertwasser’s ideas became artwork or buildings. Hundertwasser liked spirals, wavy lines, bricks and stones on his buildings, lollipop trees, and color. Hundertwasser changed his name when he became an artist.
I shared these images with the Kindergarten artists, and we dialogued about them.
Once they were familiar with Hundertwasser, I asked the Kindergarten artists to use their sketchbooks to experiment with, and practice, the various elements. They worked with determination, focus, imagination, courage, and joy. They used the classroom document camera to show their sketches to me. I shared what I noticed, thought, and wondered. I did my best to encourage their artistic freedom and decisions making, while also highlighting the elements we were using from Hundertwasser’s art.
I was surprised how well we were able to interact with one another. Even though we were miles away from one another, they seemed to be able to feel my love, respect, awe, and joy. I worked hard to express it through my emotions, language, and very self. I was very intentional with my words, and actions, so as to be able to express what I was feeling, thinking, and believing about them.
Before the second Hundertwasser inspired class, I again thought deeply about what I would present, as well as what we would discuss. The time and zoom constraints were a blessing — an annoying blessing but a blessing none-the-less. The constraints forced me to be very clear about my purpose and plan.
The Kindergarten artists and I reviewed the elements together, and re-examined the images so they were fresh in our minds. I shared a bit of my thinking as an artist. “I do lots of thinking – and often move my head or step back in order to see my art work in new ways.” I told them Hundertwasser was very thoughtful as well. I assured them that they could do great art thinking, and make great artistic decisions, too! I showed them a few watercolor tricks – using your dry brush as an eraser of sorts, and mixing colors on the page rather than a palette.
Finally I reminded them about Hundertwasser changing his name when he became an artist. Since we are all artists in Kindergarten I suggested we all change our names for this piece of art. I told them some names I was considering, and remarked that Hundertwasser changed his name to something that had meaning to him (peace and water).
After reviewing the steps – pencil first, sharpie marker next, then colored pencils if wanted, and and finally watercolor — I set them free.
I decided to work on my own art while they worked on theirs. I resisted the urge to micromanage them, but instead chose to trust them as artists. One of my colleagues asked if a teacher should see their work before they moved on with each step. Taking a deep breath, and willing myself to continue to trust those artists, I said wanting to be clear to her and the Kindergarten artists, “Nope. We don’t have to see it. They know what they have to do, and I trust them as artists. I’d love to see their work, but they don’t have to show it to me.”
My art was wonderfully interrupted by Kindergarten artists eager to share their work with me. Each time I would do what I did with their sketching. I would affirm their artistic decisions, express awe and joy, notice the elements they had included, and encourage them to think if they might add whatever was missing. But, if they pushed back that they were totally happy with their work, and it didn’t stray too far from the path we were walking together, I accepted their decision.
At the end of the class I heard a call “Ms. James, the artist known as Dog, would like to show you her work. And here is the work of the artist known as Creative Trees. Oh, and the artist known as Swirl, as well as the artist known as Creative Ruby, would also like to show you their work..”
I laughed out loud, and expressed my joy to these fantabulous Hundertwasser-inspired artists. Their work was amazing. Their name choices were spectacular.
I’m SO glad I took the risk and trusted the Kindergarten artists!
Their work didn’t turn out as I imagined it might when I picked Hundertwasser as our inspiration. But, that’s exactly as it should be! Their work turned out like a piece of Hundertwasser- inspired art — created by them, not by me.
Teaching is not an easy job. It’s a great one, but certainly not an easy one.
Each day of teaching is a mix of incredibly awesome moments — joy, discovery, laughter, learning, negotiating, helping others, finding problems, brainstorming possible solutions, experimenting, exploring, being inspired – as well as frustratingly annoying and energy sapping moments.
In each moment it’s possible for us to be our best selves. Possible, but not simple or easily done.
I’ve been experiencing some of those difficult moments lately. Painful, frustrating, make me want to quit kind of moments. And then — thankfully — I got an unexpected, and lovely reminder that I shouldn’t quit.
One of my girls ran back into the classroom after being dismissed, and handed this to me. “Here. This is for you.”
I love you too, my sweet, strong, and courageous girl.
This is why I work as hard as I do. This is why I am constantly learning, and why I always work to improve my practice. This is why I endure the angst and frustration.
