I have been musing about the Creativity, why it is unpopular among those who simply cram the memory for exams, and what the purpose of creativity is.
Just as in music, the space between the beat is just as important as the sound itself, the space to play and question between bouts of subject 'training' is equally important. If we provide the skills to analyse and create, then the areas of knowledge themselves will come to life.
For example, so many piano students don't listen to music per se, they may do if requested but music is a vibration that travels through space and hits our eardrums! We have to listen to it to 'get it', we can't simply lift it off the page and regurgitate. That playing is so often 'wooden' and 'lifeless'.
So, ask Alexa to play music, choose a different composer or band each week, and enjoy!
PS this week's composer at Meteor is Brahms, enjoy the big textures and Romantic phrases.
Did you know that the term 'beautiful' and 'kind' are interlinked at preschool? The concepts of aesthetic development increases informative activity and physical development (Gore) so put go to galleries, look at paintings, listen to a variety of music and play in nature!
Everyone is different; I recall great days playing as a tot in the garden with my own vegetable patch, my swing and my cat. Motor skills are developed outside, alongside the 'know-how' eg swinging upside down, taking risks, independent play, rough and tumble etc, all of which will help them create, problem solve and relax as adults.
Set aside playtime.
This week's Blog topic is Empathy.
I'm sure you, like me have met some adults completely lacking in empathy or understanding and wondered - what if?
What if it was teachable to children, what would the lesson plan look like?
Well the answer is that it is not only teachable but necessary in order to achieve community cohesion too, in all our futures.
Babies develop an understanding by 18 months old, that people's actions are guided by an intention, with more advanced reasoning following later, around the age of 5 or 6. Therefore it is no surprise that parents who model empathy raise more empathetic children and so the cycle continues positively.
Studies also show that if people feel very comfortable, they are not as empathetic towards others who aren't. Experiments included 'slime' versus 'soft fabrics'; those who felt uncomfortable demonstrated more empathy towards the other participants in the test. Now there is one for another, more political blog about social class!
The science bit:
The part of our brain responsible for empathy, to override and correct our ego and possible narcissism, is called the Supramarginal Gyrus (No? Nor did I!). The SG is part of the cerebral cortex and when the SG doesn't function properly, or is asked to function too quickly, then it limits our capacity for empathy!
My own layperson's theory here is that with everything having to be socially instantaneous, our poor Supramarginal Gyrus can't cope with the sheer about of info, speed and emotion coming its way. It functions poorly, leading to an upswing in ego and narcissism, as shown so often through social media. No wonder our children are confused, we are too, as the adults!
So, what of our children, who are growing up in a somewhat mixed and often toxic online culture? How can we teach them empathy?
This quote from EmpathyLab, a group put together to research models of best practice, says 'Teaching Children in a way that encourages them to empathise with others measurably improves their creativity'. Their findings are from the University of Cambridge studies with Design Technology students in inner London schools. Cambridge has always been globally recognised for engineering, and they used a set of 'engineering thinking tools' to examine specific categories, such as emotional expressiveness and open-mindedness'. At the end of the study the intervention group was 78% higher in creativity than the control group, despite starting 11% lower.
So what for us as adults? What can we do to foster empathy amid a sea of fixed opinions and fake facts?
I think a combination of modelling and freedom is key. Why are we so creative as a species? Because we can empathise with the pain of others, through art, music, literature et al.
What a blessing that is, keep loving and empathising.
Anita MacDonald runs Meteor Tutors, an online music school which provides bespoke musical tuition across the world. In some ways she was ahead of the curve when Covid-19 hit, and has some useful advice for businesses having to change to a more online proposition during lockdown.
Click the link below to listen to the Podcast >>
Tenacity, and triangles.
'Let me tell you the Secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.' - Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)
The long and winding road is never a straight vertical line. We are often thrown a curved ball and this is where we learn to be tenacious. Particularly over the last year or so, where we have all observed this in our move into the new normal.
But how do our children learn tenacity for life?
Tenacity literally means grip. Like a limpet, holding onto a rock against the ferocity of the ocean, tenacity means we hold firm when all around us can be stormy.
We often protect our children from many experiences we have had, but tenacity shouldn't be one of them. Think of a time when you held on, and then think about how you'd give your child a safe space to learn this skill.
An educational setting is their safe space. How to commit and persevere with an instrument or voice, or problem, or spelling, or formula.
This brings me to my next point 'Tenacity is the ability to hang on when letting go appears most attractive'
Often we as parents doubt ourselves and allow our children to give up their hobby, studies, etc as they 'don't want to do it'. Is it that they don't want to do it, or have the parents set them up for failure by not supporting them effectively?
Having experienced ALL sorts of parenting models over the last 36 years of teaching, I'd say the most successful parents have two main attributes:
1. They don't allow their children to give up once committed
2. They therefore ensure their children achieve success by being tenacious with their practice.
The first point is important. If they are going to start lessons, there will be an end date at some point, but not now. You'd like lessons? Ok let's give it an end date or grade and then we will begin. I will invest my time, finances (instrument purchase, lessons) and you will practise in return.
This leads to point 2 where oversight is important. This is where parents often lack tenacity themselves. One recently gave up her child's lessons because it interfered with her own social life on a Friday evening. That 'wine o'clock' scenario could be a much needed short term boost, but parenting is for life, and tenacious parents breed successful humans.
This is not to confuse tenacious with hovering parents, wringing their hands, worrying and externalising or texting the tutor with the smallest issue. It is a calm set of instructions, carried out daily and repeatedly, and leading to success.
The Triangle of Tenacity
Often I hear criticism on online fora from teachers regarding 'pushy parents' and this can be true if the parent is forceful without their own 360 reflection about their own tenacity. We should try not to blame the teacher or other external factors for our child's lack of progress, merely the lack of tenacity. Then we have to carefully unpick where that has slipped.
When tenacity is shown by teacher, parent and student, I call this the 'Tenacity Triangle' and that is where the magic happens.
We as teachers at Meteor Tutors are committed to success for every student we teach, and those clients who accept our expertise and advice and deliver their side of the tenacity triangle are rewarded greatly.
A book I have been reading is 'Raising the Kanneh-Masons' by Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason. You may recall her son Sheku played at a Royal wedding a few years ago. Her other children are equally gifted, and reading her musings, I am reminded of the sacrifices and tenacity shown by parents of successful children.
