Imagine what would happen if we taught THIS in school!

Saw this on Facebook today.

Yeah. Two kids salsa dancing like bosses.

Can you imagine what would happen if we started teaching this in school?

Watch the video again. What have these kids learned by learning and performing this routine?

Coordination and dexterity. Kind of essential in growing children, no?

Teamwork and problem solving. Was every move executed gracefully and perfectly? No. Did they recover and keep going? Yes. Amazingly well.

Self-expression and body confidence. Think of how much less gender-based discrimination and bullying we might have if a) girls weren’t taught to ignore/hide the fact that they have hips and legs lest they “provoke” a boy, and b) boys learned that our culture’s narrow definition of masculinity is unreasonable and limiting.

Trust. They’ve both got to trust each other for this routine to work or they fall apart. Literally.

Healthy lifestyle attitudes. Learning to keep active from a young age might just stick with them as they get older. And maybe they’ll pass that on to their own kids one day.

Physical strength is achievable and admirable for both boys and girls. Forget gender stereotypes here.

There aren’t “boy dancers” and “girls dancers”- dance whatever you want whenever you want! Look at their gender neutral outfits. Check out how flexible and coordinated they both are. The boy does take the lead some of the time, but ultimately they are working together and supporting each other.

Social skills. Look how eager they are to work together! No fear of cooties here.

World music is awesome. And there’s a rich culture behind every type.

Having energy is normal and a good thing. Why are we always trying to keep kids sitting for so long, reducing gym and recess time, and getting upset with they just can’t sit still.

Math. How many counts do I do this for? How many counts do I wait until it’s my solo? Which beat does my hand go up on?

Perseverance. Who knows how long it took them to learn this, but look at what happened because they practiced and stuck with it.

Pride. It’s okay to be proud of something you’ve accomplished and to want to share it with others. That’s not bragging.


What a crazy long list of objectives this lesson plan would have! Schools, can we get on board with this? Because these are real life skills and traits we as educators need to be encouraging and modeling.


A response to a special education teacher

I love reading the Hartford Courant on Sundays. I wake up, prepare my breakfast, assemble it on a tray, and bring it over to the table to enjoy while reading.

The letters in the Opinion section are some of the things I look forward to most. And last week didn’t disappoint.

Adam Silver, a special education teacher in Stamford, wrote in, imploring us to “Kick Common Core Out of Connecticut.” The full text, which appeared in the July 13 Sunday paper, is below:

“As a special education teacher, I believe it is time for Connecticut to reject the Common Core State Standards as other states have done recently. CCSS must end in Connecticut for the following reasons:

1. No educators or childhood development experts were involved in drafting the standards, and they are not based on research and therefore are scientifically invalid. I only use research-based methods for instruction and have done so in all of my 15 years of teaching. Doing otherwise amounts to educational malpractice.

2. CCSS is discriminatory towards my students with special needs as it assumes all children are “common.” Far from it. The Common Core further exasperates this inequity by limiting accommodations and modifications to use to provide my kids a level playing field. I believe all children can and will learn, but each child is unique and we must take into account their individual learning styles and paces, which CCSS has no provision for.

3. Lastly, CCSS stifles learning and creativity due to its rigidity and reliance on teaching to a test. It negates playing as a factor of learning for our younger students. It is my expressed hope that Connecticut will join states such as North Carolina and Oklahoma and reject CCSS. Let learning and teaching return to Connecticut and stop CCSS at once. Our children’s future is at stake.”


On the whole, I see why teachers strongly dislike CCSS (Common Core State Standards). And the reasons Silver cites above make for a strong case against them. Why would we want non-educators crafting these policies? (I’m reminded of the countless men in government who, lacking any hint of medical or, ostensibly, modern scientific knowledge, feel entitled and justified in making laws that drastically affect women’s health… I don’t need to recount what has been happening on that front.) How can we accept any policy that reduces support for special education? And how long will it take us to learn that standardized tests are not an accurate measure of ability and certainly not potential?

But as a music teacher, I am beginning to see some silver lining in CCSS. And while I generally agree with Silver’s reasons above, I’m not sure I agree with some of the supporting details.

