Living in the Times of Covid – 19: A Journal

So, I reorganized my CD collection, sent a video to my mom and put a silly picture on Facebook. My very busy agenda for the day is complete. I am thinking now it is time to start an on-line journal on our days staying inside.

Just to be clear, none of this will be me complaining. I have a sister-in-law who is a nurse in Montreal, our daughter and her partner and our daughter-in-law are all front-line health care workers. They are the ones I know who are actually going through challenging times now.

Thank-you Norma, stay safe!

This is more of a reflection piece. Where was my mind at during the Pandemic?

If you can see the photo I put up on Facebook, you can get a sense of where my head is at. I really think, number one, the idea needs to be stay stable, don’t go off the deep end, this is a really weird time.

But at some point, we will all go over the deep end.

Two nights ago during a Zoom book club, I didn’t follow my own advice. I had spent an hour listening to the daily presser with Donald Trump fact-checked by Now This News. It is really good because they fact-check Trump in realtime. Good, but very disturbing.

Going from this train wreck to a discussion on books about hiking was a little too much. I erupted about Trump, about trekking books, about everything. If my Zoom partners could have backed further away from their computer they certainly would have. For good reason, my state of mind is now a discussion item and I can hardly blame people for that.

Trying to keep an even keel these days is a real challenge!

We all have minor and major disappointments. We can’t see our friends and family. Everyone is seeing opportunities and plans go up in smoke. In the very worst cases of course, many people are dying terrible deaths.

There was an incredible article in the Sunday New York Times – He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus.

It is a long article – four pages in the NY Times.It really outlines in gruesome detail how President Trump hid from what was coming. Then I read an amazing piece by Nicholas Kristof, Life and Death in the Hot Zone. Here is the video he made of his time in a COVID ward.

 

So, I think we need to do a bit of both. We need to send out the silly photos, we need to share our pictures about baking bread and we need to read good pieces on hiking too. We need to do it all. We need to face up to what is happening too.

There is no balance in the time of COVID -19. There are highs and lows and all are good. We need to witness the terrible and we can’t turn our faces away from the corrupt and stupid. Somehow, we need to find a way to see both.

For me right now, the best I can do is write. Yes, it is a bit of an apology for a wonky state of mind, but we all need to acknowledge that this is a different time. Terrible for some scary and uncertain for everyone.

If this works I will keep writing, maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, take care everyone!

ps – I leave you with this – while I don’t really like books on trekking I love trekking videos – definitely, to each their own!

Sometimes you have to move on – working with vertigo

Today I was working with my trainer trying to get this old body ready to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro again.

We are really working on my leg flexibility right now, one of the things I need to get good at if I want to climb a huge mountain mass like Kilimanjaro. It is a very slow process.

Doing lunges and trying to stay upright

We thought that it would be interesting to do some writing about living with vertigo, especially training with vertigo because sometimes you just have to move on.

In late November, I came down with a vicious attack of vertigo. Everything started spinning and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. When things didn’t get better by the next morning we went to the hospital to check things out.

I got some pretty immediate treatment seeing how I was displaying the same symptoms as a stroke. Fortunately, after a day’s worth of tests and lots of doctors, it was determined that I had something called vestibular neuritis or an inner ear infection. Not all that interesting, but something that is pretty common. It can also have a dramatic impact on your life.

Now six weeks later, I still have most of the symptoms of this condition. I am dizzy most of the time, my balance is off, sometimes considerably but I don’t have any problems with my hearing or vision, here I am fortunate. I have daily exercises that I do. One has to do with rotating my head while throwing and catching a ball – our dog really likes this one.

I am fortunate because right now my work schedule is pretty light. In December I didn’t do anything but catch up on old movies. I actually did a Facebook survey to get some ideas for things to watch – I got a pretty good list!

Others have it so much worse. My wife Heather had Meniere’s Disease, also an ailment of the inner ear but so much worse. She dealt with this condition for at least eight years all the while teaching full classes of grade 7’s. The condition would sometimes lead to terrible attacks of nausea that would leave her world spinning for hours.

