Monthly Archives: June 2014


Two ubiquitous postings float the internet nowadays: one is a paraphrasing of Churchill’s famous saying-paraphrased into “Keep calm and – ______________ ” fill in the blank here. Some make me smile ( “Keep Calm and Mother on” ) others make … Continue reading

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A very public: Thank You

Dear Parents and Families with whom I have worked:

Thank You for the opportunity to share knowledge, and to learn, together, with you and or your children. I feel so lucky to have been blessed with the chance to get to know so many different individuals, each of whom brought their personalities, stories, struggles and yes, accomplishments to my table and with whom it has been a pleasure to engage in thoughtful communication about the nature of educational programming in general and about your goals in particular. It has been wonderful to watch students grow and achieve.

So many of you crossed town, even in inclement weather, to bring your child to a session, and then when at my place, helped in a myriad of ways, from shoveling a path to the front door to sitting in on a session and recognizing the benefits of inquiry based education. The best Thank You has always been when a student shared his or her Eureka moment and declared they now could recognize what was required from the standpoint of an Academic level- not just scores or marks, but also the ability to question and offer an opinion, to look for support through research, to move beyond the basics and into personal self knowledge.

I feel truly blessed. Summer 2014 is here; I hope all feel it has been a good Academic year. Thank you.

How do you define creative?

Copy. Paste. Press enter and done.  NOT. 

Real authentic writing? A little less copy, paste, a little more personality.

Having recently been directed to a multitude of websites that somehow managed to appear virtually identical, it seems the copy, paste epidemic is catching on.  AHHCHOO! like a cold, doesn’t really do any harm, however, it could build up the immune system- making one less susceptible next time.  Analogy? yes, and one of the reasons this reader finds it more and more difficult to find great examples of strong writing on line.  Editorials used to provide expert samples for classroom discussion; a troll through Linked- in, in search of modern versions produced the opposite- though I too am guilty of the bandwagon response/ on days when reading though emails, tweets, and posted repeats.  One site suggested there might be a difference between solving problems and putting pieces of a puzzle together-  (course that author most likely hadn’t heard of the brain enhancing benefits of solving puzzles – Luminosity anyone, and when picking a team I do want people who are able to put pieces together and not leave a giant mess). Problem solving has become the latest buzzword – ironic- while math equations increasingly become word based, written activities and work based actions are reduced to mathematical formulas.  All while people exhort the teaching of “creativity”- did you know, to be creative is “now” a learned skill?- many hours are now being spent “teaching” creativity.  Perhaps what it really is, is neither an inborn characteristic, nor an activity that can be simplified into formulaic constructs: x number of hours of practice and Voila!

Here is a thought; “creativity” requires interaction, not merely problem solving but a specific form of problem solving, and the interaction may be suggested in a myriad of ways- sometimes with the materials at hand, sometimes from a random object, or an overheard comment, sometimes from the often touted but equally dismissed move to a different activity, one that allows for new connections to enter the situation.  Having studied both Art history and Ritual practice at one point it became clear that different societies value “creative” differently.  In the race to invent the next best selling – widget?- nearly everyone is offering a “follow us to fortune” guide while stating the said guide will teach either independence or creative problem solving- either way, someone will profit.

Back to basics; to solve a problem one needs a clear understanding of what the problem is. Problem solving and creativity are a process that includes collating, collecting dots and rearranging them, sometimes like puzzle pieces, and when the rearranging produces something “new” it gets labelled “creative” – that is the up side; the other side is – when the rearranging produces something that surprises expectations, it may be dismissed.  We can marvel today at what were once considered bad works of art and which now sell at museum prices, and also laugh at what were the mysterious cures that a hard science like medicine once proclaimed as the “truth”, but in the end, creativity happens when and where it is encouraged – inside a person – insistent, like the amazing dandelion that pushes through cement, simply because it has to. 

THE GOAL in honour of FIFA and all team activities


                                                                 Trust –

                                                                                   5 little letters with

                                                                                      a big idea



                                                                                               Alison (Ali) Bayer-Orszak

Art and opportunity

“Be afraid, Be very afraid”  – old commercial* -versus today’s commercials, ” Dare you to….._________”   with the suggestion that signing up here or there will give one the quick fix tools necessary to ____________ , decided to leave that space blank as well.

Roller coaster rides do provide a quick thrill, and one knows when waiting in line exactly what to expect: the steady ride to the top, the breathtaking drop, the stomach lurching ride to the top again- repeat as many times as one can handle 🙂 – Follow up with ice cream or some other sticky treat. Summer fun- can be; what one expects from education- no.

