Dare to dream

Imogen fairy

Imogen fairydrawing class

Sometimes children need to dream. Actually, often. And no, I’m not talking about a daydream in the middle of the Mathematics lesson you have worked long and hard to prepare for, but a real-life goal or vision of something that they feel they have been called to pursue. I believe that most children, up to a particular age, will instinctively feel like they can dream big – like almost anything is a possibility for them. When is it that those dreams begin to fall away under the weight of what appears to be a harsher reality? Do we as teachers unknowingly contribute to the crushing of children’s dreams in the way we present a lesson, or in a casual comment, which may somehow imply to them that their dreams are not worthy of pursuit?

Sir Ken Robinson is an inspirational writer, researcher, adviser, teacher and speaker. He seeks to transform the way we run education today by moving away from the traditional methods and pushing for more creativity in the classroom. And by creativity, he isn’t necessarily talking about the teacher’s delivery of a lesson plan. He states that it is crucial to “inspire creativity in students.” He is talking about teaching students to be creative. To think creatively. To act creatively.  He also states, “creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” Words, which I believe, some teachers would struggle to come to grips with.

God, our Creator, who made us in His image, has given us gifts and talents to use for His glory if we choose to submit to His will for our lives. For us to find out what that will is, I believe we first need to find our passion, which will inevitably lead us to our purpose. None of this happens overnight. The journey is often long, and sometimes those seeds are planted in childhood by persons of significance in the life of the child, i.e. family members or teachers.

I will always remember the impact my grade 5 teacher had on my life. She was kind, creative and caring. What I did mattered to her. I was not just a fish in the sea of the class (which was more like a pond at the small school I attended). I mattered, and my interests mattered. She encouraged me in my passions (particularly in drawing), to the point I can still clearly recollect what it felt like to receive her encouragement back in my primary school days. Thanks to her positive affirmation (along with that of my parents) I was able to place a lasting value on my interest in the arts, even when I entered high school, where suddenly (and unfortunately) creativity was not nearly as important.

Despite this setback, which caused me to put aside my interests for a time to concentrate on the “more important” school work, I eventually came back to it. That seed had been growing there all along. The seed that I believe God placed there, and others (such as my grade 5 teacher) watered and nurtured. I now feel that art and writing are part of the greater purpose God has called me to, and that these gifts He has given me will hopefully inspire others to uncover their passions.

It’s not unlike the feeding of the 5,000. Share what you have, no matter how insignificant some people may think it may be. Our job is to turn up. God’s job is to turn our fishes and loaves into something that will meet the needs of thousands.

If we can share our passion and inspire our students to embrace their own, we don’t know how far that ripple will go. It is never our job to tell a student they are not capable of something, or that their dream is an unrealistic one. If we believe in a God of miracles, then perhaps we need to prove it by daring students to dream big and entrusting those dreams into God’s hands.

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Sir Ken Robinson said, in response to a poem by William B Yeats, “…every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams under our feet. And we should tread softly.”

Let us not trample the dreams of the students in our care. Let us water the seed of their passion, to help it grow into the plant of their purpose.

Be still and be a blessing

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When life gets frantic, sometimes, as a teacher or a parent, we can forget why we are here. Reporting season for teachers is a prime example, when the workload becomes a little more hectic than normal. It is in these times we need to remember to nurture our own spiritual well being and look after ourselves. We should also realise that when we do this, we will often be a blessing to our students and our family. Jessica Turner states it perfectly:

Sometimes the job can overwhelm us, and if we focus on all the deadlines and all the to-dos, it can become a little disheartening. If we can just take one step at a time, remembering to take breaks to reflect on the blessings (no matter how small) then hopefully we will make it through relatively unscathed. We need to acknowledge we can only do it all with God’s help, not in our own strength.

