#Hamilton & the authentic joy of co-creating

In case you haven’t heard, there is an amazing musical on Broadway right now about Alexander Hamilton. We have been obsessed with it in our household since August when the Soundtrack was released. My husband & I were fortunate enough to see In The Heights on Broadway with Lin-Manuel Miranda a few years ago.

Yesterday the cast performed from the White House. One of the songs they performed is “My Shot”. I have watched this video at least three times now, and it isn’t just the music (though I do know the words by heart). It’s about the joy of the performers.The way that they are listening to each other. And not just the singers, but the musicians behind them as well. Watch the way that they communicate, encourage, and engage with each other. It reminds me of the multiples ways that jazz musicians communicate with each other.

There is something so incredibly authentic about the joy of creating music and story together. This doesn’t happen without a sense of humility and selflessness. Look at the ways they watch each other, the way that they are tuned in to the story and music and the way that each performer is engaging with the story at that moment. Do you see it?

It makes me think of really amazing teaching. More on that later, I need to go watch it again…


If you are aren’t familiar with the musical (or just can’t get enough), here is the video of President Obama’s introduction as well as the cast performing the opening number. I love that part of the event was about celebrating learning and teaching that may not look like what would be assumed.




Listening to Lady Day

Tonight is the premier of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill on HBO.

It might seem obvious to title this post “Listening to Lady Day”. But this isn’t just about listening to Audra McDonald singing Billie Holiday. This is also about listening to Billie’s story. Her many stories. It’s about the ways that the musicians on that stage listen and respond to Audra/Billie.

Listening is about using our ears, our auditory systems. But listening is also about nuance. It is about inflection in someone’s voice. I think it is also about listening to what isn’t there. Listening to the pauses and silences.

Listening when I don’t want to 

Today is the first day of break for my University. It is also daylight savings. I woke up at 4 a.m. And couldn’t go back to sleep. I read a book, I tried to do some work, I watch a program. My body has been telling me it is tired and my brain is on overdrive. This is not a good feeling. I do not like it. 

I rested, I told myself that I was feeling this way because I got up so early. But in truth, I think that I am sick. I hate admitting this, I have spent mental energy today coming up with all sorts of other reasons for why I do not feel well other than admitting I am sick. I don’t know why that is. I teach my interns that they need to take care of themselves first so they can be good teachers when they are healthy. When my husband isn’t feeling well,  I remind him that the world will not end if he misses a rehearsal. When my daughters are ill, I buy them saltines and ginger ale. For some reason, I fight listening to my body when it gives me all the signs. I don’t want to listen to it. I am listening today though. I have not done any work. I have napped and showered and read a book. I am going to work to not feel guilty or lazy – that is not helpful and also is not true. I am remembering that it is important to listen to me sometimes and that is ok. 

Listening, not relating

In the children’s literature courses that I teach, I ask students to consider the concept of books as “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors”. I did not invent this analogy, that must be attributed to Rudine Sims-Bishop. I choose to use this as one framework for reading because it provides language for the students (and me) to talk about our responses to books.

Every time that I teach about children’s literature and reading, someone brings up the notion of “relating to a book.” For example:

  • I really couldn’t relate to this book, so I read it but it wasn’t interesting.
  • Because I couldn’t relate to the book I just wasn’t engaged.
  • Students need to be able to relate to everything they read.

This phenomenon of relating has been evident to me across institutions, undergraduate students, graduate students, experienced teachers, novice teachers, librarians, parents, formalized education contexts and informal. And no matter how often I hear it, it bothers me. It bothers me deeply. Sometimes I have to take deep breaths and count to 10 before I can respond.

Because here is the thing. If you think that the only way for you to engage with a book as a reader is for you to ‘relate’ to it, that is a huge problem. It is a huge problem because as humans, the world is not always about relating. We are NOT all the same. And giving yourself or your students permission to disengage because you can’t relate is irresponsible. It is irresponsible pedagogy and irresponsible human-ing.

I spent a good portion of my life thinking that part of my responsibility was making people comfortable. Not upsetting anyone by talking about things that might make them uncomfortable. I realize now, that is hugely problematic. Because that mentality asks 1)for me to anticipate everyone else’s comfort & discomfort (an impossible task) and 2) for me to place EVERY ONE else’s comfort and needs ahead of my own. I’m not ok with that. It took becoming the parent of two daughters for me to realize this, that and some really amazing people in my life.

Two things happened in the past 24 hours to shake me from my comfort. The comfort of creating this blog and then “belly-button gazing”. The first thing is that I have been listening to the audio book of Ta’Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. It is read by the author. I finished it today, and I will start it again tomorrow. I will write more posts about it but right now, I need to listen.  I need to listen closely. I will listen over and over again. I will especially listen to the parts that make me uncomfortable in my own white skin.

The 2nd thing that happened is not my story to tell, it is the story of two friends. Two friends parenting a young son in middle school. A young son who is thoughtful and kind and so so so aware of the injustices in his school that are being allowed. Injustices that are happening because administrators “don’t want to upset anyone”. Here is the problem, that isn’t possible. My two friends initiated a conversation with administrators. A conversation that is so so important for every single student in the school, not just their son. They are having a conversation, even though it is taking more energy than it should because they want to yell and have every right to yell. At one point in my life, I would have though, “they are so brave”. That is BS. They are not brave. They are human and kind and they are not willing to place the discomfort of some ahead of the expense of any one. And the discomfort – that comes from a place of privilege.

And so here I am on day 4 of my new blog, putting in print – words on a page – publicly sharing, saying to you that I have spent the first few days being a good middle-class, white woman. I was not saying anything that might upset anyone. I was sharing my inner thoughts and ponderings because others might be able to relate to them and find comfort. I will still do that I’m sure. Because I am, in fact, a middle-class white woman. Because connecting with other people is at the core of who I am as a teacher and person. But that cannot be all I am. That is not I all I want to do in the world.

I can also push myself to say what I am thinking and pondering as I listen to stories and experiences that are not my own. I can share how I have learned to listen, REALLY listen and engage with experiences that I don’t relate to, because that isn’t always important. What is important to me now, is listening to experiences and stories and ideas that are not the same as my own. With the goal of listening and learning, not just relating.