Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Tune For Tuesday

It's time for another installment of 

A Tune For Tuesday 

Each Tuesday, I will try to post a song from my playlist. These are songs that would be on a soundtrack of my life. I hope you enjoy them.

*          *          *          *          *

The Beach Boys are one of the greatest American bands in the history of rock 'n roll.  I feel this is their best song.  Paul McCartney has stated on numerous occasions that God Only Knows the greatest song ever.  In fact, it is well documented that it was this song, as well as the rest of the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds, that caused Paul McCartney to start composing the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album.  If a Beatle says this, then I think you may have a future in music.

One of the greatest love songs of all time, and it starts with the line, "I may not always love you..." I'm sorry, what was that?!  I may NOT always love you?

"I may not always love you.
But long as there are stars above you,
You never need to doubt it.
Ill make you so sure about it.
God only knows what I'd be without you."

I talk with my student writers almost daily about how each piece of writing should start with a "hook."  This is a great example of how the best first lines are the ones that make you say, "Huh?!" or "Whoa, that was unexpected."

This song has a simple message of I am who I am because of you.  I believe that we are all influenced by everyone we have ever come in contact with.  People move in and out of our lives, and each of us leaves their mark on the other.  We are made up of bits and pieces of all who ever touched your life.  You are more because of it, and you would be less if they had not touched you.  

This song is, at it essence, a love song.  But, for me, it is about how we should cherish those people that come in and out of our lives and make us better versions of ourselves.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Room 27, Are You Ready To Rock?

“What you do for yourself dies with you when you leave this world, what you do for others lives on forever.”
― Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

The other day, I was driving to school eating a piece of buttered wheat toast and drinking some green tea. As I made my daily 7-minute commute, a song by my favorite rock band U2 began to play. Bono’s voice pierced through the speakers and perfectly blended with that distinct, echo U2 guitar sound from The Edge. I was jamming to this monster of a song, and I got to thinking about why I love my job. And, it’s simple really.

Teachers are rock stars.

Don’t deny it. We are performers who put on a show for spectators. Every day educators try to engage and entertain our audience; just as rock stars command the attention of those in the crowd. Each audience member has been waiting months to see this show, and anticipation is high.  Similarly,t teachers must command the attention of our own arena. Yet our audience is a group 25 kids who are legally bound to be there. For some of them, the biggest concern is whether it’s indoor or outdoor recess.

I have been to many concerts in my life.  U2, Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, Zac Brown Band, Justin Timberlake, Kings of Leon, Jack Johnson, Janet Jackson, and MC Hammer (don’t judge those last few) have been some of the more memorable ones. Each concert was mind blowing in its own unique way. There is nothing like the thrill of when the lights shut off and the arena is blanketed with the thrill of blackness. When the performer steps onto that stage, a palpable wave of joy and screaming spreads over the crowd.

Like rock stars, our entire reason for doing our jobs is to give our audience a life-changing experience. A rock star knows the audience all adore him, which surely feeds him the energy he needs to put on a performance they will never forget. Rock stars do their job for people who spend their hard-earned cash to attend one of their shows. They travel from city to city and play to 20,000 people under the blistering hot lights. Most of the time, they don’t even see the faces of the people for whom they are performing. They sing the same songs every night, so they are constantly perfecting each concert. After a few weeks on the road, their set list is unchanged, and they know their routine by heart. Man, I can do that. If rock stars don’t keep their audience entertained, they leave and think, “Well, Bono just wasn’t having a good night. I bet he’ll be better next time.”

Now, teachers must perform for fans that are forced to attend a show every day, which makes me consider a simple truth. Teachers have the tougher job! Teachers have their audience for six hours a day, five days a week. Good teachers develop their set list in advance; yet, they know that the set list may need to change each day. It should even change mid-performance if that’s what our crowd needs. We have to anticipate what will work and what won’t, what our audience likes and dislikes. Most importantly, we have to use what each crowd member needs to create an individual concert experience for them.