One of the reasons I am doing OK, is that I have the benefits of Heather’s experience. I am learning all sorts of tricks about how to navigate through my day and how to monitor my energy level.

It is one of the amazing things about teachers like Heather is their ability to cope with chronic conditions and still teach a group of students. Pretty amazing, really brave.

It is interesting to note how people react to invisible conditions. Many people have told me about their experiences with inner ear ailments. People talk about going for months without being able to keep their balance, a constant buzzing or fogginess in their heads. They also talk about recover which is really good to hear.

There is another group of people who unfortunately don’t get it. One person, once I explained what was going on said he thought I just had a cold. Some people, good friends have paid no attention to what is going on here. In one case, a former good friend was insulted when we cancelled a dinner because Heather was experiencing an inner ear attack. But let’s not focus on these folks.

There is a lot going on out there. We really don’t know what people are coping with and what people do every day to put up with a whole variety of conditions.

I think the only thing I would ask of people, especially friends is to take a few seconds to actually acknowledge when someone has been hit by a pretty debilitating condition. I am not asking for sympathy, just a few seconds of directed attention in the space of a busy day.

That’s not going to happen and writing about this doesn’t matter at least not to others, to me the writing matters.

What I love about my trainer is that he always takes me where I am. He is someone who has gone through battles I cannot even imagine and he thrives. He knows how hard it is for me to do a certain type of squat because today, for instance, my balance is not very good. But I do it and he is overjoyed. I am all over the place and my head is full of cotton, but I am doing my best stretches ever.

After the session I feel better, my head clears a bit. I am thankful for those who take the time to notice, my family, my trainer and a few of our friends.

This is a good reminder to try to be there for others. Try not to stay on your busy track and miss the moment to notice what is going on with another person. Take the time to get outside of your bubble, don’t move on too quickly.

New Beginnings, New Adventures

When we are young, life presents so many milestones

Sometimes a few weeks can utterly change the direction your life is taking. When this is happening, I think it is important to stop, reflect and write.

I have had a pretty significant writer’s block this summer. Although I was able to get two posts off about our incredible adventure during the Tour de Mont Blanc, I was missing some inspiration.

As you get older sometimes you have to create your own milestones. For us, that was the Tour du Mont Blanc this past summer

That has changed pretty significantly in the past week. I am learning and experiencing again and I am compelled to keep some record of what is happening in our lives.

First and most importantly our first-born Liam was just married. For four wonderfully hectic days, we celebrated the life and love of Liam and Claire with all their friends and family. Nothing can prepare you for such an occasion and I already know that words are failing me when I write about how such a life celebration can really swoop you up and carry you to a new enchanted place.

Then life presents new, wonderful moments – Liam and friends with Mairi before the wedding

As you get older, it is understandable to think that life’s milestones and adventures can become less frequent. You have had your first job, your first child, your first almost everything. But, there are new beginnings. Something as simple and at the same time grand as the marriage of a child can shake you to your foundations in a way that is beautiful.

What is the collection of life’s adventures and challenges that leads to the meeting of two young people who fall in love and make the commitment to share their lives together? Being an intimate witness to this new adventure is enough to take your breath away.

Now, it would have been easy to return to a settled quiet life – everyone returns to work or study and I get to go back to the quiet, retired life alongside a new physical training regime for our next climb. But that is not happening.

On one incredible day last week, I was offered two teaching opportunities at the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. The same day, I was invited to take part in a 3-day training on how to design, write and assess three-dimensional units for science education in the United States.

None of this was expected, I was planning my escape from the cold and winds of another Eastern Ontario fall by trekking in Italy for six weeks. No more!

A rapid transformation of circumstances can really play with the mind! I now have to give up quiet retirement and look to a schedule this fall that looks almost full-time. I never really thought I would be in a situation like this again and while I do mourn the loss of a great trekking opportunity in Italy, the hills of Tuscany are not going anywhere and right now I am beginning to feel my batteries recharge for a really new and unexpected adventure.

I love teaching and I really love working with new teachers. This is what I will be doing.  Yes, I need to learn how to write a syllabus and plan on ways to teach Intermediate History to prospective teachers, but I am very happy to leave the quiet and set out again. Who knew?

