This blog belongs to Patricia Atkinson and was created as part of the Education Media Design and Technology program at Full Sail University.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Wk 4 Publishing Leadership Project


My top two choices for publication are the International Journal of Education Through Art, because the content is specifically applicable to my research. The entry guidelines even mention "emerging technologies" in the potential topic list. My other topic choice is the Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, which includes an entire section of visually rich, Art-based educational research. This journal also has the advantage of having all Fine Arts Education mixed in, and I think that it reaches a more broad and eclectic audience.

Planning Blog Entry 1 : Paper or Presentation?

Planning Blog Entry 2: Which Publication Venue?


Week 4 Reading: Peer Response: Brian Thomas

I loved your comments about being enrolled and re-inspired in the classroom. It is so true, especially in the educational field, that even when we are passionate about something we may stay passive. Why is that? For me, its because I feel like I’m barely making it with all the mandatory stuff--and life—and would rather not stretch to try anything new or say anything that may cause extra effort. But if we all thought like that, there would never be any innovation! I always use my busy life, or inadequate salary, or student behavior, as an excuse not to be “enrolled”, as you say. Maybe I need to remember that being active/enrolled starts with a simple change of mind-set, and allowing opportunity and possibility to have potential in my life. I too have now started looking at occurrences in my classroom and life differently. I honestly have had some pauses when I wanted to blow up at my students, but instead took a deep breath and remembered the Art of Possibility and everything that the Zander’s shared. I know it sounds corny, but it’s true. I think we all needed this book here at the end of our masters and for many of us the end of our school years—now lets slug it out and get ‘er done!

Brian's Original Post:

I am truly amazed at the gift of working with people that Benjamin Zander has. His story in chapter nine was amazing.Knowing how tough students can be on performances, especially classical music concerts it’s truly a testament to his ability to engage a crowd, no matter who they are comprised of. I must say that I was inspired by this chapter to really try to create a spark in my classroom next year with the endless possibilities of learning.

I appreciated the apology story about Cora the violinist. I think it was a great reminder of many of the other points in the book but most importantly to remain humble, appreciative, and understanding of other people’s situations and circumstances before forming an opinion or casting any form of judgment.

The story about the teenage orchestra in Sao Paolo was just great. I can recall chaperoning situations that I had challenging students and issues and also recall responding to them aggressively early in my career. However, I learned that dealing with the person and the cause for the action is much more effective and sensitive. I really liked this story because it gave me another great strategy for overcoming those challenging chaperoning situations.

Week 4: Reading Peer Response: Spencer Lunsford

Wow, I thought working with some of my students was an upstream battle…your situation sounds very challenging! I know what you mean about the blame game, as it is a natural and gives superficial satisfaction. It’s just like when people talk about how horrible the situations in government are, but they don’t vote. When teachers give an overarching generalization that the students have previously caused other instructors to leave, of course that attitude is going to seep into their teaching style, attitude, assessment style, and even perceived by the students (giving strength and mal-placed reinforcement to their “accomplishment”). I liked your analogy of these students in need to sparks on your game-board. I mean, even if we have 100 students that still continue to fail, what if one passes and improves their lives because of us? Doesn’t that make everything else worth it? Like you pointed out, if we have the choice to be negative or positive, why not at least try to “keep our board in the positive” (or in your words—“refreshing fountain of encouragement” J ). You are right, the Art of Possibility is a constant source of growth, not something we can master all in one day.

Link to Spencer's Original Post

Spencer's Original Post:

For me, being the board has all kinds of difficulties that come along with the notion. I have been able to find solace in the blame game for my entire teaching career. The students that come to me are usually several grades behind in their mathematics knowledge. Much of this is due to (here comes the blame) teachers being "run off" by the bad acting children. In fact the students brag about how many teachers they have been able to get to leave. Having to accept responsibility of how I react to the situation will make me a better teacher from here on out. Instead of being able to write off the students that are not understanding what they ought to have learned in the past, I now have sparks to light. The students are on my board and I get to bring them to new places with new learning experiences. I can fight the facts that they are behind, or I can find out where they are and bring them as far around my board as possible in the time we have together. I can be just another voice telling them what they can't do, or I can be a refreshing fountain of encouragement. The art of possibility is just that, an art. Some people are naturals, others have to work hard at it. The great thing about the art of possibility is that everyone can grow.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Week 4 Reading: The Art of Possibility Chapters 9-12

