Revision

He bounced on the board, testing its resilience. I moved closer, since any time that the children begin building with the boards there is the need for a more experienced voice to head off any disasters that may lead to injury.

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After he bounced on it several times, he decided to create a diving board and began to move the board and stumps around. I moved a little closer to the action but still managed to keep far enough away to not get in the way of the serious building in progress.

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He moved the pieces around and then stood on the board, testing it out. Then he would get off and move things around again, then get back on and test it out again. A couple of other children came around and asked him what he was building, but none stuck around to help him during this part of his creating.

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One end of the board was tied to the end of another board, and the jump rope that held them both together was looped around the fence. It added a little bit of stability to the structure he was building, but as he moved the pieces around it also affected the tension on the rope. He took note of this with every adjustment and at one point moved to adjust the rope itself.

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I was impressed with his dedication to constant revision, fixing things one way or another, trying different methods to see what would work and how it would turn out. After all, isn’t that what we do throughout our lives? If things aren’t working we make adjustments and work to make it better. Sometimes we try something new just to see how it will turn out. Revision is just a part of life – of problem-solving to make things better or different. As I watched this boy make constant revisions to the placement of the board and all of the pieces, I admired his tenacity. He never stopped, and eventually he moved on to making something so completely different from what he had started with.

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At this point I was standing very close by because the potential for an accident was greater, but I was still staying out of the play. I had made a few suggestions and even told him outright at one time that he couldn’t do something, but for the most part I stayed out of his way.

And isn’t that what we all need? Space to revise and to discover for ourselves what we need in order get through life?

Meditation

I’ve been practicing meditation on and off (mostly off) for the last year. In the past few weeks I have tried to make it a more permanent part of my routine. I am attracted by its claims to help increase focus and bring some stability of emotion to the day. And it does. On the days when I do my yoga and meditation I feel less impulsive when it comes to acting on emotion – something that is important when working with children. I have to have patience and the ability to think through my reactions before reacting. Meditation has helped me with that.

Meditation is not easy. Sitting by yourself in a room with your eyes closed for even five minutes is difficult, especially when you have no idea what in the world you are supposed to be doing for that five minutes, because we always have to be doing something, right? We always have to be showing in some way that we are being productive. At least, that is how I have felt. But what is the quality of our productivity?

I have been in the process of writing a book. I would call it a grueling process, but so far the only grueling part about it is my inability to truly focus on what I am doing. I’ll write a little, then pick up my phone and check Facebook. Write a little more and pick up my phone and play some silly game. Write a little more… The process goes on and on. Sometimes I have wonderful productive moments when I am in flow and nothing else matters, but these sessions aren’t as common as I would like them to be. Meditation has helped me be more focused on the process of writing the book and less focused on checking to see if anything new is happening on Facebook since I checked five minutes ago. It helps me develop the ability to let go of my wonder about what is going on in the Internet realm and focus on what is truly important to me – this book.

It is amazing to me just how scattered our attention spans truly are, and how easily we get sidetracked by the most mundane things, but every story that I’ve heard from people who meditate says that meditation helps them cut back on all the noise. Just today when I was meditating, I was able to let go of my wonder about how much time I had left in the meditation! This is a huge stumbling block for me because every time I open my eyes to see how much time there is, it breaks the concentration and that inner “looking”, all because of a clock. The trick is to learn how to push that worry away and focus on something else – breathing or a mantra or whatever. And that is a hard thing to do, but meditation is a practice of learning how to do it.

What We Do With Free Time

In the roughly one-third of the day that is free of obligations, in their precious ‘leisure’ time, most people in fact seem to use their minds as little as possible. The largest part of free time – almost half of it for American adults – is spent in front of the television set. The plots and characters of the popular shows are so repetitive that although watching TV required the processing of visual images, very little else in the way of memory, thinking, or volition is required. Not surprisingly, people report some of the lowest levels of concentration, use of skills, clarity of thought, and feelings of potency when watching television…the information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the content and quality of life.

