Creating and Curating Their Own Creativity

We frequently visit our school art gallery. We go armed with sketch books and pencils — ready to sketch anything we can see from within the gallery. Sometimes this is art, sometimes each other, and sometimes things we notice through the windows.

Most days our conversation goes like this:

Them: “Miss James, can we take off our shoes?”

Me: “You may — as long as you understand if we have a fire drill you are going outside without your shoes.”

They always agree, and I always cross my fingers that we don’t have a fire drill! Typically, once their shoes are off, they stow them under a shelf in the gallery and happily get to work sketching.

On this particular visit, the removal of their socks and shoes fueled their imagination and provided a unique medium for their creativity.

As I walked about the gallery. I came upon this …

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Returning a few moments later, I found this …

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And, finally, a bit later, this …

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I love their creativity, collaboration and inclusion. Did you notice the number of shoes and socks increased in each photo? Each time someone asked to join, the original artists expanded their work to include their friends.

In the last photo, they are working together to collect the signatures of all the artists who contributed to their “double-flower art.”

I love that the freedom I gave them — to take off their shoes and wander the gallery in bare feet  — resulted in such beautiful, examples of their powerful and joy-filled agency and creativity! I never cease to be amazed how such simple things — though profound when you think about it — as time, space, freedom, trust, resources (bare feet, socks and shoes, pencils and sketch books) and agency, allow these young creatives to do their thing.

They are fantabulous.

 

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Little Tweaks, Big Results

Innovation is not about the stuff; It is a way of

Our number of the day routine includes writing, spelling, and making a given number. We build math-muscle as we explain our thinking to each other – answering questions raised by our partner.

I love math and want my students to love it, too! Hoping to infuse a bit of passion into their routine, I tweaked the process last Friday.

Me: “Pick a number, over 20, and complete your number of the day booklet.”

Them: (with equal amounts incredulity and excitement): “Any number?”

Me: “As long as it’s greater than 20.”

Some jumped head-first into the cloud – challenging themselves more than I might have challenged them. They worked with excitement – fending off any negative feelings – as we sprawled on the carpet, and navigated the cloud together.  

Others chose safer numbers. But, they too were stretched and challenged as they wondered, discussed and devised methods to show numbers greater than 20 given only 2 ten frames and blank space.

At first glance perhaps it seems like a very small innovation. Choice. But, the result was stupendous. Trust, freedom, choice, joy, thinking, learning and growth experienced by all. What could be better?

My thinking cap is on, imagining ways to continue to tweak and innovate within our routines!

Firetrucks Fuel Thinking!

My Kindergartners visit the local firehouse each fall. Prior to going, we do a bit of research, share knowledge, wonder, ask questions, and make our own fire trucks!

This year we made our trucks out of shoe boxes. Using the boxes was super fun because by their very nature, the boxes opened up new avenues of creativity! The cardboard offered structure and strength, but also yielded to scissors, serrated knives, and hole punchers. Glue, paste, paint, crayons, tape and markers all adhered to the boxes with some ease. And, spectacularly,  the lids – connected or free – invited the kids to engage with the outside AND the inside of their truck.

Once we began creating, I allowed my students a great amount of freedom. I didn’t do much directing, but instead offered myself as a resource. Sometimes they borrowed my hands to hold things, my strength to cut or hole punch, or my brain for some brainstorming and collaborative problem solving.

I did my best to allow the ideas and suggestions to come from them. In this way, they are able to take ownership, learn about themselves, and really show me (and themselves) what they are able to do, what they know, and how they think.

Making the firetrucks was a fun and fascinating process. The creations displayed a depth of knowledge and understanding. The students displayed an eye for detail and a willingness to work to achieve their vision.

Take a look at this firefighter.

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She is decked out in firefighting gear, and most amazingly, she is in a seat with back bracing AND a working seat belt!

Some students engaged deeply with the open-ended part of the creative process, but not as deeply with the critical thinking part of the creative process. Their trucks were filled with a plethora of beautiful creations that didn’t immediately suggest a firetruck.

To encourage the critical thinking piece, our creative process includes adding labels, and giving tours of their truck. During the tour we look at what they’ve made, and talk about what the firefighters might still need.

Take a look at this truck. During the tour, the student told me these things were “decorations.”

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Decorations? Hmmm. Where did I take that? I didn’t want to belittle her creative work, but I did want her to remember the goal, and work towards it. So, I decided to embrace every piece of her creation, and push her towards figuring out what each thing might be on a firetruck. What do the firefighters need? How could her creations fill those needs.

My approach invited her to look at her own work with new eyes. It was a form of possibility thinking. She had to move beyond what each item was. She had to think about what she knew firefighters need. Then she had to look at each “decoration” and consider what it might be. She did an awesome job.

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Decorations turned into motors, sirens, buckets, hoses and windows!

I learned a lot from that encounter. I was affirmed in my choice to trust myself, my student, the creative process, and possibility thinking.

There is such awesomeness and power in each one of us – especially when we trust and engage in creativity and possibility thinking.

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.

Memories of Clementines

Driving to a late day meeting, I unzip my lovely new cooler bag, and fish around for this …

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Before I even see it, I imagine peeling it, and think of where I might leave the peelings. In my mind’s eye (or is it nose? lol) I can already smell the beautiful, citrus fragrance. I can’t wait to experience it as it fills my car with lusciousness!

At that moment my mind returned to this fabulous little hand …

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This hand belongs to one of my kindergarteners from last year. I loved the exchange we had, so I asked if I could photograph her hand with the peel in it. She looked quizzically at me when I asked, but agreed.

