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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Disrespect. What Are We All Teaching Our Children?

Lessons Learned…


Rampant. Pervasive. Epidemic. A malignancy. Disrespect, it surely seems, is the MO of today, and its insidious presence in classrooms, in locker rooms, in homes, and in most every interpersonal interaction among all ages, is tragic, immature, and growing. Its obnoxious presence dominates every setting in which it is allowed. Disrespect is the new neighborhood bully whose unrelenting selfishness very meanly distracts and destroys the direction of a gentle soul. Just today, I read of another broken-hearted teacher throwing in the towel on education because of the uncontrollable rudeness of students. Students are not the sole possessors of a disrespectful demeanor, however, for disappointingly, we adults all around them are flagrantly modeling this distasteful and atrocious behavior as well. Shouting at refs, demanding rule changes to suit personal circumstances, brazenly and constantly talking back, rolling the eyes, sarcastic remarks, an above the law attitude, an excuse for every act of non-compliance, a sneer to meet genuineness and humility, a spirit of laughing at, an unasked for opinion to make all decisions the matter of a personal committee, a loud dogmatic voice that hears only itself;  all of these and countless more are mere symptoms of a deeper malady; an inner  discontentedness, a distrust, an over-inflated ego due to a desperately diminished self-esteem, a cry to be noticed or heard.  Disrespect will not go away if it is ignored, because somewhere deeply imbedded in disrespect’s DNA it’s itching to fight and will not stand down until it is challenged and put in its place. It resembles an alpha dog syndrome, where the leader is unmistakably identified and leads, despite efforts of wannabes to assume the lead. Disrespect simply cannot be allowed, for everything about it smacks of a breakdown of order and fully impedes accomplishment. When we speak of being committed to student learning, we would be remiss to avoid addressing and nipping the culture of disrespect which will most assuredly undermine even the best of best practices. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Gentleness. Self-control. A display of manners. Selflessness. Generosity. Graciousness. Humility. Can these be taught? Our students truly need to learn them. Demonstrating these attributes will boost students’ self-esteem and success and radically enhance accomplishment in the classroom, on the field, and in life. Don’t we desire this for them? Respect must be expected and demanded. Trust must be earned.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Looking At The Creative Spirit

Lessons Learned...

Looking At The Creative Spirit

A creative spirit frequently lives in a lonely place. Not bad lonely, just slightly misunderstood lonely. To create, one needs to be comfortable with vulnerability, and if not completely comfortable with vulnerability, then at least aware of the weight of this demand. To create, one needs to imagine possibility and unexpected connection and to do this one needs to drop the wall of fear that neatly and typically holds us captive and safe within our prescribed conventions and protocols. Dropping the wall of fear to see beyond it, is terrifyingly and exhilaratingly vulnerable. A willingness to live there is risky, but it is the only place for a creative spirit to feel the freedom necessary to dream and imagine. Creativity flows like a faucet through the imagination of the one who seeks to see a new connection or hear a new combination of sounds, but living in this refreshing flow is inefficient and immeasurable, whereby rendering it inconsistent with the standard rhythm of life which is much more lock-step and non-threateningly predictable. So in choosing to be a creative spirit, one is choosing to be different, and different is vulnerable and can be lonely.  The process of creating is extremely intense and focused, yet at the same time wildly invigorating. In the process of creating, one hears and sees through the heart of imagination in response to an idea or thought and then captures that idea in a new way through any of an infinite variety of creative vehicles. My choice is music, and it has been since I was a child. Unexplainable as it is, other than to say it is a gift, creating music fills my soul and gives voice to the emotion wrapped around an idea, a thought, a situation, or a chapter in a life story. Inspiration for the creative process can occur at most any time and it compels the creative spirit to engage; convenient timing or not is rather inconsequential. From the moment of engagement, out pours the creativity unrestrained.  When at last the creative piece is complete, there is a frozen moment of awe, when for the very first time the one who has dreamed and created views in actuality what previously had existed only in the heart of imagination. Breathtaking. Perfect. Thoroughly and absolutely unique. This precious moment of awe is a very vulnerable place where no judgment or critique is ever welcome and only the gentlest of viewers are allowed.  The creative spirit is strong of heart and faith and optimism, but in this moment of awe, the creative spirit is indeed fragile. If you are ever invited into this moment with a creative spirit, accept it as the true gift it is, offer nothing but your stillness, and allow the awe to bless your heart.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The One Hundredth Blog Article

