The Importance of Music Education

One Teacher’s Views on the Advocacy of Music in the Schools

Here are partial transcripts, excerpts, and commentary about this blogger’s perspectives on the value and benefits of music education, paraphrased from the program The Edge, produced by the Peters Township High School On-Air Talent class: Episode No. 45, “The Importance of Music Education,”https://archive.org/details/The_Edge_-_Episode_45_-_The_Importance_of_Music_Education

 

The Edge Episode 45

 

music-1781579_1280_GDJOver the years, I have been a strong advocate of equal-access to music and the arts as an essential part the education of all children. This blog will give me an opportunity to put a lot of my thoughts in one place. I am aware that there are many people “out there” who offer the premise that studying music makes you successful in other areas, and you will see that this assumption is well-supported. However, I am not a brain scientist. I cannot confirm research that seems to point to a direct correlation that “the music itself makes us smarter.” It could be that students who are attracted to and become proficient in the arts are somehow uniquely “wired,” have a greater work ethic, or are better intellectually “equipped” to become successful engineers, doctors, lawyers, educators, scientists – you name the career – and enjoy life-long happiness and self-realization. So many of those music-in-our-schools-month fliers say “music is basic,” “music is math,” “music is reading,” “music is science,” etc. and they are right! So, it’s not wrong to bring it up. But we should be fully aware that the primary goal of an education in the arts is for the development of creative self-expression.

In short: music for music’s sake.

When revising our Fine and Performing Arts mission and goals of music education for Middle States accreditation, the music and art teachers in my district centered on several primary goals. Probably the most important one was “to promote the skills of creative self-expression by using music, art, dance, and/or drama as vehicles for defining the students’ self-identity, learning concepts, communicating thoughts and feelings, and exploring mankind’s musical heritage in order to gain a broad cultural and historical perspective.” This statement was written many years ago… prior to the advent of Internet and social media, but perhaps it is even more relevant today!

However, there’s plenty of room here to provide you a wide spectrum of rationale and research from multiple vantage points.

It was my joy to be interviewed by host Sam D’Addieco, a junior percussion player in my South Hills Junior Orchestra. This link takes you to a 30-minute Vimeo recorded in the Peters Township Community Television studio on May 6, 2019. Although this was his assignment for a media class, it really prompted me to do some additional introspection about “what I think I think.” These were some of the issues we discussed… by no means verbatim, but, after all, this is my website. Now I can say what I really meant…

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Initial Questions and Responses

  1. Why did you choose to become a music educator? Music teaching is the greatest job in the world. Every day you deal with the inspirational subject matter of music, and then share it with students who want to be in your class! What could be any better? We guide students towards finding their personal identities, innate artistic and expressive potentials, and successes in making music.
  2. What inspired you to become a music educator in the first place? Were you always going to be a music teacher? I was one of those “goobers” who wanted to “live” in the music room… if I could, participating in band and orchestra eight periods a day! But, up to my Freshman year, I was going to be a doctor or surgeon, thinking that the field of medicine, “saving people’s lives” would be the most exalted career. That is until my Special Biology teacher gave each of us a needle, alcohol swipe, and blood type testing strip, and I found out I was too squeamish to poke myself. What did I really want to do with my life? Share my love of music!
  3. How did you get started in music? Before grade school, my mother signed me up for piano lessons, and I practiced on our Howard baby grand (Baldwin brand) at home reveling in its big, beautiful tone. At school in California, I started out on the snare drum. My piano teacher also introduced me to the violin in the summer between fifth and sixth grade. After that, every new band director I had when I moved to different school districts in Western Pennsylvania switched me to a “what was needed for the band” instrument (baritone then tuba), and my private string teacher moved me to the viola, probably due to the length of my fingers, which eventually became my “major” in college.
  4. Did you have any mentors that helped you along the way? I was blessed with many outstanding music educators, school directors, conductors of local community orchestras, and private instructors. Probablymusic-students-246844_1920_musikschule the one who had the greatest influence on my going into a career of music teaching was Eugene Reichenfeld, who I saw the last period of every day in Orchestra at Penn Hills HS, at least once a week in a private lesson and rehearsals of the Wilkinsburg Civic Symphony on Thursday nights, and over the three summers at the Kennerdell Music and Arts Festival in Venango County. What a role model! Partially blind and losing his hearing, Mr. Reichenfeld played violin, cello, and guitar, and taught uninterrupted until three weeks before he died at the ripe old age of 103!
  5. Any regrets? Absolutely not! My classmates in college dubbed me “mister music ed.” But some of my well-meaning supporters saw other skills in me and tried to talk me into other pursuits. From my senior year in high school to four of five years enrolled in Carnegie-Mellon University, my string professor George Grossman prepared me for employment as a professional musician, even to consider auditioning for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I said, I want to teach students! My CMU music department chair Robert Page and Fine Arts Dean Akram Midani in 1977 urged me to look into enrolling in Harvard summer arts management courses. Again: I want to teach students! Believe-it-or-not, even my own dad encouraged me to rethink my plans. After attending my first Edgewood Elementary 4th grade musical production (1979), he marveled about how much time I devoted  to making music… 6-7 days a week including evenings! He asked me what were my earnings. We compared my first-year salary of $8200 vs. his position as manager in the nuclear division of Westinghouse Company (move the decimal point to the right – nearly $82,000 annual compensation). He suggested a partnership. “Why don’t you join with me, form a company together, and become entrepreneurs, and with a little luck and your obvious work ethic, we could both make a million dollars in a few years.”
  6. conductor-4189841_1280_GordonJohnsonDid your father ever realize why you chose music? In December 1986, Dad came to my choral/orchestra department production of Scrooge, involving over 250 students at my second career assignment, Upper St. Clair High School. After the closing curtain, he came up to me and asked, “Did you do all of this yourself? I answered, “Well, I had a lot of help. I did prepare the students on the dialogue parts in the script, the leads’ solos, chorus harmonies, and orchestra accompaniment, but I needed a drama specialist for coaching the actors and a choreographer for the dances. And yes, I am also the show’s producer, responsible for the printing of the program and tickets, finding people to assist in sewing the costumes, building the sets, running the stage tech, and applying the make-up.” After a short pause, he said something I will never forget: “Wow! This was incredible! You really made a difference to so many of your students’ lives.” He was proud of me, and finally expressed it! (It was a good thing too… he died suddenly of a heart attack exactly two years later when I was in the middle of staging USCHS’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.)

