Caz Connect Blog

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I’ve enjoyed live music at Jerk 22 in Kingston on a couple of occasions.  Jerk 22 is a restaurant-bar in a tent-like atmosphere in the heart of Kingston.  It offers musical artists an "open mic" as a way to highlight multiple performers sharing the spotlight.  Percussionists, bass players, keyboard artists, and vocalists “jump” on and off the stage to perform.  The flow of musicians and vocalists seems seamless and the entertainment is always mesmerizing!  Attending a live “jam session” at Jerk 22 is often a highlight of my weekend!  

As a school leader, I search for examples of impactful teaching and learning in “every day” settings.  As a principal and instructional leader, I was impressed with the cohesive performance of musicians and vocalists performing together for the first time and I can only attribute their success to skillful listening, the ability to anticipate the "craft" of other performers on stage, the capacity to modify one’s participation to benefit the performance, and the possession of confidence with risk-taking. The analogy, "no one missed a beat" perfectly described the night's entertainment and the collaborative skills of the performers.

I ask myself as an educator, how does this experience apply to my work as an instructional leader guiding teaching and learning? First of all, the performers relied upon listening skills.  They needed to listen to each other and "the whole" performance.  Musicians are gifted in hearing their own performance as well as the “collective whole.”  As each performer listened and observed, they adjusted their own rhythm, tempo, melody, and harmony to complement the other performers on the stage.  (This had to be a symbiotic experience- everyone on stage modifying and adjusting organically). A performer’s ability to modify and adjust is not much different than what teachers are expected to do..." listen" to students and "observe" all the factors that seem to suggest "they got it" or "they're way off."  Teachers listen to both the individual learner and the collective "whole" in the same manner musicians interact with each other in an "open mic" session.  Modifying and adjusting characterizes a teacher’s primary responsibility in the classroom.  Master teachers have the ability to make adjustments, quickly assess, and provide feedback in a matter of seconds to meet the needs of students.

Next, not knowing too much about musicians, I can only assume performers need to anticipate and react to others on stage.  Musicians anticipate the actions of members in the band minute-by-minute. I think this is why performers, who work together regularly, can easily predict the actions of their "team" or band.   Again, this partnership is not much different from teachers who need to anticipate a student’s misunderstandings and then provide an intervention- usually measured in seconds.  I've read a statistic: "...researchers observed elementary school teachers and noted that, on average, they made at least 1,500 decisions a day. That comes out to about 4 decisions a minute given six hours of class time..."  Making decisions, adjusting lessons, anticipating reactions and calculating interactions most likely characterized both a musician’s performance and a teacher’s instructional practice.  As a result,  a "risk free" classroom (and one can argue a jam session) is so valuable for the learner because it allows the individual the ability to say "I don't know..." with the optimism that learning will occur.

And finally when comparing a jam session with a learning environment, a performer’s confidence or risk taking plays an important role encouraging the individual to "jump in '' an "open mic" session. Similarly, a teacher asserts a level of confidence that the prepared lesson will meet the needs of every student and the risk-free classroom will successfully nurture learning at every level.  It takes on the same measure of will and passion for a performer to participate in an open-mic session and a teacher to meet the challenges of a classroom.  The self-talk is similar for both the performer and teacher- “Yes! I can do it!”  “Yes!  I will meet the challenge.”  “Yes! I will learn from this experience.”  This self-confidence characterizes performers... as well as AISK ES teachers.  A symbiotic exchange, whether as a performer or teacher, between the environment and the professional leads to discovery, application, and success.  This discovery, application, and success leads to learning and contributes to professional knowledge from both the experience and the participants.  Making music... or learning... happens because we listen to each other, we adapt and modify our approach, and we have confidence that we can make a difference!

Watching the "open mic" session at Jerk 22 in Kingston was not much different from my observations of teaching and learning in AISK classrooms... not only enjoyable but an opportunity to learn!  Spend some time on AISK’s website, specifically Our School and see the difference!