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Lindsay: I'm so excited for you to hear from today's guest, Mark Taylor. Mark has been a professional percussionist for 25 years and has had the opportunity of performing with some of the UK's finest orchestras and theater companies. Finding his passion and voice through music gave Mark the desire to share this understanding through his drum and percussion teaching, which he provides in schools and in his private practice.
Each person has their own interest to follow and story to tell. However, there are some common threads of knowledge and wisdom that sparked a flame in Mark to find out more, a desire to share these ideas with the world. This was the beginning of his podcast : Education on Fire. Mark interviews educators from around the world so that he can enable you to support your children to live, learn and grow to their full potential. Having spoken to over 200 guests, Mark uses these insights to support teachers and parents in his role as vice chair of the National Association for Primary Education, a non-political charity in the UK. I want to name that this episode was recorded August 9th of 2021. Let's get to the episode.
Hi! I'm Lindsay Lyons and I love helping school communities envision bold possibilities, take brave action to make those dreams a reality, and sustain an inclusive, anti-racist culture where all students thrive. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach, educational consultant and leadership scholar. If you are a leader in the education world, whether you're a principal, superintendent, instructional coach or a classroom teacher excited about school wide change like I was, you are a leader. And if you enjoy nerding out about the latest educational books and podcasts, if you're committed to a lifelong journey of learning and growth and being the best version of yourself, you're going to love the Time for Teachership podcast. Let's dive in.
Mark Taylor, welcome to the Time for Teachership podcast.
Mark: Lindsay, thank you so much. I really appreciate you asking me to be a guest.
Lindsay: I'm so excited to have you and I love that, I got to be on your show and now you're on mine, so this is such a cool continuation of a previous conversation. I just read your professional bio at the top of the episode and I'm just wondering, is there anything you want to add to that in terms of context, things that we should know about you?
Mark: I guess the main thing is because I don't believe in the silo way of life. You know, I've got 3 children at home, you know, one of them is just about to turn 20 unbelievably. And then two other teenagers. So I've sort of seen them through the primary stage and into the secondary stage and then beyond and we're just in this kind of little hiatus of them going to college and all of that kind of thing. So I think that kind of context in terms of having a parental experience of the breath of education and how that cates well, it takes a different kind of context when you're on that side of the fence and just being an educator I think is really important. And you know, the silo thing is important because obviously many teachers and leaders listening are going to be parents as well and it's having that slightly different hats and I don't think that's really interesting. And it certainly came across the course when there was all the homeschooling because teachers and leaders and everything doing everything in sort of juggling all those things together, those different hats and ways of coming across makes a big difference to the perspective of how you take these things on.
Lindsay: Absolutely. And such a valuable perspective to have to, because it's such a, I imagine, I'm not a parent but it's, you know, it's such a different experience. I imagine from that parent view, so thank you so much for contextualizing that.
And I hope more guests, you know, want to talk about that as well, so thank you for setting that stage. One of the first questions I always ask is in line with the idea of freedom dreaming, which Dr Bettina Love describes as dreams grounded in the critique of injustice. I'm curious to know what is the big dream that you hold for the field of education.
Mark: For me it was really the idea of opportunity and the idea that it's all about questioning and the lens that we put this in the environment that we put the contextual idea of it in, rather than every child should be this level at this age, in this subject in their way. And I think to understand that when every child is born, they have this natural ability to grow. You know, we don't teach them to walk, we don't teach them to do these things, it's in built, we give them the environment, they need to keep them safe, all of that kind of stuff, and just allow them to go. And we kind of lose that as we start to go through the education world, and the system doesn't necessarily give that breadth that you actually need.
And so I kind of think to bring that into the education world, I think then just enables so many things to happen organically, whether it's well being, whether it's the ability to feel like any aspiration is possible. And then our job is just to be able to then, okay, how do we go about making sure they understand how to go about it.
Lindsay: I love that idea, and I love the comparison to walking because it's absolutely right, we're not like, okay, you take this foot and then you go here. We just kind of let it happen and we trust that it will happen. And I just wonder like, you know, I think there's so much trust that is missing from the process in terms of educators trusting children and students in our educational context. I think, you know, we lose that more and more as we kind of push kids through this traditional model of schooling, so I'm fascinated by that comparison. Thank you for that.
