Friday, January 31, 2014

Witness to History: Everyday Revolutions and the Struggle for Justice @FairfieldU 2014 @YohuruWilliams

The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. continues to provide a vision for educators in the 21st Century. 
Dr. Yohuru Williams, Vision Award
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ MLK, Jr.
Since arriving to Fairfield University in 2011, I’ve sought academic mentors who are willing to model community activism - the men and women 'for others'  who pay attention to the world around them and who empower young people and their teachers through helping them to find a voice in the American landscape. For these reasons, I quickly learned of Dr. Yohuru Williams, his historical wisdom, and the willingness he has to speak-out on issues that matter, especially for those living in marginalized  communities across Connecticut.

For many of us who work with local schools, the extreme achievement gaps existing in Connecticut are the civil rights movement of our time. While standards grow tougher on students and teachers, the resources that are available to them are diminishing. Dr. Yohuru Williams, however, is not afraid to confront these challenges. In fact, he faces institutional disparities head on and motivates students and colleagues to take action. He has written against the top-down, market-driven school reform. He's argued for larger conversations about Connecticut's minimum wage and asked his readers to look deeper at the constructs that cause poverty, rather than making short-sighted solutions to pacify guilt. In everything he does, Yohuru Williams interrogates the socio-cultural and historical foundations that have led to the inequities across the nation. Further, he asks policy makers and politicians to invest more in the public good. His promotion of National Dialogue on Race Day hosted in September, for example, invited students, parents, and educators to Fairfield University to discuss America's racial disparities. As a teacher in attendance that night remarked, “Dr. Williams not only improved my talents as a classroom educator, his wisdom change my life forever.” 

For these reasons, I view Dr. Yohuru Williams as a leader, a sage, and a mentor. I also feel extremely fortunate to have him as a colleague. Last night, Dr. Williams received Fairfield University's Faculty Vision Award at the MLK Convocation - a long overdue recognition of the phenomenal contributions he makes each and every day.

Coach Johnson and Wil Haygood
I felt lucky, too, as Sonya Huber and I were asked to present awards to the CWP-Fairfield/Connecticut Post MLK Essay winners. As a result, I was able to snap a photo of my friend, Coach Sydney Johnson, and journalist, Wil Haygood, author of The Butler

The power of last night will be with me for some time.

For now, however, I must be short. I'm heading to lead a 4-hour workshop with 90 middle schools in the Oak Room (if you're on campus, stop by). 

I leave this morning post, though, with one line that struck me. While Wil Haygood spoke, he reflected on the decades that Eugene Allen served in the White House as a butler,
 "Everyday his presence in the White House was a revolution."
And with that, I'm inspired to lead the second Writing Our Lives conference: We Are Upward Bound! and assist the Poetry for Peace ceremony this evening as the week's events come to a close.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

I'm not as evolved as I thought I was, but man did I try - Bryan vs. Biology, 10th grade

As part of my ongoing work with Bridgeport City Schools, administrators came up with a campaign, "Rent-a-Bryan," where I am made available to teachers and departments for consultation, dreams, and writing assistance. Yesterday, I was challenged to introduce scientific evolution to a group of sophomores in a way that "would catch their attention and hook their interest early on."

What did I do? I asked,
How Evolved Are You In the Revolutions You Want to Lead? - What does science have to do with your personal stories?
Then I shared a series of Gary Larson, Calvin & Hobbes, and other cartoons that depicted scientific humor telling a story, frame by frame (sort of like chapters, with the frame by frame subheadings depicting specific content). Ah, before I did this, though, the students were given a blank comic strip and asked to tell me who they were -- but in comic book form.

The teacher, Ms. Walsh, and I weaved their personal stories with two terms: evolution and revolution, and emphasized how most things change slowly, but occasionally a burst booms things quickly. We  shared pieces of our own monotonous life (although her life has been book-worthy) and also the moments that sparked change (note: Ms. Walsh was much better at using the 20,000 new vocabulary words she introduced to her science class each year). A highlight for me, too, was when she told her students she is a voracious reader, consuming at least two books a week. This ultra-literacy was obvious in the craft she has with promoting students in her room.

The larger point we wanted to make, however, was that as sophomores, these students are in-between spaces (freshmen to senior year, young adult to adult) and should be aware that their choices set a pattern for what they may or may not grow into as the future unfolds. Of the 40+ students we worked with, I think I maintained and hooked the attention of around 38. It felt like a semi-hit, although I wanted to get them writing more.

Today, however, we planted seeds (well, boxes). The deeper conversation, I believe, was about where they currently stand as students capable of slowly evolving towards excellence, if only they could apart a revolution within.  We wondered, "What does it take to move a kid to LOVE learning rather than merely tolerating it?'

