Going Back to School

I’m becoming excited about my place again, excited about what I am learning and doing. It has been a while since that happened, but I think that a pretty big change in direction has helped with that.

I decided to go back to school. A mentor has been suggesting it for a while, but I have brushed it off as unnecessary, since I have had the business and all. But the business isn’t cutting it, and it hasn’t been going the way that I intended for it to, so it is time to continue on my own personal journey so that I can figure out where the business needs to go. I have a really awesome idea where it should go, but I need time to get it there. And schooling. I think learning more will be a good thing. It usually is. After my mentor mentioned it and I scoffed at it (I actually filled out the application but didn’t follow up with my transcripts), I spoke to another woman who has had years and years of experience in the early childhood community as a consultant. I asked her how she came to be doing what she has done, and one of the major things that she mentioned was schooling. So apparently necessity in this field. I thought I could be one of those people that can drop out of college and make their mark. And in a lot of fields you can. But not this one. That may seem funny to some people who are reading this – that I actually thought that. But when you look at the innovators of this age, the Steve Jobs and the Mark Zuckerbergs, those are some pretty big role models who did not need to complete college to get where they are today. I look at the people I admire in the business world and they are saying and doing the same thing. But this isn’t the business world. This is the education world. Its a little bit different and I am working really hard to accept that. I love to learn, but I hate classrooms. I know that as I get farther along in this journey that will probably get better, and luckily there are more online learning programs now than there ever have been. That helps.

So I’m packing up the business for a while and going back to school. It is actually almost a relief. It will give me more time to post on here, I know that. I’ve missed it here.

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The Cult of Personality

In an effort to really understand what has been going on with me and my crazy mind-swings, I have been doing some research into areas that I believe will help me understand myself. I am reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, to be followed closely by Social Intelligence by the same author. I got these books originally as research for a book that I have been working on about conflict resolution (not the one that I was excerpting on this blog; that one has been shelved for now). Emotional Intelligence has been really fascinating so far, but I put it down for a few days to research something else that I have been curious about: personality.

I took a personality test years ago. It defined me as INTP. I didn’t know too much about that except that it means that I am definitely introverted. This past weekend I have been reading more into personality tests, what they measure, and what they mean. Did you know that, out of all of the personalities out there, INTP is the rarest? And from what I have read, it is amazing that I really get along with anyone at all since I live in my head so much. That’s an INTP for you.

I have a lot to learn about this whole personality thing, and it may be something that I read some more about. I had my fiance take the personality test so that I could see not only what his personality type is, but how our personalities interact together. I know, I can see how our personalities interact together on a daily basis, but one of the hallmarks of our relationship is that we don’t fight very much, and not over some of the things that other couples fight about. I was wondering if I could figure out why that is by examining our personality profiles side by side to see how our personalities work together. Also, it might be helpful with children in the classroom, too, to be able to see who has what personality and how we can work to make the classroom as comfortable for those personalities as possible. I think it will help me when I am dealing with my extroverted child, as well. She is about as extroverted as I am introverted, and I’m pretty introverted. That has already made for some interesting differences of opinion as far as how we should spend our time, among other things. There are many useful applications of this knowledge, and I can’t wait to share what I learn about it. And about emotional and social intelligence, as well.

What Am I Doing Here?

So a few months ago I told you that I was not going to be posting on this blog anymore; I was moving to a new website named after my company, Project: Preschool. My intent was to export this blog to that website and keep things going there, but somehow it never felt right. I never got that done. I got a few things moved over, but not the entire blog. After much introspection, I decided to continue my blogging efforts here. After all, I have my entire blog history on this site. This is where I started. This is where I can see how I have changed my thinking in the many years since I started.

