Until We Meet Again

I have a lot of processing to do about learning and connections from ISTE 13. That blog post (or posts) might take a while to churn in my brain, and I anticipate I won’t be able to produce coherent thoughts until at least next week.

For now, I’m sitting in my hotel room, procrastinating the huge re-packing task ahead of me. It’s a tough time — saying goodbye to your friends. I know it’s not really goodbye, but tough nonetheless. (warning: sappy blog post ahead)

Sometimes, my non-connected friends make fun of me for how much time I spend on social media connecting to people they think I “barely know.”  Let me just unpack that a bit.

My first two ISTE/NECC conferences (San Diego in 2006 and Atlanta in 2007) were interesting experiences. 2006, I was still working in professional development in Omaha, Nebraska. At the conference, I simply hung out with other Nebraska educators, and it was a lot of fun. I didn’t meet anyone outside of my home state, though. In 2007, I went alone to the conference, and I didn’t meet anyone new. It was a very lonely and isolating experience. I hated it.

Fast forward to 2008, I had already been on Twitter for a while and had followed some really incredible educators. I found this cool place called the Bloggers’ Cafe, and I actually met some of those educators in person: Karl Fisch, Lee Kolbert, Darren Draper, Scott McLeod, Cory Plough, Wendy Wells Gallagher… and probably several others I’m forgetting right now. Meeting these people whom I already followed online brought to life a new connection. Putting the face with the Twitter profile pic and hearing their voices- I then began to HEAR their voices when I read their tweets and blog posts from then on.

Every ISTE since then, I have met more people from  my network in person. We talk and laugh together, learn together, and grow together… not only as educators, but as people.

These people are among my closest friends, and I rarely see them more than once a year.

It’s difficult to explain this to people who make fun of me for the amount of time I spend on Twitter. And I’m getting to the point where I don’t even try anymore.

YOU are the people who get me. YOU are the people who inspire me to be a better learner, teacher, and person. YOU are the people who laugh at me when I do something embarrassing, but I know you’ll also be there to pick me up while you’re laughing. YOU are my family, and I can’t even express how grateful and humble I am to have you in my life.

I met so many new friends over the last week, and I can’t wait to begin this journey with you.

If we didn’t get a chance to meet in person this week, I hope it happens for us very soon.

If you ask me what my biggest takeaway is from ISTE, my answer will always be “THE PEOPLE.” Gadgets will come and go. New fads in education are always right around the corner… some of them whizzing by so quickly, we’ll forget about them in the blink of an eye. The relationships that we create… those are the pieces of a conference that stick with you.

Connecting matters. Relationships matter. Think about how this translates back into the classroom. I love my students – each and everyone of them from 1992 to 2013 forward. If they don’t know that, everything else fades away after time.

I know we get a little silly sometimes about “edushoes,” “eduawesome,” etc., but you all are my edufamily. So instead of saying goodbye today, let’s stick with “until we meet again.”

 

How We React

I’m sitting on my couch this morning watching news coverage of the horrific events in Aurora overnight. I am saddened for the victims and their families, as well as for the shooter and his family.

What has me seriously troubled is listening and reading the reactions around the country… well, around the world actually. News like this isn’t limited to a specific region anymore. I’m touched by the concerns of friends and acquaintances, and I’m hopeful because there are so many out there calling for peace, forgiveness, and empathy. BUT… sadly, those are in the minority. What I see more of right now…

  • calls for justice
  • hopeless pronouncements of a lost society
  • speculation and assumptions
  • the word “evil” spewed over and over again

I know these are all natural reactions to a tragedy. I understand that fear takes over our rational selves and immediately puts us into fight or flight mode. We want to ensure we are safe. We want to ensure our loved ones are safe. We are scared.

What’s troubling me the most is that we, as a society, continue to react in shock to events such as these, but we turn our heads away from those who need the most help. We are reactive, instead of proactive. We look down our noses at people who are different, troubled, struggling with addictions, mentally ill. We ridicule the loners and expect them to snap out of it and just “be normal.”

And then we crucify those people when they lash out.