This is what life is all about. When I am graced with a new opportunity I need to embrace it. Life is an on-going adventure. Either I am the active witness in the case of Liam’s beautiful wedding, or I am being thrown back into a dynamic teaching and learning situation.

Life can still be full of adventure

This blog is about to get much busier. When life takes a radical change learning happens that really should be accompanied by reflection. Things now are so new I really don’t know enough to reflect, but I think that will change pretty quickly.

I really enjoy writing when new things come up. I actually learn as I write. If you read this I hope there is something in here that helps you. Maybe my new students will find something useful here!

September dawns with wonderful memories and new adventures around every corner. Life is really good!

To Be a Pilgrim

Who would true valour see, Let him come hither
One here will constant be, Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent His first avowed intent,
To be a pilgrim

John Bunyan

Pilgrim – person who journeys to a sacred place; a traveller or wanderer.

Lightfoot Companion to the Via Francigena

symbol for the Via Francigena

Retirement is a funny thing. After decades of defining oneself by an occupation, the time comes where your definition needs to come from somewhere else. It is a different journey with fewer signposts.

After two and a half years, I think I am putting some of the pieces together. While there is work from time to time, retirement for me is becoming defined by the sojourn. This was not the plan, but it seems to resonate.

Two years ago I climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and entered the world of thin air and extreme trekking. Later, I travelled the old military roads of the Scottish Highlands with my daughter Colleen. The following year, on our first Climb for Kids trek, we climbed the sacred ground around Ausangate in Peru.

Colleen finds the Braveheart Car Park on the West Highland Way

My son Liam and I followed this up by walking the Pathway of the Gods in Amalfi. We also traced ancient Roman ruins at Pompeii and Rome. Very soon, our second Climb for Kids group will be trekking 170 km around Mont Blanc.

Liam and I starting another trek on the Amalfi Coast

Now I am starting to plan for my longest journey, part of the Via Francigena next October. We are also actively planning for Year III of Climb for Kids. The next trek will be an epic climb, but we won’t announce this one until the end of the summer.

I think what is happening here is that in my retirement I am becoming a pilgrim. There is an ‘avowed intent’ that is linking all of these walks. I think the most important intent is to connect or reconnect with people. On my treks in Scotland and Italy, I had the wonderful privilege of travelling first with my daughter Colleen then with my son Liam.

There is a true beauty in reconnecting with your adult children. We all change as we grow older and we all need to take the time to make sure our relationships stay vital and fresh. You can do this really well by walking and talking or sometimes just travelling in silence.

Climb for Kids is a wonderful experience for all sorts of reasons. I wrote about Year II last week and you can see that post here – Communities Move Mountains. This trek is about connecting too. Most importantly I get to travel and plan with my wonderful partner Heather Swail. We did our first high-altitude trek together last year in Peru and we experienced the beauty of the mountain together. After so many years together, it is still possible to learn things about your partner, especially when you are trekking under conditions of high physical stress.

Heather reaches the high pass at 5200 m with her buddy Beth

We have a great group this year and we will learn a great deal about each other as we travel around the highest mountain in Europe. Mountains take you to another place. They help you to hold others who travel with you in higher regard. They help you to gain a greater respect for yourself and for what you are able to do. The mountains truly make you a pilgrim.

There is a really good story that John Muir told about trekking. He never used the word hike and neither do I. He liked the word saunter because of its connection to an ancient practice.

Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.

John Muir

A Parable of Sauntering

So this is my saunter. It is defining much of what I do these days, although until now I didn’t know if I had put this together. I still have to start writing about the Via Francigena and I will either soon or after the TMB. There is so much to learn and a world to saunter in. Each journey takes me to another holy land and I guess that makes me a pilgrim.

Acclimatization camp on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Speak out on Social Justice or Become Part of the Problem

Every day now in Ontario there is another cynical announcement about another cut to our social infrastructure. While this is happening, we are now learning that over 1 million species are facing extinction in the next few years unless we make significant changes to the way we live on this earth. There is little good news out there right now and we have to start paying more attention.