Mark: That's right. Just as a little aside to that. Today, I was, we were on the summer holidays here in the UK. And my youngest daughter is into gymnastics and tumbling and you know, it goes a couple of times a week and does athletics and all that kind of thing, and there's clubs after school. And then this last few weeks it's been very sort of, we're just at home, you know, she's not being able to go to a couple because it's the holidays and she's been in her room a lot. She's now sort of 14, so we're thinking we need to structure the activities that we do this, and I'm sort of talking to myself in terms of, it's their holidays, they worked really hard, they've just been through a year of homeschooling, you know, all of that kind of thing.
And then just as I was kind of thinking, I don't know, maybe I should do something or say something or be the parent or teacher or whatever it happens to be. She's sort of walked past me, went out into the garden with her gym mat that she got herself from the garage, went onto the lawn and spent an hour or two out stretching, balancing, doing all of that stuff completely on her own. And I thought, yes, I'm glad I didn't say anything. That natural ability of just giving her the space she needed to relax to get the old term out of her system to enjoy time with her friends, which she did with a couple of sleepovers, hence the tiredness as well as the teenager. And then away she goes back to her natural self and wanting to be active and stretching and all of that. And I thought, yeah, just sometimes you just need that breadth and the ability for these things to happen organically.
Lindsay: That's a perfect example. That is amazing. Thank you for sharing that. And when we think about, kind of the, I almost think about the hesitancy of teachers and you know, educational leaders to enable students to just do that, right? To be able to just be go forth and learn in the way that they do and give them that space and just kind of focus on the environment that we create for them to learn.
I'm curious to know what mindset shifts you think that educators, educational leaders are going to need to have if they've been doing education in a traditional way, not letting kind of loose the reins, so to speak, you know, and letting students just experiment and kind of find their way. What would you say to those educators or people who work with those educators or people who work under those leaders, to try to make it possible for that kind of vision that you have for education to be possible in their realities.
Mark: I think in a lot of way it needs to be fearless. And it also needs to be empowered by leaders and teachers who know all of this stuff already. I think that the hardest thing at the moment is that the system, I mean, certainly in the UK and I'm sure it's the same in the US as well, it's that kind of, you know, the grades, the standards, it must look like this, it has to be like this, everyone needs to conform. That's just stifling, it's just really difficult to do. Whereas those leaders who say, "let's forget all of that, let's start with : what does every child need? They need to be loved. They need to be nurtured, they need to be inspired.
They need to have the opportunity to experience. They need to be part of a community." You know, what is it that we want our children when they leave this area of their education to move onto the next thing? What do we want them to leave with? And then with that, you'll bring in what you need. You know, there's going to be Arts, there's going to be Sports, there's going to be Humanities. There's, you know, as well as the STEM subjects and all of that. It's not about one particular thing. It's about starting with all of those things.
And one of the things I quite like is my podcast is Education on Fire, and the fire, I've been thinking about this a lot. I'm talking with my daughter as well and I said I need to come up with some kind of sort of acronym or something which helps sort of work with that. And we came up together. We were just in the car on a journey and we said: "Failure". Really really important to understand what failure is and in a safe environment, you know, what is that? Because we've all fail over and over and over again. But let's make sure that we know what that means and how it works and how we grow and what we learn from it.
"Inspiration". When we just had the Olympics. You know, one of the things on the TV
this morning for us was Max Whitlock and Adam Peaty, two of our gold winning medalists, talking about the effort they put in and what they can do and how they want to give back to students, and that's inspirational! I mean, that's amazing. But then you need the "Resilience" because, of course that's great, I'd love to be an olympic medalist. However, that's going to take some work. It's going to take some understanding you know, how do I find a coach where do all of that kind of stuff, really, really important. And then the most important thing then for the E was the "Empowerment".
So okay, great. You've got this. Inspiration is where you want to go. How do we then go about it? How do we give them the idea of well being? Where do they find a mental? Where's that teacher that really sees the student who can then take them under their wing and show them the way to go. You know, you need to learn this, you need to understand that. Where can we put all these things together to put you on the right path? And with all of those things, every child has the chance to do what they were born to do in a natural way. There doesn't have to be, as I said, siloed into certain things. And I think that's really important because then it's fearless and like I said, those those leaders that can create that environment and be fearless like that,
Of course we live in a system that has testing and it has all those things that we've talked about already.