 

Statistics in Support of Music Education

What is the purpose of music in schools? Why is it important to take a creative arts elective throughout your middle to high school education?

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Okay, we can start with the huge body of research published just about everywhere that indicates “music makes you smarter.” Here are just a few examples and sample supportive documentation. (Please take the time to peruse these links!)

Other skills:

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More attitudes:

Several more general links, additional literature that supports the inclusion of music in the school curriculum:

 

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Learning Styles and “Intelligences”

Ever felt like you were a square peg trying to fit in a round hole? Now, lets dive into the concept that “music is a means to learning.”

Intelligence is often defined as our intellectual potential; something we are born with, something that can be measured, and a capacity that is difficult to change. In recent years, however, other views of intelligence have emerged. Also, more research has been applied to learning styles and preferences… all to promote better success in education.

“Many of us are familiar with three general categories in which people learn: visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners. Beyond these three general categories, many theories of and approaches toward human potential have been developed.”

— North Illinois University: https://www.niu.edu/facdev/_pdf/guide/learning/howard_gardner_theory_multiple_intelligences.pdf

In 1983, the theory of “multiple intelligences” was formed by Dr. Howard Gardner, Professor Education at Harvard University, and widely read in his initial book offering Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Supported by Thomas Armstrong (books such as Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom), “the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited.” Instead, Dr. Gardner proposed nine different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults (the first one is my favorite):

  • choral-3871734_1280_gustavorezendeMusical (sound smart)
  • Naturalist (nature smart)
  • Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart)
  • Existential (life smart)
  • Interpersonal (people smart)
  • Bodily-kinesthetic (body smart)
  • Linguistic (word smart)
  • Intra-personal (self smart)
  • Spatial (picture smart)

“Dr. Gardner says that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live. Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled “learning disabled,” “ADD (attention deficit disorder,” or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.”

— American Institute for Learning and Human Development: http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/multiple-intelligences/

saxophone-3246650_1920_congerdesignTransforming the way schools should be run, the multiple intelligences theory suggests that teachers be trained to present their lessons in a wide variety of ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more. This approach truly “customizes the learning” and provides eight or more potential pathways to learning.

“If a teacher is having difficulty reaching a student in the more traditional linguistic or logical ways of instruction, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests several other ways in which the material might be presented to facilitate effective learning.”

— Thomas Armstrong: http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/multiple-intelligences/

“While a person might be particularly strong in a specific area, such as musical intelligence, he or she most likely possesses a range of abilities. For example, an individual might be strong in verbal, musical, and naturalistic intelligence.”

— Kendra Cherry: https://www.verywellmind.com/gardners-theory-of-multiple-intelligences-2795161

The bottom line? We need music in the schools for a variety of reasons, not the least to systemically and intentionally provide avenues of learning for “music smart” kids as well as to share resources that all teachers across the disciplines may use to enrich their lessons, differentiate the instruction, and “reach” their students.

 

Ever Heard of the Four C’s?

How about defending the rationale that “music makes connections, within us and from the world around us?” Easy!

Music and art courses offer great rigor in developing 21st Century learning skills:

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Released by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2010), the best resource I found when this movement made the headlines was this P21 Arts Skills Map. It was developed to “illustrate the intersection between 21st Century Skills and the Arts. The maps will enable educators, administrators and policymakers to gain concrete examples of how 21st Century Skills can be integrated into core subjects.” With so much more detail, this document provides skill definitions, core subject interactions, outcomes and examples:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • stones-451329_1920_dweedon1Innovation
  • Information Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • Information, Communication, and Technology Literacy
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Self-Direction
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Productivity and Accountability
  • Leadership and Responsibility
  • Interdisciplinary Themes

“The music classroom is a perfect place to teach critical thinking and problem solving,” says MENC [now NAfME] member Donna Zawatski. Instead of giving students the answers, she asks questions that will clarify the process and lead to better solutions from the students. “Students will define the problem, come up with solutions based on their previous experience, create, and then reflect on what they’ve created,” she says.