A good performer has to know what will work and what won’t work. Some nights, Bono might look out into the crowd and want to change their set list because the vibe is different than the night before. Think about it, teachers have to “entertain” 25 kids all with different needs and learning styles. Good teachers must do this on a daily basis as well. We must look out into the faces of our audience and sense that we must change up our plans to keep them entertained. Anyone can teach how to subtract fractions, but it takes a great teacher to know when to play Pride (In The Name Of Love) instead of With or Without You, if you catch my drift.

I argue that teachers are rock stars for another reason—accountability. These young, impressionable audience members pay admission to our performance arenas. (Well, they have parents who pay admission, in the form of thousands of dollars in taxes each year, to support our performances.) As a rock star, I have paying customers in my arena, so I must always bring my A-game. As teachers, we are not only accountable to our audience, but their parents as well. We work together to ensure our audience is getting what they need. If teachers don’t keep their audience’s needs in mine, it could result in feedback from students or their parents. Can you imagine Bono getting angry calls and emails from the parents of his fans because they don’t understand why they only played one song from the album, Achtung Baby?

I’m sure there are many more ways that I could show how teachers and rock stars do the same job. In a nutshell, rock stars and teachers are responsible to their audience. We must connect with our audience and do it with enough bravado to keep them engaged. And hopefully, just like attending a U2 concert, they will walk away having learned something.

As all educators know, our profession is full of joy, change, success, frustration, stress and failure. And that’s just before lunchtime. But one thing that hasn’t changed for me in the thirteen years I’ve spent as an educator; I still love my job. It reminds me of the book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, in which Ken Robinson explains how “the element” is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at “the Element,” they feel most themselves and most inspired and achieve at their highest levels. I have heard many rock stars and performers state how they feel most comfortable performing on-stage.

True rock stars persist at their career because they have found their element.  I feel I have found mine.

Bono Rock Star on Make A Gif

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Tune For Tuesday

It's time for another installment of 

A Tune For Tuesday 

Each Tuesday, I will try to post a song from my playlist. These are songs that would be on a soundtrack of my life. I hope you enjoy them.

This past weekend, I traveled to Chicago to celebrate my grandfather's 100th birthday.  Obviously, this is an impressive milestone.  But, what makes this even more special is the man we were celebrating.  Over 100 people from around the country gathered in Hinsdale, Illinois to honor the life of my grandfather.  It was awe-inspiring to say the least.  It made me think about what kind of life I am living.  What will my legacy be?

 My grandfather, Scott Jones, is the patriarch of the family. He is a Princeton University graduate. He was stationed in Paris when victory was declared in Europe.  He started an environmental protection group in Northern Michigan that spent 14 years fighting to protect a stretch of land from being developed into a golf course, losing many close friends in the process.  He had a chance encounter with one of the most important historical figures ever.  (I don't want to spoil it, but his name rhymes with Schmalbert Scheinstein.)  

I am Scott Jones.  My grandfather's namesake.  I realized that it is my duty to live up to his legacy.  I don't know if I will ever do it, but each day I will try my hardest.

Here is a link to a profile about my grandfather in Hinsdale Magazine.  The article starts on page 37.

This week's Tune For Tuesday is "Father, Son" by Peter Gabriel.  It is one of my favorites, and it always reminds me of the special relationship between a father and son.  The melody is a perfect match to these poetic lyrics.  It was written by Gabriel during a yoga retreat that he took with his father.  

"Remember the breakwaters down by the waves
I first found my courage
Knowing daddy could save
I could hold back the tide
With my dad by my side"

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Slice of Life: A Tune For Tuesday

It's time for another installment of 

A Tune For Tuesday 

Each Tuesday, I will try to post a song from my playlist. These are songs that would be on a soundtrack of my life. I hope you enjoy them.

