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Planning for Inspiration

Planning for Inspiration
In this follow-up to her article, The Role of Intention, Kerry Salazar contemplates issues at the heart of decisions leading to negotiated, emergent, or prescribed curriculum. One of the most difficult and most fundamental issues a teacher researcher must grapple with is how to find a stride that allows the adult to be with children — not too far ahead and not too far behind. She reflects on the question: How do you have intentions and still stay open to possibility and inspiration? As you read, consider the points that required decisions. 

By Kerry Salazar, Opal 2 Teacher-Researcher
With all of our talk with Opal 2 students in this first month of school about intentions, some questions have come up about the process of being intentional and thinking about our thinking. Together with the children we've wondered:
  • How do you have intentions but still stay open to possibilities? 
  • Are there chances to be surprised and inspired even when we have plans and intentions in place? 
Slowly, we're
discovering that yes indeed: staying open to possibilities and finding moments
of surprise and inspiration are happening right alongside our work of being
intentional in our choices and processes. In fact, we might even say that those moments are happening more often as we see students becoming clearer as they articulate their intentions. Stating those intentions actually seems to be supporting us to be more open and more inspired than we might otherwise be. Having intentions doesn't mean having no flexibility. It doesn't mean sticking to those intentions no matter what. We might even argue that to be open to new possibilities, to welcome surprise and wonder, and to be flexible in your thinking, you first must be able to recognize or know your own intentions. You must first have thought through the process of thinking, so that you might be aware enough to recognize when things don't go as you expected. 
Those unexpected moments are not cause for grief. Instead, they provide us with a moment to re-evaluate, to take our thinking a step further. We might ask: Why didn't things go as planned? What happened to my original intention? Was this something I wanted or expected? Was this something that distracted me? Or something that helped me imagine new possibilities? 

Here's an example of some things we've been hearing in Opal 2 around those unexpected moments:
"Someone else added on to my idea to make it bigger than I could have thought of." 
"A material helped me come up with new words that I couldn't think of at first."
"It woke up an idea in my mind that I had completely forgot about before."
Having intentions doesn't shut us down to possibilities. Having intentions opens us up; it makes us aware of our own thought processes. It allows us to embrace the unexpected, to not be scared or frustrated, but instead to see those moments as opportunities to stretch and grow in ways we initially couldn't even imagine.

It was with this sentiment that we asked the children in Opal 2 to explore their stories in the language of watercolor in Story Workshop one day. We wondered together, How can we have intentions and stay open to new possibilities at the same time? What will happen when I try my story in this material? 

Many children were openly excited to be invited to tell their stories using the watercolor paints. And by many, I do mean many, but not all. There was one student who immediately showed us his hesitancy. N showed and told us right away that it was not his intention to try his story using watercolors. He told us that he was much more interested in building his story in blocks than he was in painting it.

We listened carefully, reminded N that he would have the chance to come back to blocks the very next day, and encouraged him to stay open. Then, we let him have a little time and trusted that he would come to this work when he was ready. N stayed back, behind the scenes for a while, watching as his classmates dove in to their many new discoveries. As he watched and waited, very slowly we started to see his intentions beginning to change. From frustrated, to not interested, to just a little curious, to completely invested in his story with this new material, N was able to give himself the time and space to shift and become open enough to make new discoveries.


When N made the decision to give this material a try, he started by sitting down at a table and slowly and carefully drew a building and some of the characters in his story. Later, when we checked back in and there was an opportunity to share what had happened in watercolor that day, N was one of the first to have his hand up. He carefully explained, with a look of excitement and pride on his face, the surprise he had encountered while working in watercolor that day. “It allowed me to use the little robots to add color. It helped me imagine what I might want to do next!”

Nate watercolor swsN gave us all a strong model for what it means to allow ourselves to have intentions while staying (or becoming) open to new, exciting discoveries and possibilities beyond what we might have ever initially imagined. 

Post Script:

Our relationship with N was crucial. We knew him well enough that he could weather this challenge to his intentions. Our observations of N were equally crucial in the moment. We watched him carefully as he weathered the shift. Had he not warmed up to it, we would have adjusted to meet him in a place where he could feel successful. It was our intention to give a firm nudge to a child who we predicted was ready for it within a classroom of children who we predicted could make good use of watercolor paint to enrich their writing. Power struggles are a lose/lose — and we avoid them!

What do you notice Kerry attending to? How do you imagine she felt? What do you speculate she will carry forward from this experience? What role do you speculate the written reflection plays in her growth?  Please share your thoughts in the comments field or the Forum.

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4 responses to “Planning for Inspiration

  1. I have come to a point of being excited and indeed to expect inspiration to guide the conclusion of the intention. Is it ever or should it ever be what we expected? As I learn more about the thinking of children and the possibilities that will come out of any investigation or intention I may have for a work, I realize that their learning is deeper because of the value we place on being open to their thinking. Trust was a major part of the story here. Trust in the child in being capable in his own learning and and the trust the teachers had in their own belief in this child and in themselves as teachers. Thanks for your work and for sharing these stories.

  2. From my personal life experiences and work experiences aw well, I realized that no matter what kind of intention you have, some people(children) need more time and space to become to the idea,that they may try to get out of the first intention they have. It`s ok!
    allowing us to try something new,may let us discover brand new worlds.

  3. It is nice to be reminded that having intentions opens up possibilities for surprises. I had the intention of embarking on a study of emotions. We asked how do we take care of ourselves and our friends? We unpacked emotions that we felt, noticed in friends and books. We used a variety of materials to more deeply understand emotions. Then this week I noticed that there has been a recurring theme of keeping safe at our reflection meetings. Simultaneously, we have found ants in our classroom and are excited about capturing them and keeping them safe. This is not a direction that I anticipated…It’s time to re-evaluate:)

  4. Those unexpected moments are not cause for grief. Instead, they provide us with a moment to re-evaluate, to take our thinking a step further. This really spoke to me. We all have the best intentions, but we are working with individuals with their own intentions, views, needs and desires. Thus being open and taking the time to reflect is so important. In addition to giving children the time that they need to make good choices, trusting that they make those choices when they are ready.

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