— Donna Zawatski, “4C + 1C = 1TGMT,” Illinois Music Educator, Volume 71, No. 3.

 

Creativity is Number One!

One of my favorite educational gurus, probably an expert on creativity in the schools, is Sir Ken Robinson. His most viewed Ted-Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (18 million+) should be required of all pre-service teachers. A great story-teller with a wonderfully dry English sense of humor, Robinson tells a narrative about a child who was not “behaving” very well in school… “coloring outside the lines” and fidgeting in class. According to the primary teacher, she was distracting the other students, and was hard to “contain” and keep her sitting in her seat.

At the insistence of school staff, the parents took the little girl to a psychiatrist. He did a battery of tests on her to find out why she was so “antsy” and… The counselor’s analysis? He said to her parents: “Your child is not sick. She is a dancer. She likes to express herself in movement. Take her to a school that emphasizes dancing.”

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A “quick-from-the-hip” diagnosis might have resulted in prescribing drugs in order to “calm her down” and make her “fit in” better with the traditional school setting.

The rest of the story? The incident he was talking about described the childhood of the super-successful multi-millionaire English ballerina and choreographer of Cats and Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, the late Gillian Lynne.

Creativity is probably the single most essential learning skill… and I have devoted a whole section of my website on the subject, starting with “Creativity in Education” to numerous blogs here.

 

Flexible Thinking, Adaptability, and Problem Solving

In the interview, I asked the question, “What is 1 + 1 + 1?” What I meant to elicit was, “Besides the obvious response of 3, how many different answers can you find to solve this math problem?”

  • 111
  • 11 (in binary)
  • 1 (draw it in the air, one vertical line and two horizontal lines making the Roman numeral I)

Living in the real world (as well as learning the arts), there are very few “one-right answers!” Unlike other subject areas and pursuits, music fosters abstract decision-making in situations where there are no standard answers, analysis of and response to nonverbal communication, and adaptations and respect of divergent styles and methods for personal expression and thinking.

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The arts foster divergent thinking (the ability to consciously generate new ideas that branch out to many possible solutions for a given problem) as well as convergent thinking (the ability to correctly hone in to a single correct solution to a problem).  According to Professor Curtis Bonk on his insightful “Best of Bob” – Instructional Strategies for Thinking, Collaboration, and Motivation” website, “In creativity, convergent thinking often requires taking a novel approach to the problem, seeing the problem from a different perspective, or making a unique association  between parts of the problem.”

“Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.”

— Proverb quoted by Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly

 

Are You of the “Right Mind?”

First, take the Left-Brain/Right-Brain test at the “Best of Bob” website above.

RThe 60s work of Nobel Peace Prize scientist Dr. Roger Sperry pointed to different sections of the brain being used for unique functions of the mind. Accordingly, the left brain is supposed to be more verbal, analytical, and orderly than the right brain. It’s sometimes called the digital brain. It’s better at things like reading, writing, and computations. In contrast, the right brain is purported to be more visual and intuitive. It’s sometimes referred to as the analog brain. It has a more creative and less organized way of thinking.

However, portions of his research, especially about brain hemisphere dominance have been disputed.

“Magnetic resonance imaging of 1,000 people revealed that the human brain doesn’t actually favor one side over the other. The networks on one side aren’t generally stronger than the networks on the other side.”

“The two hemispheres are tied together by bundles of nerve fibers, creating an information highway. Although the two sides function differently, they work together and complement each other. You don’t use only one side of your brain at a time.”

“Whether you’re performing a logical or creative function, you’re receiving input from both sides of your brain. For example, the left brain is credited with language, but the right brain helps you understand context and tone. The left brain handles mathematical equations, but right brain helps out with comparisons and rough estimates.”

Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/left-brain-vs-right-brain

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Here is what I believe. Parts of what we do in music, like interpretation, expressiveness, phrasing, aesthetic sensitivity, and perception of man’s creations around us, etc. involve imagination and intuition, and are more holistic, intuitive – I will call it “right” brained.

In his book A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World, Daniel Pink, formerly a lawyer and the speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore, forecast that most future careers throughout the world will involve the learning skills normally attributed to the right side of the brain – innovation, invention, ingenuity, adaptability, critical thinking and problem-solving, etc., not jobs that are dominated by predetermined or routine actions, instructions, scripting (e.g. tasks that can be done by robots, Legal Zoom for simple wills, or 1-800 tech help hotlines).

I recommend looking into Pink’s books and his “Discussion Guide for Educators.”

