Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Speak with Conviction

Hi all.
I have returned form the ASTA conference in Santa Clara and had a wonderful experience overall. But, as with many positive experiences, it contained a few bummers as well. I find myself being tested these days. It seems for every two steps forward, there is at least 1 step back. I guess that is how it goes in some seasons.

Today, a colleague shared this video with our Humanities Department Faculty. It is sort of a generational piece. but, I think it may speak to all of us in some way. It certainly spoke to me today. So, I thought I would share it.

May we all speak with conviction.


Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hello to my new friends at ASTA

This post is specifically for the folks that are attending the pre-conference session at ASTA in Santa Clara on "Inspiring the net Generation String Student with Instructional Technologies." (But everyone can certainly read on!)

I am so glad that you are taking part in the session today and hope that you are finding some inspiration in the discussion.

Welcome to my blog. This is where I go all philosophical and write my thoughts on topics that might have made it into a classroom discussion, but just didn't have time to get it in there.

This is a place where I can give my students food for thought. I can reinforce ideas that were just touched on in class. I can start new discussions here. I can discuss ideas and things that are important to me that are somewhat peripheral to class. And, it is efficient. It doesn't take any class time.

Students can respond to my thoughts, either by posting a response or by e-mail. Alumni can still participate in the discussions that come up as part of class. Parents can get a feel for what I am thinking and responding to as part of class.

It is a new way to engage in dialog with students, parents, and colleagues. Blogs are about people and objectives. You have to know who you want to reach and what you want to accomplish. (Groundswell, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, pp. 115)

In my case, I want to reach students first, parents and colleagues second. In many cases, it is all three. My blog is a place where I articulate thoughts, respond to situations, and encourage thought and dialog. Mostly, my blog is where I am honest. I share a part of me. I tell secrets here. And, I hope that my readership will share right back with me. I try to be really thoughtful about every post. I try to listen to the things that are going on around me first. (If you've spent anytime on my blog, you know that many posts are inspired by listening to the books that I read.) then, after listening and considering, I share my reactions and thoughts to the things that are happening around me.

How do you feel about blogging?
Is it right for your teaching situation?
Are you willing/ready to be part of the blogosphere?
Who is your audience? (People)
What is your objective?

I look forward to the conversation!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Checklist Manifesto

On my flight to California yesterday, I had the opportunity to finish reading a book that I began over the holidays, The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande. If you have been reading my blog with any regularity, you know that I really enjoyed his previous book, "Better, A Surgeon's Notes on Performance," and found many applications to my classroom in it. Well, "The Checklist Manifesto" is equally gripping and there are so many applications to my life and my teaching to be found here.

The basic assertion of the book is that simple checklists can make complex processes more efficient and accurate. Simple idea, but profoundly true. We all live increasingly complex lives. We all do increasingly complex jobs. Through a variety of excellent examples, Gawande shows how checklists can prevent errors on a variety of levels and, ultimately, save time, money, and in many cases, lives.

He outlines the differences between simple problems (a series of steps to solve), complicated problems (solving a series of simple problems but not as straightforward), and complex problems (each situation may require a different approach and success is not certain). Gawande also provides examples of how checklists can be effective in all of these situations.

I think that this book resonates with me because I am a checklist person. Just look on my desk at work. There are daily checklists, rehearsal checklists, personal checklists, and others. I tend to think this way naturally. But, Gawande inspires much deeper exploration of the checklist and its effectiveness. He uses examples from medicine, skyscraper construction, aviation, and others. But, I can see applications all of the fields of teaching and music.

Sadly, with all of the evidence to suggest the effectiveness of the checklist, they are still remarkably under used. That "maverick" mentality that our culture celebrates is is just too difficult to part with. Why use a checklist? I'll figure it out as I go. And, it will be a more creative solution. Think of all of the resources that go to waste by not using a checklist. All in the name of pride. And, believe me, I am as guilty as the next guy.

Another concept in the book that spoke to me was Gawande's definition of professionalism in learned occupations. It includes selflessness, skill, and trustworthiness. Gawande asserts that the fourth trait should be discipline and it is all too often missing from the definition. That simple act of following procedure gets overlooked so often. I couldn't agree more.

Let me recommend this book. This is a bunch here to learn and to apply to our lives.
Put this book on YOUR checklist.
I have to sign off now. I have a checklist to get to!