Wow, these last chapters were a lot to take in! Just when I thought my personal reaction could not possibly be more profound, the Zander’s prevailed with more stories and more implications of living a life of possibility. Most notably were chapters 10 and 11 when adversity was discussed in more detail, including the analogy of self as a game board (versus the typical interpretation as a participating piece). I will admit, when the idea of mutual responsibility in every situation was introduced, I felt some indignation. I mean, who doesn’t want to ostracize the drunk driver or the blatantly rude reaction or the frequent absentee. But how fascinating to think about their perspective and how it will not improve attitude and happiness by being upset and throwing blame.

As easy as it is to get into a downward negative spiral towards my students, blaming them for their negative, rude, and apathetic actions. But what about what I have done to contribute? What about my negative sarcasm or mediocre effort? Not to mention what they have eaten lately or when the last time is that they got a hug or “good job” from a parent? Trying to remember myself in each other person’s shoes will help me to react with a more enlightened attitude, just as Ben did when his students partied in South America. What would it have helped to “go off” like so many of us teachers are expected to do. Instead, the kids understood, felt enabled, apologetic, regretful, and still valued. Amazing. This Art of Possibility stuff is definitely not second nature in the world of modern education, but I feel like a breath of fresh air, a reminder of options and how to go with the flow, giving students and others in my life the benefit of the doubt, has been given to me…I am inspired and grateful.

Original Artwork, detail of tapestry from "A Perspective on Eastern Design in Threadwork", 2007

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Week 3 Publishing/Leadership project part 2 of 2: Which Publication?

I did research online to see where the best place to publish would be, and I ended up at my professional organization’s website, the National Art Education Association. They have a database of all the Arts-related journals that are calling for submissions. I found 3 excellent forums for the publication of my paper, which will be about how technology affects the engagement level of high school students. These 3 are accepting entries of the size and content of manuscript I will be creating. I have made some reflections below about each of the 3 choices.

Choice #1: Canadian Review of Art Education

This journal is published by the Canadian Society for Education. They are taking entries from all disciplines and fields of study, from researchers, educators, and students. The pluses of this for me include increased exposure, and flexible submission content. The negatives include very specific format requirements, decreased exposure in the US, and not as much emphasis on the Arts.

Choice #2: International Journal of Education Through Art

This journal has a focus on questioning and evaluating the current state of Art education across a wide range of educational contexts. The pluses of this venue are that the content is more specifically applicable to my subject matter, especially since they specifically mention “emerging technologies” in the potential topic list. The only negative I can find is that they do not list the specifications for submission without registering first, so I will have to look into it further to find out. Right now it seems very open, and they accept supporting images.

Choice #3: The Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy

This journal seems very innovative and includes a special section in each issue called ABER, or Arts Based Educational Research. The focus of this section is visuals of Arts-based research, including short essays that describe what happened. I like how the focus here is on the visuals, I think that is very unique and yet makes perfect sense when talking about Art-based educational research. The pluses of this publication include the opportunity to speak through images, and the opportunity to be included with Fine Arts as a whole (drama, music, literature, etc.), which I think would reach a broader audience. The negatives include the additional work of obtaining parental permission to submit images of student artwork, short biographies of each artist, and just researching which images to use to best exemplify the research.

Image from at

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Week 3 Publishing/Leadership project part 1 of 2: Paper or Presentation?

I have been going back and forth on this question of presentation or paper for publication. I started out wanting to do a paper, because I think it would be excellent to have a published item out there and on my resume. When I was doing my initial research, I didn’t see much precedent in my topic area. So, it seems that a paper would be a beneficial addition to the available material on the subjects of Art, technology, Art Education, engagement levels in Art classrooms, etc.

Then, I started thinking about how visually interesting my Action Research is, with student work, including the Glogster portfolios. Personally, I would rather watch a presentation, with a lot of cool pictures and video to really illustrate the key points. BUT, I also know there aren’t many professional forums for this kind of format. Although I may end up making a presentation as well, a paper just seems much more versatile and presents many more opportunities for sharing and networking. So far, that is the status of my decision: paper!

