Being Prepared to Fail

Yes, I know, I said that we shouldn’t stigmatize mistakes and that we should label mistakes as “attempts” instead, so that we can learn to move beyond the mistakes and learn from them. But the truth of the matter is, the word “fail” is in our vocabulary. People use it all of the time to describe what is going on in the world around them. Take a look at the popular “FAIL Blog” to see what I am talking about. (Although, as I got mesmerized by the entries when I went to copy and paste the link, I realized how many of the entries show the creative nature of the human race – and their willingness to put themselves out there.)

This morning I have been browsing the website of Edutopia, or the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Yes, you read that right: the film guru George Lucas is now involved in educational innovation. When I found this out this morning, I felt like I had been living under a rock because I have been following Edutopia on Twitter for a couple of months now without knowing what it actually was. But I was browsing the website this morning and I came across a blog post that sounded interesting: What You Need to Be an Innovative Educator by Terry Heick. The suggestions and advice seem sound to me, but when I got to number five, “Willingness to Take Risks”, I had to smile:

But a real willingness to take risks means being prepared for failure. And failure might come in the form of lost funding, an article written about you in the local newspaper mentioning a “project gone bad,” unflattering data, and a million other possible outcomes.

Being willing to take a risk shouldn’t empower you to implement wrong-headed, half-baked ideas under the guise of an “innovative spirit,” but you should be prepared to fail. Which is fine, because education has been failing long before you got here.

Yes, I had to smile at that, because I have found that the further into this project that I get, the more I seem to take myself entirely too seriously. And worry about failure. “What if the ideas that I am putting forth in this workshop/lesson plan aren’t understood?” or “What if I can’t get my point across?” Some of the ideas that I am presenting are radical by the standards of traditional education, but have been talked about in the realm of progressive education for a long time. A lot of the progressive ideas have been misconstrued and misrepresented by traditionalists for years – one of the hardest parts of my early research was educating myself beyond the myths that have been laid out there. And if that was one of the hardest things for me to do – change my mindset – how difficult is it going to be for me to change the mindset of others? The key for me was being able to take the ideas that I encountered directly into the classroom and try them out for myself, thereby seeing the change and results for myself. I have tried to include this feature in my workshop so that educators can take the ideas that I present directly into the classroom and use them for themselves. Of course, it won’t be easy at first – change never is easy – but with support it can work.

Of course, I need to mentally prepare myself for failure because it could happen. But this quote reminded me to stop taking myself and failure quite so seriously, because education has been failing long before I got here!

prepared to fail

The Measuring Pencil

Closeup view of the tip of a pencil.

Image via Wikipedia

This evening kiddo was drawing with a pencil, when she somehow came up with the idea to measure herself with the pencil. “I’m seven pencils tall,” she informed me. She measured me, my boyfriend, her sister, and pretty much everything in the house.

I’m not sure how she came up with the idea to measure things with the pencil, but it made me think about how amazing children’s brains are, and how they will come up with the most incredible ideas on their own. She did not receive any prompting from me to measure anything, although her sister told me that she may have gotten the idea from an episode of Curious George where he measures himself with a stick of licorice. Even if that was where she got the idea, she hasn’t seen that episode recently but she still made the connection between measuring with a licorice stick and measuring with a pencil.

Kiddo has constantly amazed me with the things that she learns – things that I have no idea where she learned them. She is much more observant than I give her credit for, and she figures out a lot of things on her own. Watching her, as well as the children that I teach, makes me realize that children know more than we think they do, and they are much more capable than we think they are. That is one of the reasons why the constructivist philosophy in education is so appealing to me. In it children have the freedom to express their own ideas and make connections, such as the one my daughter made with the pencil. If she had been prodded by me to measure something with the pencil or a ruler, she probably wouldn’t have been as enthusiastic as she was about measuring everything in the house, and I may have tried to teach her at a time when she wasn’t as receptive to learning the process of measuring something. As it was, she did just fine measuring chairs, books, and people on her own. Of course, since she is four years old, her measurements weren’t all that accurate, but she had the basic idea of how to measure something and to me that is all that is important at four years old. No doubt she will figure the rest out later.

A Look at a Book: Working in the Reggio Way: A Beginner’s Guide for American Teachers, Part II


Image via Wikipedia

I haven’t had much of a chance to work my way through much of this book yet, what with holiday plans and all. But today I had a whole hour and a half free to get somewhere in it. The first section is about spaces, namely the layout of the rooms and how they speak of your commitment to children. Are the majority of fixtures in your center at the children’s level or the adult’s level? The sinks and mirrors in the bathrooms? The windows in the classrooms? What do the items in each center say about your view of children? Do they say that you view children as competent individuals?

