Creativity, Inspiration

Be Uncareful – and 7 Other Brilliant Ways to be Creative

I am a huge fan of Peter H. Reynolds’ work.  As an art teacher in Bangkok, I was in love with The Dot and Ish and as a classroom teacher I am still.  There is something about the books, the illustrations, the message – to me, they are ‘the complete package’ when it comes to sharing what are really important, 21st Century skills. Interestingly, not a computer, iPad or electronic device in sight. I am a huge fan of technology and love finding that device or program that propels students forward, but the more I look into it, the more I am convinced that the skills come first, the need for a tool comes second – and that ‘tool’ may be as simple (and powerful) as  paintbrush or a box of pencils.

I love the message of The Dot and Ish…

  • don’t be afraid to start

  • don’t stop if it is not perfect

Simplicity at it’s best.

Today I read a post on the Fable Vision learning website:

Peter H. Reynolds’ 8 Tips for Creative Publishing

You can read the full post here but in summary, Reynolds’ tips are:

  1. Keep a journal
  2. Just do it!
  3. Publishing – Lite
  4. Go back to school
  5. Set goals
  6. Create your ritual
  7. Unleash imagination
  8. Be uncareful

The full text explains these points and offers excellent advice for those who wish to create.  And isn’t that all of us?  Or at the very least, all of the kids we teach? When I look at these tips, I see a lot that I want to incorporate into the daily creative lives of my students:

  1. Establishing learning journals to recording ideas and wonderings
  2. Encouraging an attitude of action and commitment to lifelong learning
  3. Get your work ‘out there’
  4. Get feedback from your audience
  5. Make learning a priority
  6. Set yourself up to succeed
  7. Think of all the possibilities – and then some!
  8. Take risks and be fearless!

I first heard of FableVision back in March – which surprises me somewhat having been such a fan of Reynolds’ books for so long.  Peter is the founder of FableVision and his brother, Paul, is the CEO. I loved the recent collaboration with Fable Vision and the Partnership for 21st Century Learning – if you have not seen Above and Beyond – an Ode to the 4 C’s (collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity) I encourage you to watch it.  Further investigation into FableVision led me to their mission statement, the first part of which reads:

We are big believers that a well-educated student is not complete without less “test-able” skills such as creativity, communication, self-expression, problem solving, and cultural understanding.  We also need students with self-determination and a desire to learn. 

How can you not love that?

I loved it so much, and share such a similar philosophy, that I applied to be and was accepted as, a FableVision Ambassador.  Among my ‘duties’:

  • Sharing our products and philosophy on an informal basis at individual schools and with colleagues.
  • Writing stories for publications and blogs.
  • Being our eyes and ears in the school world.
  • Sharing the challenges, changes, and opportunities you are facing in the classroom.
  • Using social networks to promote the mission and products.
  • Reaching out to others because of a strong belief FableVision Learning’s mission.

If you are new to the world of Peter H. Reynolds and FableVison, I would like to welcome you with these words:

Click image to download PDF Poster

I would then suggest you check out these free Educator Resources and see if anything resonates with you.

As I have explored this site and others, I feel even more confident about the type of teacher that I have become over the last 16 years.  I keep going back to the letter I sent out to my incoming students prior to the summer break, “Fifth Grade and Fearless” and I am so grateful for the teachers, parents, students, authors, illustrators, thinkers, movers and shakers, who have helped me get to this point in my career.  The best advice I can give anyone in education is to:

seek innovative ideas

build a tribe that inspires

communicate and collaborate

and above all,

be fearless. 

Click image to view the full letter to my incoming fifth grade class of 2012/13
Leadership, Organization

Survey Your Audience

Part 2 in a series inspired by Seth Godin’s NYC Pick Yourself event. (Part 1 here)

This photo was posted by @willrich45, a parent, author, speaker and blogger about social web tools and their effect on school, education and learning, whom I follow on Twitter.  Here is the text of the article:

Public school students as young as 5 are being asked to consider their classroom experiences in surveys that will soon become one of the high-stakes measures used to evaluate teachers.  The surveys – part of a pilot program – were administered to students in kindergarten through 12th grade for the first time in March in 18 schools and will be given to 82 schools next year, potentially multiple times.  The Department of Education declined to release results from the March surveys, saying the data are still being analyzed.  While some educators worry the surveys will reflect poorly on teachers who are strict or tough, the surveys’ developers say the questionnaires are research-based and have been found to be highly linked to teacher effectiveness. “We’re asking students about what they’re experiencing in the classroom.  They’re not popularity questions,” said Rob Ramsdell, director of the Tripod Project which creates the surveys for dozens of school districts.  “We have a lot of reason to believe that kids take it seriously and that the information we are getting is valuable.” he said.

I googled “Tripod Project” and found that the Tripod survey assessments are an integral part of the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Through this site, I was able to view a copy of a questionnaire that would be given to an elementary student.  Ignoring that fact that it is four pages long, I actually think it has some interesting statements on it:


If you don’t understand something, my teacher explains it another way.