In Reason #1, Silver says he only uses research-based methods for instruction. Doing otherwise, he says, is equivalent to educational malpractice. Perhaps on a state level, governing educational policies and documents should be based in scientific research and have the support of professional educators. But I am reminded of the many times I’ve heard my own teachers refer to teaching as an art and not a science. I find it perfectly feasible for a teacher to go by the book in her instruction and differentiation methods, yet still not be able to reach every student. Scientifically sound methods may only get you so far until you have to adopt a less clinical approach to reaching your students. I’m not sure I would call non-research based methods equivalent to educational malpractice, in general or special education, especially since I’m the kind of person who wishes to teach the soul as well as the mind.

In Reason #2, Silver points out that CCSS does not allow him adequate accommodations to ensure a level playing field for his students. I am not personally aware of how CCSS have affected special education departments, so I cannot speak to that issue. But as a music educator, I can speak to the idea of a “level playing field.” One of my former music teachers criticized CCSS for trying to level the playing field, saying that they held lower performing schools to unattainable standards and higher performing schools to standards below their ability. How does that even the playing field? The same standards for everyone once again ignores students’ differences. Or, does a level playing field mean providing individual opportunities for success on a par with student ability and potential? It’s so important in music to provide opportunities for children to grasp musical concepts quickly. Initial success at an activity or skill is the number one predictor of that student remaining involved with it. But if I see that some students are excelling, I accommodate that. I give them something a little more challenging, or I give them a classroom leadership role. And if I see that some students are not grasping concepts, I differentiate for that. This could also be leveling the playing field- modifying activities and assignments so they are on a par with student ability and potential. All students have their own opportunities for success, and are not held to some arbitrary standard of excellence that may only frustrate and turn students away from the arts.

In Reason #3, Silver claims that CCSS stifles learning and creativity due to rigidity and teaching to a test. I know many math teacher who certainly feel this way. But I’ve found that CCSS generally aligns with my philosophy of multidiciplinary education- connecting my subject to the others in a way that makes kids see that life is not about compartmentalized skills, knowledge, or interests. I’m thrilled for the challenge of incorporating language arts, math, science, and history in my music lessons. I’d have done that anyway, but with so many schools trying to find a reason to cut the arts, my philosophy is now indispensable. For teachers like me, it’s the connecting of music to other areas that will probably inspire the most creativity. I hope that will help ease the burden of core subject teachers, even if it’s just a little.


**Note: I am a new teacher in the public sphere, but I come to public school teaching with numerous teaching experiences behind me. Any experiences I reference or beliefs I hold are founded in what I’ve learned as a student and as a teacher.**

More credit to Mr. Green, please

On June 8, John Green (@realjohngreen) tweeted: “It’s not easy for a movie studio to make a romantic movie where the lead characters are living with disabilities (but not defined by them).”

This tweet came two days after the release of the movie The Fault in our Stars, based on the Green’s 2012 novel of the same name. TFIOS has enjoyed 83 weeks on the New York Times Young Adult Bestsellers list, and the movie set box office records as one of the most highly anticipated films of the year.

The novel tells the story of Hazel, a teenager coping with cancer, who ends up falling in love with Augustus, a cancer survivor. A review of the film by Dominique Chessor says it quite well: “The movie, as does the book, acknowledges some facts about life that few novels, young adult or otherwise, address: that life very often sucks, and bad things happen without warning and seemingly without purpose to people who are happy, and it doesn’t always feel like something good comes out of the bad that we face.”

Hollywood just doesn’t make movies about people living with disabilities. When was the last time the most highly awaited film of the year was about young people in love… and also affected by cancer? Green’s tweet, which garnered 14,000 favorites and 3,600 retweets, seems to praise Hollywood for finally acknowledging that people with disabilities exist.

But I tweeted back to him: “To be fair, they were inspired by a great book! Hollywood doesn’t just make movies like that. Hopefully you’ll help fix that.”

He claims it’s not easy for Hollywood to make such a movie. I say, it’s actually very easy when they see an opportunity to cash in on a best-selling novel for young adults. Hollywood writers didn’t just sit down and come up with this idea hoping it would take off. They knew it would, because it already had as a book. They knew millions of young people had read it, were diehard John Green fans, and would see the movie. Just like with Harry Potter. Just like with Twilight. This isn’t about courage on Hollywood’s part.

