Kenley Kristofferson


Tag: learning

Music Ed Monday – Kick Your A– Then Bake A Cake

sailormoonThe original Sailor Moon cartoon came out in Canada when I was 12 years old and it changed my life – more as an adult than a child.

I didn’t realize how revolutionary Sailor Moon was at the time when it aired.  I got into anime through finding this channel on our satellite dish (which was probably not really for kids, let’s be honest) and it showed me that animation could be something more than just cartoons.  It was the start of a life-long relationship with anime.

I didn’t tell many kids that I watched Sailor Moon when I was that age because it was still viewed as “a show for girls” and, while I understood that it was a show of female protagonists, I didn’t really understand why it was only for girls because… well, because I watched it too.  And what did that mean for me?

It was one of the first times I can remember having an identity crisis.  However, I wasn’t old enough to understand that it wasn’t really an identity crisis at all: I knew exactly who I was, it was whether or not I had the courage to believe it in spite of what others were saying.  At the end of the day, I still taped every episode at 8:30am, right after Batman.

Then I forgot about it for almost twenty years and, just last year, I did something out of the ordinary: I watched them all again.

While a little bit juvenile at times, there are some really big messages in that show.  It wasn’t that I was too young to get them, but I was really too immature to appreciate them and I wasn’t strong enough to fight for them.  The point of the show wasn’t that girls were fighting evil monsters, it was that girls are interesting and unique people who are also strong enough to fight for themselves.

When I was a kid, I loved Tuxedo Mask.  All of my invented heroes were in tuxedos – I even made a Lego Tuxedo Mask.  But when I watched him as an adult, I realized that he doesn’t even do anything.  As a former student of mine perfectly explained:




He’s not even a hero and that’s the whole point.  The paradigm of the female foil character that helps the uber-male-action-hero save the day is entirely turned on its head.  I especially got that in the original Japanese when I discovered scenes that were significantly watered down in the English version:


I’d seen that meme before, but I didn’t know that it was from an actual episode, which is below:

As a kid, I didn’t realize how forward-thinking this show was, especially in the 90s.  This anime not only trailblazed the magical girl genre of anime, but also taught girls that they could be the hero of their own story and that they didn’t need any man to save them.  As a boy, this also subversively taught me that it wasn’t my responsibility to save anyone and not every girl needed saving.  Of course they don’t and I know this as an adult, but as a heroes-and-villains-oriented kid, that was a big one.  I wish I had the perspective for it to be less of a big deal, actually.

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We got the internet shortly after Sailor Moon came out and I quickly learned that Japan was ahead of us in the show.  There were more than five scouts! And one was older! And one was a kid! And two of them were lesbians.

Thankfully, I had enough perspective to think this wasn’t a big deal.  I mean, the network did and I later learned that they would be very-close-cousins in the North American version, but them being lovers was just fine to twelve-year-old me.   Almost anyone who’s watched anime in the last 20 years knows that Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus are lesbians, yet they were the first homosexual superheroes that I’d ever experienced. But they weren’t the gay stereotypes that were flying around in the 90s as culture was discovering something that had been there the whole time, the scouts/senshi were interesting and unique people who were in love and cared about each other (and were super strong and kicked some a–).

The video above talks about that, but there’s an even better example out there right now.

Sailor Moon Crystal has given the series a facelift and rebooted it closer to the manga and, I’ve got to tell you, it’s really good.  It’s fast, it cut all the filler, it’s more serious and it’s way more feminist-oriented (and by that, I mean that it doesn’t pull any punches about an all-female lead cast who needs no help from anyone but each other).  It presents its story and apologizes for nothing.

The episode at the beginning of September introduced Makoto (Sailor Jupiter) and it showed a traditional side of women that the show often downplayed, particularly how she likes to cook and has a lost love.  But none of that is in spite of her being tough, but instead she demonstrates the ability to be both feminine and strong; both traditional and tenacious, or to put it my favourite way:


Having one does not negate the other.  And this happens with guys too (though, to a far less degree): You can be strong and emotional, you can like sports and be artistic, you can be smart and still be interesting.  Just be whoever you are.

Makoto never apologizes for who she is and that is one of the clearest strengths of Sailor Moon Crystal.  Ami doesn’t apologize for being smart or Rei for being spiritual.  Usagi is learning that she can be clutzy and still be a leader and that a leader doesn’t always lead with strength, but with heart.