Image can be found at,

Week 3 Reading Peer Response: Peter Binskin

Nice sign! I too find it hard to realize and reflect on the difference between my “calculating self” and my “central self”. It’s hard sometimes to separate yourself, emotions, background, etc. from a situation! It’s true, we as teachers forget that we may be, in your words, “squishing” our students instead of empowering them. I like how Zander suggested that we need to ask ourselves who we are being that they are not performing to their full potential. I try to do that when I ask my students how I can help them make the best artwork possible. What tools can I give you? What examples? What techniques? I am often surprised and delighted at their responses, and it gives me satisfaction to know how I can help. I think the important thing here is that we are aware of our two selves, and continually reflect on how we can do better. Everyone is human and our nature seems to be that we will continually navigate to our calculating self, but if we are innovative and motivated, letting life “go” and reminding ourselves of rule #6, we can prevail in any situation, even if its negative.

The more I read the book the Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Ben Zander (2000) the more I love it. It’s been a comforting read as well as quite entertaining. Thank goodness for a book that makes me want to read it to see what the next chapter is going to reveal.
For me the major highlight from these four chapters (5-8) was the Rule number 6 focus in chapter 6. Even though I have a tendency to joke around to alleviate tense situations it’s usually a cover-up for the stress I’m bringing into the situation. I tend to think very much using my calculating self even though I think I am using my central self. It would be nice, some time, to actually have the presence of mind that Roz Zander portrays in this book to break things down and find a different, more positive collaborative way to get through a problem. I have now created a little sign of my own for every time I feel myself taking things too seriously.
Another thing I took away from these chapters was the idea of leading from any chair. It really came across as an empowerment piece and I was wondering how often as a teacher I squish students like the overbearing conductor just to get through the day. On Sundays I play guitar at church and afterwards I mentor a few teenagers in their playing. It’s funny how I can be the sort of person Ben Zander talks about, not being judgmental or desirous of credit as the boys get better in their playing, but supportive of them personally as they see themselves through their playing. Maybe I relax more with music than with core subjects.

Week 3 Reading Peer Response: Meghan Bassett

Meghan, I really enjoyed reading your reflections on chapters 5-8. First, that story about your mom really touched me. I am close with the principal’s secretary at our school, and I can imagine just how the situation went down. I think it is such a shame that some people are not in a place in their lives where they feel comfortable enough with themselves that they can admit mistakes. Why do some feel that they are so much better than others that they can assume perfection? So what if you mess up and were adamant that you were right….admit it and make a joke of it! My dad and I always say begrudgingly, “you were right and I was wrooooongg, what do I owe ‘ya”? You are so right that just the simple act of acknowledging that someone has helped you is huge: they feel empowered, appreciated, and like they have purpose. I feel so wonderful when a student takes the time to thank me for something I helped them with. It makes all the other trials and tribulations worth it.

I’m so sorry that the application of rule #6 was needed for you in that way recently. How shocked and hurt you must have felt when your friend broke the bond of trust. I have been in similar situations, and know that the first reaction is to give up on the friendship out of spite and anger. And although it may seem harder at first, I think that applying rule #6 is actually easier, and more rewarding, than that alternative. I try to imagine when I’ve done something that needs forgiveness, and “let it ride”. Usually, not blowing up when you first react is the right thing to do!

That is great that you go for the silver lining in things, but I know its hard at times to get beyond superficial judgments, or grouping small negatives into one big negative. I too, need to watch the sarcasm use in my classroom. I remember my education professor in undergrad saying to NEVER use it…but sometimes I think it wakes the kids up and builds rapport. I don’t want to hurt any feelings though, or use it with someone who isn’t ready for it. I hope we get to embrace our passions more frequently when we get a little more time after this program, Meghan! I agree that painting, music, or just being somewhere beautiful really helps…

Meghan's Original Posting:

Wk3 Reading: Art of Possibility Chapters 5-8

In the first chapter Leading From Any Chair, I couldn’t help think about my mother. She works in a school as the secretary to the principal. The principal received an email last week that a report needed to be ran. He never told my mother or the person that was supposed to run the report, but my mom found out from another school. When she brought it up that he may have missed an email, he said he never received it. A few hours later, after going back to him again, he forwarded the email and said he had just gotten it (which we all know, emails are time stamped). Instead of admitting his own mistake, he, like the conductors, tried to let it slide and hoped no one noticed.
The mere act of kindness and acknowledging that other people help you do a job is severely under-used. If you give ANY kind of praise to people who are helping you, or even say thank you to them, it brings up esteem and also encourages people to continue to work hard for you. I guess we could all work on this in different ways. I personally could work on always encouraging my students in ways that they are doing well. I can be sarcastic, which doesn’t work well with all of my students.
The next Chapter, the Rule number 6, took a more person attack on a way I’ve been feeling for a week now. I was very betrayed by someone I thought I could trust. A friend of mine told another friend of mine something very personal, and very atomic. I knew that the word had spread, and I wasn’t sure of where it had started. I found out and instead of confronting the issue, I recoiled and hid from everyone. Here, I need to follow Rule number 6, and stop taking myself so seriously. People talk, and say things that aren’t theirs to say, and sometimes there are things that get said that we don’t want said. It’s a part of human nature, and if I really didn’t want anyone to know, I wouldn’t have said it in the first place. I’m still hurt, but I’m letting it go in my own time.
The Way Things Are…I’ve always tried to see the cloud with a silver lining, and look on the bright side of things. A much easier said than done thing to accomplish. I’m one of those people, once I start feeling negative, everything that’s negative seems to find me. I’m sure that has everything to do with the way I am looking at things, rather than the world being out to get me. If we can laugh and play with the bad things that happen to us, a much more light hearted attitude would be had by everyone around us!
I would love to give way to passion more. Sometimes we are so stuck in living life day to day we forget to give in to the natural flow of life an energy. I try to recognize the energy around me, but I’ll be honest…the only real times I feel a surge of energy run through me are when I’m by the ocean watching the waves, or listening to music and painting. Then I can truly let passion run through me and I feel at one with everything around me.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Week 3 Reading: Art of Possibility Chapters 5-8

I really enjoyed the reading this week. Chapter five was a great reminder for me that instructors need to be accountable. I always try to admit my mistakes, and give credit to any student who corrected me. I also apologize every once in a while to a student if I recognize that I overreacted in a situation or let my personal mental state effect my reaction to their behavior. I let them know that I’m a “real” person, capable of emotions, life emergencies, and mistakes. I loved the “Lehner” story, and the idea of shifting power in the classroom spontaneously; enabling students to feel value with the anticipation of potential role change. To know that your leader would trust to hand over the reigns at any given time is a special feeling. I also love Zander’s idea of the white sheets: what an inventive way to record and reflect on student input. How amazing to actually acknowledge a students’ input through eye contact and other non-verbal performance elements.

Chapter 6, and rule number 6, is extraordinary. That idea has been my motto this school year in order to survive. I have found myself so frustrated with certain students’ behaviors that I want to correct them every single time they say something inappropriate, instead of picking and choosing my battles. When I refrain, I feel resentful towards them. I realize from reading this chapter that I need to remind myself that I am a teacher, not a parent of 162 children. I am not physically or mentally able to project my personal value set in the discipline of my classes. I must remember that position and attention are central to my students, and they do not intentionally mean to offend me with most of their actions. They are surviving in a competitive environment. I must focus on finding my central self rather than the calculating, judgmental, angry, resentful self. I can’t judge rude children without considering the whole person=who knows what is going on in their life or how they were raised.

In chapter 7, the way things are, I loved the concept of being present to reaction and just letting life go without being overly negative. I have always been the person who did that at family and social gatherings. My role as pacifier and encourager comes naturally to me. I always try to find the bright side of things verbally and with body language. Although uplifting negativity continually can be emotionally draining, sometimes it is just necessary. I love the concept of just letting everything flow, with no good or bad judgments, just being. That’s easier said than done, but definitely an inspiring goal to strive for. It all boils down to the original focus of this book: separating concepts from physical actuality, reflections from observations, and constructs from genuine assessment.

