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Learning to Read the World Through My Radio

A tidy picture of simplicity sat in front of me.  A study lamp stood on one corner of a heavily lacquered wooden desk along with the obligatory dictionary and thesaurus. Offsetting the light in the opposite desk corner, was a radio.  The rectangular plastic box was one of my most prized possessions given to me during an earlier holiday period.  Its blackness demanded attention since the rest of the room was quite drab if honestly described; modest if the color of the lighter tan walls were added.  The radio’s presence also served as a primary companion for an only child who sometimes needed to hear voices of people other than his parents.

I was atypical of a mid 60’s teenager with a radio in their room.  There was never a moment where a parent needed to bellow, “Turn your radio down!”, while the Moody Blues, The Rascals or Jim Morrison were playing, and most enjoyed with the volume up. My radio strayed from the music scene of the FM band to the to the baseball and basketball games being broadcast on the AM side of the airwaves universe.  The secretive affair that didn’t necessitate increased volume.  The only requirement was other contents in my desk and opening my imagination to connect to a larger world.

Four drawers were available to keep needed materials and ‘stuff’ that perhaps made me an early minimalist.  The top thin, center drawer contained pencils, pens, rulers, and geometry tools; along with baseball cards, available for trade or flipping.  The top drawer to my right contained all the paper I’d need for schoolwork as well as stationery for writing thank you notes to relatives or the pro athletes of my choice.  Autographs in the 1960’s were obtained for the price of a postage stamp and the willingness to write to a star letting him know he was your favorite.  The second drawer contained an eclectic connection of important things that I didn’t want to misplace.  Items such as class pictures, award certificates and a Mad Magazine or two could usually be found in there.  The third drawer contained my spiral notebooks, which were turned into homemade scorebooks.  That bin held the real fruits of my labors and the parts of my study time that helped make real world connections to portions of my schoolwork…a sort of gateway for my imagination to overtake the mundaneness off reading and summarizing a period of history or doing the assigned even or odd numbered math problems.

Opening the bottom drawer, along with powering up the radio, opened my mind and helped me discover new possibilities beyond the humdrum learning transpiring each day between yellow school bus trips to and from a large, bricked building with over a thousand minds at various stages of receptivity.  The drawer held a year’s worth of notebooks keeping running scores of most Boston Celtics and Red Sox games.  I could have been classified as a real ‘get a lifer’, but for me it was a labor of love.  And for a time, my schoolwork became secondary to scoring games.

Trauma Can Travel Across Time and Place

A recent Boston Globe article clarified an anxiety, a despair I feel as an educator each time the news covers a traumatizing incident at a school. The article entitled, Mass Shootings Are Taking a Toll on our Mental Health, was in response to another horrific school shooting massacre in Uvalde, Texas killing 19 elementary students and 2 teachers. It’s the most recent example of the mounting carnage wrought by the political inaction of this century; a crass, immoral gun lobby; the ambiguous wording of the Second Amendment; and a continued indifference of the American voter when it comes to reforming gun laws.

My anxiety and despair is visceral when it comes to schools, teachers and students. As the Globe article pointed out, “No matter how far removed we might personally be from the events, experts say, they still take a toll on our mental health… It can be very personal even if it’s a distant experience.” I felt this way 23 years ago as a first year principal when news broke of the Columbine, Colorado shooting on April 20, 1999 taking 15 lives and injuring 24 others. We had a scheduled school board meeting that evening and the published agenda seemed trite. The discussion quickly turned to school safety concerns we seemingly never had to think about previously.  However, from that day to the present, schools have had to continually ramp up safety awareness and active shooter drills. Schools have been hardened and police officers added, yet school shootings proliferate as weapons of war easily fall into the hands of teenagers who can legally purchase and carry guns in too many states across the country. Each school shooting is a subliminal reminder that no matter the distance, your school or community could be next.

Rooney, Rooney, Rooney… The Craziness Spectrum

“Great teachers are usually a little crazy.” Andy Rooney

From my experiences, Andy Rooney’s quote was right on target. But like most things with our writing or experience, we can’t oversimplify the significance of a word that can parsed into a multiplicity of meanings.  My work in schools has run the gambit from a ‘good crazy’ that translated to an act of courage for the sake of students; to a ‘crazy crazy’ as I approached my newly appointed dean of students position  at a middle high school in New Hampshire. Based on those experiences, I’d add administrators along with teachers to the spectrum of crazy.  Ironically, it was two additional Rooneys (Gerry and Ed) who directly and indirectly helped me understand that we can’t take the word ‘crazy’ too lightly.

The Osmosis of Paying It Forward

 

 

I’m not sure if it was thinking about being in the back seat of a car driven by my high school track coach smiling devilishly as he swerved and circled through the near empty snow covered Northeastern University parking lot; or it was running into my senior English teacher while on my Cape Cod honeymoon with my young bride almost a year to the day following my high school graduation.  But those human intersections popped up as I  pondered the question , “ How did I get here?” ‘Here’ was a summer professional development day for our staff. The keynote session was led by Julia Freeland Fisher, researcher and author of Who You Know, Unlocking Innovations That Expand Students’ Networks.  ‘Here’ was me, a 30+ year educator now in a leadership role at a cutting edge virtual school.

Thinking about the question, I began to recall the many social network intersections of my youth and formative professional years that led to opportunity. As compelling as Freeland Fisher’s message was about expanding student networks and mentoring connected to student interests, I felt it was only part of an equation for getting to a point in one’s life translating to satisfaction and happiness. Another part? Good adult modeling. The type of modeling Ted and Nancy Sizer alluded to in his book, The Students Are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract. I had a wealth of both and would argue that all students need mentoring, modeling, and networking opportunities. It’s a key to unlocking a student’s passion and joy for learning and understanding what motivates him or her to take advantage of possibilities as they are presented.

As I thought about ‘how did I get here?’ a bit more, the picture began to sharpen. …

Things Educators Carry As Covid Carries On

One of my favorite activities with students when teaching English/language arts was found poetry. It motivated the full spectrum of students because it had all sorts of word play, and could connect it with all genres of reading. Reluctant readers could be asked to look at a page of text from the literature we were reading and simply list some of the favorite words they found on a page. Motivated readers could do the same and the activity leveled the reading and comprehension playing field as we shared words, strung them together to make meaning. Over the course of a chapter, students could take the words to create a free verse poem to try to capture an element of the story. It was a great entry-point for demystifying poetry, increasing class wide comfort for sharing, and segueing into discussion at large. …