April 30, 2016

Bigger Pieces of You

One of my favorite toys as a kid was my dad’s wine opener. It was one of the ones that has two long arms that rise as you twist the cork; I used to pretend it was a scrawny metal robot doing jumping jacks. I used to grab it from the table on Saturday mornings from the rest of the debris as my parents slept upstairs. The smell of stale smoke and wine fumes in the air. Glasses laced with ruby rings and overflowing ash trays. The stereo was still on and a Neil Young record sat gathering dust. The low grade buzz silenced as I turned it off and sleeved the vinyl to make sure it was safe.

I would lay on my stomach and use the wine opener to attack Luke as if it was a droid from Tatoonine. Until of course Han Solo would come and save Luke yet again and defeat the wine-opener droid.

My childhood was lonely but happy. Filled with hours of solitary play. I don’t ever remember anyone actually actively playing with me. I often entertained myself on the periphery of political debates, long hours in the darkroom and empty Saturday mornings.

I took some kids from my Mentor class to dinner and laser tag tonight. Not everyone could make it, and it was the smallest group I have taken out to date, but they had a blast. It was a good reminder that all connections and teaching need not always be for every kid all the time. You spot teach and connect with those who need it when you can. This random group of six kids tonight, would not have been out together if it wasn’t for our outing. And a few of them probably would not have been out at all. We ate, We chatted. We shot each other with lasers and then we went our separate ways.

If you want to build community and connect to kids they need to trust you and they will never trust you if they only see you in teacher mode. They need bigger pieces of you. Some people might not agree or not have the time, but the truth is that the student teacher relationship is a human one, and as humans we need to let down our guard and relinquish the authority teacher student dichotomy. You want a kid to trust you, they need to know you. I know that an few hours eating Nando’s and running around in the dark is not enough for this kind of connection but it is a step in the right direction.

“Wow I didn’t know guitars could sound like that.” Kaia listening to the solo at the end of Seven Nation Army on the way to McRitche today. She has been obsessed with the song since she saw a middle school mad play it at Sound Asylum.

I was so proud of my girls for hiking the trail with zero complaints. Kaia even had blisters and she sucked it up. They were wet and muddy and hot and sweaty and all into the creeks and trails and having fun in the jungle.

Kids need so much more time in nature than we give them. Living in a city and following an intense structured international school system, our kids need dedicated consistent time running and playing in the mud. Free to get dirty and make mistakes and take risks.

I closed my eyes and thought of a memory:

I was living in Mission Beach with Jeff in a one bedroom place that housed his motorbike in the living room. I can’t recall how long we lived there or where I slept. Did I have a room? A bed? That detail feels unimportant. I do remember flooding the floor one night. Riding his bicycle to Caroline’s house for a keg- me on the handle bars screaming and waving away the people. I remember cockroaches and the darkness, but somehow seldom the ocean. Why did I not learn to surf in those days or ever swim in the wave? I worked at a series of shitty jobs and called you on the payphone from across the street because I was lonely and only your voice seemed to make it all go away.

April 29, 2016

Mound of Mud

I started this thing too late. My eyes are burning and I have a headache. I spent the latter part of the night watching various youtube clips- Colbert and Seth Meyers make fun of the American political landscape. Earlier we went out for a quick Mexican dinner and watched Supergirl with girls before bed. Not the most exciting Friday night, but a necessary one. I won’t talk about school today. Just another ho-hum day in late April where we got things done. It was busy and tiring and not necessarily inspiring.

There’s a three day weekend on the horizon and then it will be May. Crazy how fast time is flying, considering how much is expected to happen this month. I will use the next few days to relax and enjoy the silence.

Got an early morning hike planned at McRitchie in the morning, so I won’t torture us both, but digging for gold in this mound of mud.

It’s time for the long time out. 

April 28, 2016

School Are Amazing Places

“Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now.”
Jack Kerouac

School are amazing places. You wanna know why? Because they are filled with kids. And people who love kids and want to give them awe-inspiring experiences. Schools are places where teachers create rock shows and magazine launches. Schools are places where kids can be athletes and scientists. Schools can be places where kids are challenged to question and research and explore and wonder. Schools are places where kids dance and plant trees and hike and run meetings. Schools are places where kids build friendships, identies and 3-D printed design projects.

It’s where they write poetry, solve equations and fall in love for the first time. School is where kids find themselves one year, only to lose themselves a year later. School is where kids find confidence and take risks. It is where they test out their jokes and command a stage for the first time. A school is a place where they can leave the orbit of their parents for a few hours a day and see which other galaxies they might find themselves in. Schools are places where kids skin their knees, break their bones and learn to get back up. It’s the place where kids have to learn to fight back or to resolve conflicts between friends. Schools are where kids learn how to socialise around a meal or to eat alone. Schools are places where kids shred a guitar solo or forget the lyrics of the third verse. Schools are places where kids roam the halls looking for friends. It’s where they stand up to bullies, learn to talk to adults to demand their rights. Schools teach kids how to be activists, citizens and free-thinkers.

Schools are the most beautiful and important places in our societies. I am here tonight to challenge the narrative that schools are broken.

I am tired of constantly starting every conversation about how schools are places in need of drastic change, disruption or re-imagining.

(Before I continue, I want to acknowledge that I realise that I am blessed to work in a well-resourced school. I work at a top internationals school, where we are wanting for little. I want to be sensitive to people who might be reading this post who work in schools that are structurally damaged and morale vacant buildings. I have worked in such schools and I know it is hard to do your job in such environments.)

But even in such places, I refuse to continue to start every conversation about school that highlights the conceptual idea of school as a place of deficit. I’ve heard all the complaints. Hell, I have lobbed many of them myself: The curriculum is too intense, too much content, too many skills, too many tests, not student-driven enough, not enough tech, too much tech.

When we spread the narrative that schools are inherently broken we discredit and disrespect the two most important things that make-up schools: Kids and teachers.

I have spent the majority of my life in schools. And for all their faults, I still think they are amazing places. I still remember the rainy day afternoons in Mozambique waiting for the rain to stop so we could carry on because the floor had flooded for lack of windows. The fact that kids didn’t have shoes or books or pencils didn’t bother us none. The fact that I barely knew what I was doing didn’t seem to matter either. We were looking at the lyrics of Africa Unite by Bob Marley as a way to learn English. We laughed and smiled and built something unnameable. It was fueled by wonder and love.

All you need to run a school are kids and teachers who love kids and want to create awe-inspiring experiences for everyone on campus.

Tonight I was at Sound Asylum which is or annual MS rock show run by the music department ( Lee, Lindsey and Evind) in a constant state of goose-pimpled skin. I watched two hours of talented kids be rock stars. The team created an opportunity for these kids to stand on stage behind the lights and the smoke and in front of their peers and live out a dream. This is what a school is all about. Everything else is administration and bureaucracy.

It is not fair to kids if their teachers are constantly focused on looking at the problems of their school. We owe them more. Take a look at your school and ask yourself how you can create opportunities born from your love and passion- opportunities for your students to be inspired. If your curriculum has you down, or if you are buried under mandates of which you have no control, find other ways to build a culture of wonder in your school. A poetry reading, a basket ball league, a hands on science club, a coding team, a rock show, a magazine launch, a place to knit, plant a garden.

We don’t always need to focus on how to re-build our schools. Let’s change the conversations and focus on the fact that schools are by default great places because they are filled with kids. Everything else must grow from that understanding.