There's always gonna be another mountain I'm always gonna wanna make it move Always gonna be an uphill battle Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose Ain't about how fast I get there Ain't about what's waiting on the other side It's the climb Miley Cyrus ‘The Climb’

A reflection on my mother passing away and the song that will always take me back to that moment in life.


My mother would have been 60 on Saturday if she had not past away in 2014. I knew the moment was coming. She had been told months before that she had cancer. Although there were ‘options’ for treatment, there were no promises. There never is I guess. However, there was a part of me that was somewhat in denial. I was thinking not her, not now. Not only did I have my own young family, but my brother and sister were still at school.

I remember receiving the call that my mother had been moved to the palliative care unit. No longer able to speak or move, she was in her last moments. Nothing prepared me for this, especially not Hollywood. We were told she could pass at any moment. However, hours past by and she was still holding on We were asked if we wanted to stay or come back in the morning. My sister and I decided to stay, while everyone else left.

After spending time brushing our mother’s hair and wetting her lips, we started reminicing. I asked my sister what she thought our mother’s favourite song was. Having left home years earlier, all I really knew was that it wasn’t any of my music. Although I had grown up listening to her Whitney Houston CDs, that seemed like a world away and I could not remember her listening to it since I was child. My sister said that she liked the track ‘The Climb’ from the Hannah Montana film, something they had watched together.

In a world before streaming (or at least I had not gotten into it), I purchased the track on iTunes. We played it on repeat and listened until my mother eventually took her last gasp and left this world.

One day a few months later, I was teaching. For some reason the audio of the iPad I was using with students glitched and started playing. Being prior to when everyone was gifted U2’s Songs of Innocence, it played the only song I had in my library, The Climb. I stood mortified, I nearly lost it. I quickly opened the iPad, stopped the track and composed myself. The issue was that at that time I did not feel like going into any detail with the students. Other than a few odd looks, I managed to avoid any questions and kept on teaching.


When I think about my ‘changing track’, there is a part of me wishes it were something hip and happening. However, like family, we do not always choose our tracks. The Climb will always be that track that takes me back to that moment when my life changed forever.


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creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16006575977

There is something about the Christmas / New Year break and reminiscing. It seems to be a time of year when everyone stops and takes stock. This year has had its moments. It is my first Christmas since my mother passed away. Although sad, I have found solace in reminiscing the memories I am left with.

Memories are a funny thing, not only can they play tricks on you. Deceive you. Manipulate the past to be as you think it is. There are also many different ways that they can be activated. More often than not, it is things that have become attached with the past. Beyond events like birthdays and Christmas, the obvious to me are people. This is particularly true when I get together with my siblings. Our shared history forces memories out of us. Another is places. In the last few months of my mother’s life, we would meet at a park near the city with my daughter. I can’t help but remember each time I drive past. A colleague told me that he still has the same feeling ten years on when he goes past his local oval where his father watched him play football, week in, week out. A different sort of memory is associated with objects. This maybe a range of different things, from a gift to a letter. One particular item which holds a lot of meaning for me in all facets of life is music. There are certain moments in life which I feel are best encapsulated by music. Here are the songs that remind me of my mum …


We Built This City On Rock and Roll (Starship)

This was the first song that I remember my mum ever playing for me. Who knows how old I must have been. Three maybe? Growing up, she did not have many records and by the mid-80’s they were replaced by compact discs, but I know she had this one and it is what I will always remember. I am sure it wasn’t the first song she played me, but over time it became a point of personal folklore.

Gimme Shelter (Holy Soldier)

Something odd happened when I hit my teens. I am not sure if it was just chance or not, but my mum stopped buying me country music and instead started purchasing metal albums. She would get music from the local Christian bookstore based on what was in the reduced bin near the door. One of my favourite purchases was Holy Soldier’s Last Train. I had never really listened to much heavy metal growing up and loved the melodrama. Ironically though, the track that I went back to again and again was a cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’. I had no idea that it was a cover and I don’t think mum had any idea that I was listening to the Rolling Stones.

I Do It For You (Bryan Adams)

At the same time as mum was purchasing me Christian metal, she was staving off the attack from popular culture. Saved by the ever nostalgic Gold 104.3 in the car, a station that played the best of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, she took to school to complain about the music that was being forced on me. In Year 7 every class sang a song as a group. The song Mr. Fitz had us singing was Bryan Adams ‘I Do It For You’ from Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves. Mum was furious about this choice and stormed up to the school. Sadly, not because she actually had taste and didn’t feel that it was respectable for anyone to be singing Bryan Adams, but because it was a song about love and in her eyes we were far too young for such things. (The irony of the situation was that Mr. Fitz was actually a writer for the band TISM, while Damien Cowell, aka Humprey B Flaubert, also taught music at the school at the time. I would hate to have know what they thought of the complaint.) To appease her, the song was actually changed to REM’s ‘Everybody Hurts’. Pain and suffering was acceptable.