So what caused all of this? What am I really doing here? Well, being in introspective person that I am, I really started examining where I was going and what I was doing. I haven’t been happy in the classroom in quite a while, which is a shame because that is where my passion has always been. I have been pounding away at the professional development business with a little bit of success, but I’m not sure what kind of gains I have been making with anything because the business is still very new. And exhausting. I mean really, when we get right down to it, starting a new business is one of the most stressful and exhausting things you can do, especially if you have a full-time job as well. And I realized that somehow my priorities had gotten mixed up. Somehow the business became more important than the classroom. I think I know how it happened: when you are an assistant teacher in a classroom, you don’t have quite as much responsibility for the direction of the class or how the classroom is going to look or anything like that. That is where I started with this new job and because I didn’t have the added responsibility of being in charge of the classroom I put the business at priority number one. Of course, it had been a big priority before that, when I was so stressed out at my other job. Anything to get out of there, right? At least, that is how I felt. I wanted to grow the business so that I could stop working for other people and be my own boss. And that is great, if that is what you want to do. But in the middle of all this stress I lost sight of the classroom, which was where my passion started. Heck, that is where my passion is – I just didn’t realize it for all of the stress. The business was always supposed to grow organically from what I was doing in the classroom. The classroom was always supposed to come first. It didn’t end up that way. It ended up with me being completely stressed out about slideshows and presentations and did these people like what I was doing and what am I going to do to market this thing and what product am I going to produce next and how fast can I get it put together.

STRESS!

I hated my job in the classroom. I’m not sure how much I liked the business. Don’t get me wrong; I love doing the workshops. It is all of the work that I have to do to get the workshops and after the workshops that I don’t particularly care for. And I started thinking about what was going on. Why did I hate the classroom? I used to love the classroom! I used to get up every morning fired up to go to work and play with the kids and explore things and do things and I didn’t care about the money. I just wanted to work and play and explore. And I did. And I loved it.

What happened?

I lost sight of what was important. I lost sight of my love. My love for the theories of education and creativity and curiosity were replace by books about how to grow a business. If you are like me, those books aren’t nearly as interesting as the theories of education and creativity and curiosity. I just got rid of a huge pile of those business books this weekend in an attempt to get back to what is important.

I don’t know what is going to happen with the business at this point. I love doing the workshops and I don’t see me stopping at this point, but I don’t see the workshops happening the way that they have been. I don’t see the marketing happening the way that it has been. I see me getting back to what is important to me: the classroom. And I hope that you will stay with me on this journey as I continue to push forward into the things that are truly important.

Focus on the Process

Yoga has become a huge part of my life in the past several months, and yesterday a yoga practitioner posed the following question on Facebook:

Why do you do yoga?

At first I started doing yoga for stress relief. Lately it has become so much more to me. I feel much more relaxed and balanced after I practice, and doing yoga is a way for me to reconnect with myself. I have talked a lot about how teachers give so much of themselves away, and yoga has become a way for me to check in with myself and really sense how I am feeling and how I am doing. I have begun adding in some meditation as a way to really focus myself and connect with myself on a deeper level. Meditation has been hard for me to do; I hear stories about how some people meditate for thirty minutes or even an hour and I can’t even imagine doing it for that long. But this morning while I was meditating a thought struck me: if I become uncomfortable or unfocused spending just five minutes being present with myself, how will I be when I have to be present for someone else? We are with ourselves all of the time, and it would make sense that our own selves should be who we are the most comfortable with, but I have found that it takes a lot for me to be comfortable with focusing on connecting with myself for even five minutes. That last sentence is a mouthful, but that is really what it is all about. Comfort, focus, and connection. With myself. And supposedly, what you get in is what you get out. Supposedly, when I connect more with myself I am supposed to better be able to connect with others. Which makes sense. I will see in others what I focus on in myself.

Which led to my other big epiphany for the day: it is all a process. I know what it is like to want everything now, now, now. I am one of the worst when it comes to that. I want it all fixed now. I want my business to grow now. I want to know whether I have the promotion now. I want to fix everything in my classroom and have it be perfect now. I am a now person. But that, at its core, is focusing on the product. The end result. It takes a process to get there. It takes a process to fix the classroom like I want it, just as writing this book is a process. Doing yoga is a process all on its own. I can’t do all of the poses that I want to be able to do, but I am in the process of getting there. I am in the process of being comfortable enough with myself that I can spend larger amounts of time focusing on connecting with myself. I am in the process of getting that promotion. Life is a process, and it is time to slow down and enjoy the process rather than waiting and stressing about the end product. It will come, but it will never be the end. There will always be something else to want now right behind it. Life itself is one big forest, but the process are those trees that make it up.

