Taking your class world-wide

I have a dream to have a classroom that is connected worldwide. How inspiring would it be for your kids to have consistent communication with a school across the ocean, or in another state? Kids their age! How much cooler would it be if you could do projects together in any subject!

I made my first big attempt recently. Through my work with Beasts of the Beat I was able to connect with a teacher in New York named Gregg Brienberg, He is the Director of the PS22 Chorus in Staten Island. He is basically the Michael Jordan of music education for me (haha), I have followed him and his kids for over two years. I am inspired over and over by what he does with his kids and the way he gets them to sing. So I just threw it out there and asked him if he would want to do a collaboration for valentines day.

My idea was for both of us to shoot fragmented performances of both of our classes to combine them into one ultimate youtube concert experience. It took at lot of coordinating and communication back and forth but we were able to pull it off. After working the song with both of our classes I did some video editing, staying up WAY too late for a teacher to be up, and put the video together.

Check it out HERE

It was a hit with over 13,000 hits in a week! But even cooler was this; my kids felt connected to students they had never met, their world was a little bit bigger. We wrote them valentines day cards, they sent us cards, it was a fun experience. And kids from both classrooms can look up the performance on youtube and feel like superstars.

This video was not only a big step for me as an educator, it was a big step forward for music education. Imagine the performances that could happen in this format, the connections that could be made, it’s endless.

Enjoy “Love Somebody” featuring the 5th graders of The ps22 Chorus and NPA_Music

6 ideas to connect your classroom with people and experiences outside of your school:

1. As a class, Sponsor a child as a class through Compassion International, write them letters and send them pictures. Talk with your children about what life is like on the other side of the world and why we should take care of each other. Possibly open up the project to families  adopting a child together to sponsor. 

2. Sell art, cookies, music, or raise money for an effort somewhere in the world like Clean water for Africa 

3. Send an e-mail to a teacher in another state and ask if your classes could be pen-pals for the year. 

4. If you are a music teacher, e-mail an english teacher in another state and ask for some of their poetry, record a sound-track and send it to them to read their poems over. 

5. Science teachers, e-mail a teacher in another state, try doing the same experiment on during the same period of time like growing flowers and see how your results differ in different climates. send pictures and videos!

6. Math teachers, have your kids make math tests for kids at Another school, including an answer key : )

 

ps22_NPA_Collaboration

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I’m looking for the person who taught me charter schools are bad

To recent college graduates:

I’ve wanted to articulate this post for a while. I have been trying to process through the fact that I left college with a negative view of  charter schools in comparison to getting a job at a public school. I don’t know where it came from. I tried to think back through my classes, when I sat down and let my thoughts settle, a charter school job was like a piece of toast (ok), but a public school job was like a toaster strudel (really good). I’m still not sure where along the way I started thinking like this, because it was was causing a conflict inside of me that I couldn’t put my finger on.

Get out there and find a job, send those applications out, take whatever interview you can get. These were the instructions I received before I left Central Michigan University having graduated from the Music Education program.

But I was struggling on the inside with this pubic vs. charter thing. Where do I want to work? Maybe I fell asleep in class when we talked about all this but I do not feel like I know a ton. I seem to remember this;

Public School  ( Good job ) = Good pay, Good job security, Good retirement

Charter School  ( Bad job ) = Low pay, No job security, Bad retirement.

So I took a job at a charter school. Along with a lot of support, I got a lot of these comments in response to my decision…

“That’s a good stepping stone job..”

“That will be ok for a couple years.. then you can get a real job”

“Did you ever think maybe they offered you the job because you were the only one that applied?” (seriously, I actually didn’t think about that! haha)

Some of them kind of surprised me! : )

Once I started teaching I finally got to process through why this separation existed. By the way, everyone was about 90% right regarding the pros and cons of Public vs. Charter. I teach in a school with low pay, low job security, and bad retirement.

But when you take into account the pay, job security, bad retirement, etc. All those have to do with your comfortability. But what about your values, your ideals. Don’t lose them. 

 Just because there is more competition for public school jobs, doesn’t mean they are better, it is just more valued by the culture as a whole.

But for you, Listen close and let me tell you a secret. If you are a recent college graduate, read carefully. If you are able, why not put your comfortability on hold and take your dynamite teaching skills to a place where no one expects you to go, where you might possibly be the only person that even interviewed for that job. Where everyone else looks at your job as a stepping stone, you turn your class into a cornerstone for your kids. Believe me, there are teaching jobs, just a lot of jobs people are not willing to take. Go for it!

Charter schools and Public schools should both have amazing teachers.

Does this mean I won’t go for a public school job someday? No. I have nothing against them. I have great friends who teach in public schools and do an amazing job. Every kid needs a great teacher, charter and public alike.

