I hear that video killed the radio star, and (if the kids today are to be believed) that if any principals like me want to capture the attention of our school communities we need to do more than churn out long winded blog posts like mine and get about the business of making movies. Well, short videos anyway, that just might be more appealing than a short reading assignment.

I’m taking that call for video to heart, particularly in this time of physical separation prompted by the ongoing pandemic. Even if I can’t see my students and families face to face every morning at least I can put my face out there to help keep the connection between home and school.

To do this I’m aiming for short hellos every Monday as a part of our ACMA Monday Message, a one page update with what to look forward to that week. In addition I’m filming some silly little shorts with specific topics (Zoom, support, stress reduction), and plan on a couple of “Fireside Chats” every month while we’re away from campus.

Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 9.22.29 PMI know that seeing someone’s face, hearing their voice, and watching them as they communicate can help make the message clear. Sure there’s a bit of theatricality to it all, but at the end of the day I work at an art school and a little theatre is just fine.

It also means that I may be building a catalogue of buffoonery that I’ll look back on in a few years and shake my head about. That’s okay. Sometimes it’s okay to play the fool, particularly when it’s done with an open heart and desire to do the right thing.

Will anyone watch? We’ll see. If they do I can promise information, a window into ACMA, and a face that was made for radio.

Dog Days

I wonder what the dog will think when, eventually, I go back to work full time …outside my house, I mean. 

It’s August and I’m going to campus now several days a week, but I’m home more than I usually would be at this time of summer, plugging away on my laptop at the kitchen table, in the family room, or back in the bedroom when I have a meeting that the family doesn’t need to hear. As a principal those meetings are more and more frequent these days; the pace seems to be picking up (as it usually does in August) though preparations for the upcoming school year are now accomplished (mostly) through a computer screen. 

Right now, as I type, the dog is sleeping underneath the chair by my desk. She seems happy enough, though I know she’ll nose my ankle in a minute or two to prompt me into a walk. That will be good for both of us. We’re getting to know each other’s routines now, and while I’m still frustrated by not being able to go back to school, my canine friend seems just fine with the lay of the land. 

The lay of the land at school, however, is something more complicated.

Ankle nudge.

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…and now we’re back from a walk. So many interesting trees.

That hope of getting back to school is very real, but not something that is likely to happen before the rains of winter begin. Which means we’ve got to invest the time and commitment to making our remote experience as good as it can be. Not perfect, but as good as it can be.

To help with that I’m working with my staff to develop the best instruction we can. They come back in earnest in less than two weeks (though a great many of them have been preparing ever since June for this fall’s opening) and when they log in for our first preservice meeting one of the most important topics will be the alchemy involved in making teaching and learning meaningful, positive, and productive in this age of COVID-19. I know practices will evolve as we all find our rhythm, but as we start the school year we will do so with as much preparation, collaboration, and dedication as we can.

Beyond the classroom we’re already ramping up communication. In addition to our monthly Hello from ACMA… we’ll add Monday Messages with video, upcoming dates, and information families need for the week ahead. Our first is slated for next week and I’m hopeful students and parents will find them both useful and a point of connection with our school.

I’ll keep up coffees with the principal, even after our last installment was Zoom bombed we don’t want to let go of this important two way communication. I love hearing parent questions in real time and doing my best to give answers that can help.

We’ll also start scheduling student events like Open Mic Night. Our theater department is planning online shows, our dance department is developing ideas for remote recitals, and the creative artists who fill our school are thinking about the ways we can keep students engaged in this time away from campus by capitalizing on the passion for creativity that brought them to ACMA.

Will there be successes? Yes. Will there be missteps? I’m certain there will. Is all this effort worth it? It has to be. The kids, the staff, the entire enterprise of education is so important.

In An Oregon Message poet William Stafford wrote about his craft, saying: “I must be willingly fallible in order to deserve a place in the realm where miracles happen.” This fall is a little like that.

And if miracles don’t happen every day, well, then I’m very, very lucky to have a dog to come home to.

This was supposed to be…

Commencement looked different this year. No bagpipes echoing in the performing arts center, no lines of graduates in robes, faculty packed shoulder to shoulder on stage, or flowers in front of a podium. With COVID-19 keeping us distanced from each other we had to find new ways of doing things: a drive through experience where graduates could decorate their cars and motor through the parking lot to the physically distanced cheers of the staff, delivering balloons to the valedictorian, and signs to every senior. But commencement… that’s a different story.

IMG_5304We planned for a drive-in experience, but the curve wouldn’t flatten and good sense meant we ought to put together a celebration of the Class of 2020 on film, which we did, complete with amazing student speakers, a heartfelt message from the teacher they’d chosen to address the class, and the obligatory few words from the principal.

I’ve made it through two years without giving a conventional speech at graduation. My first year at ACMA I read C.P. Cavafy’s poem “Ithaca” and last June I opted for a nine word address, well three words repeated three times. This year, with such uncertainty in the air, it felt like I ought to be reassuring, not too goofy, so I opted to record some remarks straight from the heart.

I started with a poem, nothing fancy, just a few lines I jotted out on a yellow legal pad as I thought about what my seniors had been through, and were still going through now.

I thought about them as people and as artists, as important members of our school community, and as a collective force for change. The poem I wrote to read to them this year went like this.

This was supposed to be
a graduation speech, but…

You’ve seen behind the curtain
and it’s different now.

You saw disarray.
You saw a stage
without room to dance
or make music
or maybe even read a poem.

So you looked around
and took a deep breath
and struck out to the world beyond
our little stage.

You’d probably gotten tired of the
over thirty crowd
telling you about “the real world”
you know you’ve already been living in
the real world.

So you stepped outside
our school and saw

Things were different there too.
Torn up.

You realized that there is still art to be made
films to shoot, songs to write, plays to perform.

And it’s up to you to do that.

I’ve often said “ACMA isn’t a building”
…boy the universe took me up on that one.

But I hope that ACMA can be a beacon,
a place of memories,
and of inspiration.

I hope ACMA can always be home.

Because you are ACMA,
and just because you’ve seen behind the curtain
to that world of chaos and disorder,
(or maybe because of it)
doesn’t mean you’ve been robbed;
it means you’ve been catapulted into a world
that needs you.

Needs you.

And you’re up to the task.

So go out and make art
make friends
and make a difference.

We’ll be here, wherever ACMA is, cheering you on.

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I filmed myself delivering the poem, using a green screen to toggle between our current campus (at an unused middle school while they’re building our new school building) and our established performing art center, a place that all of us miss very much.

I will miss the students who made up ACMA’s Class of 2020; in fact, I’ve been missing them since we left campus on March 13th. I know I’ll see many of them again, whether on campus or off, once all this is over, but that only goes part way in softening the blow of losing them too soon.

But I believe what I said to them in that video: they are up to the task of making art, making friends, and making a difference, and we here back at home will be cheering them on.