Trust the Process…

Process based art and child led activities are a big interest of mine, I enjoy observing children’s creative processes as it tends to tell me a hell of a lot more than anything I plan for or control. So I’m steering away from the product based art and craft activities along with adult led play and learning activities in favour of experiences that invite children to have a voice and a  choice when it comes to play and creativity. How this will look will no doubt evolve and change over time and sometimes my adult input may be visible but the main aim is for the child to lead the way and for me to shut up a little more and just observe. I’m not lying, this is going to be hard!

Last week I decided to see what would happen when I placed some carefully selected craft items in front of the kids. In the past I would have selected these items with a final goal or product in mind and because of this the activity became highly adult driven. What I often found was the kids became bored, frustrated and annoyed that I was telling them what to do. So this time,although I still chose the items with a goal in my head I didn’t make it apparent to the kids.

I selected a range of green and yellow crafty pieces along with some egg carton pieces and imagined cute little turtles. Imagine how cute they would be!? So cute. BUT I kept my mouth shut, placed these items in front of the kids and watched (along with taking a million videos and photos!).


The  only time I spoke was to tell Master 1 not to paint his sister because she didn’t like it, as well as asking the odd question to encourage creative thinking and problem solving…

“How could you attach that?”

“What might that piece become?”

“What will you do next?”

In my mind I knew what I wanted those pom poms to be along with the best way to attach the pipe cleaners but it wasn’t for me to dictate or control!

It was interesting to note that initially Miss 4 wanted to make a turtle (hurrah!) but as she began to give the turtle hair (um… turtles don’t have hair, but okay!) by adding a pom pom she changed her mind and decided it looked more like an alien and as her approach changed she became incredibly excited by what she was making. Master 1 was just pleased to be making a mess but as I watched him a little closer I noticed how he was figuring out ways to keep the sequins on the carton as well as practising his fine motor skills by pulling off pieces of Blu(green?!)tack and rolling them into balls before flinging them on the ground. Imagine if I tried to take over!? I would have been met with tears, tantrums and paint in my hair…


Messy fun!

Placing our trust in children tells them that we value and respect their opinions and ideas and I really believe that this allows them to become more empowered, engaged and motivated learners. By continually dictating the ‘best’ way tells them that without our help they’re likely to fail and it’s this adult driven approach that may result in children becoming dependent, frustrated and worried individuals. So I think the big lesson here is that sometimes we just need to sit back a little more and trust that our little ones know what they’re doing (most of the time! Master 1 defintely shouldn’t eat the paint!) and as hard as it can be it’s often worth it for their response and the final result!

Little Alien (so much better than my cute turtle idea!)

I’m really pleased with this little experiment of mine. Not only did my preschooler come up with a rad little alien that is way cooler than any turtle I could make but it allowed me to really see what my children can do. If I continually held the paintbrush, stuck on the eyes and said things like “No…” and “You need to…” I wouldn’t have observed some amazing little successes that they figured out all on their own and now we have some truly lovely little green art pieces that proudly sit in our kitchen!

What do you think of Process based and child led activities?

Dear Square Peg

Dear Square Peg,

You never did fit into that round hole did you?
You sat (possibly wriggled!) in your spot and were made to feel like you were doing something wrong, when all you were really doing was being you.

Because… You’re a square.

You aren’t obnoxious, you’re just confident.
You aren’t vague, you’re just a dreamer.
You’re not odd, you just think a little differently.
You don’t have ADHD, you just need to move… All. The. Time.
You’re not difficult, you just like to manipulate (and possibly throw!) things to figure out how they work.

Because…
You’re a square.

You’re told over and over again that…
YOU need to sit still.
YOU need to calm down.
YOU are causing trouble.
YOU are being a nuisance.
YOU need to change.
YOU need to be… round.

But…
You’re a square.

You try. You really do, but it just doesn’t feel right.
It’s not you.
No matter how many times you turn yourself around you just don’t seem to fit.
It can be hard to fit into a world that…
Compares you.
Labels you.
Tests you…
Over and over again.
It feels like the world wants to make you round.

But…
You’re a square.