Lessons Learned…

The One Hundredth Blog Article

In a word, love. Thirty years of teaching, twenty-seven years of marriage, twenty-five years of parenting, and fifty-four years of life have taught me that in triumphs and trials and everything in between, a strong, good answer to every circumstance and every relationship is simply to love more, to be patient more, to be gentle more, to be sacrificial more, to listen more, to believe and hope and encourage more.  The world is hard and clearly in need of gentle helpful hands and tender serving hearts. When burdens become too great to bear, we so frequently stagger alone under the crushing weight of it all somehow erroneously believing that either others do not want to be troubled or even worse that in sharing a burden we are admitting weakness or that something about our lovely fa├žade is less than all we are hoping it will appear to be.  We are designed to live in community. Together we are stronger.  What we share in common is far more important and valuable than the differences that divide us, and yet the differences draw fire and judgment from our bully pulpits of dogmatic and highly opinionated insecurities. The differences erect thick, impenetrable walls of fear and distrust. We need each other desperately still we struggle to move past the firing squad of suspicion.  Rather than exercising compassion, we often opt to exert power. Rather than crossing the street, we pull the blind and lock the door.  Rather than engaging, we turn a blind eye and blame our accursed, albeit self-created, busy-ness.  In our classrooms, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, each one we see is in dire need of love, acceptance, affirmation, connection and the joy that these gifts bring.  These gifts are free to give and to share and yet their value reaches infinitely beyond the bounds of the world’s greatest treasures. Perhaps it is time to make some changes. Perhaps it is time to build bridges, for the only tool necessary is one that has existed in our hearts from the very beginning; love.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The ABC's Of What To Do With Five Spare Minutes (for early elementary-aged students)

Imagine you have finished the project. Everything is cleaned up and put away. The next activity, lunch, is in five minutes. Question: Do you...

1. Ask everyone to sit quietly with heads down for five minutes?
2. All twiddle your thumbs together?
3. Let everyone free play?
4.Tap dance for them?
5. Read to them?
6. Slowly explain the "after lunch agenda," then move on to explaining tomorrow's agenda and the next day's, etc. etc?
7. Walk in extreme slow motion to line up one at a time at the door. If more time is left, sit back down and try it again, and again until five minutes have passed?
8. Play "I spy" or "Heads up 7up" or "Clap the syllables of your name" one student at a time?
9. Have everyone do jumping jacks?
10.Learn how to count to 10 in another language?

If you have tried any or all of the above, welcome to the world of teaching! Each day we will add a new, simple, short, easily implemented idea to coincide with each letter of the alphabet to offer you another option when that five-minute window strikes again:) Each letter of the alphabet is represented with a simple, creative activity and a short rhyme, and all can be found on this blog site as well as on Google+ Communities at "Five Minutes? Start A Parade!" 