I do it because I love these young humans. I do it so I am always prepared to help them – every time.
Thankfully, my mighty wee ones reach out and help me as well – every time.
Contrary to what people outside of education think, things don’t wind down as the year ends. Instead, they ramp up, and come dangerously close to spiraling out of control. Holding onto the tail of that spinning mass is exciting — and exhausting.
Each night I tell myself I’m going to bed by 9PM, and at 11 PM I’m still awake, working. When I close my computer and my eyes it seems like only minutes until my alarm announces 5AM.
It’s the end of the school year.
I’m tired. I’m sick with a cold. I’m coughing enough to make my head hurt. I have tons of assessments to catalogue, reports to write, forms to fill out, orders to make, and curriculum maps to tweak for next year. My classroom no longer has children in it, but it has lots of stuff in it. Stuff that all needs to be gone through and placed in its proper spot.
That brief rant may make you wonder why I teach.
Sometimes it makes me wonder, too!
Thank goodness, deep down, under the weariness, I know why I teach. Teaching is me. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. It brings me joy.
Even though I know teaching is my thing, still, it’s really nice when someone else notices and points it out to me. Especially in these moments of fatigue and big work it’s super helpful to be reminded I make a difference. I value each and every one of those comments. But, every once in a while, I’m blown away.
This is one of those times.
A few days ago I got this note in my mailbox.
Wow. Just, wow.
This is why I teach. I teach with that hope that I’ll touch hearts, minds, and spirits. I teach so I might spark a passion for learning. I teach so I can show each and every child that they are strong, rich, powerful, and important … foibles and all.
And, I teach because my students do the same for me.
I’m super grateful this 9th grader took the time to write to me.
I helped her see her worth and power. She helped me see mine.
My first Kindergartners are now 10th graders. Hard to believe, but true.
Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing one of them participate in the NJ Poetry Out Loud finals. She recited three poems. Each was filled with pauses, inflection, breath, emotion, and gestures, which drew me more deeply into the words and meaning of the poems.
My favorite was Undivided Attention by Taylor Mali. It’s a fun, and thought-provoking poem for an educator. An added sweetness was that I was introduced to it by my alumna!
If you’re unfamiliar with the poem, take a moment to go read it now. Especially if you’re an educator, read it — right now.
The whole thing is glorious. But, if you ask me, the most striking part is:
Let me teach like a Steinway, spinning slowly in April air, so almost-‐falling, so hinderingly dangling from the neck of the movers’ crane. So on the edge of losing everything.
As I listened to my alumna recite the poem, I imagined the educator asking permission of her administrators, coordinators, and colleagues to allow her teach in this fashion. As I listened, I heard her imploring others to share her vision.
Later that day I read the poem to myself, and then aloud to others. I heard it differently. I’m not completely sure why.
Perhaps I heard it differently because it was my own voice that spoke the words. Or, perhaps it was because Mali’s words had been floating in my brain since the morning, somehow becoming my own.
“Let me teach like the Steinway …so almost-‐falling, so hinderingly dangling … let me teach like the new snow, falling.”
The word I heard, with soft, encouraging, invitation was me. It felt like a quiet manifesto.
Much like the piano movers I need to move my personal Steinways. My Steinways are lessons, ideas, inspiration, motivation, classroom culture, design experiences, creativity, and much more. Similar to the movers in the poem, occasionally, my eye-popping, jaw-dropping, risky, awesomeness has to hang out the window. Scary, but also a huge blessing, because, hanging out the window, others can see it, engage with it, and be excited by it.
First snow, falling, is nothing new, and yet each time it falls it feels new. The snow beckons all who notice it to come and look with long interested looks. It reworks the view out the window. It offers the opportunity for play, and the necessity of work. And, when examined closely, it reveals the marvels of each unique flake. That is a profound way to teach.
Yes. Let me teach like that Steinway — big, brave, bold, and fantabulous. Let me teach like snow falling — offering play and work, changing views, and surprisingly breathtaking wonders.
I LOVE this. Even though I’ve read it several times, it still makes me shake my head. That’s exactly what I think and hope about my Kindergartners. They’re all creative, inventive, and fantabulous! My hope and intent is that they experience, learn, embrace, and live those truths, with me, and long after they’ve left me!
Another post said “Lemelson team members pride ourselves on ‘living the mission’ as creative problem solvers.” They tell the story of trying to rescue a lost phone, and document the process at the same time.