I’m getting married soon, I’ll have more financial and relational responsibilities, I’ll have to manage my time differently, I’d love to raise a family someday and I don’t know if my charter school salary will support that, but I can look for another job that pays more when the time comes.

For now, I am happy having the opportunity to be where I am at, with the teachers and administration, and serving the community I am a part of.

For you, during your job search, challenge your own views on where you would be willing to work. Maybe you could open yourself up to some enriching opportunities.

Happy job hunting.

Joe

Greatness

Jesus.

Ghandi.

Martin Luther King. 

Visionaries, peace-keepers, civil right fighters, passionate, loving, forgiving, convicted, and driven. They could see into the future!

Heroes.

(p.s. Jesus is still amazing because he is alive and strengthens me and lives in my heart)

They were world changers, the type of people we want to be like. Hoping that maybe a spark of their greatness and vision could land on us so that we could do great things as well. 

You know what else these guys have in common. They were all killed for doing what they were doing. Is this crazy or what? Why does our society kill our visionaries?

For anyone hoping to do anything great, I want to point something out that is very important to understand – Listen. People do not do amazing things without planning to do something amazing.  It’s not organic. If you want to do something great, make a plan, commit and go do it.

Kind of a touchy subject, ya know? Like, “oh, you want to be famous huh?” 

Not Quite.

Greatness is different. Greatness is on behalf of others, where you become the servant. That’s why it is a noble thing to pursue when you do it the right way.

But the further you set out to do something great, the further you row away from the shore of mediocrity and complacency, the harder your life will be. 

The more truth you speak, the more people will twist your words. 

The more you chase justice, the more people will try to talk you out of your convictions.

The more you selflessly serve people, the more others will question your motives.

Why? Because that’s what humans do. Don’t be surprised when you receive pushback for doing good things. 

 

The more you invest, the more tired you will be, no one will understand your burden except you. But it’s ok because you feast on a dream of what could be and that is enough to satisfy. 

Count your tired eyes and heavy heart as an honor. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publicity

It has been an interesting week.

Fox News did a story on Beasts of the Beat (Click HERE to watch) that aired over Thanksgiving weekend and Glenn Beck mentioned the boys and myself on his talk show that apparently peaked a lot of curiosity around the country.

The Beasts of the Beat video received over 5,000 views in one day. It was pretty astounding and humbling to see that happen. I started to get phone calls and e-mails from people all over the country wanting to know more about the boys. It was pretty crazy.

I regularly talk with the boys in BOTB outside of practices over breakfast/dinner to develop what I believe is the most important aspect of BOTB; deep meaningful friendships.

It was early Friday morning, I sat in a little diner in Ferndale to have some eggs and bacon with one of the boys before school. We sat and talked over the week. We talked about a book he and I are writing in together about his life, we talked about how we could help support the other members in the group, we talked about how insane it was that 5,000 people watched our Beasts of the Beat video in 24 hrs. We talked about all the e-mails and phone calls received about the boys and people wanting to be part of the adventure.

Then he said something that made me stop and think…

“Mr. V, I was talking with some of the other guys and when we get rich and famous, we wanna buy everything we never could have..”

I knew exactly what he was talking about, I read raps almost every day about the Trues with the white stitching and the Cartiers with the dark tint. Not entirely surprised by his statement I asked a couple more questions.

“How do you know if you are famous or not?”

“By the things you wear, the car you drive, how many fans you have.”

“What does a famous person look like?”

“A famous person wears nice things, has nice things”

I had to stop for a minute and realize something. The more realistic the idea of being rich and famous is, the harder it is going to be for me to reach these boys to help them discover the true treasures in life, Relationships

– Not the money, not the cars, not not girls, not Trues, not Cartier, not Versace.

The day my Boss put a can of Grape Juice on my desk.

I have a memory from last year. It plays over and over in my head. But it’s one of those random memories where you wonder why you recall it so often.

I was sick, and teaching, should have taken the day off. It was kind of miserable. I was Stuffed up, congested, and achy. Half-way through my morning, the dean of students, my good friend Adam Fichter walked in and set a can of grape juice on my desk and walked out.

I’m a feeler, I was honored and touched. It inspired me actually, because I had seen Adam do little things for people at the right time very often. Today he picked me.

He knows how to motivate and inspire people. Being the Dean of Students is a hard job at NPA, handling almost every discipline problem in the school. Adam faces incredible amounts of negativity every day and continues to spark teachers hearts with carefully placed encouragement and thoughtful gifts.

Adam leads students with a humble heart, controlled spirit, and and interacts with them in a way that drips with authenticity and love.

He is the kind of person someone will make a movie about someday. Adam lives and breathes Detroit, Motor City through and through. He cares for the city through every kid he speaks into, and every dollar he spends. He knows everything about the music scene past and present and loves to teach me about it’s rich history. He makes me passionate.