But generally speaking because the breadth of the understanding and the knowledge that the children have experienced, they usually thrive in that and they excel because they're doing it from a sense of that perspective : "I might fail, but I'm going to give it a good go. I've found the teacher that can really support me to do it, you know? I'm inspired by the fact that I know my older brother managed to achieve it last year or the year before. I've seen someone else do it, you know. And I actually know about how to go about it. If I don't, okay, I'll try again next year or the year after. Or maybe this particular thing doesn't matter. I'll do it in a different way, in a different subject with a different person." But all of it is a positive step by step learning experience to for them to live their life, which is what it's all about, rather than everyone living the same life. And I think that fearless, I guess kind of picture and model in an environment that leaders can create, that's the way to do it. And then allow the rest of it to kind of seeped through into the world of what education and school looks like from the outside as it were looking in rather than starting with that child. What do we want them to leave their school with?
Let's start there and let the rest of it take care of itself.
Lindsay: I love that. And that acronym is amazing. I am so excited about that,
Mark: I'd love to take all the credit, but it was my daughter that came up with most of them, which I love even more because it comes from the people that I'm trying to help. So it's fantastic.
Lindsay: It's totally like modeling in action what you're talking about in this.
Lindsay: And I love that it starts with a failure as well, because it's such a, you know, a moment where you're like, well, the first letter stands for a failure, like that, you know, that's so uncommon in education. And so to just kind of throw that out there and kind of give people that moment of like, oh, I need to shift my mind around this because this is not what I'm used to hearing and it's just so powerful. And I'm thinking about, you know, when we moved to, okay, this is how we need to think. This is kind of the mindset stuff we've been talking about and then we moved to, well, how do we put that into action? What is the brave action that I need to take to make this kind of "FIRE" model come to life in my class? I'm just thinking about a bunch of different possibilities. How do you envision people putting this model into being in their classroom or their school?
Mark: I think a part of it, or actually the majority of it, is just having these conversations about what it is that we want to do. What is it about us, as people. What is it about us as a community of schools, about how we want to show up and do it. And then you have the opportunity to say, and it looks like this in this situation based on maybe something that's happened personally, you know. So you might have deemed this a failure because you've got 10 out of 20 in a test. But what did we learn from it? What did you learn that you didn't know about it? How can we change it? Right now, I want to do a little bit more, you know? Okay, so we'll go about that. Here's the skills that we need. Read this, do this. Can I help you with this? And so you've got that personal element that you can do child on child, or class on class? Or even show it from above, like say, just talking about sort of Olympic athletes, you know, seeing it from a story you're given by someone who's kind of been there and done it as it were, you know.
If that's an important part of what you're looking at or studying or want to sort of put into their awareness. You can see it from all those different perspectives, but I think it all just then comes down to the hearing now, you know?
So what am I feeling now, did I fail? Actually, I didn't fail, you know. How do I want to go about learning it? Well, I can do this : what's my next step? Who supported me? Or you are as my teacher or you are as my mentor, my guide or whoever it happens to be. And I think understanding that and understanding that it's also further around and just your immediacy of your school, it might be someone just outside of your school. It might be a parent, it might be a friend. It might be, they will do in the same sort of thing. And once you identify the traits and the understanding and what will get you to, what you think you're going to achieve in, and that of course that changes and you don't know what it is, but it all comes down to a feeling. This feels good. This I want to find out more about this. I want to experiment with. There's not quite so much. Okay, well let's go with the good stuff. Let's feel how that goes and then you can thrive. And I think a combination of all of those things are going to certainly give you the impetus, you need to put you on the right path
Lindsay: And I'm hearing a lot in there to moments for reflection, like creating that environment where we enable students to reflect on that test score. Or you know, reflect on whatever failure it was and think about, is this the path I want to go down?
I mean those are questions that I think, sometimes we, as teachers, have informally with students. We think of this as something we do, you know, in between classes or before the school day officially starts. But building in time for that, you know, actual class day as part of a lesson, enabling that personalization that you're talking about, I think is a wonderful opportunity and kind of necessary in the world that you're creating here for us to think about and so pivotal when we think about. I think a lot about the curriculum design and I'm fascinated by curriculum design, but one of the things I hear a lot is we don't have time in the curriculum to do social emotional learning or this thing or this, you know, and thinking about, can we have a curriculum, can we create something that is so flexible and enables for that breath of, you know, talking about failure, talking about what kids are interested in and their passions and helping them co- create requires that kind of flexibility and reflective moments.