-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychologybof Optimal Experience

Happiness and Flow

I’ve been thinking a lot today about happiness because of a book that I got yesterday from the bookstore. The book is Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, a psychologist who has spent years studying creativity. I had bought this book before but it hadn’t really done much for me so I sold it at the local used book store. Lately it has been on my mind, so when I saw it at the bookstore last night I bought this copy. This time it is really captivating my interest, especially since flow is such a powerful thing in my life. Flow is the term used to define the phenomenon of perfect focus – when you are so focused on an activity that time doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except the activity that you are doing. I know from my own personal life that flow is an exhilarating experience, one that I look forward to with anticipation and remember fondly when it is over. It is the feeling that motivates me to keep going when I feel like giving up on a project that I have been working so hard on.

One of the things that I have been trying to do is figure out how to bring the phenomenon of flow into the classroom. Children would greatly benefit from flow, and I feel that they probably experience it more than we do as adults. When we are adults we are busy doing all of those things that are expected of us, and not necessarily those things that we want to do. Experiences that involve flow are experiences that are personally satisfying to us, those activities that we are loathe to stop doing in order to do something else. How many times have children told us that they don’t want to clean up, that they want to keep playing? Is that flow? Do they get so involved in their own activities that time seems to stand still and nothing else is important? Probably. Children may experience flow a lot, especially those that are given the opportunity to choose their own work rather than being told what to do all day.

Maria Montessori developed the Theory of Concentrated Attention when she was teaching because she noticed a similar phenomenon. She noticed that when children were involved in a task that was challenging – but not too challenging – it was almost as if they blocked out the world around them and they were completely consumed by the task that they were working on. Montessori judged all of the materials that she used by this phenomenon: if the material led children to this concentrated attention, then it was kept in the classroom. If it didn’t, then it didn’t stay. I have tried to use this same method to determine what types of materials should be present in the classroom. Creating an atmosphere that is conducive to concentrated attention and flow isn’t necessarily hard, but it means that there will be a lot more loose parts in the classroom and not so many manufactured toys. It means that children have more choice, as well.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is Mihaly’s assertion that creating a life where flow is more present creates feelings of happiness and productivity. I haven’t read all of the book yet; this is simply his assertion in the first chapter. He says that in order for us to feel that our lives are meaningful, we need to feel that we are in control of our lives. But he isn’t talking about the material aspects of life. He is talking about the mental aspects of life – our mindset and how we view our place in the world.

So far it looks like it is going to be a great read, and I hope to share more of my insights as I continue reading the book.

The Art of Noticing

She was standing by the slide. She put one foot on the rim of the slide and then the other, taking care to balance so that she wouldn’t fall. Then she looked at me.

“I see you balancing,” I said.

She hopped down onto the slide, and then put her feet up on the next rim. And then looked at me again.

“I saw you hop down. And I see you balancing again,” I said.

She hopped down onto the second slide, and then put her feet on the final ledge. After a second of balancing, she jumped down onto the ground and then looked at me.

“I saw you jump down,” I said. “That was a big jump.”

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She ran around the slide and climbed up on the rim again. She kept looking at me when she repeated an action and I kept telling her what I saw. At one point a boy tried to join in her game. “Let’s do this!” he said. “No,” she said. “I’m hopscotching.” I took note of her verbiage and used it the next time she looked at me. “That was a big hopscotch!”I said when she jumped down.

There was an amazing thing happening as I continued telling the girl what I saw her doing. She smiled and she seemed to become more confident in her actions. She also became more careful in her actions, as she discovered that the boots that she was wearing were slippery against the surface of the slide. Each time she slipped I noted that action as well, highlighting in my own way her need to be careful. I kept noting and acknowledging her actions for about ten minutes, until she became tired of the game.

Later in the day I noticed her acting more open towards me. She has always acted shy around me, and sometimes has actively ignored me in favor of other teachers in the room. It has been hard to develop a relationship with her because she has been so cautious towards me that it almost comes across as hostility. But after I actively noticed what she was doing and acknowledged her actions for an extended period of time, the cautiousness seemed to start to melt away. She started talking to me more, and when she looked at me a light danced in her eyes that I hadn’t seen when she looked at me before.

Sometimes all it takes to develop a relationship is to notice what the other person is doing and acknowledge it. It is almost like a support that the other person can use to grow and expand. And it lets them know that you see them. Sometimes that is all that children need – to know that you see them.