You tell yourself to be more round. Surely you can.
But, apparently…
You’re NOT quick enough.
You’re NOT smart enough.
You’re NOT successful enough.
You’re NOT motivated enough.
You’re NOT round enough.

Because…
You’re a square.

You have wonderful round friends.
They seem to make it in this world.
They fit.
They sit quietly.
They absorb information with ease.
They answer questions with enthusiasm and clarity.
They are the epitome of success.
They are beautifully round…

But…
You’re just a square.

Everyone wishes you were just a little more like them.
Things would be a whole lot easier if you were just like them.
Everything would be done the way it was ‘meant’ to be done if you were just like them.
Things would go to plan if you were… Just. Like. Them.
Just be like them.

But…
You’re a square.

And you know what?
That’s exactly who you should be.

So…
Be confident.
Dream.
Think differently.
Move! All. The. Time.
Be hands on.
Continue being you.

You may not always fit but you belong.

From,
Someone who gets you. x

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I’m not crazy. I’m a teacher.

First year out. You’re now in charge of educating young minds and you have convinced yourself that you will be the next John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society. You will inspire, challenge, engage and motivate our future. You will stand on tabletops and shout, “Seize the day!” This feeling is magical and deep down you are that person but as the reality of the day-to-day grind kicks in, as educational constraints, challenging behaviours and unimaginable exhaustion start to surface you realise that the teacher you so desperately want to be is rather difficult to sustain. You find yourself battling with a number of new teaching personalities.

Over the years, I have come to recognise a number of these interesting teacher personalities…

I’m currently Ms. Caffeine. Two coffees down and I’m furiously typing to finish this post. The final changes have been made to the Term 3 Art planner and ideas for an art show are pouring out of me like liquid gold. Ms. Caffeine is so bloody organised and perhaps a little OCD. Spreadsheets, endless notes, Pinterest boards and carefully labelled containers. Ms. Caffeine does however reach a point where so much of her has been consumed by the career she loves that she inevitably falls in a heap, drowning in a pool of her own tears… and coffee. Only chocolate can bring her back to a less erratic state – that is until the next flurry of ideas and responsibilities present themselves.

Ms Caffeine tends to be kind enough to make room for her more relaxed counterpart… Ms. Tranquil. She’s the one with the sing-song voice, who smiles with her eyes and uses calm and quiet tones. She inspires every child to do their best and finds the key to motivating those without confidence or direction. Ms. Tranquil really wants to learn guitar and play Cat Stevens songs in the hopes it will teach her students something magical about the world. I’d like to have her dotted throughout the day but I’m yet to work out how, which means there’s no ‘Oh captain, my captain’ moments happening in my classroom and so Ms. Tranquil seems to slip away a little after recess.

Enter Ms. Stone.

Unlike Ms. Tranquil she’s firm and will not put up with any nonsense. Those unique, cheeky students whose antics were endearing first thing in the morning aren’t quite as cute after 11am.  She doesn’t yell but her voice is raised, hands are placed carefully upon her hips and the tapping of her foot is always in perfect unison with the ticking hand upon the classroom clock. At times, I don’t mind her. When you need to get some papers marked or are required to break up a fight Ms. Stone is the woman to do it. Those pursed lips and her deep monotone voice send a scurry of feet back to their positions like regimented soldiers. But… “C’mon Ms. Stone. Lighten up a little, yeah? Learning is fun remember?”

The realisation that I’ve been a little harsh tends to kick in half an hour or so before lunch which is usually when Ms. Whimsy waltzes in. She’s playful, a little loud, excitable and over the top with everything. The other day she was amazed by the way a student mixed yellow and orange pastels together to create an interesting effect. “Wow Tabitha! That is fabulous! I really like what you have done to create light and shade there… Outstanding!” Seriously Ms. Whimsy. Just calm down a little will you? She usually disappears by lunch, which is when I tend to be in some sort of trance. Scoffing food down as swirling thoughts about what I have done, what I could have done better, what I desperately need to do in the next 5 minutes and… “Oh my God! I forgot to write out an award for assembly today!’ fill my already crammed brain to point of explosion.  

TICK… TICK… BOOM!