I have a few clients who follow in Kadiatu's footsteps. They are single minded but gentle in their child-rearing. They insist upon practice, but balance this with outdoor activities, martial arts, painting, and charity work, and above all, love.
I mention the last word, as I was brought up in the opposite extreme, so there are some exceptions to the parental rule. I found my own tenacity for completely different reasons and as a form of escape, but it took many years for me to work out the magic increases more with familial love and respect.
So if today, you want me to sum up tenacity, it would be 'strength with purpose, delivered with love and respect.'
Have a wonderful week of practice and learning.
'Success is often not a matter of talent, but a matter of tenacity' - Nathaniel Bronner
'The process of anticipating the future and developing methods of minimising the effects of shocks and stresses of future events'
I think a lot about the future. Not in a pensive way, just an excited 'kid in a candy shop' kind of way. After all, my generation live in the best time to be alive; one foot firmly in the pre-Internet past and another in the AI future. Isn't it great?!
This was something that always interested me, as an Assistant Headteacher in 2002, I already used fingerprints for Library books as I was tired of tickets being lost. Then added that to lunches so there was no difference between free school meals and other children, no-one knew which account a fingerprint came from, so stigma free.
More recently we started Meteor Video Software long before Covid necessities, so it was a seamless transition for our clients.
For those of us erstwhile 'Cassandras' who like to predict trends, we often wish there had been more in Government for the last few years!
Anyway, the main issue in Education prediction and strategy has always been that people are educated themselves. That means they can have a two-dimensional view of Education as a whole, as they automatically think back to their own experiences.
And there is the rub - their own experiences in the past and of the past are used to predict the future.
How do we open our minds to the futures our children may possibly experience? When my daughter applied to a top University, their Computer Science applications were up tenfold on the previous year. Lots of students are planning careers in IT where other more mainstream 'good occupations' would have previously been top of their list.
I find in teaching, that many clients are behind their children in the realms of IT, Apps, programming, etc and obviously most would be. However they still try to divert their children towards previously (and still) respectable careers, due to their own educational and historical bias.
My question to you as parents is: Is this suitable future-proofing for your children and grandchildren?
I am part of a huge network of Digital nomads, living in other countries than those that employ them. This is a huge sea change in employment and obviously Governments will have to catch up with the online surge, not only due to Covid, but also nowadays a lifestyle choice.
My own children (both working in tech) are not particularly interested in owning property or 'stuff' but all about experiencing and living life to the full. So many of their generation as similar, 'have backpack and iPad, will travel and work'.
Are we aware of this, as parents, employers, unions, countries, etc? If we don't like it, do we let them do it anyway, as they are in a much better position to see the here, now and future than we are?
Of course, every generation has to find its way. To me the major difference today is that our children will be competing in an increasingly AI market. Automated supermarkets, banks, stores, robots delivering goods, robots building machinery, analysing statistics and going to the moon.
So, instead of perhaps more traditional careers, think about researching Data science, business intelligence, machine learning and AI engineering, research scientists et al. If your school doesn't offer Computer Science and IT courses, then change school. That sounds draconian but that is my advice.
May the Force be with you!
'So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived, or he who has stayed securely on the shore and merely existed?' Hunter S Thompson
In 2012, my late husband and I jumped a wall onto Bondai Beach in Florida, looked around and thought, let's drive the car along it. We did, and were in a stately line behind assorted bikers and other likeminded friendly lunatics driving on beaches and having fun. Some were hanging off the back of pickup trucks, margaritas in hand.
There was a small 'ahem' from the back seat and we turned around to see our kids looking at us with horrified expressions. Comments followed such as 'you will damage the tires', 'we will miss our flight' and other assorted risk averse mutterings.
We looked at each other and shook our heads at the younger generation. Wasn't it supposed to be them hanging out of a car on a beach? What had happened to make them so risk averse, and us such ageing risk takers?
Years later, my partner and I jumped into the car in 2020 with necessities and dog, and drove to Italy to escape another depressingly grey UK lockdown. Since 'The Great Escape' we have been rewarded in ways we didn't dream of, new farming skills, a donkey, another dog, and some chickens. New language, new friends, new hobbies, new experiences. Lots of people count us lucky, I don't believe that luck plays any part in our own decision making, merely the measurement of risk versus happiness.
Since the pandemic, we have all watched the growth of fear, control and risk-aversion making people stay in their homes, not venture out at all and become depressed. Someone said to me recently, the rules aren't the same here in Italy- so different levels of risk stop at the borders of countries? Or do we use daft political and general opinions to affect our own lives?
So I started researching, going to a Cambridge study on risk and looking at 2019 risk management for the global population (read on, this bit may appear slightly boring, but important nonetheless). Listed there are human pandemics (quelle surprise), earthquakes, fires, floods, ice age, heatwaves, tropical windstorms, tsunami, and more than we wish to imagine.
We live on the surface of a ball suspended in infinite space with molten stuff inside, so why don't we take more risks?
The abstract concept of risk is one that educators have often failed to grasp. That is why I jumped out of state run education, run by Mondeo people in grey suits, who followed instructions without question, and agreed to creativity being removed from the classroom. Frogs in a gradual pan of hot water. One can't blame but one does wish?.
We reached a tipping point in education some twenty years ago, as I sat in my office completing annual telephone book sized risk assessments for my annual New York trips with my Citizenship class. (They wanted to speak at the United Nations, and a wee lass from Slough silenced them all in a debate about Iraq). If we hadn't taken the risk, she would not have the lifelong memory of defeating a stiff collared guy at the UN debate. Oh and the only risk not covered was the one that happened; most 6th form kids trying to escape for a cigarette on the fire escape!
So risk per se, isn't really risk at all. I see parents not only hovering, but surrounding their children, squeezing the creativity out of them by worrying about insignificant details.
'She will get tired if she practises too much' ? and? We learn how to work through tiredness, it isn't a risk for her as she isn't planning to drive for another 14 years.
He needs to keep drinking water during the lesson ?.no, he doesn't, there is not a high risk of getting thirsty in 30 minutes.
'He may hurt himself' yes, the joy of childhood is constant knee plasters, hey ho.