Every day I read the Twitter feed. I see the posts and reposts by Andrew Campbell and others and I am thankful for his courageous work. At the same time, I see prominent educators who continue to write as if nothing is changing.

To be honest, I don’t know what bothers me more.

People like Doug Ford are destructive. These people come and go. But what really matters is how all of us respond to the destructive people who have no idea on how to build and sustain a social infrastructure.

Another way to look at this could be how we see social justice. Is social justice important? Should we stand up for a just society or should we continue to write the same inane stuff?

Some people will not utter a peep because they feel that it might ruffle feathers. Could there possibly be a better time to speak out? If not now, when?

Justice is a really important concept. It is what built our democratic society. It is what protects the weak and the dispossessed. Those who have a voice have a responsibility to speak for those who suffer from the acts of the powerful.

Strong democracies are built upon strong voices. when these voices become timid democracy fails.

Now those who suffer will include any student in our public school system in Ontario. I am not exaggerating here. When the rich and the powerful make arbitrary decisions that lead to the suffering of others this is an injustice. If you don’t make any statement, do anything to counter this injustice you are complicit.

You probably won’t change what is going on right now in this province, but your voice matters because people read what you write.

Maybe you haven’t seen real injustice, but it exists. It is real and it is pervasive and if you don’t stand up to it you eventually will be consumed by it.

Take a look around. Don’t let educators who are making their voices heard stand alone. Injustice has been stopped before, greed, avarice, and ignorance do not have to win out.

My fear for Ontario is that we will all settle into the new normal. We will stay in our comfortable corners and hope things just get a little more normal. Too many of you are not saying enough and you need to reconsider your position.

How many times do we need to see injustice happen and do nothing? It is certainly worse in other places close to us – Latin America and increasingly the United States. We in Ontario have had it really good for a long time, but this time is coming to an end.

Yes, this is offensive to some and I am sorry for this. But I read the notices every day that more teachers are being laid off and I see many educators and academics write as if everything is OK.

Everything is not OK and sometimes social justice trumps whatever else you are writing about. Otherwise, unfortunately, you become part of the problem.

This morning while reading through Twitter I found this new article by Michael FullanWhy Pedagogy and Politics Must Partner. If you think this is all just me talking, read Fullan’s article.

Here is a quote from the article that I think is really important – pedagogy and politics are linked and really need to be now more than ever before:

One item of particular significance is the relentless increase of inequity. We have found that deep learning is good for all students but is particularly good for students who are disaffected. In this domain, the pedagogical and political pathways can combine as a particularly powerful combination. Deep learning students are needed as part of determining societal solutions. The combination of deep learning (the pedagogical pathway) and political action (the political pathway) may turn out to be the strongest force we have ever seen in the cause of social justice and high-quality education essential for the rest of the 21st century.

Measuring Retirement in Stories

When I retired from my last school, this building was barely started. Now I think it is the tallest building in the city, a soon-to-be-open condo high-rise in Little Italy.

We took part in a Jane Jacobs Walk in Ottawa this morning, one of sixty planned for this weekend. A pretty wonderful to start a weekend and expand one’s horizons.

After a long really dreadful winter here, it was very good to get out. Our guide was Luciano Pradal, a 77-year-old human repository of the cultural history of Little Italy. I remember Luciano from my time as principal at St. Anthony School. We were looking for ways to install new gardens to grow food at our school and Luciano came in to talk to me about what we might be able to put together.

This project never took off, but Luciano was a real treat to meet. He introduced me to his book, Chronicles of a Chestnut Lover and I learned more about this wonderful part of the city.

My time at St. Anthony’s was full of encounters like this one and taking part in this Jane’s Walk reminded me of the wonderful people I encountered while I worked here. Today, I took a picture of the tower because it is a good reminder of how much has happened since I left. Our son Liam gave me the title to go with the photo and it really fits.