We must never forget the passions He has placed in our hearts, no matter how insignificant it may seem in contrast to the pressing deadline of the moment. This season will pass, but His love, His Spirit, His grace and mercy goes on forever. It is all a matter of perspective. If we can rise above, to soar on wings like eagles, then perhaps the birds eye view will help to not feel overwhelmed by the workload. Often, the “soaring on wings like eagles” unknowingly happens, when we are pursuing our passion, and fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives.

If we can also take the time to “be still”, as He reminds us in Psalm 46:10, then the stronger we will be because of His presence and guidance within our hearts.

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Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)

…but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

How to decorate your classroom with fun, colour and love

class wall

In the school where I work, we are incredibly blessed to have access to beautiful, colourful furniture and classrooms with walls brightly painted in all the colours of the rainbow. I believe this makes an incredible difference to the feel of the teaching and learning environment, but I always remind my students that they are incredibly blessed to learn in such a school, as there are few schools in the area that have as much as we do.

When setting up a learning space, there are many things to consider. Students need to know where their belongings live. For Kindy students, we have a personal ‘hat hole’ which also holds their headphones, their daily piece of fruit for crunch ‘n sip time, along with news items, etc. We also have bag tags on the wall so students always know where their bag belongs, and everyone is encouraged to keep this neat and tidy.

A reading corner is an essential area, and students should be able to see where this is the minute they walk into the classroom. I like my area to encourage quiet reading as well as collaborative reading where appropriate and I have a mixture of relaxation chairs and a tent from Ikea (teacher’s paradise) for those students who on occasion may just need some time to themselves.

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I prefer students’ desks to be grouped together, to allow for collaborative work, but I also need students to be able to view our Interactive White Board when necessary. We also have an art/messy play area, where students will use everything from paint, to playdoh and kinetic sand.

What I love most about developing the feel of the classroom is displaying student work and filling the walls with images and words that reinforce love to the students. In order for them to learn at their fullest potential, they need to feel safe, valued and cared for. They need to get excited about their day as they enter the room and they need to know that the environment is one in which they are able to make mistakes without fear of condemnation.

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Albert Einstein once said,

“The only sure way to avoid making mistakes is to have no new ideas.”

I want my students to have the confidence to share new ideas with myself and the class. I do not want them to fear that their answer may be the wrong one. I regularly remind my students that I too make mistakes daily. As humans, we will never be perfect, and we can only strive to do our best in all things.

As 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us,

… “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Even as adults we can fear making mistakes to the point it can hinder our own ideas and growth. In everything we do, if we can learn to acknowledge our weakness and rest on Christ’s power, then we are sure to accomplish so much more than we ever could without him.

Children of all ages need to realise this too. They need to feel comfortable in acknowledging their failings and fears, without it controlling their actions. In the classroom, students need hope. They need the four walls around them, along with the teacher standing in it, to remind them that they are of value, their thoughts matter and that they have a unique purpose in the school, in their family and in the world. Their work on the wall affirms this, positive images speak this and encouraging words from their teacher declares this.

One of my Year 1 students once gave me a poster she had created, at the end of a school year. While it has been over 2 years since I taught her, it still hangs proudly on my wall as a reminder to myself and my class of the words it contains from Ephesians 4:25 (MSG).

ephesians poster

This verse reminds us, that we as teachers still need to have a certain level of transparency with our students. They need to know that we are real, that we often feel the same emotions they do, and that we too make mistakes. If your students see you as some kind of all powerful ruler, then you probably have the wrong relationship with them. Children learn more by watching us (parents and teachers alike) than we could ever hope to teach them from a textbook.

So, my advice to you when setting up or refreshing the classroom for your students? Let them feel safe, let them see hope and let them know love. In whatever way you can best express this, then let it shine brightly in your room for all to see.

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Teaching thankful hearts

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In a world where some children are given so much, and others so little, it is hard to teach true thankfulness to those who constantly live with more than they require. Teaching in a private school will always bring the challenges of opening a student’s eyes to appreciate all they have been given and to recognise the blessings that they might frequently overlook. Some children will not even understand the idea of poverty, because the thought of them living, without knowing where the next meal is coming from is such a foreign concept to them. So many children today have so much more than they could really want or need, to the point that they cannot even genuinely appreciate the items that they own, or the experiences that they regularly partake in.