Right after such events, we pay lip-service to programs that are supposed to help people. And then most of us forget about the tragedies and go back to complaining about the lines at Starbucks, the state of the economy, and watching Jersey Shore.

The problem in our society isn’t that we have people who are evil running around our streets.

The problem in our society is that we have a lack of empathy.

We don’t help those in need when we can and should… but we are the first to throw stones at them.

We want to assign blame.

We want to attribute these senseless acts to evil, because that means there is someone to take the blame off ourselves.

 

WHAT IF…

  • we TRULY reached out to those who seemed different… weird… strange… troubled? (not just as a reaction to a tragedy)
  • we taught our children to be empathetic instead of competitive?
  • we concentrated on building up all children, instead of ranking and sorting them as data and test scores?
  • we practiced random acts of kindness every day, not just as an afterthought when something bad happens?

I’m not going to speculate about the young man who walked into that theater this morning. I don’t know anything about him, and the media are doing enough speculation as it is. My heart is so heavy today. I wish I could do something right now for all the families of the victims. I wish I could comfort that young man’s family, because they’re hurting, too. And I wish I could talk to this young man to make some sense of out his actions. I know that’s not going to happen… and that all I can do now is to reach out to those who are hurting, to pray, and hope that, together, we can all learn something from this.

I remain hopeful.

Digital Citizenship for Tweeps

In case there was any question...

In case there was any question...

I’m a little disturbed by some behavior that I’ve seen amongst my learning network lately. I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a hot head and jump into discussions passionately… with little thinking first. That’s a character flaw I work very diligently to turn around.

My sense of dismay, though, comes from what I’ve seen lately around the Twitter-Water-Cooler, the edublogosphere, a few journal articles here and there, as well as a few Facebook posts. And Holy Buckets, Batman… there isn’t a single kid involved in any of them.

No. Instead, they’re people in my network. Attacking… *gasp*… each other.

What do we tell kids about comments on blogs, online articles, Facebook status updates?

  1. PLAY NICELY.
  2. If you disagree, you can do so without attacking another person’s character.
  3. If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t type it online.
  4. Remember, there are human beings on the other end.
  5. Remember, you are also a human being.
  6. Rule #1 is really all you need.

So why so much animosity amongst educators in online spaces lately? I would say that the current turmoil in which we find ourselves (perhaps related to education reform discussions) is part of it. But are we practicing what we preach? I don’t think so.

Let’s all take a deep breath. Relax. Repeat.

There. Feel better? Now go and model what you expect your students to do.

Oh! And… go find a blog and leave a supportive comment. The world could use some positive energy right about now.

Thanks.

[photo credit – cc licensed Flickr photo by jon_gilbert]

Talent and Passion

One-handed layup

One-handed layup

I’ve been thinking a lot since the Amy Chua, aka Tiger Mom, posts and  reaction articles exploded last week, including Michelle Rhee’s own response.

Mostly, I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around what people consider necessary skills or necessary knowledge versus sheer talent.

So, what exactly do we expect kids to know and be able to do? Does talent fit in this answer? Or do we explain away that some people have God-given talents that most don’t have… and that’s okay?

[cc licensed photo by Eagle102.net]

Here’s my thought process:

Point 1: I was born with an incredible memory. My parents did not force me to perform memory exercises over and over and over until it clicked. That’s just how I was born. Because of this memory ability, I learned how to read as a toddler. This advantage helped me to excel in school, especially in those classes that rarely asked more of me than simple recall or application. I was a test-taking whiz!

Point 2:  In music, I would say that I have a lot of “gifts.” Because of my parents’ encouragement and, at some points, insistence, that I practice, I learned to excel in areas of music… however, I was surrounded by music at a very young age. I was singing into a microphone before I could walk. My dad is an extremely talented musician. Interestingly enough, both my siblings and I are considered very musical people. We’ve put in a lot of hard work and practice time, and it has paid off. How much of our “talents” would you say are natural? How much did our environment factor into our abilities? How much of it was our desire to practice and improve? And how much of it was our passion for music?