The Flow of the Project

I’ve been doing some form of project work with my classes for the last two or three years. It hasn’t been quite as structured as I’m learning to do project work because I didn’t have as much knowledge about it, but it has been there, based on what I learned through the reading that I did do. As I work in a center that is more focused on providing opportunities for project work as an educational philosophy, I grow to appreciate the flow of the project and of the day. There are times when the teacher has to facilitate a discussion, or plan an activity, or devise an addition to a center to enhance play. And then there are times when the teacher needs to just stand back and watch it all unfold.

I have long been a proponent of observation as a key – THE key – to high-quality teaching. There is no way to know what the class is interested in without observation. There is no way to know what the children are learning from discussions without observing them as they play to see what aspects of the discussion they are carrying with them and using. There is no way to know what direction to take the project without watching observing to see what the children are wondering or what misconceptions they show through their play. There is no way to truly understand the hearts of the children in the classroom without observing them.

Observation is so important, and taking the time to observe actions, words, and interactions is the key to being able to figure out what truly needs to be taught. Academic knowledge is wonderful and it has its place in my classroom, but I like to think of myself as a teacher of life. In order to teach about life, I have to clue myself in to the lives of the children in my care. I can’t do that by standing in front of them spouting out facts and then viewing their play time as a time for me to get some of my busy work done. I am just as involved in their play as they are, but I am noticing, noting, planning, questioning, and documenting. I am finding ways to help their learning come alive. Taking time to be still and let the children show me their lives is an essential part of the flow of the project.

Connecting With Myself

For eight years I have chased down all of the knowledge that I could about my chosen field: early childhood education. I have an impressive library of education themed books, some of which I haven’t even cracked open yet. I also have a huge Amazon wish list of even more books that I would like to own. To me, knowledge makes the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher. I have used my classroom as a way to try out ideas and find out what works and what doesn’t, and I have counted myself lucky that I have worked in environments that celebrated that rather than tried to stifle it. And I have used this blog as a place to chronicle the journey as I have gone through many different phases in my teaching career.

Through most of these years the pace I had set for myself was frantic: I was constantly stressed out and worried about doing well, learning enough. I even used my vacation a few years ago to go to a conference. I wouldn’t trade the experience of that conference for anything in the world, but as I sit here today and look at all of that hectic energy I have to ask myself, “How did I do all of that? And more importantly, why?” Because just in the past month my demeanor has become a lot calmer. I still have all of the books, and the desire for knowledge is still strong. But the frantic pace is gone. The desire for the frantic pace is gone. At least for now.

I remember when school would let out for the semester and I would try to dive back into the independent research that I had been doing. It never worked. It seemed like my mind needed a little bit of down-time from the craziness that was school before it could focus on anything else. I learned to take that time to catch up on some shows that I hadn’t seen in a while, or catch up on my house cleaning, or play some video games that I hadn’t had time for. After a month or so my brain would be ready to tackle the books and the theories and the blogging and the frantic out-of-school activities that I had for myself.

I haven’t been in school since May, and I left the job that was causing me all sorts of stress in September. In October I took the first real vacation that I’ve had in years – I didn’t do any work at all during that vacation. I had planned to do some work, but all I really needed was the down time. My long Thanksgiving weekend was spent playing some mindless singing monster game that my daughter wanted me to get into with her, along with some other video games. I read some books, but not the technical, early childhood based books that I have glutted myself on for so long. I’ve spent a lot of time connecting with myself. Teaching can leave you feeling so stressed out because you are constantly taking care of others. There have been some days when I have threatened to change my name because I have been so tired of hearing it when children need something from me! I have tried to reconnect with me and feel myself here. For so long I have felt like just a brain – that may sound funny, but when your primary purpose is to educate yourself and gain knowledge, it can feel like the only part of you that matters is your brain. You forget that you are a person and you have other needs and wants and hopes and dreams that may exist outside of the classroom or the books on your bookshelf.