This neighbourhood is full of great stories. Not only of its Italian past but also of its current immigrant population which now is mainly from Asia. It is also a very high-risk neighbourhood with many rooming houses and drop-in centres for the homeless. It is such a diverse setting for a Jane Jacobs Walk and it truly represents what a livable city can be. It is culturally diverse with a tradition of housing groups of new Canadians that find their collective grounding and move on.

Now with giant condo projects, one of the main threats to this neighbourhood is gentrification as it also has become one of the most fashionable parts of the city.

As a principal, I saw it as my role to get to know everything I could about this community. It was thrilling to work in such a rich and exciting part of the city and I really wanted our school to be an active part of the fabric of little Italy. If I miss anything about my teaching career, I miss this place.

The streets of Little Italy. New condos and derelict buildings waiting to turn a big profit.

There is something that can get lost once you retire. Your world can grow a little small. As a principal, I saw it as my role to get to know this area very well. Meetings with people like Luciano were opportunities to connect and learn where I was. Walking along Preston and Booth streets today was a good reminder.

You need – or maybe I should say – I need – to stay connected. I need to walk the streets and see how my city may be changing. Whole blocks of social housing have been demolished since I left the school. Acres of old federal buildings are about to be repurposed for mixed residential use. This could be a really cool development for Ottawa!

At the end of the walk, I made a point to visit the bust of Dante that sits across from my old school. This bust used to stand right next to the school. It now sits in a little piazza directly across from the church.


St. Anthony’s started out as Dante Academy and the church across from the school celebrated its 100 anniversary in 2013. We have seen wonderful old photos of celebratory masses and marches past the school and the church during religious festivals. The community has changed since these days but there are still Italian celebrations every year that include an old car show, a gala, a great bike race, and lots of other festivities.

Dante Academy class 1925

I remember recovering the memorial to students who fought in the Second World War that had been on loan to the local church. It now (I hope) still hangs in the main hall of the school, a testament to the long history of the two schools in the community.

It is amazing that a walk can stir up so many memories of the past and expectations for the future. After a long winter, we all need to get involved in some purposeful walking. Get out and see what is out there still. Take a morning or a whole day to extend yourself into the community we are all still a part of.

Learn and listen and don’t become small. Yes, I am retired and my world does seem a little small sometimes. But a walk with twenty people you don’t know but who share a love of the city is a good way to stretch into a new season, one where winter has finally retreated.

Luciano finishes the walk in front of St. Anthony’s Church

What Do You Say When Our Social Institutions Are Under Attack?

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Pastor Martin Niemoller

There is little question that social institutions here in Ontario are under attack. As an educator, I am most aware of what is happening to schools in this province and especially, I am very concerned about the newer teachers, those without seniority whose jobs are disappearing. Every day brings another announcement of new surplus to board notices.

Like Doug Peterson, I really don’t like that term. Surplus sounds pretty non-commital. I think we should use lay-off as they do in other sectors. These mainly young people are losing their jobs – that is what is happening.

I am encouraged by Andrew Campbell. He is quietly doing a wonderful job through social media of cataloguing the lay-off notices and now the stories of teachers who are being laid off. I am encouraged by Doug Peterson, who is featuring some of the posts written supporting teachers and students each week. I am also encouraged by the teachers who are speaking out about being laid off. These are brave people who are putting a human face to a great injustice.

One of these teachers is Melissa Basta. I don’t know her, but I am really struck by the message she put out this week and encouraged that so many people have retweeted her post.

Andrew is collecting these stories and you can find them here.

This is where I am struggling. Over the past week, several educators have written me in private and one pretty publicly to tell me (or in one case lecture me) on why they can’t get political on this issue.

I am not judging them, but it does make me sad. Maybe it is because I spent so many years as an administrator trying my best to encourage and work with young educators, but I just can’t understand why many will not take a stand when the quality of education here in Ontario is under such a threat.

Not standing up against what is wrong is a slippery slope. This is why I have included the Martin Niemoller poem in this post. Niemoller was a pastor in Germany in the 1930s and he spent seven years in concentration camps for his opposition to Adolf Hitler.

He actually started out as an early supporter of the Nazis but gradually learned to see how absolutely evil their regime was. His poem shows his gradual evolution as an activist. It is a stark reminder that we all need to play a role to speak out against injustice.

