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.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017