I left feeling smart, but also stupid. Ah, that's the nature of the game. It was a true honor working along side Ms. Walsh.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Remembering the Struggle, Inspiring New Revolutions @FairfieldU with @YohuruWilliams @OfficialDLDay

Bassick High School Senior, Chitunga Chisenga
Yesterday, I was invited to speak alongside Jocelyn Collen, Dr. Elizabeth Hohl, Jesus Nunez, Dr. Yohuru Williams, Arturo Jaras Watts, and Bridgeport student, Chitunga Chisenga, during Fairfield University's Memorial March in partial commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week. I am grateful to Melissa Quann, Frederick Kuo, Ellen Umansky, and the MLK planning committee for allowing me the opportunity to briefly address drop out rates across America and the achievement gaps existing in school districts across the nation.

Dr. Williams initiated our portion of the program with CBS's Where America Stands: High School Dropouts (2010) and asked me to remark on working in urban schools with youth typically portrayed within deficit constructions - the result of a test-only,  numerical game made habitual through research and reporting. Katie Couric's clip digitally helped me to construct remarks, locally, and I pondered the question raised by the young one woman from the video,
“It seems that nobody cared….so why should I?”
Although I will not repeat my remarks here, I do wish to acknowledge the scholarship of Dr. Marcelle Haddix at Syracuse University and the academic work of economist Steven C. Smith. In her words, the lives of urban youth need to be rebuilt and reclaimed. In his words, "Poverty is powerlessness." The inequities facing urban schools are the result of our nation's economic disparities.

When asked to speak, I agreed, but only if I could take such an opportunity to empower a student from Bassick High School. After all, the topic is one he and I have talked about on numerous occasions. With the National Writing Project background in mind, I simply asked him to write a response to the CBS report and to use Fairfield University as and audience....and that he did.
Hello every one, 
My name is Chitunga Chisenga and I’m from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am a senior at Bassick High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The challenges I face as a student started during my freshman year. I was lost, at first, and quickly fell in the wrong direction. In my household things weren’t going well, either, and in a short amount of time I managed to build a bad reputation. My academics slipped and what I knew were bad ideas turned into good ideas. Violence became how I handled my problems. 
Yet, one day, I self-reflected and remembered my family in Africa, the things my cousins and I experienced in the Congo, and our journey to the United States. For those I left in Africa, I wanted to go back on track to reach my dreams and goals. The trouble was, I fell deep in a hole of negativity and I didn’t know how to dig my way out. I didn’t know how to get back to my old self, either. 
Then a woman named Ms. Alicia Smith arrived. She was the Director of Gear Up at Bassick and quickly became a second mother to me. She knew about my potential and the problems I faced in school, home, and outside of school. Ms. Smith sprinted into action by scaring away the older guys I hung out with, got me involved with academic tutors and mentors, and connected me to positive people who went out of their way to make sure my needs were met. She also checked on me frequently to assure my grades were improving and I said to myself, “this too shall pass.” 
The next thing I knew my grades improved dramatically and my past simply became my past - something I had to learn from. It took a lot of bad decisions, disappointments, and energy to make it to my senior year and I definitely wouldn’t have made it without hope. Just last week, I was accepted into Michigan University where I plan to study aviation management. The goal is to get a private pilot license because I have loved the idea of flying ever since I was young boy. An opportunity to become a pilot is practically impossible to achieve back home. Yet, the impossible happened for me. I made it the U.S. and here, I can chase my dreams. 
Through my experiences and a lot of reflection I decided I didn’t want to be a regular citizen who works a 9-5 job. The United States means a lot to me, personally, and I know that not every person on this planet has the freedom we have. There are threats in the world that a majority of us don’t know and will never know. I feel heroes are those who take care of others and who fight hard so another young person, like me, can have an opportunity to become someone. 
Ms. Alisha Smith fought for me because she believed in me. My goal is to fight in the same tradition for democracy and to invest in this world in similar, positive ways.
Thank you, 
Chitunga Chisenga
The point we hoped to make together is that a first step to closing achievement gaps in the United States is to invest in the individuals who care most. These are the heroes, like Alisha Smith and many of her colleagues at Bassick High School. In fact, at every school I've ever known, the curriculum of caring matters most. This curriculum results from teachers building strong relationships and upholding high standards with ALL students. It arrives from stellar educators who reshape the curriculum to fit the needs of kids, rather than force the kids to meet the needs of curriculum.

Across the United States, today, the movement has been to blame those who work in schools for the reported achievement gaps. Yet, the negative portrayal of urban schools in this vain fails to see the incredible achievements that occur every day that are NOT measured by state and national assessments.  This deficit discourse is pushed onto urban districts (they can't, they won't, they don't) with little attention placed on the other factors that have tremendous influence on the everyday lives of students (they desire, they want, they will). Denying to look at achievement holistically will continue to lead to inequality, because the measurements used to 'label' a school through testing alone will only provide a minimal sketch of the energy, commitment, and success stories occurring, sometimes miraculously, every day.

