Learning on the yellow couch!

I’ve been at the Lucy Calkins Writers Workshop for this past week and have learned more about how to write this week than I have in 42 years, which is concerning because I have been a teacher for 22 of those years, and most of them have included teaching writing!

The through-line of the workshop was to write, which in itself I found surprising. To go to a writing workshop and write! The surprising-ness surprised me too. We always say “practice what you preach”. This has been a week of “practice WHEN you preach” (or at least when you are being preached to!). So, practice I did.

We had session after session and learned, session by session, how to improve our writing. Focus on small things. Stretch the heart. Add dialogue. Use descriptive language. Most of all… write.

Write a lot. Cross things out. Write like you are possessed. Take risks. Use words you haven’t used before. Read it out aloud. Really loud! Shout your story.

So I wrote. And here it is. Enjoy.


It’s Thursday morning, the sky is grey and unhappy and I’m smiling to myself.

I’m sitting in a stuffy classroom in Columbia Teachers College, New York City, listening to a how-to-teach-writing expert and an air conditioner.

Simultaneously droning.

I’m thinking about my daughter.

We’re snuggled closely on a slightly worn yellow couch. She’s freshly bathed and smells of the apple bubble bath I bought her last week and she’s playing with her loose tooth. “The third one!” she’s unhesitatingly proud to tell me. She wiggles it with her tongue like the cat flap on our back door.

“That’s going to need a pull soon”, I think to myself. Mum’s job. I don’t do teeth.

She’s just spent two minutes on her hands and knees at the book shelf. The shelf on the bottom. The one with all HER books. HER shelf. “Not this one.” “This one’s boring.” “I don’t like him!” “OK Daddy, this one,” as she bounced onto the couch like Tigger running to Pooh. Big eyes. Legs everywhere. Beaming. I thought I saw a tail.

Snuggled in, we’re on the third page. We’ve read the cover, “Oh, The PLACES You Will Go.” We’ve read the cover page, “Oh! The places YOU will go.” We’ve even read the title page, “Oh the places you WILL go.” Her eagerness to get to the story has us three pages in and I haven’t been listening. She’s been reading each page, at least what she calls reading. She points to a word, sounds it out, “P…L…A…CK… E… S”. “Plackess” she says triumphantly.

“Places”. I correct her.

“Places”, she says and reads on. I’m not listening. I’m far, far away.

I’m wondering if I’ll be able to do this with her children. If she’ll even decide to have children. Where will we all be in however many years between now and her having children? I’m wondering how long this will last. Will we still do this when she’s twelve? Sixteen? And suddenly I find myself listening again.

“Steer”, I correct her.

“Steer”, she says and reads on. And then I’m away again.

Will she remember snuggling up to Daddy on the yellow couch smelling of apples, reading HER books from HER shelf? Will she remember when she couldn’t read and twisted the corner of her pillowslip as her Daddy made the stories come to life? Does she know that I read to her every night as she lay in her crib? Looking up at me with big eyes and wriggly legs? I find myself listening, again.

“And… you… will… know… what… you… know!,” she reads, turning to look up at me because she knows she read the whole line without a mistake. I smile and brush her hair back from her forehead. She falls back into the story and I think to myself, “Yes, you WILL know what you know.” She reads on.

Ding, dong. The doorbell rings. She leaps up, book clattering to the floor, legs everywhere, tail swishing, and races to the door.
I reach to pick up the book. Her Mum calls out, “ Look through the peep hole to make sure you know who it is first.” The door is opened and there is mumbled this and that and Mum goes to find out who’s visiting.

My smell of apples is gone but I’m still warm from the little body that was reading beside me. There’s even a small imprint in the couch where that swishing tail was stilled for a moment by the pages of a book.

And then the visitors have gone and Mum has decided now is a good time to head to bed and I’m suddenly alone downstairs, sitting on a slightly worn yellow couch, holding a book in my hand. I absently turn the first pages, keenly aware of the fading warmth and the bedtime noises upstairs and find myself looking at the first page.

“Congratulations!” it reads. “Today is your day, you’re off to great places! You’re off and away!”

And I’m smiling to myself, again.