"Popular" Is Deleterious To Creativity

Lessons Learned…

Popular Is Deleterious To Creativity

What is “popular?” Is it a status? Is it an aspiration or an achievement or a goal or a scheme? Is it even real? I believe it is illusive and fleeting regardless of whatever else it is. I believe it is synonymous with power, that is, until it suddenly dissolves. Anything wrapped in power such as “popular” has high bully potential, and this certainly is the case. Popular is most often maintained through fear; fear of being in, fear of being out, fear of being nothing but invisible as deemed by the “populars.” I have even observed teachers who have so feared the wrath of the populars, that they allowed accountability inconsistencies to exist in their classrooms; accountability inconsistencies clear to all but addressed by none. The power of popular is very tricky to handle and almost always causes some degree of pain to someone.  I believe it has some very treacherous and destructive propensities, as well. I believe popular emotionally resembles a house of cards, which, upon its collapse, leaves a horrific wake of devastated, shattered self-esteems and desperately exposed and tramped upon feelings, which in some instances never in a lifetime recover. Why? For what purpose?  To be the king or the queen of the pile of what? And yet dreams of “popular” dominate an adolescent mentality until alas this hope of all hopes is ruthlessly dashed by another heartless aspirer, whereby one is overtly and publically deemed uncool and thereby thrown out of the running for popular. Who picks and chooses? Who sits in this omnipotent judgment seat of exalting one aspirer and crushing another with frivolous flippancy?  Is popular a supreme to the absolute extreme rendition of the classic tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” where everyone but the emperor sees the lunacy and the tragic hilarity of the situation?  To pour one’s heart and energies into the pursuit of this particular illusion of popular, which seems to be very real and important when caught in the swirling sea of it, with thrashing and drowning part of its diabolical protocol, is to leave little heart and energy available for the pursuit of more meaningful, more lasting, more healthy, and more honest aspirations. Fear and creativity cannot coexist well. Creativity’s very nature denotes uniqueness, originality, imaginative freedom, and wonder-filled curiosity, none of which bend to the conformity expectation of aligning with popular. Popular remains the best possible copy of what the world tells it to be, and creativity simply will not be contained as such. To not align is to be discarded. To be discarded is to be relegated to nothing status, to invisible, and if a heart is strong enough to bear this, it will emerge liberated and peaceful; a wonderful place for creativity to dwell and flourish. Can we help our children with this, or are we just as tangled up in it as they?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sarcasm Extinguishes Creativity In Children

Lessons Learned…

Please Leave Your Sarcasm At The Door

Sarcasm, like bullying, is about power, which is really about weakness covered up, which is really about insecurity. The response it draws, however, is fear; fear to speak up, fear to suggest, fear to offer, because sarcasm chooses to cut and splay rather than to hold gently and encourage. Sarcasm laughs at, points at, and mocks with its words cunningly crafted and delivered as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sarcasm scoffs at trust and faith and hopefulness and promise because perhaps somewhere deep down, sarcasm comes from a place of distrust, disillusionment, and maybe a pinch of anger and resentment; most probably a very sad soul. Sarcasm seeks to evoke laughter and a false levity at the expense of genuine-ness and pure delight. Sarcasm is not a friend of creativity in children, for instead of liberating the wonder-filled spirit of free and imaginative play, its ridiculing and overbearing nature crushes creativity and buries it under a pile of shame and embarrassment. We nervously laugh along with the sarcastic comment so that we can avoid being the wounded spirit laughed at. The target. The brunt. The loser. I have seen sarcastic teachers at work in their classrooms methodically dismantling student self-esteems with their well-chosen knife-like words all under the guise, the pathetic guise, of some sort of demented humor. It nauseates me to observe this insidious possibility thrasher which drives the creative spirit to retreat.  It’s not intelligent, and it’s not clever regardless of what the world may say. It is demeaning, however, and needs to be recognized as the menacing bully that it is. If we truly long to establish classrooms where creativity and imagination are welcome and thriving, we must sweep out from every corner every trace of sarcasm’s poison.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Before Creativity There Is Confidence...