Thinking About Art

On Tuesday, I am presenting Project: Preschool’s inaugural workshop series: Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom. I am super excited and nervous about it, as it will be the first time that I have presented my own material, outside of this blog. I have no doubt that everything will be fine, because I have spent the past two days making sure that everything is prepared. I even found a huge technical glitch today that I thought had been resolved months ago – I am definitely learning the lesson about checking behind myself.

Over the weekend I have had a thought bouncing around in my brain. It never really rested and solidified until today. I was thinking about children and art. Since the workshop is on creativity (and I am working on another one related to art in the classroom) I have planned for participants to complete an art project. But in the beginning, I had prescribed what they were supposed to create while doing the art. The thoughts that bounced through my head were questions about why I was structuring the workshop activity in this way, especially since I am discussing the points of motivation having to do with autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Obviously, prescribing an end that participants should meet would give them a purpose, but I’m not sure that is the type of purpose that I am going for. It doesn’t give participants autonomy, because I am telling them what to create. I guess I could argue for mastery, because participants would get better at creating whatever it was that I told them to create, but to what purpose am I telling them to make it?

If you are confused yet, I am sorry. But the entire thing made me stand back and take a hard look at just what exactly I was calling “open-ended” or “child-centered” art. Of course, sometimes when we do art, we do have to prescribe an end. But for most art projects, simply giving children materials and letting them create at will teaches us a lot about their interests and their character. It also shows us what skills they have and what they need to work on, and gives them the freedom to experiment with tools and materials in ways that interest them.

I’m sure that I will be thinking and talking about this subject more after my workshops. One of the cool things about teaching is that you are able to learn as much as you are able to teach. I am looking forward to learning more from other teachers while we discuss different aspects of creativity, and I am looking forward to diving deeper into the activity that we call art.

Keep Brainstorming

This is the sixth in a twelve-part series based on an article by Michael Michalko entitled “Twelve Things You Were Not Taught In School About Creative Thinking.” You can view the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth parts by clicking on the links.

My first idea was to offer live workshops for teachers. It was a good idea, and I am still putting it into action. My next good idea was for online workshops. I have that idea waiting in the wings. I have thought of many great ideas for expanding the scope of Project: Preschool, but since the business is still a baby, it isn’t ready for any of these ideas yet. I have been brainstorming about workshop topics, and constantly making the ones that I have already thought of even better.

I keep brainstorming and thinking about the direction I want the business to go and the ways I can create something tangible for it. Michalko does a very good job in his article listing some of the possibilities that were there for other inventors, but weren’t pursued until later, by other people. The key is to never stop thinking about what is possible, about what directions you can take an idea, and about how you can make your ideas better.

This goes for the classroom as well. As teachers, we should never become complacent about what is happening or what is in our classrooms. Classrooms should be dynamic places, constantly changing to add new experiences to children’s lives. We should always be thinking about how to improve upon what is there and how to tie each area of the classroom to what is currently being learned. And if we get a new and better idea than the one we had before, we should use it, because children deserve our best ideas.

We should also be encouraging children to build upon the ideas that they have. It seems sometimes like they do this naturally, but it is our job to make sure that they never get out of the habit of trying to improve upon the ideas that they have, or to pursue any idea that they have.

Building Positive Relationships: Teachers Make Mistakes, Too

I read something about mistakes and consequences the other day that made me think back to an incident that has happened countless times in my classroom, usually at lunch or snack time. I will be pouring milk and I will inevitably spill some on the counter or the floor. After this happens, the children start going nuts, talking about how I made a mess.

Of course, this all comes back to stigmatizing mess and mistakes. Everyone makes a mess at some point, and if you are anything like me, you make a mess several times a day. But the key is to clean it up and move on.

So I model this for the children. If we make a mess, we simply clean it up and move on. Since I have been working with two-year-olds, messes happen on a continuous basis. We simply clean it up. They clean up their messes. Sometimes they even clean up messes that aren’t even there. One child was wiping a wall in the bathroom, and I asked him, “Are you cleaning the wall?” To which he replied, “Yes, I am wiping your clean wall.”

