Reflection, Teaching

The Awesomeness of Vi Hart

I love Vi Hart.  There is something about her crazy videos that I just adore.  I almost feel like I hold my breath when I watch her work in case the sound of my breathing causes me to miss out on something she has to say! Today I learned that she doesn’t care if I like her or not – she is still going to make her videos the way she wants to make her videos. Which kind of makes me love her even more.

Her latest creation is on how to deal with negative comments in a digital world – although a lot of what she says could easily apply to the real world too. I love that she says that “I didn’t make this for your approval”. She creates because she loves it – mirroring the other person in my hall of fame, Neil Gaiman, with his charge to “make good art”.

As a teacher, I often let the comments of a few drown out my own inner voice and then my art becomes less “good” and more “doubted”, “mediocre”, or just plain watered down.  I am a good teacher – I honestly don’t think I would still be doing this job 16 years if I didn’t truly love it.  And yet, unlike Vi Hart, I am sometimes scared, I do seek approval, and I dither over comments people make like nobodies business.  I think this is where the drop-off in my blogging comes into play. In addition to life throwing me a lot to deal with, I also began wondering if I had any good art left to share – or even any art worth sharing.

Today we had Kathy LeMay come to our school. This woman is fearless. As I sat in my classroom listening to her answer the questions my kids had for her on pursuing passion, I realized that we are always going to have nay-sayers in our world.  People who will tell us it won’t work, can’t happen, isn’t right.  We can choose to listen to those people and put our art in a deep, dark cupboard. Or, we can choose to move around these people and continue to do our thing.

It isn’t going to be easy.  But I can almost certainly guarantee it will be worth it.

What are you waiting for? 

 

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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
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.

21st Century, Innovation, Inspiration, Leadership

We All Need A Little Resistance

You know you work with a pretty switched on group of parents when not only do you get flowers and a thank you speech penned by your students at the conclusion of an eight week marathon journey of work, but you also get two books: Seth Godin’s “Linchpin” and Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why”.   Way cool.  I had previously read Linchpin, the one book Seth Godin says of:

If I could have every administrator, teacher and parent read just one of my books…it would be this one.

I was excited to read it over again (skim it and this time start highlighting as it is my own copy!) and I was reminded of how important his idea of the need for resistance was.

 

What?  Need resistance?  Yes!  If you are throwing out new ideas, suggesting different tactics, implementing innovative programs and basically making a ruckus – CONGRATULATIONS! Unlike so many others who listen to that tiny voice, that ‘lizard brain’ in the back of their head telling them to sit down, maintain order, follow along, make it through ’till Friday and dutifully maintain the status quo, you have heard the voice, the lizard brain, and have acted in spite of it. Truth be told, that voice might even have spurred you on to making a bigger ruckus, a bolder move, a more passionate statement!

 

If you felt the resistance and went for it anyway (whatever “it” might be) then most likely, you are leader.  It is not a comfortable, safe, cushioned place to be.  In fact, it should feel more like you are on the front line, blazing a path, running the gauntlet and dodging enemy fire. If  your new ideas are not insisting on change, making people a little uncomfortable because for a while they may look incompetent and arousing thought and debate, are they really “new”?

Think of all the ideas that have made people get up and do something – protest, occupy, picket – these are the result of ideas worth getting excited about!  Does your leader inspire you in this way?  Do you inspire others in this way?

 

When encouraging you to make a ruckus, I must point out the difference between doing so fearlessly and recklessly.

To be fearless…

is to act with the best intentions at the time in order to make a change that you believe is needed, of benefit and will ultimately result in a forward momentum.  To be fearless is to be informed of the consequences of your actions and to act anyway.  To be fearless is to embrace the probability that you may fail or be wrong and to press ahead anyway.  To be fearless is to act in good faith, with good intentions.

To be reckless…

is to take action without information.  To make rash decisions with little forethought.  To be reckless is to endanger, to risk without care for the impact and to pretend that you can not or will not fail.  To be reckless is to make decisions based on your own personal needs and wants rather than considering what is best for the group or the company.  To be reckless is to think of the immediate results and have little care for the long-term consequences.

So…

  • resist your lizard brain

  • make a ruckus

  • be fearless

Think about your role as a leader or the people who lead in your school or organization.

Do they make a ruckus?

