I(n) tune

This is the companion to my post The Groove for The Heart and Art of Teaching blog. I am writing it here in order to keep my blog posts reading times reigned in. It was originally occupying several paragraphs elsewhere, but was moved here to take on a life of its own.

I love music. I’m listening to it right now(Dave Matthews Band – Live in Rio). In my classroom, I sing, quote song lyrics, hum tunes, and offer students the chance to use music as a means to demonstrate they’re understandings of learning. I have an obscure record collection that includes speeches by Mussolini to  songs by Cookie Monster.

From the earliest moments I wanted to be a DJ on the radio. As a kid I was always pressing the presets on our car radio. I loved the idea that one person could curate the soundtrack for so many people. There were countless times I’d dial the local radio station to request a song. And for a very brief while, I believed that the performers were actually in the stations performing live.

It was the late 60s in Hudson’s Hope, BC. Most of our family welcomed the addition of my little sister. Not me, I was officially the middle child and it was time to occupy my time plotting against my siblings. Most days were spent outside playing in the dirt, wandering around the limits of our trailer park, and learning to cruise along, the lone stretch of driveway, on an over-sized trike.  Inside, our little black and white television warmed our temporary double-wide home with its futuristic glow. The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. I was hooked.

Uprooted, moved, and transplanted over the border to New York state. This was followed by the revelation that Buffalo, NY is probably the snowiest equivalent location possible to the Peace River in British Columbia. What did I care? I didn’t have to shovel it.

The move brought with it a home, and some new gear. A colour TV now bathed our living room with light and entertainment. Ed Sullivan was still  hosting his “Really big Shoow!”, but not for long. The soundtrack was changing, evolving, and definitely becoming more interesting. My parents listened to the radio wherever and whenever they could.

Whether we were in the house, the yard, or in the car on the way to somewhere – music was there. You couldn’t help but sing along to the grooves and rhythms of Rock n’ roll, the twang of Country, the hooks of Pop music, or the heart and soul of R and B. In our space, no musical genre would be denied. Although, I think my dad had a limit on how much “hippie” music he could handle.  😉

In 1972 we moved again. This time, it was to Wyoming where cattle outnumbered people 2:1. It is still that way today. Once again a score to soothe the worried mind of a middle child filled my ears with Led Zeppelin, Marvin Gaye, Carole King, and Tammy Wynette. A new home, same TV, but only Ed Sullivan reruns to watch until we discovered Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.

Queen, Bad Company, Van Morrison, and Linda Ronstadt had become household names. Everyday on my way to school I’d be humming one tune or another heard on KWYO AM or KROE FM( now talk radio), which played album sides and a greater selection of performers.

My parents loved music too, and had amassed quite a record collection of their own. To a young audiophile, it was a gold mine of sounds to accompany my musical education.  The album covers alone served as part of my daily reading regimen. When my brother became a wage earner, the collection grew even larger and wilder with his contributions of BTO, Guess Who, Styx, and Elton John.

Wherever I ambled, music made the journey better regardless of what was going on in the world around me. And there was plenty. I remember my first albums, Kiss Destroyer, and Peter Frampton Comes Alive. I nearly wore through that vinyl from playing it so often. Then another move in 1978.

Arriving to Toronto in the late 70s meant having my ears opened to a buffet of musical offerings. Bands like the Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, and Rush began to consume my adolescent times with guitar heavy riffs and intelligent lyrics. Radio became the means by which I got to know my new city.

As a grade 8 student at St. Gaspar Elementary School(closed 2002), I began slowly amassing a collection of vinyl records. Countless hours of my youth were spent listening to albums, reading liner notes, and getting to know about the artists/performers making the music I loved. No genre was excluded. If it was on vinyl I’d give it a spin. Music videos were just creeping into our sound consciousness with shows like the New Music.

The Tubes, Peter Tosh, The Police, and the Clash.

I remember studying the albums themselves and wondering how a diamond stylus needle that get’s dropped into a groove translates the contents into such glorious sounds; complete with crackles and pops. It was as if I was in the room when I could hear fingers sliding across the strings of a guitar or when stereo headphones made it feel like the sound was going right through my brain.

In short the soundtrack to my life to this point was accompanied by amazing music, lyrics, and performers who poured their talents out for the world to hear. I still remember skateboarding and listening to Sultans of Swing  cranked up on my portable transistor radio sans headphones.

Let’s call this the first side of the album…
I will flip it and press play on another post covering the early 80s to present next time.

If you like discussing music please comment and keep the conversation going.
Happy listening.