The singing fish in the cupboard

When my daughter goes to bed I lie beside her and ask her about her day. She tells me about play time, circle time, what she had for lunch and who told her she wasn’t their friend. Oh the trials of a six year old! And then she asks for a story. And generally, I make one up.

I like to lead with a nonsensical sentence. Something like “The small unhappy girl reached into the cupboard and pulled out a green fish. It was singing.” At that point there is usually an interjection. My small daughter, listening with big eyes and distracted fingers says something. Maybe its a, “Daddy, fish can’t sing!” which then leads the story down the singing fish alley. Or its a,”Daddy, fish don’t live in a cupboard!” which leads me down the cupboard-fish story alley. Or maybe it’s, “Daddy, was there another fish?”, at which point, it becomes a story about a school of fish in the cupboard. It generally gets more and more nonsensical (big ups to Dr Seuss!) and ends in a hanging climax. Maybe the fish was about to leap out of the cupboard but the cat walked in… The more insistent the, “Tell me the next bit Daddy!”, the better!

Five and a half years ago, in a small town called Bangkok, we signed a contract to go and work at a school. In Saudi Arabia. It wasn’t actually built at that point, but there were grand visions. It was to become a beacon of educational hope for the country. It was going to offer a coeducational environment for Saudi boys and girls. To a large extent, it was like opening the story with a sentence about a singing fish in a cupboard. And my signature was on the contract!

Well, the story has developed, the opening sentence has turned into a page, and a chapter and a book. The first of many in a series.

And now, I find myself sitting in an airport sky-bar with excess luggage and “between jobs”. That first-book-in-the-series is done, at least where my character figures. The few chapters where my character weaves in and out, hoping that the sub-plot to which I am tied might eventually tie into the central theme of the series so that eventually, when the rights are sold for the big screen release of the story my character is played by Jeff Bridges rather than Steve Buscemi.

And it is only now, now that my character has been temporarily written out of the story and a new actor has been contracted to play my part that I begin to realise that what we leave on the stage has nothing to do with what needed to be done. It’s all about how we did it.

And having now featured in the stories of five schools, I can name a lot of characters whose parts have been rewritten. For many of them I can remember what it is they did. Mostly though, I can remember how they did it. They were funny. They were very serious. They didn’t really care very much. The were passionate. And the list goes on.

For a few of them, I remember how they treated their students, how they treated their colleagues, how they treated themselves. And for a fewer few of them I look forward to costarring at some point in the future.

So while all our stories continue to be written, consider “how” you go about playing your part, because that above all is what is remembered.

Be the singing fish in the cupboard!


Gems from the past…

We are right in the middle of relocating from one middle-eastern country to one east-asian country and I have been cleaning out my main computer to sell before we leave. In the process, I have discovered some musings that I am fairly sure are yet to see the light of day.

Consider this the light being shone!

No Snipping! – (Mused on October 8, 2009)

