Reflective Renewal

finding meaning and inspiration in children's literature

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Understanding & collaboration found in Where the Wild Things Are

November 9th, 2009 by christine · Creativity

As teachers, do you ever feel misunderstood and yearn for a school where you share a common vision and can easily collaborate with others?  Well, you are not alone.  I often feel that way.

WildThingsI couldn’t help but think of those same, vulnerable feelings when I re-read Maurice Sendak’s 1963 picture book Where the Wild Things Are in anticipation of the newly released film version of the book.  Max felt misunderstood.  He was perceived as naughty.  He longed to be in community with others who understood him.  Max didn’t want to be alone.  As a teacher and teacher educator, I have frequently felt this way.

Reflection often happens in isolation.  In our busy lives, the only time we have to reflect is within the walls of our own minds or classrooms.  While this is an important step in professional growth, it should by no means be the final step. We need to talk to others about our experiences.  It’s an important part of our growth and of our identities.  “We not only learn from others–we learn from ourselves by talking and interacting with others. When the process of reflection involves others, we enhance our ability to determine and to shape our own educational philosophies, instruction, and responsibilities to students’ growth” (Woodcock, 2004).  

Our understandings become more real and clearer as teachers speak about them to each other. As this process involves the close scrutiny of personal beliefs, an atmosphere of trust is essential for meaningful, collaborative reflection to happen. We need to stay openminded, responsible, and wholehearted in order to foster the trusting environment that encourages collaborative reflection. As we reflect by writing and speaking with others, we are led to question and revisit our teaching from different perspectives.

Like Max, we need not be alone.  We need not feel misunderstood.  Don’t allow yourself to feel “naughty” for feeling the way you do.  Your feelings are valid.  You deserve to be in a community of trusted, like-minded others.  Trust me, there is no perfect school.  I tried traveling around the country to look!  Like Max, I ended up right back at home where I started.  Instead, now I rely on my various support networks to listen and to provide insights.  Allow yourself to do the same.

To all of you readers out there– Where/who are your support networks?  How do you avoid isolation?  How can we and others help?

If you’d like to read more about collaboration and reflection, I published a brief article in 2004 entitled “How Does Collaborative Reflection Play a Role in a Teacher Researcher’s Beliefs About Herself and Her Teaching?: Discovering the Power of Relationships” that was published in The Journal of Natural Inquiry & Reflective Practice.

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Go on and be fancy. Nancy says it’s ok

November 5th, 2009 by lauree · Creativity

I just moved recently and, while unpacking, sheepishly remarked to Christine how I like fancy things. “I have the perfect book,” she said: Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor. She’s right – I’m convinced it is about me.Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor

For my coaching blog at Simply Leap I wrote that I love cocktail parties and seeing art films with subtitles. I like going to the cafe for pain au chocolat, mostly so I can say the name. My parents can attest to me, as a child, always ordering something exotic sounding on a menu even if I had no idea what it was. Ok, I still do that today.

Like Nancy, I also do not understand people who like plain vanilla ice cream. Not even sprinkles on top?

The lesson for me in Fancy Nancy is to share your individuality with the world, and to be appreciated for it.

It is also about values. I think most of us think we know our values without stopping to consider what they are.

Case in point: fancy. Reading Fancy Nancy I was reminded how I have always thought of it as an interest, not on par with health and career, my “real” values.

Scan 2 1Truth is, fancy influences my decisions and contributes to my overall happiness – indicators that it is a value.

So now I can more unabashedly cherish my fancy-ness, my joie de vivre if you will, and share that sheer delight with other people.

By understanding and owning our values, we get to more fully accept ourselves. And, as you teach your students, accepting yourself means others can witness and accept all that is you.

It’s a great gift that we can give to each other.

How do you introduce values in the classroom? What role do they play in your own life?

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Cloudy with a chance of creativity

October 29th, 2009 by lauree · Creativity

Christine wrote this week about reflection as it relates to the book and movie: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

As a coach and avid photographer what I found in the pages was inspiration for my own creativity — and I hope for yours too.

As Christine experienced in her classroom of 4th graders, the book is a palate for the imagination and allows each of us to see that anything in our everyday lives can be a source for creative imagining. A snowy hillside and a pancake misfired from the pan to a stack of papers to grade or your car keys on the kitchen table. There is life in every object around us, all it takes is an extra moment to consider what it is saying/showing us.

When I hired my first coach in 2003, I did so to be more creative without leaving my day job. It took me in a lot of directions. The most profound one was to realize how I was already creative. You are too.

Have doubts? Well, for one, you are already creative in the classroom. Creating lessons to challenge the minds of your students, and the ability to rework them on the fly. Your classroom is not the only place you are creative though.

Where else? Maybe you are an artist. I can say for sure that you see the world in a unique way from everyone else you know. Whether it’s imagining the shapes of clouds while daydreaming out your window, or how you organize a grocery list based on the aisles of your local store, you come to the world in your own way.

