Friday, April 28, 2017

Year 7: Week 31 - Week In Review

Let’s attempt to summarize what happened this week.

Monday, we had a faculty meeting that focused on developments in modern parenting and how this has changed the dynamics of the parent-teacher relationship. It was an interesting presentation that was difficult for me to not take personally as a parent. Of course there are things that parents should think about and nuances to the relationship between parents and teachers that should be examined. I also know that this isn’t really about me, but at the same time, I feel a need to defend parents as a group, even those who over-parent and get in the way of their children’s’ growth.

Even though it felt like I was alone in my feelings of discomfort in the meeting, in the following days other teachers who were parents came up to me and said they had appreciated the question that I asked during the meeting that clearly expressed my concerns and discomfort with the conversation.

Tuesday, we had our evening instrumental concert. This concert featured our string groups and our high school band. The concert went well, but was challenging in length. We had everything from a 1st and 2nd grade violin ensemble to a concert band that had forty students in it. Also, the concert was long. As our music program grows, one of the challenges in creating performance opportunities. It’s time for some out of the box thinking because a concert that long on a school night isn’t right, especially with 1st graders involved. We need to do something different next year.

This leads into another piece that has been going on in my head. It is not even May but it is time to do critical work on the schedule for the next school year. I have five major performances ahead of me and I need to find a way to get my head into next school year. If I let this time pass, then we end up being locked into the same calendar, which needs to be examined. This piece of the puzzle is tricky, but people in my department are helping with this planning and making sure that we don’t let this critical planning window pass is by.

Next week, there is our big 5th grade performance, the major end of the year concert is in two and half weeks, we have a bunch of work to do on the 6th grade music presentation (which we are reimagining from last year). I made good progress on a project I’m doing with a donor, and my 3rd graders want to do a presentation for their SK buddies. I need to get that going. And there’s department chair evaluation work left to do.

Let’s see, did I leave anything out? Yup, there’s that other thing I can’t write about openly yet, the band room needs organizing, ugh and my email inbox.

I feel tired. However, I’m feeling pretty good about this week. All of this madness, all of these things that flood my mind disappear when I’m in the classroom with my kids. We had some fun moments this week. 6th grade band was a really hard class to teach, but we made some really good musical progress. My 8th graders were fantastic today. And I left my class of the day proud of the sounds my 3rd graders were playing on the recorder.

It never stops. But neither does the fun.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Monday, April 24, 2017

Parenthood: Week 201 - Tangerine

Slowly, Ollie pulls back the peels as I hold the tangerine. He carefully puts each piece of the peel in my other hand that I hold open for him. At times, I get a piece of peel started for Ollie but now that he is older he can mostly peel the fruit by himself. As good as he is getting at peeling a tangerine, he still needs my help to break into the peel to get it started.

Once the peel is off, Ollie hands me the fruit and I split it in half. I give half of the tangerine to him and he begins taking the sections apart.  Sitting side by side on the single step that goes down from our living room into our den, we eat the tangerine. After eating a couple pieces, Ollie takes one piece and pushes it up to my lips. I loudly chomp at his fingers and eat the section, and Ollie giggles in response. I thank Ollie for his generosity and offer Ollie a section of my half of the tangerine and he chomps at it with glee.  When we are done, Ollie takes the peels, and puts them in the kitchen garbage.

The first time I sat down on that step to share a tangerine with Ollie, he was just about a year old. He was able to comfortably sit up without support. His little fingers had a pincer grip but he couldn't grip for very long. While he could eat solid foods, he needed help managing pieces of food and getting it into his mouth.

I pulled apart the peel like petals of a flower. Ollie would grab one piece, sometimes miss and sometimes pull it the wrong direction, but he would manage to tear it off. I would take apart the tangerine for Ollie, and carefully bite a section in half and put it in Ollie's hand. Sometimes, he would get the piece into his mouth, often he would miss, but he would try, eager to get the fruit into his mouth. At times, I would place a piece at his lips and he would smile at me as he took a bite. Then he would reach for another piece and try to feed me. Often he would miss, but he enjoyed switch roles.

Sharing a tangerine has been one of these rituals that me and Ollie has enjoyed throughout the years. It has evolved and changed with Ollie's development, though the core meaning of this experience hasn't changed. It's about sharing time together, and giving to each other.

I started peeling tangerines with Ollie on a whim and it has continued over time. We don't do it every day. It had almost been a month since we did this last week. I offered him an tangerine and he immediately sat down at the step and wanted to share this moment with me.

There will be a time when Ollie doesn't need my help to eat a tangerine.  He might forget the many times we sat on that step and ate together, but I will not.  When I think about who Ollie is, I think about him trying to figure out how to peel a piece of fruit and not giving up, I think about Ollie enjoying the simple pleasure of fruit and I think about him trying to feed me, eager to share and see the joy that comes from this expression of care.

That's my boy.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Year 7: Week 30 – Longer Chunks of Time

A couple months ago, I started noticing something with my 3rd graders. Almost every single activity I did, I ended before the students were done with the activity. Many of the music teaching method books and a lot of the teacher education out there recommends that you put three or four different activities or songs in one lesson. In general, I’ve followed this for the past couple years.

There is a feeling of accomplishment from the students and the teacher when you get through a lesson that has multiple activities. I would commend my students for keeping it together so that we could keep the flow of the lesson going. However, I started noticing that so much of the focus of the class was on transitions. It seemed like more and more, students were just getting into a project as I started talking to them about transitioning them to the next activity.

A lot of educational writing and research is recommending giving students longer periods of times on one activity in shorter range of time as opposed to splitting up the same amount of time over many classes. For example, instead of doing 20 minutes once a week in music class on recorder over four weeks (assuming music class meets twice a week for 40 minutes), you do two classes in one week where you do nothing but recorder.

There’s a lot to think about here. Certain skills need to be working on for short periods of time over longer unit of time to develop. For example, singing technique needs to be developed in short chunks of time over a time. You can’t sing for 40 minutes straight in one class and get as much benefit as doing 10 minutes of singing over four classes with younger students. However, there are other things like writing compositions, or turning a storybook into a musical, which my 3rd graders are currently doing, which kids can work on for an extended period of time effectively.

I’ve giving my 3rd graders entire classes to work on their storybook musical project, and they have worked the entire class length productively and effectively with no sign of needing something else to do to vary the class and keep their interest. I’ve planned on stopping the class to do a different activity, and asked the students what they wanted to do, and they all wanted to keep working. So I let them.

It’s important that students learn how to transition between activities and work on a variety of skills in music class, but I also think that we need to let students take deep dives into projects. I did this for my 5th graders recorder project earlier this year as well, when they chose a solo and worked on it individually preparing for a mini-concert. It’s kind of scary and unnerving to give away that control and let students have an entire class to do one thing. It’s uncomfortable, but like this storybook musical project, my 5th graders got into their recorder solos and worked for the entirety of those classes.

Focusing more on larger units is tricky to balance with consistent skill building, but I think it’s worth struggling with and trying to figure out. Longer periods of time give kids the opportunity to go deeper while stretching other students who aren’t used to longer chunks of time to think differently.

As a teacher the biggest change is that when students have a longer period of time to work, my teaching is more focused on their interests and their learning and less focused on teaching them how to transition. Here’s the interesting thing: When students have one activity they are doing in class, they are only doing two transitions, one to set-up and one to put things away. These transitions without the same amount of preparation and directions have been phenomenally better then the transitions that happen when they are multiple activities in a class. I’m not sure why, but I think they transition better, because they are more settled with the feeling of having gotten a solid amount of work done. They aren’t fighting the transition as much, wanting to do more work.

Longer chunks of time may not be the right for your students, but it might be worth trying. It hasn’t always been a success, but when it is, the students really benefit.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Monday, April 17, 2017

Parenthood: Week 200 – The Right Amount Of Time

You can spend too much time with your kid.

Yes, it’s true that often I spend the entire day with my family, but if I really think about it, there’s always part of that day when we may be in the same house, but we are separate from each other doing our own thing.

You can also spend too much time away from your child.

Days when I have to work late and have little to no time with Ollie are really rough. I feel out of whack and unsettled knowing that I’m not going to have much time with him. In college one of the signs that I knew that there was something special with Diana was that my day never seemed to really start until I saw Diana during lunch at the cafeteria. In the same way day doesn’t really feel lived without time with my boy.