Reading corner

So, how do teachers teach thankfulness? How do we teach students to appreciate time, gifts, food, nature, shelter and love? While at times I honestly feel that the task is near impossible, I know that with time and persistence, you can help open children’s eyes to the blessings around them, simply by drawing their attention to what they have, and imagining what life would be like without it. I have been personally encouraged and inspired by the book, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. The way she teaches us to be truly thankful in all things (including the small things), is so simple, yet such a daily challenge. When you change your perception of what a blessing is however, you start to appreciate more than you could ever have imagined.

one thousand gifts

In Kindergarten for the last two years, we have used prayer journals and when we begin writing in these journals, it is first and foremost with a ‘thank you.’

“Dear God, thank you for…”

“Dear Jesus, thank you for…”

“Dear Lord, thank you for…”

thank you for   prayer journals   school prayer

After about a term of thanking God for things we then introduce the idea of asking for something or praying for the needs of another. It has been beautiful to observe what students choose to write about and how they craft their prayers. Often they are so caught up in their list of ‘thank yous’ that when it comes to the ‘please’ time, they do not desire to ask God for anything. If my students are at this point, my heart is content, as I know that they are focusing more on praising and thanking God for the blessings that they themselves have identified around them.

Sometimes children need to be reminded that their mums and dads are blessings, that their siblings are blessings, that their school is a blessing, that the fresh, clean water they drink and the lunchbox packed full of food is a blessing. While I am sure some parents often try to remind their children of this at home, parents and teachers alike will realise, that for some reason, what the teacher says will often sink in more! In a Christian school, it is a blessing in itself to be able to freely discuss God and His love for us. Students are in a place where they can truly reflect upon those blessings during a Writing lesson or an Art lesson and can bounce ideas off their peers in discussions and also pray together.

thank you for friends

In Kindergarten, we have just introduced News Groups, a time for Speaking and Listening, where students sit in small groups to share their news, rather than just one person talking to the whole class. There are set topics each day, and this year, we decided to introduce a prayer group session, once a week. Students share their prayer points and then take turns of praying. This time has really been quite beautiful to watch. While some students are discovering their own prayer language, others are quite confident in expressing themselves through praying aloud. What students can learn and how they can grow from just sitting and interacting in this way together is really quite incredible.

For me, as a parent of a child who was a Kindergarten student last year, reading her journal full of prayers at the end of the year was such a special experience, and the journal itself will be a keepsake for years to come. While most of the entries were ‘thank yous’, I recently happened upon one entry written just after the Cross Country a year ago.

It said:

“God, please help me to ran fast.”

Despite the incorrect grammar, I believe God honoured her prayer. While she didn’t even place in the Cross Country last year, this year she actually came first, and by a long shot, much to the amazement of us all! While children need to learn that sometimes God says ‘no’, or ‘wait’, to our prayers, at other times we can celebrate the ‘yeses’. When He does say yes, it is important to celebrate this and remember it as a time when God heard our words and answered.

help me to ran fast

I believe if we can encourage and build up the habit of prayer in our children, it will help to bring forth amazing young men and women who will actually believe in the power of prayer, as we all should. As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 18:3, we need faith like a child if we are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. If we can encourage and inspire God’s beloved little children to seek time with Him early in life, how much more will we enable them to live lives enriched by His presence and filled with the realisations of His great blessings.

As Ephesians 3:20 says,

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us… to him be glory… for ever and ever! Amen.

please God

When we are lost…

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Last year for Book Week, I created a lesson based around Banjo and Ruby Red written by Libby Gleeson and illustrated by Freya Blackwood. I even brought in one of our own chooks to make the experience that much more real and enjoyable. The book tells the story of one very stubborn chicken who refuses to do what she is told by Banjo the ‘chook dog’. Each night when it is time to round up the chooks, Ruby Red remains on her woodheap until eventually, after much persistence and barking, Banjo finally gets her into the chicken shed. One day however, Ruby Red goes missing. Banjo searches and searches until he finds her alone and sick. He gently brings her back to his kennel and cares for her until she regains her strength and is returned to full health. From then on, Ruby Red does not sleep on the woodheap or in the chook shed. She sleeps with her rescuer and protector, Banjo, safe and sound in his kennel.