It’s a good lesson.  Imagine if more kids led with heart than strength 🙂


Music Ed Monday – Little one, what do you choose to be when you grow up?

At the beginning of this year, we had a PD session on character development which really changed the way that think about teaching.  It didn’t change it in a philosophical way, but more in a practical and pragmatic way.  It’s good that you want to make kids more successful and happier people, but how do you actually do it in a classroom day to day?

I didn’t have all the answers that day because no one ever does.  You will just never, ever have all of the answers.  As soon as you resign yourself to that, you can start making progress.

So no, I didn’t get all the answers, but I got a few.  I got enough to get started.  Even moreso, I got enough to get me even more curious.

I started talking to other teachers around the school about the PD and it was largely well-received.  One teacher in particular (and who I have tremendous respect for) said she’d been interested in pragmatic character education for a while and had just finished a thought-provoking book about it.  It was called How Children Succeed: How Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough and she very kindly lent it to me.

I started reading it, but got overwhelmed at work and life and put it away for a while.  It wasn’t until two weeks ago that I really started digging into it again and I’m so glad I did.  It’s challenged me a lot while still giving me some tools to teach character education more effectively.

Several sections stuck out to me, but I’ve been thinking about the upcoming section quite a bit over the past few days.  It involves a low-income middle school in the US called IS-318 and their exceptional chess program.   In an email exchange between the author and a Scottish chessmaster named Jonathan Rowson, the master writes about the difference between wanting something for yourself and choosing it:

When it comes to ambition… it is crucial to distinguish wanting something and choosing it.  Decide that you want to become a world champion… and you will inevitably fail to put in the necessary hard work.  You will not only not become world champion but also have the unpleasant experience of falling short of  desired goal, with all of the attendant disappointment and regret.  If, however, you choose to become world champion (as Kasparov did at a young age), then you will “reveal your choice through your behaviour and your determination.  Every action says ‘this is who I am.'”

Isn’t that fabulous? Much of the context around this chapter involves practicing chess for hours a day (three as the minimum example, twelve-to-fourteen with the book’s most extreme one), but the notion still stands.  If you’re going to do it, then do it.  If you’re going to use your passion as your label, then you better do your passion.

Sometimes, I wrestle with this as a composer.  During school start up, I rarely compose as much as I want/need to.  If I do write through September and October for a deadline, I usually crash hard at the end of November and all the way through until Winter holidays.  But in the interim, there’s that nagging feeling of “you should be doing something creative right now…” and you just don’t have it in you.

That “nagging feeling” also means that you’ve made that choice, and you’ve probably made it because you like it, or it gives you some sort of enjoyment or meaning.  Here’s another section from the How Children Succeed about that:

During one conversation I had with [the chess teacher] whether she ever felt that her students were sacrificing too much to succeed at chess.  She looked at me like I was crazy.  “What’s missing from that idea is that playing chess is, like, wonderful.”

If you love it and love doing it, then do more of it.  “You are revealing your choice through behaviour and determination” and every action says “this is who you are.”  I love that.  Even when I’m not writing and I’m exhausted and the last thing in the world I want to do is compose, I know that I still love it and that brings me back to the piano.

Sometimes it’s this…

happypianoAnd sometimes, it’s this…


But that’s what it takes if you want to be this…

The same applies to teachers as it does to students: Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

If you are a student (or former student) reading this, what do you choose to be? Whatever it is you choose, know that you can do it.  You can do it.

You can do it.

… but it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to do itself :).  There are never any substitutes for hard work, but there are a multitude of rewards.  Whether it’s seeing positive reinforcement on a paper you wrote, someone crediting your ideas, have a finished piece of art in front of your eyes, or seeing your work affect someone emotionally, the reason why it’s that good is because you put that much work into it.  But even moreso, all of your actions are a result of who you choose to be.

Think back to when you were a kid and an adult asked you what you wanted to be when you grow up? Reframe that situation and that wording: “Little one, what do you choose to be when you grow up?”

Let’s have a great week,

PS: For more positive results, see last week’s post.

Music Ed Monday – The Rollerskating Girl

Wow, October already, eh?

What a wild start up.  For teachers and/or students reading this, I hope it’s been grand and the machine is running full steam ahead!