I thought that when I got my degree things would change. I thought I would have a little more credibility in the field and be taken seriously as a teacher. I was wrong. The degree has turned out to be just another piece of paper, and that fact has made it hard for me to justify going back to school to get a higher degree. Especially since I have all of this knowledge built up from all of my own work that I have been doing. Credibility comes from action, not from a piece of paper. When I take myself seriously, I am taken seriously as a teacher. I have to recognize that the education that I received is for myself and not for everyone around me. And I will continue to educate myself, but because I am recognizing that my education is for me and not for everyone else I can choose what I want to educate myself about. I can take charge of my own education.

But enough about education and school. This post is about connecting with myself and recognizing that I am more than just the brain that I have been filling with knowledge. It is time for me to reconnect with myself first of all, and all of the things out there that I want to learn about. There is an entire world out there to explore, and only one life to explore it in.

In my last post I talked a lot about values and defining what your values are. The last time I sat down and defined my values it was for my classroom. I defined my purpose as Exploring Natural Curiosity, but that purpose wasn’t for me; it was for the children that I had in the class. I am naturally curious about a lot of things, and I think that we all are. Throughout our lives we tend to say, “I want to do x, y, and z,” but then we never actually go out and do it. We get caught up in jobs and life and that dream passes us by. And then we grow old and wish that we had done those things that we said that we wanted to do. It is time to reconnect with our selves and the passion that lives within us for life.

Connect With Your Values

Values are beliefs about life that people hold. These beliefs cause people to act certain ways consistently. The values that you hold affect your teaching style, as well as how you interact with students. Identifying your values can help you focus your energy and your passion. Creating focus can help you illuminate goals that you want to pursue for your classroom and get you on the right track to obtaining those goals. When I defined my core values several years ago I found that creativity and natural curiosity were very important to me. My mission became finding ways to bring creativity out and allow for the children to satisfy their natural curiosity in safe, productive ways. Identifying and defining these values opened up a whole new world when it came to communicating with children and providing them with unique, creative learning opportunities.

So how about you? What are the values that are important to you? How do you define them?

The first step to defining your values is to define who you are at your best, so take a moment and think about who you are when you are at your best.

Now think of someone that you deeply respect. What are three qualities that this person possesses that you admire the most?

Now you are going to define your values. It takes about five core values to create a foundation for a great teaching practice. Pick your five from the list below:

Authenticity Happiness Balance
Harmony Caring Enthusiasm
Joyfulness Justice Flexibility
Cooperation Courtesy Honor
Beauty Commitment Health
Compassion Honesty Humor
Integrity Courage Reliability
Love Orderliness Creativity
Empathy Kindness Knowledge
Excellence Loyalty Openness
Fairness Faith Perseverance
Respect Family Peacefulness
Truthfulness Self-Discipline Tolerance
Freedom Friendship Responsibility
Security Generosity Genuineness
Service. Serenity Self-care
Gratitude Patience Trust
Prayerfulness Reverence Mercy
Self-Expression Gentleness Bravery
Discovery Energy Community
Community Connection Practicality
Individuality Fearlessness Imagination
Control Depth Encouragement
Challenge Calmness Serenity
Playfulness Change Strength
Gratitude

After choosing five core values, can you identify the one that is the most important to you?

When you have decided which value is the most important to you, it is time to make it you yours – you need to own it! Explore this value and what it has to offer. Find out what the definition of the word is, and look up quotes from people who have talked about your value. Doing this will help bring this value into greater focus in your mind, and will help make your path clear. After you have done some research into your value, write down what your value means to you and why it is important to you. Really take the time to identify with this core value, because this will become the foundation for the next section in the R.E.S.P.E.C.T.ful Classroom Management series.

Let Them Be

I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to some of the teachers that I worked with at my old school. We had a great time talking and catching up, since it has been about a month and a half since I have seen any of them. They are all doing well, and I was glad to hear about how their lives have been since I left.

One of the things that we talked about was different types of teachers. “There’s the paper pusher,” said one girl. “And there’s the nurturer. And the by-the-book teacher.”

I really didn’t want to sound like I was fishing, but I wanted to know. “Which one do you think I am? I am definitely not the by-the-book teacher. And I’m not the paper pusher. And I’ve never really felt all that nurturing.”