Today I drove all the way to Jeddah to visit the hospital to prepare for an impending operation, a drive fraught with much rumination and consternation in relation to the operation. Arriving ten minutes late for the appointment I was somewhat breathless as I entered, more with hesitation than anticipation as the moment to meet the knife was quite viscerally near!
After five minutes of, “please come with me sir,” for the introductory check-everything-works tour, I was ushered with hushed tones into Consulting Room 8, a stock standard consulting room familiar to any seasoned or even part-time ER or Scrubs watcher.  Dr Abdulmalik Al Fayid sat at his desk, speaking earnestly with someone on the other end of the phone, alternating between remonstration, practised bedside manner and fatalistic resignation, with a “so be it” simultaneously ending the call and signalling my moment to shine.
Obviously accustomed to dealing with matters of the involuntary nature he opened with a smile and a pleasant, “What is your problem?” Taking a large breath and meeting his gaze, I replied with a level of confidence not ordinarily associated with a request for voluntary mutilation of ones most treasureds and politely replied, “I’m in for the snip!”
Realising the effort these five words obviously took, Dr Abdulmalik Al Fayid looked me square in the face and with an adjustment of his spectacles replied in measured tone, “This is not permitted in the Kingdom.” A big doctor smile. “I am sorry but this I cannot be doing. It is against the law and I am unable to change the law.” A big doctor smile again.
Having been considering the voluntary tackle snipping for some time (read ONE YEAR!), Dr Abdulmalik Al Fayid was seemingly unprepared for my response, as in some respects was I. “Are you joking! Illegal! Why?” Not only was this rather blunt and direct but it bespoke of the fortitude with which this most difficult of decisions had been made. Illegal! I was stunned!
I had driven one hundred kilometres through the burning deserts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, fought with the mad drivers of the city of Jeddah, navigated the highways and byways of the old town to arrive at the hospital and be told that unfortunately it was not allowed! Beggars and homeless people on the street – no problem. Driving at two hundred kilometres per hour – no problem. A small snip of the Vas Deferens (and a voluntary one at that!) – no way buddy – ILLEGAL!
Appealing to the big smile of Dr Abdulmalik Al Fayid I awaited his answer to my anguished “Why?”
“Others before you have asked, but it is something not to be done in the Kingdom.” Big doctor smile.
I left, slightly angered, slightly amused and amidst everything else, quite possibly slightly relieved. My Jatz Crackers lived to fight another day and a trip to the hub of world health tourism, Bangkok, was now on the cards.
As I continue to adjust to the ways of this new culture and country I will regularly remind myself of the prohibitions.
No Drugs
No Alcohol
No Pork…
No snipping!


Be the paintbrush!

At a recent staff meeting we discussed the departure of a staff member. The departure was unexpected and unexplained, and understandably, there was a low rumble around the various offices and staff rooms of the school. The weekly staff meeting failed to raise the topic until one of the more concerned staff members brought it up. “Can you elaborate on the departure of this person?” For once, the room was all ears. All laptop tinkering ceased and the audience was captive.

After the meeting I had the good fortune to chat with a good colleague who shared the concerns of the question raiser. He was looking for some feedback on what I saw in the meeting. “Could I see the anger in the room?” or something like that.

Rewind 24 hours.

Golf is an interesting game. Most of the time you spend playing golf you don’t actually play golf. You walk. You talk. You reflect. You analyse. You plan. And then you play golf. For about 30 seconds as you stand over the ball and try to condense all that reflection and analysis and planning. Inhale. Exhale. Focus. Swing. Strike. Watch. And then you stop playing golf. You walk and talk and reflect and so on until the next 30 seconds. And it was last night, as I was walking and reflecting that I was presented with the opportunity to reflect on the general tone of conversations happening in and around my office and in the school in general. From some quarters the tone is dark. From others the tone is golden. In between are the rest of the shades, and it was on this continuum that I attempted to plot myself. What shade is my tone. And then the next 30 seconds of golf interrupted my musings. I’m wasn’t sure I reached a conclusion until my colleague asked me about the anger in the room.

My response was, “You see what you look for.”

I shared that if I was looking for the angry people in the room they would have been plainly visible. If I had been looking for the happy people I would have seen them just as clearly. Darkness is just as easy to see as light if you are looking for it.

So as I revisit the “What tone are my conversations?” question I have decided my conversations are a paintbrush and I have the power to choose whatever colour I want to paint with.


Hockey, Principalships and Space

Below is a recent picture of my first foray into the world of ice hockey as a player.

Growing up in the land of sunshine, beaches and big patches of green grass, my formative years involved a lot of water sports, running around chasing an assortment of different shaped footballs and hitting smaller balls with different shaped lumps of timber or stringed things. So now, at the age of 42, I can give you a good run for your money with any of those types of sports. I’ll take a game or two off you, score a couple of goals, land a try, hit a six, kick a point, sink a long 3 or drop into a nice curling right hander. Hitting a small solid rubber thingy with a long flat stick whilst sliding on ice on two thin blades is ANOTHER THING ENTIRELY!

The process of me diving into this “other thing entirely” has been a most interesting

It all began with some encouragement. “C’mon Knox. Join us for some ice hockey. It’s not that hard. You’ll love it!” and it continued with some more encouragement. “C’mon Knox. You’re an athlete. You’ll be a natural! You’ll love it!” Then it dropped a notch and continued with challenges. “C’mon Knox. If Smith can get out there, so can you!”, before devolving in to common school-boy taunts. “C’mon Knox. You’re being a pussy! If you think you’re a man, get out there and play!”

