Friday, January 28, 2011

"Live and Learn" or "Leap and Learn"

By Mark T. Burke

There's a link to music, music education and the arts here -- trust me.  Read on!

I've learned many things over the passing of time and I am grateful for the people and circumstances that have taught me those lessons. The phrase "Live and Learn" denotes that the passing of time is needed for us to learn.  I believe most of us see such a passing of time as a rather long adventure. When I hear people say, "Live and Learn," my mind pictures a wise, old person staring at me with a face that shows the ravages of time and eyes that reflect great history and wisdom.  I respect that vision each and every day.

The phrase "Live and Learn" also stands for conservatism. Depending on "Live and Learn" beliefs, beliefs that root themselves in awaiting things to change, grow and develop over time, is a sure-fire way of ensuring many things in our lifetimes will not change. So how do thing change along the path to "Live and Learn?"  Those initiating change through new ways of thinking and DOING trust in  the "Leap and Learn" mentality.  While "Live and Learn" has risks, they are more calculated. "Leap and Learn" actions are for sure riskier, but the results are more dramatic, more explosive.  Those explosions help get institutions moving in a new direction with little wasted time waiting to "Live and Learn."

So what does this have to do with music, music education and the arts?

Music programs have had a long legacy. We have "Lived and Learned" that this legacy is insufficient to ensure the continuance of music's role in education. I am truly inspired by those who are willing to "Leap and Learn."  They aren't being irresponsible as some may feel taking a leap is. They are not taking a "Leap of Faith."  For example, viaAcademies is working with Central Columbia School District.  Central is a school district like many in rural PA.  The geography is 100% rural and rural towns.  This area, once rich with band music in the schools and community has seen those days pass.  Bands are still alive, don't get me wrong, but I don't believe anyone would say instrumental music has a strong hold in our schools in this area.

Central has decided that to promote the art of music for now and the future, they have to change they way their program works with students, they had to re-think the resources they provide and even the way they teach. Working with them has been enlightening.  The staff, like most, was concerned about change, but they knew they wanted - needed - to change course to ensure kids had instrumental music opportunities.

They now have 30 kids working online, in addition to working with them directly at school.  To me, these are the heroes of the "Leap and Learn" movement. They serve as an example of how music teachers can create the explosive force we need to alter the course of music in our schools. Together, we are learning much and not just about online music education.  Working together we are learning about music education in general, how to work with kids in our web-driven world and how best to create effective change.

We need more people to "Leap and Learn."  How?  Here are several activities that can get you started.

1.)  Honestly assess the weakness of your program.  Conduct a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats).
2.)  Develop your program's key goals -- right now -- that would improve the program.  They should be student centered.
3.)  Commit 30 minutes a day for 1 week to learning new ways of addressing those goals through organizations like viaAcademies, The MusicPLN, TIME and SoundTree.
4.)  Create a plan to use new teaching tools, technology, new strategies, new communications, new advocacy, new ensembles, new scheduling, etc. etc. -- whatever tools you can to approach your goals.  The key is .....LEAP....act quickly and you will learn. Don't act, and you will have to wait for life to pass and slowly feed you lessons.

While "Live and Learn" has provided me a great history, I hope to change what I believe is a poor outlook for music in our schools if we don't start a campaign toward "Leap and Learn."


  1. Knowing the band director at Central Columbia, I am very happy to hear that she has embraced these changes. In an area of Pennsylvania that resists change with every fiber of its being, it is great to see someone taking a risk.

  2. It's good to hear that people are beginning to see the importance of music education... and I think that applies to the arts in general. I feel like for a long time they haven't had a serious place in the educational system of the world. I hope that begins to change. It will take a leap, as you say Mark, but I definitely agree that it's a leap that's definitely worth taking.

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  4. Thanks everyone...A good quest...get "Leap and Learn" to catch on. Maybe a follow up is "Risk and Rise." :-)