Lessons Learned…

Arrogance is not Confidence

We have muddled something up with respect to our children, whether they are our own kids, our students, or the players on our team, and it’s probably about time we take an honest look at what we’ve done. Beginning with the assumption of excellent and honorable intentions fully aligning with the best interests of the children, we adults shower the children, perhaps more likely deluge them, with superlative accolades for each and every good action accomplished. Although in and of itself, praise is lovely and right and affirming, but just as with so very many aspects of our lives these days it seems we chase it to the absolute extreme which in its overdoneness has the propensity of rendering itself meaningless, insincere, and drippingly excessive. This overkill of superlative accolades then hits the waves of social media and paints a bigger than life picture and surprisingly seems to build an ego much more readily than it builds confidence.  A torrent of glowing adjectives may impress and tickle the ears of others standing by and in turn sharing their torrents, but in terms of building the confidence and not the arrogance of the child we would do much better to encourage them to make good choices and assume responsibility for their actions and their time.  There is nothing superficial about confidence as it emanates from a place deep within an individual, a place of deep trust where he or she has learned from those significant in one’s life that his or her ideas, thoughts, actions, plans, dreams, schemes, and solutions have value and validity; a significant one who has listened intently and in some clear way said yes. Confidence is strong but it is also gentle. Confidence is bold but it is not brash. Confidence is willing to stand alone or stand up for something, but confidence will also patiently, quietly sit without demanding because confidence trusts and believes that its time will come. Arrogance demands and struts and bullies because at the root of arrogance is insecurity, an insecurity grounded in the superficiality of excessive, superlative accolades. Words of the glowing adjective variety take no time to spew and require no investment of time in the child for whom they are uttered, they simply float in the air and puff up ego’s sails without reaching meaningfully in to a child’s heart with an affirming yes. On the sports fields, in the classrooms, on the playground, on television and all around we witness a malignant and myopic arrogance that is disheartening, discouraging and truly represents the antithesis of confidence. We need to speak quiet, honest, and specific affirming truth into the ears and hearts of our children, and then intently listen as they reveal their hopes and dreams, encouraging them to press forward confidently, which they will then do.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Looking At Creativity 9

Lessons Learned…

Creativity Unwrapped 9

It was an ordinary July morning about to become an extraordinary one as well as an indelibly etched memory simply because of the word “yes,” which is creativity’s favorite word. In a world of “no’s,” where everyone has a reason why not, why you shouldn’t or can’t, why it’s ridiculous or a great waste of time, or what would clearly be better, which is all about those who are the naysayers and how their ideas trump anything thing else on the table, the brave, small voice of yes fiercely fights to stand firm and hold open the door of possibility. Nothing crushes the possibility or the actuality of creativity more completely than a no face, a no spirit, or a no personality, yet no is easiest answer, because, like a hot knife through butter, it cuts off the inefficiency and messiness associated with creativity and keeps us all neatly in lock-step, robotic and only superficially engaged. Once you say yes, the lid of Pandora’s box flies to the wind and time is caught up in the swirling wonder of imagination; a place of play and a place of seeing things differently.  This is a precious place where joy and innovation collide and burst together into a splash of technicolor brilliance. It was pouring with rain this hot July morning, and it had been pouring with rain on and off over a number of days in a row. Inside activities, experiments, and projects were ongoing in every corner, when one of my sons casually presented the genuine wish of his heart in that moment, “I really would like to go snowboarding today.” In the nanosecond subsequent to the proclaimed wish, my mind raced between yes and no, why and why not, practical or impractical, possible or impossible, ridiculous or exhilarating, and I attempted to buy a pinch of time with the obvious  question,  where could we go in July? As if the entire seemingly problematic gap between winter and summer had been fully scrutinized and mentally bridged, hence resolved, prior to the question, the response was simply and immediately, mud is as slippery as snow. Hmmm. Of course.  So with the yes door flung wide open, we loaded the board in the car and set out in the pouring rain to find steep enough muddy hills adequately suitable for mud-boarding. The perfect hill was discovered.  He was absolutely right about mud being slippery as snow.  Run after run after run with increasing laughter, increasing rain soaked mud caked clothes, and increasing competence on the mud slope, my son lived his July wish. Joy. Test and full affirmation of what to some no faces might have seemed a ridiculous impractical impossibility. An idea dreamed, an idea tried, a wish fulfilled. All because of yes.  Every yes most certainly builds significant confidence toward the next new idea, which is exactly the place where creativity loves to dwell. Are there enough yes’s at school? Are there enough yes’s at home? Are we wearing yes faces enough so that this next generation of dreamers can imagine, then plan, then build an exciting and hopeful future?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Looking At Creativity 8