Those ideas fuel the imperative avoidance of “downward spiral talk”. Relating back to my challenge students, I need to stop expecting a negative interchange as soon as they walk in the door. Maybe if I tried an “upward spiral”, the interchanges would be more positive from the jump.

Of course I want to unleash my passion! That is what this graduate program is all about for me. I am looking at the big picture, embracing challenge and living life to the fullest! Although I feel like I’m barely holding on to a racehorse with no saddle, I know the finish line, and more wonderful life experiences, are in store.

Original photo taken of my wonderful and inspiring mother, Elizabeth, playing frisbee golf

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Week 2 Fourth Post: ARP Summary Reflections

For my reflection this week I would like to discuss the summary of my ARP, and how my students seemed to blossom under the changes I made from Cycle 1 to Cycle 2. In creating the final touches on my ARP site, I really started to think about how much progress the students have made. In Cycle 1, I was so focused on having a quality project that I tried to make a year long project fit into 6 weeks. My kids were completely overwhelmed and confused with the structure and tasks. I had them doing blog postings, Googledocs, tutorial videos, voicethreads, glogster portfolios, etc….and some of them didn’t even know how to copy and paste! So as a few flew away and went to town with the self-directed structure, others sat there completely lost. To make matters worse, they were initially supposed to work in groups and help each other figure out the specific directions. Looking back, I realize what a huge jump this must have been for them. I mean, I usually introduce every project to them with background information and a thorough demonstration, which is usually followed by a practice activity and research on subject matter choice. I was asking them to suddenly jump into a self-directed, self-motivated, technology dependent, multi-level, multi-tasking set of interconnected activities that required a visual portfolio submission? No wonder I got so much negative feedback. My perspective, what I thought was cool after working in EMDT, was very different than theirs.

However, in the last few weeks of my Cycle 2, gathering up all the final data and visuals of student work, I am really pleased with their progress. I made some drastic changes and they embraced them. We worked together on directions instead of groups. I gave them flexibility in time (but still a certain deadline) so that they could pace themselves and still work on a regular class project at the same time, which was one of the biggest complaints that I got on Cycle 1…that they had to stop their normal Art class routine. The activities were more to the point, and they had more familiarity with them. I gave them a choice this time between doing hands-on or virtual for each topic, and I was really afraid that they would all choose hands-on after Cycle 1. No! Some did pick virtual stuff! I had a few choose the Googledoc activity and a lot of Sumopaint! I even had a few try Corel and Adobe. With Cycle 1, I got so wrapped up in showing them every cool tech tool that I forgot the meat of it—having an engaging experience! So I’m really happy that I learned and adapted and had success in Cycle 2…I can’t wait to show off my kids’ photostory of their projects!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Week 2 Reading Peer Response: Anne Alsup

Hi Anne!

I enjoyed your analogy of the “universe of possibility” to the World of Warcraft. It’s so true that when you play that game a lot you start to think normal thoughts in game-mode! What a neat way to think of the possible scenarios, choices, and outcomes of our everyday lives. It also helps with the fear of risk-taking and assessment if you think of it like a game, with more chances. I feel the same way as you do though, that although we would love to partake in the “giving the A” philosophy, sometimes the system just does not allow for it: at least in the sense he describes. Although parts of the educational structure are constructs, many elements are very concrete and simply required. We have to make our kids understand the information by the time of the standardized tests. We have to have an organized environment in our rooms. We have to follow the rules of discipline in our schools. Without these constraints, even if we don’t agree with them, our job would be compromised. So, there must be a balance between supporting our students’ free-expression and intellectual development, and actually imparting the knowledge. I think we are already doing a version of the “giving the A” mindset, just in subtle, content & location specific ways. If we just challenge the kids to be themselves and understand the need for bettering themselves for the future, we will have won as teachers.

Oh, and I agree that inspiration is vicarious. All these extra requirements of teaching that don’t actually improve our skills, but bog us down and overwhelm us…and it most certainly gets transferred to the students! Until people that aren’t actually teaching stop making poor decisions regarding the structure of our education system, we have to suffice with the small changes we have control over.