It’s a tricky balancing act. There’s this idea that we should always want to spend time with our children but the reality that’s not the case. It’s the cliché about absence making the heart grow fonder. An appropriate time away from your child allows you to bring more enthusiasm, interest, attention and energy to your child. Quality is better then quantity when it comes to sharing time, to a point. Two minutes of interacting with your kids with all of your care and attention, doesn’t immediately outweigh a couple hours with your kid, some of which you were zoning out on your phone.

This is a really hard balance to strike. Unfortunately many parents don’t have the privilege to be able to manage this balance. If you are working two jobs to make things happen financially, or have challenging child-care situations, you are more likely going to find this balance something that is untenable, yet you somehow have to make work.

The other problem is that sometimes when I carve the time out to spend with Ollie, he’s not really interesting in interacting with me. This goes both ways. For example, this morning Ollie climbed into bed with me at 5:15am and wanted to play with me. I was not in the mood to play with him at this time. This additional factor sometimes leads to frustration, but as the adult, the older person in the relationship, I feel it’s up to me to make the adjustment to make it work.

Sometimes we need to be pushed to spend more time with our children and sometimes we need to be pushed to take a break from our kids.  It's hard to know where we are and we need help from others to figure this out.  I'm grateful that Diana has suggested that I spend certain afternoons with Ollie and also has offered to give me breaks from him.  And I'm grateful that my little boy, always makes up for the times when he doesn't seem to want to play with me with the cutest smile as he pushed a book into my lap or when he runs up to me calls "daddy!"    

Friday, April 14, 2017

Year 7: Week 29 – The Insecurity of It All

I’ve never had any other job than being a teacher except for some musician gigs. While I do believe that other jobs are full of insecurities, there are unique things about being in a teacher in America that I’ve recently reflected on that reveals the insecurity at the core of many educators.

This thought about teacher insecurity came to me after I did this Presidents’ Day presentation. It was a great success and one of the most beloved things that I’ve ever done at this school. The weird thing is that even after many emails and people from all corners of the school giving me complements, I still felt under-appreciated for the work that I had done. It was a preposterous thought from a logical point of view, but I just couldn’t get over this feeling of not being recognized.

It's not a big surprise why I felt this way.

It's so pervasive that teachers spend their own money on school supplies that there is a special consideration in our taxes for teachers to ride off money they spend on their students in addition to normal work deductions. Can you imagine someone working in a law firm having to spend personal money on office supplies and gifts for clients?

We’ve gotten to the point in our society that a recent school shooting at San Bernardino, didn’t take over the national conversation. Yes, there are a lot of things happening in our society, but this lack of public attention about the safety of our children and the people who dedicate themselves to teaching them is disheartening.

Teaching unions get blamed for many issues in education. While not all teacher unions are created equal and some are less helpful then others, it is unions who fight for class sizes, budgets for classrooms, and other important resources for students. During teacher contract negotiations, in addition to advocating for pay, unions have to advocate for reasonable class sizes.  Isn't this something that administrators should be fighting for as a basic need for students?

Teachers are more often than not underpaid. They work to address societies failings and often receive the blame for not doing enough to address issues other people created. Achievement gap? Schools didn’t create this. Systemic racism, racially inequitable drug laws, forced migration and exploitive business practices led to this issue. Yet, teachers are on the front lines taking responsibility and trying to do something about this problem.

Teaching is not a prestigious job. In a society where job prestige is more tied to how much money you make more then how much good you do in the world, teachers don't climb to the top. Also, jobs that are traditionally held by women aren’t as well respected.

It trivializes our work when the secretary of education has no experience in public education, it hurts that people argue that we are overpaid (yup, people have told me this to my face), and it’s really hard to not feel discouraged about being a teacher after a difficult day at work, when you have to go home and spend an additional hour and a half doing work at home beyond the nine hours you spent at school. For some teachers, in addition to this work at home, they have a to go too a second job to just to keep them afloat.

When you consider all of these things, it’s kind of crazy that anyone chooses to be a teacher at all. Somehow we are here and we are doing it every day, bravely, and courageously. It is up to teachers to buoy each other up and our allies to spread the word of what it means to be a teacher in America.

I chose this job.  I'm proud to be a teacher.  However, part of this gig is doing what we do in the context of all of this negativity. That's something we work through and we deal with for the sake of the children in America.  If you want to help us out.  The first step is understanding the insecurity of it all.

The next step is listening to us.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Parenthood: Week 199 – Who's in control of the music in the car?

The majority of the time, I’d say like 70% of the time when I’m in the car, Ollie is in control of what we are listening to the car. Sometimes he doesn’t care and we listen to whatever I’m in the mood for, but the reality is that in these situations, I’m still choosing music focused on what’s good for Ollie.

Whenever we watch television together, we watch what Ollie wants to watch or we watch something that is appropriate for him. I have never put on a movie or a show that I wanted to watch and had Ollie watch along with me.

The same goes for books, I don’t read aloud books to him that I’m reading for pleasure. I read Ollie children’s books and most of the activities that we experience together are focused on Ollie’s development stage.

There’s a couple things going on here. First off, the main thing I current enjoy watching on television is professional wrestling, which is not appropriate for Ollie. Much of what I enjoy listening to in the car are podcasts like the Savage Lovecast which is, again, not appropriate for Ollie. He would be bored to tears if I read the books I’m interested to him, and frankly, there’s not a lot of stuff that I enjoy doing that isn’t child centered anyways.

The other piece of this is how much parents are willing to modify their lives for their children. Some people decide that going to church every Sunday is something is they are going to do and they will make their kids go along with them. There are others who feel this commitment to not modifying their lives for their kids to a lesser degree (some to a greater degree) about watching sports on television.  Some parents see involving their children in their own interests and routines as enriching their children's lives, but some parents really are just dragging their kids along.

When I hear people talk about things like kids having control over what is being listened to in the car, I often hear an implication that parents are being too permissive. This is part of a larger trend of criticism around younger parents spoiling their kids and letting them get away with things. While I agree that there are parents nowadays spoiling their kids, I don’t believe that there are a higher percentage of these parents at any other point in history who are overly permissive. Just because you trained your kid to call you “sir” doesn’t mean that you aren’t spoiling them.

Letting Ollie choose what we listen to in the car isn’t about being permissive. It’s about nurturing his interests and helping him develop his voice. As annoying as it is to listen to the same song on repeat, I get it. I do the same thing when I’m into a song. My parents dealt with this when I was growing up and I’m sure it was annoying for them. But their tolerance of my obsession, led to my love of music and the depth in which I analyze music and experiences in my life.

The same goes for television and books. I usually indulge him in wanting to watch the same thing over and over and read the same book over and over. While this may seem like obsessive behavior, it’s actually a sign of positive brain development. When he is experiencing a piece of art over and over, he is working on prediction skills, strengthening his imagination and analyzing different aspects of what he is perceiving.

Allowing your child to delve deep into their interests and explore the art in their lives isn’t being overly permissive, it’s called loving them.

There is a balancing act. Ollie dose need to learn how to take turns when it comes to listening to songs in the car. It’s also important that we push Ollie out of his comfort zone and expose him to new art.

I’m okay putting aside my own music, televisions shows and other interests for my son. Because right now, my primary interest, the thing I am into the most, isn’t a song, a television show, or a book. It’s my son. It’s been that way since the day he was born, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Friday, April 7, 2017

My Friendships With Women or "Why I have no issues eating along with other women."

In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either. 
From Karen Pence is the vice president’s ‘prayer warrior,’ gut check and shield by Ashley Parker
This sentence from Ashley Parker’s article about Karen Pence has stayed in my mind for the past couple weeks. While people made jokes about this view on cross-gender social interactions, I was once more reminded about how I am a minority.

In additional being Asian-American, shorter than average height, a guy who’s not into sports, a teacher, a male teacher, agnostic, a man who enjoys cooking, and a guy who is a proud feminist, most of my close friends throughout my life have been women.

When Harry Met Sally brought up the question about whether men and women could be friends, but since then, this questioned has left our cultural consciousness.

In the almost thirty years we have made great progress as a culture normalizing and accepting minorities (e.g. Gay culture, people who are transgender, comic book geeks, stay-at-home dads). However this quote, is a reminder that we still have a lot to learn about and accept about platonic friendship between men and women.

I’ve been reading different articles, blogs and websites about this idea that men and women can’t be or shouldn’t be socializing alone as friends. It mostly refers to married people. The common undercurrent is that people cannot control themselves around people of the opposite sex and that people are unable to look past sexuality when interacting alone with someone of the opposite sex.

These assertions express to men that they don’t have to work to look beyond sexuality when interacting with women. It reinforces the misperception that when women are friendly, they must be flirting and it further stratifies our society. As Dan Savage pointed out in this recent podcast, separated men and women cuts women out of important business meetings and reinforces the boys club mentality, where business gets done in a male-only country club setting over a golf course.