Lessons Learned…

Creativity Unwrapped 8

The first day of summer vacation could irrefutably be the most eagerly anticipated and longed for day on the calendar of all school children. In a word, freedom! My own boys were faithfully counting the minutes, starting weeks before the late winter snow had fully melted in the upper Midwest. On the eve of the day above all days, much discussion was occurring in my home among the boys as to exactly which television program might kick off the glorious three month hiatus. From my couldn’t help but listen post at the kitchen counter, I knew we could do better than this to usher in the summer, a beautiful season of different learning.  The woo hoo day arrived with torrential rain but none-the-less great jubilating joy. The race to the television was stopped in mid-step with the pronouncement that everyone needed to hop in the car. What? Why? Garage sale-ing. Ughhhh. Everyone gets five dollars to buy a broken appliance to take apart. It’s raining! All the better for a day at the workbench.  Garage sale hosts are exceptionally enthusiastic to have customers during a rain storm, so the deals were extremely good and it was clearly the peak season for broken appliances.  With three items and quite a lot of pocket change in our possession, we headed dripping wet to the basement workbench. Although the start was a bit slow with excitement in the project noticeably underwhelming, the momentum quickly picked up and soon tools were flying and the chatter of creativity was escalating in volume and speed. The project lasted hours, days, and weeks, and grew to include the neighbor kids who were already tired of watching television and much more interested in engaging their hands and ideas in the project. Early on, it was determined that all three appliances were completely unfixable, but by pooling all of the parts and adding this and that from various nooks and crannies in the basement, the garage, and the neighbors’ houses, a brand new idea emerged. The new idea led to drawings, plans, suggestions (only when asked) from engineer dad, and many phone calls (by the kids) to a variety of local gear shops. Fund raising efforts were organized to have money to order and purchase parts to continue work on the project.  The project was brilliantly and delightfully consuming and exhilarating and half of the summer whooshed by in a flurry of creativity before a calendar was ever noticed. Camps, family vacations, and assorted lessons punctuated the project efforts, but it all was good and fun and happy. In what seemed to be a snap, we were buying school supplies and shoes again readying for a new school year. Impossible. On the magnificent wings of creativity, the summer flew in the most joyful way hovering over the well-lit basement workbench, while the piece of furniture known as the television collected a good amount of dust.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Looking At Creativity 7

Lessons Learned…
Creativity Unwrapped 7

Untidy. Creativity is frequently on the untidy side because if one’s imagination is to fully cut loose, it cannot be troubled, encumbered, or held guiltily captive to neat and orderly cleanliness. We were city slickers, albeit  creative city slickers, who moved heart and home to the country, place of boundless imaginative exploration and wonder amidst rolling acres and nature’s treasures.  Toys schmoys. All we needed was to be outside, for high adventure existed everywhere in nature’s magnificent playground. In every season, the creative tools of play included: rocks, mud, creeks, sticks, flowers, trees, ravines, leaves, and winding mysterious paths. The cast of our creative play included: brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, several Labrador retrievers, a few barn cats, and occasionally invited guests such as parents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents, but only if they brought their imaginations and didn’t mind getting muddy. Imaginations  grow and flourish in this wonderfully  rich potting soil known as the countryside. It was late October, and the colored leaves had all come down. Rain had soaked this leafy carpet leaving a rather spongy, springy floor. The paths of the ravine as well as its steep sides were covered in this soft, springy, muddy carpet.  It looked delightfully slippery to the very knowing eyes of the cousins who were well acquainted with every nook and cranny in every season of this beloved playground. Guests, friends were coming over to play while the moms shared coffee and conversation. The guests were very neat and clean and looked unmistakably like inside playing kids. We were crushed but readied our inside play accouterments to accommodate our guests. Could we play outside, they queried? Really; it’s a bit dirty out there? We never get dirty; it would be fun. Yes, it definitely would, but are you sure? It’s really, really dirty out there. Good. Okay then. So off we cousins went with our guests to the slippery slopes of the ravine, while the moms enjoyed their fellowship. Time and mud and hilarity and unmatchable fun swirled around these cousins and guests as run after run after run after run we rode down the side of the ravine on the back of our pants. Caked head to toe in thick, thick mud, we all looked as if we had been dipped in creamy milk chocolate, and the sight of us to one another evoked constant, raucous peels of wild laughter from each of us as we trekked back to the house. Our mothers saw us coming from a long way off and surely heard us as well for they met us at the door with cameras first and then towels. They knew the deep value of creative play, they knew the blessing of play’s joy, and they knew that under all of that mud, which would eventually wash away, there were gargantuan heart smiles and spectacular memories of some slightly untidy, delightful childhood play that would last a lifetime.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Looking At Creativity 6

