Personal Playlist Podcast with Noa Daniel: Jonathan So—Peel-ing Back the Layers

Personal Playlist Podcast with Noa Daniel: Jonathan So—Peel-ing Back the Layers

Jonathan So is a Grade 6 teacher as well as the instructional technology lead and math coach in the Peel District School Board.  He went to arts school in that region and now he teaches there. Jonathan is the father of three children and a person of many talents, especially when it comes to music as I discovered through The Personal Playlist Podcast interview. Jonathan believes in creativity, exploration and inquiry, and his P3 certainly reflects that.

For Jonathan, “It’s more about the melodies and the music and the imagery that’s kind of created with it all more than the actual lyrics behind things.” When introducing his nostalgic song, he reflects back to when he and 16 and the song was first recommended by his band teacher. His teacher introduced it to him saying, “You’ve got to learn some fusion rock, hard core jazz stuff…” Jonathan played first trumpet in his jazz band and brings it out for Remembrance Day assemblies or for fun. Even though people may perceive this to be an easy instrument because there are only three keys, Jonathan shares that,” For every combination there’s seven different notes than you can play.” This song celebrates the band’s horn section. The song, I learned, has been controversial in terms of the meaning of its lyrics and has even been banned in some places. However you interpret the lyrics, it’s a powerful tune that is often played as the band’s finally. Here is 24 or 6 to 4 by Chicago:

As we began discussing his identity song, I learned some aca-tastic things about Mr. So. Did you know that he was in a barbershop quartet? One of his best friends had been in one for a long time so, when Jonathan was 20, he sang bass in that group for a year. He even sang with one of his superintendents whose wife was his principal. His friend continues to be in this group and is part of Ontario championship quartet. There is a distinct difference in this version of his identity song choice than the title track from the movie of the same name. Like the Pentatonix, Rockapela is an acapella group who may be best known as the house band for the 90’s PBS children’s geography game show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? This version of the song reflects Jonathan’s identity because it shows the power of relationships.  With the challenges of mental health and the isolation in the teaching profession that can often leave you feeling alone in your “four walls”, Jonathan relies on his colleagues and PLN, and they can rely on him. He said, “No matter what, I’m by my friends.” Here is Stand By Me sung by Rockapella:

Jonathan likes music in layers, and his final song choice is not exception. While I was surprised by his choice for this aspect of the task, Jonathan refers to this song as one that makes him happy. This third song is called a motivational or pick-me-up song, but I will add his descriptor with the addition of forget-about-everything-song, which he also mentioned in his lead-up. This song compels the listener from the great introductory riff and then brings out the ever-lovable cowbell. As he mentioned this, we simultaneously alluded to the hilarious SNL skit on the instrument (see below). After some research, it turns out my

comment about the origin of the name of the band was way off, so here is an article about David Clayton Thomas that gives some more background. Here’s Blood Sweat and Tears with Spinning Wheel:

When I first heard about the TEDxKicthenerED talks, I knew I wanted to go. I love being inspired by passionate educators, and I am acquainted with several of the presenters. Now that I had interviewed Jonathan, I was looking forward, even more,  to cheering him and the others on a TEDx. Jonathan was amazing, and I will be blogging about my incredible experience in Kitchener after I post this. If you want to connect with Jonathan, you can find him on Twitter or check out his site.


IMG_2499 2



Personal Playlist Podcast: Leigh Cassell—Taking Her Passion and Making It Happen Again and Again

Personal Playlist Podcast: Leigh Cassell—Taking Her Passion and Making It Happen Again and Again

Leigh Cassell is a tech coach at the Avon-Maitland District School Board, the creator of the Digital Human Library, a co-visionary on A Kid’s Guide to Canada, the catalyst behind a new Twitter chat for Ontario students and one of the newest members of the #ONedmentorsteam.  Although she noted this later in her Personal Playlist Podcast, all of the ways that Leigh is contributing to education in Ontario, Canada and the world is about building relationships. “It’s really about how open minded you are to the potential that will determine the kinds of relationships you are able to develop, not necessarily being in the same space.” Leigh builds relationships through her innovating and creative thinking because she is always making connections.