Point 3: Although I love softball and golf, I have to admit that am a terrible basketball player. Horrible. Painfully horrible! My dad used to take us out to our backyard and either throw baseballs at us (to help us not fear the ball) or practice dribbling and jump shots. From the ages of 10-18, I played softball competitively. I loved softball, and I practiced a lot. I have never played basketball competitively. I practiced dribbling for hours, as well as  many, many jump shots. I practiced layups, but I hated it. In fact, I hated everything about basketball except watching others play. No matter how hard I practiced, I was never as good as the other kids on my basketball teams. I feared the time in the game when the coach would put me in, because I didn’t play well… and I didn’t really WANT to play.

My dad never gave up on me. He set very high expectations for me and told me that all I needed was more hard work. I would be a dribbling machine, if I would just practice more.

But here’s the deal… all the years of practice did help me improve my game, but I was still awful… and I HATED it.

Many reading this post might argue that you have to have talent to be a musician or a basketball player. I don’t agree. You can learn to sing in tune, and you can learn to dribble. Maybe the degree to how well you do those things lies within your natural talents… but I think it’s more likely found within your own passion.

Many might also defend the point that memorizing facts is an essential skill.  Again, I don’t agree. These things come more naturally to some than they do others. It doesn’t mean we stop setting high expectations for each individual, but it does mean that we need to recognize that some people do not memorize as well as others.

So, here’s where my thought processes are leading me:

  1. What are those things in school we expect students to be able to do? That, with some hard work and practice, they will be able to excel in those skills?
  2. At what point do we cut kids some slack for those things they don’t love? What is a necessary skill versus one we could just let go?

I’m not arguing to let children pick and choose exclusively what they learn in school. Kids need exposure to a variety of experiences, along with someone helping them to keep raising the bar on what they are able to do. I really believe in continually pushing up that bar to help kids challenge themselves and accomplish a task they couldn’t perform at first.

At some point in their academic ‘careers,’ however, is it foolish for us as educators and parents to keep expecting the same goals for all kids? If they must all get A’s on their report cards, like Amy Chua’s children,  or pass certain standardized tests- some of them will reach that goal easily. Others will have to work fairly hard to get to that point. Some might continue to work hard over and over until frustration sets in- and then they might stop caring about ever achieving anything. We tell them that, with hard work and a positive attitude, they can accomplish anything… but is that true? Can we accomplish anything simply through determination and hours upon hours of practice?

I practiced layups for hours upon hours. I know HOW to do a layup, and I can tell someone else how to do it… but to this day, I’m still not able to make a layup consistently. The difference here is – making a layup was not a skill I needed to graduate and  no one really cared about it (other than my dad).

Maybe a better question is this:  When do kids get to choose to follow their OWN passions and grow in those areas? What is the magical age for them to start making these decisions? I asked my parents this question once, and they thought it might be college-age. I’m afraid that’s too late for most kids.

What do YOU think?

A Simple Request

Did you know that there are technically only two types of voices?

  • a child’s voice (aka unchanged)
  • a changed voice– subdivided into male and female changed voices

Voice changes start after puberty. If you’ve ever noticed the growth spurt of a child, you’ll understand why the voice change seems so awkward for most boys and more gradual for most girls. Want to do some reading? Try these links:

The point of this post actually has little to do with the physical aspects of the vocal folds and larynx, but more about perceptions of children’s voices. It’s more a request.

As an elementary teacher, I should be working with all unchanged voices. There are a few 5th graders who are on the cusp of the change, but still not quite there.

However, with boys (and even a few girls) from Kindergarten all the way through 5th grade, I struggle with perceptions of what boys and girls voices SHOULD be. In unchanged voices, THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. If you listen to little boys and girls talk, there shouldn’t be much of a difference at all. If there is, this is due to environmental conditioning. Boys tend to speak lower in their vocal range, because they want to sound like the males around them.

A 1st grade student told me, “I can’t sing as high as you because I have a man’s voice.”  There are boys in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade that can sing with me in their higher ranges, but they always revert back to the absolute lowest part of their singing voices… and their speaking voices! They’re actually doing damage to their voices, because they insist in attempting to speak and sing lower than the natural range of their voices. By the way, I NEVER force my students to sing by themselves in front of the class. This is not really about fear of singing in front of their peers.