I rode the taunts and challenges and found myself watching a bit more hockey on TV. Following the puck was the first challenge. Where the hell was that bloody thing? Then, as I began to see the puck, I began to see the positions and began to ask questions about the rules, the plays, the coaching and the refereeing. I was beginning to understand how the game worked, from a spectator level. At that point I began to consider having a go at it.

While my formative years in Australia saw my sporting focus elsewhere, I had been roller-skating (during junior high at Skateland on a Friday night) and on the ice on a handfull of occasions. Not really enough to answer in the affirmative when my taunting colleagues asked if I could skate, but just enough to know that if I did get out there, I would not be completely useless.

So I borrowed all the required equipment (which is considerable), joined my now-relentlessly-taunting colleagues and headed off to “IceLand” to play in my first game of Ice Hockey. And then the reduction began. My first question was, “How do I get dressed?” My next question was, “How do I stop?”. Then it was, “How do I turn?”. The one I worked out for myself pretty quickly was, “How do I get up?”. I had a lot of practice at that! While I was correct in presuming I would not be completely useless, I was not completely (or even partially) useFUL either. By the time I was heading in the direction of the puck, the puck was already heading back in the direction it had originally come from, with three of my taunting colleagues dangling or dribbling or whatever they call it with I’ve-done-this-since-I-was-three aplomb. On the few occasions that my random orbit was interrupted by the trajectory of the puck, some very interesting scenarios transpired.

Scenario 1: My still-taunting-colleague slammed me like the noob I was, relieved me of the puck with shaming simplicity and sped off like Mr Ovetchkin to perform an even more heroic ice hockey manouvre.

Scenario 2: My still-taunting-colleague slowed his/her motion, counted to three to see if my interaction with the puck was going to result in anything magical… and then slammed me like the noob I was (because there was no magic!)

Scenario 3: My still-taunting colleague slowed his/her motion, counted to ten to see if I could summon some magic, hoping that I might (by some stroke of random happenstance) do something useful with the puck.

This continued for a good hour, by which time I had thoroughly experienced the game from the player level.

The theory had been put into practice and I had been completely reduced to the point where I understood, better than ever, how much more I had to learn. I was bruised, wet, sweaty, sore and smelled awful… and loved every minute of it!

As I continued to reflect on the whole first hockey (not “Ice” hockey! There is “Hockey” and there is “Field Hockey”. There is NOT “Ice Hockey” and “Hockey”!) experience, it occurred to me that my move into my first principal role is going to be strikingly similar.

There will be elements of being a principal that I will presume I will be useful at. There will be moments when I will not know what to do. There will be moments when I will need someone to pick me up. There will be staff members just waiting for a chance to jump in, while others will give me a starting chance. And there will be some who will just sit back and watch.

With some form of humility I will contend that I will be stepping out onto the ice that is being a principal with a lot more training and experience than onto the ice of a hockey game. I will also contend that my understanding of the “rules” and the “plays” of an elementary school is somewhat more sophistocated than those of hockey, where dropping the gloves is the equivalent to having a difficult conversation!

But consistent throughout both experiences is the space in which all of this happens.

The space where I am standing in different shoes, looking back at the comfort zone I have left behind, being stretched in ways in which both my body and my mind have not been stretched before, learning things about who I am and what I can accomplish.

And in all that I do, that is where I want to be standing.



What Evil looks like!

A few things have been swirling around in the media over the past few days and weeks have gradually coalesced into something worth writing about, and this morning over breakfast, my beautiful wife summed it all up in a single sentence, “Zombies aren’t the face of evil, this is!” Cue swirling…

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

Last weekend I had the privilege of joining some very good North American friends for their Thanksgiving dinner. Not being of a nation that celebrates Thanksgiving, I was interested to learn more about what it is, what it stands for, what families do, what the traditions are, etc, etc and left their home with a full belly and a much better appreciation of the celebration. Family, togetherness, thankfulness. All wrapped up in a big cooked bird and some stuffing, of which the secret family recipe shall never be revealed!