This week's song brings me back to March 1995.  It was my senior year of high school, and I was on spring break with a group of my friends and their families.  We spent the warm, sunny days on the beach of Siesta Key, Florida.  The Dave Matthews Band were just starting to gain popularity with the college and high school crowd.  I can remember how we played this album on repeat, singing every word and scatting every violin solo.  This song was an anthem to the good times we had that week.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Slice Of Life #6: Life Happens

Well, it didn't take long for me to miss a few days of the Slice Of Life Blogging Challenge. I was going pretty well before I hit some roadblocks called LIFE. What has taken me away from composing these daily blogs? I thought I would share a list of what happened:

CISV happened. 

CISV is a global non-profit organization whose mission is to "educate and inspire action for a more just and peaceful world." This group of volunteers believe that "Peace education provides us with the Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge we need to become agents of change, both locally and globally. In other words, to become Active Global Citizens."  CISV offers local, national and international educational programs for youth.  I have been part of the Columbus chapter of CISV since 2005.  Over the years, I have participated in these camps in Sweden, Italy, Norway, and Germany, as well as Philadelphia and Denver.

CISV is in over 60 countries, and there are 21 chapters in the US. I am the president of the Columbus chapter, as well as the local leadership trainer. As the LLT, I am responsible for training all of the teens and adult leaders who will be traveling this summer with delegations of youth from the Columbus area.  CISV has its own curriculum and there is a lot of material to cover, and many of our leaders are brand new to this organization.  It is my job to educate them on the vision, purpose and educational content of CISV.  I love teaching, whether it is kids or adults.

PD happened.  

I have about 5 professional books that I am currently reading.  For some reason, I have it in my mind that I can juggle four books, yet I manage to not finish one of them.  Sure, Scott. You can read FIVE books and participate in multiple book talks.  No problem.  To some degree, it's not a problem.  But, I am finding myself not being able to put each book down.  There was one night that I spend 20 minutes on each book.

My current reading list:

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (Re-reading)
Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children's Learning by Peter Johnston (Book-talk)
A Repair Kit For Grading: 15 fixes for broken grades by Ken O'Connor (for a district committee)
The Literacy Teacher's Playbook by Jennifer Serravallo (self-learning)
What A Writer Needs: 2nd Edition by Ralph Fletcher (self-learning)

Health happened.

I have been working on resetting my eating habits for the past 6 weeks.  As of this morning, I have lost 20 pounds.  I have not been working out much, but I have severely cut calories and I'm eating much smaller portions.  I have learned that the key to losing weight is simple.  YOU ARE ALWAYS HUNGRY.  You just learn to deal with it.

Taxes happened.

I have been working on my taxes, which is always a non-highlight of the year.  Thank goodness for Turbo Tax!

While I haven't been "slicing" in the past few days, I had to make way for life.  While I have not met the 31 consecutive days of blogging challenge, I still feel like I am accomplishing a great deal.  I am writing more. I am reflecting more.  I am connecting more.

I had to stop writing about slices of life to experience some slices of life.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Slice Of Life #5: Glen Lake

This poem takes place at Glen Lake, Michigan.  I spent the first 30 summers of my life in Glen Arbor, a quaint town in Leelanau County, Michigan.  The Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes are just a few miles away, as is Lake Michigan.  There are so many memories here, most of which include family and fun.  Waterskiing, beach parties, tennis, hiking, canoeing down The Crystal River were all part of my Glen Lake experience.  Our cabin is no longer part of our family, but the memories remain.

This poem is about the joy of Glen Lake and the special place it holds in my heart.

A typical view from a dock at Glen Lake

Glen Lake

I walk outside to the smell of morning,
Summer air floating beneath the tent of green.
A taste of pine, carried by the smooth breeze,
Touches the tip of my tongue.
The water, cool and clear, licks
The narrow grass-covered shore,
With the same sound of soft waves
That sent me to sleep the night before.

The wooden path under my feet leads me
Out to the water deep.
Up early, a child splashes and swims
By the dock.  I sit on wooden planks,
The distant hum of a motorboat
Drifts to my ears as it glides
Across the golden horizon.
Too far away to see the line
That pulls the skier
behind it, as she moves back and forth
Of the white froth in front of her.