The dust settles just for a moment before Ms. Dragon appears, sending me into a fiery hot mess. I don’t like her much but she tends to storm in after I have managed to use up every last ounce of creativity, pulled out every trick from my extra-large teacher bag, or as a result of drinking too many coffees. She doesn’t inspire or bring any sort of joy. She’s just… cranky. Ms. Dragon does however remind me that I am only human and like my students, I have bad days too. She reminds me that anger is an emotion and it’s something we are allowed to feel but how we express it is something we need to be careful with because those young minds in front of us are impressionable. Like Ms. Dragon, all of my teacher personalities have developed and grown with me and aren’t something I should feel ashamed of or disappointed in. The teacher I wanted to be, the teacher I am, the teacher I will be in the future will always change and be different from what I expected…, and that’s okay. I must admit that I am keen to say goodbye to Ms. Dragon and this realisation came when Ms. Minimalist came to visit.

I’m still trying to figure Ms. Minimalist out and what she stands for. For now she’s a little scattered and confused but she’s motivated, excited and inspired by so many wonderful ideas that she knows she can make a difference somewhere. I like Ms. Minimalist so I’ll keep her close. I might need Ms. Caffeine to help me out a little though.

What are your teacher personalities?Some others that occasionally visit my classroom are:

  • Ms. LOL – she’s always joking with her students, she’s totes down with kid speak and pretends to know all the words to that popular song by that guy with the hair. Y’know the one.
  • Ms. Muscle – She can do anything. Lift a table, catch a spider, get a ball out of a tree. She has also been known to deal with poo and snot without engaging her gag reflex. She’s a superhero and the kids are amazed.
  • Ms. Frazzle – She’s disorganised, late and overwhelmed. She hasn’t done her hair, has dark circles under her eyes and forgot to fill out that important form. 

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The Last Word

Because I said so! 


As teachers we have all used our ‘power’ to get stuff done the way we want it done as opposed to the way the kids would like to have it done. We do this because we’re tired and can’t be bothered with the kerfuffle, we do this because we’re tired and have an endless list of teacher things to get on with or, we do this because we are just too tired! I get it, and in some cases this power may be necessary…

“Andrea*, you need to remove that stick from your left nostril. 

“Andrea, you need to take it out. 

Now. 

Andrea! Seriously.”

This is important in order to keep small (and the not so small!) humans alive. But I see you there. You have your lanyard ’round your neck and those keys are a jingling… They open all the doors. You have some power there my friend. It’s pretty nice isn’t it? My problem with this power is that it can creep into the classroom and school yard a little more than it should, in areas where it really shouldn’t.

This teacher power can appear any time we open our mouths. When we say hello, when we teach, when we see a kid jump in a puddle. It’s an automatic reflex. We’re looking for trouble and we’ll pounce like a hungry lion as soon as we see it. Sometimes we assume trouble is about to take place so we stomp all over that possible misdemeanour, because Alan* and Tina* were definitely/maybe trying to climb that tree and those things are dangerous!

On yard duty last week a student ‘dobbed’ on some girls who weren’t sharing the flying fox in the playground. It was outrageous. She expected that I would storm over there and give them a what for. Mind you, she wasn’t a part of the flying fox fiasco, she was merely a concerned school yard citizen who felt it was important to tell me the goings on in the Grade 3/4 playground. I thanked her for such concern, explained that for now I would watch them and hopefully they would find a way to sort it out. By making my way over there immediately would mean I didn’t give those girls an opportunity to solve anything for themselves. So I watched. No one was being violent. No one was being bullied. Everyone was alive. It was just a bunch of girls with hands on hips and lots of finger pointing. So I continued to observe. Eventually they saw me, turned to each other, chatted a little and then… they took turns. It may not have worked out that way but in this instance it did. I gave them space. I didn’t use my ‘power’ to tell them off. They are 8 years old and sometimes sharing is hard. Yelling, lecturing and using all the big words won’t necessarily get you the result you’re after, and it isn’t always teaching them much other than, if you yell people might stop for a bit.


In the classroom we love to talk and sometimes we have a habit of saying the same things in a variety of ways. Often we repeat these things because there is always that one kid who just doesn’t listen to anything you say.

“Jim*, what did I just say!?”

Frustrating I know.