I laughed out loud as I read this story. This is my life as a Kindergarten teacher. Always trying to work with my girls to figure out ways to make things possible — all the while doing my best to snap photos.
And, as I think about it, this is my Kindergartners life too! They are living the mission as creative problem solvers as well! The other day I discovered two girls — bottoms up in the air, faces on the ground, arms reaching under a block cabinet — all the while talking furiously with one another. What was going on, you ask?
Someone had washed a yogurt container, and when they placed it in the ‘use for making’ basket, the container fell behind the cabinet. The girls could squeeze their arms under the cabinet, but they couldn’t reach the bottle. The flurry of conversation was about the blocks and other items they were trying out as tools to retrieve the container.
To add to their challenge, our classroom has art projects taped to the floor and the edge of the closest art project is about 18 inches from the edge of the block cabinet.
The block cabinet is on wheels, and a visiting teacher volunteered to move it. The girls rejected this simple solution because they didn’t want to risk harming the art project. It was fantabulous to watch their intentness, inventiveness, and collaboration as they worked to retrieve the container.
(This is just a small portion of their plan. I’ve put their thoughts in bullets form to make them easier to discuss here.)
Value creativity and embrace the potential rewards of risk-taking.
Inform and delight audiences and convey the enthusiasm and joy that are integral to the invention process
Encourage visitors to participate and see themselves as inventive
Push the limits of exhibition design to advance visitors’ curiosity and active learning
Our work has the potential to inspire millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide to view themselves as having inventive capacity and to build the skills and confidence needed to overcome barriers to innovation.
At the risk of repeating myself, I love these ideas, and they are a large part of my strategic plan as well. Perhaps it seems odd that a Kindergarten teacher would have some of the same strategic plans, hopes, visions, dreams, and goals, as the center of a major organization. But, if you think about it, it makes perfect sense, and seems to me, should be true of every educator.
Educators do remarkable work, with remarkable people — colleagues, admins, parents, and students. These constituents have limitless potential for imagining, thinking, creating, making, and impacting the world for good. Our work — informed and driven by our plans, hopes, visions and dreams — holds the possibility for profound and far-reaching impact. What we do influences those we interact with each day. This in turn influences every individual and problem they encounter, now, and in the future.
I’d love to tweak their ideas — making them more mine — and create a canvas of some sort for my learning space.
The reality of “the cloud” is super helpful to me as I think creatively, venture into new arenas, learn, create, and live. About 2 weeks ago I blogged about being a proud card carrying member of the Cloud Appreciation Society!
Remarkably I realized I didn’t think my students were card carrying members of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Crazy, right? I love the cloud. I know it’s helpful. I believe Uri when he says the cloud “stands guard at the boundarybetween the knownand the unknown.” I believe the cloud is a fundamental and essential part of learning.
WHY hadn’t I ever talked to my students about it?
I have no idea. But, I’ve changed all that!
The other day I shared the secret of the cloud with them! I drew a cloud on the board and we talked about clouds and fog. Then I told them there are a lot of times when learning is all about being in the cloud, and being brave enough to stay there – even though we can’t quite see where we are going. I shared that I am often in the cloud when I am learning new things. I said I’m even in the cloud sometimes when I’m preparing a lesson for them!
Then, I told them I believed in them so much I was going to throw them right into the middle of the cloud!
I told them I was going to ask them to do some math, and not just any math, but math that is even hard for some adults! It’s a math puzzle called the Tower of Hanoi. (You can play it here if you’d like to give it a go.)
I grabbed 3 blocks and a 3 square template, and explained the rules. My kids asked some great questions – showing me they were already thinking of ways to solve the puzzle.
I assured them they would all be able to figure it out. It might not be easy, but they could do it. If they got stuck they should just remember they were in the cloud – and that was GREAT! If they needed help to guide them a bit in the cloud they could talk with a teacher or a friend.
I challenged them to stay in the cloud. “If it’s hard, don’t fret. Stay in the cloud. Take a breath. Believe in yourself. Keep going. … If working with 3 blocks is easy, throw yourself back in the cloud by challenging yourself to do 4 blocks!”
It was FANTASTIC!!! It was hard for some of them. And the fact that it was hard, was frustrating and discombobulating to some who felt it shouldn’t have been hard.