Yes, teachers should take part of the blame. There are plenty I've known who are the problem. Yes, unions should share responsibility, too, and stop protecting bad teachers not suited for the profession. Another portion of this blame, however, belongs to politicians and policy makers who have turned testing (and our schools) into an industry that has removed human relationships from the equation. The blame, too, needs to be placed on Common Core State Standards - expectations created by interest groups and not professional teachers and researchers. Most educators will agree that higher standards are necessary, yet the standards created by Coleman and his team of reformers are a throwback to New Criticism, modernism, and a world that no longer exists (for movie buffs, they are a return to the black and white days of Pleasantville, where homogeneous thinking failed to see the beauty and richness of diverse, colorful, and heterogeneous schools. This, of course, includes how the reform deliberately ignores the magic of the arts: music, dance, writing, painting, expressing, and creating, etc. CCSS has stripped from American schools what it means to be a human being. Picture the curriculum in Dead Poet's Society before Keating instructed his students to tear the pages out of the book).

In short, we are all to blame. We are all to blame.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
And if I care, which I do, then doing something about it begins with me.

Haddix, Marcelle. "Reclaiming and Rebuilding the Writer Identities of Black Adolescent Males." Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents' Lives; Bridging the Everyday/Academic Divide, Third Edition. Eds. Alvermann, Donna E. and Kathleen A. Hinchman. New York, New York: Routledge, 2012. 112-31. Print.

Haddix, Marcelle. "Black Boys Can Write: Challenging Dominant Framings of African American Adolescent Males in Literacy Research." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 53.4 (2009): 341-43. Print.

Smith, Stephen. "Foreword." The Liberian Civil War. Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1998. xi - xxv. Print.

Smith, Stephen C. Ending Global Poverty; a Guide to What Works. New York: Pelgrave Macmillan Publishing, 2005. Print.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Poetic Soul & Arts...Discovering the Shanna Melton Collection in Bridgeport - #LetTheRevolutionBegin


For the last three years, I've been scanning the Connecticut scene looking for the right shade of purple magic from poetic communities who define communication through an artistic perspective built from vision, integrity, purpose, and soul.

I found this yesterday afternoon at Panera Breads on Black Rock Turnpike where I met Shanna T. Melton, curator of the PoeticSoulArts movement in Bridgeport and artist/poet/photographer/writer and dreamer.

Although cold. the warmth of possibility and better days ahead blossomed out of the frozen ground after sharing a short time with her and Sonya Huber over a cup of coffee.  Shanna's thoughts can be found on her blog, but her artistic influence and inspirational, poetic collectives has a name for itself in Bridgeport. It was a warm thing to learn during the last week of January (when the polar vortex dips upon us again).

Shanna T. Melton works with young people in Bridgeport City Schools on a daily basis, but lives, artistically and soulfully, through the art she expresses within the Kuumba scene north of the Long Island Sound.

This is my throwback to Ubuntu, 2013. It is Kreativitet 2014. Let the (re)visionary re-love-utions begin......


Monday, January 27, 2014

OK Go! The Goldberg Machine Incorporated into the Music Industry: Puzzling Mechanisms to Make Things Work

Sunday morning on CBS featured the 2013 Golderg Mechanic Award for the engineering ingenuity to hammer a nail in an innovative and creative way. Any boy (or girl) who ever played with marbles and matchbox cars as a kid more than likely created wonderful obstacle courses for their toys through finding available items and arranging them in a way to move their imaginations along. Known as the grandfather of inventions, the whimsical thinking of Rube Goldberg demonstrates what original ways  can do when given a chance to think outside the box towards mechanization and movement occurs.

It's Monday, and I'm thinking about the ways I move my world around. With all there is to do I am wondering how I can reinvent my world in the traditions of the gizmo geeks. It seems rather impossible right now, but someday in my life, I hope to invent something as clever as that which Goldberg is famous for.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

On Sunday Mornings, I miss old fashioned newspapers, especially the comics with a new Gary Larson cartoon. #TheFarSide

Sunday mornings remain my favorite space of the week.

Sunday evenings, not so much.

I love waking up groggy, wiping the sleep out of my eye, playing my games, and scanning the world's news. It's just that I haven't received the Sunday paper in several years and the Sunday morning ritual has begun to blur with the rituals of every morning. News is constant and nothing surprises me, or catches my interests more, on the lazy rituals of the great day of rest.

I miss Gary Larson cartoons, too. Loved by science and history teachers across the nation (for the humorous ways they could use his wit in class) and loved by quirky thinkers and 'off beat' dreamers, his weekly Sunday morning illustration became a Sunday morning bonus of colorful, creative ways of looking at the world.

Personally, I think the world could use another Larson. Perhaps there's an App I can subscribe to that will send me clever cartoons of the week through my iPad or iPhone. I will have to check into soon.

George, I think it would be a wise thing to do. If I had technological talents, I would get on this App right away.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

If Justin Bieber was arrested, then there's room for a new pop cultural icon to take center stage upon the American tabloid of nothingness. MOI.

Um, no thank you.