The other issue that is raised is perceptions. People don’t want others to perceive that they are cheating on their spouse. I don’t care about that When you have to regularly to deal with your racial identity like when a waiter assumes the Caucasian guy sitting next to you is your wife’s husband, you stop caring what someone else might think if you go out to lunch with a woman who is not your wife.

Not all guys are going to have as many women friends as I do. That’s fine. If this is based on lack of mutual interests or other social factors, no big deal. However to decide that you are never going to socialize alone with women is like saying that you never hang out with Asian people alone because you are worried that they will have too thick of an accent and you can’t understand them.

I am not going to claim on being an expert on how to meet women, but I’m proud of my ability to maintain a healthy relationship with my wife, which has lasted fifteen years. I credit a lot of this success to the friends I’ve had in my life who were women. You are a lot more likely to have a successful relationship with your wife, if you have had successful friendships with other women.

I don’t expect people to immediately move past gender roles and social norms. However, I hope that sentence made some people think about the friends they have and the friends they don’t because they were told that boys and girls can’t be friends.

I feel so grateful to all of the women who broke past gender norms to be my friend. In high school, I got bullied for these friendships and I’m sure my friends got some weird comments too. In college these were women who didn’t hesitate to pull me into the conversation when I was the only guy at the table and always welcomed me into their dorm rooms when I knocked. In adulthood, these are women who along with their kids don’t hesitate to meet up for a playdate with Ollie and me when Diana is busy.

A big part of this is my wife, Diana who has embraced this part of who I am and has never gotten in the way of these relationships. This is further proof that more than anything else Diana is my best friend.

Yes, it sucks to be reminded that you are a minority, but in the past couple weeks, I have been reminded of all of the great friendships I’ve had with women in my life. I’m going to hold on to all the warm feelings that these memories bring me and text one of my friends, a women and see if she wants to hang out.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Monday, April 3, 2017

Parenthood: Week 198 – Spring Break . . . kind of

Diana, Ollie and I all have different spring breaks this year. So when people asked about my upcoming spring break and I told them that Ollie didn’t have the same spring break as me, I generally got two responses: “That’s great, you can take Ollie out of school and spend time with him,” and “That’s fantastic, Ollie can go to school and you can get some time for yourself.”

The latter response came from people who currently have younger kids or are older parents who don’t have too bad a case of parental amnesia. Many parents, including myself, forget a lot of the really tough parts of parenting. I’ve forgotten a lot of the struggles of when Ollie was a baby and without past blog posts, these feelings and moments would have been lost. Some parents of older kids I’ve met still have a keen awareness of the challenges of parenting, and some do not. It’s not a good person or bad person thing, it’s just one of those things that effects people differently.

The idea that parents want to, or should enjoy spending every minute of their day with their kids goes against theories of child development and evolutionary biology. Psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Perry, argues in The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, that humans were evolved to be raised by multiple adult caretakers in cross-generational family communities. In the context of emotional development, he outlines how kids who are surrounded by aunts and uncles with cousins develop effectively develop empathy. Part of this thesis is that parents have and should have time away from their child, which allows them self-care as well as time to provide for the family.

I love my boy, but I need time away from him.  I got stuff today like my taxes, getting a haircut and getting my car’s air conditioning fixed. We are blessed with a fantastic school for Ollie that provides many things for him, that I can’t.

There’s parental guilt from all directions. The important thing to remember is that those who would make you feel guilty, who do not actually know you are speaking out of ignorance or insecurity. People who are surprised that I’m still taking Ollie to school for a good chunk of this week don’t know how hard it is to get stuff done with a toddler in the house or are projecting their own regrets about their own parenting.

If you’re cool spending all day with your kid, and it makes you and your child truly happy to spend that much time together, great.  However, I'm not one of those people and I refuse to feel bad about that fact.

Parents don't deserve breaks from their kids, they require them.  Everybody needs time away from the ones we love.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Year 7: Week 28 – Putting The Band (and choir) Together

For our middle school students’ curricular music class, they either choose band or choir.  The strength of both the band and the choir are interrelated. If the band kids for example have more performances or have parties that the choir doesn’t, then there are equity issues in the educational experiences of the students.

One way to address this is that we have the band and choir perform songs together. This is not common practice at other middle schools, but it’s something that we feel it is important to create an integrated band and choir curriculum and help the students feel a sense of community within their grade.  There have times when this has worked really well and other times there have been issues.

Not all songs lend themselves to having band instruments and balance between middle school band students and choir students is a significant issue. Band students often play with a louder dynamics as beginners and over time learn how to play with a softer tone. However many choir students in middle school while developing their head voice, sing at a softer volume and don’t develop a louder singing voice until later.

In the past, we did a Chinese folk song with band and choir. That one was a stylistic stretch for the band students and to address the balance, we had the band play by themselves, then choir sing by themselves and combine them later in the song. In contrast, last year we did “Glory,” from the film Selma, which worked really well because there were instrumental parts that filled in parts of the phrase where there wasn’t singing.

Today we put together “A Change Is Goin' To Come,” and “We Are Young,” with the 8th grade band and choir. “A Change Is Goin' To Come,” was a choir arrangement that came with instrumental parts. That’s always helpful because even if the parts are too hard (which they were), you can simplify them.  For “We Are Young,” the band has their own arrangement and we figured that the choir could just join in during the bridge.

A room full of seventy-some 8th graders is hard to manage. Basic things like, “when I step on the podium, please be quiet,” don’t work as well in that setting. However, once we got going the collective energy in the room took over and the kids really got into it. Feeling the energy and sound of instrumentalist while you sing, something I didn’t experience until college, is really special and having the band students experience what it’s like to interact with vocalists is a fun and unique experience.

Teaching-wise being in that room of kids and working the choir teacher to put that those songs together was the highlight of my week. These kids are very much 8th graders and don’t often demonstrate outward their enthusiasm, so it was really encouraging that a handful of students were visibly excited after working on these songs.

The rehearsal didn’t run as smooth as I would have liked but the music-making was good.  Yes, putting middle school bands and choirs together is a crazy idea, but we’ve made it work. Understanding that being a musician means that you are part of a community is central to music education and if we can create that for our students across ensembles, they will be inspired to create it for themselves.

Working on combined band and choir pieces is an excuse to collaborate with the choir teacher.  If that part of it wasn't fun, I wouldn't keep working on these projects.  At the end of "A Change Is Goin' To Come," we had agreed to slow down the song and conduct each of the final notes.  What we didn't decided on was who was going to lead.  When we got to that section, we looked at each other, and laughed at each other while we played conducting chicken waiting to see who would take the lead.  I don't know if any of the kids noticed how much fun that moment was, but it's time like that which we laugh about, which keep me coming back for more.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

Parenthood: Week 197 – Ollie’s Imagination

Yesterday evening before his bath, Ollie was furiously dancing around the living room. He was spinning around, jumping from foot to foot, and wildly swinging his arms around. At the same time he was making growling and exploding sounds. There was a clear intent in the way Ollie was moving. Nothing seemed random in his movements.

“Ollie, what are you right now?” My wife asked. Ollie stopped moving and said plainly, “I’m a palm tree.”

Ollie falling into his own world of imagination is one of the wonderful things about having a three year-old. There are times when Ollie dances around or talks to himself while playing toys for extended periods of time, sometimes as long as fifteen minutes living in his own imagination. Often times Ollie is emulating things he sees in films or books and other times Ollie’s imagination takes him to other worlds that he creates.

Ollie has been really into the film, Moana. He has some toys and stuffed animals of characters from the film. While he loves these toys, the objects he uses to dress up like these characters he cherishes just as much. Ollie uses a lego block with an plastic antenna piece stuck on top of it as his version of Maui’s hook. When Ollie asked for Maui’s necklace, I found a strap used to hold a recorder and tied some kitchen utensils to it.  Ollie proudly wore it whenever he played as Maui, which was almost every day for a week.

I get that seeing a kid with a lego antenna with a spatula, and a spoon tied to his neck, dancing around may look strange, and it does. However, it’s this kind of play that shows the incredible development of a child’s mind and the power of imagination.

I see it in other places. Ollie’s ability to pay attention to audiobooks and his ability to follow longer and more complex books also is a display of his developing imaginative skills. Also, when we talk to Ollie about things happening in the future, we see him transition better which is a sign of his ability to imagine what is beyond the present.

