Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Teachings From the Turkey

By Mark T. Burke

As a kid, I remember Thanksgiving as a time to be with family, laugh, eat, sleep and watch football.  I can't really describe the way Thanksgiving made me feel back then.  Today, those same, almost indescribable feelings come back like clockwork this time of year.  I've often wondered how this is  possible.  Our family Thanksgiving celebrations have changed dramatically since I was a kid.  The place, the people, the meal, the activities.  Pretty much, everything ABOUT how I now celebrate the holiday has changed.  But the warm, tingly feeling is still there. The last few days, I've been reflecting on how things have changed, yet at the core, the emotional connection to this amazing holiday remains.  This morning, the lessons to be learned started to click.  In my work to help music educators and create innovative learning programs, I attempt to learn from all of life's experiences.  Why not Thanksgiving?

This morning, I made a list of all the aspects of life that have caused the way my family celebrates Thanksgiving to evolve.

1.  Family Changes:  Through marriages, the passing of loved ones and the birth of new generations, our family has continually changed.  The loss and addition of each person pushes our way of celebrating in new directions.  Each person we said good-bye to leaves a void.  From year to year, the family unit changes quickly, sad as the loss is, the family adapts.  With each new addition, we make adaptations.  Our ability to quickly adapt some of the most long held, fundamental traditions is spectacular.  Often, with  little conversation or debate, the family simply adapts and moves forward, with a focus on what is important, the celebration, the family itself.

2.  Healthy Lives:  There is no question, dinner around our table today is significantly healthier than in the past.  Our overall family concern for healthy living has changed the ingredients, changed a few main courses, desserts and certainly the portions.  Those changes are rather significant.  But, no-one feels at a loss.  Our life priorities have changed in a way that pushes our adherence to a higher awareness of ourselves and our role in the family unit and enjoyment for life.  Sounds deep for sure, but I know this awareness of our own life has caused change around the table.

3.  Tools of the Trade:  I know my grandparents and parents worked harder than I do now to prepare the Thanksgiving meal.  I'm lucky to have food processors, electric knives, table top roasters, high efficiency, convection ovens, microwaves, extra capacity refrigerators, ice makers, slow cookers and other modern inventions. The meals I enjoyed in the past were prepared over several days with much work and love.  Today, our home has become Thanksgiving central.  We prepare two meals, one for each side of our family.  Modern kitchen marvels allow me to get out of bed Thanksgiving day and start preparing the meal around 7am.  I am done by 12 or 1 and we eat, enjoy the family company, laugh and enjoy the rest of the day.  I do it all over again a few days later.  Yes, the tools of the trade have changed, and to the family's benefit.

4.  Conflicts of Life:  Our family is active, engaged in a ton of activities.  Between us all, we have such a wide variety of interests and commitments I couldn't possibly write about them all.  Over the years, college schedules, school activities, sports, work, other family events, and travel have all created road bumps in our plans to bring everyone together at Thanksgiving.  Again, the faces at the table may change now and then, but life is a balancing act on a tight rope at times, not always a walk on the beach with predictable tides.

5.  Channel Changes:  While my childhood memory involves mostly eating, sleeping and watching football, today's family gatherings have become more active.  I cherish my childhood memories of the easy going after dinner conversation, cheering for the Steelers and nodding off, filled to the brim with great food.  Lately, we've taken to sharing our time more collaboratively.  We strive to create a fun activity for everyone to participate in after dinner.  For sure, the interactivity is significantly higher and I believe, we've all come to expect it.  We want to ensure our time together, limited as it is, is of high value.

While change has occurred and is welcomed, the feeling of Thanksgiving still rushes back to my sole each year.  The smell of the turkey cooking, the secret stuffing ingredient, the traditions where important, are still strong.  What we as music educators and innovators take from this story is really my point.

1.  Students come and go.  Each one pushes us to adapt and adapt we must.  If we have not changed a thing in our offering due to the students, we are teaching for ourselves and that is not our job.  We must not debate our need to teach for our students, we must not procrastinate change, we must adapt quickly and move toward meeting their needs with conviction.

2.  Larger concerns in live will cause a need to change smaller things in the way we teach.  Kids can only grow to be healthy adults in they can experience must for LIFE.  Teaching music as if it is a fun school time activity misses the point of what we are supposed to be doing for our students. We must teach students to be musicians for life, for their own recreation.  Teaching ensembles is great, but how many will play in bands, orchestras or sing in choirs after school?  Larger issues...yes, they should drive our curriculum decisions and we should be adaptive.

3.  Technology makes our jobs more POSSIBLE not EASIER.  We should embrace music and educational technology so that we can get past the operational restrictions of our jobs and enable ourselves to spend more time doing what is important, what works. 

4.  Life for students is filled with conflicts.  It is the responsibility of the school and teachers to create as much balance as possible.  We must also create flexibility when possible and develop programs where we don't have to insist on participation.  Participation should be a desire that no attendance rule could possibly make stronger.  But, life will intervene once in awhile.

5.  While concerts have been the main activity for music programs for generations, we must change the channel.  We must create activities that meet the desires of modern students.  We don't do so for the sake of change alone. As a race, we have become increasing social, we expect more engagement, more interaction. Programs that recognize and provide for this human desire, will excel.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  If you've learned something from this post or simply wish to share your story, post your comment.



   

 


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