How Adam’s grape juice changed the way I teach:

 I have learned to look for small opportunities to keep other staff encouraged. I take as many of the opportunities as I can and It makes happier.

 

Thanks for the grape juice, Mr. Fichter!

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Twin  day at Northpointe.

Why “getting on base” is all that matters in the classroom

Last year I was inspired by the movie Moneyball. Essentially the premise of the movie is that Brad Pitt (Playing Oakland A’s General Manager, Billy Beane) defies the norms of MLB scouts to put together a winning baseball team with essentially no-budget.

I felt like I could identify with the movie as a under-resourced, inner-city music teacher in Detroit. I wanted something greater for my kids and I felt so limited with what I had to work with.

I watched this movie and saw Billy Beane put together a star baseball team. Consisting of what The Major League Baseball community considered the “misfits” of the game. A group of people that looked more like a circus act than a team when they first began.

I heard lines in the movie with purpose like, “all we need him to do is get on base,” and it began to spark something inside of me.

I wanted to try this too! I don’t need to win games, but I do want to help raise strong, dedicated and consistent men.

So,  I started a group called “Beasts of the Beat” at Northpointe. I mentioned them in an earlier post. What I wanted to do with this group was to facilitate a creative community to foster deep relationships and raise boys into men – through hip-hop. Where Moneyball inspired me was deciding who I would pick to be in the group. My first reaction was to choose the best drummers, rappers, and singers. I began to look at all my kids, not through the lens of how their talents could move the group forward, but how their character traits could bring out greatness in another person.

*Watch an introduction to the personalities of the 2013 Beasts HERE

I looked to include students with consistent traits of Servant-Leadership, Humility, Patience, and Dedication. While also looking for students with deep emotional needs for community, purpose, and something to be proud of. I wanted to tackle issues like entitlement, anger, flakiness, and disrespect. All with the end goal being to raise boys to men, through hip-hop and community with each other. I did and still do believe this will work.

It’s been almost a year now, the 9 boys put out a cd on iTunes; Beasts of the Beat – EP. They recently performed at Cobo Hall in Detroit for a charter school conference  and will be performing at schools around South East MI this spring talking about tackling bullying in schools with their new single, “Bully.” 

Bringing out Greatness in our students is what we want as teachers. For me, it is fun performing with them and living life along side of them. But I will only know if Beasts of the Beat was a success by looking at the man that each one of these boys becomes in 15-20 years.

FAQs:

Is this a group for the leaders in the school?  Some of them are leaders. Some are not.

Are all the Beasts Straight-A students with no behavior problems? No. We actually deal with a good amount of behavior problems. But it is essential to have if you want to foster a culture of accountability in the group.

Do you include all new students at the beginning of the year? No. I have one new student this year. 

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Living a life of Balance: Week 3 : Shooting 85%

So I am starting week three of balancing my life, I would say I am shooting a solid 85% with my goals of balancing the five main areas of my life (God time, relationships, staying healthy, being creative, teaching well).

Honest grades I am giving myself with my goals:

1. Time with God : Grade /  A-

Specifically spending time reading and praying before school. I tend to try and soak as much sleep up as I can before getting up but I have been able to spend time reading my bible and praying during breakfast. Makes a big difference in my perspective going into the day. 

2. Relationships: Grade B+

I have been able to spend a lot of time with people that bring life to my heart. Heather is incredibly encouraging, got to spend a lot of time with my students from both Adams and NPA. One of the reasons I would give myself a B+ is because although I have students I treat like little brothers, pouring into them, helping to raise them up to be men. I also have my own brothers, and even though they are far away my investment in them must be just as strong if not stronger. I’d encourage any teach who is rocking relationships at work and with friends but is lacking in “family” or “home” relationships to let the love and service start at home. Make a small change today in this area, shoot a telephone call or a note in the mail. 

3. Healthy Time: Grade B+

I have chosen to spend time after school only 3 days a week. That means at least two days a week, I leave 20-30 minutes after school is out. I’ve gotten to get home and make some nice healthy meals, take a run to think, and spend time with my roommate, Ethan. 

4. Being Creative: Grade A-

I have been able to be personally creative, I made a video for my kids in Beast of the Beat for the lyrics in their latest song, you can take a listen HERE. I have also been working on their album cover for their upcoming EP on iTunes. 

5. Being a Teacher: Grade B+

I am up at 11:30 at night too often thinking about my lessons for the next day. It needs to happen earlier in the evening or right after school. Honestly, I am getter at No. 5 (Being a Teacher) when the first four are in balance. I hope that whatever your occupation is, you are finding that too. Starting week four tomorrow. Heading home to make my lunch so I can get a few more minutes of sleep in the morning.