Let’s give you, John Green, some more credit. YOU wrote the book. YOU inspired them. Come the day Hollywood writers actually come up with an original story about people living with disabilities that makes the world go crazy, then I’ll be happy to give them a standing ovation. But for now, it’s you, John Green, who had that courage. It wasn’t easy, but YOU did it.

Children’s books vs. Children’s music

I’ve been thinking a lot about books lately.


Maybe it’s because as I head into a teaching career, I’m more interested in YA literature because that’s what my students will be reading. Maybe it’s because there have been a lot of books made into movies in the past few years. Maybe it’s because I went to the New York Public Library’s exhibit The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter. Or maybe it’s because there’s SO MUCH good literature out there, despite what book bullies might think.

Yes, so much good literature. But are young people actually reading it?

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been working in schools and camps and libraries for the past two years, but it seems to me that reading is becoming less stigmatized than it used to be when I was growing up. Kids carry around books, kids read at lunch, and they readily admit to loving reading. When I was in middle school, reading was dorky. Reading was for the shy anti-social people. But now people carry books around and read everywhere! Is this because of the glamorization of nerdiness? The popularity of e-readers? The incredible books being published and taking the world by storm? I’m not sure there’s one exact reason, but people are reading. And KIDS are reading, which is awesome.

So to answer my question above, yes, young people are reading good literature. If you look around at the real world, they really are. But it’s certainly not the majority of them. It’s just that those who are reading are doing so with pride and without being judged. That’s great! Sadly, for every kid I’ve met who openly loves to read, there’s another kid I’ve worked with who also proudly admits he does not read. Somewhere down the line, s/he came to think books were boring or lame.

What are these kids doing instead of reading?

Far more often, I would argue, kids are listening to music. Music is, in a way, easier. It’s something they engage with without committing to. It can be entertaining or relaxing. It can be shared or self-contained. More and more, music is allowed in schools. It’s easily acquired and easily dismissed.

But the biggest way it’s “easy”? It’s also often times pretty uninspired.

That’s my polite way of saying a lot of current music is just plain not good.

And this is where I get confused. There is SO MUCH good music out there. But everywhere I go, I am bombarded with canned, uninspired, vapid sound. In restaurants (including fancy ones–why??), at department stores, on public transportation, in banks, in gyms.

Think about all the different kinds of people you’d expect to find in restaurants or stores or gyms. Then think about the kind of music these places typically play (keyword: typically). It’s exactly what I described above. Why is it that, despite the varying demographics present in these public places, the music remains the same? You would think it would be catered to match whoever is likely to be present, and I’ve read that marketing companies have found that certain types of music are more likely to increase business. But in my experience, this doesn’t add up. Is current pop really a panacea that companies are keeping secret from us all? Does it magically make people order more food, shop longer (quite the opposite with me, as I’m often driven out of stores by the selection of music), get to places faster, take out more loans/open more accounts, AND work out harder?

What is the reasoning behind this? Corporate policy? Maybe. Not sure what kind of policy that would be. I say it’s because this kind of music is easy.

Music, especially current pop, isn’t marketed to any one group in particular. You might say, yes it is- young people! Okay, well, who are these young people? The continuously widening group that is “young people” includes tweens- which is now children as young as 8- up to people in their early 30s. That’s a HUGE span of developmental, emotional, and cognitive differences. You’d never see Game of Thrones being marketed to a group that wide- or, on the other end of the spectrum, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It just doesn’t make sense, both in terms of content and in terms of developmental compatibility. But songs that glamorize objectification are pitched to 10-year-old girls without anyone batting an eye.

Book marketing is entirely different. Go into any library and you’ll have three distinct sections: children’s, teen, and adult. There is a huge market for YA. Many authors focus exclusively on writing children’s or teen books. The linguistic and visual differences between books for differing ages groups are huge. Because no kid would be interested in a book with long paragraphs and a lack pictures, even if it were about a cute but mischievous puppy. That’s not necessarily a marketing decision. It’s developmental. Kids like pictures and colors and textures. Many kids who pick up books can’t even read them, but we recognize their value nonetheless. Adults like intriguing plots or particular writing styles, and pictures maybe less so.