But if that’s the case, why say it ten times for them to still not hear it? Other times we just talk because we like to hear ourselves say impressive words. Or is that just me!?

Make your point. Explain as needed. Invite discussion. Listen!

I’ve been very guilty of talking too much and during my first two weeks back this year I have made a conscience effort to talk less and listen more. This doesn’t mean I am being a lazy teacher, if anything there’s more teaching taking place. It enables me to observe students and support them in the moment.

Last week as my grade 1/2 students explored the concept of measurement using informal units I noticed a few boys playing with the tape measures. One was trying to use it as a skipping rope, another was trying to whip his friend with it. In the past I would have said:

“Hey boys! Stop that! Give them here.” 

But on this day I didn’t. Instead I said:

“Hey boys! What are you measuring?” 

That change in me led to something wonderful. It shifted from what appeared to be a ‘naughty’ episode into an amazing teaching and learning experience. We measured how tall we were. We discussed the numbers we saw. I explained centimetres and inches. We discovered that a tape measure can be used to measure the circumference of our head. We used the word circumference! We worked out who was taller and the difference between our measurements. A-mah-zing!

I know none of this is ground breaking. We all know we should be doing these things but sometimes we forget or it gets lost along the way. By making a conscience effort as much as we can to really stop and change our approach or direction can lead to some wonderful teaching moments. By ignoring my initial response to a problem and taking a few seconds to think about how I could say it differently, led to something I hadn’t planned for. For those students, it made them feel special. I was giving them my time. I was listening. I wasn’t stomping all over their discovery. They stood up with pride at the end of the lesson and explained to the class what they had learnt. I didn’t interrupt. I didn’t reword their explanation. I let them enjoy their moment and share their experience. It was really quite lovely.

So let’s all listen a little more. These humans we teach are still relatively new to the world and they’re looking to us for guidance. Getting the last word in doesn’t mean you won anything, it probably just means you’re not really listening.

* Names have been changed.

Teachers are Hoarders

Yep. Teachers have the ability to hoard. It may be organised and neatly labelled (if you’re a little OCD like me!) but when you think about it we tend to own a lot of junk. If we applied these same methods to our personal lives we’d find our houses overflowing with lots of trinkets, plastic bric-a-brac and cushions… so many cushions. Maybe it already is? As we continue upon our hoarding adventures we begin to notice our garages, sheds and classroom cupboards filled to the brim with plastic tubs that are stacked one on top of the other like a carefully constructed tower. Each one labelled to remind us of all the things we own, because maybe one day, say in ten years from now, I might use those Winnie the Pooh Calendar magnets – but only if the kids never touch them because I’m so scared of losing them.

Instead of eliminating the useless to make room for the purposeful we just buy more tubs and find more cupboards to store it all in. For the extreme hoarding teacher, it’s just too late I’m afraid.Your obsession for brightly coloured things that were only 5 for $10 has now begun to spill out into your learning environment, and because you have so many things you don’t think twice at throwing away the resources that have since been trampled on by little feet. This is not good.

Today I sifted through all my teacher ‘stuff‘ that I have had stored away for the last few years during my time between maternity leave and part time work. This year I decided to go through it all and decide what was worth keeping. The rest was to be either recycled or donated.

Well.

I didn’t find much to take back to work with me. All the resources I thought would come in useful one day, the books I bought in bulk because they were cheap, the cushions (Why do I have so many cushions?), and the towers of storage containers… All. The. Crap. Well, most of it doesn’t serve any real purpose or is outdated. I’ve been looking at it all and I’m struggling to see the point to a lot of it because there is so much of it I have never actually used before. Never! It’s all just been there just in case! In case of what!? The day my school suddenly doesn’t have any resources left? Sure some schools might not have an extensive supply for teachers to access  compared to another, or they might not be the prettiest of resources, but I’m almost certain that schools have stuff you can use. I know it’s nice to have your own things, I love having my own resources, but how many times have you decided not to let the kids use certain items because they might ruin them?

My old childhood mags I was too nervous to let my kids read in the classroom library so they never did! Whaaaat!?