And so I love that, that's just kind of part of what I'm hearing, as you're explaining what this would actually look like in practice.
Mark: Yeah, and I think it has to be that because then you've always got the skills and the emotional context and the understanding of yourself about the next thing. Because like we said, whether that's about your math test or maybe it's about something related to sporting activity you did, or maybe there's something really happening in your home life that you don't know how to go about it.
The same things apply, because you're getting used to what life is all about and how you show up in it and how you perceive it and how you can go about changing it if you want to or accepting it, if it just needs accepting. So then you've got the skills that you need and then you can adapt it. Because I think the one thing we all know about the world moving forward is It's not going to be anything like it is today. It wasn't like it was 20 years ago. So therefore that is the most important thing and to give our children the skills they need for that, to let them fly, to let them solve the problems that need to be solved. To feel empowered that they can do it whether they fail 100 times, but get it 101 times or whether they, you know, it's just an understanding that they're on the right path and they're going to keep doing it and they can surround themselves with the people they need to surround themselves with, you know, again and again and again, it's a positive situation rather than I'm now learning this or this subject or this thing all in those silos, which just kind of, I don't know that's just the thing about I'm going to school, I do as I'm told, I don't ask any questions, I did pretty well on the test.
Okay, great. Now I'm 18 and now, what do I do? You know I mean? The whole thing is just a completely different situation.
Lindsay: Yeah, totally doesn't prepare people for life. And so I love that what you're talking about prepares people for life, right? This is so profound and so well said. Thank you so much for summarizing that. And the way that you did, I just think there's so much to think about there.
One of the things that people ask me a lot of times is, okay, Lindsay you're talking about this ideal situation or you're talking about justice or whatever and your experiences in the high school setting. But what does this look like for younger grades or younger levels of schooling. And so you are the vice chair of the National Association for Primary Education in the UK. Amazing. And I'm just curious to know, can you speak to what that type of education might look like in those younger grades.
Mark: Yeah. I had a fantastic conversation recently with Jonathan Lear, and he's one of the associates for an organization called Independent Thinking, and he's also a class teacher, and he was talking to me about the curriculum. And he's, I think it's now deputy head of an inner city school, multiple languages at all spoken in the school and you know, they have the same pressures of kind of, it must look like this and this is the curriculum and this is the national curriculum and how did you put it together?
And they took a step back and they were like, okay, what is it that we want the children to understand and learn because of course that's going to be very different for everyone, especially with the type of community that they have. And the one thing they learned was that they did the first step, which I think lots of people start to do, which is, we need to be more creative. Okay, so let's have a fantastic curriculum which has all this great inquiry and topic based and you know, wind all that in with some of the subjects which are traditionally taught in a traditional way in terms of two plus two is four and you do need to learn that at some stage in some way or another.
But what he said, we found was is it was still us as the adults, kind of leading the children. It was still our creativity. Yes, it was fantastic and it might be, you know, a really inspiring day about whatever the topic had to be. But it still came from them and then the children did some fantastic work related to it. However, it still was the adults setting the scene and then the children doing a very good job within it.
And so what they did was they took it another step forward and they made it really, really inquiry based. And so the example that he gave was, he said they were doing sort of earthquakes, natural disasters, volcanoes, that kind of topic, which we do here in the UK. And he said, for example, normally, the art part of that is a paper mache brilliant model of a volcano and you can do the science with it and make it explode and all of that kind of stuff, brilliant. Excellent. You learn loads of stuff and everyone's very happy. Brilliant. You know, that was really great. But then you said beyond that you then sort of take it and the concepts and take it even further. So they then started talking about, okay, so you're in an earthquake, there's been a natural disaster. You know, let's talk about how that would look in terms of resilience. What sort of adversity would you find yourself in? You know, what strength would you need? What would the world look like afterwards? What if your village was the one that was just by the volcano?
What do you do then? And he said then all of a sudden we had a conversation, you know, one child will be talking about, well, I'd be really scared and you know, could we run away. You know, would we have to have no possessions at all? What would that feel like?