Lessons Learned…

Creativity Unwrapped 6

Creativity dwells within a playful spirit. If eyes contain a playful sparkle, you can be certain that a deliciously creative scheme is lurking ready to spring from just around the corner. This sparkle is highly contagious and extraordinarily irresistible to children who have not yet swallowed themselves in a plethora of doubts and self-consciousness. We learn to push the sparkle away as we grow older because it feels silly and childish and an extremely inefficient use of our highly structured scheduled and accounted for time. We instead draw ourselves closer to the comfort, security and measurability of conformity. As we move away from the sparkle, we seem to lose a little joy, a little lilt in our step, and a little piece of our ability to see possibility, because these things are all swirling around within the wonder and delight of playfulness. Why do we allow ourselves to be herded down this sad and tired path which so easily can become a sad and tired rut? Why do we opt for sparkle-less when we surely could choose sparkle-full? Why are we surprised and then disappointed when we cannot come up with a new idea, a new plan, a new solution, a new possibility, when we have deliberately discarded the playful sparkle which is exactly where all of this originates. Perhaps it is time to instead discard the clock and regain our sparkle.  So as an elementary creative drama teacher, I am allowed the excellent privilege of playing every day. Bliss. Sparkle. Joy. No one plays better creatively than children, whose eyes and hearts are full to the brim with sparkles and whose imaginations are perpetually ready to fully engage. To the kindergartners I mention that a blue heron is sort of a shy seeming bird with very long legs;  let’s walk like blue herons. Instantly, twenty perfect blue herons filled the room. Let’s walk like a scissors. Twenty perfect scissors. Let’s swish like a sprinkler. Twenty wonderful sprinklers. And on and on we played and could have continued forever that way, because children never run out of imagination. They never run out of playful sparkle. They never run out of new ideas, new stories, or new reasons to play. Growing older shouldn't have to mean turning our backs on that glorious, happy, wonder-filled sparkle that thrives on a playful spirit which drives imagination, creativity, and ultimately innovation.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Looking At Creativity 5...

Lessons Learned…

Creativity Unwrapped 5

Our fourth grade students were invited to sing at a beautiful event, An International Day of Peace. They needed a sweet, beautiful song. Here is my gift to them:, “Peace for the Children” by Darcy Hill. Their precious gift to the event and to our community was their excellent singing. Creativity at work.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Looking At Creativity 4

Lessons Learned…

Creativity Unwrapped 4

Play is the root of creativity, and creativity is the root of innovation.  Children need to play.  We all need much more time in the course of our days to feel the joy, the freedom, the absolute delight of eye-sparkling, imagination exercising, friendship building, playful fun. Such time would do us all a world of good.
Scene 9:
(President Lincoln and Secretary Stanton at the White House discussing war plans while President’s boys are running and playing all over the White House)
Stanton: They’re a little rambunctious.
Abe: They’re boys.
(more playing)
Stanton: We are trying to save our country.
Abe: They are playing.
(more playing)
Stanton: Can’t you tell them to stop?
Abe: Of course I can, Mr. Stanton, but I won’t. These are sad, dark, painful times.  Agony and grief are everywhere. These little ones are lost in the joy and wonder of childhood play. They lift my heart, and they remind me of the hope we must have. Let them play, Sir. Let them play.

Let them run, let them be, full of fun and perfectly free, let them play oh let them play.
Let them laugh, let them hide, let them sing inside or outside, let them play oh let them play.
They are children too quickly they grow; give them joy, give them hope, give them room so they’ll know that you love them.
Let them dream, let them build, imagination can only be filled when they play oh let them play.
Let them care for many a pet, let them splash and get themselves wet, let them play oh let them play.
They are children too quickly they grow; give them joy, give them hope, give them room so they’ll know that you love them.

Tad and Willie played and played through the halls and gardens of the White House with all of their pets and toys. Their happy interruptions and antics warmed the heart of their dad and always brought a smile to his mostly serious face.
(from Forever Honest Abe by Darcy Hill)

If we value innovation, we must value creativity, and if we value creativity, we must value play. We simply must.