To me, the beauty of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, is that it reminds us to take that time and look around. What are the things in your life that you take for granted? Look around you right now…go on. What everyday objects catch your eye? Look closer. What would they say, do, if they were suddenly animated in this moment? What other forms might they take before your eyes?

Imagination is not limited to the playground. It is in all of us. A muscle that we always have access to, even if it’s a little rusty. By tapping into it daily, just by stopping to look around, you have the opportunity for downtime, for inspiration and for connecting to the child inside. What could be more worthwhile than that?

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Reflecting on Description & Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

October 27th, 2009 by christine · Uncategorized

How do these Hollywood screenwriters create an entire feature-length film out of a simple children’s picture book?

CloudyIn the case of the recent release of Sony Picture’s “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” which was based on the 1978 children’s picture book of the same name by Judi Barnett and illustrated by Ron Barnett, I think there may be at least two explanations.  First, the book contains rich description, which I always loved as a teacher to inspire my students to write with vivid details.

Second, as is the case with so many wonderful children’s books, while Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs may seem like a simple picture book, it actually contains a great deal of complexity in its simple pages.  The concept of food falling from the sky is obviously creative, fun, and unique.  Imagine the possibilities!

While engaged in writing instruction with my 4th graders in Vermont several years ago, I asked the children to write their own, original versions of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  Not surprisingly, they soared with this assignment, and it proved to be some of their best writing of the year.  The book itself already served as a perfect role model.  Then, I did some brief, explicit instruction on how to add lots of descriptive details about the food, and the results were incredible—delicious, really!  There is nothing like reading a story with excellent, image-filled description.  We took the simple concept of food falling from the sky, and allowed any complexities to flourish.

As teachers, I think there are powerful lessons to be taken away from this Cloudy recollection.  One idea that I can’t get out of my head is that teachers are always asked to reflect, yet are rarely shown how to reflect.

So, what is reflection, anyway? We all know it’s important, yet are we doing it?  Are we doing it correctly?  Even our website is called Reflective Renewal, for goodness sake!

Well, much of purposeful reflection comes from rich description, so in much the same way I love Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs for its descriptive nature and how it inspired my 4th graders to describe in vivid details, I ask teachers to do the same.  As educators, when we encounter a situation that requires reflection (it may be an issue, a conflict, a perplexity) first describe it in detail.  Until you have thoroughly described the situation, you cannot move forward to the next step, which is analysis.

Let’s face it—in order to really analyze a situation, one must first have all of the details. So, once a teacher has thoroughly described the situation, she may then analyze it.  This analysis may happen best in trusted community with others, so that several perspectives can be offered and considered.

Once some analysis has occurred, then the teacher can begin to take intelligent action and grow to move on to the next experience.  Moving forward in this meaningful way is much better than dropping a situation like a hot potato, or ignoring it all together.  With a little courage and support from others, we don’t need to avoid sticky situations, and we can move forward instead of staying stuck or even regressing.

So, let’s all take some inspiration from the imaginative, descriptive writing of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and our creative 4th graders when it comes to our own reflection.

To all of you readers out there– As teachers and as women, on what do you wish to reflect?  What’s going on in your lives that could use a gentle nudge from a supportive community?

If you’d like to read more about reflection, I published a brief article in 2004 entitled “How Does Collaborative Reflection Play a Role in a Teacher Researcher’s Beliefs About Herself and Her Teaching?: Discovering the Power of Relationships” that was published in The Journal of Natural Inquiry & Reflective Practice.

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What makes a teacher effective?

October 20th, 2009 by christine · Uncategorized

So, what qualities make a teacher effective?

As educators, this is a question we often ask ourselves, especially for inspiration. Let’s face it—at the end of the day, teaching is a very demanding, challenging profession, and we deserve opportunities to reflect on inspirational teachers and teaching stories that provide us with those rays of inspiration that get us through the next days and weeks.

For those of you who may already know me and/or have taken a class with me, you know that I begin every college class I teach with inspirational teacher stories that remind us of why we do what we do. Every semester, my students and I reflect on what qualities and personal attributes make teachers effective. As several of you already know, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes is one of my all-time favorite children’s picture books, and I read it during the first class of every course I teach. It is the perfect “1st day of school” book because it is a unique celebration of childhood exuberance, the joys of learning, and the smooth disposition of Lilly’s teacher, Mr. Slinger.

And, most of all, she loved her teacher, Mr. Slinger.

Mr. Slinger was a sharp as a tack.
He wore artistic shirts.
He wore glasses on a chain around his neck.
And he wore a different colored tie for each day of the week.