Only You – Live at Roseland NYC (Portishead)

I am not sure if mum stopped buying or I stopped accepting, but as I grew older, started playing guitar, my tastes matured. I am not sure that there were too many fans in the house of my love of alternative rock, especially the more distorted music. Therefore, when I started driving I would have a bit of a selection in the car. Due to my grandparents purchasing a new car, I bought my car long before I could actually drive it. My rule was, you drive my car, you listen to my music. My CD of choice for mum was Portishead’s live album. Although not pop, I thought that mum would at least appreciate the vibe of it. Being who she was, mum didn’t say a word for near on six months until one day she cracked. She could not stand DJ Andy Smith’s incessant scratching throughout. It was just too much, she couldn’t stand it. I stopped playing her Portishead.

The Climb (Miley Cyrus)

I spent the last hours before my mum passed with my sister. To try and liven up her room we mused about what music we could play. My sister told me that they had watched Hannah Montana together and that mum really like the Miley Cyrus song from it. So I jumped on my phone and downloaded it. We left it on repeat next to her bed. I must admit that it was a weird moment when, after clicking to play something else, it randomly started playing in class on iPad a few months later.


A Personal Postscript

I remember when I started blogging, I thought of it as being something professional to capture my thinking and practise. Fine, the act of reflection might be subjective, but I never envisaged it as being personal. However, the more I read of others and wrote myself, the more I realised that there is something missed in being ‘too professional’ and not personal. I was particularly taken by the open sharing from people like Alan Levine, Dean Shareski, Doug Belshaw, Pernille Ripp, John Spencer, Amy Burvall, Jon Harper, Anne Mirtchen, David Truss and George Couros, just to name a few. Whether it be happenings with the family, personal illness or the passing of a pet, each provided some perspective beyond the classroom. David Truss summed this dilemma up best when he stated that, “connected learning is as much about relationships as it is about learning.” This can have its challenges for as Chris Wejr points out, in a important post, not everyone is able to tweet and post who they are. However, I feel that as I have progressively given more to fostering relationships, the more I have gotten back.

So what about you, how are you giving back? I would love to hear.


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Sadly, one of the first things that teachers often do is get their class lists at the start of the new year and start critiquing it, looking at who they do and don’t have, making judgements about what the class will be like, long before the class has even had a chance to take shape. The question though is what impact does this have for students and their potential to prosper? I understand that it is important to be prepared, to know who is walking through the door, but when does being prepared come at the sack of the child? I believe that with the new year comes the opportunity to provide students with a new beginning, to start again, to break out of the mould.
Although it can be a good thing to have long term relationships with the students, reinforced through interactions in and out of the classroom, this can also sometimes be a constraint. In developing rapport, we often create an understanding of who the student is – sporty, reader, gamer, social and the list goes on. Added to this is a judgement of their academic credentials. This mould lays a foundation on which to develop conversations and personalise the learning experience. However, on the flip side of the coin – whether we mean to or not – these informal assessments have the potential to lock students down to a particular ideal.
 
Some times the worst thing we can do is hold onto our memories. As time passes, some parts are lost, others are emphasised, but more often than not, our memories becomes heavily tainted by nostalgia. Last year, we had a student at school in Year 9 who was awarded a regional leadership award. To my understanding, the recognition came from outside of the school and had little input from the school itself, other than that someone believed in the student enough to put his name forward for the program. Many were surprised, a lot spoke about the student they remembered being a lot different. However, what is important about this example is that it demonstrated what was possible when given a new opportunity. Clearly someone believed in him to put him forward for the program, but the shock confirmed that the it was not necessarily the consensus.
 
The reality is that holding onto the idea of the past does not always allow students to grow, to change and to mature. It can have a negative consequence, whether intended or not. However, this opportunity to start again is not only needed for students, it also exists for staff and colleagues.
 
In Episode 7 of the +TER Podcast on ‘Engagement’, John Goh spoke about the ‘default’ value that we all have as teachers. Formed during our training to become teachers, it lays the foundation for the way we teach. He suggested that the challenge is to make sure that we continually move away from that starting point. 
 
Associated with this, it is so important to allow colleagues (and ourselves) the opportunity to change and evolve. A part of this is actually supporting their development, not hindering it, a topic I have written about before. Really, unless we are willing to give others the opportunity once again to take up an initiative, to develop as professionals, then they will automatically fall back into the age old image we have of them, if that is the only reality that we allow for them.
 
I remember being told when I was at University to only stay at your first school for four years. The reason for this is that so often the new, fresh, green teacher, who is still finding their way, is not afforded the opportunity to blossom, to make mistakes and learn from them. In many respects, I think that this indulgence of simply moving schools is becoming a thing of the past and what really needs to change is how we respond to such situations.
 
In John Hattie’s Ted Talk on Why are so Many of our Teachers and Schools so Successful? One of the key reasons he provides for success is that teachers know every lesson and every day where a student starts. I feel that associated with this, we need to make sure that this knowledge is continually being re-modified and rebooted. Associated with this is goldilocks principle in the classroom, where the challenge provided is not too easy but also not too hard. For this to really happen, our knowledge of others (staff and students) needs to continually change, needs to be regularly reassessed, started afresh, and not simply built upon like building on the ruins of some old building.

 

How will you be providing teachers with a new opportunity to succeed where in the past they may have failed? How will you make sure that your knowledge and understanding of a student was not formed five years ago? What will you do to make sure that you are continually starting again?

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