This was a wonderful book to share with my students for many reasons. Through it, we were able to discuss themes of relationships, obedience and caring for others, however the theme that stood out to me the most, was that of God being our protector and rescuer, just like Banjo was for Ruby Red.

Sometimes in our lives we get stubborn, and just want to stay on our woodheap. Why? Because we know it and we think it is good for us. God, in his wisdom, knows what is best for us. How often does He have to persist with us until we listen to him? How often does He attempt to call us away from the comfort of our circumstances into something greater?

Isaiah 53:6 from The Message says,

We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
    We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
    on him, on him.

Despite His great love for us, we like sheep (or chooks) regularly wander off and do our own thing. Even if we have heard and accepted the beautiful message of Christ’s sacrifice for us, we can still at times choose to turn away. We may wander off to the distractions of money, of TV, or of social media. At other times, circumstances may trigger us to wander off into feelings of selfishness, doubt, anger and resentment. When we wander off into these places, we are making a deliberate decision to walk away from God. I’m not saying that we can’t enjoy a TV show, or participate in social media, but when they become an obsession, or steal away your time with Him, then there is an issue. The more time you spend away from God and His Word, the more you will become influenced by the environment you have wandered into.

Dr R. A Torrey said,

“Prayer makes God real. The gladdest thing upon the earth is to have a real God! You cannot have vital faith in God if you give all your time to the world and to secular affairs. Unless you take time for fellowship with God, you cannot have a real God. If you do take time for prayer, you will have a real, living God, and if you have a living God, you will have a radiant life.”

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God has called us all to fellowship with Him. He knows that when are still, and listen to His voice, we will be at peace, stronger and more radiant than we could ever be without Him. He knows much better it is for us to get off the woodheap of our making, and rest where He knows we will be safest. And what’s more, when we are sick, hurting, or really and truly lost, He will come after us. He will run to us as the father did with the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. He will search for us as the shepherd searched for the one lost sheep in Luke 15:3-7. He will not stop until He can carry us back to rest in His love, protected and healed, safe in the shelter of His presence.

Ollie chickenschicken feedingImmy chickens

Psalm 46:10 says,

Be still and know that I am God…

Just as Banjo stopped at nothing to rescue and protect Ruby Red, so too does our loving Heavenly Father seek to find us each and every time we wander away from Him. We just need to be still in His Word, and open our ears to His voice in our hearts.

Ollie Epos 2

If you need something beautiful to reflect on as you seek to spend time with God, then have a listen to this:

Song for You by Jenny & Tyler.

 

Ignite your heart

As teachers, there are several times within the school year that we undergo the process of feedback. Whether it be lesson observations, program checks or, on a larger scale, whole school registration, these types of situations can cause a great deal of anxiety or stress. Through these times, it is vitally important to look after oneself and not live in fear of what others may have to say.

Imogen's Box

As Proverbs 29:25 from The Message says:

The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.

I really believe that finding your purpose in Christ can protect you from fearing the opinion of others. To believe fully and completely, that you are living out God’s purpose in your life, is actually a way that you can demonstrate your trust in Him.

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Lately I’ve come to realise that for most of my life I have always worried too much about what people thought of me. As a teenager I felt totally inferior to most of the girls in my grade. So to compensate for these feelings, all I felt I could do was to seek to please my teachers by doing everything right. I hated receiving what I saw as “negative feedback” because I wanted it all to be perfect the first time!

This may sound a little like how some of us might feel about receiving feedback from others… we want to make the best impression. We don’t want them to find anything wrong because we’ll feel it is a poor reflection of who we are.