Will speaking out make a difference this time? I am not sure. Andrew Campbell wrote that he questions if it will. It is much easier to display opposition these days through social media so the overall effect might not matter.

I hope this is not the case. I hope those who feel it is not their role change their minds. I hope people like Andrew Campbell, Doug Peterson, Peter Skillen, Julie Bolton,  Will Gourley and many others will continue to write and collect the stories that should be heard.

This is a gentle challenge for more educators to speak out. I am not doing this to put you on the spot and what you decide to do is obviously up to you. However, allowing any government to act with impunity especially when it comes to the institutions that gird our social fabric is dangerous.

Please don’t wait until there is no one left.

The Ones Who Correct the Path of the Powerful

 

I am totally caught up in the story of Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former Canadian Attorney General and Justice Minister who in recent weeks was demoted from her position in cabinet, then resigned as a Minister.

The Globe and Mail published a great story about her today – Why Jody Wilson-Raybould was destined to speak truth to power – an excellent article that really needs to be part of your reading this weekend.

In the article, Jody Wilson-Raybould is called a Hiligaxste or someone who corrects the path of the powerful. In indigenous culture, the Hiligaxste was a woman who grooms men for leadership roles. In our current culture, this means speaking truth to power.

This is such an important role today in our fractured society. No matter what level of governmental power one looks at, those in power continue to act with incredible impunity. In the case of the former Justice Minister, Liberal leaders, starting with Justin Trudeau have called Wilson-Raybould hard to work with. One MP even said she lost her post because she couldn’t speak French. The Prime Minister most recently stated she was moved because another minister resigned.

It is always difficult to speak truth to the mighty.

The attacks against Jody Wilson-Raybould are all very lame, but typical when those in power react to a strong-minded colleague who doesn’t easily back down – the Hiligaxste.

More people are standing up and saying things that are way out of the comfort zone of conventional leaders. In the United States, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is shaking up the political order by promoting a Green New Deal. While many people do not yet know what the Green New Deal (GND) is, the very idea of reworking the economy to mitigate climate change is too radical. Those in power are now warning that because of the GND, the hamburger and ice cream are now threatened.

I’m not making this up!

In truth, the GND is a new policy direction that truly looks to speak truth to power and offer something new.

 The GND is, at its heart, a form of social-democratic populism. Its intent is to involve the entire citizenry in the shared project of adapting to the 21st century, and in so doing materially improve the quality of life of the poor and middle class. It is an attempt to rebalance the economy and the political system, away from a monomaniacal focus on private goods, toward a more generous view of public goods and public purpose.

Vox  The Green New Deal, explained

It is encouraging to see these women defy the political hierarchy in their countries.

In another hopeful sign this week in Europe, thousands of students walked out of their classrooms as part of a coordinated walkout against climate change. Chanting “Save our planet”, these students are correcting the path of the powerful. While our political leaders – at least in Ontario – are fighting efforts to establish a carbon-tax  – Carbon-tax opponents don’t let facts get in the way (Globe and Mail, February 16) – students are speaking the truth that political leaders do not want to hear.

This is what it means to speak truth to power – whether it has to do with the politics of power and money or the inability of governments to see the looming climate change disaster, people like Jody Wilson-Raybould, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the student protesters are certainly the Hiligaxste.

For educators, what side do we want to be on?

The student protests in Europe were sparked by one student, Greta Thunberg who has been protesting outside the Sweedish parliament for weeks. It has not been an easy thing to do, but she is doing what must be done to correct the path of the powerful.

I am just a messenger, and yet I get all this hate. I am not saying anything new, I am just saying what scientists have repeatedly said for decades.

And I agree with you, I’m too young to do this. We children shouldn’t have to do this. But since almost no one is doing anything, and our very future is at risk, we feel like we have to continue.

Greta Thunberg – a Swedish schoolgirl with Asperger’s syndrome – sparked today’s action after protesting for weeks outside her country’s parliament.

Greta Thunberg, Jody Wilson-Raybould, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – people doing the uncomfortable thing, people making the powerful uncomfortable.