One can easily tie responsiveness into the innovation equation. If one sees big picture ideas and can respond to them in creative ways, they can really make a difference. That is Leigh Cassell’s style and one of the reasons why she created the Digital Human Library.  “If I can connect my kids with other kids, what’s stopping me from connecting them with all of the different people who do all of these amazing jobs and all of this amazing work in the real world, which is exactly what I’m teaching in my classroom.” Her catalyst may have been from being in a more rural setting, but her thinking came from backwards designing the goal of authentic learning. “This was my attempt for kids to supplement experiences they weren’t getting at city schools,” said Cassell. Creating a place for experts to interact with learners pushes learning beyond the classroom and makes it borderless.  She is linking curriculum and what is actually happening with it.

Leigh asserts that we can, “use technology today not only to connect…relationships can be built regardless of where you live in the world…and accomplish great things…” Leigh pointed out that we both came across A Kids Guide to Canada through Rola Tibshirani, which is an exceptional way to unite our students in celebrating Canada’s 150 and working together as a nation to build our tomorrow. As a connected educator, Rola introduced Leigh to Cathy Beach who had, “an incredible idea to connect kids across the country and engage them in creating and discussing what it means to be Canadian.” After reaching out, Cathy and Leigh met first on line and then in person, to collaborate on A Kids Guide to Canada who now have “a national committee with incredible teachers who are “so passionate and committed to ensuring the success of this project.”

Leigh and a team of educators are launching @ONedSsChat in October, which is a way to give students voice and a safe way to develop a positive digital footprint through a variety of Twitter chats. When she began this with some colleagues to create an AMDSB chat on Twiiter, she says that, “We wanted to create time and space for students in our district, K-8, to talk about issues, problems they were having, topics relating to social justice, character and citizenship and bring everyone together.” She invited some teachers leaders to open up a Twitter chat for Ontario students. “We have four different chats that we are offering, a variety of entry points…The whole point is to bring student voice to the forefront, engage kids in conversations that are meaningful to them about things that matter, about things that are going on in the world.” We plan to have Leigh and some other people on this team,  such Allison Fuisz, lead #ONedchat an October chat about this new hashtag and important opportunity to amplify student voice.

Eventually, we got around to Leigh’s playlist. Like many guests, Leigh quickly determined her song choices and then second-guessed her selection. She worried that she hadn’t put enough time into it, so she “…went into my iTunes library and I started listening to all this music. It’s interesting to me that I landed back on the same three songs that first came to mind.” That is why this task requires some critical thought and reflection.

Leigh chose her nostalgic song because it is her mother’s favourite song. “This was a song I heard in the house, in the car, at grandma’s. This song was on all the time, and this song was really a huge motivator for my mom, and it reminds me of her.” Leigh went on to honour her mother noting that she, “has danced through her whole life. She handles the most complicated and challenging situations with grace, but can command the attention of a room, but has this confidence and calmness about her at the same time…The way that she lives her life and the relationships she has and the way that she treats people…, it’s almost like a dance.” It was a beautiful introduction to the song from the movie Flashdance. Here is What A Feeling by Irene Cara:

Her identity song is one that she came across recently. Since Leigh is always “exploring the new…new territory,,,new relationships..,” choosing a newer song felt right because, she is always  searching for something new.  She quotes several lyrics form her identity song of choice to describe the excitement of newness. “The more experiences we have, the less we feel that excitement.” Leigh kept referring to the feeling that we are compelled to keep searching for, like what we had when we were kids and always discovering new things. “Every now and again, I find that feeling, and I have discovered that it’s when I connect with someone new, and the relationship that evolves is unexpected.” She described seeing that in your children and noted how profound an effect these experiences can have on you.  Here is the deep and hypnotic Waves by Dean Lewis:

Leigh described her final song choice as a pick-me-up. “…it doesn’t matter what brings me down or what my stress is at that particular time,  this song always just lifts me up and picks me up. This song was very important to me at a difficult time in my life.” As a huge Dave Matthew’s fan, she gets a lot from the energy of the music and the lyrics. “Event though this was song that reminds me of that really difficult time in my life, it also reminds me that I came out of that time on top. I got through it, and it made me a stronger person.” Here is The Best of What’s Around by The Dave Matthews Band:

As Dave said and Leigh phrased, “Turns out it’s not where you are but who you’re with that really matters,” and this was a relationship building conversation for us. We explored what was missing from her playlist and had some fun throwing back some Beastie Boys. She also referred to a Treble Charger song called Ever She Flows is one of her favourite songs. “It’s a song about second chances. It’s a song about blowing it and picking yourself up and going at it again.” As a growth-minded person, Leigh is always picking herself back up and failing forward, which she shared as not always something that is out there about her. It is a wonderful thing to model as a teacher and parent. In terms of the songs, she is, “…very connected to songs lyrically,” so I had to use one of the song lyrics in the title of this post as it sums up what I have learned about her. Leigh Cassell is a person who clearly takes her passion and makes it happen…again and again.