In class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

In our class, mistakes are ok if you tried your best.

Students get to decide how activities are done in this class.

My teacher wants me to explain my answers – why I think what I think.

As a teacher, I would hope that I do these things.  I would like to think that I explain things through different lenses and help my kids learn from their mistakes and learn that making mistakes IS learning.  I like the use of the word ‘activities’ in the fourth statement.  Once you have decided what your big idea and guiding questions are, the children should have input into the things they do (activities) that will help them best develop their understanding.  When I read the last statement I laughed aloud at the thought of my kids answering that question as I feel like I constantly torture them with wanting to know why, why, WHY?!

Less Interesting.

This class is neat – everything has a place and is easy to find.

My teacher takes the time to summarize what we have learned each day.

My teacher tells us what we are learning and why.

My teacher makes me want to go to college.

Most of these points make me feel that the kids are at the mercy of their teacher.  Why can’t the kids summarize their learning each day?  Why not ask the kids what they are learning and why they think they are learning it? I can see value in a teacher modeling this kind of thinking/dialogue, but I would expect it to come more from the children.  A group of children who have been empowered by their teacher might score the teacher poorly on these factors when in actual fact, they should probably be scored off the scale.  I love a neat room but learning is messy! And after listening to Mike Rowe speak about the need for a skilled workforce and the importance of vocational training at the Ed Sessions here in Boise,  I wonder what message we are sending with a question that focuses solely on college?

Why I would never want to score highly on ‘This class is neat’.

You might be reading these statements and my take on them and have a completely different perspective.  I wouldn’t be surprised and that is kind of my point.  People are going to read these questions and their perceptions (especially the insightful perceptions of children) may be vastly different to what is actually happening.  A friend of mine, who is a fantastic teacher, recently surveyed her third graders.  Two overwhelming trends were evident in her results:

  1. They felt that they were not learning much
  2. They felt that the teacher didn’t show she really cared about them

If you know Marina, you will know that both of these findings are absurd.  So, what did she do? She sat with her class, shared the results and asked them to clarify.  The kids who were very capable and independent were the ones who thought she didn’t show she cared because she was “always” working with the other kids.  The kids who viewed “learning” as sitting at your desk, working independently or with pen and paper, didn’t think they were learning as the classroom environment is more hands-on and inquiry driven.  If you read her full post you will see that with this feedback, Marina was able to make a few tweaks to the way she interacted with her kids and all was well again.

  • I wonder if teachers would be given the chance to investigate the ‘why’ behind a poor score?

  • I wonder if kids would read (interpret) the question correctly?

I like the idea of gathering student feedback, be it by way of the  MET_Project_Elementary_Student_Survey or the less formal tool that Marina used. I know when I get feedback – especially the stuff I don’t like to hear – it makes me take a look at why people may have said that.  Sure, some of it comes down to personality, but what else? Is there something I am doing or not doing? What works? What doesn’t?

Seth talked a lot about the importance of getting feedback.  Look at Trip Advisor.  The whole purpose of that site is for travelers to provide feedback on their experience.  Travelers can gain valuable insights from their fellow explorers. Service providers can hear the good, the bad and the ugly from those who choose to use their services and amenities. Rankings are established over a period of time to give honest feedback and reputations are built or battered down as a result.  Those who offer feedback are rewarded with status titles for taking the time to share their thoughts more regularly than others.  Your commenting history is visible so people can see the breadth of your opinion – are you always negative? overly positive? fair?  Imagine if Trip Advisor was only open for comments on one day a year.  Or even four days a year.  Would you be happy to form an opinion about a hotel or attraction based solely on how people were feeling on that one day?

What if, instead of these surveys, we opened ourselves up to constant feedback, Trip Advisor style?  I think it would be pretty easy to do.  And incredibly hard.

Easy: to find a tech solution for creating and sharing survey data

Hard: being open to constant feedback on your teaching performance


What do you think?

21st Century, Creativity, Inspiration

The Power of Starting With A Fresh Slate

A Fresh Start: People

One of the things I love about being a teacher is that chance to start afresh each year.  I explained this idea to my incoming class via the introductory letter I sent out on Friday:

I have been teaching for 16 years and every year, I begin the school year as a different person. I decide on that first day and then every day thereafter, who I am as a teacher. What is important to me. What I want to accomplish. What I want my students to see when they come to school. I choose that. I don’t let other people tell me who I will be and I don’t just be who I think other people want me to be. I read, I think, I write and then I decide.

Who Will You Be? (This is a big question – take your time to think about this!) Will you be the kid who has brilliant ideas? The kid who loves math? The kid who looks to help other people? The kid who……? Fresh start. Clean slate. We all get one (that includes you!) and we all get to begin fifth grade as the person we want to be.

To some people that may sound cheesy, but to me, I think it is worth emphasising – for my own benefit and to make it explicit to my incoming students.  I teach in a small school.  My classroom door and the fourth grade classroom door are at most three yards apart.  If I were in the fourth grade, I would be assuming that the teacher in fifth knew all about me and if I wanted to change but didn’t know what that meant or how to do it, I might need someone to explain it to me.