Header image by Mr.choppers (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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3 things

Warning: Do not read this post for more than 3 -4 minutes.

2016 is hurtling towards its calendar end and thoughts turn to a highlight reel retrospective heading for the history books. My mind is counting down around a repeating loop of ideas and reflections like a Space X reusable rocket. Well, maybe the baking soda and vinegar in a bottle type.

As the countdown approaches, I wanted to ask educators around the world to answer this question. If you’d like, think of it as a wishlist.

What would you change in education for 2017?

If you could change 3 things about education in 2017, knowing you wouldn’t fail, what would they be? I’m talking Astro Teller moon shot type changes here.

We use the word “moonshots” to remind us to keep our visions big — to keep dreaming. And we use the word “factory” to remind ourselves that we want to have concrete visions — concrete plans to make them real.  Astro Teller

Here are my 3 cannot-miss-the-spot-moonshot-thoughts.

  1. End the school to prison pipeline. My wish would be that schools could be funded with the same amount of money per student as the prisoners of our world. I believe that if we provided more funding for our schools, then our prisons would soon be very different and under-crowded spaces.I also believe that by stopping the flow of students from classrooms to courtrooms to cell blocks there would be a better standard of living for our entire society with opportunity for all. Imagine what could be done with all of the extra money if it was spent educating instead of incarcerating? Did you know that the students receive on average only 1/3 of the funding of prisoners?
  2. End standardized testing. What good is asking students to cram 10 months of learning into 9 months, only to stresst them out?  Why are millions of tax dollars being spent on tying up instructional time and resources in order to administer and assess students in grades 3, 6, 9, and 10. Is it worth quantifying education annually as a soapbox for politicians?Has anyone thought that the questions being asked are not considerate of skills and understandings required for the future? Cynical me asks, if there is a correlation to test results and real estate value? This appears to frequently be the case in my own province of Ontario, Canada. My own home price benefiting from strong results in neighbourhood schools.When I look at results by district in the U.S and compare facilities and funding I am left with many questions around equity and distribution of assets. In 2012, 1.7 billion dollars were spent on standardized testing in the U.S.A. If the financial cost doesn’t get your attention, how about the anxiety and mental health issues that result from many educators who feel they need to teach to the test instead of to the needs of their learners?
  3. End the global desk-wagging contest known as PISA and invest the money shelled out back into the students.Are you noticing a trend yet?To whose benefit do these tests and rankings really serve? How come the sample sizes are so small? Why are students and schools used as collateral/capital for international bragging rights? Did you know that schools can be recruited or selected to participate? How does this not scream of yielding a skewed sample? Why are so many countries not taking part in PISA? There are students learning on dirt floors or without access to any education at all. All the while a bunch of people in suits are deciding to see which privileged country’s students are number one.

It’s your turn to share 3 things. Shoot for the stars because you can. It will not be marked.
Countdown in 10, 9 … 3, 2, 1.

If you have made it this far, thank you for your interest in this topic. You are now past 3 minutes. Why not read on? Here is a very worthwhile reading list.

Pipeline to prison – https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/pipeline-to-prison

School-to-prison-pipeline – https://www.aclu.org/infographic/school-prison-pipeline-infographic?redirect=racial-justice/infographic-school-prison-pipeline

Project Liberty: School to prison pipeline –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXR51vZCfVY

How High-Stakes Testing Feeds the School-to-Prison Pipeline Infographic –  http://www.fairtest.org/pipeline-infographic

US should nix its federal department of education –  http://www.troymedia.com/2016/12/12/canada-proves-dont-need-federal-department-education/

School performance rankings from the Fraser Institute –  https://www.fraserinstitute.org/school-performance

How does a school district affect the value of your home (don’t miss comments) –

http://torontorealtyblog.com/archives/10020

The standardised test debate. Is EQAO good for education? (don’t miss comments) –

https://tapintoteenminds.com/the-standardized-test-debate-is-eqao-good-for-education/

School choice not the right choice for our kids –  http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/nancy-kaffer/2016/10/02/choice-schools-michigan/91240656/

Pisa and the creativity puzzle – http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/pisa-and-the-creativity-puzzle

The tower of PISA is badly leaning – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/03/24/the-tower-of-pisa-is-badly-leaning-an-argument-for-why-it-should-be-saved/?utm_term=.c813afeddee2

Tick…tick…ticked off

By Imager23 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Tick…tick…tick…

The sound heard in classrooms all over Canada. To a handful  it feels like the second hand has been stuck on the same spot for far too long. While for many others, it’s spinning away like a Sesna propeller at take off. Where did the year go?