As Ollie began to twirl around, he explained that the palm tree that he was representing was reacting to an erupting volcano. It was being thrown around in the blast. He was representing an object as well as an event and a story. To help himself understand this, he physically represented what his brain was imagining through dance and sound. Even though it may have looked random and strange, there was real and very important work going on as he continued to spin and flail across the room.

A child’s imagination is a wonderful thing. It doesn’t always make sense to the rest of us and it doesn’t have to.  Sometimes it's just a kid being silly but often it is so much more.

Give your kid the space to dance wildly and make weird sounds.  It is just this work that will strengthen the muscle of imagination that come adulthood may solve a problem in a way that only your child can imagine.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Year 7: Week 27 – Consequences & Break-Up Songs

I’m pretty comfortable “letting kids have it,” as a teacher. Most of a time it doesn’t take a lot out of me to give a students a “teacher look,” or to explain sternly to a student why what he said was inappropriate. I’m getting more and more comfortable stopping class to unpack comments related to gender and race that need addressing. However, I really hate giving out consequences like sending a kid to the principal’s office.

The difficulty has led me to do figure out ways to create relationships and do all I can do to avoid getting to a situation in which I have to dole out serious consequences. However, sometimes it just needs to happen. It rarely feels good to punish a kid, sometimes it feels awful, but when it’s what is best for the student you got to do it.

It’s easier to back off and just give that student another chance. It’s takes courage and strength to follow through. It’s part of the job I love, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

Break-Up Songs
As we worked through the lyrics of “Greensleeves,” my 5th graders started become appalled by the what was being done the narrator. I had printed out eight verses of “Greensleeves,” and after working through the vocabulary we worked through each verse, trying to put together the story that was being told in the song.

“So the narrator was giving all of these things to this person and he loved her, and she dumped him and didn’t want him back?!? She’s awful!” exclaimed one of my 5th graders as we got to the end of the last verse. I asked the class so who was on the narrator’s side and who was on the other person’s side. All of the students raised their hands expressing support of the narrator.

“Okay, let’s take a step back. Can anyone see in the lyrics, why the other person might not be such a bad guy”? I asked. After a pause, I explained, “look deeper, what did he give to her?” Then the students started talking about how every expression of his love was materialistic. I explained how it’s nice to get stuff from people we love, but sometimes what we really want is to spend time with people. Maybe, this person was being nice and asked for space in a polite way and the other narrator wasn’t getting the clue. Some of the students in the class seemed to relate to this point a little bit too well.

Then we voted again. People were a lot less confident about the vote and class was split about half for the narrator and half for his love interest. Then I concluded:
This is what’s so great about a good break-up song. It’s not clear. It has two sides and you can make arguments for both sides. You are going to find in life that this is how break-ups work, there are always two sides and it’s almost never 100% one person’s fault.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017

Parenthood: Week 196 - Parents These Days

People like to criticize "parents these days." Now that I’m one of these parents, I’m started to find these comments more . . . annoying.

Every generation looks to younger generations of parents with a critical eye. The criticisms I often hear about my generation of parents is that we over-scheduled our kids, we are too permissive, we don’t teach our kids how to clean up, and we give them too many drugs, or too few. That’s just a sampling.

I’m more exposed to these comments because I am a teacher. I feel lucky to teach with an optimistic group of teachers, but concerns about how kids change do come up and within these concerns, the factor of parenting often come up. Even though the faculty at my school expressed these concerns politely, there is sometimes an undertone of “parents these days.”

I pay attention to articles that come out about parenting as part of what I do to stay current on my practice as a teacher. When you are a teacher, random people you meet like to tell you about the problem with parents or sometimes try to get you to tell them about problems with parents. Usually I respond telling them how much I enjoy working with the parents of my students, which I do for the vast majority of the time, and the person asking looks disappointed.

My generation of parents does not have it all figured out. I am sure there are things that we are doing that will be found to not be the best for our kids. I know this for a fact because, there are things that parents from generations before me did, that were insane! Yes, there should be a trajectory of better parenting as time goes by, but this upward trend will have little valleys. That’s fine. It’s okay for parents to make missteps, as long as they are not grossly inappropriate or put their child’s health at risk.

Before you judge too hard on “parents these days,” don’t forget about parental amnesia. It’s the thing that makes you forget what it’s actually like to work a full time job and come home to a cranky kid, attempt to cook dinner and then spend three hours trying to put your baby to bed.

Almost all of  the complaints I hear about parents, look different from another perspective. A child who is over-scheduled may have a parent who really cares about that kid having diverse life experiences. A parents who seems to be too permissive, may actually be working very hard to help their child self-regulate and what you see is actually progress. A kid who doesn’t clean up well, isn’t always because parents aren’t trying to teach these skills (trust me) and medicating a kid is a really challenging thing to do. First off, in my tens years of teaching, I can't only remember two cases where a kid was overmedicated.  Second, wouldn’t you be careful, about giving your child drugs that affect their brain chemistry? In some ways, isn’t this a sign of love?

If you actually want to help us out, judge less, and listen more.  Parents these days could use a break, just like you so desperately needed once upon a time, when you had a little one and felt like you had no idea what you were doing.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Year 7: Week 26 - The Teacher Kids Want To Hang Out With

It started when I began student teaching and it has never stopped.

In my entire career as a teacher there have always been groups of students, who like to come talk to me before and after class or during breaks. Often, they are just goofing around but sometimes they want to have deeper conversations.

This has been an interesting thing to manage throughout my career. When I was student teaching, the students would often try to figure out personal things about my life and try to get me to talk more as a peer. In this context, I had to place clear boundaries because it was important as a person who looks young that I establish a level of authority. At the same time I didn’t want to shut this down completely.

Some of my favorite memories of student teaching were long conversations individual students would have with me during their breaks or on bus rides. Teenagers often want someone to just listen to them, and something about my personality and demeanor has often made students feel comfortable opening up to me. I wanted to be a person those students could talk to, but I still needed to maintain distance. There are clear lines that teachers can’t cross and I’ve always been conscientious of this fact.  I am glad that I was able to foster student-teacher relationships that were meaningful for my students. I know this worked because some of these students I worked with as a student teacher more then a decade later are still in contact with me.

This continues to a lesser degree but it still happens. I walk down the halls and groups of students come up to try to joke around with me. Sometimes I have some fun with students in groups but now more then ever, I politely don’t engage at their level. One of the things that you need to be careful of as a teacher is that when students talk to you, it can feel like you are socializing in a friendly way but you are not. It’s a teacher to student talk, which has socializing aspects and is friendly but is in no way a friendship.

The attention from students is really nice. I’m not going to deny that, but this attention isn’t important, and it can often be distracting. It’s great having those more socially outgoing students coming up to you and asking you about your day. However the students that are more socially introverted deserve attention just as much. If the students who are quieter see you joking around with the more socially confident students, it can make the quieter students feel less valued.

What’s interesting is that while I shoot down more of those groups of students coming up to me to joke around, the amount of students who want to have deeper and longer conversations with me one on one is still a significant part of my life as a teacher.

Being that teacher that kids like to hang out with is really fun.  As long as this come from a place of respect earned from relationships built on meaningful learning done in the classroom, really important interactions can happen every day.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Monday, March 13, 2017

Parenthood: Week 195 – The One Reason

I saw a video for exercise class for dads in which they can hold their babies in their carriers while they work out. It’s a cute idea, but it’s not really very long that you can hold your baby in a carrier. Also, the amount of time when that baby rests in the carrier and doesn’t react to the outside so you can do aerobics world is even shorter.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because Ollie is getting older. He’s wonderfully independent in many ways and as much as I love the fact that Ollie can go to the bathroom without any help, part of me is not ready for this level of maturity.

Over the weekend after lunch, I climbed into bed with Ollie, and we got cozy (which means we both cuddle up underneath the covers). We read a stack of books together, at least four, and then he falls to sleep in my arms. I get up after dozing for ten minutes and let him have his afternoon nap.

We live in a chaotic, dark and seemingly pessimistic world but there are moments that bring peace to the heart and the mind in a way that rejuvenates, sustains and reminds us of the beauty of the humanity that gives us the hope. Reading a book to a child and cuddling him to sleep is one of those human experiences makes life beautiful.

Ollie’s current favorite book is Corduroy. It’s that book about the bear who is missing a button, goes to find one and is later bought by a girl.   I remember this book as a child and the fact that that the girl is African-American. It’s book about finding one’s place in the world. It’s about being accepted for who you are and accepting others. It’s about finding a home, not in a palace but in a fourth-story walk up.

I can tell Ollie all of these things, but through books like Corduroy, he sees there is a shared humanity, that the value in our house exist in the lives others. Books are reminders that we are not alone.