Recently I helped out in a different classroom and a child spilled their milk. It was treated as a capital offense, and the child lost it. I instructed her to get some paper towels to clean up the mess, and she cried for half an hour. Over spilled milk. I haven’t seen anything like it in my classroom, so it was a bit unnerving to watch the process of this child go through what looked like humiliation over a cup of milk. I never want to see it again.

Messes happen. All of our lives we will be cleaning up messes. If you are anything like me, your house has several messes that need to be cleaned up right now but this blog post is a convenient way to postpone the inevitable. Teaching children that messes are a part of life that need to be cleaned up in order to move on is a life skill that we should be cultivating. Messes should not be treated as a punishable offense; if they were, we would all be punished, because we all make mistakes. What we should do instead is teach children the skills needed to make less mess. Pouring proficiency only happens with practice. Depth perception is only cultivated if we use the skill. Hand-eye coordination happens when we practice. And we can all use this practice. After all, teachers make mistakes, too.

Teaching About Tools

In a post I did that feels like it was written ages ago (simply because I haven’t stopped talking about it since I wrote it), I talked about how children need time, tools, and tolerance in order for their productive self to emerge. The idea is great in theory, but the truth of it is that sometimes young children do not know how to use the tools that they encounter. Usually it is a process of experimentation that they use in order to figure it out.

Case in point: I have several pairs of beginner’s scissors that I keep in the classroom. The children seem to understand the concept of how to use them, probably because they have seen them used by me in the past, but they have a hard time getting them to work for themselves. Once they figure out how to get the scissors to open and shut, they begin exploring what to cut with them. The most common exploration that I have seen with young children is putting the tip in their mouth and exploring the open and shutting process with their teeth or lips. Of course, this isn’t the way that they are supposed to be used, and I have had a few cases of clipped lips from that process. Then they move on to their hair, shoelaces, and anything else they can think of to clip with the scissors. At this point, there are a few different options for teachers to teach children about how to productively use scissors:

  1. Hair should only be cut by an adult. Period.
  2. I usually tell the children in my class that scissors are only to be used for cutting paper, but as I type and think about the curious nature of children, I feel that I am selling them short. Of course, they want to know how and if the scissors work for other types of materials as well. And they need that experience. Cutting other types of materials can help increase small muscle strength in the hands. However, they should be told that only the provided supplies should be used with scissors, not their own clothes. Nothing on themselves should be cut at all.
  3. Teachers should be aware of what they are comfortable with. Do not provide an experience for the children that you are not comfortable with, but ask yourself questions about why you are not comfortable with that activity. That will help you in developing future experiences for children.

The children in my class will be moving to a new classroom this week, and I will be moving with them. Because they are older now, the expectations will be a little different than they have been in the past, as well as the materials that they will be using. As I was thinking over the scissor example and the potential for other issues such as this, I ran into an article about teaching children to use tools, from Teach Preschool. Ever since I read the article, I have thought more and more about the lessons that children should learn about tools and how to use them. These lessons have been more and more necessary the older the children have gotten, and since we are in a shared classroom this year, I believe that it will be imperative for the children to learn the lessons about how to use the materials.

Along with the lessons about how the tools should be used come the lessons about the goals that we have when we start a project. Even though goal-setting is a life skill that can take years to master, starting this skill early can make the difference between productive and unproductive play. Around the age of three, I expect children to be able to tell me what they are trying to accomplish with their actions, and if they are unable to I help them develop and carry out a goal. Not only is this skill important for a productive life, but one of the keys of setting goals is the ability to control impulses, many of which could hold us back from achieving our goals.

All of these points are particularly important when we discuss children and tools. Every child is different, and some may better be able to control their impulses better than others, but the key for us as teachers (especially when working with this age) is to begin to give children the tools that they need to be able to be successful in a new classroom.

The Power of “Why”

I am putting the finishing touches on my Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom local workshop. The online version won’t be available for some time yet, as I am still learning the ins-and-outs of putting together an online course.