The wooden boards bounce under me.
The steps increase with intensity as they near.
I'm fearful - certain - of what it means.
I concentrate on the beauty of a
Glen Lake Morning.
I feel a hand on my shoulder.  "It's time."
I start my reluctant retreat
back to the cabin, as the skier in the distance
Falls and skips across the blue.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Slice of Life #4: I Burped In Class Today

I burped in class today.

It started when twenty-four eager faces were staring at me as the minilesson that starts our writer's workshop got underway.  Today's learning target was "Writers write, even when they are adults."  I was explaining the Slice Of Life blogging contest and how it was forcing me to stretch out of my comfort zone.  I wanted my student writers to know that I like to write, and these lessons and tips are not just for 5th grader writers.  Adults use them too.  I explained that I am trying to walk the walk, and practice my writing as well.  "I am a better writing coach for you, if I am a writer myself," I said.  This group of 11 year olds authors shook their head as if the world was finally making sense.

What was the next a-ha moment that I was going to share about the life of a writer.  Tell me, Mr. Jones.  How can I make magic with my writing pencil?  What pearl of wisdom will you share with us?

I was on a roll.  It was one of those moments that classroom communities have when the stars are aligned and everything is working.  Everyone was focused and alert.  There was an energy in the class that was palpable.  There was no doodling on journal covers, no picking at eraser tops, no playing with shoelaces.  I had their attention.  They looked at me.  I looked back at them.  Our eyes locked with anticipation of the next insightful statement that would float from my mouth and into their journals.

As I opened my mouth to share my next pearl of wisdom, it happened.  What my students heard next was no pearl of wisdom.  More like a noisy nugget of smelly air.  It crept up my throat like a morning fog, but a morning fog that belches.  I was not prepared for this.  This had never, ever happened to me before.  This burp was supposed to be a private little moment, but it had now been exposed to the world.

The 5 second silence that followed felt like an eternity.  They were all looking at me with their heads cocked to the side like a dog.  The expressions on their face asked, Did that just happen?  It did happen.  I owned it and shared that this had never happened before.  The laughter that followed spread around until it eventually hit me.  There was nothing I could do but laugh.  I had just burped, and burped loudly, in front of my class.

Today's New Learning Target: Sometimes writing is like a giant burp.  You never know when you'll be inspired to do it.  Ideas can creep into your mind when you least expect them.  And sometimes writing, like a big burp, just plain stinks.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Slice Of Life #3: A Poem

A few months ago, my mother and father brought me a box of old memories and treasures from my school experience. It was mostly filled with high school tests, report cards and other artifacts of my upbringing.  From my 3rd grade Young Author Award story to drafts of stories from the freshman yearbook,  I watched my life of literacy pass before me.  A plain manila envelope caught my eye.  It had the word "DENISON" scribbled on the front--all CAPS and in black permanent marker.  My father's handwriting.

As an english major at Denison University, I took classes that ranged from 18th Century British Literature to Contemporary Drama.  But, the one class that really stuck with me was the Creative Writing course.  We experimented writing in multiple genres, but I can remember truly fascinated with writing poetry.  I thought I would share some drafts of poems that I wrote as a junior English major.  Some are really bad, but I think there are a few that stand out as somewhat decent.  I thought I would share some of these poems as they are from a slice of my life on top of "the hill" at Denison.

The Guardian

The statue watches.  A lifeguard
High above the pool of pigeons 
and people.
The bearded, old man
Visits him every day
And tosses chunks of bread to the birds,
Making sure each bird gets an equal amount.
He knows the old man's wife is gone.
He can tell from the way the man slumps there,
Hopelessly feeding them, 
So they don't 
Fly away.
As did the man's beloved dove.

The statue cannot weep for the old man.  
The statue watches.

High above the swirling river of people, he looks
Over them as they pass by, oblivious to his
Permanent existence.
A concrete ice-cream cone melting away
From Mother's harsh winter tongue.
He sits there. Gazing. Watching.
The crowd flows past his lookout station,
Neglecting his graffiti-stained body.