I can make Ollie feel secure, safe and loved enough to let go into sleep knowing that the world he knows and the people he loves will be there when he wakes up. It is what we give to others that defines humanity and the gift of peace, I can give to Ollie is one of the things that makes my life worth living.

There are a million reasons to not have a kid. But there’s one reason to have a child.  It's in that feeling of falling asleep with my son.

That feeling is infinite.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Year 7: Week 25 – Recorder Wars: The 5th Grade

I love how enthusiastic my 3rd graders are about playing the recorder. They look forward to it, have a sad when we don’t do recorders and they genuinely enjoy playing the instruments.

Then 5th grade hits. I’m not going to get into why the enthusiasm disappears when they reach 5th grade, but I will say there is dramatically different. Many 5th graders openly dislike the recorder. The focus breaks down. It’s really hard to get them to work as a group. I’ve never been able to get them into a good groove working as a class.

So I gave up on teaching 5th grade recorder in the large group. It just wasn’t working. There wasn’t enough buy in for them to learn as a class. I could never strike the right balance, which resulted in advanced kids being bored, and students who fell behind confused. When 5th graders feel bored or are confused, often they express this by being disruptive.

I feel better about what I’ve figured out for my 3rd graders on recorder then what I do with my 5th graders. However, I have found some things that work, so here they are:

1. Recorder fun: I remember the moment when I realized that I could play pop music on the piano. It was through the songbook for The Little Mermaid. It’s a powerful moment when students realize that they can play music they know and like on an instrument. Hal Leonard has this series of recorder books, Recorder Fun! (here’s a link to the Adele one). Each book features a finger chart, basics on reading music and pop songs. Each song is written in big notes with the note names written inside the note name. Lyrics and chord symbols are also included.

Most of the time the rhythms are too complex for my students to read, however, if they know the song, then they are mostly using just the note names to play the song and ignoring the notation. I’m okay with that. At least they are being exposed to notation and feeling the gratification of playing a song that they know. However without knowing how to read rhythms, well it's hard to play as a large group which leads to. . .

2. Small group work: After students try some songs out of the Recorder Fun! series, they give me a list of their favorite songs and I put them in groups according to their song choice. They have the fingering, the notes, and they have an idea of how the song works. Then they can go at their own pace and figure out how to play together. This takes some doing, but I find that in a small group, they can usually figure out a way to play in sync with each other. I work my way from group to group giving them specific goals to work on during the lesson.

3. Alto recorder . . . or tenor?: I have all of my students try the alto recorder and in every class I have three or four students who love it. It fits the bigger hands of some students; many like the lower sound and more advanced kids often enjoy the challenge of the larger instruments. Alto recorder is in a different key then soprano recorder so there’s some transposing that needs to happen. Usually I give them a chart that shows how the transposing work and have them write out a transposed parts themselves.  And surprisingly one of my 5th graders got really into playing the tenor recorder even though she could barely stretch her fingers out to cover the holes.  Hey, she worked really hard at it and made it work.

4. Recorder as a unit: Instead of doing a little recorder as part of a class over a period of time, 5th graders seem to do better with recorder if they do it every music class for the whole period across a series of classes. 5th graders are ready to focus on projects for longer periods of time. It is also easier for students to see growth and feel success if they are working on recorder songs more often during a shorter span of lessons.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Parenthood: Week 194 – Getting Serious

I have a pretty good “teacher face.” You know that look a teacher gives student or a class that will get them stop talking or focus immediately (if you are ever hanging out with a teacher as them to demo their teacher face for you). Over the years, I’ve grown to enjoy having stern talks with kids. No, I don’t enjoy making kids feel guilty or cry, but I do like the mental challenge of figuring out ways to talk to kids to help them understand the consequences of their own negative or careless choices. I only have a finite number of these talks a day in myself and when I’m not sure what to say, these talks can be really stressful. However, when things click, it can be satisfying knowing you’ve helped a student grow.

My “daddy face” is another story. I really don’t like expressing frustration to Ollie or having to be really stern with him. Like my growth as a teacher, I’ll probably get better at it, but right now, it’s really not good times.

Last week, I was putting Ollie to bed. We had done the whole routine, story, and cuddling in bed. I sat in his rocking chair, which Ollie often requests I do while he goes to sleep. However this time, Ollie was not simmering down. He was bouncing on the bed, and throwing his blankets, pillows and stuffed animals off his bed. Calmly without any emotion (which is what is recommended), I placed him back in bed, but he giggled as soon as I let go. Then he slithered off the side of the bed and continued to be silly.

It was getting late. We had been at this for probably forty-five minutes. I had things to do, and it had been a long day for me. I could feeling the frustration build. I had been here before as a teacher, and I knew that I couldn’t loose control, but I decided as I have at times at school to let some of the steam out in a careful and controlled way. I picked up Ollie put him in bed and said quietly but sharply, “YOU are going to sleep right no! Daddy does not think this is funny. He is not happy. Go. To. Sleep.”

Ollie lay there silent, looking at me shocked, not knowing what to do. I tucked his blanket over him, and left the room. I checked five minutes later and he was asleep. I proceeded to hug him, stroke his head gently and tell him as I do every night, “Goodnight Ollie, you are my special little guy, daddy loves you and daddy is very proud of you.”

I felt horrible.

I know that is was good for Ollie to see that there were limits. I also know that it was fine that I said what I said in the way I said it. However, part of me really dislikes having to be that way with my boy and I’m a little sad that this works.

You don’t have to convince me about the importance of being a parent who sets limits and lets their children see the natural consequences of their actions. These consequences are sometimes anger and frustration. I get all of this logically, but in my heart, I’m not there. I only want my words to bring my child joy and I don’t want anything I ever do to make him unhappy even for a moment.

Sometimes the things we do for those we love aren't things that we love to do.  It is exactly our capacity to do these things out of love that make us parents.  Not friends, or mentors, but parents.

Maybe someday, I'll be fine being more stern with Ollie, but if I'm not, that might be such a bad thing after all.        

Friday, March 3, 2017

Year 7: Week 24 - Recorder Wars

The recorder is one of the most ridiculed instruments. Probably the only instrument that gets as much grief as the recorder is the viola, but probably as not as much because most elementary school teachers don’t hand every single one of their students a viola in 3rd grade.

I taught recorder for the first time for one year before I got to this school. The recorder was part of the 3rd grade curriculum when I got here so I’ve kept it up.

Teaching the recorder is a true test of a teacher’s ability to carefully plan curriculum and effectively instruct students. My first year, I just gave the kids the recorders and then attempted to teach them. That was a disaster. It was a headache-educing, chaotic cacophony. I remember taking Tylenol before trying to teach the recorder and that still didn’t help. I had songs to teach and I knew how to teach the instrument but I didn’t know how to teach the recorder to 3rd graders.

Over the past seven years, there’s been a lot of trial and error. However, I’ve kept at it and I’m at a pretty good place. My 3rd graders after playing for about a month, wrote compositions this week using G, A, B, & C. Only two our of my sixty kids needed a reminder to put their left hand on the top of the instrument, and almost all of the them are tonguing. Also I got most of the kids to hold the recorder with their right hand lightly to the side of the holes as opposed to a death grip at the bottom of the instrument, which forms band habits.

Even though all of the kids were playing at the same time during class, no one was squeaking or playing obnoxiously loud and they were all motivated and working. Here’s a couple things that I’ve figured out that has helped me find success teaching the recorder.

1. The introduction.
Starting about a month before the students get the recorder, I start playing for them and showing them videos of people playing the recorder. I make sure that the performances I show them feature children, adults, soloists, ensembles, different styles of music, men and women and people of color playing the recorder. I make sure that all of these videos that I show feature good playing technique and a quality tone model.

2. The Quiz
I give one quiz in the entire 3rd grade year. It’s the recorder quiz. This quiz is one page long and asks the kids about basic recorder technique.
  1. Which hand is at the top of the instrument? Left or right.
  2. What type of air do you use to play the recorder? Fast or slow
  3. If the recorder doesn’t sound right, what should you check? Fingers completely covering the hole & make sure to use slow air
  4. How far do you put the recorder in your mouth? Right in front of the teeth.
I purposely create stress around this quiz. I want students to realize that the recorder is something that is important and that there is a right and a wrong way to play it. The creative part is not in how you play the instrument; it’s what you create with great technique. I explain that if a student does not get 100% on their quiz, they will not get their recorder and they will have to retake it. I usually have one or two students a class who don’t pass, but since most of the questions are pretty easy to figure out, the retake ends up not being a lot of drama.