Does this sound familiar in your school as the academic year comes to a close? Don’t you wish there was a little more time to share, challenge, and grow with students in the classroom? I sure do.

Recently a local media outlet shared that teachers are phoning in the last weeks because report cards were done. I’m here to say that statements like these do not accurately reflect an over-whelming majority of educators and are thus utter BS (bologna slices) IMO.

Firestarter

As part of my daily 10 minute commute, I listen to the radio. Most days it’s CBC Radio 2, but on June 22 the tuner landed on CBC’s Metro Morning, also found via TwitterMetroMorningBSfor the segment that sparked this post. When I shared it with my colleagues, they too were disappointed at such skewed perceptions from a usually credible media source.

How does painting a negative portrait of our profession with such broad strokes show balanced journalism? The last weeks in a classroom cannot be taught on auto-pilot because there is still a lot to teach, discover, and share. So contrary to a public broadcaster’s opinion, the kids and teachers have not “checked out”.

Sorry I’m not sorry to burst this bogus bubble folks, but the kids will have to sit on their own couches over the Summer if they want to watch a movie. Especially, in my class because there’s still learning to do after losing the better part of a week to standardized testing earlier this month.

What makes this difficult to understand, for me, are the incendiary intentions attached to narrow minded statements like these? What is the gain of creating enmity in statements about our profession without hearing from those who  are making a difference in their classrooms from start to finish? StillLearning

I replied via Twitter with a few reminder posts that students are involved in ongoing inquiry and real life problem solving in Math.

Please remember that what we do comes with mountains of misunderstandings from many sources. Our calling to be educators carries a nobility and satisfaction unlike any other that allows us to be the difference makers in the lives of all who we teach. Somehow that message gets lost even by the media.

Can anyone who hasn’t worked in a classroom with students for longer than an interview segment really understand what educators pour into each day to prepare for their learners?  I didn’t think so.

Gotta go. There’s work to be done.

Thank you for reading my post. If you like what you’ve read please subscribe and share.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section too. Will

Batting 300 – Swinging for the fences pt 2 — The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning

This is the second post in my word series in spirit of circling the bases of baseball and education. I’m back at the plate to take another swing. Click here for an instant ‘read’play of my first at bat. It’s the 7th inning, and your back at the plate, again. So far you have popped out to short stop, struck…

via Batting 300 – Swinging for the fences pt 2 — The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning

Perception

How we perceive ourselves is a matter of inner vision, trust, and wisdom. It must come from the belief we are all infinitely awesome at something. For me this came in realizing, albeit later in life, my true calling as an encourager, mentor, and educator.

So, at a time when mid-life sees many people my age taking stock of their relationships and buying little red sports cars, I sold my company and took a gigantic leap of faith with family intact.

Deciding to pursue a career in education came with an unimaginable amount of uncertainty. Terrible job prospects, rejection letters from all but one faculty of education (props Tyndale), and reduced revenue streams while I studied, practice taught, parented, and husbanded (a considerable challenge indeed).

Do you know the expression sometimes you have to learn the hard way before you can learn the right way? I’m sure I made some of that up, but I had basically flunked out of university in the 80s. I left with a chip in my shoulder and hurt that I did not succeed. What happened next was not a 25 year pity party over, but rather an education along the road of experience.

This journey has allowed me to arrive, alive, bruised, and better. What I learnt was that although what I did wasn’t always a success, it was the best I could do at the time. That my best was good enough so self-doubt, my ego, and abject personal disdain could go shove a rock. I realized I was a work in progress.

So…What makes you get out of bed before the alarm clock each morning?
Are you in the place that makes you the happiest and your light is undeniable?
How do you stay there? What sustains you when times get tough?

What keeps you hitting the snooze button until last minute late panic sets in or a terrible song drives you screaming towards the bathroom?
What would it take for you to change and get up before your alarm?

Where do you turn when you need help?
What would you change if you knew you would not fail?
Who could you talk to today?

Is it a matter of how you perceive yourself? Let’s Talk.

6 words

It takes time to express yourself.
It takes effort to be precise.
Ideas are always possible when shared.

I am a huge fan of the 6 word memoir. I penned my first one in teacher’s college, and it has served me well for years. It goes:

I am a work in progress.

Take a look at the sign I’m holding in the picture above. You’ll notice I’ve reworded my original 6 word narrative, but did you see anything off about the picture? Hey! Other than the guy holding the sign?