It is more about the generation raising today's tinies, their view of risk has been skewed to what I would argue is an overly protective stance on everything. Phone tracking, texting, parental control of every waking moment means we have a dearth in creativity. (Ironically the most dangerous and risky areas of the internet are often depths known only to the kids, and parents are blissfully unaware of the stranger danger in their own home.)
Dreaming, creating, making, doing, self instructed makes children creative. We do the other 'within reason' bit, except we are clutching these little butterflies too tightly in our hands. Let them fly!
But before that, let yourself go too. You deserve it. What is holding you back from doing something spontaneous, daft, or creative today?
'Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing Helen Keller
'If things seem under control, you are just not going fast enough' Mario Andretti
'I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it' Pablo Picasso
'Life is being on the wire, everything else is just waiting' Karl Wallenda
'Get out on a limb. That's where the fruit is.' Jimmy Carter
'In the end we only regret the chances we didn't take, relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make' Lewis Carroll
'Open the cage door and let your children fly, creative genius is borne through the perfect combination of love, happiness, work and freedom to take risks' Anita MacDonald
'Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat' - Steve Jobs
When I were a lad, or in this case, a girl, there was always 'the way' to hold a knife and fork, to pretend to be right-handed, to accept the well trodden path of norms. In fact at my careers interview the adviser told me to apply for a job at the Halifax Building Society at the end of the street, because 'you will never get a job in music'. Family too, until the first TV performance, then they bragged, but never admitted their own minds couldn't cope with abnormal behaviour!
I always used to look at rather depressed looking adults and wonder, had they ever had dreams? Had they ever learned to fly off in their mind and explore the boundaries of their own brains? Or had they simply fallen into the mental trap of listening to an adult tell them they 'couldn't do something' when they were a child.
And of course, later as a school teacher, I witnessed some 'Mondeo people' in Education, scripted, safe and ultimately not leading to the development of children's minds, just the ability to churn out memorisation and results. A control function for their own convenience, as opposed to a creative function for the children in their care.
Nowadays we have become more open minded in many ways, but are we as open minded with our children? The fundamental point from many scientific studies is that the mind is underused, under stretched and underachieving, something we could improve for future generations.
I have been studying the impact of the mind watching parents and children interacting in lessons. I can say that the most open minded parents and tutors who embrace at least the possibility of change, create the best dynamic for learning.
When I am teaching adult over thinkers, their minds lodged in the logical, as opposed to creative, I always tell them to imagine they are four years old. Then they become more sponge like again, they loosen up, lose all the years of acquired 'norms' and start to feel and create.
Conversely, some kids are a bit hyper, fiddling with things and asking seemingly irrelevant questions. Parents apologise to me on their behalf, but this is what an Oxbridge professor once told me they actively look for in candidate. That questioning, seeking, fiddling, thinking. Don't train it out of your child too much, keep that innate spirit. I love teaching these students, sometimes they lead you off on a path of discussion that becomes fascinating and fun!
Bierce's 1911 description of the mind as 'a mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain with nothing but itself to know itself with' is a wee bit sad, but one the ego struggles to deal with. We are a series of patterns of behaviour, so we can change anything we like (or dislike), whenever we like.
They key finding in one study for me was that 'people are more cooperative when they connect with cooperative individuals' was fascinating as it explained how we can all be 'triggered' by something during the learning process, or online, or in writing, or just our perception of events. A high level of cooperation leads to a higher level of altruism, and calms the anxious amygdala.
So what am I getting at? Maybe the first thing is to start with is to embrace an open mind. 'I feel that I can't do this, but it doesn't mean my child can't.' Or in the teachers case 'I can create ways in which my student can'.
Jean Morans 'Rubberband Revolution' is a good read, where this sort of mind stretching can eliminate mental blocks, increase efficiency and innovation and leads to greater productivity.
Google know this, which is why employees have an array of seating, lounging, sliding, their offices look like Thorpe park in comparison to old style hamster wheel offices.
So today my message to parents is: Don't question their limits, just sit back, allow a creative atmosphere, and watch the magic happen. Be open minded and watch them soar.
As a child, I used to swing on a rusty old garden swing, look at the clouds and water my little salad patch that my Grandfather donated to me in a small area of garden. In turn I picked them and ate them in my little den, and felt completely at peace with the world. That sense of being content outdoors has persisted throughout my life, despite adverse life changes, the soil is always there and as long as you water it, the plants will grow.
Last year, many of us (who had anything from a single pot, to a few acres) turned to gardening as a hobby. That and baking seemed to comfort our anxious souls, and many of us seemed to innately desire a more natural existence.
A survey by the British Nutrition Foundation of 27,500 UK students (released by the BBC on the 3rd June 2021) showed some alarming removal from nature. One in ten secondary students think tomatoes grow underground, that cheese is made from plants and that fish fingers come from chicken or pig. Pasta was made from meat and potatoes grew on trees.
I am old enough to remember 'food and nutrition' as a subject, before the 'Mondeo people' thought Food technology was a better option. Certainly there was an immediate increase in writing, but an equal decrease in cooking/baking skills in school and at home. One would think food was the life blood of our children, but Algebra and Latin gained the upper hand, as of course, we need those subjects every day(!)
In recent years, some enterprising schools have developed greenhouses or gardens, and have grown and then cooked their own food. But a natural curriculum is still to be developed to combat obesity. Around 100 schools now have their own small 'farms' and have seen very positive results in learning, leading to land-based science qualifications.
If we look at Scandinavian models, there is always a concept of 'Udeskole' or outdoor school, which is characterised by 'compulsory educational activities outside of school on a regular basis'. They visit farms, forests, parks, factories, to create a close link between life and school.
Udeskole activities use the natural environment to teach core subjects, eg measuring the volume of trees in maths, poems about nature, museums for history. Who can say they were ever their most creative selves sitting behind a row of desks?
In 2007 I travelled to Italy on a study with NCSL, in order to look at their 'standing curricula', where students walked around the classroom freely, went onto the hillside to pick tomatoes for passata and lunches smelled of fresh basil. It was a revelation, they were prepared for the world of home and work, teachers were 'friends' and the atmosphere was far less clinical than an average 'bog-standard' school.