3. Get them used to playing in small groups.
I usually have them sit in three rows and split them up into two groups. Once students realize how much easier it is to hear themselves play in smaller groups, they will wait their turn to play.

4. Have challenging material around for more advanced students.
I have various recorder method books in my room. If kids are moving ahead, they can grab one of these books and work out of it.

5. The iPad
I used to use Recorder Master on my iPad, but that program is no longer updated and doesn’t work very well on the updated OS. I’m currently using Flute Master.  This program features songs that are displayed as a game first in which kids control a dragon that burns bats. Then the same song is displayed in traditional notation with a moving red line that helps the kids know where they are in the music.

Flute Master has a three songs that have nothing but B, which is great because it provides important repetitions to get technique established and it gives the opportunity to teach tonguing. Nothing motivates students to behave well on their recorder more than the possibility of playing the recorder game on the iPad in front of the class.

Next week, I'll talk about some things that I've gotten figured out for my older students on the recorder. . .

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bedtime Buddies

Ollie's bedtime buddies (left to right): 
- Gigi the Giraffe 
- Chu from "Chu's Day" by Neil Gaiman 
- Polka (baby toy, infants do best with high contrasts like B&W)
- Bailey from Finding Dory
- Tùzǐ (rabbit in Chinese) from my mom
- Cookie Monster
- Moana
- Maui
- Super Dog
- Bowser (dragon with Frozen shirt).

Monday, February 27, 2017

Parenthood: Week 193 – How To Play With A Toddler

Sometimes it’s easy.

Ollie requests, “Daddy watch!” so I sit on the floor and watch him play and he is content but other times it's more complicated. When a toddler asks you to play with them, they can be requesting a range of things. The little one could simply want you to watch, they may want you to play a board game with them, or they want to order you around and tell you what to do in the guise of “playing.”

Watching how children’s sense of play develops is another fascinating thing to witness like speech acquisition and the development of locomotion (e.g. crawling to walking).

In toddlerhood two things start coming to the fore in the realm of play: extended independent play and interactive play.  Much of what babies and younger toddler do is parallel play. This is when two kids sit near each other and play sitting next to each other but don't actually interact with each other while playing. It’s like two adults sitting next to each other on a plane reading books individually. There is a sense that the other person is there which can be comforting, but the activity is not reliant on human interaction to progress forward. This parallel play refers mostly to peer interactions as babies do a lot of interactive play with adults.

When Ollie is in the right mood and he has the right activity in front of him, he can individually play for a solid half an hour. It’s a fascinating thing to watch.  Also, this can be really convenient when this time lines up time I need to spend on chores.

Then there are moments when I Ollie asks me to play with him.

Sometimes it’s all good. We play with blocks, we are on the same page and it’s fine. However there are times, when I don’t put the blocks where Ollie wants and he gets frustrated with me and gets bossy. Sometimes I just do what he says after making him ask politely and others times I put up resistance explaining that I want to play a different way. Yeah, this often doesn’t go very well. It’s a process, but we are getting there.

While I’m trying to help Ollie learn to play in a way that he “should.” I find myself hesitating at times and letting Ollie teach me how to play. Today we played a game called “traffic jam.” We put his cars and other toys in a row, Ollie would describe the lights changing and at some point we would move the cars a couple inches. Then we would add more objects to the traffic jam. We repeated this a bunch of times for a solid half an hour. It took me a while to understand what he was doing and what he wanted me to do, and I still don’t completely get what he got out of this game, but it engaged him and he wanted to share this time with me, so I went with it.

Next time a toddler asks you to play, go with it. There may be some frustration and some confusion, but don’t forget, the most important thing is not how you two play but rather that you play together.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Year 7: Week 23 - Of Thee I Sing On

“The time to hesitate is through.”

The evening of election day, I was away from home, sitting in a dorm style cabin with the other fifth grade teachers during a outdoor education retreat. The students were asleep and all of the teachers were sitting together seeing the election results as they came in over our smart phones. As the evening grew later and later and it began to sink in what was happening, we created a plan of how to address the students.  One by one, teachers left the group to go to bed. We had another long day of us and even with the election, we were committed to keep the retreat focused on the work that we brought for our students to experience on this retreat.

I was in shock as I settled into the bottom bunk of the bed. I lay lost in a sea of confusion and uncertainty. My phone was on the floor next to me and I kept myself from picking it up and checking the news, knowing that I needed to get sleep. But I had to do something, I needed to do something.

I picked up my phone, but instead of checking the news, I turned on the flashlight, grabbed my journal and started writing. I had waited five years to get to work on this project; the time to start was now.

In the summer of 2011, I attended an Orff Certification Workshop in Boston. Orff is a approach to music teaching that is the foundation of much of the way I approach music education. One of the teachers, Prof. Baruch Whitehead from Ithaca College shared a musical presentation built around President Obama’s picture book, “Of Thee I Sing, A Letter To My Daughters.”

This beautiful book presents thirteen great Americans. The idea of the presentation is that after reading the part about one of the people students could make a connection with a song. For example, after Jackie Robinson, students could sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”

Ever since that workshop, the idea of expanding Prof. Whitehead’s idea into a broader presentation for my school had been in the back of my mind. Every couple months, I would come to a point and think that it was the right time to put this project together and then I would decide it was too much work at the time. And that’s how this project existed for five years, something I was excited to do and thought about a lot, but never took action to make happen.

By the light of my iPhone, I sketched out an outline of this presentation, pulling from memory the people featured in this book.  I wanted to have the whole school involved. I planned to get different faculty involved from different parts of the school and involve different subjects. I started thinking about who I needed to talk to in order to get buy in, what obstacles I would face and I wrote out a plan. After vigorously writing for a while, I finally felt myself starting to settle. I couldn’t do anything about the election, but I could do for my school and myself to reaffirm what it meant to be American. As much as I felt our country needed this book to be read to them, I felt that I needed this book to be read to me.  If I needed this, then so did my students.  And then somehow, I slept a couple hours.

As I mourned the election results in the coming days, I kept coming back to this project as a focus. It didn’t lessen the grief or speed my through the process of coming to accept a new uncertain status quo, but it did give me a sense of purpose, a positive reaction to all of the chaos.

The first step was getting an approved date to do this presentation. I asked a date around Presidents’ Day and got the Wednesday after. I couldn’t get all of the students together for one presentation, so we planned to do a grade JK-2 assembly and a grades 3-12 assembly. I wrote up a script and started asking teachers to be speakers. I immediately felt affirmation and support from the faculty. Everyone immediately bought into the spirit of this project. I deliberately made sure that we had teachers who taught different grades and also included administration and assistant teachers. There was no convincing that had to be done. Each "yes" I heard brought me joy, hope and motivation.

I decided to honor every other person to keep the flow of the book intact. One of the art teachers was already planning to do work inspired by Georgia O’Keefe, so that was set. “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” for Jackie Robinson, I kept from the original concept. One of the high school choirs sang “God Bless The Child” for Billie Holiday and for Maya Lin, a high school trumpet player performed “Taps.” We all sang “Ain't going to Let Nobody Turn Me Around” to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The 7th grade Spanish teacher enthusiastically brought back a unit on Cesar Chavez and some of her students put together a video about Chavez, including a reworking of “Alexander Hamilton,” from Hamilton, but with lyrics about Chavez. Finally, after George Washington, another high school choir sang “History Has Its Eyes On You,” from Hamilton. To bookend this presentation, we sang “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee.”

For the JK-2 presentation, we made some changes. We showed videos for the Billie Holiday, Maya Lin and George Washington sections. The elementary Spanish teacher led the students in a wonderful “Si se puede!” chant for Cesar Chavez. We also featured JK-2 teachers in this presentation as speakers along with some administration.

I purposely set up the presentation, so that I would do nothing during the actual presentation.  I wanted this presentation to be as much about the school as possible and not about me at all. If this was going to be what it needed to be for our community, it needed to be owned by all of us, not just one individual. All I did during the presentation was say, "go" to the first reader to start once everyone was in the auditorium.

While I watched, I sang, laughed, smiled, and almost cried a little bit.  Every word that was spoken on stage came from a place of personal belief that reflects the values of our school. The spirit of collaboration my colleagues demonstrated which are a foundation of progressive learning came to life. The pride they showed sitting on stage watching others speak and our students' brave and important work showed our whole community what it meant to value each others' voices as citizens.