Anne's Original Post:


Recently I had the opportunity to be introduced to the World of Warcraft during a class on Gaming Strategies and Motivation. My guides for the excursion into this alternate reality were my two youngest sons, Stephen and Andrew. We had some interesting adventures and I spent way more time than I thought I would in this strange land. Many of the quests would take hours and I would go to bed dreaming that I was running through a field, trying to find my corpse so I could bring my lifeless body back to life. I would leave my house in the morning and I started thinking of everything in my life as part of the game. Following the same road, noting landmarks along the way, entering the building where I work, walking down the corridor, opening doors like I was on some quest. As I read the book, "The Art of Possibility" by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander and came to the first chapter, it didn't take much to convince this reader that it is all created.

Who makes the rules anyway and what were they thinking? Seriously, if we never colored outside the lines, where would we be? If we define ourselves by our perceptions of what our administrators, legislators, students or their parents think of us; where would we be? Given the current state of affairs in education, I'd much rather step into a "universe of possibilities" where I can have some control over my perception of the reality. If teachers are going to inspire their students, they need to have some inspiration. Budget cuts, meetings, more reports, standardized testing, learning gains and AYP, do not count as inspiration. If we are going introduce our students to the world of possibilities, we need to make sure that we are acquainted with the terrain.

I would love to give my students an A and differentiate my instruction to better meet the needs of my students, but the system that I work in doesn't support that goal. It is wrong to tell a student to seize the universe of possibilities and invent his own path to success, when there is a big bad test at the end of the year that is going to determine whether he passes or fails. We simply need more options in our system to allow students more control over their future and the opportunity to experience the universe of possibility. We need to re-think the rules and create some new possibilities.

Week 2 Reading: Peer Response Debra Atherton

Hi Debra!
What an eloquent posting –as usual- that really describes the emotional response that we as teachers have to this reading. I mean, the stories he tells and the student responses he gets are a dream to the innovative, deeply-caring, and productive instructor.

I truly wish that I could be a student in your class or at least observe. Your style and intelligence, as well as positive attitude towards students, treating them as people not objects, is what I aspire to. I think it’s so wonderful that you recognized and responded to students’ strong need to feel meaning in their school activities. Don’t we feel the same way in our graduate program? I think that occasionally it is difficult for us as teachers to separate ourselves from our prepared content and reflect on how the students must feel as they see it for the first time. I have to constantly remind myself that not everyone is as passionate about seeing an artist work or discuss an artwork or complete a project as I would be. What I like about the Zanders is that they don’t necessarily tell us that students will respond perfectly every time, but it is our responsibility to give them the benefit of the doubt and provide every support we can. I thought it was interesting when he told the story of the apathetic violinist who had just given up because of a bad decision on his part about tempo. I compare that to my students and try to remember that just as they don’t know what I went through last night or in other classes, I don’t know what they have been through either.

I know what you mean about the impeding shutdown of effort if we were to give students A’s. Heck, half my students don’t even care if they are failing let alone care to work with a free grade. Zander came up with an appropriate motivator with the letter, which I suppose gave him a basis for assessment on the true efforts given. However, I agree that his group is a LOT different than ours—more like a college class—which can handle way different levels of responsibility.

I think that you have totally introduced the universe of possibility to your students this year…not just in activity design but in modeling your own experimentation. Great job taking risks and steaming ahead even when we meet the stone walls of our students’ immaturity downfalls!

Debra's Original Post:

As I begin writing, the dominating truth is Ben Zander’s playing of Chopin. I started the video in a welter of not just tension and anxiety but resentment: “WhateverwhateverIjust don’tfreakinghaveTIME forthis.” There’s something about his playing that transcends any musical experience I’ve ever had before—as if Plato’s actuality of beauty had manifested itself through my ears into my brain.

That’s not good right now. Several times during the reading of these chapters, I teared up—my physical response to truth—but I squelched the tears. I don’t have to look at my thoughts to see the characteristics of the measurement mentality in my “operant powers”—tell me, when one quotes Shakespeare, is one required to cite? Or doesn’t one rather leave hanging the assumption that, of course, one’s conversational partners will recognize the allusion?—one of my favoritesbeing pretention. Oh, there’s a maelstrom of well
measured melancholy burbling under my surface, as I sit at the end of a challenging year, which is at the end of a grievously difficult decade. And this blog would give me an opportunity to do another productive round of bleeding ink, symbolically speaking, or I can turn to a rather more intellectual analysis of my classroom and my students.

