Education Woes

Posted On: 11 December 2016

You may or may not have heard that there are Education Woes in Nova Scotia right now. The provincial government, who controls educational spending, hiring, firing, curricula, etc, is in conflict with the teacher's union. The contract has been up for renewal for well over a year, and the teachers keep rejecting each proposal. In fairness to the teachers, the proposal never changes, so there is really no reason to accept. And a couple months ago 96% (so, almost EVERY TEACHER) voted in favour of strike action. And we are now in the middle of job action; we have started with Work to Rule, but I suspect that it will progress to an all out strike. Yikes!

Here's the WILL get straightened out between the government and the union (eventually) and both sides will try to save face, and the teachers will get back to their work and the whole thing will fade away in the minds of the average NS citizen. We are all now saying that we will never forgive our government for this and will never re-elect them, and so on and so forth. But in reality, there are only so many choices when it comes to electing a government, and the possibility of this government being re-elected is probably solidly within in the 45% - 50% range. And any of the other parties could just as easily mess it up anyway. I would like to stay focused on the Education Woes, which are plenty. And the children should not be at the mercy of the arguing grownups.

After all our fighting and bargaining (or not) and passive-aggressive posturing, and after we get back to working our regular jobs in the schools, my fear is that we won't even have touched on the real issues facing education. The system, as it stands, is FUNDAMENTALLY flawed. It cannot be fixed by changing wages, adding or taking away service awards, or buying  data management software. At the CORE of the system, there is a desperate need for change. 

And these changes need to be within the purview of the teachers, NOT the government. Yes, there ought to be standards, and accountability, and curricula. After all, every profession has a governing body. There also needs to be autonomy and respect and trust. I'm not sure how this is to happen, but the sooner it happens, the sooner  our students will be better equipped to excel in the 'real world'. Society does not need graduates who know how to Google the answer. 

At least, that's how I see it.

The Confusion with Creativity

Posted On: 13 November 2016

So, here's the thing....

You know when people say "I'm not good at math!"? Well, what they REALLY mean (probably) is "I'm not good at arithmetic". And because most people think that math and arithmetic are the same thing, they think that if they need to count on their fingers to subtract 8 from 13, it means they are not good at math. So untrue. Or at least, not necessarily true. 

If you have to figure out a way to get a big object through a small doorway, you have to use mathematics. If you have to plan a dinner and you have to make sure everything happens in the right order, you are using mathematics. Math is all about theories, sequencing, relationships between shapes, sizes, and yes, numbers. So, there MAY be arithmetic involved in your math. You can argue and say that there are numbers in everything (very true), but if you have to use your fingers or a calculator to figure out the number part, that is separate from being able to figure out the mathematics part.

Where is this going, you may ask? 

The same theory applies to creativity and artistry. So often, I meet people who think that, because they cannot draw, or compose music, or write a novel, that they are not creative. I was one of those people, actually. I figured that since I only play music that was written by someone else, I am not creative. And I can't draw. At all.

People who are not able to create an original piece of art may still be very creative. Innovative ways of thinking, teaching, planning, problem-solving, and decision-making are all creative skills. Actually, if we look at most of the definitions of creativity as espoused by many, many people who are much (much) smarter than I, then creativity leads to a useful, innovative solution to a problem. Which is far from having the ability to draw, paint, or compose. Unless, of course, the drawing or painting, or composition is part of a solution to a problem. 

Just some thoughts to ponder...

Can Creativity be a Social Justice issue?

Posted On: 16 August 2016

If you are a teacher, you have probably met this student. If you are a principal, especially a middle school principal, you have probably met this student as well. They may not be your favourite student.....they question your authority, your routines, your 'rules', and your very lessons. They may seem defiant, not completing their work and refusing to 'buckle down' and get something done. They may be disruptive in the classroom. They may be the 'class clown'. Or they may sit quietly and never seem to be really 'there'. This student will probably not match your idea of the 'ideal' student. This student probably does NOT have great marks. This student could very well have a strength in creativity, but will not soon get much credit for that skill.