The sign was rewritten to be inclusive of all learners. I am no longer a singular work in progress, but one of many works in progress. My calling as an educator has enabled me to see things differently now.

This year, one of my 6 word posts from Twitter was published in The Best Advice in Six Words, in November. Fortunately, my copy arrived in time to give to my dad as a Christmas present. The book has hundreds of pages of advice culled from a global cohort of advice givers, some of them famous, and others, like me, who are not so well known.

As dad gifts go, this one brings me full circle. It was my dad who distributed the wisdom growing up (he still does). Mom also played a huge role there too; she was the enforcer (she still is). Since starting my career in education it has been my goal to keep their work going.

While I was growing up, when my dad spoke I paid attention. It wasn’t out of fear, but in anticipation and respect. Although, he was always a man of few words what he shared resonated and stuck.

In September 1983 he told me, “It is a character building year.” (6 words) He wasn’t wrong. By the end of that school year in 1984, the joke became I had too much character. A bit of laughter reckoned the experience of completing grades 12 and 13 –  while holding down a part time job, competing in sports, and working as student council spirit rep.

He also shared, “There aren’t any leaders without followers.” (6 words) Ouch! That one took me down a peg as an impetuous young man who knew everything and had figured out the rest. Dad was right. What we sow in the service of others, whether it was with kindness or encouragement mattered. Time after time since hearing those words they have anchored my worldview as an entrepreneur and educator.

6 word stories are also a part of my Literacy instruction. My students are tasked with writing 6 word character studies, 6 word essays, and 6 word reflections about their learning. The exercise allows us to throw language conventions out the window and get to the heart of ideas and understandings. Students are challenged at first to communicate their most important thoughts, uncluttered from superfluous details.

Maybe it is the simplicity of having only 6 words to work with that make it so effective in the classroom? Perhaps, my dad was like a 6 word chef way ahead of his time cooking and serving thoughts in:

Edible, tasty, digestible and memorable mindfuls.

Cheers to great progress in 2016.

 

Innovative Educator

I’m an educator.
Moreover, a thought provoker.

I’m nice.
Maybe too nice?
My students might disagree when I hold them accountable.
I believe that learners need to reach for an opportunity rather than have it handed to them.

I’m funny (ha-ha, not peculiar).
Maybe a little too funny for some people.
What can I say? I believe in using humour in the classroom?
Studies show how laughter relaxes the brain and increases retention in students.

I’m creative, current, and constantly learning.
A sound body is as equally important as a sound mind.
I believe that mental health and wellness are as important as the curriculum in the classroom.
I have become a quasi-psychologist, tech wizard, instructor, first-aid responder, mentor, and arbiter all in one.

Yet, despite all of the things I do in and out of the classroom, in the name of education, not a single one of these things makes me feel like an innovator in my career. So what does?

This year I was given the honour of being named 1 of 28 TED Ed Innovative Educators. Our global cohort has been learning & meeting on-line, creating & sharing TED Ed Lessons since July. On September 1st we were introduced and it felt great. In a way I feel like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of OZ who got his diploma. I know this because it seemed like the only thing that changed was the recognition of my practice. Perhaps recognition as an innovative educator helped me understand how I’m an innovator?

So what do I do to deserve this mind-bogglingly humbling privilege? Let me share:

If a student struggles to write a test because s/he’s hungry, and I provide a snack, support, and some extra time maybe this is what makes me an innovative educator?

Whenever a fellow teacher seeks my support with with a challenging student, and I can help, maybe it’s the ability to collaborate on a solution with that teacher that makes me an innovative educator?

When ideas can be sparked, fostered, and brought to fruition because I got out of the way of my students, is what makes me an innovative educator.

When new ideas, opportunities, and experiences arrive in my world, and I don’t run the other way screaming, but instead turn to embrace and make them my own makes me an innovative educator?

When a parent is worried that their child is not successful, I point out that our class is about progress not perfection, and that their child is progressing well, I am an innovative educator.

When I share my time, experience, and encouragement with others knowing that together none of us is as smart, or innovative, as all of us I am an innovative educator.

When I take current events and mesh them onto ancient curriculum requirements making lessons relevant to modern learners, I am an innovative educator. This includes infusing social-justice, activism, empathy, and life learning in every lesson possible too.

Maybe it simply boils down to this. I care more about students/teachers than myself. I am willing to collaborate/support them to do that which has never been done in order to achieve something incredible.

I will learn, un-learn, and re-learn whenever and wherever necessary.
I will challenge, provide next steps, and encourage students/teachers to get the best out of them.

I am an educator.
An innovative educator.