Diversity, equity and inclusion work is often hard, challenging and uncomfortable, but it can also be joyful and celebratory.  The teachers and students brought that joy. Sometimes we need to take a chance and put ourselves out there to demonstrate what diversity, equity and inclusion looks like and feels like. By choosing to include themselves in the MX yesterday, the teachers and students demonstrated what it meant to be inclusive and to celebrate the diversity in our community.

What is the state of our union? I'm an optimist, and while I'm hopeful, I'm not sure. However, I am sure of the state of my school. This presentation is one example of many that shows that the state of my school is strong and getting stronger, unified by a shared philosophy, and strengthened every single day by our faculty, administration, students, staff and families.

I am proud to have worked on this presentation, I am proud of colleagues and I am proud to have the privilege to share this school community with such amazing people.

President Obama, have I told you how you inspired an entire school with your words?  Have I told you how grateful I am for all that you have given our nation?  Have I told you how you continue to bring hope into my life?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Monday, February 20, 2017

Parenthood: Week 192 – The ThIrd Shift

There’s always work I could be doing when I’m home with Ollie. I’m not talking about chores around the house, I’m talking about actually work, teacher stuff.

I have it pretty good with my teacher load and prep time, but it’s still a little crazy. Before Ollie was born, I would typically get to school an hour before class started and stay an hour after. So that’s 7am to 4pm. Again, this really isn’t too bad for teachers. Most of the time there would be at least half a dozen hours some time in the weeknight evenings or weekend when I would need to do more work to prep.

When Ollie entered the picture, I committed to getting home earlier so I could spend more time with him. The idea is that I would displace that after school time in the evening. First shift is school, second shift is housework and the third shift, and evening time doing schoolwork became the third shift.

There have been times that this worked out great. Ollie goes to bed right at 7:30, that leaves me an hour or two to do work, but some nights he doesn’t go to sleep on time or he needs extra cuddles.

It’s really depressing sometimes on long days to think about how little time I get with my boy. In the morning, it’s like ten minutes, sometimes less and on long days when I get home at six after meetings, I got like maybe hours with him. This is part of the reason I don’t get super-annoyed with him when he climbs into bed at 4:45am to cuddle.

I try to tell myself that my work at school benefits Ollie and that is for him. Every parent tries to rationalize the time they spend away from their kids, but sometimes, it just doesn’t all balance out and it can be hard to deal with this fact. Sometimes life is about fulfilling obligations that takes us away from our kids. And that sucks.

It’s a tough balancing act, wanting to do the best you can in your job and wanting to spend time with your kids. Now that Ollie is older and he is down to one nap, which sometimes he skips, that third shift is becoming more and more a deliberate choice to prioritize work over my son. This doesn’t ever feel good.

Most of the time however I’m prioritizing Ollie over work as often the third shift disappears into extra bedtime stories or extended cuddles. Most of the time this feels pretty great and even though I’m left with a pile of work and some added work stress, I never regret the time I spent with my little one. Because while not everything I do at work benefits Ollie, every moment I spend with Ollie makes me a better teacher.

Friday, February 17, 2017


I’m going to try to put all that is swirling around in my head in this post. I don’t even know if I can, but I’m going to try. I think this day, February 17th, 2017 may be the new normal. This kind of scares me, but I don’t know.

So here we go.

I’ve been sick in one way or another since November. NOVEMBER. I think I’m finally through it all. Being sick has reminded me of how much I appreciate medical science and how I have zero desire to every get in a time machine and live in the past. There is the fact that racism is SO much worse in the past but the medical thing is also important.

This sickness that I’ve had has varied. We are talking about head cold to mild congestion, to pneumonia, sinus infection, and general gross. It’s just all over the map. This has meant that I haven’t really worked out since November, which keeps my crazy at bay, so I’m really looking forward to getting that going again. I should register for a 5K and give myself a goal.

Fatherhood is alright (I just said that out load in a really high pitch voice as if it was a question). My boy is wonderful. He woke me up at 4:40 this morning. Climbed into my bed next to me and gently stroked my hair, and yanked really hard on my earring once or twice. Super-cute.

Oh, I got a story.

I’m not a perfect parent, but one thing I do well is get dinner on the table and most of the time it’s home cooked and nutritious. And a lot of the time, Ollie doesn’t eat a lot of dinner. We’ve learned to not always fight that fight, we did a little last night and he did actually eat dinner.

We went to the hardware store after dinner. He loves Home Depot. Ollie goes to the refrigerator section and opens each fridge and says “oh, awww.” It’s super cute. We get home, Ollie asks for a snack and then declares to Diana, “we didn’t have dinner.”

I can’t even.


Buffy got groomed earlier this week. She’s lovely after getting groomed (she’s always beautiful, but less stinky post-grooming). If I call the groomer and let them take the lead on the conversation, they will try to make an appointment and then ask for the name of my dog. This process sometimes means they don’t have a time in their schedule to see her. However, if I call up and immediately say “My dog is Buffy, the Sheltie, can you groom her?” they will immediately find a time for her, pretty much whenever we need it done. I understand, Buffy IS an amazing dog, I just which some of that preferential treatment transferred to me.

So let’s talk politics. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on my mind. It’s tough, because I want a break from all of it. But then I think of all the people, my friends who are Persian, Muslim, Gay, immigrants, women . . . human. There are so many people who have legitimate fears, not for others, but for themselves with the 45th in office, who cannot take a break from the very real trauma that this is occurring. If they don’t get a break, well neither do I.

I have more respect than ever before for journalists. It’s a marathon that they are running, every day. On little sleep they are makings choices of what to cover, how prioritize the news and putting very complex things together in ways and is acting as one of the important checks in our government right now. If I had to make a list of heroes for 2017, like I did for 2016, it would have full with reporters. The other half would have a lot of comedians. They are proving to be an important branch of our government, just like journalist.

It’s hard to not get angry and frustrated all of the time, but like President Obama, kept reminding us, we need to stay focused. That’s the biggest. What do I focus on? I got my wife, my boy, my dog, my house and my job. Somewhere in that list, I need to find time to focus on myself. I actively try in every facet of my life to be a feminist and to be anti-racist. I can do that with the people in my life, but it’s so hard to know how to push that energy outside my circle and whether it will really benefit anyone or really help anything.

There are people far smarter then me doing the work that needs to be done to make sense out of what is going on with the 45th and somehow within all of this, get us to a better place. Things will probably get worse before they get better and that’s scary, but no one said that optimism was easy.

I remember hearing in a lecture in college that a book is a mirror. You see what you want to see. The author only has so much power. The reader’s interpretation is what brings it to life in and this interplay that transforms the authors words into something that can be feel very different than what the author intended.

The 45th is like a book. People see different things in his words and his actions. The reactions, the feelings people have are often more about themselves than what the 45th is saying. The extremism, the immaturity, and the lack of tact he speaks with only makes this mirror, this reflections of our own ideas about what it means to be American that much more clear.

What are those who refuse to see what’s wrong with him, refusing to see about themselves? What does it mean to refuse to listen? What does it mean to refuse to see yourself in the mirror?

What do I see in the 45th that reflects who I am? I see my own bias. I see my privilege and I see the conflict between prejudicial and misogynistic thoughts and feelings that exist within myself despite my best efforts. I see my failures to step up to be truly anti-racist and feminist in the past and I see the potential for harm in thoughtless expressions of my insecurities.

I also see the best in myself. I see the progress in my growth as a leader. A leader who is not afraid to apologize, who is willing to do the hard work to get buy in and actively validates the opinions of those who do not agree with me. I see in his flaws, the man the flaws I have worked pass and potential for growth in myself.

That’s today. Let’s see about tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

Parenthood: Week 191 – The Bedtime Routine

Bedtime routines change and evolve. Within the structures of our lives, Ollie falls into different habits and breaks out of old habits regularly. Sometimes these changes occur without a lot of thought and other times, these routines develop out of specific needs.

A couple of weeks ago, Ollie and I were working through a cold. To help ease his cough, before bath, I would turn the shower on as hot as it would go so me and Ollie could get some time in the steam to loosen our coughs. In order to get Ollie to hang out in the bathroom with me, I introduced him to Mario Run on my iPhone. And now, weeks later, Ollie expects watching me play Mario Run as part of his bedtime routine.

Here’s where we are at right now. After we eat dinner, Ollie will request to go poo, and insist that Diana reads books with him when he’s doing his business. When he’s done, Ollie will come downstairs to get me (sometimes without pants) to help him with his shower.

We’ve gone back and forth with Ollie taking a bath with Diana or a shower with me. Sometimes he prefers the bath and other times he prefers the shower. Lately, he’s been more into the shower. Taking a shower with my son, was one of those experiences, I didn’t expect and its fun in general. The shower does get crowded with a toddler and all of his toys. And having a soapy little one playing at your feet while you clean yourself does take away from the relaxing vibe of an evening shower. However, in general it’s fun to have this time to spend with him.