I stop from the rapid flow of people 
And glance up in his eyes. Cracked
From Mother's tears that splash down
Into the pores of his moss-covered gray 
Skin. Weathered from her breath
Blowing across his body.
Looking past the gritty, stone skin, I see
A man who knows things, many things.
A keeper of secrets.

I turn my collar against Mother's morning mist,
Returning to my stream of stress.
The statue watches.  The statue keeps.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Slice of Life #2: The Wrong Question - Reflection on Edcamp Columbus

Yesterday, I attended my very first Edcamp Columbus. I, along with my principal and two colleagues from my school, were intrigued to experience self-directed PD. All of us were new to Edcamp with no idea what would transpire. Trying to explain to others what Edcamp is proved challenging. “It’s a conference that has no specific topic, no specific agenda and no planned breakout sessions.” I anticipated responses like, “Sounds like chaos to me. Have fun with that.”

Edcamp is an “unconference” designed for the teachers needs. The Edcamp website states, “Built on principles of connected and participatory learning, Edcamp strives to bring teachers together to talk about the things that matter most to them: their interests, passions, and questions. Teachers who attend Edcamp can choose to lead sessions on those things that matter, with an expectation that the people in the room will work together to build understanding by sharing their own knowledge and questions.”

I was going to spend my blue sky, sunny Saturday indoors, and I had no idea what would happen. As with any PD experience, I always ask myself “What can I take back with me to use in my classroom?” The PD would be worthwhile if there is something I can take and use in my classroom. For me, this question has always been the hallmark of a good PD session. Would Edcamp Columbus be productive and a worthwhile day of professional development?

Upon arriving, I saw many familiar faces from my district. Edcamp had been buzzing around the Twitterverse for some time. I also saw some familiar faces that I’m used to seeing in small profile picture boxes on my Twitter feed. Hmm...here was a room filled with around 140 characters accustomed to chatting in 140 characters.

After a quick meet and greet with new and old colleagues, it was time to build the board. Educators in the room were encouraged to submit ideas for sessions. Not presentations per se, but more discussion-based sessions. The layout of the day became more apparent as text filled in blanks squares on the projected session board. I scoped out the four hour-long sessions that interested me with topics that ranged from: creating a flipped classroom, restructuring the school day, defining personalized-learning and discussing how classrooms are like gaming. After each session, I left the room without handouts. I typed hardly any notes that I could take back to my classroom. Were these sessions worth it? Had I just wasted 4 hours without a new strategy or resource to start using in my classroom on Monday?

Driving home, I talked with my principal, Jacki Prati, about our impressions of the day. What were our take-aways from the sessions? Is there something that we can take back for school or classroom improvement? Our conversation was peppered with non-committals: “Hmm, I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or “That’s a great question” or “I’m going to need to think about that.” We sat there with so much swirling around in our heads. I continued to think at home: What were the take-aways?

What can I take and use in my classroom? Nothing.

But, I had been asking the wrong question. I should have been asking myself: What can I take and use to be a better educator for my students?

I believe the purpose of Edcamp is not learning specific new strategies to use in the classroom. It’s about building an understanding of what really matters in the classroom: Empowerment.  Involvement. Risk.  Relationships.
  • Is personalized learning different than differentiated learning? 
  • Does flipped classroom open doors to students or limit the role of a teacher and stifle classroom community?
  • Should our classrooms be more like the video game our students play (Power-ups, cheat codes, passing levels, global collaboration)?
  • How can schools restructure the school day to allow for more teacher collaboration?
Sitting in those rooms with those educators made me realize that it’s not the answers that drive us. It’s the questions we ask. I had so many “a-ha moments” throughout the day that have made me think about my classroom space and culture like I never have before. Why? Because we dared to ask the questions. Edcamp reaffirmed that taking risks is essential to be a teacher for 21st century learners. Our job is too important for us to be doing things the way they’ve always been done before. I need to continually push myself to find the right questions to ask.

Slice of Life #1: Love that Blog

I don't want to
because boys
don't write blogs

Girls do.

(Now I know how Jack feels in Miss Stretchberry's class.)