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Finally, with so many memories swimming around in my mind, I was asked by Sam what I thought was the greatest achievement of my career (or perhaps he meant what single student did I “inspire” to greatness?).  I replied that there were far too many to count, those blessed “AH HA” moments when a musician, singer, actor, or dancer goes for his dream and realizes his potential… “I made it!” Sometimes they don’t believe in themselves, are afraid to try, and the teacher has to nudge or encourage them. But, once it happens, you can see the sparkle in their eyes! And, even in retirement, they never let you forget their accomplishment(s) and the difference you made in their lives!

Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with the following statements regarding music’s role in everything from self-esteem development to building “symphonic” relationships and connections between seemingly unrelated or dissociated items or events – “putting the pieces of the puzzle together!”

“To be able to play a musical instrument (increasingly well), to be able to express oneself musically, to become friends with others making the same accomplishments, to reach musical goals and achievements — these things help people feel good about themselves. That has lasting value as it relates to nearly all other things in their lives, according to the music educators.”

The Herald Paladium, September 10, 2000

Music also boosts creativity and the ability to see the relationships between seemingly unrelated things—enhancing all learning. Children who have studied music develop faster socially, mentally, and even physically.

Woodwind Brasswind: “How Music Study Relates to Nearly Every School Discipline”

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Simply put, making music in school and life-long learning as adults are FUN! It nurtures our inner voice, feelings, and self-worth. We enjoy the social interactions of participation in an ensemble. Literally, we explore our artistic “souls” and embrace the beauty within and around us. A career of 40+ years of directing orchestras, both in formalized classes and community/youth groups, has been the most inspirational and life-satisfying of pursuits… something I hope I can do for many more years until I reach Moses’ age!

PKF

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com:

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

PMEA in Retirement – What’s in it for Me?

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PA Music Teacher Retirees – Renew Your Membership!

On behalf of the 375+ retired members of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (not to mention the nearly 4000 regular and collegiate members), let me congratulate and welcome you to retirement!

chorus-515897_1920This will sound like an advertisement (it is)… for retaining one’s professionalism, keeping involved albeit less active in the profession, supporting the future of music education, and on occasion lending a hand to PMEA throughout retirement! In return, the association will provide you opportunities to record and post your career accomplishments and position assignments (past and in the future), network with your friends and colleagues retired or still “in the trenches,” and nurture your personal quest for creative self-expression and artistry… everything from guest conducting or adjudicating ensembles to writing for PMEA publications or presenting sessions at the conferences. It is all about YOU!

When (now) Immediate Past President Dennis Emert appointed me to the position of State Retired Member Coordinator four years ago, I had no idea what I could offer… except to serve as a “cheerleader” and represent the best interests of our music teacher retirees. This blog-post is to acquaint you with the rich assortment of resources PMEA offers to its retired members, and examples of our retirees’ news, views, and rationale for continuing their participation in PMEA… even take a peek at sample Retired Member Network eNEWS issues and articles in PMEA News. That’s what’s in it for you!

grandfather-on-the-porch-1398795Research indicates that people either LOVE retirement or HATE it, and their journey to the blessed “golden years” can have many ups and downs, especially for type-A, peak-performing individuals who (used to) spend large amounts of time and personally identified with “the job…” like many music educators. Since retiring myself from the Upper St. Clair School District in June 2013, my goal has been to help others enjoy this life-changing passage, cope with life-style changes/altered expectations, and find creative new ways to self-reinvent and thrive. Objectives for retired members in 2016-18 are:

  • Continuation and expansion of PMEA Retired Members’ projects started in 2015-16, including the Retiree Resource Registry (R3), PA community band, orchestra, chorus and theater group listings, opportunities to volunteer at conferences, sessions on “how to retire,” etc.
  • Exploration of new and unique ways to inform, motivate, engage, and activate PMEA retired members, to enhance their feelings of value, purpose, and being “needed and useful” in support of PMEA and the music education profession: “The mission of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association is to advance comprehensive and innovative music education for all teachers and students through quality teaching, rigorous learning, and meaningful music engagement.”
  • Improvement in data tracking of retired members’ membership status and contact information in order to “keep connected”
  • Publication of news, awards, appointments, and successes of retired members
  • Promotion of additional tools for a smooth transition to happy retirement

Your first stop for retirement resources should be the PMEA website (look under the top menu “Focus Areas”), where we post recent editions of past issues of the digital newsletter Retired Members Network eNEWS, relevant articles in PMEA News, etc. Take a moment and “surf the net” at http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/.

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There’s so much you can do now that you are retired! Now that you have “more freedom” to seek out purposeful and “fun” activities in education (but only the things you WANT to do!), ask yourself: “How you can rekindle your expressiveness?”

  • Why did you go into music and education in the first place?
  • What have you always wanted to play… sing… compose… conduct… record… create?
  • Have you thought about learning a new instrument, skill, or musical style?
  • When will you complete your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and have it performed?
  • When are you going to publish your songs, sonatas, warm-ups, methods, essays on pedagogy, musical plays, halftime shows… or personal memoirs?
  • What is your next article, book, method, composition, drum-line feature, etc.?
  • When are you going to join a community band, orchestra, chorus or theater group?