And then we woke to learn that Nelson Mandela had died.

If ever there was a person who epitomised “thanks” it was this incredible man. Having had the chance some years ago to stand outside the cell on Robbin Island in which he was held for 27 years, that thankfulness is even more incredible. So incredible that through him, and through him alone, a whole nation is healing.

Sustainability Milestone Meeting March 17th 2011

And then this week there has been a media flurry around WalMart. For 2013, Walmart posted a net income of US$17 billion (source here), up from 15 and some change the year before. Now that is a lot of coin. A. Lot. And the flurry was surrounding the fact that one store plonked a couple of buckets down by the front door with a sign on them, asking employees to donate food to fellow employees so that they could “enjoy thanksgiving dinner”.

And then… (yes, another “And then…”), this morning as I sat with my daughter reading the news together over our bowls of cereal, we found a news article reporting a possible nation-wide (USA nation!) strike across fast food outlets, in protest of low minimum wages. The aim of the protesters was to raise the minimum wage from $7 and some to $15 and some.

I was shocked!

Not by the effrontery of the protesters, but at the amount of the current minimum wage. 25 years ago I was just about to turn 17, and McDonalds (yes, that fast food megalith) sacked me because I was about to jump to the next step on the pay scale. Apparently I wasn’t meeting targets (whatever that was!). It was the best thing that happened to me because I then found a job as a cleaner and started earning $12 an hour. That was in 1989. I was 17, unskilled and uneducated.

Kayne West

2013 is now drawing to a close and companies that are earning B.I.L.L.I.O.N.S! are paying their staff a wage that doesn’t allow them to provide a Thanksgiving dinner, and are asking their employees to donate food to help them lay a table.

This is the face of evil. Not vampires, or zombies, or Kayne West’s latest excuse for a song. THIS is the face of evil.

As my daughter grows up, THIS is the type of thing she needs to be scared of. This is the sort of approach to people that should truly frighten her. And like those protesting the minimum wage, she (and anyone else who cares about others) should be standing up and lending their voice to the chorus demanding respect. Respect for individuals, respect for what someone is worth, and running a business with that respect at its core.

For 27 years a man stood behind bars espousing respect. He was eventually heard.

Apparently Walmart still isn’t listening.



Attempting to go too far!

Last night we had a leftover Thanksgiving dinner with good friends, a lovely meal of turkey, stuffing and mashed potato (and a jar or two of the household brew) and much thanks was given.

In between all the thanking and giving (and jars) we were discussing my recent trip to Korea and I shared that moment where my dark side was reprimanding me for even considering that I can be an Elementary Principal. There was a serious “Who the hell do you think you are!” internal monologue, with a “you know nothing John Snow” closing line. With all this internal castigation happening on the plane on my way to the school where I am going to be the new Elementary Principal in 8 months time, I waved for the flight attendant and had another shot of single malt poured. Darkness within!

And then today I read Seth Godin’s blog post of the day and one line of his leapt out at me…

“Internal monologue amplifies personal drama.”

The context of his comment was something that also caught my attention, as I have blogged about it in the past and just recently was contemplating some new ink to immortalize the sentiment in flesh. Seth wrote…

“When we find ourselves on the edge of a precipice, looking down at the depths of the chasm below, it’s easy to think that this time we went too far, that our plan is far too risky, that our product is way too bizarre, that our behavior is just too weird…”

I wrote,

“jump and the net will appear“.

Back to my thanksgiving dinner and the chat I was having.

When I mentioned the dark side, my host leapt at the comment with a, “don’t you just love that!” It wasn’t what I immediately expected as a response, but I had to agree. Yes, I did love it! He went on to say something to the effect of being really concerned when that dark side is not present. That the guy without the dark side telling him to give it up and stop dreaming is the egotistical maniac that we have all at some point in our careers wished we didn’t work for.

So as I put it all together, the wisdom of Mr Godin, the wisdom of my thanksgiving dinner host and my drift to the dark side I know things are going ok.