This was me in my office yesterday trying to arrange a party for 35 people at the Webster Arena on February 13th in celebration of the work with IRIS - Integrated Refugees and Immigrant Services and collaboration with my English 11/12 students. We run for Refugees on February 2nd and on the 13th, we show support for Kyle Koncz and Sydney Johnson, coaches of the Fairfield Basketball team, with relocated youth in Connecticut.

Why the sexiness?

Believe it or not, I was in work mode. The hat was to concentrate. The glasses were to show the Northstars why I think their show would be enhanced with Cecile McLorin Salvant's frames (but in white), and the teeth were for my administrative assistant who took the day off for a trip to NYC with her husband for her birthday: I shot the photo so she'd know what she was missing back on campus.

Seriously, I'm best looking when I'm overwhelmed with everything I have to get done. That's a fact.

Today, more of the checklist was accomplished, but the major projects MUST begin tomorrow. I have this weekend and this weekend alone to get them done. Then, a blitz of presentations at several schools begin and there's little time to sit at my desk.

I think I should should have Pam teach me how to upload this photograph to all the dating sites she and her friends visit. I'd be par for the course. And I'm still wondering if the kind woman at Webster arena had any clue that this is what I looked like while talking to her on the phone and making  arrangements.

Friday, January 24, 2014

I totally stole this image off a Russian website because I think it looks like me..I couldn't read a word, though.

I usually like to give credit to artists when I find pieces of work that I like. I went on a mini-rampage today to find an image that showcased literature as art. I ended up on a blog where a kid collected images from around the world and when I clicked on the image, it took me to Russia for a while. Here's the title of what I pretended to read,
Барак Обама и Далай Лама из телефонного справочника
I am pretty sure it translates, "This is Bryan Ripley Crandall from Stratford, Connecticut." If you go to the page, you can scan through rather wonderful artistry until you find this sketch of me before my coffee. Actually, I'm not sure - I think this might have been drawn after my coffee.

Truth be told, I dumped the first paragraph into Google translate and found out,
Alex Kverel (Alex Queral) carves portraits of celebrities from old telephone directories. Before creating effigy hundreds of pages with names and phone numbers, the artist draws a person on plain paper and then carefully cuts with a blade, page by page and sometimes paints with acrylic paints. This work requires a lot of time and accuracy, so Alex works only on about two per month. 
Ну, там вы идете Брайан, вы обнаружили новое хобби для себя, вдохновленный этой Kveral парнем. Круто. This means,
Well, there you go Bryan, you've discovered a new hobby for yourself, inspired by this Kveral guy. Cool. 
Is it Friday yet? 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check To Do Lists

I end every night taking inventory on the checklist of items needing to be completed and take note of what I accomplished and what still needs to be done. I then go to bed thinking of the to-do list so I can process (I hope, in theory) some of the mental work that needs to occur while I'm sleeping. Unconscious dream processing, I call it.

I wake up very early, but my brain doesn't get to work for at least an hour (except for when the dreams prompt me with ways to get through my checklist faster). The noggin I've been allowed to use in this lifetime needs coffee and online newspapers for 60-minutes before I can even think about what needs to be prioritized for the checklist each the day.

Last night, I went to bed frustrated because as I marked items off my list, the emails kept coming in adding more and more to. My cell phone sounded like a desperate cicada of wants, needs, questions, invites, and demands.

The Man has a spoon. It's pouring outside. Inside, there's an empty, Olympic pool. Man is given challenge, "Fill the pool with the rain water. Use the spoon. Go."

And I'm going. I'm going. Really I am going.

Of course, there are REALLY important items on the checklist that don't get accomplished and they are why I hibernate in ME, MYSELF, and I alone time most weekends.

Yet, I can't complain. I love that I keep this online presence of my whacky, daily thinking. At least I know one item on my check list matters to me.

Check.

Pink sky in the morning, sailors take (your snow shovel out of the shed and get gas for your blower) #northeastreality

Once upon a time, I lived in Syracuse. The ability to read skies for impeding weather doom was impossible, because there's only so much prediction that comes from overcast, gray skies.

Once upon a time, I lived in Kentucky. A couple of inches of snow paralyzed all reality and created tremendous chaos in the world of drivers, superintendents, and employers.

Now upon a time, I live in Connecticut. When I woke up yesterday morning listening to the Weather Channel, I couldn't help but to look out my window and catch the orange-pink sherbet hue that overlapped the Long Island Sound. I took it as a sign that the Great Whatever would drop a few flakes our way.

Lucky for me I balance between Syracuse and Kentucky as I reside in Connecticut.

On one hand, there's a lot of snow that has fallen since 10 a.m. yesterday. On the other hand, it is a light fluffy snow that is easy to push with a shovel. It will be interesting to see what the school Gods have to say as to whether or not we educators have to earn our keep today.

I can say that when I returned last night, I didn't make it up my driveway. I got stuck by the pavement until I shoveled the driveway and could climb the hill to my front door. Before I went to bed, I did another round of shoveling and, at least when I hit my pillow, the driveway was clear, but the fluff-n-nutter was still dropping rather quickly.