This was similar to my primary school experiences, where my year 2 teacher took us to her farm, and brought buttermilk in for us all to churn, the American teacher with her popping corn and the tadpoles in the school pond etc etc.
Experiences are the memories that stick when the others have disappeared. So how do we replicate this in day to day work as parents? Obviously Jamie Oliver has emphasised the cooking thing, but we could do more from seeds onwards.
A starting point could be 'kidsgardening.org' where there are activities, programmes and lesson plans that you could adopt quickly at home or in school.
One lesson plan I love is a 'friendship fort' where a bean wigwam is grown and the children huddle underneath and are mindful of the baby plants springing up beside them. Party ideas, building a terrarium, recycling kitchen scraps, planting a butterfly garden will all encourage empathy and a sense of well being.
The added advantage for both children and ourselves as 'frazzled' adults is the 'mycobacterium vaccae' found in soil. This mycobacterium increases serotonin produced in the brain 'the happy chemical' so go on, play in the dirt and increase your concentration and cognitive ability at work!
'Time is what we want most, but what we use worst' William Penn
In 2014, after the sudden death of my late husband, I was struggling to cope with time. Days felt like years, and other small things pressed in on me, a letter to post, a bill to be paid, and I simply couldn't bring myself to do it.
As a schoolteacher, I was ruled by time, class changes, bells ringing, homework due, exam dates, meetings and deadlines. Suddenly I was having to function daily in school but with the feeling of time being simultaneously too short and too long.
I joined various widows support groups and discovered that we all felt the same. How did we cope with the smallest thing, and allow ourselves the time to do it?
So I came up with 'The Four Quadrants' system to enable me to start somewhere, a small safe space in which to function.
I drew a cross in my diary for each day, and labelled the Four Quadrants 'family, work, home and self'. Then I chose one pressing item and wrote it into each quadrant. For example 'clean kitchen, take kids to kayak lesson, paint nails, pay bill' By the end of the week, I had effortlessly done 28 things, because I started small.
As time moved on, I was able to add more things to each quadrant, but the wonderful thing about a paper diary was that there were only a few lines for each quadrant, so I had to choose the most important items first. I then highlighted those I'd completed, and moved any extras onto the following day.
Nowadays the most common question people ask me is 'How do you do it all? Run a company, have a hobby farm, read books, see friends, run functions and concerts and produce an app?
The answer is the four quadrants, which I shall now have to rename as I have six boxes now- I added finance and land sections to include the olive trees and vines we are growing for our retirement!
Back in 1999 when I first became a Head of 6th Form in a busy London State Comprehensive, the questions from teenagers on Induction Day were always the same. 'How do I manage my workload? I don't have enough time!'
We built an exercise into induction day which included the following:
- How many hours are there in a week?
- Take aways school timetable
- Take away sleep (generous amount for teens!)
- Take away mealtimes
How many do you have left?
They always gasped in amazement at how many hours they had left to do study, as no-one really realises how much time is frittered chatting in corridors and common rooms, or playing computer games, or dating(!) etc.
Then they had to make a choice ratio. Work: Play timetable and stick to it. Many of them found it really helpful, and I recall the results shooting skywards that year as they worked during their schedules, and we rewarded them with pool tables etc during down time.
We often get lost in time, we are busy but doing what? My students will know when they say 'I didn't have enough time to practice' that my reply is always the same 'Yes, you did, but you prioritised other things'
So how do we improve our time management?
This paragraph is for folk who like colour coding:
Put your calendar into google for a month and colour code it the four quadrant colours. So work for me is blue, home is green, family is yellow, meetings are red etc. Then after a month just scroll through your calendar and see which colour is prevalent! For me, I didn't have enough purple (me time) so there is now a golden hour each day for reading/swimming/gardening.
Time is fleeting, and the conversely beautiful aspect of time management is not that you are trying to grab onto time. You are simply freeing up more time to enjoy experiences, trips, art, museums, sports, whatever you feel important in life, by streamlining the rest of your day/week/month.
For my students, particularly the teens, I understand they can't do hours and hours of practice. It is the management and structure of a ten minute window that is important- practice technique will be covered in a future blog.
So prioritise those you love and streamline the other bits, and you will find there is actually plenty of time.
See you later at your allotted time!
'Time isn't the main thing. It's the only thing' - Miles Davis (musical time!)
'If you don't make the time to work on creating the life you want, you're eventually going to be forced to speak a LOT of time dealing with a life you don't want' - Kevin Ngo
'The two most powerful warriors are Patience and Time'- Leo Tolstoy
Being a parent doesn't mean we all understand immediately how to steer our kids, or indeed ourselves, through the next twenty-odd years.
As a mother to two twenty-somethings, I am now looking back with some regrets and some pride, but we do all share something in common; the predisposition to blame ourselves for failure more than take pride in their achievements.
That said, the thorny world of parental etiquette is vast and varied.
Football parents and required to stand at the touchline in all weathers, I was a kayak mum so used to have to walk along the Thames riverbank, scanning the stormy horizon for small daughter, who invariably was at the very end of the line, staring into space and forgetting to paddle. The etiquette there involved cooking lunch for all the other parents every few weeks.
We have Ballet parents, Brownie Parents, D of E parents, Cricket parents, Tennis parents. Each of the clubs has a slightly different set of unwritten rules, that we gradually notice, or are told about. In my slightly oddball world, someone would have to explain clearly to me what the expectations were, otherwise I simply wouldn't pick the hints up at all.
So I thought I'd touch on musical etiquette today, or the Golden Triangle that exists between Parent, Student and Tutor. The Golden Threads shimmer in the background and are easily broken without care and mutual respect. I am thinking of a parent who said recently 'I don't want their light to be dimmed', and my immediate thought was 'it isn't switched on yet.'
1. Listen to music: Music is not a club where skills are picked up solely in 30 minutes, the car speakers need to be cranked up with a variety of playlists of radio stations, jazz, folk, classical, pop etc so toddler aural skills are improved from an early age. Sing with them, singing is as natural as speaking. Refrain from saying 'you are out of tune' they probably are at that age, as they learn to vocalise. This carries more weight than the 10 minutes aural training with a tutor.