It’s this ‘stuff’ that can clutter our rooms and overwhelm us! Of course we can have organised chaos, finding the perfect spot for those ‘one day’ items and make sure they’re out of the way, but I’m just not sure that’s how I want to operate anymore. Out of sight is often out of mind. How many times have you come across things you bought years ago and then completely forgot about? What’s the point of storing all these things if they don’t serve a purpose right now? Why buy something that you might use some day?

Sigh.

So, I’ve been brutal. I have tossed, sorted and donated… I may even sell some things and make some extra cash… and now I feel like I have a clean slate from which to work off. My teacher purchasing rules are as follows…

  1. I willonly purchase items that have a specific purpose, will be utilised on a regular basis and possibly have more than one use.
  2. I will think about how I can be more environmentally friendly, sourcing more sustainable resources that aren’t a part of our throw away culture.
  3. I will make more of an effort to get to know what materials, tools and resources I already have available to me at school and use them regularly.
  4.  I will not buy every cute thing (this includes cushions!) just to decorate my space with. Decorating is awesome but I want it to have purpose – another post for another time though!

Letting go of your things can be hard but the sense of relief is better. I’ve been simplifying things within my personal life for the last year now so applying the same idea to my teaching practice has been a natural step. If you’re new to minimising or thinking about it as a teacher I suggest baby steps and asking yourself the following questions:

Does it serve an educational purpose? 

Does it bring joy to you and your students? 

When you’re honest with yourself you’ll likely find out that you have been hoarding useless crap for a number of years. It’s time to let go of those ‘one day’ items and think about what really matters. We think kids need all the bells and whistles when it comes to our classrooms but you’ll find all too often that they just want you to be present in their lives… but again, that’s another post for another time. 🙂

Let. It. Go.

Purpose and Joy

2016 was a big year. The birth of our third child and the death of my beloved grandfather. Events such as these remind us how precious life is and it made me think about all the stress in my life, all the negativity, all the things that don’t bring me joy or serve a purpose. What am I doing? Don’t get me wrong, I have a great life, filled with laughter, warmth and excitement but there was something that needed to change. Enter minimalism.

Last year I began the tedious (and rewarding!) task of eliminating all the ‘things’ in my life that didn’t bring joy or serve a purpose. What a feeling! As I removed the clutter, sifted through the memories and re-evaluated what was important to me and my family, it opened a whole new outlook on life and what I want for my family and myself. I am obsessed with reading, listening to and following all that The Minimalists have to offer. Their outlook and way of life has certainly struck a chord with me and I’m enjoying the changes I’ve made and will continue to make in the future.

So, minimalism and education. This has been a relatively new thought and I think I’m going to enjoy exploring what this may look like in the coming weeks, months and years. Before I went on maternity leave last year I worked full time. At the end of 2015 I felt exhausted. Yes, I was pregnant and running after a toddler, along with racing my 10 year old from here to there, but even so, I really didn’t think my job should make me feel that way. I was burnt out, I was stressed, I was anxious and suffered from a number of panic attacks. I hated going to work. It really shouldn’t feel that way. It made me question my job. Should I teach? Do I really want this? Does it bring me joy? The idea of leaving teaching scared me and made me sad so I knew it wasn’t the job as such, it was the way I went about it all. I don’t want to stop teaching but I also don’t want to feel like this.

So, only a few weeks ago, as I began to shift my brain into entering the workforce again, I started to think about the minimalist classroom and how this would work. Would it work? What would my lessons look like? How would I set out my classroom? What sort of teacher does that make me? It isn’t about trying to get out of work, if anything it may require more thought, but then perhaps there will be more purpose to it all. Purposeful teaching and learning is so important.

This shift in thinking isn’t all about me as a teacher but it’s also about my students. If I am feeling stressed and overwhelmed what the hell are my kids (students) feeling? When they walk into a brightly decorated room full of colour and information and then BANG! I say “Okay, let’s start focusing on this, this and this…” are they freaking out? How can I create a warm, inviting and calm space that welcomes differences, supports learning and embraces the simplicity of life? So many questions… but one thing I do know is that we tend to over complicate things and I want to get back to basics.

I hope if anyone out there does follow this blog, that they might suggest or enter into a discussion with me about this idea as I have no idea where it will take me! I’m keen to know what other teachers have done and how it might work. I think this year will be interesting.

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