I’m not an egotistical maniac that my future colleagues will wish they were not working for, the precipice I am walking out onto is so much closer to the ground than I think, and I can chew a lot more than what I have bitten off!

Seth finished with,

“You’re far more likely to go not-far-enough than you are to go too far.”

Here’s to attempting to go too far!


The song that made me change my mind!

Is this the worst piece of creativity I have ever had the misfortune of watching/hearing? Undoubtedly!

You have to wonder about the state of the recording industry and fame in general when a song with lyrics like,”One good girl is worth a thousand b**ches. BAM! BAM!” and “She asked me what I wish for on my wishlist. Have you ever asked your b**ch for other b**ches?” has received 6942810 hits on YouTube. With a half-naked woman, famous for simply being famous, astride a motorbike in the video clip, there is a question whether the youtube visits have been for the song of for the half-nakedness, but even that is concerning.

What is this saying about fame and art?

Here we have a famous rap artist serving up a song which, to my ear, not a single moment of artistic worthiness, with a video of similar pap. And now 7107793 have watched it! That is 165000 more views in the time it has taken me to type this post. That is BONKERS!

Again, what is this saying to our students about fame and art?

Another line in the song caught my attention… “I wanna f*** you hard on the sink. After that give you something to drink. Step back, can’t get spunk on the mink.” REALLY! What the hell is this? If this is songwriting then something has gone terribly wrong! Terribly, TERRIBLY WRONG!!!

Now, up until today I have always been one to argue that all music is there to be appreciated. There is no such thing as bad music, just music that I don’t prefer to listen to. Well, today I have changed my mind.

I’m going to, for the first time ever, go on the record and condemn this song as an insult to music, an insult to anyone who has the misfortune of having it crawl into their ears, and a complete insult to the notion of creativity.

And then, as I sit back and try to scrape the refrains of the inane and sad self flagellatory words out of my ears I am actually inspired!

If this is now what passes for popular music, there is hope for us all, even my daughter, who is 6. The songs she sings in the bath are better than this s*** any day!!!!!


From a bass guitar to discarding a curriculum!

17 years ago I took my bass guitar in for a repair and it came back not quite right. It took me a while to realise, but the wiring had been finished incorrectly and the battery (making my active bass work) continually drained, rather than only draining when a cable was plugged in. The work-around has been, for the last seventeen years, to unscrew the back of the guitar, pull out the battery, connect it up, put it back in and rescrew the plate on – EVERY TIME I PLAYED THE GUITAR!

Until today!

I fixed it. Myself*

*with a lot of help from YouTube and a Bass Guitar forum. But I did the fixing.

What a sense of ACCOMPLISHMENT the other night when I pulled the guitar from its case, plugged in and began playing for the first gig of my newly formed band, the “Iqama Chameleons”. I felt like announcing it to the rest of the band. “Did you SEE that??? I just plugged in and played!!! Fantastic isn’t it!?!” It would simply have confirmed their already growing suspicions that I am a little bit crazy!

And then I got to thinking… why did I put up with that for 17 years!

Well, for a start, 17 years ago YouTube didn’t exist. The internet (as I know it today) didn’t exist. I didn’t know any electricians who worked on the electronics of guitars, and the guy who made the mess of it in the first place had packed up his business pretty soon after I had been to him and disappeared. I didn’t know any other bass players who might have been able to show me a thing or two about the inner workings. I had me and a local library.

The screwdriver and the constant open-up-and-connect-it-all scenario seemed to be the easiest solution at the time!

Now things are different. I searched for a website that had listed a similar problem to mine. I found a handfull and read through them all. I discarded four and stayed with one forum where the description of what I was faced with most closely matched. I did a YouTube search for someone who might have taken the time to explain the issue in a video, and sure enough, there was another handful of gents talking me through what might amount to a fix.

So not wanting to dive in and fry my very nice Fender P-Bass Lyte, I thought I would clarify things and on the forum I had found by briefly describing my issue, the resources I had discovered in my research and what I believed to be my solution. My question for the forum, was, “Am I on the right track?”