Do they do so fearlessly, inspiring others to follow them?  Do they do so recklessly, leaving behind them a wake of distrust and chaos? Does the work they do mean enough that people would miss them if they were gone? This was something Seth said at the event in NYC.  I think I recall correctly that it was a response to a question about “should I blog?” to which he replied, “Yes, but then ask yourself if people would miss your posts if they were gone”. My thinking is that he was giving us reminder to make sure that while we all will probably hear the lizard brain that tells us that it is too much, too new, too big, too bold, too ‘out there’ of an idea to work, we shouldn’t let that voice overpower our own, stronger voice that says, “I hear you and fearlessly, I proceed.”

Who are the ‘ruckus makers’ in your school?

How do they perfect their artistry?

Creativity, Innovation

When Was Your Last Great Nearling?

In all this talk of experiencing failure and the power of failure to move you to a place of success, I came across a term that was new to me: nearling. What is a nearling?

According to this website:

A nearling is a positive word for something new that you did with the right intentions, which has not (yet) led to the right result.

The reasons for nearlings not to succeed can be diverse, the circumstances have changed; a better option has been chosen; you made an error; faith decided differently; there suddenly were other priorities, etc.

Until this moment there was no right English word for this phenomenum. There is the word ‘failure’, yet that sounded negative. You only recognize a nearling when you look back. You can always learn from a nearling. The nearling fills a gap in the international innovation language.

You can be proud of nearlings because:
1. You started an initiative
2. You may have moved others
3. Maybe it led you to something that was successful
4. You need many nearlings, for a few successes
5. You learned from it
6. …

The part I like about this the most is “something new that you did with the right intentions”.

That made me think of Seth Godin.  In his book “Linchpin”, Seth talks about being fearless – and the difference between being fearless, reckless and feckless:

Fearless doesn’t really mean “without fear.” What it means in practice is, “unafraid of things that one shouldn’t be afraid of.” Being fearless means giving a presentation to an important customer without losing a night’s sleep. It means being willing to take intellectual risks and to forge a new path. The fear is about an imagined threat, so avoiding the fear allows you to actually accomplish something.

Reckless, on the other hand, means rushing into places that only a fool would go. Reckless leads to huge problems, usually on the boss’s dime. Reckless is what led us to the mortgage and liquidity crisis. Reckless is way out of style.

Feckless? Feckless is the worst of all. Ineffective, indifferent, and lazy.

I am sure, like many of you, you have experienced moments when you have given your kids choice in project work and watched them choose a ‘safe’ topic.  In one of our first projects of the year, I experienced the following:

  • I watched one child build his solar powered car in about 45 minutes.  He had two weeks to work on it.  When I talked with him – for about an hour – we eventually figured out that what he had wanted to do was build a boat but with more panels, more motors and more propellers.  Problem?  He eventually admitted when I asked him why this wasn’t his project: “I know the car works.  I don’t know if the boat will work.”
  • Another student found instructions online for a solar powered charging device.  She asked if she could print them off and do that as her project.  I said she could use those instructions and make that device as research but that she would then need to ask her own questions and investigate something new and different – how to charge two devices, how to shorten the charge time etc.  The next day she came in with a completely different topic requiring no hands-on component and nothing more complex than a ‘what is a…’ question.

What is holding these super smart kids back?  I think it is a fear of being fearless.  On his website, Brain Rules, John Medina asks “At what point do children stop asking questions in schools?”  Here is his answer:

Elementary School.  Kids learn very quickly that teachers value the right answer more than a provocative question.Consider a whopping six-year study with more than 3,000 innovative executives, from chemists to software engineers, published in 2009. The biggest common denominator of these entrepreneurs? Inquisitiveness. Lead author Hal Gregersen, interviewed in Harvard Business Review, talks about children:

“If you look at 4-year-olds, they are constantly asking questions. But by the time they are 6 ½ years old, they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions. High school students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they’re grown up and are in corporate settings, they have already had the curiosity drummed out of them. Eighty percent of executives spend less than 20 percent of their time on discovering new ideas.”

So, what do we do?

Well, we could start by sharing the following words from writer, Neil Gaiman, that he penned to welcome in the new year:

And then we could all put this up in our rooms:

Most importantly, start listening more, talking less and encouraging our kids to be in charge of their own questions.