But with music? Pick up a pop album at Barnes & Noble. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to its production or distribution other than monetary incentives and ease of proliferation. Again, easy.

Who is this album for?

Look at her pose. Read the title. Who is this album for?


Here’s the big conundrum I cannot explain:

There are TONS of good books being marketed specifically to children and young people. But America still has a problem getting them to read.

There is virtually NO good music being marketed specifically to children and young people. But America has no problem getting them to listen to music that is, for lack of a more precise term, poor.


According to a Huffington Post article from 2013, the American literacy rate hasn’t changed in 10 years. Earlier this year, the Anna E. Casey Foundation cited a study saying that 66% of American children are not reading proficiently. Educators and their allies recognize the tremendous value books have for all people, but especially children. Literacy skills are crucial to future success, yet institutions that have the potential to lead programs to foster such skills are underfunded and therefore undervalued by our government.

Are there poor books out there? Of course! There are books marketed to children that are crude and vulgar, gendered and limiting. But at least they are reading at all, right? I know I’d rather have my kid reading Captain Underpants than playing video games.

We don’t think that way about music. We don’t condone our children listening to Miley Cyrus or Britney Spears because “hey, at least they’re listening to music at all!” We condone it because there is nothing else for them to listen to, nothing else being currently marketed to them that is both socially acceptable and intellectually captivating. We condone it because it is easy. And unavoidable. Not the case with books.

How can we respond to these problems, both the lack of kids reading/ensuing lackluster literacy statistics and the problem of having no intellectually stimulating music for young people?

Here’s an article encouraging parents to get their boys to read by offering them “gross” books. I’m on board with that. Know your demographic, right? As long as it’s age-appropriate and not gendered, go for it. “Just get ‘em reading,” says a librarian quoted in the article. “Worry about what they’re reading later.”

I’d say the opposite with music: “Worry about what they’re listening to. Then get them listening to something else.” Because what’s the problem with a lot of pop music today? Since it’s marketed to such a wide group of people, its content isn’t age-appropriate. Since it’s mass produced, it isn’t musically challenging. Again, not all pop music falls into this category. But a lot of it does, and that is generally what I hear in public places, on the radio, and coming out of kids’ headphones. Parents, take an active interest in what your kid likes to listen to. Talk about objectification, commoditization, and materialism. Talk about artistry and spectacle. Educators, stay steadfast in the belief that kids can learn to appreciate music from 300 years ago. Make it relevant and fun. Make it interactive.


Final thought…

I’ve said “bad” and “poor” and “uninspired” and “vapid.” I understand that these are opinions. It is by no means my call to decide whether music I think has such qualities cannot aesthetically or emotionally move another human being, no matter their age. If that is what we look for in music today, I think that’s wonderful. But as an educator and musician, I know it is calling to open young people up to so much more than they know of their small corner of the world, to help kids understand what they’re listening to, and then let them decide if it is really worthy of their intellect.

There is so much art out there. So many good books. And so much good music. It would be a shame if what kids got on the radio was all they would ever get.



What’s my ideal life?

I feel like this post is like the beginning of some Modern Family episodes when the characters are sitting on their couches answering hypothetical questions.

What’s my ideal life?


(Check it! My first GIF! This is what I look like after playing tennis.)


If I lived alone without any sort of external burdens or woes…

On a day in my ideal life, I’d wake up early and do some free weights or take a quick walk around the neighborhood. I’d like in a charming, quaint little town in Western Massachusetts, in a comfy but adequately sized apartment. Then I’d make myself a big, healthy breakfast (with a decent cheese component) and a cup of tea. I’d take it outside  on a hand-painted tray and eat on my porch while reading a book. In my ideal life, I’d also be good at the whole reading-while-eating thing.

I’d do my morning routine and feel no pressure to “do my hair” or “fix my face” because wherever I am going, come as you are is everything anyone could ask of anyone else.

Then I’d head off to work for the day. Not the whole day. Not even an eight hour day, necessarily. Just enough of the day to energize me spiritually and civically, feel accomplished and useful, and to give me a comfortable standard of living. (That means I live simply, own stuff I need and need the stuff I own, save money for experiences and not material items, and stash 10% of my paychecks.)