I regularly read a blog by Ann Voskamp (author of One Thousand Gifts) called A Holy Experience. In a recent post about the role of mothers (which I could also apply to teachers), Ann Voskamp said this:

“We all need mothers who love the largest and will say:

Don’t simply follow your heart – but follow a light so lovely that it will ignite your heart. 

 This road will be less travelled.

 This will make all the difference.

 Because you are not here to make an impression, you’re here to make a difference.” 

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I believe that our individual purpose is entwined so deeply into our heart that only the light of God can fully ignite it. Why? Because He placed it there.

The candlemaker knows best how to light the wick.

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If we follow the light of Christ directly into our purpose, it will inevitably have something to do with loving others. As believers in Him, that is our purpose, however, we each have gifts, God-given passions and abilities. We need to realise that the way one person shines light and love, could be completely different to another.

When Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… and love your neighbor as yourself” He knew it was for our sake, as well as for the sake of others.

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When you read this from The Message, it becomes even clearer:

Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it. Love others as well as you love yourself.”

The 2 points I want you to dwell on now, are in that final command. Love others. Love yourself.

Ann Voskamp says that, “Love doesn’t necessarily mean bless or agree with – it means to sacrifice for and suffer with.” 

What is it that you should sacrifice for the sake of others? How can you come alongside them and help them in their suffering?

In church

I think that sometimes, being the service-minded Christians that we strive to be, we can forget all about ourselves. We can focus more on meeting the needs of others and forget that we too first need to be filled, if we are to empty ourselves in service.

The wonderful Head of Primary from my school recently sent out an article to all teachers entitled: Can teachers ever have a work-life balance? One of the points it made was that teaching is not the profession for a perfectionist because there will always more to do. It stated that we teachers need to look after ourselves by having (ideally) 8 hours of sleep per night, as otherwise, we are really not giving the best of ourselves to our students.

After reading this I reflected upon another aspect that I believe is just as vital to our wellbeing: We need to make sacrifices for the sake of our gifts and our passions… those things that God wants you to develop and spend time doing, so that you might be better equipped to serve him.

If God gave you the gift of singing and your voice can heal the hearts of others then pursue it. If you like to grow plants or care for animals, then dedicate time to that. If you love to write and draw as I do, then don’t make excuses for why you shouldn’t allow yourself that time. Just do it.

I recently completed what I feel is one of my most spiritually significant works, called One Thousand Tears.

One Thousand Tears

I felt God placed this image in my head and heart after dwelling on Psalm 56:8 (NLT):

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.

It took me months to actually complete it, as I kept filling my time with other things. While some of those things were necessary, most of them were not.

It was only when I read a guest post by Jessica Turner (author of The Fringe Hours) on Ann Voskamp’s blog, about how important it is for kids to see their parents using and making time for their God-given gifts, that I was actually able to finish it in one go, with my children beside me.

They were no longer a reason for me not to finish it. They became part of the reason I had to.

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I believe this concept should be applied to our role as teachers as well as parents. What God-given gift or passion can you share with your students or your children? What you can you do alongside them to inspire them, and in doing so, help them discover and embrace their individual purpose?

I actually shared my artwork with my lunchtime drawing club recently and their reaction was really incredible. They all hushed when they saw it and listened intently as I talked about how I had dedicated many months to completing it, and how I felt that God had given me the image. I encouraged them to think about a Bible verse or an image that might help or inspire people who might be sick, or sad. While I can’t guarantee all of them will have taken it on board, if only one did, then that is enough for me.

We should never feel guilty for the sacrifices we make for ourselves if it is in pursuit of our purpose. If we are to really follow Christ’s command completely, and with a happy heart, then we need to prioritise our lives a little and not forget to love ourselves when we love others. If we can get this balance right, with loving God first and foremost, then I believe we will end up with a truly joyful heart, as we serve him in love.

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Hebrews 10:22-24 from The Message says:

So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out…

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So, is there something that has long since burned out in your heart? If this is speaking to you right now, then follow a light so lovely and allow Him to ignite your heart once more.

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