Or, if you would like to “give back” to the profession, “stimulate your brain,” and develop more association leadership, you can jump in to PMEA and explore any of the following:

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  • Run for local or state PMEA office or council position
  • Serve as presiding chair or member of the PMEA planning or listening committees for the conference
  • Participate as guest lecturer or panel discussion member at a conference, workshop, or college methods program
  • Judge local/state adjudication festivals
  • Help plan or manage a local PMEA festival or workshop
  • Accompany, coach, or guest conduct festivals or school/community groups
  • Assist the local music teacher in private teaching, piano playing, marching band charting, sectional coaching, set-up of music technology, instrument repair, etc.
  • Write for PMEA or NAfME

r3_logoAre you still willing to “lend a hand” on PMEA projects or share your expertise and provide a free (but priceless) consultant service to new/transferred PMEA members and officers? We constantly update and publish a Retiree Resource Registry https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Retired-Resource-Registry-update-02-12-18.pdf and R3 Help Index https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/R3-Help-Index-021218.pdf on the website. This project is a “win-win” as it also allows the retired member a place to archive all of his/her achievements, awards, past and current assignments, interests, and hobbies. To join this prestigious roster of “who’s-who of past music teaching leaders in PA,” please go to https://pmea.wufoo.com/forms/pmea-retiree-resource-survey/ or the PMEA website to complete the R3 sign-up survey.

Do you know it only takes $30 to join as a PMEA Retired Member ($65 for joint membership to NAfME and receipt of their publications as well!). What a deal! The membership form is at http://www.pmea.net/membership-information/.

Lancaster MarriottIn addition, retired member registration at the annual PMEA Spring Conference is… (drum-roll, please!) ONLY $10 early-bird! Our next spring conference will be held on April 19-21, 2018 at the Lancaster Marriott & Convention Center. Music teacher retirees get to enjoy some social time to “swap stories” with a FREE breakfast on Friday, April 20. In addition, we are looking for volunteers to help man the PMEA Info Booth… of course, “retired members to the rescue!” Invitations and more details will go out to current members next month, but check out this section on the PMEA website for more information about the conference: http://www.pmea.net/pmea-annual-in-service-conference/.

In case you are interested, a past PMEA summer conference session on retirement is posted on the retired members’ section. Feel free to download the workshop’s slides (https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Retirement-Planning-Its-Not-About-the-Money.pdf) and the recently revised handout https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/ultimate-retiree-resource-guide-111717.pdf, the latter probably the most comprehensive “reading list” ever published for music teacher retirees.

PaulFox_LogoAs a part of reflection and sharing of positive strategies for “Crossing the Rubicon” to a happy, healthy, and meaningful retirement, I have assembled a super-site of every website, article, book, publication, etc. of post-employment “gurus” that I could find. Visit the top menu link “For-Retirees” and come back often for updates.

Finally, since January 2017, we have published numerous retired member columns in the state journal PMEA News (access to current PMEA members is available at https://www.pmea.net/resources/pmea-news/):

  • “Pet Ownership and Retirement” (Fall 2016)
  • “Act Well Your Part; There the Honor Lies” (Winter 2016)
  • “Tips for Music Teachers Who Are Retired, Retiring, or Soon-to-Retire” (Spring 2017)
  • “What Are You Going to Be When You Grow Up?” (Summer 2017)
  • “The Vocabulary of Retirement and Leisure” (Fall 2017)
  • “Sailing Through a Proverbial Sea of Self-Help Books on Retirement” (Winter 2017)

Also, as a teaser, check out the archived PMEA Retired Member Network eNEWS editions… probably alone worth the discounted membership fee? (But, if you have the time and desire, perhaps you can submit better jokes and stories to “editor” Fox?): https://www.pmea.net/retired-member-network-enews-archive/.

Enjoy retirement… you have earned it! However, don’t forget the THREE BASIC NEEDS that work fulfills and which are essential to retirement, according to Ernie Zelinski, the best-selling author of How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free:

  1. Purpose
  2. Community
  3. Structure

Let PMEA Retired Membership help you on the way to self-fulfillment as you take the journey towards “living your dream and finding joy in your life!”

PKF

© 2016 and 2017 Paul K. Fox

(Photo credits: FreeImages.com)

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If I Were a School Superintendent…

Creativity” Would JoinLiteracy” and “Logic” as the Top Three Educational Priorities

 

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“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.” – Yo-Yo Ma

One of the advantages of teaching and learning in the state of Pennsylvania is that many aspects of specific curriculum and instruction is under local control. We do not have a precocious-432664_1920unified county or state system. “Big Brother” does not dictate all aspects of what is taught.