I’d come home from work and do some singing or piano playing or writing. Blogging, composing, songwriting. I am trying to become a film composer, after all.

Then I’d head to my garden and pick out the vegetables I’d use in tonight’s plant-based dinner. While I cooked, I’d listen to a podcast (Stuff Mom Never Told You) or whatever I missed on NPR lately.

I wouldn’t have cable, but I would have Netflix and a laptop. So while I ate, I’d watch some old episode of Downton Abbey or Friends or The Office or Homeland, or maybe try something that everyone talks about but I just haven’t managed to start yet.

After dinner, if I hadn’t walked in the morning, I’d walk around the neighborhood listening to a long audio book series, like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.

I’d have a no-technology-after-10 rule, and I’d stick with it. Maybe even 9:30 because it’s not good for your mental health or sleep cycle to be tied to your devices.

Before bed by 10:45 (or 11 if I can’t put my book down or am in a total zen mindset), I’d read. Or do some lyric writing. Or journaling, or meditating. I’d burn a candle too, because I have so many of them and I never burn them.


This all sounds great. But it actually doesn’t include everything I want. Besides the fact that not everything I want can be accounted for in the goings-about of daily life, there’s some stuff I left out because this is what my ideal life would be as an independent young woman. I left out a major part: my boyfriend. In my ideal ideal life, we’d finally be living together. And a lot of these activities we’d do together. Especially making dinner, because he loves cooking.

I left out chores and errands too. Arts and crafts. Learning a language. Planning trips to Europe. Researching how to start your own business. Dealing with family or health or financial burdens that may arise. Keeping in touch with family and friends.

But hey. If this is what I want to be doing, I should be doing it. I should make my own priorities without having to justify them to anyone. I should be sensible about money but not anxious about it. I should put down my phone or iPad and pick up a book. I should rest when I need to and be active whenever I can. Drink more fruit-infused water. The homemade kind. I should write letters to people I haven’t seen in years who don’t have computers or email. I should ditch all the material junk that is cluttering my space and my brain and cherish the milestone necklaces, the dress I bought in Italy, the photo frame I made from graduation, the blanket from our first Christmas, and my grandmother’s piano.

My New Year’s Resolution was four words: Happy, Smart, Healthy, Skillful. The idea was that everything I would purposefully do would fall under one of these categories, thus making me more fulfilled and satisfied with life. This is what I ask of myself.

I stand by this right now. I stand by my heart always.




Sarah’s New Rules for the Modern, Exciting Cover Letter!

There are 229 files in my Cover Letters folder on my laptop. Just to account for accidental files or repeats, let’s say I have written at least 200 cover letters in the last 26 months. That’s 200 distinct, non-identical cover letters. (There are plenty of traditional rules I’m having less and less faith in, but catering your letter for the job is most definitely NOT one of them.)

And they’re all pretty formulaic. First paragraph: introduce yourself and state your general qualifications using keywords from the job description. Body paragraphs: describe your experiences in terms of results achieved, and don’t just repeat your resume. Closing paragraph: direct them to your resume and tell them how you can be reached, thanking them for their time and consideration.

Professional. Traditional. To the point. And kind of boring, I’d think. How many letters must these people be reading, and how many of them are full of the same rote information?

Let’s see how my numbers add up. Out of a little over 200 job applications, I received 16 calls for interviews and 8 job offers (including part-time, per diem, summer, seasonal, and jobs I turned down). 8% of my cover letters were enticing enough to get someone to give me a call.

That’s how I always look at it, but that’s not necessarily what those numbers imply. Maybe it wasn’t my cover letter at all that got me an interview, but my resume. Maybe my cover letter was never read. So while 8% is pretty depressing, I can’t be sure that 92% of my letters were just not up to par.

That doesn’t change the fact that the quality of your materials is paramount to getting interviews. And perhaps a unique, engaging letter will bump you up to slot #1. I’ve got to believe that a great letter will give you a great shot. What makes people invested in pursuing anything? Hooks. Intrigue. Personality. Pizzazz. Maybe this is just what modern cover letters need.

So here I present…

Sarah’s New Rules for the Modern, Exciting Cover Letter!