I’ve been frustrated, so I sat down with my male  students in each grade level and we just talked. I asked them,

“How many of you have ever been teased about sounding like a girl?”

I reassured them that they didn’t have to raise their hands, but most of them did. I reminded them that there is no such thing as a boy’s voice or a girl’s voice in unchanged voices. They know this. We talk about it all the time… but there is an unfortunate expectation of our boys to sound like boys… or to be more ‘manly.’  This expectation is affecting children as young as 4 and 5 years old! Have you ever heard a Kindergarten student trying to sing like a man?

So, here’s my request:

Could we PLEASE stop insisting our boys act like boys and girls act like girls with antiquated stereotypes of what boys should be and what girls should be?

Could we PLEASE stop insulting boys by calling them girls?*

Could we allow little boys and girls to be just that? Little boys and girls? Let them play, let them explore, let them discover… without the pressure of living up to the hopes and dreams of the adults in their lives?

Maybe I’m asking too much, and obviously, this hits me where I live as a vocal music teacher… but I hope you can see where this leads.  Boys who are too “girly” (there’s that insane insult again) are bullied. Girls who don’t act like girls (whatever that’s supposed to mean) are ostracized.  They don’t grow out of these criticisms when they hit puberty. Those things stick with kids for a long time. It’s about time adults learned that the little things do count with kids.

[end rant]

*I played softball as a kid and loved it. I was determined never to “throw like a girl,” because that’s what I was told by an adult in my life. As an adult, I watched two of my daughters play softball.  At one game, I witnessed one of them make a rocket-laser arm throw from 3rd base to 1st, and the subsequent look of pain by her teammate on 1st base… I proudly said, “Now THAT’S how to throw like a girl!”

An Apology to Former Students

Do you ever look back at some of your educational practices as a new teacher… and cringe? I do. I cringe a lot when I think back to those early years. I was ill-equipped.

When I started my first year as a teacher, I came to the school with a fairly new degree in music and a semester of substitute teaching under my belt. That was it. Not uncommon for many new teachers, though.failsmall

My first teaching assignment was at a 7-12 school in 1992. It was a much smaller school (350 students total in 7th through 12th grade) compared to the schools I had attended (520 students in my own graduating class). There was no curriculum at all for the classes I was to teach. First year teacher- had to write curriculum for 4 classes… “oh, and by the way, we need you to teach reading, too.” Also no curriculum, other than a textbook. [image credit: cc licensed image by griffithchris]

So, to say that the above was anything less than daunting would be a lie. However, I had a pretty good foundation of what kids should know and be able to do in music classes. That task was time-consuming, but a good experience. I felt pretty good about what I accomplished in this area.

Looking back, I am maybe a little proud of myself for being able to crank that out. But honestly, I’m a lot more embarrassed to share my ridiculous grading policies for the 7th and 8th grade classes I taught.

In general music, I met with 7th and 8th graders every day, all year, and was required to give them a percentage grade on their report card (no letter grades or rubric scores). There were days when we spent a lot of the class time singing, but we also had music theory, music history, American musical theater, improvisation, and music interpretation units (and probably quite a bit more that I’m not remembering right now).

And I assigned lots of homework. Why? Because I needed a body of work for grades. (ugh) That is the reason for homework, right?

The grades I recorded in my gradebook (which I made in Claris Works spreadsheets!) were averaged (ugh)  on homework grades, quiz grades, test grades, project grades, and participation points (a HUGE UGH!). Participation points were based on behavior. I gave every kid 100 participation points. The points were theirs to lose. If students didn’t do their homework, I gave them zeroes. If they turned in the homework or projects late, I took off points for late work.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post… this is cringe-worthy.

Do you know how many 7th and 8th graders FAILED my classes? Many. Too many. And the issue is this: I don’t think a single one of those kids failed my class because they were unable to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts. They failed the classes because I was unable to see the difference between a behavior and an academic score.

