Thursday, September 5, 2013

Five Guys, A Piano, and an Elementary School

If you have not seen this video on YouTube, you have to take 3 and a half minutes now and watch it.

I saw this video a while ago and just thought it was pretty cool. In August, as I was thinking about the start of a new school year and reflecting upon what direction I wanted our school to move, I happened to watch this video again and it was like a light bulb went off in my head (at least 100 watts!). The accomplishment of the musicians in that video exemplifies my vision for our staff and our school.

Yesterday we had our opening faculty meeting and I had my first opportunity to work with the teaching staff. After processing our progress and accomplishments from a very successful 2012-2013, I asked the staff to watch the video and reflect on what they saw.  After watching the video, here are some of the things we discussed.

  1. Teamwork. The most obvious thing that people saw was five guys working together to accomplish a task. As a school we need to work together to accomplish everything. Our school theme last year was "Better Together" and our school theme this year is "Better Together: HATS off to learning!" (HATS stands for Habits, Attitudes, Talents, Skills). We proved last year that we are a better staff when we work together. When we plan together, teach together, watch each other teach and talk about student achievement, we are better. Our children learn more when they work together. Whether they are working on a service learning project, creating artwork for the school, developing their mathematics skills through cooperative learning, or mastering literacy skills in a small group, the process is stronger when it is collaborative. Our families are more connected to the children's education when we encourage them to be a part of our mission. The volunteerism and passion that families bring to our community is heartening and provides fuel for all that we do.  As lead learner of our school, I want all members of our community to be on the team and work Better Together.
  2. Trust. Closely related to Teamwork is trust. The five guys clearly trust one another and this is why they are able to collaborate. The most concrete evidence of this in the video is when one of the guys is
    slamming the cover for the keys to create a beat while the other two guys are playing the keys. THAT is trust! I know that I had some friends as  kid that I might not have trusted with that lid over my fingers:-) As a school community, we need to have that trust in one another. As a staff we need to know that we are all here for children and working for their growth. We need to be willing to let others in our classroom to see what we are doing well and to help us with what we struggle; knowing that we won't get the lid slammed on our fingers if we do.  Similarly, children in our classrooms need to be members of a caring school community that works to build one another up and not tear one another down. Our relationship with our families needs to be one of reciprocal trust. As in any relationship, we will agree, disagree, and everything in between, but we must trust that we are working on that same team for the same goals. As lead learner of the school, I want all members of our community to trust that everyone has the right intentions when it comes to educating our children.
  3. Flexibility. Again, related to both teamwork and trust is flexibility. About two thirds of the way through the video, the five guys all run around the piano, switch places, and play in different ways. They are all willing to do their part to make the music beautiful. As they work together, they realize that their talents can be utilized in a variety of ways to achieve their goal. Our students need to take on different roles as learners and teachers. Sometimes they may be the presenter, sometimes the researcher, sometimes the glue that holds the group together, sometimes the leader, and sometimes the supportive team player. Our staff members need to know that they are valuable teachers to all of the children in our classrooms, not just their own class. They are responsible for all of the children (the whole piano). They also need to know that they can take on different roles in the education of the children, they can work next to one another, combine classes, co-teach, share children, and generally look at their roles through various lenses. Our families need to know that school in 2013 may look and feel different than when they went to school. This idea of giving the unfamiliar a chance is expanded upon in the next item in the list. As lead learner of our school, I want all members of our community to embrace change and know that resilience is an important life skill that we teach here and it begins with being flexible.
  4. Innovation and Tradition. The five guys did not just play the piano in a traditional fashion. They played the piano in ways that most of us had not thought of before. Many were struck by the use of the bow strings (very cool). This is important because we need to ensure that we are continually looking at the ways in which we perform our craft.  Teaching is an evolving art and science. The ideas, shared resources, and collaboration of the educational community on #twitter is a testament to the
    innovation that is possible in our field. If others are innovating and succeeding, we need to as well. However, we all noticed that throughout the video, their was always at least one of the five guys playing the piano in the traditional fashion. Let's face it, traditional piano playing is foundational and successful; there is no reason to get rid of it, but look how great the music sounded when the traditional was played alongside the innovative! As lead learner of our school, I want all members of our community to know that we value our traditions and traditional methods of learning as we seek to continually innovate, but this can be uncomfortable.
  5. Risk Taking. Can you imagine sitting in a meeting where five guys sit down and say, "So, we're going to open up a piano and start strumming, banging, plucking, and playing a piano in ways it was meant to be played!"? I would think that there are some who would balk at the thought of it. However, these guys took a risk and it paid off. I like the original song by One Direction. It's catchy and you can dance to it, but the version in the video above is amazing (I believe better than the original - personal opinion). It is not easy to go out on a limb and take a chance. Our school should be a place where students, staff members, and families can do that. We need to build up our children so that they are creative thinkers who are willing to take those risks. We need to empower our teachers to try things that may fail and we need to encourage our families to step out of their comfort zone and get involved in ways they never have before. As lead learner of our school, I want all members of our community to know that risk taking is okay and if we fail it is simply our First Attempt In Learning.
  6. Hard Work. That video is amazing; however, it didn't happen without hard work. There had to be many attempts at it and likely many failures. Making beautiful music takes commitment, practice, teaching and learning, self-reflection, correction, and all of the above enumerated concepts. The results of that hard work can be great. Our students need to know that success isn't and probably