And he said at that point, we've created the environment. We've set the topic. We're still in control. You know, we are the teachers, we are providing the curriculum, but where that then led, the art doesn't necessarily need to be a paper mache volcano. It could be anything, you know. And it gets very personal. It gets very conversational and it can take you in any particular direction. And that is then a way of all of the skills from all the subjects and all the things that you want to cover then come into the sort of focus because children decide they want to take it in this direction or that direction. So we can do this or we can do that or we can do the other. And there is no final outcome. It doesn't need to look like the perfect volcano paper mache thing, which is what you kind of want because you can go take: Yes, that's what we wanted.
Some children did a good one, Some did not so good one. This one was amazing. There's no volcano paper mache end, It could be anything, you know.
And he said that's brilliant because then it's all about the questioning, it's about the environment. Where do we want to take this? Do we even need to do a piece of art like that? Can it be a piece of writing? You know? Actually I'm feeling I want to talk about how I was feeling as I saw the ash start to come down. Okay, well let's maybe talk about, let me draw a picture of it actually just being completely desolate after it happened. So no longer we're doing big science things and lots of explosions. We're just doing a completely dark gray, desolate kind of piece of work. It's kind of giving the emotion in the understanding of what that was. That's not something the teacher said you had to do. That's not something that came from "I need to do a piece of art." It came from an expression of what was related to the topic beyond it. And I think all of a sudden that kind of gives everyone the ability, I think, to be empowered to take it in their own direction
because of course you could have the same conversation in a different school, in a different country, in a different county in the UK and they'd all have a different idea about what they want that to be. And then you can really start to support them. If you think why there's somewhere here, we can take this even further. Or you can sort of decide, are there somewhere we can take this. Have you heard about this? Have you heard about that? There's a situation that happened in a different country. Let's just look at that for now. And so you can guide it, but you're not in complete control and you don't have a picture of what you'd like it to end up with. Again back to that. You need to be a fearless leader to do that because you don't know what that end result is going to be. But I would bet nine times out of 10 it's a hell of a lot further or higher in what your expectation would be that you would probably set had you set out to begin with.
Lindsay: That's such a great point and a great example. I think so many times my students have surprised me. You know, even in the higher grades, just when we enable them to kind of follow their own path of inquiry and that's such a powerful example.
It makes me think of, you know, the driving question of a unit. Like you might set the driving question of the unit to be something like, you know, what would happen or how would you experience this event or something? And then from there, I mean that's an engaging question that everyone's going to want to answer from there. They develop their own project specific questions and I think that kind of balance between what you're saying, there's still an ability to guide, there's still ability to spark the interest right away, and go to all those places that you initially wanted them to. You know, we're gonna learn about volcanoes, we're gonna learn about all these things. But to have them guide that and to have them kind of niche down into, well this is the subtopic, within volcanoes that I'm super interested in. And so I'm just gonna have the freedom to go there, is so wonderful. And I hope that balance between, you know, guiding and student voice, enabling student voice helps people kind of paint a picture of, oh this is possible for my class and I can do this and it doesn't seem as scary as just completely letting go of all control. And so this is a lovely picture you're painting for us.
Mark: And I think the one thing that came across from my conversation with him was the fact that he said it might look different next year because, you know, we created this and we've learned, as educators and leaders and teachers, of how we thought it might go and were surprised. But we can also then tweak that slightly differently to make it even better with different boundaries or support network or whatever, it happens to be, not being rigid ourselves as leaders to think all right, okay, now we found the, you know, the golden bullet or the silver bullet rather to kind of make it look a certain way so that it then looks fantastic and we know that within this we're going to get some great results to be able to morph and change and see how it is.
The next year group is a different year group with different personalities and different situations. And so I think, yeah, just to have it from both sides that we're all learning, we're all morphing, we all have that fluidity to kind of beyond that journey together, we're learning together and I think that's a really powerful place to be
Lindsay: Super powerful. I love that. And I know we kind of mentioned arts within that framework of the volcano example and what could art look like. And so as an advocate for the arts and education yourself, what ways have you seen art be used, you know, in education to help students have that voice, to help students pursue whatever their interests are and really help them flourish as people in the classroom?
Mark: Well, I think that the main thing is my personal experience and I'm a professional musician, you know. I'm a drummer and percussionist and I've got to play all over the world and all sorts of different situations. But I remember being at school and you know, you go to Math, you go to English to French, you do all of those subjects and then we did Music. And there was something about that that was different.