I don’t have time right now to bleed. The kiddies it is.

I had an epiphany in Dr. Dan’s class that changed the way I look at the emergent adults in my classroom. I can’t even remember why now (of course, I can’t remember if I ate lunch today), but I recognized that what these young people really wanted out of their education was not to get out of it, but to know that what they were doing was meaningful. And that what they’re doing in school, well, they usually feel that that isn’t. We were at this time wrapping upPygmalion, and instead of giving them the usual literary analysis essay topic, I asked them to think about a problem they or a friend had that might have a solution in a lesson they learned from that play.

I’ve been teaching seniors for twenty years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them so engaged in my life.

So when Mr. Zander writes that “adolescents are looking for an arena in which to make an authentic contribution to the family and to the community,” and “how few meaningful roles are available for young people to fill” (p. 40), I saw an explanation for the present vacuous obsession with prom. When we fail to give them anything productive to do, how can we be surprised when all that’s left to care about is “Me! Me! Me!!!”

On the other hand, “Me! Me! Me!!!” is a rut almost all of my students have been in for a long time. And I don’t know where this “senioritis” garbage came from, but they are utterly unashamed of wallowing in it. If I gave my students a guaranteed A, I have no doubt I’d never see a majority of them lift a finger again, except to text under their desks.

My students, you see, aren’t there because, like Mr. Zander’s students, they desire deeply to improve their performance, but because the state and their parents force them to be. Does this mean they’re getting nothing of value in my classroom? Oh no, no, no—you should see them, this week, shining eyes reflecting the black-and-white glow of Olivier’s Hamlet. And I am really sure that’d be happening, grade or no. But the other wonderful things they’re doing—the visual poem, the fascinating discussions? They wouldn’t have those experiences if I didn’t reward them with points.

My grades aren’t competitive. Plenty of points to go around—an unlimited supply. Of course, I’m fond of saying “I don’t give points—you earn them.” And I hope they earn them doing valuable work that teaches them not only how to express themselves effectively but who they are and what they are capable of. I see them satisfied when they achieve something in a way that certainly transcends the reward/punishment system of points. But without that carrot, I don’t see them giving themselves the opportunity to achieve the satisfaction.

At least, not this year. As I reflect, though, on opening for my students a “Universe of Possibility,” I see that I have myself modeled that concept continually this year. I’m not only one of the “Old Farts” but had a well deserved reputation for being, while devoutly enthusiastic, hmm, let’s just say a bit of a stickler. This year I have continually tried one new thing after another, flagrantly experimenting and making mistakes and trying something else. I’ve boldly gone where no one (not at my school, anyway) has gone before. When I showed our principal the tweets we did in class watching Hamlet, he looked at me and grinned, “Who’da thoughtyou’d be the one doing this, huh?” I’ve demonstrated categorically that one is never too … too anything to learn new stuff, no, not even if one's first pet was a dinosaur.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Week 2 Reading: The Art of Possibility Chapters 1-4

The Art of Possibility

First of all, I want to say that this book is absolutely amazing and the first text book that I have ever read in my life that is an actual page turner. I love all the stories and student words, as well as how it reverts back and forth between the authors. It is so down to earth and inspirational. This morning, I bought 3 copies on Amazon—one for me, and one for my mom and dad. Their philosophies are so profound and echo my own very closely. I love the concept of contribution in life, “giving the A”, and just reaching beyond the constructs and conventions of society. I would like to make some chapter specific reflections:

Chapter 1

“It’s All Invented”

I thought the discussion about perception, and how humans have specific mind maps to understand the world around them that are developed over their whole lives was very interesting. I have noticed in my teaching that students have very different mind maps, priorities, and preconceptions than when I was in high school 7 years ago. We all, but especially them, in their little bubbles, do not step back and think about how our minds work. It is so true that there are frameworks in all of our minds that are influenced by categorizing, story-line organization, and a network of assumptions.