“I love your idea,” I explained, “and I want to write about it on my blog! I never thought of it as a possibility, and I want to share it with others.” She smiled a soft, small smile, and agreed.

Finally, I am sharing.

When she came to me her eyes were bright.

She said “Look, Miss James!”

I looked at her hand, and then back to her face for an explanation.

She responded, “I’m going to use it in our supermarket build!”

(We visit a supermarket, create field guides, and then re-create the market in our classroom with blocks and various other items.)

I reply, “You are? What will you do with it?”

She said, “I’m going to use it to add an orange smell to my paper oranges. You know, like a scratch and sniff!”

I burst out laughing, and with a huge smile say “WOW! That is fantabulous!!! What a great, creative idea! I never thought of that! Thanks for sharing your idea with me!”

Amazing, right? I wondered why she was showing me a clementine peel. It didn’t immediately come to mind that the small piece of peel could be used so creatively.

Often, my students ideas are large, sometimes even bigger than mine. I enjoy their exuberance, and their big ideas. And, I trust that my support, my openness and positivity, and my joy in their awesomeness, encourages them to adopt, trust and live their big ideas!

Courage, Challenge, Learning and Excellence

“Although my students are only five or six years old, I work hard to establish egalitarian, collaborative relationships with them. I am interested in their thoughts and always respond to their questions of “Can I tell you something?” with “Yes, please tell me something!” I value their stories as a way to get to know them, and I really listen to them as they share. I sit or kneel to speak with them so I am not so far above them, and I often sit on the floor with them when I teach them. This helps us develop a relationship of trust, and ultimately empowers courage, challenge, learning and excellence.” (Managing the Classroom for Creativity)

When I wrote that for the Creative Education Special Issue, I was thinking of the courage, challenge, learning, and excellence that my students develop and live in our classroom.

As I re-read the section now, I still believe my students benefit from our collegiality. But, I am fascinated by the realization of how much our relationship of collegiality and trust impacts me as well. It helps me to be courageous and more open to challenge, and it encourages and enables me to develop deeper learning, and greater excellence!

This became very clear to me the other day. I joined a kindergarten alum and her family (she just finished first grade) for an afternoon at Turtle Back Zoo. Part of our day included participating in the Treetop Adventure.  The course is about 15-20 feet in the air. Not too high unless you are afraid of heights – which I am!

My alum and I hit the course together. We chatted with each other as we waited for our turn on the various elements. We watched others and commented on things they did well, and the things they might do better. We talked about being a little afraid. I told her I was afraid of heights. She assured me it wasn’t that high!

We decided I would take the lead for the first half of the course. I cheered her on as she worked each piece of the course, and offered suggestions the few times she seemed a bit stuck.

The second half of the course, my alum went first. This section was a little higher and a little more challenging. Nothing terrible, but I was beginning to feel fatigued from my fear of heights and my effort to overcome it. I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth – just like I tell my kindergarteners to do when they need to relax and get their bodies to know all is well. As I paused at one challenge — to take one of those calming, strengthening breaths, and decide how I would step — I heard the most awesome thing …

“You can do it, Miss James!!!”

It was my alum yelling to me, “You can do it, Miss James!!” 

How fantastic is that?!?!?

I’m not sure if she was completely confident in my ability to do it. I am sure she was completely confident in herself, and in our relationship.

Our relationship based on respect, trust, collegiality, and love, let her know it was appropriate for her to encourage me. And, our relationship assured her it would make a difference to me.

And it did! It helped me! Her egalitarian and collaborative relationship with me, empowered and enabled me to embrace “courage, challenge, learning and excellence!”

It wasn’t just that day. It happens in the classroom too.  But there, on the ropes course, it was very clear.

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Here we are, on the carousel together. I love the photo for the memory, and the symbolism.

May I always have a beautiful kindergartener, or kindergarten alum, by my side.

 

RESOURCES:

James, M. (2015) Managing the Classroom for Creativity. Creative Education, 6, 1032-1043. doi: 10.4236/ce.2015.610102.

 

 

 

Courageous Creativity

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Sometimes we have to show a little courage in order to encourage it in our students!

Our math coordinator felt, I think, a little left out of my Kindergarten classroom. It is a lovely space, rich in the opportunity to do math, but not so rich in the “in your face, obvious, look this is math” kind of way! I love math, yes, for real, I really do. So I thought “Let’s go all out!”

I pulled out two canvases. They were beautiful! Big, thick, pristine, white canvases. I was excited to make some sort of creative, statement piece. Something that was fabulous artistically and aesthetically, and actually said something about math.

You may recall, I’m sometimes a bit of a chicken when it comes to the big, blank, white page! And, let me remind you, this was not a only big, blank and white, it was a canvas, and not a cheap one at that. But I had no time for timidity! I had two days to create two canvases. Eeek!

I flipped through a couple mixed media art books, and came upon many ideas I thought I could use – putting paint on the canvas with an old credit or gift card, creating layers with stencils and cut paper – and perhaps most importantly, not being afraid of the process.

A deadline is not always helpful when you are being creative, but this time, it was incredibly helpful. I didn’t have time to entertain my fear of the blank page, or the possibility of destroying the canvas. I had to trust the process, the colors and me, and just do it! So I did.

It was super fun and super freeing. Hopefully it will inspire parents and students to wonder, investigate, think, share, strategize, question, problem solve, reason, make mistakes, try again and learn … even if they are feeling a bit trepidatious!

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