Of course, the immediate disclaimer is that the local school boards cannot decide everything. You would hear complaints from superintendents about the many federal and state mandates (often unfunded). In addition, I would add my voice against the politics and obsessive focus on standardized testing, coursework with the sole goal of achieving high scores, and the hysterical single-mindedness on providing learning experiences to develop convergent thinking (as opposed to divergent thinking), recently made even worse by the Common (and much more limited) Core movement and curriculum. In some places, this has caused a significant de-emphasis (and in some cases elimination) of the arts, a strategy that fails to meet the needs of “The Whole Child” nor nurtures the development of the 21st Century skills of creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

However, in my experience as a teacher and Curriculum Leader, each individual school district has some autonomy and can devise their own mission/vision and educational plan. This can include the customization and individualization of their academic programs with a new, comprehensive, and actively engaging curriculum, taking into account the special computer-monitor-tablet-and-mobile-1241520needs of a very diversified clientele.

I saw this in action when teachers and administrators designed the K-12 Technology Curriculum at Upper St. Clair School District. Care was taken to include elements of creativity (not originally placed in the first draft). After several revisions, the curriculum committee was proud to publish the competency target “I can apply creative thinking to the creation of original works using technology” under the Grades K-12 strand Creativity and Innovation. Perhaps small steps towards our goal, but for a big purpose!

As Daniel Pink points out, we have already moved away from the total reliance and dominance of the Agricultural Age and Industrial Age, and now even the Information Age that superseded them. One of my favorite quotes from his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the World is, “The era of ‘left brain’ dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which ‘right brain’ qualities – inventiveness, empathy, meaning – predominate.” Referring to the Conceptual Age (creators and empathizes) as the current fourth stage, students need to acquire the tools cornet-593661_1920for success in today’s higher education and jobs. Sure, we want our children to excel at reading, writing, understanding and solving math problems, but now more than ever, we need to place higher priority and greater amounts of time and resources to the goal of teaching students to create and express themselves, and to learn originality, inventiveness, personal innovation, initiative, self-direction, flexibility, adaptability, openness to new and diverse perspectives, and ambiguity.

So, with my “thinking cap on” and the unbridled enthusiasm and freedom to fantasize the creation of a “perfect school,” here are eight ideas from a retired music teacher imagining he accepted the position as “superintendent for a year.” (No one has ever dared to give me this kind of “power!” Besides, I would spend too much money!)

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” – Albert Einstein

1. Staff training

mark-589858_1920My first act as superintendent would be the planning and institution of several new teacher in-service programs.

ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) has recently released a new online course based on the readings and ideas from Patti Drapeau’s book Sparking Student Creativity: Practical Ways to Promote Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving. Six professional development modules will teach integration of creativity into content to meet and extend curriculum standards. ASCD promises that the participants will use a “creativity road map” to plan instruction, and develop strategies to enhance creative tasks and assess creativity lessons:

  • Module 1: Intentional Creativity
  • Module 2: Practical Creativity
  • Module 3: Creativity and Standards
  • Module 4: Creativity and Imagination
  • Module 5: Innovation and Creative Problem Solving
  • Module 6: Creativity and Assessment

For the opening day keynote speaker, barring having the necessary funding (reputed to be unbelievably high) to bring in creativity-in-education expert Sir Ken Robinson, I would invite Daniel Pink to address the staff and share the importance of designing curriculum and instruction around his six “senses” or aptitudes:

  • Design – Moving beyond function to engage the sense.
  • Story – Narrative added to concepts, products, and services – not just argument. Best of the six senses.
  • Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus).
  • Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  • Play – Bringing humor and light-hardheartedness to education, business, consumer products, and… life, in general.
  • kids-1093758_1920Meaning – the purpose is the journey, giving more meaning to life from inside yourself.

Sponsoring future workshops (spring semester) on what I call “the meat and potatoes” of teaching more creatively and teaching creativity, we would be inspired to have Dr. Curtis Bonk (Indiana University of Bloomington) unpack many of his pedagogical strategies with hands-on breakout sessions for the teachers exploring (his terms) brainstorming and reverse brainstorming, metaphoric thinking, checkerboarding, wet inking/free writing, simulations, semantic webbing or mapping, role playing, etc. (See http://www.indiana.edu/~bobweb/cv_hand.html).

“We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution.” – Bill Hicks

2. Staffing

usctaglineTaking a page from the leadership philosophy of the current superintendent (Dr. Patrick O’Toole) for the Upper St. Clair School District, my former employer, I would install new administrative positions that foster creative self-expression and educational innovation. Our “customization” tagline (logo to the right) is ambitious, unique for most public schools, and articulates the USC organization’s core functions, culture and mission. However, I believe it needed the intentional assignment of extra managerial manpower and flexible foresight in staffing in order to fulfill the school district mission statement: “Developing lifelong learners and responsible citizens for a global society is the mission of the Upper St. Clair School District, served by a responsive and innovative staff who in partnership with the community provides learning experiences that nurture the uniqueness of each child and promotes happiness and success.”

Copying from Dr. O’Toole’s HR playbook, for my imaginary school district in the first year, I would hire a new Supervisor of Customized and Online Learning and an Associate Principal of Program Planning and Innovation, and have both of them report directly to me (the superintendent) every month.

