Tag Archives: Ken Robinson

Listening to the Call

We all have art that calls to us.

If we listen to the call, we become performers, or makers, or active appreciators.  We spend time on our art, because all the arts require time … but when we’re spending time with the art that calls to us, when we’re in our Element, as Sir Ken Robinson calls it, the time seems to pass in an instant.

time flies when you’re having fun…

But no one’s life proceeds in a straight, unchanging line, and some of us may choose to tuck our art away.  Perhaps we are focusing on the demands of a young career, or maybe we are devoted to the priorities of raising our young children.  And there are only twenty-four hours in a day … so we tuck our art away for a while.  And we’re okay with that – well, mostly!  On our good days. 😉

Thank goodness, it doesn’t go away.  The arts are at the core of our humanity; our need for self-expression, for creativity, for connection.  And if we’re lucky or smart or brave enough, we can remember where we tucked it away and bring it out again, or maybe discover something new, when the path of our life turns and we can again spend time on our art.

Nina MurphyFor Bristol resident Nina Murphy, that art is the theatre.  A long-time supporter of public schools and an advocate for arts in education, Nina will be playing Marmee in a local production of “Little Women” running the first weekend in May.  This marks her return to the stage after a number of years, and she is buzzing with nervous excitement about her opening night this Friday.

The eldest of six children, Nina is part of an accomplished creative family.  Her family has always placed high value on the arts; growing up, she remembers her family was always an “arts family”, in the same way that some families are “hockey families” or “soccer families”.  She was an active member of her high school’s theatre company, and went on to double-major in Theatre and English at Boston College.  And like most of us, her life has not followed a straight path – she worked for the Massachusetts State Film Council for a while, then got into media sales for various magazines and news outlets; she got married, and acted in a play or two, and lived in Hawaii for a time; she became a mother and focused her time on raising her young children, and she worked alongside her husband on an entreprenurial food venture you may have heard of, Wicked Natural.

Then came a moment when she had a chance to breathe, and wonder what she’d like to do next – and a friend mentioned her acting.  It was one of those moments when you’re so grateful for the friend who can point out what’s right there in front of you, so close you didn’t see it.  She had the time to spend on her art!  And it was a serendipitous moment.  When Nina googled “community theatre rhode island” just to see what would come up, she learned there was an audition that very weekend for an upcoming production of “Little Women” – and without overthinking it, she leaped in.

It wasn’t until after Nina had landed the role of Marmee that she learned the production was the senior project of an ambitious Tiverton High School student named Carrie Monroe.  Ms. Monroe has relied on her lifelong passion for theatre, and the support of her mentor and her local community, to pull off this impressive project.  As director, she is poised to see it all come to life this weekend, May 3rd, 4th & 5th at the Little Compton Community Center.

read more about Carrie Monroe’s production in The Bay magazine.

For Nina, the fact that she can contribute her talent to the effort to bring this student’s directorial vision to life gives the experience a wonderful added layer of meaning.  She’s been moved by the support of her husband and her two children.  She’s thrilled to get to exercise her ‘theatre-muscles’ again.  And she’s glad to have worked with a mix of adults and young people, glad for the chance to learn from each other, to grow.  But mostly, she’s happy she did it, she got back to her art.

“It’s been great to revisit something that’s always given me such pleasure, and that’s creating a character.” -Nina Murphy

Break a leg, Nina!

Catch a performance of “Little Women” this weekend, on Friday, May 3rd and Saturday, May 4th at 7pm, and on Sunday, May 5th at 2pm, at the Little Compton Community Center, located at the Commons in Little Compton, RI.  Tickets are $10 and are available at the door; the production is a fundraiser for autism awarenessClick here for directions.

Happy New School Year!

Summer has unofficially come to an end, and the kiddos are back to school … and I’m extending my summer sabbatical so I can finish a lingering project.  I do not yet know how this is going to affect The Arts Room; I guess we’ll all see as time goes by.  For today, though, I want to share with you a timely essay written by teacher in North Carolina-

… “And at the classroom level, that means no one ever dares to imagine. Phrases like “what would happen if” and “why should we believe in” that play a regular role in the language of innovators and entrepreneurs are replaced with phrases like “do you know how to” and “what do you remember about” which do nothing more than emphasize the skills required to find the right answers to someone else’s questions.”

-excerpted from “Are We Asking the Right Questions?” by Bill Ferriter

The current preoccupation with standardized testing has spurred an obsessive-compulsive school culture to take root in districts throughout the nation, and here at home.  Speaking as a parent with children in the system, it is not difficult to pinpoint the things our schools are doing to boost standardized test scores; it is much harder to discover what our schools are doing to teach our children to think creatively, learn from their mistakes, and discover the power of lifelong learning.  Achieving a high percentage of ‘proficient’ test scores does not necessarily mean that students are engaged in meaningful learning experiences – it simply means that more students are getting good at taking the tests.  I agree with Sir Ken Robinson, who says our schools must be transformed, not merely reformed, and I’ve written before about the ways I’d like to see our schools transformed.  Our district, like many others, has become obsessed with “the Data”.  We are at the beginning of a new school year, and before we completely lose sight of the forest while we tally the trees, we need to stop and think about what Bill Ferriter is writing about – in our zeal to enact school reforms to improve education, are we even asking the right questions?

Creativity within boundaries

I spend a lot of time reading about creativity in our schools, and while it’s easy to find articles and reports that explain how and why our public schools aren’t encouraging creativity in teaching and learning, it’s harder to find concrete solutions that teachers can readily implement in their own classrooms right now, whatever the pedagogical flavor-of-the-year might be in their district.  Lately I’ve been exploring Lincoln Center Institute’s Imagination Summit website, and I came across an interview Sir Ken Robinson gave in July to WNET Thirteen’s MetroFocus reporter Laura van Straaten.  One question-and-answer in particular caught my attention:

Q: “What can teachers do — teachers who are just starting out or who have been at it a long time? Take someone who may be inspired by what you have to say but who still has to work within the system that hired them, with mandated curricula, with their own performance judged by standardized tests?”