And the relatives in Key West and the West Coast send snicker text messages about where I live and what we in the northeast call normal in January. They look at palm trees and lapping waves laughing at the choice to reside in harsher climates during the winter. The older I get, the more I understand their chuckling. I have a snowbird fluttering within me craving for the simpler days of their hibernation.

Yeah, it's pretty. But it's also work (that kept me from a run and the gym, but provided some cardiac exercise, nonetheless).

Our resiliency is creativity. Creative is he or she that plows through this mess with a smile.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Performing for Change is Preparing for the Youth Leadership Academy / Writing Our Lives Event with Upward Bound @FairfieldU @OfficialDLDay

Performing for Change, 2014
On January 31st, in recognition of Martin Luther King celebrations on Fairfield University's campus, members of the Performing for Change group will be sharing their work on Words Matter! Stories Matter! Writing For Our Life at the Oak Room of the Barone Campus Center for several middle school students invited to the campus for the day.

With themes of: Writing to Express, Writing to Entertain, and Writing to Change The World, these undergraduate students will enhance the power of words and the importance of written communication to the young people from Bridgeport middle schools.

Following the 2013 Writing Our Lives-Bridgeport event sponsored by Bank of America, this Fairfield University occasion will be a Friday for creative and intellectual knowledge the morning after the MLK Convocation on campus, featuring keynote, Will Haygood, author of The Butler.

Since 2011, I've read about Performing for Change and heard many of their previous performers do their 'thang.' Last summer, Emily Sawyer, a 5-year student in GSEAP's Educational Studies and Teacher Preparation program, assisted CWP-Fairfield's Young Writers' Institutes on campus. It was wonderful to work with her and, now with her troupe and Upward Bound, the Writing Our Lives event is ready to go!
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Armed with 150 writer's notebooks, the young people from Bridgeport City Schools will spend the day planting seeds of possibilities with their writing in celebration of civil rights, excellence for all youth, and the importance of telling stories.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I now know the major difference between the work week and a three-day weekend in celebration of Martin Luther King...

on a three-day weekend, there's time to pee.

Actually, there's also time to cook some and to chisel away at the major projects that pile up in January: grants, research proposals, articles, summer courses, project evaluations, meeting notes, and agendas for the semester.

Truth is, I really didn't cook. I bought a pre-cooked chicken and stripped the meat off it for the week (keeping the wishbone for Pammy so either she or I will have luck), and added water to instant potatoes. Man, I need my own cooking show.

Still, the truth is, I was able to pee more this weekend and allowed myself time to do just that. Monday through Friday, it is rare to take time for such biological functioning.

Sad, I know. And I need to work on that.

Yet, there's so much work to be done. The more I learn about the changes in educational policy across the United States, the more discrepancies I see between the haves and have nots, and the more testing before teaching paradigm I see overhauling American schools, the harder it is I feel I must work. We need to do something about it and, well, because we don't have money, we have to do what we can through writing, reading, and getting political.

I heard once that all Connecticut offers to the U.S. is its wit. Well, let's hope mine continues to be used for purposes to bring better opportunities to youth and teachers in the United States.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Syracuse 'Nguyen', and Hoping for a Louisville 'Nguyen' in Connecticut

I had the fortunate, one-day early surprise of hosting class of 2004 graduate, Nguyen Luu, in my Connecticut home yesterday (the solo fish bowl was postponed until tomorrow).

Nguyen was a first-generation immigrant from Vietnam who arrived at the Brown School in 2001. In his sophomore year he moved to Florida, but returned as a junior and crossed the stage with an incredible crew of Brownies, including his now wife, Angela Lomax. There's something tremendous about reunions, especially when it's been almost nine years.

Nguyen went into the Army reserves, majored in finance at the University of Kentucky, and now works in New York City. When he was a senior, he gave me a hand-drawn self portrait that I still have in my office - a piece of art and creativity that I always valued as a teacher. In fact, it was one of the items I packed from my classroom, room 301, when I returned to Syracuse for my doctorate.

I knew introducing him to Chitunga Chisenga, a relocated youth from Zambia/Congo, who I work with in Bridgeport. Chitunga hopes to join the air force after he finishes a four year degree and I knew Nguyen would be a great source of wisdom for him. Nguyen and I had the chance to feel aged together while Chitunga asked questions about life's journey and next steps to take as a senior in high school.

The day included two basketball games with three of my favorite teams: Syracuse, Louisville and Connecticut. Crazy that Louisville and Connecticut played each other.

Yes, this is a throwback to Ubuntu, but also the creativity of incredible connections.

Friday's always make me want to jump from my fishbowl towards alone time on Saturday

I hear a lot of people say they are introverted extroverts and, at times, I've sort of bonded with that identity. It's hard for me to be around others, because when there are people in the room, I love to hear stories, entertain, and think about other ways of knowing. But on weekends, especially loong weekends (extra 'o' for having Monday off), I find myself wanting space to be with me, myself, and I simply so I can think - especially when the piles of what must get done accumulates for the week.

