And then this…

Heart-a-Day #37

“Sometimes, being different feels a lot like being alone. But with that being said, being true to that and being true to my standards and my way of doing things in my art and my music, everything that has made me feel very different… in the end, it has made me the happiest.” Lindsey Stirling

In the spring of 1989, my boyfriend Ricky introduced my to the wonders of the downtown San Diego Public Library. He opened me up to an entirely new use for the library: sheet music, musical scores, and classic movie videos. I was able to find librettos to my favorite musicals like West Side Story. I could use them for the voice class I was taking at city college. I made copies (I’m sure while breaking several copyright laws) of music and lyrics of appropriate songs for my fledgling singing telegram business. I enjoyed watching movie classics like Giant and A Star is Born, entranced by the intricate story telling they offered.

Now, I have access to musical scores and movies at the touch of my fingertips thanks to the internet, WiFi and my smart phone. At a time without this advanced technology, having the library available for me to access these tools for making and enjoying art opened opportunities I may not have had as a young, struggling artist.

Have libraries made a difference in your life? What new and unique uses have you discovered libraries can offer? Share your library stories with your students. Give them the opportunity to find and explore the magic of libraries.

(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use. The images are for personal use only. No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)

Work Study…

Heart-a-Day #36

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” Confucius, The Book of Rites

In 1980, I went away to college at the University of Redlands as a music performance major. In order to make ends meet and as part of my financial aid package, I was required to find an on-campus work study job. I was fortunate enough to land a sweet deal of a job in the listening room of the university library. My job was to shelve the music albums by artist, composer or genre of music. During my two hour shift, I had the luxury of being able to complete my music theory homework and enjoyed the time listening to my favorite musical theater cast albums. It was also my responsibility to assist other students with finding music they wanted to listen to, and help them with checking it out. Students were required to write their signature to take albums from the listening room with them.

One evening, a gentle, handsome young man was spending time in the listening room inquiring about the university’s collection of jazz albums. I found the album he wanted to borrow, and was surprised when he wrote his signature to see his name. He had written the name of the late jazz and standards balladeer (and one of my favorite musical artists), “Nat King Cole”. Startled, I asked if that was actually his name. It turned out he was Kelly Cole, the son of Nat King Cole, and the brother of the singer Natalie Cole. I was star struck and once I had gotten past my initial infatuation with being close to pop music royalty, we enjoyed a nice conversation about favorite jazz artists and compositions. Kelly thanked me for helping him, and went on his way. He never returned to the listening room again when I was there. I was grateful for the pleasant conversation we had had, and for the work study opportunity I was given in the library’s listening room.

Share a variety of musical genres with your students. Expose them to the music of your youth, the music you enjoyed listening to growing up. Share with them the music you enjoy now. Listening to music together, talking about how it makes you feel and moving to it are incredible ways to build community and form positive relationships with your students.

A Thirst for Reading

Heart-a-Day #35

“Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more important than an unread library.” John Waters

The summer before I started 8th grade, my best friend Kenny & I would ride our bikes to the El Cajon Public Library. Kenny had a 6th teacher who had introduced him to The Great Brain book series by John D. Fitzgerald. The books were about a young school age boy and his family living in the Midwest during the late 1880’s, and the creative ways he’d get out of difficult situations. I wanted to do everything Kenny did, so I made it my mission to read all of The Great Brain books over my summer vacation. I’d scour the card catalogue searching for each edition and would immerse myself in the adventures of the characters. Kenny and I laughed at how The Great Brain would ingeniously get out of every challenge that came his way. My summer days raced by spending time at the library and I succeeded in reading the entire series of The Great Brain books.

A few months later while I was listening to the radio (it must’ve been a fairly sophisticated program for an 8th grade boy to be listening to), I had heard of the book Yes I Can, an autobiography of the entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. I had always been a fan of his singing and dancing and thought the book would be an interesting read. I rode my trusty bike back to the El Cajon Public Library and found the book buried in the stacks. I can imagine as I checked out the book, the librarian being curious of my choice of literature. I spent the next several days reading about Sammy Davis’s life as a black entertainer and his challenges and successes working in the primarily white entertainment industry of the 1040’s, 50’s and 60’s, his biracial marriage and his conversion to Judaism. It was a moving and inspirational book and it has had an impact on the person I am today.

I think fondly of my friend Kenny and of the El Cajon Public Library for helping me to develop such a thirst for reading.

Where did your thirst for reading come from? Was it a favorite teacher’s reading aloud to you? Was it an old favorite you discovered while perusing the local library? How are you developing a thirst for reading in your students? Enthusiastically sharing an old favorite book with a child may be just the incentive to wet their whistle.