“Oh, you are definitely the nurturer,” they assured me. “You let the kids be kids. You let them explore and play and enjoy childhood. And you let them experience independence, even if you have to get on the case of other teachers to do it!” One of the girls told a story about how she had attempted to help a child carry a bowl of milk to the sink, saying that he was getting it all over the floor. “Then he will clean it up!” I had snapped at her. That was toward the end of my tenure there, and I was really stressed out at the time. But one of the things that I have always tried to teach children is that messes aren’t a bad thing. We clean them up and we move on. But if that boy hadn’t had the experience carrying his own bowl of milk, he wouldn’t have had that practice balancing objects or developing his hand-eye coordination. A few drops of milk spilled is worth the development of those precious skills.

I had just had a talk with a co-teacher at my new school about children and letting them be. She was worried about how the children in the class were going to be when they got to kindergarten, because they were acting crazy at the time. “You can’t worry about how these children are going to be when they are in kindergarten,” I told her. “They are three years old. Right now we have to let them be three years old. If we worry about how they are going to be in kindergarten, and worry about getting them ready for that, then we are taking away their chance to experience being three.”

I believe in letting children be. I believe that their time is now, and we have to let them be what they are right now. Does that mean that we should not teach them, with an eye toward the future? No, it doesn’t. We can teach them, but not to the detriment of where they are now.

This brings new light to the yoga wisdom ‘be present’. To me it says that we need to be aware of where we are right now. But as a teacher, it also says that we need to be aware of where the children are right now, and we need to remember that, no matter what they have coming in a month, six months, a year, or two years from now, we need to meet them at this present time and enjoy where they are right now, in this moment. We need to bring our present selves to enjoy their present selves.

It also brings to mind the call of emergent curriculum advocates to capitalize on the current interests of the child. Children are interested in exploring different aspects of life, and their interests can take your teaching in unexpected directions. I have always loved the spontaneity of emergent curriculum because I never know what we are going to be learning about. Learning winds down unanticipated roads, and I confess to learning many new things simply by doing research into the areas of interest that the children in my class exhibited. This is ‘being present’ at its finest: paying attention and observing the children to the point that their interests are plain to you, and then planning lessons based on what you have observed.

In both cases of being present, we are being respectful of who the child is and letting them be that person. I believe that teachers should have respect for the unique individuals that come into our classrooms, and should not try to force that uniqueness to conform to our ideas of what is ‘good’ or ‘right’. I am not saying that we should let children get away with hurting others or acting out-of-control. There are respectful ways to teach children how to respect others around them. What I am talking about is not forcing children to constantly do what we want them to do, but let them do and learn the things that they want. They will learn more that way, and they will grow to love learning. We need to let them explore, let them grow, and let them be who they are. And most of all, we need to be present with them through all of that.

Being Thankful

I have so much to be thankful for this year that I feel that I need to take the time to properly acknowledge those things. So I am going to use this post to do that!

1. I am thankful for my family. They have been so supportive through everything that I have done, from school to my business. Even through the crazy times, when I was completely stressed and over-worked, my family stood by me and supported me through it all.

2. I am thankful for my wonderful fiancé. Even though he is an integral part of #1, I feel that he deserves his own section of this post. He has made me happier than I have ever been in my life. His love and acceptance of me astounds me every day, and because of that love and acceptance I feel that I can accomplish anything.

3. I am thankful that I teach in a school that values the voice of the teachers. I feel that I have an integral role to play in my classroom now, and the autonomy to make decisions about how the classroom can best benefit the children.

4. I am thankful that the school that I teach at feels like home. The staff feels like family, and everyone is treated with respect. There is an emphasis on collaboration rather than competition, and everyone seems to truly want success for everyone in the center.

5. I am thankful that I have had the resources available to be the best teacher that I can be.

6. Of course, I am thankful for my readers! You take time to stop by and read my posts, and for that I am grateful. I am glad that you get enjoyment out of reading what I write, and I hope that it is beneficial to you somehow.

Of course, there is much more that I am thankful for, but right now I am mostly focused on the fact that my work environment is so much more different and exciting than it was a few months ago. I am happy in my job once again, and just a few weeks ago I was worried that I was so burnt out that I would never be happy teaching again. Luckily that is not the case, and as we celebrate the holidays I am increasingly thankful that I have been able to work in a place that makes me feel the joy that I have for teaching again.

So what are you thankful for this year?