I pleaded with my students to turn in their homework on time. I even took time out of a lesson to show them the math on the board. “A zero is devastating to your final grade!” I explained how I was helping them to learn to be responsible.

I’m cringing even as I type this.

Ken O’Connor wasn’t a blip on my radar back then, and I didn’t see his book, How to Grade for Learning, until long after I had left that classroom. As a staff developer a few years later, I was introduced to Ken O’Connor in person. I listened to him talk about the problem with grading behavior and academic progress within the same scores. He provided real examples of why averaging grades across time actually shows less progress. He discussed the need for allowing students to re-take tests to show that they have learned and made comparisons to driver’s license testing. O’Connor asked why we set arbitrary deadlines when we knew that not all kids learn at the same rate.

And… it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been that teacher who used grades as a punishment– a punishment to kids who didn’t care about their grades. Everything I had ever been taught about grading and assessing students was so off the mark. I wished right then and there that I could go back in time and start over again with my 7-12 students.

So this is my apology post, more than a decade too late, but here it is:

I was wrong, guys… and I’m truly sorry. You deserved to have a teacher who was more compassionate… a teacher who understood that maybe you really did lose your homework… a teacher who assigned homework only to those who really needed the practice… a teacher who reported your behavior separately from your academic progress. That wasn’t me back then, and I apologize.

If it’s any consolation at all, I am a huge advocate for children now when it comes to grading practices. In my own classroom, I report academic/skill achievement completely separately from behavior. I share my Ken O’Connor book with many people and then try to have open discussions with them to find grading practices that make sense to them. That doesn’t help the kids from my past, but I hope it helps kids now.

The Art of the Opus

Opus 140309

Opus 140309*

As I sit back and read news about more and more schools considering cutting arts programs from schools while standardized testing gains in popularity and emphasis, I’m reminded of some scenes from the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus. As a music teacher, everyone expected me to love this movie. To be honest, I thought it was good, but it wasn’t going to be the film I counted on to inspire me daily as a music educator. At the time of its release (1995), music education programs were getting “the axe” in a lot of states. This movie was supposed to help us advocate for our programs, but at the time, I didn’t really see the connections to my own school and program. Looking back… I don’t really know why, so I’ll blame it on the fact that I was young and just trying to survive in my first few years as a teacher.

One particular quote from that movie stuck with me through the years, though. As I now read through some of the arguments for testing, testing, and more testing, I’m really nervous again for arts education. Over and over again, I hear about how important it is for our students to excel in reading, math, and science. That usually means bad news for arts education in public schools. A friend of mine (not an educator) usually teases me when I start to rant about the necessity for arts education in the schools: “Oh, you’re just afraid you’ll be out of a job.” I can’t stress enough that I’m not nervous about my job. I’ve worked in other fields before and could easily go back. This is not about me. This is about our kids. This is about how important arts education is to these children as human beings.

And that’s when I return to the quote from the movie.

Gene Wolters, a school administrator played by William H. Macy, has informed Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfus) that his program, as well as other arts education programs, has been cut. He won’t have a job the following year. When Holland argues that Wolters doesn’t care about the kids, Wolters replies:

“I care about these kids just as much as you do. And if I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.”

Holland responds:

“Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.” [my emphasis]

The term, opus, is defined as a work or composition. Its Latin origins also refer to a great labor. I sometimes use the definition of a “labor of love.” For Glenn Holland’s character, it was the legacy he left to his students through music.

What will your opus be?

Or better yet… will each of your students have the ability to create their own opus? How will you know? I’m pretty certain you won’t find that task on any standardized test.

*cc licensed photo by Dennis AB

Mostly Cheers

I love my students. Every day, someone says something so funny or sweet, and I know my face is beaming with pride… I have the privilege of teaching and learning with these kids! Sometimes, their quotes are so hilarious (most of the time, unintentionally so), that I think I should start a blog just to keep them for posterity. My friend, McTeach, aka Karen McMillan, did exactly that- check out her Quotes from Middle School blog!

There was one moment today, however, when I felt so perfectly awful

I made a kindergartner cry.

I KNOW. What a horrible teacher!