We had a wonderful PD session on Friday.  Actually, “wonderful” doesn’t quite cut it – it was earth-shattering.  I barely slept all weekend because I couldn’t keep my mind out of it.

The speaker’s name is Debbie Silver and she came to Winnipeg for a six-hour PD session.  She spoke about many things, including effort, teaching the whole kid, self-efficacy and addressing “failure.”  I put the last one in quotation marks because she means it in a way differently than the way that we often use it in our classroom.  She used many examples to illustrate, but one stuck out to me.

She told a story of a girl who loved to rollerskate.  While I don’t remember it exactly, I’ll retell it the best I can.


Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved to rollerskate.  After she got home from elementary school, she would tear off her bookbag, throw off her shoes and slap on her rollerskates.  She would often skate around her street from the time she got home until after the sun went down. 

To her surprise and delight, her teacher announced that her class would be having a rollerskating party just before the long weekend.  She couldn’t have been more excited.

When the day finally came, she got to the rink and ran to the cement pad as fast she could.  She saw her friends on the bench getting into their skates, as well as her teacher on the bleachers.  Other kids were already skating in circles near the sides and she couldn’t wait to join them.

The group of girls all got onto the pad at the same time and started skating.  They immediately saw how comfortable the rollerskating girl was on her skates, gliding with such grace and ease, as though she had practiced for 1000 hours.  They told her that she was so good that she should try a spin, and she did.  As she spun, her foot caught the concrete and she fell to the ground.  Her friends laughed and pulled her up.  She thought about how to jump higher and spin sooner so that she could complete the move then tried again.  She did better, but fell again.  She thought about it some more, tweaked some of the details and tried again.  

This time she did it.  Her friends cheered and the girl felt very satisfied.

This process continued a few more times with figure-eights and extra high leaps, among other things.  While she never completed a move on the first time, she always had it mastered by the third and by the end of the day, she had learned five more moves! All while the other kids just skated around in a boring old circle.

She couldn’t wait to tell her teacher, so at the end of the day, she took off her skates and ran up to her teacher on the bleachers. 

“Did you see me?” she said. “All those other kids were just skating around in a boring old circle and I learned five new moves! Did you see me? Did you see how good I was?”

The teacher looked at her quizzically.  “How good you were? My dear, you fell down more than any other kid!”


And we do that sometimes, don’t we? We always teach to performance.  We punish mistakes and reward perfection.  We talk about “the journey is the destination” and then we give them a test.

It breaks my heart hearing it and it breaks my heart thinking of when I’ve done it in the past.  I’ve never quite had my educational foundation shaken as much as I had this weekend.  Debbie Silver summarized the story so appropriately:

They didn’t fail, they fell!

That’s it! We need to let them fall and we can’t punish them for doing so.  Falling is not failing.

There is so much extra baggage that comes with the word “failure.”  We’ve (adults, but not necessarily only teachers) somehow enabled this behaviour where failure doesn’t become a result, it becomes an identity, and that is profoundly detrimental, especially when it becomes cumulative and the failures stack on top of one another.  We now have a situation where the kid has such a burden and weight of “failure” that they just can’t get back up.  It becomes an identity, instead of a result.

I have the urge to say “but that’s not real, they aren’t a failure!” but it goes so much deeper than that.  To that person, it is real and they have to face it every day.  Somewhere down the path of their life, they have learned that they’re a failure, regardless of whether it’s true or not, and that’s a damn shame.  As teachers, maybe we have the power to stop it.

We need to teach kids how to take risks in their life (within reason, of course).  If they succeed, amazing; if they fall, then we need to teach them how to get back up.  I haven’t thought nearly enough about this, but I know that I’ll be writing about it for weeks to come.  The blog is really a means of keeping the moving parts clean and the knife edge sharp when it comes to teaching.  I need to keep reflecting, evaluating and exploring new ways to be a better teacher and journalling about it (via my website) is an effective means.  And, of course, commentary is always welcome.

Even through crazy exhaustion this month, I can’t think of a time where I’ve been more motivated to be a teacher 🙂

When have you taken a risk in your life where you’ve succeeded? How did that feel? What did you learn?
When have you taken a risk in your life where you’ve fallen down (figuratively)? How did that feel? What did you learn?

Until next time,

PS: A sneak peek into next week’s post…