A world devoid of art

Imagine elementary school without art, drama or music. Appealing? For most of us, no. For our students? Most definitely not. Now go a stretch further… imagine our world devoid of art.

Art, in its many forms, surrounds us: on the walls of our home, the billboards on the street corner, the music we listen to, our trips to the theatre, the television drama we return to each week, the picture book we will read tomorrow to our students, our clothing even.

Just recently, I was listening to Les Miserables. As I listened to the complexity of the notes and the profundity of the words, I was uplifted. And it got me thinking: without the arts, my life would be dull and somewhat empty. And though I love music and going to art galleries to wander through the masters, I realize not everyone shares this love.

Some consider these subjects ‘extras’. Yet, through the medium of the arts, we experience the world much differently. The arts add dimension, creativity and depth to our schooling and ultimately, our lives. Sir Ken Robinson purports that all subjects should hold equal value: that science and math for example, are not more important than music or art. Gerald Gordon has said “I believe that creativity will be the currency of the 21st century.” As we think about the direction our society is headed, the arts is an important element. Consider how art, drama and music play such a large role in our increasingly multi-media society.

Bring out the paint… strum that guitar… dance your heart out! Discover the joy within the arts.

What’s on your shelf?

Recently I came across an article with this assignment: “Select a small shelf of books that represent you – the books that have changed your life, that have made you who you are today, your favorite favorites.” The idea intrigued me. What would be on my shelf if I was allowed 10 books – books that influenced my thinking, my being, my writing, my teaching?

After much thought, here’s my list (though I expect it might change in time):

  • The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  • A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  • Radical Reflections by Mem Fox
  • The Big Picture by Dennis Littky
  • The Element by Sir Ken Robinson

I often think of the author when I am reading, but rarely do I think of the man who made the book form possible: Johannes Gutenberg. When he invented the printing press in approximately 1440, for the first time the mass production of books was possible. I take for granted the physical pages in my hands. I take for granted the distribution of words and ideas. Today though, I pay homage to Gutenberg for influencing how we create and distribute our words. I pay homage to a little thing we call a book.

Consider this, what’s on your shelf?

Visit www.idealbookshelf.com to see the origin of this challenge.



“Interest precedes learning.” Richard Saul Wurman.

When I decided to pursue my masters, I chose to complete it at the University of Alberta in the area of literacy. I had many people tell me, “there are easier ways to get your masters.” And probably they were right. Yet, because I was interested in what I was learning, my fatigue upon arrival at each evening class would quickly turn to elation. I would leave class energized: ready to talk about what I had discovered, ready to test out my learning with my students, ready to read some more. I certainly could have gone an easier route, but I know it would not have ignited the same passion within me.

How do we ensure that our students’ interests precede their learning? After all, we do have curriculum to cover. And that curriculum is determined by the government, not each of us as teachers, nor by our students. Ah, but herein lies the secret of the master teacher. Ignite the passion and stir the emotion within your students. Invite questions and curiosity. Use real world scenarios to bring relevance into your classroom.

On Friday, Lee Crockett demonstrated this beautifully at a session I attended. He showed a diagram of a fault line illustrating how the juncture of two plates can cause an earthquake. Although the diagram was well-exectued, it certainly did not peek my interest.

And then he showed footage from March 11, 2011 when an earthquake took Japan in its grip causing massive damage, destruction and the death of thousands. As we watched the water surge, the roads and buildings disappear, vehicles thrown about and crumpled as if mere toys, the feeling in the room changed. Instantly our interest and emotions were heightened. As a teacher, it was obvious how this video could stir the interest and emotion of our students. Imagine the questions, dialogue and writing after watching a video such as this. Quite naturally topics of science, religion, health, mathematics, economics and ethics would come into play with language arts the root of it all. Curricular outcomes would be met and the students would be fully engaged in the process.

Invite the real world into your classroom tomorrow. Watch the sparks ignite!

Curious about the video? Click here: Amateur footage of Japan earthquake


Happy New Year!

The beginning of January brings me back to school more rested and refreshed than during the busy days of December. Hopefully most of us have had time to rid ourselves of those nasty colds and flus, spend some time with family and perhaps even indulge in a nap here or there. The holidays provide the opportunity to spend an afternoon playing cards, going to a movie or best yet, curling up with a good book.

And though I enjoyed the holiday season, I am ready to return to our kidlets and plunge into 2013.

What is it about the new year that brings hope and optimism? Because really, if you consider it, not much changes between December 31 and January 1st. And yet, something feels different. The new year provides opportunity for a fresh start, an attitude shift, some introspection and goal-setting. We can shake free of those bad habits and replace them with good ones. The new year is time to embrace the here and now and make change happen. There are naysayers who believe resolutions will inevitably fail. And for those naysayers, they will. Yet as Winston Churchill once said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Look to the new year with hope and discipline and good things will follow. Whether we make the effort to sit down with our family three times a week for dinner, lose two pounds a month, walk fifteen minutes a day, send three positive notes home with students each week or spend at least one recess in the staffroom each day, our goals are attainable.

Though the alarm clock may be somewhat jarring tomorrow morning, I look forward to my 8:00 a.m. supervision to reconnect with our students. They will be eager to share both hugs and stories.

By the way, I will be in the staffroom at recess… hope to see you there…