2. Visualise which instrument you can imagine carrying to gigs in your car for ten years, if you have a Micra, then a piccolo would be better than a double bass
3. Choices: Would your child love playing in a group, rather than as a soloist? Choose an orchestral instrument for tours and concerts. If they are a bit more introverted, then perhaps a solo instrument
4. Teacher/Maestro: Choose lessons from a good teacher. I always switch off when the first question is 'where are you?' People travel hundreds of miles, albeit virtually nowadays, for the best teacher, not just Aunty Morag round the corner who got her grade 5 piano fifty years ago. You get what you pay for. If you are on a budget, choose group lessons and do more of the steering yourself, (without fluttering over them constantly.) Definitely don't join one of those daft groups who pay hundreds of pounds for mutual recommendations; our local one recommends some simply awful tutors, do your homework, check CVs, DBS, diplomas, degrees etc.
5. Observation: Most of our parents sit in, but please remember it is not your lesson, allow your child to answer themselves, try not to whisper the answer, however tempting, and definitely don't ask daft adult questions when your child has already 'got it' themselves. Make the teacher feel comfortable by not staring intently at them like a demented Ofsted inspector. Go and make a cup of tea and let child and tutor breathe.
6. Support the teacher you have chosen, don't allow ego to question anything in front of the student; email or message later so as not to drive a wedge between student and teacher.
7. Performances! Half of the joy of concert going is listening to others. A selfish streak has arisen in the last decade or so, where people actually think it is ok to leave after their child has performed! Some even ask if their child can perform first! This immediately creates the following thoughts in the child's head ?I leave after I perform, as I am the most important person in the room, I am allowed to leave by my parents, I am not interested in the performances of my peers, it is ok to live life at an extraordinarily fast pace and not to sit back and dream.' This is so counterproductive to their wonderful naturally enquiring minds at that age. Stay seated and support the community as a whole, not just your own child.
8. Tiredness: 'we can't do the lesson as my child is tired'. That's great, now they will develop resilience by working through their tiredness. Children walking miles to a well and drawing keyboards on blocks of wood may be tired, children dozing off in the car and waking up cranky are simply that, so let's crack on through it, as we adults have to do?.
9. Resilience: in my experience, we parents give up mentally long before our children do. The unblinking parents see distinction after distinction and success after success. The waverers who put their own internal dialogues unwittingly into the minds of their children, see a mixed bag of results, as confusion reigns. We should not be scared for our children and their hobbies, let them learn what they are particularly good at and then put the plans in place to let them fly. I read loads of stuff about 'pushy parents' but usually by those who lacked this resilience and drive themselves. I am very much of the Judy Murray school of thought, one rarely meets a talent that has not been supported by parents or an interested adult. On the other hand there is a way to be pushy without being too domineering, this is an acquired skill involving some homework by the parents as to child psychology, and the love with which challenges are set and reviewed.
10. Payments: I have to put this bit in as so many online comments by tutors are about lack of payment. We don't take our shopping to the checkout and ask to pay in a few weeks, we don't hold the supermarket to ransom for said shopping eg 'if you give me a catchup I will pay you then'. Tutors are not wealthy unless they have other streams of income, most of which have dried up in the Arts since Covid. Not paying them will lead to an underlying tension which will affect the lessons, so cough up!
11. Accompaniments and videos: usually accompanists charge £40 for an hours exam fee etc, more for performances, (less than a plumber). This includes hours of practice time too. Please don't routinely ask for free videos unless the tutor offers out of the kindness of their heart, and do thank them. In this mad and fast world, often we simply forget to thank people, which often means just as much as money to a kind hearted tutor. Leave them five stars on the site, or just email to thank them for the extra time taken. They will give you a five star service every week, as they will feel valued.
12. Parting is a sweet sorrow: Eventually the time will come to leave your tutor. Exams may be completed, the last certificate posted and off they go. The feeling of loss is with tutors too; I have lost an abnormally large number of grade 8 and diploma students this year, as they started with me around ten years ago, and were all family to me. Keep in touch! No-one will ever be more proud of you than your tutor who helped you and your parents who facilitated it.
Do you reward or reprimand your child? Do you bribe them with prizes in order to achieve a high grade? All of these fall into specific psychology types, possibly influenced by your own experiences.
As a parent, I wish I had paid more attention to the psychology of learning, though as a teacher we often had to sit through interminably boring staff training sessions, led by the usual Mondeo people, who lectured us on experiential learning while we sat, compliant, on the same chair for eight hours.
In 2007 I travelled to Japan and Italy with Hitachi and NCSL respectively with our Headteacher hats on, to look at learning styles. The Japanese were fascinated at my handing out of rewards for learning, teachers ran to my training session, giggling behind their hands and saying "So Western." They had the teacher on a platform, single desks facing forward and a definite drilling of information.
In Italy, the opposite applied. Students wandered round classrooms freely, often with no desks, they picked their own vegetables for the cafe lunches, and used a more collaborative approach. I recall a sixth former walking up to the Deputy Head and asking for a 'light' for his cigarette, which was readily given! All about freedom of choice.
In the UK in the nineties, we had countless sessions on Lee Canter's 'Assertive Discipline' where we admired someone's pencil hold, awarded points for good behaviour and generally treated students in the same way as others trained their dogs. In other words, to react, and be programmed to receive instruction.
Anyway, I could reminisce further, but the point of this blog is to introduce you, our clients to the types of Educational psychology you may encounter in your child's school or learning institution. And how you can support, or counteract it?
Behaviorism - Thorndike and Pavlov, late 19th Century.
Positive 'rewards' vs negative 'punishments'. Think dog treat or being put outside in the cold.
Food for thought: this assumes that changes in behaviour signify learning. Does it, or does it aid compliance as opposed to individual creativity?
Cognitivism - Piaget, Bruner, Gagne, 1950s
Now humans were seen as rational as opposed to the previous animal style reward system. Piaget's stages of development, where older adults are more difficult to teach- can you see that as parents, sometimes your child picks up the concept much more quickly? This is normal!
Anyway the important bit here is that your child can collect information into a usable library of knowledge they can use.
Self reflection or 'plenary' sessions where the student reviews what they have learned, are very popular in school lessons today.
Constructivism - Dewey, Piaget, Bruner 1970s
Learners create their own subjective information and teacher guides their learning. Remember the old OHET models of thought construction? This is it, the observation and hypothesis leading to testing and forming an opinion. We all do that!!