It is inspiring to think about leaving all that behind and looking at life with a fresh perspective. It reminds me that we as teachers never know what’s going on with a kid beyond our class, and we need to give them the benefit of the doubt and the most positive reaction we can muster even when they act up. You never know, and maybe never will know, what a difference that choice made in that person’s life.

Chapter 2

“Stepping Into A Universe of Possibility”

I liked the discussion here about the world of measurement vs. the universe of possibility; how people live in the world of measurement and there are hierarchies of what is safe, how to survive in a world of limited resources. I never had thought about how scarcity-thinking and survival-thinking are different from the actual condition; how pressure from invented realities or fear of what could happen causes unnecessary anxiety. This phenomena reminds me of a part in the young adult novel The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993). The setting is a future “perfect” society in which everything is cut and dry, literal, and void of all emotion. There, young children are beaten if they were to say, “I’m starving”, because it is a lie, an exaggeration of the hunger feeling. In our society, so many things are also taken out of context. They get so far gone that the construct becomes the assumed reality. I feel that has happened with the process of standardized testing (which we are in the midst of right now), and how learning, and in turn funding for the school, is catered to performance on this test. Isn’t the convention of taking a final assessment being a good measure of learning completely blown out of proportion here? Do we really have the best intentions for our children in mind? And it is being transferred because now, with a month of school left, kids think they are “done” and can totally slack (and let go with their manners) because testing is over. How much better would it be if we were teaching them that learning has no culminating end, that there are profound concepts to be learned that can’t be answered in multiple choice format, and that everything in life cannot be re-done and re-done until you pass?

As stressed in the reading, the important thing is to reflect on HOW thoughts and actions ARE a reflection off the conventions of a measurement world. If I could somehow transfer just that simple concept to my students, I think they would grow a lot in all facets of their life.

Chapter 3 and 4 “Giving” and “Contributing”

What a beautiful story about the starfish woman to start chapter 4. I had heard it before, but often thought of it and similar stories (like you read in FW emails) on my worst days of teaching. When I want to give up because some ignorant students called me a bleep bleep bleep or smashed someone else’s artwork or threw a chair or clogged my sink or hid a dirty paintbrush, I try to remember the subtle positive changes I MUST have made somewhere along the road. The smiles, the hearsay of students mentioning artists we have learned about in other classes, the Facebook requests after graduation, the thanks, the personal growth that is shown in their artwork over time in my class. This is what makes it worthwhile to get through the struggles. And as a veteran teacher once told me, “high school students are like daffodils…they may not bloom the first year, in fact they might just stay in the dirt. But you still water ‘em and give it your best. Then, many years down the road, they will bloom and it will be from something you planted or helped with—even if you never are around to see it.”

I thought the concept of “Giving An A” was beautiful, especially when explained through those amazing student responses. The Michelangelo “revealing the statue” analogy also made sense. I kind of already do that in my grading philosophy, although I don’t discuss it as an instigation of creativity as he does. I can understand that this theory would be great in music class, because there is so much risk-taking involved in being expressive. I laughed out loud at what they do when they make a mistake—putting their hands in the air and saying “how fascinating!” I do that in my own way too. Its more in the line of: student spills something or breaks something or messes something up, and then gives me that scared look of apprehension, like I’m about to go off. Even though I want to, I always remember how my mom reacted to me when I had accidents…and how sad I feelwhen I see the opposite in a store or on a movie (like a mom slapping or cussing at a kid for making a simple mistake). Making these small choices to look beyond the initial negative reaction is what makes us richer individuals and better leaders. I will try to “re-define” my audience as Roz did to her group of graduate students. They are all great artists, eager and ready to participate and create (maybe I should make that my screen saver J ) I AM a gift to others and so are they!


Leslie, N. (2002). Left and Right Brain Function: B0003920, Wellcome Images. Available under Creative Commons at

Lowry, L. (1993). The giver. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Herring, M. (n.d.), Perception of 3D Objects: B0003936, Wellcome Images. Available under Creative Commons at

Shaffner, P. (2007). Starfish_02_(paulshaffner). Available under creative commons at

Zander, B. & Zander, R. (2000). The art of possibility. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.