Friday, February 12, 2010

In the Pit

Hi all!
I hope that all of my East Coast friends are staying warm and digging out for the incredible snow ans cold that we have been experiencing. Here in Durham, NC, it continues to be unusually cold and they are calling for snow again this weekend. I know that I am certainly ready for some warmer weather!

This weekend, the NCSSM Drama Department is presenting 3 performances of the musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie. Our students are doing a wonderful job and I know the show will be lots of fun. If you are around the Triangle, I strongly encourage you to check it out.

For this show, I have had the opportunity to step off the podium for a while and simply play in the pit orchestra for the show. What a wonderful experience this has been.

First, it has been great to see our Drama Instructor, Adam Sampieri, in action on a nightly basis. What a pro! He is on top of every aspect of the production and is a wonderful leader. It is pleasure to watch his manner with the students. He has high expectations, leads by example, emits an incredible enthusiasm for every aspect of the show, and, all the while, treats every member of the cast, crew, pit, and staff with an incredible respect. He is truly about all of the right things. I have known this for years, but it is sure nice to witness night after night.

Second, and similarly, it has been so nice to play in the pit under the direction of my friend and colleague, Phillip Riggs. He, too is about all of the right things. He leads with a strong, yet gentle hand, has high expectations on a nightly basis, swings a great stick, and is truly understanding of the incredibly rigorous schedule of our students and the sacrifice that it takes for kids to commit to the pit orchestra. I know that each night after rehearsal, he heads home and re-arranges parts, figures out cuts, and works to clarify every aspect of the show for the pit. Again, this is not something that I didn't know. It is just cool to see it from a new perspective. I am honored to work with Phillip and to share these wonderful music students and experiences at NCSSM with him.

Finally, it has really been a pleasure to NOT be in charge for a while. I am just in the trenches with my Steinberger Bass in hand, laying down the foundation for the orchestra and singers. I am doing what I love: being a musician. It really provides a refreshing change for me to no be the conductor for a while. And, it gives me new perspective on the situation of the kids. When cuts or tempo changes are missed, suddenly, I really understand how that can happen. (I have missed more than a few this week!) I think that I will be more sensitive to the kids as I move forward as a result of this show.

The big lesson here is to never quit doing the craft that we are leading. For my students, many of you will become "managers" in the future. In a sense, that is what I do every day: manage musicians. It is really important to continue doing your craft. If you are leading a team of researchers: keep your hand in the science. If you become a professor: keep doing your art or science. If you become a CEO: don't stop participating in the process that your workforce is involved in.

For my music teacher friends: I encourage you to put down the baton once in a while. Play with your ensemble. You will be amazed how different everything sounds. You will also be amazed at the reaction of your students. Lead by example for a while. It is incredibly liberating. For the past few years, in my orchestra, I have tried to make Wednesday my playing day. I don't conduct on Wednesdays. I bring my violin or viola to class and sit in on the section. Sometimes I sit in the front and sometimes I sit in the back. Those are very different experiences as well! I do know that I find new perspectives on fingerings, bowings, intonation, ensemble, and others as a result.

For now, I am really looking forward to spending my weekend "in the pit."


Monday, February 8, 2010

Creativity, Inc

This morning, I was pleased to speak at the Institute for Emerging Issues (NC State University), Creativity, Inc. Forum at the Raleigh Convention Center. I was there are an advocate for the new Kidznotes Program in Durham. I am proud to serve on their Board of Directors. KidZNotes is a not-for-profit organization that promotes classical, orchestral music training for children in our poorest neighborhoods and is based on the El Sistema program in Venezuela. Kidznotes will have a pilot program in East Durham next school year. My remarks were part of their 20/20 forum on new creative ideas in the Triangle.

Twenty-five years ago, the Emerging Issues Forum began by looking at the topic of innovation. This year, the Forum comes full circle by attempting to enhance creative thinking and embrace new ideas -- the very creativity that is needed for true innovation. The event was potentially the most exciting work of IEI’s seven year “think and do” history, and, as the capstone event, the Forum pushes you to think in new and interesting ways.

The point is not just to talk about Creativity. It is to find ways to make creativity the foundation for how we live, work and play in North Carolina.

It was great to be part of this wonderful event and I look forward to participating in years to come.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Schools Kill Creativity?

A colleague recetly shared this with our faculty. Very interesting stuff. What do YOU think?