In school, we have a currency.....marks. If we have students who are very creative (and I don't just mean that they can draw pretty pictures or make great cover pages for their book reports) but are not very 'academic', then they will not likely have good marks in public school. Check out my previous blog on 'Defining Creativity' to understand what I mean by 'creative' students. Although this is not always the case, those disruptive students who may make the class laugh and the teacher cringe might just have what Gardner calls the "Creative Mind". The quiet child who seems off in space all the time may have a "Synthesizing Mind". There is more to education than creating a space where the "Disciplined Minds" may flourish. We have to offer more than that.

If our schools remain focused on teaching 'stuff' (which many, many wise educators and researchers believe is NOT the way to go) then we will continue to shortchange those students who don't succeed in that environment. These are the creative, reflective, synthesizing, imaginative, inquiring students who know how to rally their peers behind them, and solve complex problems. And the problem may not be the math problem that you want them to be doing, but the problem just might be how to sneak a kitten into the classroom, or how to get better food in the cafeteria. These students don’t get any credit for their creativity. They earn no school ‘currency’. So...they may be the ‘poor’ of our school, in terms of the currency of marks. This, in my mind, makes it a social justice issue. I am not suggesting that we give marks for demonstrating the ability to break school rules without getting caught, but I am saying that we need to find a way to integrate creativity into our teaching in ways that allow everyone to be successful. And I continue to work on that everyday in my own teaching. If you want some ideas, or have some to share, let me know.


Defining Creativity

Posted On: 01 July 2016

You thought I was going to define ‘Creativity’ here, didn’t you? Ha! I'm going to be working on this blog for awhile! There is not an easy definition, and many people smarter than I have given it a whirl. I will borrow from many others to give a basic definition, but I can tell you what it is NOT. It is not confined to a specific genre - visual art, music, dance. It is not simply making a great cover page for a book report, or adding a good joke on each slide of your powerpoint presentation. For right now, let's just say that it is an innovation - a unique solution or way of being/doing/thinking. It is solving a problem in a 'different' way. It is purposeful and useful. It does not have to be spectacular (think daVinci). It can be how you decide what to make for supper tonight, based on the odd variety of food you have in the fridge.

This particular blog will be updated often!

Middle School to High School

Posted On: 30 June 2016

In 2012  I began my journey from middle school music teacher to music director at a high school. It was, in many ways, a difficult decision to make; I loved teaching my middle school students, the teachers in my school were awesome, the administration supported my program, and the parents were wonderful. I was also 8 1/2 minutes from my front door. Dream job, right?

We have all been there, though - I simply knew it was time to make a change. I also knew that moving to a new school would create a bump in my road and in the road of others, which made it a stressful situaiton. It was the exact right decision, though and after making the jump, I have not looked back. Even though I now drive a lot further, and work a lot longer, I know that I am, for the time being, in the right spot for me.

I have now finished year four, and these are the things that I have learned (so far...lots more to come) through this challenge. If you are changing schools, either to a different grade level, or just to a different building, these insight may help you.

  • The seniors in the new school just might not like you. Deal with it. You messed with their routine, perhaps replaced a beloved teacher, perhaps changed to a different style of teaching, assessing, directing, repertoire choice...really basically EVERYTHING important to a high school music student. Smile, be nice, teach the curriculum, accept the potential animosity and move on.
  • We all have ideas of what is important to teach and learn, and how we should go about that. Don't be surprised if there is push-back to your change. You have to decide if you are going to change by evolution or revolution. No matter what your choice, you can't do everything at once. Baby steps...
  • It took me three years to start feeling a sense of ownership and stability in my new position.
  • The administration is not going to trust you from day one. They might give it lip service, but why would they trust you if you have yet to prove yourself? Work hard and earn it.
  • After years of teaching middle school, you might think that high school students are somehow magically more mature, smarter, more mini-adults. Think again. Find out what they know and what they can do, and go from there. Make no assumptions.
  • All of that advanced high school rep that you want to conduct.....don't try to do it all the first year. You won't remember the first year anyway....
  • I started an electronic file (they are harder to loose) called "Remember this for next year". It really helped
  • You might JUST get through the first year. If it was not what you expected, don't be discouraged, surprised, or dissapointed. You probably won't be able to judge the position from your first year experience. Like I said, it took three years for me to feel settled.

Good luck, if you are on a new adventure. All those corney, cheesy 'teacher sayings' are true. You may very well be the most influential adult in somebody's life. Or many 'sombodies'. Take a deep breath, and jump in!