After the shower, we get dressed and he watches me play a Mario Run level on my phone. Then it’s time to brush teeth. One of the ways, we got Ollie to brush his teeth was with this Elmo tooth brushing song:

At a certain point, I got sick of this song and started showing him other clips. He’s been into Elton John videos, Pixar shorts, film trailers and now he’s really into videos of people playing Mario Run (this is also why one of his favorite games to play currently is pretending to be Bowser and chase his friends around the playground).

Then it’s story-time. Ollie instructs me “you warm up the bed, and I’ll get mommy.” I get into Ollie’s bed, while he runs downstairs to get Diana. After choosing some books, we all snuggle in his bed. We barely fit, but after scooting around and some tetris-ing, we make it happen.

After two or three books, either me or Diana leaves and the other one stays with Ollie. If it’s Diana that stays with Ollie, he will ask her to help him recap the day. This is a very cute thing that Diana has been doing with Ollie since the day he was born. She will tell him what he did that day and as Ollie has gotten older, this has become more interactive. If I’m the one to stay with Ollie, it’s more story-time in the dark. I have a couple stories that he likes to hear. There’s a version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears with a Zebra subbing in for the Goldilocks. There’s a story about an apple which is basically It’s Not Easy Being A Bunny with fruits and vegetables instead of animals. His current favorite is Silly Bowser, which is my retelling of the plot of Mario Run.

Sometimes there’s some squirming and some silliness. At times he just runs around the house screaming after story-time. However most of the time, he goes to sleep without a lot of drama. Sometimes Diana or me fall asleep with Ollie while we are snuggling with him in bed. It’s actually a really wonderful way to fall asleep. We rely on the other one to get us up so we don’t sleep for too long (when this does happen, it can mess up the evening and our sleep cycles as Ollie goes to bed three or four hours earlier then we do).

This is where we are at right now.  There are some things I'm not a huge fan of, like the Mario Run viewing and other parts, I love like snuggling with him in in bed that I cherish.

One routine that hasn't changed since the day he was born is that before I got to bed, hours later, I kiss Ollie and whisper to him as he sleeps, "Goodnight my special little guy.  Daddy is very proud of you and daddy loves you."

Friday, February 10, 2017

Year 8: Week 22 - Festival #2

So last year we hosted our first music festival. (I wrote about it here) and we did hosted second one last weekend.

We tried some different things this year. The traditional way that a festival works is that an ensemble performs and then the clinician works with the students. Many of our students felt that they wanted to work with the clinician before they performed, so they could show off the work they had done. So we flipped it around and had the clinician run a rehearsal and then we had the students performed.

There was also confusion with the performance times for parents, so we chunked together the times that groups performed to create mini-concerts throughout the morning. This resulted in larger crowds and less confused parents.

Instead of only one school visiting, we hosted four. These schools brought less students individually, which resulted with the total number of students who came being about the same. Our students reflected that they enjoyed having students from different schools.

The planning of this festival was more spread out this year. After we all had experience the festival last year, everyone in the music department figured out different ways they could help and this was clearly evident in our planning for the festival this year. It was still a ton of work, but it felt less stressful as other people in the department took on more responsibility.

Even more than the delegating of taks, there was another part of the music department’s teamwork that was even more meaningful. This year the vision became a shared vision. Last year I was the one who could envision how all the little parts and pieces would fall into place in a way that others did not.

This was different this year. Department members had a sense of that big picture and pushed against some of my ideas and processes, which led to great discussions and some really beneficial changes. One such change was having our 6th graders have a shortened schedule without any breaks. This allowed for more meaningful experiences, less behavior issues and made it easier for us as teachers.

Quick to reflect, our department already has a long list of idea for next year’s festival. Personally I need some time to let the day sink in. It’s interesting how my brain is already on to the next thing, which is the nature of the beast. However, I’m going to make some space in my mind to enjoy the great festival we put on.  It was more a community event in its planning and execution than last year, and once again it was a time to enjoy the positivity that can only come from sharing music with others.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Monday, February 6, 2017

Parenthood: Week 190 – The Grind

The respite doesn’t come when I get home from work. That’s when things start to pick up.

Usually when we get home, I let Ollie watch a television show. In that half-hour, I have to take care of Ollie’s lunch bag, put away my own stuff, tidy up from the mess that comes from the chaos of trying to get out of the house in the morning, let Buffy out to the backyard, empty the dishwasher, get dinner started, answer some emails, maybe deal with the mail and sometimes, sit down and stare into space.

Sunday night isn’t any better; well almost any time of day isn’t any better. In the moments when we relax, it’s not because there aren’t chores to be done, it’s because we actively choose to ignore what needs to be done.

Being a parent is learning to live with a to do list that never gets done and letting go of things that once in your life would be a priority. This is a constant battle and it’s a challenge to constantly prioritize but you figure out what’s important, or at least you try.

This has meant that I have paid bills late, which never happened before Ollie was born, I have compromised on my goal to cook homemade meals most of the time and long term projects like organizing digital photos and videos have been left undone.

It’s really a grind, but it does get easier. You figure out how to do certain tasks more efficiently, you and your partner do a better job negotiating the endless lists of tasks and somehow in all of the madness important things get done.

While I try to get things done, there’s Ollie asking me to play with him. Sometimes it’s easy to tell him that he needs to wait as I prepare something for him to eat and sometimes it’s easy to just stop writing that email and play with him.

 Other times it’s really hard.

I want to get stuff done, but more than that I want to spend time with my boy. However most of the time, directly or indirectly, what I’m doing will benefit him, but so will my immediate presence and attention. Ollie doesn’t understand all of the things that weigh on my mind, all he sees is that I’m doing something and choosing not to give my attention and time to him. Yes, I want him to grow to understand that he can’t have me all of the time, sometimes, he has to wait. But part of me doesn’t want him to ever know that he isn’t always the center of my universe.

I want him to know and to never forget that I am always for him.  Even when I’m doing things for myself, I’m think about how rejuvenating my spirit will make me a better dad for him.

The grind is one of the worst parts about parenting, but that doesn't mean that I still don't love being a parent.  It just means that the moments when the house is quiet and the dishes are done are more satisfying as I look forward to seeing Ollie's smile in the morning.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Year 8: Week 21 - Women In Music, The Presentation

Soon after election night, even before I had moved past the feeling of anger, I made a decision that I was going to do something. I was going to follow through with two ideas that I had as a teacher, but had held back on because of the amount of work that it would take to put these projects together. One was a President’s Day presentation (which is in the works) and a unit on women in music.

In the face of the coming 45th, I decided that I had no excuse, I had to lean in and do more to help educate my students to be the kind of citizen that would not, and could not let another American election turn out like the one I had just witnessed.

It has always been clear to me that I needed to be proactive to address issues related to women’s rights in my classroom. Sexism, and gender stereotypes are commonplace in the minds and the language of our students. Left unchecked these perspectives become words, words become micro aggressions that leave lasting damage on the self-esteem of women.

I am quick to call out moments when students make comments that imply women are less, like when a student described Anna from Frozen as being a “just a girl.” He meant to describe the fact that she did not have magical powers. I could figure this out immediately but using the phrase “just a girl,” with a derogatory tone of voice, communicated that being a girl was innately inferior. That led into a five-minute discussion of the use of feminine descriptors as derogatory terms in our cultures. Yes, this derailed our 6th grade band class but it was an essential conversation.

After two weeks of discussing gender inequity in fifth grade music, we had a presentation today featuring five women musicians. They played music for the students, talked about themselves and answered questions students had prepared. While some of them explicitly talked about being a women playing music, others reveled other facets about themselves that helped students understand the depth of these musicians as people, going beyond their gender. It was a truly wonderful presentation of diversity in music, diversity in what it means to be a women and diversity in the experiences that bring people together as human beings.

I am so proud and grateful that the 5th grade teachers and my principal supported this idea immediately and without hesitations. In some ways this presentation felt like an ordinary occurrence at my schools, which shows the extraordinary steps my school has taken to make the values of diversity and inclusion part of the fabric of our students’ lives.

This women in music presentation did not fix America, but it’s a start. Even if only one of my students is more aware of gender inequity or now has a broader image of femininity, it will have been worth all of the extra work.

I'm not done, not by a long shot.  I'm going to keep fighting fire with water, ignorance with knowledge and discrimination with diversity, one class at at time, and one student at a time.