LillyI, too, love Mr. Slinger, for a host of reasons. First of all, I love that Henkes made the teacher a male, rather than the stereotypical female elementary school teacher. Mr. Slinger has a commanding, respectful, yet loving relationship with the children—a difficult balance to strike, indeed. He both disciplines and cares consistently. Lilly’s classroom is a dream classroom space, thanks to Mr. Slinger’s clever design. He uses innovative language, methods, and set-ups with his students. Mr. Slinger even has a kidney-shaped table at the back of the classroom with all sorts of fun writing utensils available, with a sign above reading “The Lightbulb Lab—Where Great Ideas Are Born.” Who wouldn’t want their child in Mr. Slinger’s classroom?!

One of Mr. Slinger’s most admirable traits is that he takes nothing personally. Excellent teachers, who truly understand the developmental qualities of their students, know better than to take anything the children do or say personally. There is no room for ego in teaching. Mr. Slinger handles tricky childhood behaviors with grace, and keeps the focus on learning, all while holding the students accountable for their actions, their growing independence, and their learning.

“Wow,” said the entire class. That was just about all they could say. “Wow.”

To all of you out there reading—

What do you love about Mr. Slinger?
What other picture book teachers do you find inspirational?

What makes those teachers you’ve identified effective?

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Teacher Appreciation just for you

October 14th, 2009 by lauree · Creativity

Teachers, after all of the giving, planning and organizing that you do every day, you deserve time and space for reflection and renewal. In addition to what you find on our blog, consider being generous to yourself this fall.

(Or, letting someone give it to you… an appreciative parent, student and husband, perhaps?)

For a limited time, Lauree is offering a special coaching discount for teachers only. See Events for more information.

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Playing school

October 13th, 2009 by christine · Uncategorized

Growing up, did you ever play school?

In some way, I feel like I have been a teacher my whole life. Although I have been an elementary and middle school teacher, as well as a college professor for several years, my teaching days began as a child. I would systematically line up my stuffed animals and carefully hold my prized children’s books for all of those plastic eyes to see, and read each word, with emotion.

Over the last few years, in my days as a college professor, I’ve found that the best times of our classes have been those moments I merely read a picture book aloud. All of the college students melt into their seats as the worlds come alive for them, and they can finally relax after a stressful day. Afterward, we frequently discuss the themes of the books, and how they can be applied to life and learning. I would hazard a guess that it was probably one the best parts of everybody’s day, to just lose ourselves in that book and the discussion of it.

Of course, my college students regularly have questions about the specifics of teaching, but more often than not, what I find to be the most challenging aspect of their days is simply their stress levels, and the demands that are placed on teachers everyday, by administrators, parents, students, and just personal concerns.

It is at these moments I genuinely wonder, why can’t we just sit back, relax, and look at children’s books for our clues? The literature sheds such light on our lives, which then impacts our teaching and everything else we do.

My dear friend Lauree and I have been close since the childhood days of playing school. For nearly thirty years, we have tackled each milestone together, trying never to be afraid of what life deals us. Lauree and I have had long talks about the straightforward beauty in children’s literature, and the complex lessons the simple books teach us. Their lessons are far more complex than anything we learned in complicated college classes.

Over time, Lauree and I have developed a vision for the type of work we would like to do with other woman, as we’re all tackling life’s twists and turns. Let’s have a website, a blog, occasional events, and most importantly, on-going, honest dialogue about what matters in our lives. We’ll frame it all with children’s literature, one simple yet gorgeous book at a time. I will share my favorite teaching stories, lessons and anecdotes from over the years, Lauree will share reflections on how to manage the demands in our lives, and we’ll frame the whole endeavor with various children’s books, both classics and the latest hot titles.

Join Lauree and me in this journey, and let’s play school together!

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Everything I learned about life, I learned from a children’s book

October 13th, 2009 by lauree · Uncategorized

Welcome to Reflective Renewal! The idea behind it is a simple one: if the life lessons we teach children are so fundamental, then they are just as meaningful and relevant to us as adults as well.

Christine6-93_2Since our friendship began at age 5, Christine Woodcock and I have shared a fascination of life’s twists and turns, especially as women. From the uniqueness of female friendships to navigating the decisions of career, marriage and motherhood.

Reflective Renewal gives us a chance to bring our curiosity and appreciation of women – and teachers – to others, in the process combining our distinct gifts as an educator and a life coach. We come at literature and life from different yet complementary perspectives. As we embrace what that means, we hope so will you.

For me, children’s literature, childhood games and the rules of the classroom are tools that I use as a certified life coach to help my clients understand their values and motivation. They are also fun – something adults need in their lives – and an excellent resource for brainstorming and creating a vision for what you want your life to look like.

Though I am not an educator by profession, I come to Reflective Renewal with a deep appreciation for teachers, and how much your work shapes who we are as people. I hope that you find our blog insightful both for your lesson planning and your personal development.

Please feel free to comment, question and challenge the ideas presented here. We look forward to it!

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