I have not even begun the process of writing down my answers to these questions, because the book first asks you what the centers should look like in general. Then it asks you what your centers would look like if you had unlimited resources. I am looking forward to answering these questions, because they will give me a foundation for answering the questions about the room I am in now. Being a teacher and not a director, I don’t feel like I can speak for the entire center, but I’m sure that I can make suggestions. The book speaks mainly to the entire center, and it would be nice to go through the book with the entire center in mind, but I am not in a position to make the necessary changes in this particular center. I am in the position, though, to design my own center with everything that I would like to see in it, and this is probably what I will do. It is a project that I will definitely look forward to.

I am also looking forward to answering the questions about my own room. Just answering the first set of questions gave me the inspiration to get rid of the “Little People” town that I have had on one of my tables for about a year. Before that it had an assortment of plastic dinosaurs and other animals. Now I have no idea what I am going to use this table for. It is a pretty big table, with a one-inch wooden lip all around the edge. I am thinking about incorporating it into my studio area and using it for my studio enhancements every week. My studio area needs a lot of work anyway, including an entirely new shelf – I don’t feel like anything is open enough with the shelf I have now. This shelf is about four feet tall and is comprised of shelves that are about ten inches wide and three or four inches tall. Right now I have paper in the openings on the top level (there are four openings at each level) and pencil boxes holding writing tools or collage materials in the other openings. But no one can see the pencil boxes all that well to see what is in them, so the majority of them never get used. I want to change that.

There are a lot of things in my room that I want to change, and it will take time to change them all. But I’m looking forward to using this as a learning experience so that I can use the skills that I learn for my own center in the future. One thing that the book did say was that for each group of children, the room (center) won’t be the same because the room (center) evolves in a way that will work with the tendencies and personalities of each group. It will be fun and challenging to put all of this into practice. I wish, however, that I had an assistant of some sort that I could collaborate with – two heads are better than one when you are talking about the personalities of children because one teacher may have noticed things that the other teacher hasn’t. And in centers in Reggio Emilia (the town) the teachers do collaborate when it comes to figuring out the best way to use or re-design a room.

But in any case, this is proving to be a very exciting and engaging read, and I look forward to posting more about my progress in the days or weeks to come.

My First Day Teaching an Emergent Curriculum – Exploring Ice

Today was an exciting day for my class. Not only did our home living receive a makeover (it looks much more realistic now!) but we started our first child-directed project today!

When I arrive at work, the first thing my class does is go outside. I was somewhat hesitant about taking them outside today because it was pretty cold, but I figured that a little outside time was better than none, so we loaded up with containers to collect items for nature-inspired art and out we went.

Plans changed and gelled quickly once we got outside, though. There was ice at the bottom of the slides! We pondered how that ice got there and came up with some hypotheses (unfortunately our camera isn’t working right now, or I would have pictures!). I was hurriedly scribbling all of the comments down for later documentation, too. Some of the comments were great, like “The ice must have fallen from the sky!”

We took the ice inside and put it in a plastic tub. I told the kids that it was going to change, and asked them how they thought it would change. The dominant opinion was that it was going to change colors. They kept watch over the ice for the majority of the morning, convinced that it would turn brown (there was a LOT of dirt on that ice). It wasn’t until after nap time that most of the ice was melted and we got to see that it had turned into water.

Tomorrow we are going to make our own ice, and I am going to show the kids that the water has to get REALLY cold before it will turn into ice. We will leave one ice tray in the classroom, put one in the refrigerator, and one in the freezer.

Oh, this is so fun!

And I Thought I Was Brave…

I have never had a qualm about having insects in the classroom. I’ve grown up catching tarantulas in my yard, after all. But I ran into these posts (second post here) about a class learning about spiders, and I realized how much I had limited my class’ learning about the same thing! Wow, I have a lot of respect for this teacher and how she taught her students. Notice how the feeding of their turtle turned into a whole new exciting learning experience! I am so loving this research! There is no limit to where the class will take you and the things that you will learn!

The Delights of Researching Progressive Education

I am constantly and consistently amazed at the stories I am coming across during my research of Progressive early childhood education. My research has been focused on the Reggio Emilia educational approach today, as I discovered that this is the approach that the company I work for is implementing. Funny that I didn’t realize this before, what with all of the curriculum trainings I have been through during the past two years; I had to go on their website to discover it (once you put a name to it like “Reggio Emilia” the easier it seems to be to implement it correctly). Not to worry, though – my research has born wonderful fruit.

Here are some excerpts of my findings:

An example of a child-directed activity (this is so cool!)

A look at classroom environment – inspiration for my own classroom (especially the photograph frame – I really want to figure out how to make one of those, since that is a natural-looking depiction of one of the classroom structures that I need for my adventures in Conscious Discipline!)

In short, I have figured out that I have a LOT of work to do on my classroom, but I already knew that. I have been spending most of my holiday time trying to come up with better classroom organization techniques, and these photographs and the knowledge that I have gained so far have helped immensely.