I quite like this approach as I feel the students can 'fly' (like ET) and not be so controlled with this method.
Experientialism - Kolb and Rogers
Experiential learning working alongside our natural human desire to learn. People must learn for themselves (I'd agree with this, in combination with imparting excellent technique in my subject).
The loop idea here, of prior experience, new concept and practice and application of the skills is ideal for us as tutors. There is no point in starting everyone at the same point, or keeping everyone at the same speed. Ergo, the stack em high, sell it cheap model of schooling may well be coming to an end.
Social and Contextual - Vygotsky, Bandura, Rogoff, Wenger
These challenge the other theorists above, and talk about the environment and social context shaping one's learning. The group 'soft skills' such as cooperation, trust, understanding, and problem solving are brought to the fore, preparing them, one could argue for the world of work.
So what can you do?
I can see merits in most of the processes above, as always a combination is effective. If you have lessons from Meteor, you will see that we try to use all of these at some point in proceedings, depending on the child.
As a parent, maybe don't ONLY utilise a reward/reprimand structure, but play much more, learn through it, and have the child come up with ideas as to 'why'. The social context is more important than ever during Covid, social play is still so necessary for child development.
Read to your child- Education is wealth; I can see that from my own experience, where my coal miner grandad read me Shakespeare, Chaucer, Walter Scott and Defoe. It lead to a four books a day reading and researching appetite, which I think keeps me young and creative today.
Most of all, just enjoy your children, it is over in a flash, so keep them happy and interested in learning and you will see the rewards in a few years. It is wearing at times, but it is such a joy to see them using all these skills naturally as adults.
In Scotland as a child, I used to watch everyone busily hoovering and dusting on the 31st of December (Hogmanay), cleaning as if they were being chased by the 'Deil' himself.
This saying was used a lot in our house, 'out with the old and in with the new', hence the house had to be clean to properly usher in the New Year.
Teachers and students have the same feeling about the new academic year; shiny uniforms, pencil cases and rucksacks (although cavernous designer handbags are also popular). The lunch boxes don't yet smell of egg, new diaries are issued and after a long summer of rest students are keen to start back, taller, older and in some cases, gruffer.
Like resolutions, it often tails off by the end of September, and once the really cold weather starts, can be a bit of a trial to keep the impetus going.
So what do people do right in order to progress?
Lao Tzu put it well 'When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be'
It is important for us to reflect on what didn't go well in the previous year, and most importantly, why?
For me as a teacher I see it all the time with parents and students tiring of the daily 'grind' of practice or study.To me the question is always 'why?' What is stopping you achieving your goals, and how can we fix it? Is it your goal, or would you like to go in a slightly different direction?
This does not mean I am one of the super irritating influencers who just tells you to 'be strong' and 'reach your goals' as if life is perfect. For me it is rather like turning a small boat with children and a juggernaut with adults. The thoughts we have had over our lifetime create some pretty strong patterns that can be resistant to change. But everything is possible.
As a parent, I'd advise ditching any strong thoughts on education from your past; we are all at a disadvantage as we always think back to our own experience of school and tuition, which has little or no bearing on the age our children are living in.
As a teacher, I'd advise keeping up with change, several 'luddites' have been in touch looking for work as tutors over the holiday period, but if you don't believe in or use technology, then you aren't preparing your students adequately for their future. It is also important to use their knowledge as a starting point, rather than ours. I may be preaching to the converted, but for those tutors who post online without any sort of training, they often miss the blatantly obvious.
So although shiny pencil cases are exciting, we should value the small, incremental daily steps we take, and we as parents should ensure that time is made in the increasingly busy schedules to accommodate this. Free play, creativity, improvisation, listening, thinking, reading, so important.
People often ask me why my life is timetabled and colour coded (not for everyone!). The work parts are timetabled so I can stick to the time limits and have free time to read, to think and to create.
Letting go of old habits and thought patterns is the best way to become 'who we might be', a better example of ourselves. Enjoy the new academic year and may we as teachers and parents, set the wind in your sails. Much love, Anita.
'The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you're not going to stay where you are' - JP Morgan
'Every day is a chance to begin again. Don't focus on the failures of yesterday, start today with positive expectations' - Catherine Pulsifer
'Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.' - Alan Cohen
Heres a test for you -
Q. What do YOU think a School function should be?
A. If you immediately visualised your own school, friends, teachers (good and bad) then you are not alone; education is a very personal thing that all of us experienced in very unique ways. The danger is that we use our own personal experience as a belief that this is 'the only way it should be done'.
I had the good fortune to train and work in some very challenging London schools, and would ask you the following questions:
Q. Would every student say that the 2 minutes out of 60 that a teacher could spend with them individually was worth it?
Q. Did every class you attended contain 60 minutes of work, where you left knowing more than when you entered??
Q. If you had 60 minutes of education per hour, rather than 2, would you be in a different job?
Q. If the careers service had been automated based on your likes and dislikes would you have chosen a different career path?
Q. If the canteen had served different food and the sports chosen just for you, would you be more in shape?
Q. If your children had less homework and testing would they be more relaxed?
Q. If your child could be educated safely and STILL socialise would that make you happy?
Q. What is your favourite memory of school? (Most of my former students say my legendary trips, ironically not in school!).
Here is a list of the functions of a 19/20th Century School - have a think about what we can/can't replicate easily.
- Classrooms, where students sit at desks for long periods of time.
- Dining hall or canteen where students eat lunch and often breakfast and snacks.
- Athletic field, playground, gym where students participate in sports.
- Playgrounds, often made of concrete, or softer materials to spend break time socialising.
- Auditorium or hall, where student theatrical and musical productions can be staged and where all-school events such as assemblies are held.
- Office, where the administrative work of the school is done.
- Library, where students ask librarians reference questions, read books and magazines, and use computers.
- Computer Labs, where computer-based work is done and the internet accessed, (often laptops).
- Cultural and Religious, where the students uphold their cultural practice through activities like games, dance, and music.
Schools, particularly compulsory state education, are a relatively recent phenomenon. It wasn't until the late 1700's in Scandinavia, that state schooling became compulsory and the rest of Europe followed.