    shouldn't be easy. The knowledge that success is earned and not simply bestowed is important in life. Staff members know that the teamwork, trust, flexibility, innovation, and risk-taking are easy to talk about and great to see in a three and a half minute video, but achieving those things is the result of hard work. Our families need to be partners in developing that work ethic and help our children understand the value of hard work; whether it is in the classroom, in the orchestra, on the soccer field, or in the back yard. As lead learner of our school, I want all members of our community to be committed to instilling a strong work ethic in our children. This begins through modeling it ourselves.
  7. Have Fun. It was clear that these five guys were having fun doing what they love. The looks on their faces and the choruses of "na na na na" are clear evidence of that. Having fun is such an important part of the learning process. Who wants to do something in which they find no joy? Our children need to have opportunities to find their passions and have fun in school. I am not naive and I know that we
    can't always have fun and that there are things that sometimes we just have to do; however, we need to be sure that is balanced with fun. I would also argue that there are ways to make just about anything fun. As a staff we need to remember why we work with children. Every person that I interview to work at our school expresses a passion and love for working with children and the joy that they find from supporting children in reaching their potential. We need to always remember that passion and let it fuel us daily. Working with children is truly joyful work and teachers are some of the most amazing people I know. While our days are often difficult, they should also be filled with moments of fun, laughter, and joy. Our families should have fun parenting and working with us. Parenting is the most difficult job in the world. It can be stressful and regardless of how many books are written, there is no handbook. Take a step back and remember when you were a kid and you found joy in stomping through puddles, when you could make up games with your friends with ease and no supplies, and think about how amazingly fun it is to watch your children grow as human beings. Sometimes we need to let children be children and remember they are not adults yet (and they are not supposed to be). Working together to educate children is just plain cool!  As lead learner of our school, I want all members of our community to see how amazing it is to be a part of something so special and have fun together as we educate our children.
Needless to say, I found that video very powerful and I hope that you do, as well. I think it was a great way to kick off the year with an amazing group of educators who work everyday to embody the ideas above. At the beginning of this post I mentioned that I was reflecting upon what direction I wanted our school to move and I am pleased that I was able to find some help from a song by One Direction (bad pun intended). But hey, that's what makes it beautiful (okay, I'll stop now). 

I know this is going to be a great year and that we are going to do wonderful things. I'm sure that there are other things in the video that I haven't mentioned above. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the video or anything in this post.

Have a great school year!

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