Heart-a-Day #34 “The temple of art is built in words.” Josiah Gilbert Holland

In the forth grade, I discovered I had a passion for puppetry. I’m not sure how this came about. I was growing up at the time Sesame Street first aired on television, but I was beyond the academics it was teaching. We had friends of our family who were neighbors with Marie Hitchcock, the San Diego Puppet Lady. She had performed at our elementary school, Golden Avenue in Lemon Grove, California. But I think my love of puppets and puppetry came from a desire to entertain my younger sister and brother. What better way than with puppets?

My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Mates, would walk us to the local branch of the county library once a month. There I could get lost in the stacks discovering new and curious books on puppets. I felt invigorated hunting for the book I desired using the card catalog (an old school method of organizing books on 3 x 5 cards, alphabetized and using the Dewy Decimal system). Finding the book I was searching filled me with joy and anticipation. That book was The Art of Puppetry by Bill Baird. I checked out the book and took it home. I got lost in the vivid photographs of Punch and Judy, incredible marionettes, and the detailed text. So lost in fact, that I actually lost the book! I was never able to return the book. My family was in no position to, or saw the importance of paying the fines or late fees. A few years back, I stumbled across a copy of the book in a thrift store. Of course I bought it. All the joy and happiness I had in fourth grade came back with it. I should probably return it to the library.

Doing things that you were passionate about as a child with you students is incredibly engaging. On the International Day of the Puppet, March 21, we always make sock puppets. We use them to sing, read to each other, and to act out stories. The students have fun, are learning and enthusiastically engaged. Share your childhood passions with your students and watch them get lost in the discovery of their own passions.

Taking a Break…

Heart-a-Day #33 “It’s very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems.” Thich Nhat Hanh

One of my favorite ways to rest and relax is to get lost in reading a book. The book club I’m a part of recently read The Library Book by Susan Orleans. It focuses around the history of the Los Angeles County Main Library and it’s rebuilding after a devastating fire. It triggered in me my own relationship with libraries over my lifetime.

When I was in first grade, and living in Navy housing in Moffett Field, California, the book mobile would visit once a week. I can imagine I chose to look at current picture books of the time, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Or maybe I found books to encourage my budding curiosity of arts and crafts. The important thing I want to emphasize is that someone ( my mother or teacher I’d have to guess), had instilled in me the importance of reading and looking at books. I can imagine my mom having me gather up my treasure of books from the previous week, walking me the short distance to the book mobile, and setting me free to discover the gems I’d carry home to devour over the next week. I’m sure the joy I get from reading today has it roots in that long gone book mobile in Navy housing, Moffett Field, California.

Do you have a memory of your first encounter with books? Is it a fond one? Take some time to reflect on how books came into your life. Share this memory with someone. Who knows what treasures and gems you may discover.

(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer or a license for commercial use. The images are for personal use only. No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr. )

Continue reading Taking a Break…

Back to School

“Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity” – Charles Mingus

Heart-a-Day #198:  Back to School

The first day of school:  Apprehension.  Fear.  Not sleeping.  Not eating.  Will I be liked?  Can’t I just stay home?

I’m not talking about students.  This is how the teacher feels!

To be honest – and beginning my nineteenth first day of school – most of my First Day fears have subsided.  I think it’s because I’ve become realistic about my expectations.  On First Day 2018, we kept things simple.  We entered the room, settled in and got busy with some table work.  We talked about rules, routines and rituals (like saying the Pledge of Allegiance and learning “I Am Lovable and Capable,” our class anthem.). We practiced using crayons, met new friends, listened to a few stories and sang a few songs.  While I pretty much know what to expect, I have to honor that many of my new students have no concept of school.  That’s why we keep it simple.  We keep it light and easy.  And fun.  We have the rest of the year to dive deeply into learning.  It’s simple.

Can you cast aside your First Day jitters and bring simplicity into your schedule?  Use the simplicity to observe.  “Hmmm, I like how this student is using crayons.  They’ve used them before.” Or maybe…  “How can I support this other student who can’t grasp the routine?”  Giving yourself permission to start the year simply will lead you to a year of strong and successful teaching.


(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)


“The primary benefit of practicing any art , whether well or badly, is that it enables one’s soul to grow.”  Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Heart-a-Day #32:  Fiesta Island Friday

While teaching is rewarding and fun, it’s also challenging and strenuous.  I need to have activities outside my workday to recharge.  I need time to percolate new ideas for my classroom and students.  So I participate in amateur triathlons.  I started when I turned 50 years old, I suppose as a way to physically challenge myself.  Six years later, I’m still swimming, biking and running in four races each year.  I find the race morning excitement is invigorating.  The sense of community, camaraderie and even the competitiveness is stimulating.  My mind seems to clear when I’m training.  I get inspired by nature and the world around me.  Ideas begin to gel; problems start to solve; things click into place.  There’s joy in these uplifting moments and the physical push gives me a burst of energy, which I can take into my classroom.  The energy fuels creativity.