Here was this sweet little boy, with his spiky blond hair, angelic little face, dressed like he just stepped out of a Gap Kids commercial. The girl who was sitting in front of him in music class today kept putting her arms up, and he couldn’t see. So, he pushed her arms down so he could see. I quietly reminded him that we never push someone’s arms down, and would he next time please ask quietly? “Do you think you could apologize to your friend for pushing her arms down?”

I didn’t yell at him. I didn’t use “THE LOOK” that I reserve for some of my 5th graders (yes, it works). I even smiled when I said it! Honest! But then… there it was. The quivering lower lip. And pretty soon… big, fat tears rolling down his face. I’m trying to think if there’s a worse feeling as a teacher than seeing a child cry. Nope. Can’t think of one right now. Luckily, the little girl turned around, told him that she forgave him, gave him a hug and said, “It’s alright. We’re friends.” I love kindergarten. 🙂

After class was over, I spoke with him to make sure he knew that he wasn’t in trouble and that I couldn’t wait to see him again in music class. He hugged me. Whew!

TV Guide used to have this section called Cheers & Jeers. It still might… I haven’t looked at a TV Guide since cable came to town about a million years ago. When thinking about this post, the first thing that came to mind was that Cheers & Jeers section. My little kindergarten friend crying– that part of my day deserved a Jeer.

But since I can’t end on an sad note, I’ll leave you with a few Cheers.

We’ve been talking about The Star-Spangled Banner this week. September 14 is the anniversary of Francis Scott Key penning the poem that would later become the national anthem for the United States. Here’s how one class went today:

Me: There was a special birthday yesterday, but it’s not the birthday of a PERSON.

Student: Was it YOUR birthday?!?!?

Me: What? I’m not a person? Am I a robot? [insert “Mrs. Baldwin is a music-teacher-robot” voice here.]

Me: It’s the birthday of our national anthem. It was written on September 14, 1814!

Another Student: Were you there?

Me: Do I look like I’m 196 years old?

Another Student: No, you look like you’re 27.

Me: You are my favorite kid in the whole wide world.

The End… Cheers!

Pushed and Pulled

push pull

push pull*

This post started as a reaction to some posts I saw on Twitter going back and forth about compliance with children in school. My initial reaction is that we all have to learn compliance at some point in our lives, and that as adults we are often expected to comply with rules or policies. But should compliance be expected in every corner of a classroom? Absolutely not. Teaching children compliance for the sake of compliance isn’t really productive. Compliance for safety rules- yes. That makes sense. Compliance for “because I said so” doesn’t really fly with me.

While this post sat in my drafts folder, another post was brewing about the push and pull I feel as a teacher and a parent of children in school.  I began feeling that the two draft posts were related.  I sat on both blog posts a little while longer to really give myself some time to process my own thoughts and reactions.

A week later… I’m not any further than I was when I started.

In my draft posts, I wanted to convey the push and pull I feel as a former technology professional developer, a classroom teacher, and a parent of a child in a public K-12 school district. To add to my inner turmoil: I teach in the same district where my youngest child attends school. The next few points are areas where I am really pushing myself to “walk my talk:”