It is important that these issues get talked about in the classroom. The momentum for change can be delicate. It can be dashed on the rocks of indifference if people do not support these new leaders. It can create a world of change if everyone wakes up and joins their voices with these people.

I have said this many times. Educators need to get their heads out of the sand and wake up. These people are leading important changes and they truly are challenging the status quo in their own ways.

If you support them their efforts could change our world. If you don’t, why not?

The Podcast Broadcast – This week, it’s all about music!

I took a little break from podcasting and blogging in November. There are lots of things going on here that kept me away from my computer and it didn’t hurt to be away in Italy with our son Liam for two weeks.

Now I have a great reason for getting back to writing. I am preparing for another episode of the Podcast Broadcast with Stephen Hurley that will be on VoicEd Radio later this week. I have spent a few days combing through tracks and I think I am ready to go. This week, I am trying the thematic approach and we are focusing on podcasts about music.

artwork for The Gav Session, a new podcast coming out of Belleville all about teaching music at the elementary level.

So, I tried something different. I went into VoicEd Radio and did a search on music. I also sent a note to Stephen and asked him for podcasts on music. Together, we came up with some really interesting material. This shows that the ever-evolving database of VoicEd Radio podcasts is a great resource for educators no matter what you are teaching. Making the podcasts more searchable is something we will continue to work on.

So this week we will be looking at work by Gavin Foster, a music teacher from Belleville, the  Bedley Brothers, Shane Lawrence, and Mark Carbone. They are all talking about music and education. Pretty ambitious for one podcast, but I have been away for around a month now, so I need to do some catching up.

When I moved to elementary, I found that one of the most important subjects was music. Generally, there was only one music teacher in the school and they had the responsibility to teach everyone in the building about music. In many cases, by grade 7 and 8, this might be the last formal music instruction students would get – ever.

When you think about this, it is a pretty immense responsibility.

We talk and write lots about math these days, especially in Ontario where math scores on EQAO have become a regional obsession. It would be great to step away for a while from the imbalance this is creating and look instead at how we are developing an appreciation for art in our schools.

I have to throw in at least one reference to our Roman holiday here. What endures now in the Eternal City is not so much the math that was done by ancient scholars but the beautiful artwork that still graces the city. Art is universal and it speaks to all of us at some level.

art endures

Back to podcasts – Gavin Foster is new to podcasting and he is doing some really interesting reflections on his current teaching practices. This is important work – I think we need more teachers broadcasting about what is working and sometimes not working in their classrooms.

He starts out in a podcast entitled ‘Tech Fail’ by talking about a new program called BandLab and relates how he tries to set up one of his classes almost as they walk into the room. I can certainly relate to that, this is easily something I would do!

Although this first attempt doesn’t work too well, he persists and by the next podcast, Bandlab has become one of his teaching tools.

You can hear him here as he discusses how to develop a great reflection on the iconic Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot.

I like how Gavin flips his classroom, it must be really great to be a student in his class. He is willing to try new types of technology and he readily shares what he is learning with others.

The next podcast is from the Bedley Brothers. Apart from the fact that they have the best intro for an education podcast, the brothers always have interesting guests and topics on their eclectic broadcast. In this one, the main topic is all about using music to engage students. The interviewee here is not a music teacher but uses music to keep his social studies students engaged.

Tal Thompson uses songs like Hall of Fame, by Script a song about confidence and being the best you can be. A pretty important message for kids to hear every day. He also uses current pop songs and changes the lyrics to fit the content. For example, what is the greatest break-up song ever?  Taylor Swift, ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ – sings America to King George. There must be a Canadian equivalent!

I never did this as a history teacher but as a principal, we always played a song over the PA at the end of the day on Fridays. This was a pretty cool thing to do – the kids loved it!

Music engages.

Shane Lawrence always does great interviews about the teaching life. This one is called  – ‘Music for Rebels’ with Emily Langerholc. This is a great conversation and Emily is really entertaining. She has so much to say about teaching music, I could really listen to more from her. She has a great attitude and a terrific sense of humour!