Historically, religion played a large part as missionary schools opened in order to teach a specifically Christian viewpoint and other religions did the same. Schooling was there first and foremost for religious reasons with the other components added under one roof.
I tend to view schools as a 'stack em high, sell it cheap' educational option, but it doesn't mean other models can't be available.
You will know by now that I tend to predict trends and particularly in Education, the old ways are going, hastened by a pandemic but not limited to that. Many students are far happier working at their own pace online without someone throwing paper, bullying them, distracting the teacher from delivering the lesson effectively. The bonus is they learn so much faster, our exam results online have never been so high. BUT they do need human contact, somewhere, the future proofing is imagining and creating that for them.
Sports and Arts venues are still available, Churches, Temples, Galleries exist for socialising and school sites would make great housing for our National Housing Shortages.
I look forward to your disruptive responses!
Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means your 'reason for being.' 'Iki' in Japanese means 'life,' and 'gai' describes value or worth.
Your ikigai is your life purpose or your bliss. It's what brings you joy and inspires you to get out of bed every day.
Having moved back from Italy in September 2022 after a serious accident that curtailed my piano playing, sleeping, driving, cooking, getting dressed and even having a bath, I lost my Ikigai for a time.
We moved to Italy in 2020 after the first lockdown as an experiment in self sufficiency, growing on the land, harvesting olives, rescuing animals and being plant based.
In the blink of an eye that changed dramatically, hospitals, operation to rebuild a (now metal) shoulder, bleeding profusely from the after effects, with my partner driving through two countries to get me home to family and rest.
Now after a few 'first aid' months of healing, I now find myself checking how I feel about it all. Is the Ikigai the same as before? We are lucky to have a 'digital nomad' existence and can travel anywhere within reason (and a good internet connection), but is that an advantage? We met some beautiful (and awful) people along the way, and for the latter I was pretty unprepared. The advantage has been that I was able to observe what I definitely didn't want to be as a person, and improve my empathy and patience much more as a result. How do we improve these skills in children without subjecting them to 'too much' social pressure?
That which you are good at - a multitude of skills are not noticed within the school system so how do we realise what we are good at? How do we enable our children to realise what their strengths are (my kids have completely different strengths to me)?
That which you love - teaching and spending time with children is such a wonderful occupation that despite its obvious drawbacks in a 'hard copy building' I love 'soft copy' online tuition. They are comfortable and happy with parents at home, and learn much more quickly in that environment.
Q. How do we ask our children to find what they love, for their future? One 6th former said to me last week that she found it 'too early to decide' what she loved. She'd had so many curricula to follow that she found it hard to separate school from something she loved.
That which the World Needs - fortunately education is one, more so than ever. Parts of the world need ever better connections in order to have access.
Q. How do we prepare our children for the future, and what the world needs? Or is it all about love? For each other, the benefit of the doubt, milk of human kindness type of thing? Or should we be preparing for a life alongside AI and environmental change?
That which you can be paid for - and payment, not simply as a financial transaction, but sufficient rest, holidays, family time and soft incentives as to make it attractive to any human.
I try to think of Ikigai alongside Scandinavian Hygge - we have a reason for being, then it is all about the small things that make us comfortable while delivering our 'raison d'Ítre'.
The warmth, the food, the candles, scents, literature, music and art. The experiences of galleries, museums that give us a creative impetus to try new things out ourselves. The walking in nature and getting our hands buried in soil to awaken our senses and joy at being alive. Cuddling animals, being alive.
Enjoy your Ikigai and don't let the Non-Ikigai sufferers get you down!
If you'd like a copy of the poster, click the link below:
What are the positive benefits of performing in a festival?
After being inside for two years, it is just great to go along to a local venue and hear music live again. Parents, teachers and students can meet up, have a cup of tea and a custard cream and a relaxed and enjoyable experience.
Students who have been preparing music for some time can perform it in public, practising coping with nerves.
Students learn how to prepare for a date, arrive on time, dressed up, (pulleys no trainers) walk up onto stage (without parents hovering), prepare their equipment or stool, face the audience and begin!
Lots of amazing life lessons in that list, and as I always say, I have yet to meet a pianist who has failed a driving test.
What are considered 'negatives'?
Some parents don't like the idea of their children 'competing' but in my experience I have yet to find a child who doesn't like it. Some classes are non-competitive, so students simply perform. The competitive classes have medals and trophies attached, so they are often more motivational.
It all depends how it is put to them, if 'you must win this' then that it obviously very poor psychology. On the other hand 'everyone gets a certificate and you will see some friends there and have fun' then that takes the pressure off and they do enjoy it.
It is a festival, not the cinema.
Do's and Don'ts
Don't : The organisers will have no idea how many are going to apply before the application date, so please try not to hound them with requests such as 'Johnny's class will have to be on Saturday the 12th at 10 as he has tennis before and a function after'. That won't work.
Do: Apply for the festival (around £5) and suck it up if the date doesn't suit you. We can't have everything in life.
Do: Arrive early but listen outside; we often have families walking straight into the hall during a child's performance which is completely unfair. Once you hear applause, enter quickly and quietly, sit down and listen quietly without talking or waving to anyone.
Do: encourage your children to sit on a seat and listen without interaction. New skills are developed here; listening to someone on stage without fidgeting or playing with phones. Appreciating the moment and absorbing the music.
Don't: rustle sweet wrappers or whisper, very off putting, though I do train my students to prepare for an eventuality (including an old lady being sick into her handbag at one event) .
Do: wait until the end and listen politely, so many leave halfway through - what on earth is more important than waiting for your child to receive positive feedback from a well known musician; makes up for the hours of practice!
Do: Applaud the winners and refrain from commenting in front of your child in the car; all these pointers will make for a resilient and rounded student!
Lastly: If you do win, remember to attend the winners concert (put it in your diary, unlike two of mine one year, sigh) and hand back any trophies, the organisers are always trying to locate trophies on an annual basis!
Here are the links to this years festivals, apply and enjoy!
Ruislip/Northwood Festival: http://www.ruislipnorthwoodfestival.org.uk/
Ealing Festival: https://www.ealingfestival.org.uk/how-to-enter
Minions to Mountains (or 'How a minion built Global software to rival Zoom)
It came during a snowstorm, after the tenth student cancelled, and long before the pandemic.