  1. There are only two rules in our classroom: respect each other and respect our equipment/instruments. At the beginning of the school year (and various reminder points throughout the year), I discuss these rules with every single one of my Kindergarten through 5th grade (430+) students. I ask them if they agree with these rules and why. I ask them if we need any other rules. Most of what they suggest falls under “respect each other.” When they discuss as a class, they agree that we don’t need any other rules than those two. They are OUR rules, not MY rules. This is very important. If my students don’t have ownership in their classroom rules, then this becomes “compliance” for the sake of obeying the teacher. Even though I was taught as a child to always obey adults, I believe that kids who take ownership are more respectful of each other and their own rules when they are involved in the decisions. They also understand, through these rules, that they earn respect when they give respect, and that I respect them, too.  In “walking my talk,” I think this is one area where I am doing exactly what I would expect a teacher of my own child to do. Every time I make a decision about classroom rules, I put on my parent hat. As a parent, would I agree with or endorse these classroom rules? Why or why not?
  2. There are a few policies dictated in my daughter’s school with which I vehemently disagree. I have asked my daughter to comply with these rules, even when doing so disables her from using tools she’s found to help her with organization (she is naturally very DIS-organized). This is one area where I really feel pushed and pulled. I pride myself in being a boat-rocker. I don’t believe in sticking with the status quo to play it safe or go along with the “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality. I fear that the lessons I’m teaching my daughter – do what you have to do to stay out of trouble- will result in a backwards step for her in her own life lessons experiences. As a parent, I’m looking for avenues to discuss these issues with the school administrators, as well as with our district’s school board to plead her case, and for those of other students, too. In this situation, I would be wearing my parent hat… but also my educator hat. My biggest dilemma: will I make things worse for her if I rock the boat too hard? Second biggest dilemma: will I make things worse for myself as an employee, since it’s the same district? I doubt the latter, as I do not plan to storm the castle with pitchforks and torches. I’m a passionate person, but I feel like I also know how to approach matters respectfully and with care.
  3. My personal philosophy about teaching with technology is: if technology enhances or extends the learning experience of students, use it. If it complicates or detracts from the learning experience, don’t use it. I try very diligently to mix the learning experiences for my students in high tech, low tech, and no tech learning activities. This is another area where I feel a lot of push and pull. In many professional development opportunities for music educators, there is great pressure to teach in a purist fashion. No technology. Authentic instruments. This can be good. Kids need these experiences, and they need to know that technology isn’t always the best answer. HOWEVER, during these workshops and classes, I sometimes experience some backlash to technology… almost an arrogant stance against ever using technology. That technology somehow corrupts musical education or education in general. I speak up in these situations, especially when research is spouted about how kids don’t know how to perform some simple task without technology anymore.  Of course, I respond that students need many varied experiences, and then bring up points about obsolete skills… do we really need to teach them skills that either are obsolete now or that will be obsolete at some point in their future? As you can probably imagine, this doesn’t always bode very well for me in these workshops. [*side note: the ‘purist’ workshops are not provided by my district. I love that my district provides opportunities for its music teachers to learn together and provide professional development that we propose and often deliver ourselves.]
  4. As educators, I think we too often fight ourselves. I recently read a featured section in ISTE‘s Leading & Learning journal called Blogger’s Beat. The feature writer, Diana Fingal, called out Will Richardson, specifically,  and other non-classroom educators for pontificating about education reform ideals that are not realistic for classroom teachers. Fingal then quoted Lee Kolbert, a technology specialist who recently returned to the classroom, as someone who has struggled with the transition. My first reaction was that Fingal unfairly quoted Richardson and took him out of context somewhat.  Also, I felt that she used a single blog post written by Kolbert to make a point that Kolbert didn’t necessarily intend to support.  Maybe I reacted to what I read because I’m in a similar situation. I spent eight years in technology professional development, and I’m only just starting my second year back in the classroom. I agree with Will Richardson that education needs someone to light a fire under some educators and education policy makers to realize we can’t keep doing the same things we’ve been doing in education for the last 20, 30, 50, 100 years… and for those of you ready to argue that we have made changes, take a look at photos from classrooms in the 1890s compared to the same structure of classrooms today. Take away the computers, TVs, and other electronic equipment, and most classroom designs look EXACTLY THE SAME. On the other hand, I daily have to force myself to plan lessons differently than from what I learned to do in teacher preparation courses. How can I make my lessons more engaging? How is this lesson going to help my students LEARN? How can I help my students learn more independently, collaboratively with each other… and without me leading them every step of the way? It is difficult, it is a struggle, and sometimes it is a very frustrating experience. There are good days when I feel like I’m doing exactly what I preached to teachers in professional development workshops, but more importantly, I’m doing what’s best for my students. There are bad days when I feel like an utter failure. I don’t know where that middle ground is… or if that middle ground is even good enough.

Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself, but I always wear that parent hat. I always want to consider my students in the same manner I want my own children to be considered by their teachers.

I’m pushed and I’m pulled.

*[photo credit: cc licensed photo by Robert S. Donovan]