“I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.” – Sir Ken Robinson

3. Improving the climate for risk-taking

risk-884117_1280Sir Ken Robinson says the studies show the longer students stay in school the less creative they become. It is all about the willingness to accept risk, instead of seeking conformity or the “one right answer.” We need to venture out from our “comfort zone,” be different, try new ideas or angles, and even fail miserably once in awhile along the way.

Peter Dewitt wrote an interesting blog on the climate of school risk-taking from the perspective of a principal:  http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2012/10/does_your_school_culture_encourage_risk-taking_or_rule_following.html.

I also recommend reading the article “The Keys to Inquiry (Section II): Big Messages to Communicate Around Learning from Experience” by Tina Grotzer (Harvard Graduate School of Education):  http://hea-www.harvard.edu/ECT/Inquiry/inquiry2text.html.

idea-1020343_1920In our society, at times we do value risk taking. Steven E. Landsburg, author of Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life says that the reason we pay CEOs so much money (in the millions plus stock options and golden parachutes) is to provide enough security for the company executive to take more chances and find new ways to make even more money. Quoted from his book:

“Why are executive salaries so high? Remember that stockholders want executives to take more risks. One way to encourage a person to take risks is to make him wealthy. Other things being equal, multimillionaires are a lot mellower about losing their jobs than people who are worried about how to put their children through college. If you want your corporate president to be receptive to the rocket-powered running shoe project, you need to encourage that kind of mellowness. A high salary helps a lot in that direction.”

caveman-159359_1280Speaking of balancing “risk and rules,” just how creative are YOU? Have you heard about Chindogu, the Japanese concept that combines ingenuity and inventiveness with the absurb? (See http://www.weirdworm.com/10-bizarre-japanese-inventions/.) Created by amateur inventor Kenji Kawakami in the 1980s, “…a chindogu must be both useless and useful at the same time” and have a real purpose (other than making people laugh) but “also be completely unusable.” According to weirdworm.com, “A real prototype of the invention must be made for it to be called chindogu. Unfortunately, the rules also state that chindogu are not to be sold. Once used for commercial gain, the artifact would no longer be chindogu, but a commercially viable product. Chindogu are also not to be patented, but are instead to be considered a gift to the world. Fortunately, many chindogu have been sold, albeit as novelty items, but they are rarely patented.”

“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” – Erich Fromm

4. Generating a daily/weekly lesson target of divergent thinking

think-975605_1920To improve the instruction, both in learning creativity and more creative teaching, let’s move towards practicing more divergent thinking. Teachers would be asked to post in front of their class the “innovative idea of the week” or “creative target for the day.”

Monthly faculty meetings would offer the chance to share some of these “aha” moments and new teaching/learning techniques. This also means we will make a concerted effort to share the creative work of our students. Regarding the education profession, whoever said, “It’s not the sage on the stage, but the guide on the side,” was absolutely right!

My best example of approaching a problem “outside the box” is the nine-dot-puzzle and puzzle solutions. How about a math lesson that asks how many different ways a student could solve the problem 1 + 1 + 1 = , or how to justify these answers: 3 (the sum, the obvious response), 11 (binary), 1 (drawing the Roman Numeral I in three strokes)? Additional examples for teachers of all subjects is about “inventions” and comes from TeacherVision: https://www.teachervision.com/inventions/teacher-resources/6636.html.

“But the person who scored well on an SAT will not necessarily be the best doctor or the best lawyer or the best businessman. These tests do not measure character, leadership, creativity, and perseverance.” – William Julius Wilson

5. Adjusting for balance

We have to re-examine our historic emphasis on summative assessments and final grades vs. providing meaningful feedback using formative assessments. Personally, I have never learned a thing or improved my knowledge or skill from a standardized test. Alternative in-giving-we-receive-1241576assessments, often called authentic, comprehensive, or performance assessments, are usually designed by the teacher to gauge students’ understanding of material. Examples of these measurements are open-ended questions, written compositions, oral presentations, projects, experiments, and portfolios of student work.

I believe that assessment for learning (formative) is preferable and should occur more often than assessment of learning (summative). Yes, we need both, and must print something on the report card. But, classroom activities should model our lives outside… fostering all of the words with “self” prefixes: self-motivation towards self-discovery for self-improvement and self-sufficiency. Creativity is all about “life long learning.”

“Art in the classroom not only spurs creativity, it also inspires learning.” – Mickey Hart

6. Requiring daily instruction in the arts for every student regardless of grade level

school-1063561_1920Day one, there would be more rigorous high school graduation requirements of four years of music or art courses for every student enrolled at the high school. Yes, that would mean hiring a few more teachers… but the payoffs would be instantly evident and promote exponential growth in the creative quotient of every student!

You cannot expect a true understanding of the artistic process without creating your own original work in art or music. Some students try to go through four years of high school, four or more years in a college or university, and another 2-4 years in postgraduate courses, never experiencing a single “goosebump” moment in personal self-expression.