'Let's give them no way of missing a lesson'. Plus of course, shortly after that, 'let's make it freely available in every corner of the globe'.
I looked at loads of other sites, but everything was added on. Zoom itself had no way to monetise it, you still had to write your own invoices. Musicteachers helper wrote invoices but had no video conferencing.
And so, here in London, with my 30 odd years classroom and school management, experience, I began to plan.
It was a simple 'begin with the end in mind' sort of a plan.
A one-stop shop where all you do is teach.
This was my first thought. What do I want the software to do?
- It teaches live online with minimum lag, one to one, or (with poorer parts of the world in mind), classrooms of hundreds of students
- It has multiple cameras for close up lab work, piano work, cad/cam work etc at the touch of a button
- Lessons open and close automatically at the allotted time, with no waiting rooms or 'bombing'
- It screenshares homework, theory, graphs, charts, keyboards online
- It has a click and book calendar, skipping holidays as required by individual tutors. Calendars can be viewed by all, negating messaging the tutors to 'check'
- The calendar changes global clocks automatically to local time at either end of the meeting, or for all members of a group meeting
- The software notifies and send automated receipts to parents/schools/companies the instant they pay
- The subscription software reminds students automatically of their lessons 24 hours before
- It has a button touch reschedule feature for tutors
- It contains thousands of resources, with 100% of the proceeds going to the writers and publishers
- It has a live video support function
- It has livechat, to talk to an operator about meetings
- It has its own secure instant messenger, so that teachers and students can chat, and chat history is recorded for safeguarding purposes. This protects both parties.
- More recently it has a video lesson platform too, for tutors to earn passive income while they wait for live teaching. 100% of the proceeds go to the teacher.
So after thousands of hours of testing and teaching, trying out every possible glitch in the Matrix, the site is not only running, but performing so much better than anything else on the market.
Meteortutors.com is available as a web based format, or an app version (available on Appstore and Googleplay). If you'd like to try the site free you are most welcome.
We now have our own servers, so if we can offer this free in poor parts of the world, then we will. Until then, we take a tiny percentage to cover our service, including live video support, so you have your own VA! You can charge what you like, depending on the country you live in, and to a certain extent how popular you are!
If you'd like to use just the video conferencing software, Meteorfireball.com does just that, as I know not everyone wants to be on a teaching site if they'd like it just for meetings/conferences etc.
If you are an author/composer and would like your work featured, just email us and we will add you to the resources page, free of charge, with a link to your site or publisher.
Recommend your friends to Meteortutors.com and Meteorfireball.com, and of course the Meteor Tutors app!
If you have any other questions, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to reply.
See you soon!
(Meteor Calendars, and how to use them)
Lots of people say 'oh if we had 8 days in a week, or wish we had more time' Well you do!
We used to have 355 days in a year, now 365, so we do technically have more time, thanks to Julius Caesar. So no homework excuses!
Anyway, this blog is simply to explain one thing at a time - today, the Meteor Calendar, which can be exported to your Google Calendar etc as usual.
As always, many new clients have registered since the bank holiday, asking how to book lessons.
So here it is in one place:
1. Register as a client on www.meteortutors.com
2. Click on your chosen tutor's profile and their schedule
3. Book a course of four lessons on your chosen time slot using a card to pay securely, simples!
If you are in another country our calendar automatically adjusts the time to your local time, no working out required. We are teaching in Bahrain and Dubai now, so if you are some of our new clients, just sit back and relax, your UK tutors can see the time at their end!
Do you remember that game from years ago?
An apt title for today's blog, regarding the Hippocampus and our learning and memory.
There has been a massive delay since the last blog; I had encephalitis and pneumonia and spent some time in hospital, realising just how remarkable and scary our brains are. Seeing an entire jazz band (no sound) around your bed is interesting, and then the patterns, the pictures, the ability to type in mid air onto a keyboard seen only by me...? you get the idea...?!
So while I wrestle with a slower level of recall than usual, which is irritating in my line of work, I started learning a bit more about the Hippocampus, in particular how to ensure our Hungry Hippos stay hungry and eat up as much learning as we throw at them. Also the different areas what to teach in order to maximise learning when the Hippo becomes older? This will be my theme for the next few blogs as it is the best and biggest nut to crack.
Memory isn't fully developed until 2.5 years, which is why most of us can't recall very early childhood. But after that we are like sponges, soaking up information, especially in our teens (believe it or not!) as the Hippo generates thousands more cells, including emotions (ah, that's why Kevin existed then)?
So often we hear teachers of primary age children say 'what happened to them when they hit senior school?'
Answer- their hippo just got bigger, and the jumble of emotions too, and growth, and tiredness.
We just have to find a way of helping them navigate this creative period as teachers and parents, without putting them off education for life. I could go on about the obsession with core subjects held by the powers that be, but suffice to say creativity and memory will help core and stem if we use the arts, humanities, languages as vehicles, rather than narrow our vision of the hippo to a one legged beast.
Let them take some healthy risks, explore grown-up behaviour through modelling, talk things through, using the Choices - Decisions - Consequences model as opposed to parental autocracy. Keep praising them as we as adults love praise, use this in homework, learning, even getting up! Try to talk through logically as opposed to emotionally, and be the 'adult' in the room. Then get some quality sleep and nutrition.
Do the same with the adults in your life, the emotions will relax and the memory and learning will dominate instead.
Check out our resources page on meteortutors.com for some quality tutoring/parenting sites.
Have a fab week, see you soon!
Wouldn't it be great if we could pause everything that is happening in the news at the moment?
I have learned we can only operate within our spheres of influence, so at least we can pause for half term, and use our new PAUSE FEATURE!
Many of you are on a 4 weekly rolling subscription with Meteortutors.com, so what happens if you pay too far in advance, due to tutor illness, holidays etc?
Some of you cancel subscriptions and lose your slot if someone books on top, so now we have designed a 'pause' button. We can have a look at your subscription and pause from our end, keeping your allocated slot marked in orange, so no-one else can book on top.
We will chat individually anyway, but this should help as we approach half term.
Tutors, remember to delete and blue slots if you are away on holiday, so that clients can't book there! Always worth spending a few minutes each week checking your bookings... for BOG
Blue = available
Orange = allocated
Green = booked
Have a wonderful half term and come back refreshed!