Last year, there were two classes at my grade level and while I knew the kids in the other class, I didn’t know them super well.  One kid coming in appeared to have had a bit of rough year previously so I began the year in a similar way for his benefit, my own and the benefit of the class:

“I am excited you are in our class.  I don’t really know you all that well and I don’t really know the specific details about events that happened last year, but I do know there seemed to be a lot of drama and distraction and negative energy – three things I have little tolerance for.  When I say that you can have a clean slate, fresh start, I mean it.  Because of your behavior last year, your friends will take longer than me (perhaps) to fully warm up to you.  I encourage you to keep making good choices, come to me if you feel things are happening in a way that upsets you so that I can help you move forward, and to always focus on who YOU are, who YOU want to be and the work YOU are doing.  I think this year is going to be awesome and I hope you want to be a part of that.”

I won’t put it down entirely to that ‘speech’ but that combined with fantastic parents, loving classmates and individual determination meant that this kid had a killer year.  He nailed it.  Was he sometimes a pain?  Sure, but aren’t we all?  The point is, he embraced the opportunity to depart from his usual ways, try something new and see where it took him.

A Fresh Start: The Way to Get Unstuck

What if we were to apply the Fresh Start Philosophy to our planning.  When I Imagine a School, here is one of the things I see:
Is that the type of school you imagine? If the answer is no, why not?  Because you worked really hard on that activity to go with your Solar System unit?  Because you have half a file cabinet of worksheets already printed and stored in month-by-month hanging files? What would happen if you did decide to start fresh(ish) each year? Even if they were the best activities or worksheets EVER, are they what your new students need?
Seth Godin uses the ‘how to fasten your seatbelt’ monologue that all travelers are familiar with to describe a situation that is stuck.  He then goes on to suggest how one might become unstuck:

One approach to getting unstuck is the clean sheet of paper. Dictate that the speech before flight is going to change, that the menu will be redone, that the qualifications are going to start over, from zero. ~ Seth Godin


And the person doing this?  YOU!  Seth believes that, “Change gets made by people who care, who have some sort of authority and are willing to take responsibility.”  I would argue (I can’t believe I am arguing with my hero – he is clearly a great teacher in the art of ‘ruckus making*) that possessing any one of these qualities qualifies you to make the change.  If you see something happening that you don’t like, ask yourself:

Do I care?

Am I in a position to do something?

Will I take responsibility for this? 

If the answer to any of these questions is “YES”, then bring on the change! 

I work in an IB PYP School – an inquiry-based, open-ended learning, student-focused environment. One of the key selling-points of our curriculum is that each year, things should look different.  In fact, the work inside two different classes at the same grade level should look different.  After writing a Central Idea (Big Understanding) for the unit of work, deciding on your lines of inquiry which are concept based and figuring out what you would want a student to do to demonstrate their understanding of the idea and the lines of inquiry (therefore, planning the assessment criteria) everything else, I would argue, should be up for grabs – some of which you as the teacher should grab and the rest, left for the students.

I am not suggesting that every six weeks (about the average duration of a unit of inquiry) that you drop a Central Idea and leave.  What I am suggesting is that you consider the power of the blank planner. If you were to front-load with your students, giving them plenty of time to play, experiment, read, watch, listen, make, do, create, question, talk, visit and listen, I believe that they would be better equipped to ask deeper, more meaningful questions that would lead into deeper more meaningful inquiries and a much deeper and much more meaningful understanding of the Central Idea. Plus it makes school interesting, unexpected, and focused on the areas of interest brewing within each child.

And isn’t that worth it?

*I define “Making a Ruckus” or “Ruckus Making” as the sound your brain makes when it is challenged to be creative, thoughtful, inquisitive and world-changing and it is a beautiful sound.
Creativity, Inspiration

Fifth Grade and Fearless!

Yesterday afternoon, we had our end-of-year party.  Swimming Pool.  Dance Party.  Taco Truck. Slushies. It was a great way to end a great, great year.

This morning, I have the pleasure of meeting my incoming class of students.  I have been thinking a lot about what I want to say and how I want to kick things off. We only have half an hour.  It is the last day of school.  But I still want it to be special.

I started off by writing the typical “Meet Your Teacher” letter which was about me and my dog and husband and the countries I have lived in etc. Then I thought about my new role: Technology and Innovation Advisor. 

So, I scrapped that letter and wrote some thoughts that I really wanted to share. And then I made this:

I plan on giving the kids a business card with this on it.  I don’t know if they all know what the code is or even how to read it, hence the few sentences beside it.  We are a close community and I am pretty sure that it will take very little time for the code to be cracked!  What I do know, is that it will be different for them.  It will make them think.  It might even inspire them to create.  Or have fun!

The code takes them to a flyer I made on Smore.  So easy.  So intuitive.  Love it.

The letter might just be one of the best I have written and was inspired by a post titled “What’s Good For the Kids”. If you can take the time to click here and read it, I would love your thoughts and feedback.