How heartening then to read a story that wasn’t a quick fix, but that showed how through a combination of positives: (so much in this story)-
student reads,
art education, provides access to- Charter schools
highest ACT scores- = math and sciences too
so that
YALE – becomes a good four letter word

read the full story here if you haven’t already heard about the young person in New Orleans:

A student’s outlook can be not only changed but dramatically opened up- opportunity leads to possibilities- but without opportunity…

“Flip a coin and sign up here”- has a bit of the Fun Fair ring to it- Learn to Learn, develop a voice, practice and improve – Yale offers promise, possibilities, options, but it also demands hard work, concentrated effort and strength of character.  Kudos to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts- as they provided the opportunity for Leonard Galmon to see his work on display.


* advertized psychological thrillers on TV – cause screaming for a minute or two can be fun – summer roller coaster rides, anyone?

Talking and Walking- in another’s shoes…

A wonderful on-going project in Toronto involves encouraging immigrant women to share their stories via a pair of shoes, reminiscent of “if these walls could talk…” only with the shoes actually becoming the focal point for the story telling.  What a lovely reminder for what really is the concept of empathy– the ability to not only give someone the opportunity to share stories, but for others to take a moment and attempt to understand the stories, and then, to grasp at the significance of the stories being told.   Like many a person, I too have a “junk drawer”, one of those places that collects what a person is not yet ready to throw out.  Objects in that drawer hold little significance for anyone else, but like the shoes on display, (see:   to read each of the short stories gathered over the three years of the project), may remind me of events, people, and life’s changes.  With the school year coming to a close, it seems a lovely idea to have students write about something that they might have found when cleaning out desks, lockers, or even helping in the lunch room or gym.  Over the years I have used a beautiful book by Sherri Fitch – If You Could Wear My Sneakers – main poem found here: , to discuss children’s rights and matched this set of rhyming tales to other courses, political science and social science, not only the writing lesson of a language arts class, and not only with younger students.  Sometimes a little bit of nonsense rhyme allows the older student to relax about what is really a very complex topic.  For how difficult it truly can be to move beyond labels, stereotypes, cliques (think school- really), professional titles (think work and socializing, please), and other inscribed role playing that individuals are expected to comply with.  To shake it up a bit, and if the students don’t object, objects could be placed in a giant container and then redistributed- two stories per object, one by the original owner and one made-up tale by whomever pulled it out of the “hat”. With one overriding rule prior to the sharing of the stories- no criticisms of the tales.  Respect being tantamount to encouraging empathy, beginning as young as possible sounds like a plan. 


to read the Toronto Star write up go here:






Recognizing Influencers: Professor Maxine Greene, Professor Roxana Ng

Bartholomew Cubbins* is not the only one to wear multiple hats! Dr. Seuss had the special talent of crafting children’s stories that stay in the minds of the adults who first read them aloud to their children.  And which one of us hasn’t on any given day, wondered about the number of hats we too wear.  Or wished at times to throw some “stuffy” old concepts out the window!  Including concepts about ourselves, and the roles we “must” assume as we move through our day.  There is many a teacher who has wished to laugh out loud along with the student “mischief maker” in his or her room, many a parent who knows that “because we felt like it” may not be the best note to write upon a student’s return- to- class,  many an administrator who would rather…

What’s particularly lovely about the images in the Seuss’ book is the bemused expressions on Bartholomew; the final conclusion made even more remarkable for its opportunity to lift Bartholomew to a new station.  In such a fashion do many of us today, “try on” different positions, in keeping with the modern expectation that change is not only good- but required.  And like Bartholomew, for whom the hats are merely toppings, the core of each of us remains central, centered, and in constant development.  How then do we juggle all the different expectations? I like the idea that balance is an illusion, that Darwin and his concept of adaptation beats any kind of direct arrow of progress, and that growth indeed may occur in increments, but nevertheless, change happens. 

This blog owes its existence to numerous mentors- the teachers along my way who have not merely influenced, but at times challenged, surprised, and appreciated my inquiry into how to make /do/ explore/ learn more-

It is because of their encouragement that I was able to try on numerous hats, anthropologist, ethnographer, museum educator, teacher, Instructor, workshop coordinator, administrator, and on a personal level, it is my children and the wide variety of students, children and adults, and their families, who remind me how much I have always believed that it is important to be a part of something larger than oneself.


Earlier today I read about the passing of two very different, talented, educators, whose passion for their projects continues to influence me: Professor Maxine Greene of Manhattan, and Professor Roxana Ng of Toronto.  Their writings are not merely books on my library shelf, but words that engage and challenge, and suggest the importance of “here and now” for educators interested in challenging the status quo and contributing to encouraging the involvement of others.  One was most interested in what and how the Arts can be of value in education -Professor Greene- the other, how education can be of value and can be evaluated for the immigrant worker- Professor Ng.  Together they create an image of women, insisting on the twin values of human rights and economic justice, anti-racist, anti-standards based discriminatory practice, hands-on in their actions as leaders in education and women as change makers.  Others have written and will write about their multiple contributions to the field of education; this post is a simple “Thank you”.





The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins*– Dr. Seuss