Here's to productivity today and the hope that out-of-town guests - Brownies, in fact - find their way for a visit on Sunday. Saturday, however, is meant to focus and chisel away at much that must be done.

My administrative assistant said that the first time she met me, the Writing Our Lives conference, she said to herself, "That man is a connector." That's an interesting word to think about as it is similar to what a college professor once told me when I was an undergraduate: "You are a bridge. You work between worlds and help people to see connections." I think I'm starting to understand this now.
Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it - they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesis new things. ~ Steve Jobs
I thought of this Friday night when I was at a volleyball game trying to unwind my brain for the work I know needs to get done this weekend. If I spend so much time connecting, then I need spaces to make sense of what it all means. Yes, I like to joint person A with person B, but for me to realize choice C, me, I need my alone time.

I'm leaping into the 'solo' bowl for the day. That's the plan.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Prepping for February 5th, 2014 - Celebrating Digital Learning Day in Connecticut @FairfieldU @OfficialDLDay

For those of us who work in digital platforms (personally and/or professionally), it is sometimes worthwhile to reflect on the power of online tools. As I noted with my students in a first-year English class this afternoon, "Operating on social media has become as natural as breathing. That is why I am reluctant, at times, to process exactly how I am doing it and what it is I'm actually trying to do."

Want better testimony than I can offer? Check out a student's perspective or one from a teacher.

Digital storytelling, blogging, tweeting, working with Facebook, etc. and learning from brilliant colleagues across the State of Connecticut and beyond have become par for the course. It's what I do and, perhaps, it is why I love February 5th as a location to process the importance of Digital Learning in my life. I'm aging, can't keep up, but still love the possibilities born each and every day through online environments. I jumped into the technological sprint a while ago and although my pace is slower than ever, I still love running to catch the moving cheetah! I will keep up! I will keep up!

Found Art in Donnarumma: Countdown to DLD
The Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University is currently collaborating with many projects on campus and in schools to promote the power of digital tools in the classroom. Besides regularly posting on Digital Is, we will continue to advocate for the power of digital stories on January 31st at the Martin Luther King Youth Leadership Academy hosted on our campus by Upward Bound. 150 youth will explore the power of words and communicating them to others in the Writing Our Lives tradition. Digital composing is definitely a part of the agenda.

Additionally, ongoing professional development continues in New Haven through a Supporting Effective Educator Development grant from the National Writing Project. One of the goals is school wide digital story composing and the foundation has been laid. Digital Learning Day in February will be more like Digital Learning Month as 42 teachers grow more comfortable with showcasing their written work through images, soundtracks, and storyboarding. Stay tuned on this one: there's much much more to come.

Yes, it's time to spread the word about Digital Learning Day:
Help make a difference in the future of education by joining digital thinkers (teachers, writers, students, academics, and human beings) this February 5th for Digital Learning Day!In today's interconnected world, the way students learn is increasingly reliant on digital technologies, but this doesn't just mean having the newest resources and gadgets. Instead, it means fully integrating digital learning throughout the entire educational experience. 
In order to fully prepare youth for success in college and beyond, schools and libraries across the United States (heck, around the world) need to embrace digital learning. We can't prepare every child for the digital future without the support of a digital foundation in the work we do. Help build the wave of innovation this February 5th by ensuring every child has the opportunity to learn in an innovative, digital environment. 
The first step, indeed, is to visit the official Digital Learning Day website. That's where the movement began for me (see Digital Learning Day 2013 - my digital reflection from last year). In Connecticut, I'm not alone. Multiple teachers and educational facilities are doing excellent work with technology, but for now I highlight a few:
  • For excellent examples of blending the teaching profession, blogging, and creativity, visit Colette Bennett's UsedBooksinClass, CWP Fairfield Summer Fellow, 2012, the Team Silver site of Kathy Silver in Bridgeport and The Write Space hosted by CWP-Storrs Director, Jason Courtmanche,
  • For a collaborative project between Shaun Mitchell, 2011 Summer Fellow, and our young writers from 2013, visit Textual, Textured, and Tech-tual Lineages at Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield
  • For inspiring work of my Connecticut colleagues, Ian O'Byrne at the University of New Haven and Greg McVerry at Southern Connecticut State University, check out #walkmyworld at Digitally Literate and INTERTEXTrEVOLUTION (there work is so cool!)
Today was my first day back (to teaching) at Fairfield University and when I returned home to reflect on how it went, I had to laugh. What did we do in class today? We wrote poetry and went over the groundwork for creating a blog in the course for weekly composing. 

That's the way the fingertips tap-dance across the keyboard and that is why I'm delighted to promote Digital Learning Day, 2014 (this time, two weeks in advance!)

We are the 21st century! Spread the word.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thursday morning thinking: insight, perspective, and prepping for another semester of coursework.