This is from her blog masthead

Welcome! My name is Emily and I teach music. If you’re looking for teachable moments in popular music, you’re in the right place. Commentary and free teaching goodies are also included.

Content is available on the blog, which you can read here!

Teachable pop songs are listed & organized here!

I teach traditional ensemble music classes (band & chorus), but my after-school class materials are sponsored by Little Kids Rock.

To find out more about people all around the country (and world!) who are involved in Popular Music Education, I urge you to look into and join the Association of Popular Music Education, aka APME.

If you are so moved, you can support my writing/conference travel/etc. by buying me a coffee!

 

 

This blog is an amazing resource. If you are reading this and you know a music teacher please share this with them. I did already.

The podcast ranges all over the landscape of teaching music in elementary school. One part I found particularly interesting has to do with using pop music in the classroom. Her question is interesting – why would you not use the tool of popular music in the classroom. If you are teaching time signatures for example, why not challenge your students by betting if any song on the radio is in 4:4 time (she does this).

Finally, Stephen Hurley put me on to this podcast. It is by Mark Carbone and it can be found here on his blog. Soon it will be on VoicEd Radio and I will be certain to tag it under ‘music’.

This one really blew me away. It is an interview with former CBC broadcaster and Peabody Award Winner Jowi Taylor. We used to listen to Jowi Taylor on Saturday nights on CBC. He hosted a ground-breaking show called Global Village that was all about international music. It was a weekly tour around the world that actually encouraged travellers to record their own features that were later broadcast on the show. The show was cancelled in 2007 and there has been nothing like it since.

The interview with Mark is all about a current project by Jowi called ‘Six String Nation‘. It started while he was still hosting Global Village and it continues to this day.

The idea has a real nation-building quality to it. A guitar called Voyageur was constructed from 64 pieces of bone, metal, wood, stone and horn. It was constructed to act as a symbol of national unity and its contains pieces come from across the country.

Jowi describes the project here

This is pretty exciting stuff and it is really wonderful to hear the entirety of Mark’s interview. I took four clips from the 26-minute broadcast and I don’t know if I will get them all in, it is that good of a segment.

I will get in a short clip at the end of Mark’s podcast. Near the conclusion, Jowi’s challenges the audience (you) to help him come up with focused, coherent workshops for students in different grades. This is a great challenge and I hope this is something that VoicEd Radio will be involved in starting in 2019.

Here is the final clip

This would be a great way to truly integrate music, story-telling, art and country into a workshop – what a great opportunity!

This is lots for one podcast. We will see how far we get. Writing all this down is a sort of pledge to get it all done. I hope you listen to us – let’s see (or hear) how it goes!

 

Living Life Large and Climbing for Kids

We are getting closer to having a full group, I can feel it in my bones.

 
This week, the wonderful people at Merit Travel got us an extension for joining the Tour de Mont Blanc until the 21st of December. The wonderful Christie Lake Kids Board is also helping us make sure no one misses out on this trip.
 
So, if you are pondering taking this great adventure on, you have more time. If you need any more time than the 21st of December, we will make sure you get your spot. 
 
We simply can’t let dates and details get in the way of a grand adventure that is supporting so many children here in Ottawa.
 
All the details are still here and you can email me or call me (613-218-9615) if you need any more information.
 
 
This year is year II of a continuing community project to bring people together to help great kids through Christie Lake. Once you come with us once, you may find it hard not to continue climbing with us again.
 
Keeping fit and living life large is a full-time activity and we plan on raising much more money for CLK this year, more than the $29,000 we raised last year. And it really is all about living life large. Your body becomes the vehicle that can help you do great things. You meet wonderfully like-minded people and you become part of the support network that is changing the lives of kids.
That’s living life large. That is an important story, it’s compelling especially the adventures that we choose are really hard. You will be challenged physically and emotionally and maybe even spiritually.
 
So, no one should worry about the dates – it’s a big decision. Don’t worry about anything, just change the way you live your life. Take the great leap and join us now on this adventure – you will not regret this!
 
Isn’t life all about accepting challenges, meeting people and helping out? 

Can’t you see yourself in this picture?