What activities to you do to recharge yourself?  If you have a passion for gardening, start a container garden.  If you like to doodle and draw; get a notebook, some gel pens and go for it.  Love books?  Spend an hour in a used book store.  Wherever your interests lie, use them to give yourself an energy boost.  Your ability to teach creatively will benefit from it.


(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)

Fitting It All In

“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.”  Yo-Yo Ma

Heart-a-Day #31:  Aboriginal

Some days, we just can’t accomplish everything.  There are things I know we should be doing; things I want to be doing; and things we must be doing – literacy, reading and writing, math, physical education, social studies and science.  Yet, there is always an opportunity to add creativity to any of these subjects.  I find that using the arts to teach mandatory content is engaging and motivating.  This gives students exposure to things they might normally not be able to access.  When we read a book, I might turn it into an opera or musical.  We can add essential 21st Century skills, like public speaking and collaboration.  I can add cultural references to make the learning even more relevant.  Even with something like mathematics, we can incorporate music.  The combination of both enables students to count, use timing, patterns and groupings of numbers.  If the stars align, I can even connect a craft or art activity to the lesson.  Let’s be honest: one or two planned things will typically fall off my list each day.  But if I’ve included even the smallest amount of creativity, I’ve made progress.

How can you “fit it all in?”  Can you do a quick dramatic production after reading a story?  Can you retell the story as a rap?  If you’re studying insects, can you have the students act out the life cycle of a butterfly?  Get creative: a quick walk around campus to count the trash cans will expand a social studies lesson to learnings about environmental conservation.  You just might surprise yourself about much you can fit in.



(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)

A Bit of Luck?

“To create one’s own world in any of the arts takes courage.”  Georgia O’keeffe

Heart-a-Day #30:  Lucky Day

While it would make life easier, there’s no luck involved in teaching creatively.  It’s all about planning and taking the occasional – or sometimes frequent —  risks.  When a risk pays off, you might call it “a stroke of luck.”  Nope.  You’re using your professional teaching sense.  I recognize that I’m a trained and educated professional and I know what’s best for my students.  When I decided to add that purple cow poem to our study of cows, it was a risk, but made sense – based on what I know.  As a result, the students enjoyed the playfulness of the poem and learned new vocabulary and sight words.  Our cow portrait drawings enabled new vocabulary and a lesson in perseverance, since we couldn’t draw and water color our pictures in just one sitting.  As a supplemental activity in our study of cows, we made butter.  Was it luck that the heavy cream became butter after we took turns shaking the jar and passing it around to each student?  No.  It was science and math.  We learned about motion, time, volume and the transition of a liquid to a solid.  We explored the physical and emotional feelings of making butter.  We used our senses to discuss how the butter felt, smelled, looked and tasted.  It was a great lesson.  Just lucky?  I don’t think so.

How can you replace luck with creative teaching?  Is there a craft or art project that would perfectly pair with a book you’re currently reading to your students?  Is there a simple song or dance you can use at the beginning of a math skill lesson?  Trust your professional instincts and know that effective teaching isn’t about luck.  It’s about knowing the right thing at the right time for your students.



(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)



Making Time Fly

“The world speaks to me in colours, my soul answers in music.”  Rabindranath Tagore

Heart-a-Day #29: Time Flies

No matter how busy the school schedule, I always make it a priority to add some creativity to our day.  We recently had a visit from the Dairy Council, complete with a real-live cow and calf.  When we returned to the room, I gave everyone a blank piece of paper and gave them two minutes to draw or write everything they’d learned about cows from the presentation.  When they finished, we gathered together and everyone shared their drawings and writings.  But there’s more: I then told the class, “You have one minute to draw or write something you just learned from your friends about cows.” The students hurried to their tables, quickly adding new information.  Then we reconvened to share even more about cows.  Based on the results, there can never be too much cow information.  This project was a quick and easy way to add some creativity to the day.  We were even able to squeeze in a quick song and poem.  As we began our research, we sang the “Purple Cow” poem by Gelett Burgess.  (I never saw a purple cow/I never hope to see one/but I can tell you anyhow/I’d rather see one than be one.”)  We always try to sing or chant as we change activities.  We listen to music when we’re working  and oftentimes just burst into spontaneous singing.

How can you make time fly in your classroom?  Can you use a simple song or poem to begin a science lesson?  Can your students doodle an image inspired by a book you’ve just read?  Adding just a few minutes of creativity each day does more than make time fly.  It helps students soar!


(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)