And I had a drum teacher who kind of took me under his wing and I thought this is really great and he said, "maybe you should perform in some local ensembles.", which I did and the whole world opened up. But what it did is it showed me there was a voice that I could use to show up in the world as me in a way that I didn't in any other way.
And I think that's what the arts does. You know, whether it's in drama, whether it's actually art in its traditional sense in terms of creating something or painting or drawing or whatever it is. If you can find a way to show up in the world authentically, I think the arts gives you that outlet. And I think that's where the broad curriculum comes from. You know, it may be sport, it may be something else, but the arts, I think just for so many people, it gives them an environment where they can actually say yes, there's something I can just pinpoint. It was this bit of drama, it was this play, it was this, you know, reading this some particular piece of text that just that really spoke to me, what does that mean?
Why did I feel like this then when I've never felt it before, or I felt that once more, but that was in my real life not to do with this. Why did identify with that? And again with them, back to the questioning and then hopefully because you've created the environment within the school, that question then goes back into school, whether it's the teacher or mentor whoever it is. What was this? Where does this come from? And then again, off you can go and make that kind of work and, you know, that sort of emphasis of like, great, this is something in your life which you want to just explore whether that's something that lasts a day, a week, a month, a year or in my case, my career. You know, it just opened up that entire world and I think it's really, really important from that point of view
And the other thing, which I know, it's certainly when children struggle and they have mental health issues and that kind of thing. The one thing that's always at the front of everything is: we're going to do some art related stuff. We're going to take everything back to its simplest way. We're going to color in. We're going to draw. We're going to just do something that just focuses the mind on the here and now. And I think there's very little in the arts that you can do, which doesn't make you be in the hearing now.
And that's really, really important because then that gives you a connection with yourself.
So there's the voice in terms of, yes, this is me, I can tell you what I'm all about. But there's also the understanding of there's, there's more to this than just another subject. And I think just having, just knowing that as educators giving that as an option not but just because it's a wider opportunity within the curriculum, but because it's an integral part of what we want our students to experience, no matter how far they take that in their life, but it's very different than just a broad curriculum then it's actually about that real kind of learning and empowerment.
Lindsay: Wow! I don't think I've ever heard anyone say it in that way, in both that it helps you be in the here and now, and it also helps you find a way to show up authentically in the world. That is so powerful and so connected to, you know, a lot of the work that I do around student voice and student leadership and so powerful for the, I mean, the world is always changing and current events are always happening and things are always going on. But covid particularly I think for a lot of kids, you know, to be just here and now in a particular classroom in a particular moment and to kind of land there as opposed to kind of being all over the place in your head, thinking about, you know, how's how's grandma recovering from Covid or you know, like all of these different things that are happening in our world, I think that's so profound in so many ways, both being in the here and now and being an agent of change for your community in so many ways and I just absolutely love that. Thank you for sharing that
Mark: Pleasure, and I think it carries on a little bit for what we spoke about when you're on my show. We were talking about that kind of student voice and being able to be on a board or to chat to the leadership about what you want to do.
You know, this also kind of gives you, you know, if there's arts in there and you know, you decided to come up with your own play, you come up with your own speech, your ability to present something. You know, it may give you a framework to do that, which you don't have because there are x number of students on the board somewhere they can get those things across. And I think that there's sort of a broader context about how you can then seize your opportunities and just express yourself and get your point across in a way that's already embedded in the school, hopefully, but maybe not in the traditional sense of now we've got a leadership meeting and I'm going to tell you that the children think that
Lindsay: Oh my gosh, that's so brilliant. It makes me think of, there's a one student voice study that I included in the literature review of my dissertation that I was just fascinated by, which it was high school students. But I think it could work for anyone where they were actually an after school club. I don't think it was part of the daily curriculum, but they were in drama and they created their own play around experiences of being part of the L. G. B. T. Q. Community and then they facilitated a discussion with community members, family staff as students afterwards.
Like, okay, well how did this part of the play make you feel and like let's talk about this connected to policy in our school and that was I had totally forgotten about that study for years until you just said that. And so that just makes me think, yes, there's so much potential and there are people doing it and using art in that way already. And so I think that is so cool. I hope someone listen to this episode and takes that idea and run with it and lets us know how it goes.