I’m glad! That in itself is learning. Thinking is hard. Math is hard. But it’s also good, and possible, and fun … exhilarating even … as you struggle through the cloud.
We worked on the Towers for 3 days – reworking the ones we had figured out the day before, adding blocks and trying again. Each day we talked about the cloud. Each day I told them how spectacular it was to be in the cloud with them.
After our inaugural jump into the cloud, we each signed an “I love the cloud! I am a learning superhero!” sheet. On Friday, I presented each of them a laminated card (a reduced copy of their signed sheet) and welcomed them as “card carrying members” of the I love the Cloud Club. It was awesome.
One of the girls asked if she could make an announcement during closing circle on Friday. I said “Sure.”
Confident in her thoughts, but unsure what she would share, I listened attentively. I nearly melted as I heard her thoughts.
She extolled the greatness of being in the cloud, the joy of thinking you couldn’t do it, but then realizing you could.
My hands will soon be covered in paint – like hand in this photo. YAY! I cannot wait!
It is super important for me, as a person, and as an educator, to: get inspired, try new techniques, play, and make things. The whole process – anticipating, enjoying, searching, looking, researching, talking, trying, learning, failing, fretting and succeeding – teaches and touches me as a person and an educator.
The preparation is a time of excitement, joy and anticipation!
I relish the trip to the art store! Paper, paint, stencils, cutting tools, canvases, paint brushes invite me to explore, imagine and buy. I usually end up in line with much more than my original shopping list. If I’m lucky, my cashier is an artist. We kibitz over my choices, and share our passion and ideas. On my last visit, I discovered there is 300 pound watercolor paper! 300 lbs! The clerk said it is “Delicious!” (You do know I will soon be purchasing some, don’t you?)
I love scouring bookstores for art books or magazines. It’s a treasure hunt. If I’m lucky enough to find one or two that inspire me, I’m a happy girl! Just thinking about being creative makes me happy. It doesn’t bring me as much joy as actually creating, but it is pretty awesome.
And, of course, after all the prep, I love the doing! Surrounded by supplies. In the zone. Hands covered with paint. Mind buzzing. Spirit soaring.
But, occasionally, I notice less than positive emotions. Sometimes there is a vague sense of angst. Usually it’s when I’m faced with a technique that is new, outside my wheelhouse, or that doesn’t easily mesh with my usual sensibilities. It’s always somewhat surprising to notice the less than positive emotions. I love being creative and artistic, and I’m pretty talented. And yet, I still sometimes feel apprehension, the worry of not being good enough, or the fear of messing it up.
As I notice all my experiences, thoughts and feelings, my mind turn to my students. I want them to experience it all. The positive and the less than positive emotions. I want them to struggle, to think, to fail, to learn, to succeed. I even want them to experience the angst, and the truth that angst can be overcome.
Wondering how I might do that, I am considering these questions:
How might we facilitate anticipation, discovery and joy?
How might we participate in the excitement of the treasure hunt for ideas and/or supplies?
How might we provide inspiration?
How might we find the time to allow ourselves to savor the process?
How might we structure our time together, to enable more conversation, as artists, regarding our passion, our work and/or our materials?
How might we give each other the freedom to adapt a particular technique or project to better fit our own sensibilities?
How might we be more aware of thoughts/feelings of angst and fear?
How might we better support each other in angst and fear?
How might we continue to encourage belief/knowledge of ourselves as capable, awesome artists?
I’m not sure, but I’m wondering ….
My first draft of this blog post had a list of “How might I …?” questions. As I re-read my post, the I was in glaring opposition to the we of creative teams. Yes, I am the teacher, so, yes, much is up to me. But, we are a creative team – my kindergartners, my colleagues, and I – and it is better that I ask “How might we …?”
My students teach me, inspire me, problem solve with me, and often see things from an insightful prospective much different than mine. Inviting them into my musing will be beneficial for us all!
I am SUPER excited to share this article with you!
MindShift author, Deborah Kris, did a spectacular job. She asked thought provoking questions that encouraged me to continue to research mathematics and creativity, and to reflect again upon my beliefs and practice.
I loved immersing myself in the research and reflection. As I did, I came to believe even more deeply that creativity in thought and action increases the power and beauty of mathematics. I hope you enjoy the article, and that it enhances your thought and teaching practice.