Last night, Lois's family came to take items they wanted as keepsakes from her home. I brought a couple bottles of wine and helped out, and the finality of the gestures bothered me more than I realized it would. When I returned, Pam and I had the following text dialogue:
Pam:You know what is amazing to me? That someone's life can be reduced to garbage bags, goodwill boxes and piles of stuff that nobody wants. Its sad
Bryan: I know. I came home. All the windows were open. There was a fire, I’m guessing. Nothing damaged, but it smells like burned cooking. No Weijing. I am thinking, I can be ashes tomorrow. I am so glad I took an angel from Lois's house. It’s my second one - the other was from a good friend in Denmark who made a tremendous impact on my life.
Pam: Oh boy. You need to monitor that girl. Shes dangerous
Bryan: She brings me perspective. We are worth more to others when we’re gone, because we remind them how precious time is when we have it.
The evening put me in a poetic mood. I often like to start courses with word-play and I remembered I have an hour exercise that forces writers to rethink how they use words. The exercise forces them to rearrange language for new meaning. Last night, I took ten-words from my "magic box" and played the word game for myself (20-minutes and I created a new poem). The poem doesn't need to make sense, but it needs to try something new.

     For the Squad, 2014
I return to you with beams, 
and the screams of Vivian Bearing’s medication,
             new literature regimes of Arnold Spirit’s                                                                           
                   reservation and beer.

I come to you with extremes,
      black licorice laced with David Small’s themes 
            (and fear) of language 
    and tears from drawing….
see-sawing along the streams 
needed from everyday warriors.

We are creativity,
 the  story that cinematically
 seeks character development 
 - a theme within the crafty crevices 
 of Kryptonite crackers and the 
                  Ahhhhhhhh, 
                            Woot Woot! 
 of this crazy-Krunk life. 

We become the words,
born out of dusty libraries 
where scratch and sniff stickers 
provide a voice
of love notes, 
calls from our mom,
the waking up from dreams 
where we hear
what needs to be said.
The dictionary of advice and trust
    never lies.

Who are we, but the magic of humanity?
A hocus pocus parade creating chaos 
from fireworks,
             crackling and popping 
to tell stories and offer a few jokes.
We are the silence of the rabbit exiting the hat, 
the regretted past who labors for the few.

And so the squad writes again,
     an entourage in agony to make a difference,
        a team of classy friends ganging together to articulate a purpose to life.

Here’s to 2014, 
and the activity of the troupe,
pushing the posse towards 
tomorrow’s possibilities, 
and ganging up against the complex simplicities 
of where we’ve been….
       and where we’ve yet to go.

 Hit me up if you ever want to attend a word-game workshop. This was written with the returning freshmen in mind and the books we will read this semester.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Back to School (well, 2nd semester) with Advice from Bob Berkowitz and Joe Pisani on Media Relations @FairfieldU

Michael Horyczun, director of Media Relations, invited me to a session entitled, "Enhancing Fairfield's Visibility in the Press" at the Lawrence A. Wien Experimental (Black Box) Theater in The Quick Center yesterday to explore media landscapes with 24-7 news cycles, the downsizing of local and national presses, and the ways reporting has changed in the last decade.

Bob Berkowitz and Joe Pisani, leaders within the Dilenshcneider Group of NYC, provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I will keep with me for some time.  Berkowitz's career began with radio programming before he arrived to the Associated Press to cover the Carter campaign and the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. He has been a correspondent for CNN during the 1980s, worked with ABC news, and reported for "Good Morning America" and NBC's "Today".

With similar professional accolades, Pisani has covered  stories for over 30 years and reported for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida and Newsday on Long Island. He's also held management positions for the Times Mirror Company and Chicago Tribune, as well as edited and presided more locally over The (Stamford) Advocate and Greenwich Time. His work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia InquirerThe San Francisco Chronicle, and numerous other publications - too many to name here.

My morning was merged with the scholarship of colleagues: Drs. Bruce Berdanier, Mousini Bose Godbole, Paula Gill-Lopez, and Jocelyn Boryzka. Each of us had an irreplaceable experience of being interviewed by Joe Pisani, filmed, and then critiqued by Bob Berkowitz. I loved that Pisani admitted he was trying to back us into corners so Berkowitz could articulate how he thought we did. The experience was an absolute pleasure and I feel fortunate to have had a few moments to tap into their creative expertise and knowledge.

After each of us had a turn to be interviewed by Pisani, Berkowitz shared what we did right and what we might want to think about more. He also offered better ways for merging our academic expertise with popular discourses used by modern media. Personally, I worried about my Jim Carey tendencies in the interview, but was assured that some creativity is actually a bonus to reporters (I stayed tame for me, which I know some think is impossible).

The take-aways gained from yesterday morning's professional development are tremendous, especially in regard to being passionate and holding command of the interview. First and foremost, I learned how important it is important to question the reporter about what they are looking for and to feel confident from the start that the knowledge we have is beneficial to others.