In addition, I was also amazed to find so many building principals and curriculum supervisors who themselves have never completed a single hands-on arts course in high school or college.

Really, this is as silly as not expecting every educator to be computer literate, having advance reading and writing skills, or capable of doing math (grading exams), etc.

clay-1220105_1920Every administrator and teacher in my buildings would be expected to “practice what we preach” and develop their own artistry by participating in an instrumental ensemble, chorus, classes in painting or drawing, pottery or jewelry making, sewing, woodworking, acting, dancing, etc. Sure, as “the boss,” I would even allow some of this during school time. Can you imagine the positive effect it would have on the ensemble programs in all buildings if the teachers, principals, and other school staff also explored singing, playing in the band or orchestra, or performing on stage in the musicals?

“Art is permitted to survive only if it renounces the right to be different, and integrates itself into the omnipotent realm of the profane.” – Theodor Adorno

7. Expanding arts integration in all classes and disciplines

My hypothetical school district would embrace the definition of “arts integration” from the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) Program: “Arts Integration is an APPROACH to TEACHING in which students construct and demonstrate UNDERSTANDING through an ART FORM. Students engage in a CREATIVE PROCESS, which CONNECTS an art form and another subject area and meets EVOLVING OBJECTIVES in both.”

woman-1172718_1920According to CETA, “This approach to teaching is grounded in the belief that learning is actively built, experiential, evolving, collaborative, problem-solving, and reflective. These beliefs are aligned with current research about the nature of learning and with the Constructivist learning theory.” CETA outlined the following “best practices” of this theory that align with arts integration:

  • Drawing on students prior knowledge;
  • Providing active hands-on learning with authentic problems for students to solve in divergent ways;
  • Arranging opportunities for students to learn from each other to enrich their understandings;
  • Engaging students in reflection about what they learned, how they learned it, and what it means to them;
  • Using student assessment of their own and peers’ work as part of the learning experience;
  • Providing opportunities for students to revise and improve their work and
  • Building a positive classroom environment where students are encouraged and supported to take risks, explore possibilities, and where a social, cooperative learning community is created and nurtured.

“The arts, quite simply, nourish the soul. They sustain, comfort, inspire. There is nothing like that exquisite moment when you first discover the beauty of connecting with others in celebration of larger ideals and shared wisdom.” – Gordon Gee

8. Bringing creativity to the Common Core

school-1063552_1920A lot more (ahem) innovative research is needed to merge both creativity and the Common Core (and other so-called “new” educational initiatives when they inevitably come down the pike). Below are a few additional resources. In my “administration,” it would be common practice to share these at faculty and staff meetings… and look for more ways to intentional bring creativity skill instruction to the forefront.

TEACHHUB.com “Creativity Within the Common Core State Standards” http://www.teachhub.com/creativity-within-common-core-state-standards

Just ASK “Creativity and the Common Core” www.justaskpublications.com/just-ask-resource-center/e-newsletters/mccca/creativity-and-the-common-core/

The Arts Education Collaborative has the best bibliography exploring the Common Core and the Arts (http://www.aep-arts.org/resources-2/common-core-and-the-arts/):

Special Report on Education 2012: Arts Education at the Core (December 2013) – A report based on the findings of the Theatre Communications Group’s 2012 Education Survey discussing the impact of Common Core on arts education.

Art and the Common Core (February 2013) – A PowerPoint presentation from an Education Week webinar about arts integration within the Common Core, featuring Susan M. Riley and Lynne Munson, and moderated by Erik Robelen.

The Arts and the Common Core (December 2012) – A report prepared by the College Board monument-1027560_1920for NCASS on connections between the CCSS and the Next Generation Arts Standards.

Use Arts Integration to Enhance Common Core (November 2012) – This post by Susan Riley from Edutopia’s Education Trends blog discusses arts integration as a means to enhance the Common Core.

Guiding Principles for the Arts: Grades K-12 – Developed by David Coleman, this is a discussion on the ways in which arts education intersects with the Common Core areas.

The Arts and the Common Core Curriculum Mapping Project – A guide utilizing the arts in a Common Core curriculum.

Creativity, Critical Thinking, and the New Common Core State Standards (March 2012) – A symposium co-hosted by the Los Angeles Unified School District Arts Education Branch and the Museum of Contemporary Art, bringing together school leaders, teachers, and educators from arts organizations to discuss the impact of the Common Core on their work.

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” – John Steinbeck

My aforementioned school superintendent, a definite arts advocate who “puts his money where his mouth is” in the funding and staffing of an excellent Fine and Performing Arts program at Upper St. Clair, would probably laugh me out of his office for these zany ideas. With the possible exception of a new start-up charter or cyber school or private institution, it is unlikely any elected School Board would ever have the courage to support a total creativity-based curriculum. At least, my wild imagination and arts perspective may have started you thinking on a few improvements that can be considered instead of the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all schooling. Please stay tuned for more “lessons on creativity,” revisit my past blogs on creativity in education, and feel free to comment on anything!

PKF

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© 2016 Paul K. Fox