And so you also you mentioned I was on your podcast, Education on Fire. You host a wonderful podcast. People should check it out. I'm curious to know having all of the guests on that you've had, what have you learned from from hosting that podcast. Are there any stories or ideas that have stuck with you in being a host?
Mark: Yeah. I mean there are a few things. I think the one thing that comes across most is the fact that everyone talks about the personal connection. So it was this teacher that made me feel like this. It was this teacher that gave me this opportunity. It was this teacher that opened my eyes to something. No one's ever said, I remember how to do the five times table now because of X.
And there might have been a fantastic thing and the nine times table. We all know you can use your knuckles and all that kind of thing. But it's all about the emotion. It's about the feeling, the being seen, the understanding of the relationship. And I think that comes across a lot in terms of that's the most important thing, because that's what we're all about. We're all humans, it's about the community and the environment.
But one particular guest that always I go back to Vondale Singleton was on, and you know, we're talking about equity and the idea of everyone having an opportunity. I'll do it backwards. So he is, I think he's got a Masters. He is the person who created something called Champs, which is a male mentoring organization in Chicago. He's helping so many people. It's just inspirational, absolutely inspirational But more so, when he talked about how it all started, he had a mother who died from drugs from cocaine and crack cocaine.
I think his father was in prison through his high school years. He was part of the Ida B. Wells Housing Project. I think it's a very tough situation to be and I think he was surrounded by very difficult people in a difficult situation. When he tells the story, it's very much almost like a very desolate movie script. You know, you can kind of sort of see, how do you survive that. But more importantly, how do you get to be the person that's just inspiring so many people in the world. And it's that kind of thing. No matter where you start from, that isn't where you're going to end up. You have that choice.
So with no support and parents that obviously really were struggling in their life and unable to help him through his school, he had a mentor and this mentor showed him the opportunities, got him to chat, gave him the opportunities within the school, open desires to what was possible.
And you know, he obviously, he studied hard and he worked and he kind of created those opportunities for himself. But he pins it all on this one person. And the thing that struck me was he went to his mentor and said, I can't thank you enough, you know, what is it that I can do to pay you? How can I help? What can I, how can I respond and just do that and pay you back? And the answer was, do for someone else like I've done for you. Basically just pay it forward. And then all of a sudden, it all kind of makes sense. You know, it's that kind of, I can use everything I've learned, whether it's good, bad or indifferent. I can help someone else. I can use what I've learned and my skills and that will look different for me than it will look for you or somebody else. But it's all equitable in as much as we can all decide to do that based on what it is that we want to do, and he was the person who went out and created this most amazing opportunity. And it's helping, you know, so many young people in Chicago, just to understand all the sorts of things that we've been talking about today.
You know, he's not teaching them necessarily how to read and write. He is teaching them how to be, you know, good citizens, to understand how they can help other people, how they can support themselves, how they can create a life that they want to do and live in the best kind of way. And I just find that that's so inspiring, you know, that's not kind of not equitable inasmuch as, you know, we can all start here and we can finish there and it needs to look like this. It's equitable, because if you understand, I think the majority of what we've talked about today, you can then take the personalization of that and take it in whichever journey you happen to be, because, you know, it's not a situation where you have to have this experience or that experience or or anything like that. It's about taking it on board and showing how you can move it forward, and that's what I love about doing the podcast, is that hopefully, and like you, you expressed before, people hear these stories and understand these things and think I never thought that was possible, but somebody has done it. So I've heard someone do it and it might be that you can change that tomorrow in your classroom, or it might be that it's a conversation you can have with someone in the staff room and say, just have a listen to this, or just, you know, think about this, can we put this into place and it might be five years, 10 years down the line before it comes to fruition, but it's making that change, it's making a difference and that's the best thing you can possibly do.
Lindsay: I love that. I think that's a huge piece of, I always say, like, think big or dream big and we start with that dream question at the start of each podcast because we have to know what is possible. We have to dream up something that is possible that may not be in existence right now. And I think podcasts are a beautiful way, particularly how you do your podcast centered on stories centered on the personal experiences of folks who are in education, because that's what grabs people by the heart and that's what gives people that possibility and that imagination. And so I absolutely love that, that you're doing that podcast and everyone should go check that podcast out. Subscribe to it. It's amazing. As we kind of start to wrap up the episode, I'm curious to know what's one thing you would encourage listeners to do once they turn off the podcast, they're going about their day, something that enables them to really live in alignment with these values of justice and equity, the things that we've been talking about today.