With 21st century deadlines constant and information ubiquitous, all of us who talk to the press need to be aware of specific techniques that advocate for the purposes we believe in. I found the advice similar to what exceptional writing instructors share with students: know the audience, be clear with what your intentions are, and prepare stories that give the best context for the text you are presenting. 
"Today, everyone's a journalist, even when they're not" - Bob Berkowitz, commenting on the use of social media exploding the way news moves around the world.
Other advice I'm putting into the repertoire of work I do with the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University is to recognize,
  • the power of the pause (they're healthy)
  • the consuming nature of listeners wanting a story (they're hungry)
  • the fact that viewers/listeners often arrive with emotive purposes, rather than cognitive desires about the data (the knowledge I provide should be 'data with a soul')
  • the people I wish to represent (in the communities I belong to)
  • the purpose I have with what I want to report (the dots from my stories connected to larger points (recommended at three per interview)
  • that I should 'be the bearer of my own bad news'
  • that I should bring them to the question(s) that is right for me
  • that I should LISTEN with an anticipation for the worst question they could ask, and
  • that I should interpret what I mean as I translate what I think.
I especially appreciated the advice, "Content is King, but context is Queen." In other words, similar to what is advocated for in EN 11 & 12, Texts and Contexts, all meaning transcends the moments words are written and spoken; they come to life when we consider the social, cultural, and historical implications from where they arrived. 

Like most, I detest seeing myself in action (and usually recall Bette Midler's character in Beaches after she watches a replay of one of her interviews....'don't say it. don't say it. oh, you just said it'). Even so, the chance to participate with Mr. Berkowitz and Pisani is an experience I'll carry with me for many years to come. They invested decades of wisdom within a three-hour workshop. 

I'm forever grateful.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Nope, it's not cheese. It's a metaphor to make sense of yet another rubric and set of standards to get one's head around.

Picture the man scratching his head. He is concentrating. He has studied the document before him and attended a training. His task? To observe student teachers in the State of Connecticut through the established rubric and assessment tool of Fairfield University.

Picture the man saying, "okay." The standards and objectives are smart, logical, and helpful to beginning teachers. They should be the aim for a neophyte and will be a nice base for offering feedback, recommendations, advice and compliments.

Now picture this man feeling rather smart about his interpretation of Connecticut's standards, but then give the man the assessment tool created by another mind for taking notes and filling in evidence for how each student meets the standards. Each student needs three observations and to show they are able to reach state objectives (applause applause) throughout the semester. Yet, the form for doing this is not the way this man's brain works.

Then picture this man wondering if this is the fault of New York State and Kentucky, who used different forms that seemed more logical to fill out (at least spatially).

And picture the man throwing in the towel for the evening ready to return to the university tomorrow with a 1001 questions. He will take ethnographic field notes when he supervises. He will then learn to take the way his 'block'head thinks and fit it into the round holes he's been provided.

Holy text, Batman! 

Monday, January 13, 2014

A lot of us need advice every now and again - I get mine from Kermit the Frog, thank you very much.

Ellen Israel, my administrative assistant, held a social on Saturday evening for the high school seniors she's been tutoring throughout the year with advice for getting into college and for crafting the exceptional college essay. As party goers departed, she handed everyone a special gift picked out just for them and I received Wisdom from It's Not Easy Being Green and Other Things to Consider by Jim Henson. This, of course, was the perfect gift for amphibians in 2014. Some of my favorite nuggets are,
[Kids] don't remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are. 
Simple is good. 
Life is meant to be fun, and joyous, and fulfilling. 
I believe that we form our own lives, that we create our own reality, and that everything works out for the best.
I know I drive some people crazy with what seems to be ridiculous optimism, but it has always worked out for me.
When I was a tadpole there was really only one thing I collected. I had a file of newspaper and magazine articles on Frogs in Show Business. It was a small collection, but I think it influenced me a lot (Kermit).
And,
Kermit's function on this show is very much like my own in that he's trying to hold together this group of crazies. And that's not unlike what I do. ~ Jim Henson
All we need in our lives is a few muppets and lot of imagination. Everything else will fall into place... 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Nikki's Senior Varsity Year: Jitterbugging and Waltzing as a Northstar towards the WGI

It's hard to believe that it's been 26 years since Cynde's American Bandstand with Barry Manilow and, now, 26 years later, Nikki is in her senior year of high school beginning her last season with the CNS winter guard. It's even stranger to think that the Northstar tradition has put forth as many years it has in the MidYork/WGI circuit. That's a lot floor dads, moms, (and uncles).

Either way, it seems appropriate to give a shout out to my niece (and her fellow seniors) the morning after her (their) last home show. She (they) spends (spend) a lot of time arguing on whether her (their) rifle (saber/banner) and dance is a sport or not, but one thing is for sure...when it's done right, it is creative and innovative.

Here's to a great season for the varsity team and their weekly advancement with the show. I hope I'm able to make it to at least one this year, but if not, I have the music below to write the show in my head.

Ha! I just noticed something - Larry (their coach) totally made the uniforms this year based on Cécile McLorin Salvant's eye glasses, lipstick and hair color  (I think the team all needs the white glasses too, and the looped earrings!). Seriously - Google her!