Rule #1: Show excitement and passion! You can list previous jobs, results obtained, responsibilities included… and that’s not a bad thing. But have the courage to show that you have genuine excitement about what it is that you do or want to do. Cite how what you’ve done will help you in a new position. Describe what it is you could initiate at a new job. But be passionate. In fact, use that word in your opening paragraph. What are you all about? What makes you tick? It’s not your degrees or your certifications, though those may be necessary to get the job. It’s your passion for (fill in the blank).

Rule #2: Don’t be afraid to flat out tell people what you’re good at. This will surely come up in an interview, so you might as well be prepared with a response. It’s hard to talk about oneself, arguably more so if you’re female. But a great way to combat that is to show how your strengths benefit those you work for and work with. Being a team player, being reliable, being willing to negotiate… these are traits that aren’t self-contained. They yield positive outcomes for everyone. Plus, if a job description says they’re looking for someone who is well-organized, a good communicator, and a self-starter, those are phrases you definitely want to include.

Rule #3: Show how your skills are transferrable. I’ve recently applied to a few jobs requiring good customer service skills. I have no retail or restaurant experience, but I have years of teaching experience. I’ve had to communicate with all kinds of people in various capacities, I’ve been personally responsible for upholding the missions of the places I worked, I’ve had to think quickly when something went not according to plan to ensure people were still engaged and happy with their experiences. Not only do you have more transferrable skills than you think you do, but it might even help to play up the fact that your experiences will lend a fresh perspective in a new job.

Rule #4: Re-designate the purpose of your body paragraphs. Usually body paragraphs go in reverse chronological order describing experiences and relevant skills acquired. Lately, I’ve use the first body paragraph to mention two relevant work experiences that gave me essential skills. In the second paragraph, I talk about transferrable skills from previous jobs (I’ve got a lot of arts experience, and now I need to show how that’s relevant to a library job or a camp director job). And in the third paragraph, I talk a bit about what makes me unique, specifically my outside interests that are applicable to the position. This is where I mention I’m a composer (I’m dedicated to helping youth find their voices and true passions) and a blogger (I’m a champion for cultural literacy and digital citizenship). Re-reading my old cover letters, I feel like I summarized my resume- which is already a summary of my experiences. If you’re repeating your resume, stop. Talk about what’s not there. Talk about something that will make people want to sit down and talk to you.

Rule #5: Show how you stay in touch with happenings in your field or the field into which you’d like to enter. Use the last paragraph to mention books you’ve read lately, topics you’re interested in, or apps you’ve discovered that have helped you become more productive, educated, et cetera. I recently dived back into YA after seeing  middle schoolers carrying around cool looking books. As a future teacher, I should be familiar with what my students will be reading. Any position in a library, arts organization, or education will be informed by relevant literature you read. And you never know if the person reading your letter will think, “Hey- I just read Wonder too!”, or “This person uses OverDrive? Maybe she can lead a workshop for retirees.”

Rule #6: Don’t abandon every instinct and do an about face in the hopes that it will catch someone’s attention. Last year, we all read about this guy who sent a very blunt email to a contact at Wall Street asking for an internship. People at the company responded favorably due to the candidate’s forwardness and brutal honesty. Others responded to the letter as a cry for sympathy. It’s never a good idea to beg for a chance at a job. It’s never a good idea to complain. But it is very common to feel slighted, under-appreciated, ignored, or like a failure if your job search efforts seem to get you nowhere. “Something isn’t working! Why? What am I doing wrong?” Most often, you’ll never know, if there even is a specific reason other than the person behind the desk reading the applications was simply looking for something else. Still, that doesn’t mean you should pull a George Costanza and do the opposite.

Some things are cover letter MUSTS: cite the position you’re applying for, as well as your basic qualifications and current position; explain your experiences in terms of results achieved and skills attained or honed; use keywords from the job application; be gracious and professional (but don’t beg or be uptight); don’t go longer than a page.


Again, what’s my biggest piece of advice? Be passionate!

I’m betting on myself. What I stand for, what I dream of doing, the differences I know I can and will make one day when I’ve found the right career fit. There is nothing I’m more excited about that creating arts opportunities for young people. I build my life around that. That passion will not fail me.