“You can’t think about thinking without thinking about thinking about something” – Seymour Papert

I find potentially interesting education provocations everywhere. The remarkable generosity of the world’s finest musical artists performing online during this pandemic have kept me safe and sane. I aspire as an educator to possess their level of talent, wisdom, expertise, focus, humor, commitment, generosity, and love. It is these very virtues that has made jazz musicians such a source of knowledge, wonder, and comfort in my life. One other very special aspect of “the hang” with jazz musicians is the lack of generational barriers within their community of practice. Most people aspiring to be great at what they do welcome opportunities to mentor newbies who express passion for similar pursuits. What makes the performing arts so special is that, as in the Brazilian samba schools, everyone – young and old alike – “dances” together.

So, in between concerts regularly scheduled concerts by Peter Martin, Chick Corea, and the Emmet Cohen Trio, I’ve watched great musicians discuss music they love at listening party fundraisers for Jazz House Kids (Friday nights) and Wynton Marsalis’  “Skain’s Domain,” (Monday night) where world-class artists spin yarns and take questions from the audience.

When I think about education, these are three ideals I cling to.

  1. The best thing we can do is to create as many opportunities as possible for young people to be in the company of interesting adults.
  2. Greatness is achieved through a laser-like focus on overcoming bugs that bother you. Once you approach overcoming that obstacle, a new challenge reveals itself. Such focus tends to make experts great teachers since such self-awareness is easy to articulate.
  3. If you wish for others to learn from you, your practice needs to be as transparent as possible.

Each of these principles are embodied in the Skain’s Domain Web livestreams (and archives). I highly recommend you watch the one below, even if you do not understand the subject matter, like jazz, or know who the participants are. There is still plenty to learn about learning and teaching.

This class is not a cocktail party!

Back in the 90s, my colleagues and I created online graduate school programs at Pepperdine University. One of my colleagues told students, “This is not a cocktail party! Your online interactions need to be pithy and deliberate.” To make matters worse, she revealed to students that she used a handheld clicker to count their personal interactions.

Upon hearing this, my first reaction was sadness followed by thought that apparently my colleague has never been invited to a good cocktail party. In fact, I set out to use a cocktail party as the metaphor for all of my teaching. I assume that we have gathered for a common purpose. If someone becomes insufferable you can grab another coconut shrimp and participants are surrounded by a plethora of potentially interesting conversations. Social interaction was key to knowledge construction, collaboration and creativity. Worst of all, “measuring/assessing/counting” human interaction had a predictable prophylactic impact on the social cohesion and productivity of the class.

So, here’s an activity for you to try…

  • Teachers from a school or department, perhaps even multiple schools, should meet online via a platform like Zoom. A diversity of experience, age, gender, friendships, perspectives, race, etc. are all welcome.
  • That Zoom session should be open to the public (or as broad a cross-section of your community as possible) and recorded in order to share the archive. Advertise the session in advance at a time your community may be available to “participate.”
  • The participating teachers should discuss any topics they wish, reminisce about their teaching experiences, plan their next units, chill, catch-up on each other’s lives, or a combination of all-of-the-above. If children are watching the online “faculty room,” be sure that the language and topics discussed are age appropriate.
  • After 30-45 minutes of the “audience” observing your social fishbowl, open the session up to questions from the peanut gallery. Break the fourth wall.

Voila! That’s it! Go ahead and change the world!

Let me know what you learn.


Veteran educator Dr. Gary Stager is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Learn more about Gary.

I’m heading to Washington D.C. to cheer on my young pal, the gifted 21 year-old pianist Emmett Cohen, compete as a semi-finalist in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Pianist Competition. The Monk Competition is a very big deal. It’s like the Olympics for jazz musicians.

Emmet is a very fine musician. You should check out his Emmet’s first CD, In the Element – available from Amazon.com and iTunes. Keep your eyes on this young man. He’s going to be something special!

Emmet and each of his competitors will be accompanied by one of my oldest friends, Carl Allen on drums and Rodney Whittaker on bass. Carl is not only one of the world’s most accomplished musicians, he is also an amazing educator currently serving as the Artistic Director of Jazz Studies at the Julliard School. Carl has participated in the Monk Competition for many years.

Emmet Cohen, the Great Roy Haynes, Gary Stager

Not only will Emmet be accompanied by world-class musicians and competing against the best jazz pianists of his generation, but the judges are some of the world’s greatest pianists – Herbie Hancock, Ellis Marsalis, Jason Moran, Danilo Perez and Renee Rosnes!

That all occurs on Sunday. Monday evening, the winners are announced at a gala concert featuring dozens of the world’s greatest jazz musicians, past Monk competition winners and Aretha Franklin! Check out the musicians scheduled to perform!

Piano
John Beasley
Gerald Clayton
Bill Cunliffe
Herbie Hancock
Eric Lewis
Ellis Marsalis
Jason Moran
Danilo Perez
Renee Rosnes
Ted Rosenthal
Helen Sung
Jacky Terrasson

Organ
Joey DeFrancesco

Bass
Ron Carter
Daryl Hall
Christian McBride
John Patitucci
Joe Sanders
Rodney Whitaker
Ben Williams

Drums
Carl Allen
Ronald Bruner
Terri Lyne Carrington
Sebastiaan DeKrom
TS Monk
Harold Summey

Saxophone
Seamus Blake
John Ellis
Jon Gordon
Jimmy Heath
Jon Irabagon
Godwin Louis
Joe Lovano
Wayne Shorter
Walter Smith

Trumpet
Ambrose Akinmusire
Terence Blanchard
Diego Urcola

Guitar
Kevin Eubanks
Lionel Loueke
Lage Lund
Jesse Van Ruller

Trombone
Andre Hayward

Vocal
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Kurt Elling
Aretha Franklin
Roberta Gambarini
Sara Lazarus
Cecile McLorin Salvant
Jane Monheit
Gretchen Parlato
Dianne Reeves

Percussion
Sean Thomas

Vibes
James Westfall