The information that I am focusing on right now deals with classroom management and how it relates to the expression of creativity in the classroom. I wrote a note to myself in the initial outline draft about the power of “why” in the classroom. This is not a new idea on this blog. I believe that children, like adults, have the power to reason. Their ability to reason is not as mature as adults – they may come up with some off-the-wall reasons for some things. But they come up with reasons – they understand that behaviors and outcomes have reasons behind them – especially when we ask the word “why”. Why do we not run around the classroom? Why do we not jump on the bed? Why do we not write on the walls or the furniture? Why do we not throw toys?

“Why” is an important word to give reason to children, but it is also important for teachers as well. I have had many instances where I have been telling the children to do something (or, in most cases, not to do something) and my brain all the sudden stops me and asks me “Why are you asking them to stop? Is there a safety issue involved? Is someone going to get hurt? No – really – is someone going to get hurt?” Although this is not going to become a post about risk-taking, the question is very important for that reason. How much risk am I comfortable with them taking, as the one who is responsible for their safety? But most importantly, why am I asking them to stop? Control? Power? And if I am asking them to stop, what is the reason that I am going to give them? Trust me, children will be more liable to stop if they have a logical reason – a because that makes sense to them. Simply asking or telling a child to stop is an arbitrary command to them. You may have a perfectly valid reason for asking them to stop doing what they are doing, but they will not know that if you don’t tell them.

The “Because” is just as important as the “Why”

“Because I said so” is not a reason. It may be perfectly valid to you, as the teacher, because the child is supposed to listen to you and follow your direction. But the reason why they are supposed to follow your direction is because it is your job to keep them safe and teach them how to live safely and productively in this world. Simply giving them “Because I said so” as a reason for not doing something does not teach them anything about how you are trying to keep them safe or productive. It becomes an arbitrary command from you to them. How often do you want to follow a command that someone else gives you, without being given the reason for why you are being commanded? If someone continuously commands you without reason, you begin to feel disrespected – and even unsafe. If you feel like your life or work becomes subject to the arbitrary whims of someone else, it isn’t a place that you really want to be in any more, is it? You never know what is coming next, or why you are being picked on in this way. Because that is what it ends up feeling like – like you are being picked on.

Giving a valid reason for asking a child to do something is giving the child the same respect that you deserve. And all children deserve that respect as much as we do. Not only is it respectful, but it continues the lessons about actions having reasons – an important lesson to learn. People become goal-driven as they get older (and this starts at a young age), and teaching children the power of “why” and “because” helps them to realize that every action has a purpose and every purpose brings us closer to a goal. And in our quest to bring creativity to the classroom, it helps us put children and ourselves on the path toward realizing just how creative our classroom can be.

Trust and Creativity

So far on our journey to figuring out what makes creativity happen, we have discussed motivation and passion, but there is one aspect of the creative mind that we have not covered yet. It is very hard to be creative in any environment when there is no feelings of trust present. Usually we trust those that we feel safe with. When we do not feel safe, our creative brain shuts down and the part of our brain dedicated to survival takes over.

This part of the brain is dedicated to the fight-or-flight mechanism, and causes us to focus on only what is right in front of us. We learned from the Dan Pink video that creative answers are not right in front of us, but on the periphery.

This is why it is so important to have an atmosphere of trust and consideration – not just in our classroom, but also in our lives. As teachers, it is hard to come up with creative solutions when we feel too stressed or unsafe. Over a year ago my house was broken into and several items were stolen. It took over a year after that incident for me to feel safe enough for my own creative juices to flow, and for me to begin to be able to focus on this blog and my workshops. Our feeling of personal safety is key to being able to focus away from the present and begin focusing on the future, or focusing away from the immediately present to the what-could-be.

Realizing this as personally as I have, it is important to me to provide an environment for children in which they feel safe. There are many elements necessary to create a safe classroom, but the point for now is that this is crucial in order to have a creative classroom. If children feel that they will constantly lose connections or items, or feel a lack of consistency in what is expected of them, they will revert to fight-or-flight mode, which will cut down on their ability to be creative in the classroom.

trust and creativity