Personal Playlist Podcast: Brad Shreffler: Lose Yourself in the Music

Personal Playlist Podcast: Brad Shreffler: Lose Yourself in the Music

 From the first time that I met Brad as a co-panelist on #ONedmentors, I was intrigued by his style. He is an honest, insightful and provocative educator who is not afraid to question the status quo. Brad Shreffler is the host of the Planning Period Podcast, a writer and an innovator. He is the Curriculum Resource Teacher at a high school in central Florida focusing on supporting and providing professional development for teachers. He runs the school’s student tech support squad and has now taken on overseeing a peer tutoring initiative with high achieving students being paired with younger students in need of support, Brad has a fine balance of working with teachers and students.

Brad’s eclectic taste in music made the task of preparing for his guest appearance on the Personal Playlist Podcast an “unbelievable” challenge but a “great one”. He was concerned about his deep connection to nostalgia and its draw  in the pursuit of his first song of the three, but I reassured him that he was not alone. I had recently posted about the power of nostalgia in music, so I tried to ease his concern that he was overly focused on the songs of his past, as this is quite a normal phenomenon.

When I first saw the artist of Brad’s nostalgic song, I was sure it was one of the parodies that I knew from my youth. Not only was I wrong, and much older than Brad, as it turned out, but the song incorporated a lot of parts of Brad’s past. It was written to the melody of a classic tune, but the lyrics are recap of the most epic movie series of all times. As Brad proceeded to introduce this song choice, we learned that Brad was motivated to do well in school by being offered a CD as an incentive. The first album he “earned” was Running With Scissors by Weird Al Yankovic. Not only do we get insight into Brad’s sense of humour, we learned of his deep affinity with the Star Wars saga referring to himself as a Star Wars geek. According to our guest, one of the best messages from the artist is to, “Be yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously.” Here is The Saga Begins to the tune of the Don Maclean classic, American Pie.

When Brad began introducing his identity song, he went back to his childhood and said that we were taking a 180°. His chosen song is about divorce, and it relates to him in many ways. This song speaks to him both as a child of divorce and as someone who is divorced. This album, called Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, has a lot of songs that made him listen to  his Walkman over and over, with headphones on all the time. Brad said, “This might have been one of the first times that I looked at music as being able to tell my story.” He really connected to this song and even wondered if it was written about his life. Brad used examples from the song  as points of deep connection or lines that felt more like a personal narrative saying, “It connected to me so much at a higher level.” It’s amazing how personal connections can change how you take in a song, and the music changed for him as the father of a child experiencing divorce. It helps Brad consider his past and make sure that his son can’t relate to this song like he can. Here’s Blink 182 with Stay Together.

It was the right time to introduce the third song on the playlist: the pick me up (though other descriptors include theme song, happy song, inspirational song or motivator). After gauging Brad’s age, I inferred that his foray into this song was from a hilarious scene in a movie based on character developed on Saturday Night Live.  Wayne’s World, the movie,  features two small town guys who, among other things, like to listen to great rock and roll. The movie actually re-launched Brad’s song choice’s popularity, putting it back on the music charts and helping the band begin a comeback after the death of their lead singer, Freddie Mercury. Brad loves the song so much that even when hearing it in the background, sitting in the women’s intimates aisle in a department store, he was unabashedly “headbanging like a lunatic”. He added, “I could think of a lot of songs that I’ll sing to anytime they come on, but I can’t think of any other song that has the physical response that this song does.” I couldn’t find a place to edit the song, so it plays in its entirety on the podcast. “I think this might have been my first introduction to music as a storytelling medium.” I hadn’t played it yet, but Brad was already smiling ear to ear in anticipation.  Here is the “phenomenal” Bohemian Rhapsody.

Listening to the song was so much fun, and so was the P3 experience with Brad. Some of the additional songs that he mentioned that he couldn’t find a way to include were Marshall Mathers LP 2 and The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps. He also mentioned You’ll Never Walk Alone, which he used to play in band after every football game. As I thanked Brad for spending this time with me, he thanked me for, “…forcing [him] to pick songs and relive [his] own life.” While reflecting on the degree of honesty about his personal life in this podcast, he noted, “I think that IS the power of music- to get some real powerful truth in a way that I wouldn’t normally do.”