BOOM! MrBassMan replied within 20 minutes to confirm I had done my research well, and with a couple of slight tweaks, would have my funky bass lines ringing out in no time.

That was the “What to do”. Next was the “How to do”.

Again, YouTube was the answer. Search, review, refine, review, refine, watch, rewind, rewatch, rewind, re-rewatch, pause, deep breath. Do! Plug in and test. BINGO! Funky bass lines coming at me out of the amplifier!

What. A. Sense. Of. Accomplishment!

And then I thought about the students at my school…

How often is their learning at my school packaged like this? How often do students get to the end of something and have to restrain themselves from jumping on their desk and shouting to the world, “DID YOU SEE WHAT I JUST DID!!!!!!” My daughter is 6 and is learning to read right now. I see it in her eyes when she decodes a new word, sounds it out, mutters to herself the sounds, thinks and then realises what the word is. She has that look in her eyes. That look of “WOW! I JUST READ A NEW WORD!” She runs to me or her Mother and leaps about with excitement. “DADDY, I JUST READ “happy”! DADDY, THIS SAYS “happy”!!!”

If you are a teacher, how often are you working with your students with this as a goal? How often do you plan to begin your next unit of instruction with a challenge that is immediately daunting, challenging and seemingly impossible? How often is the summative assessment so naturally satisfying that there is no option but to succeed? Is it actually possible to do this with a school curriculum? If it is not, are we really teaching the right thing?

Big questions!

I’m not sure I have the answers, but like my bass guitar experience, I know there is a bunch of people out there thinking the same thing, facing the same challenges and making efforts to address them.

I can’t wait to find them!




It’s amazing what a difference a year makes!

Started: Dec 31, 2012…

I have always liked the saying, “Jump and the net will appear”. It exemplifies both my approach to life and my approach to teaching. Never having been satisfied with just getting by, I have always striven to learn new things, start new things without knowing how they will end, head off to distant destinations without really being sure how I will get back and generally trust that I can learn my way into and back out of everything I do. This approach has served me extremely well and has led me into classrooms across the globe, learning as much as I teach, and teaching as much as I learn. But now I am beginning to question my philosophy.

Correction. Not necessarily the philosophy, but more the strength of the net.

Some jumps you take hardly require a net. I’m going to purchase a clarinet that I don’t know how to play and I am going to learn to play it. No net required here. I’m going to ask a beautiful woman to marry me. Strong emotional net required. We’re going to start a family. Large net of unknown strengths required. I am going to relocate my family overseas. Large net required again.

Which brings me to the driver behind today’s musings.

I am currently contemplating uprooting my family from a very good school, where my wife and I have very good jobs, where our lifestyle is very good and our income is similarly very good. That is the “from” in the uprooting scenario. The “To” in the scenario is directly proportionate to the size and strength of the net required should we go ahead and jump.

The current “To” is a place yet to be determined, with a job yet to be determined, with a salary yet to be determined. Do I have some direction as to what those so-far-undetermined aspects should look like? Of course. But what I want them to be doesn’t necessarily mean that is how they will be. Enter the net.

To date, I don’t think I have contemplated a leap that requires a net of such size and strength, and it is this point that is prompting me to question my philosophy and step back from the edge. It is this hesitation to jump that is new for me. It is this hesitation to jump that is causing me all sorts of turmoil. The constant swing from wanting to feel the rush of the wind as I fall headlong into what will be, to the reassuring feeling of my the sand between my toes.

Continued: Jan 16, 2013…

So two weeks later I am no closer to knowing if I should don the lycra tights and cape or roll out the beach towel and enjoy the sun!

Continuing: Nov 16, 2013…bruce diving

And so I have jumped, the net has appeared, and it is strong!

A very good friend of mine said, “Isn’t it amazing what a difference a year makes!” While it has only been ten months since my last effort on this blog post, it has been a year since I first seriously prepared for the big leap. One year ago I wasn’t ready, and at the time, I didn’t really know. Now, one year later, I know what it feels like to know, and that has made all the difference.

I have leapt into the realm of the unknown and trusted there was a net. And lo and behold, the net appeared. Lifestyle, job, salary. All woven in.

Life is quite good sometimes!