A: “Teachers can do a lot. When the door closes on the classroom, they are in charge of the experience those kids are having. The primary role of the teacher is to engage them and gain their interest, to stimulate their imaginations. Teachers who get that have a better time themselves. Levels of enjoyment go up for both students and teachers.

As an example, there was a national literacy strategy in England. And part of it was that every elementary school, every teacher, had to do this thing called the literacy hour that was quite closely prescribed.

One day this friend of mine had this group of kids and the lesson plan was all about paragraphs, what they are, why we have them. So, you can imagine how exciting that sounds to a kid.

Without talking about paragraphs, what this teacher did was…”

Read the rest of the interview and find out the creative, simple, inspiring way this teacher taught his students about paragraphs! http://www.thirteen.org/metrofocus/news/2011/07/qa-sir-ken-robinsons-advice-for-dennis-walcott/

Note- there seems to be some technical difficulty with the hyperlink function I usually use; while I work that out you can access Lincoln Center Institute’s Imagination Summit here: http://lciweb.lincolncenter.org/imagination-summit

“Our Children Spread Their Dreams Beneath Our Feet”

The education of my children is very much on my mind lately, now that the Joint Finance meetings have ended and our town leaders did not step up to declare education a top priority.  I’m wondering how my children’s school day will change in the upcoming school year.  I’m also reflecting on my impressions of the way this year has progressed.  There’s an awful lot to think about.

Frankly, I’m concerned we’re heading in the wrong direction, but what really worries me is that we may not even agree on the best way to read the map.  Recently at a school committee meeting I watched and listened to a detailed presentation of our district’s performance on this year’s NECAP tests.  Our district’s scores are fine, well above the State average in nearly every area.  But, perhaps contrary to the intentions of the presenters, I was troubled by the amount of time they’ve spent poring over this data.  In fact, that was the overwhelming message of the presentation – that Data is King, and as we move forward, the district’s energies will be applied in the service of the King. 

From my perspective as a parent this is all very troubling.  Yes, adopting a data-driven strategy to pinpoint interventions may result in higher test scores and therefore might make your system look better and better each year (“annual yearly progress”), but I’m not convinced this is what’s best for the children attending classes in this system and trying to achieve a good education.  Because a good education is about so much more than standardized test scores!  

Test scores don’t excite me, or provide me with a rush of relief.  I am more concerned with how my children spend their day.  Are they actually learning anything?  I mean really learning, deeply learning, learning so that their curiosity is ignited and their imagination unleashed.  Learning so that every new discovery leads to more questions, to the opportunity to discuss things, and attempt things, and work things out with their own minds and their own two hands.  Learning that includes time to reflect.  Learning that instills a lifelong love of learning, not just learning something long enough to be able to regurgitate it for a test.  I’m not sure which scenario is playing out right now, and I’m wondering which scenario we’ll be encouraging as we move forward.  If everything must now be “data-driven”, and since the data only describe Math and English/L.A. test scores, and with the district facing precarious financial circumstances … what does this all mean for our children’s education?

Some important meetings will be taking place this May, at which school committee members and district administrators and parents and other members of the community will discuss how to make our school system work with the money that’s been allotted.  The idealist in me thinks this is an opportunity to transform education and sculpt our district into a new model for the 21st century.  The cynic in me is looking at the way we’re reading that map and thinks we’re about to get hopelessly lost. 

What we need is some inspiration! 

A few weeks ago I shared my admiration for Sir Ken Robinson, a creativity expert who writes and speaks about the urgent need to transform education and cultivate a new way of thinking about human potential.  The title of this post is a quote from his second TED talk, given in February 2010, four years after his first TED talk.  Again, he’s funny and charming and an entertaining and insightful speaker, so I hope you’ll take a moment to watch:

School Committee Budget Subcommittee meetings on May 9th & May 16th; School Committee meetings on May 9th & May 23rd; check their website for details.

The One That Started It All

A few days ago my dad was sharing stories with me about his week in Texas at the SXSW conference when he mentioned, kind of offhand, that one afternoon he found himself in a conversation with Michael Stipe.  Yes, that Michael Stipe.  They talked about songwriting.


When I was done freaking-out like a teenager he sent me home with the programs from the conference, so I could page through them at my (jealous) leisure.  I felt sort of like, my-parents-went-to-Hawaii-and-all-I-got-is-this-lousy-t-shirt.  But it got me thinking about the people I’d love to fall into conversation with someday, daydreaming about going out for drinks with Jakob Dylan, Sheryl Crow.  The Edge.  Pink.  Ken Robinson.

What, not ringing any bells?  Sir Ken Robinson, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003, is an internationally renowned creativity expert.  He’s written best-sellers, received awards, and spoken before audiences throughout the world, and at the risk of sounding like a wicked (odd) groupie, he’s got great stage presence, a wry sense of humor, and that appealing British accent.  I first came across Sir Ken Robinson about three years ago, when I was just beginning to learn as much as I could about arts-integration, multiple intelligences, and creativity in our public schools, and I felt like I’d stumbled into a treasure trove when I found the TED conference website and this video of Mr. Robinson’s 2006 TED talk:

Sometimes you read something or hear someone speak, and you might find what they have to say perfectly reasonable, if not memorable.  Other times, the experience makes things as clear and bright as the sun blazing through a break in the clouds.

update: Yay! The video will play now, thanks to the Wordpress Support folks; if you are having any difficulty you can also view the video on the Ted website at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html