Mark: I think it's a really great question and I was thinking about it before, Lindsay. And I just think the one thing I would suggest and it makes a big difference, but it's a small thing : ask someone a question to get an answer about their life that you didn't know.
And then that opens up a conversation. It gives you an insight into their world that you didn't know existed before. It gives you a frame of reference and an understanding and without knowing where that will go in that kind of fearless way. I I don't know where that is, but it will completely: 1) Give you that emotional connection, and it will just open up a door somewhere that will help somebody in a way that you never thought was possible.
Lindsay: That is so powerful. I'm also thinking about just the notion of curiosity which I think is really tied to justice conversations and having conversations about justice that aren't polarizing, that don't shut people down. It is just being curious and what a wonderful way to just manifest that and actually just practice curiosity by just asking people questions. This is brilliant. I love it and such an easy thing to do.
Mark: Absolutely. And I think that's a really great point you made there is the fact that, you know, we talk about system change. We talk about these massive things and I think it all usually comes back to the moment as we spoke about before, but more importantly about you know, the here and now, what can we do now?
That one question, that one one piece of advice, or often just to look, just that kind of: Yeah, I know where you are today, I've got you. But that comes from having those conversations and those questions before. So yeah, it's a small thing, but I think like you say, can be really important.
Lindsay: Awesome, and this is just a question that I usually ask for fun. What is something that you have been learning about lately? And I asked that just because I think everyone on the podcast is really a lifelong learner and going about, you know, not only teaching and educating in that sense, but really educating ourselves and learning. So what's one thing you've been learning about?
Mark: So certainly one of the things I've been reading actually is a book by Margaret Rooke and it's called You Can Change the World. And in that she interviews, I think it's 50 teenagers. And it's basically people who are showing up doing amazing things, sharing their stories from amazingly different circumstances, some of them quite difficult circumstances, but really changing their world and in turn inspiring others.
And the thing I love about it the most is it changes the narrative about what society and maybe the media perceive is what teenagers are about and what they do. You know, these are young people who are literally inspirational as teenagers. This is what I'm going to do when I'm 20, 30, having been to college, university. This is what they're doing now as teenagers. You know, some of it very personal, some of it very practical, but really just that kind of, it just fills you with, it's a lens again. It's that kind of, this is what teenagers can do and are doing. So let's see what those teenagers are doing in your life or my life and see if we can encourage that.
Lindsay: So cool, and I think about how you were talking about the "I" in "FIRE", you know, inspiring and being really excited about sharing stories like athletes and things like that, that is such a great content. If someone was like, oh I want to go do that, I want to inspire people. Like grab that book, open it up, you know, give it to kids, give excerpts to kids and really let them dream up. You know, whether it's for class, like this is a project that I want to do, and I know it's possible because I read about this in this book, or for life right now, like outside of the classroom and being an agent of change.
So I love, like concrete recommendations like that, that you can go ahead and use right away. So amazing.
And finally where can listeners learn more about you or connect with you online.
Mark: Yes. So as you mentioned, educationonfire.com is my world online and what I've done because I think what you're doing is so important and so helpful for so many people. Part of my job is the National Association for Primary Education Vice Chair as you mentioned, Is they provide a professional journal three times a year. And a recent issue was about equity and diversity and a whole range of things like that. So what I've done is I've created a page which gives you a link to be able to read that journal online free. And also I did a couple of follow up podcasts for NAPE as well, which are, I'll copy them into that page. So you've got it all there in one go. So if you go to educationonfire.com/timeforteachership, then we'll make sure that all of that is there for you just to have a look at and hopefully will give you a little bit of extra inspiration and support.
Lindsay: That is amazing. Mark Taylor thank you so much for doing that and for being on the podcast today. This is a wonderful conversation
Mark: Lindsay, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Lindsay: Thanks for listening, amazing. educators. If you loved this episode, you can share it on social media and tag me @lindsaybethlyons or leave a review of the show, so leaders like you will be more likely to find it. Until next time, leaders, continue to think big, act brave, and be your best self.
Mark can be found on his website.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.