Waxing physically and philosically...

After literally years of deliberation, and as a result of some delicate and some less delicate prodding, this blog is my effort to organize - to bring together - my thoughts about my work as a conductor and as a personal trainer, to rant and rave as necessary, to celebrate the little things and the larger moments of brilliance, and to share some conductive magic and life lessons gained through 'waxing physically and philosophically'.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A few more life lessons...

A few weeks ago, newly qualified conductor Jalyss Zapf posted a list of 10 things CE has taught her.  A brilliant list actually (I wish I had written it!), a list that made me proud to be a part of the same profession that Jalyss, still wet behind her little conductive ears, was writing about.  A list that generated support and interest from heavy hitters in the CE international community - including one of my Australian participants who quickly rose to the challenge.  Here is a link to Jalyss' post:


Jalyss ended her post by challenging others to add to that list.  So Jalyss, I've been building this list for you and I've been adding to it over the past few weeks.  I want to thank you as the exercise has reminded me that every day I learn something from CE and from my participants, and that part of the gift of conductive pedagogy is the embrace of an attitude of life long learning.  I hope Jalyss, despite any challenges CE throws your way, that your life is enriched by this crazy profession over the years as much as mine as been and more.

CE has taught me:

1) the power of the conductive community - our classrooms bring people together in a microcosm of hope, support, positivity, genuine relationship and lifelong friendship.  The rest of the world is not always as kind - but having the conductive community to fall back on is invaluable.  Conductors are a part of this wonderful community - we are so lucky. 

2) as cliche as it sounds, my attitude of gratitude has its foundations in my work

3) a sense of appreciation - no, more than appreciation, amazement of how incredibly different each person and each circumstance is, and an ability to celebrate and love people and their differences

4) the power of motivation and determination - when you understand the 'why' behind the 'what', the 'how' is just a matter of problem solving. 

5) what resilience actually is - I don't know where it comes from or how to create it, but when it is there people seem to be able to withstand unbelievable hardship and difficulties with grace and stubborn strength that lets them stand up, rise up again and again.  I hope that resilience is contagious and that when my turn comes I will rise again

6) how to have hard conversations, how to be honest and still positive, how to be present for people when times are tough, how to be there even if you aren't sure what to say or do and when really you would rather take your own awkwardness and hide

7) Jalyss said this but I'm going to say it again - it is wonderful and worthwhile to celebrate achievements large and small. Sometimes even tiny things mean a lot and make a huge difference in someone's quality of life, and tiny things add up to be huge things over time

8) it is always worth trying.  You might not know what you can achieve with somebody, or where you should even start, but it is still worth trying. There is always something to learn and something to teach. You don't have to be an expert - just be willing to try, and to be honest about that process

9) to expect the unexpected, to learn to like surprises, to be able to adjust to a moment, to be flexible with your plans.  Jalyss mentioned how to plan - she is right.  Planning is not just about planning a session - planning is also about thinking about who might lose their balance, who might have a seizure, who might be affected by a humid afternoon or a cold morning; who might ask a question that needs answering in that moment and throws your whole plan out the window - surprise!

10) as Dr Maya Angelou said "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel". Which is totally true - except in CE people seem to also remember what you say and do too...

11) that the relationships we build with people are powerful - and should be nourished.  Yes, as a conductor we are professionals, but it is a profession that is very personal and the relationships build are hard to define or limit. We are a part of people's lives and they are a part of ours. There is sharing, trusting, there is love - sometimes over years and sometimes beyond the classroom setting.  There are funerals and weddings and 21st birthday parties - the stuff of community, the stuff of life. That you can love so many people over so many years, that your capacity for conductive love is boundless

12) that you can't fix everyone or everything; that sometimes your best is not good enough, that sometimes someone won't want what you are offering, that sometimes it is just not meant to be

13) that in a conductive group there is an exchange of energy between you and the other conductors and assistants and all participants.  Sometimes that energy will build in the group and lift everyone and you will end the day feeling fantastic.  Other days you pour every bit of energy into keeping the rest of the group afloat and you will need to find a way to replenish your supply. Your energy is one of your most valuable conductive tools - but you can't guard it so you need to be able to refuel as needed

14) it's not all about me - in this profession and in life there is more to consider than what I want or how I feel. That the team is valuable - not just the staff team but that your conductive group is a team- and that team work makes it better.  We don't do to or do for, we do with.

15) it is okay to make mistakes and to let other people make mistakes; that is is okay to say sorry; 

16) that there is a balance between teaching people to take risks and teaching people to evaluate risk and make good decisions

17) patience - at least to be patient when I see value in what I am doing.  I'm still working on being patient in general

18) that you will have ups and downs in your career, you may get tired or burn out.  But if you are passionate about CE - if it is your calling - it gets under your skin, and into your blood, and into every cell of your being so that it becomes more than what you do, but who you are and how you do everything that you do.

So there you go Jalyss, and like you I extend the challenge to the conductive community - what has CE taught you?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Feuerstein in Aotearoa

Last Saturday night I attended a lecture at the University of Auckland introducing Feuerstein's Instrumental Enrichment to the New Zealand market.  Andrew Sutton has encouraged me to share my thoughts about this here.  Considering it was ridiculously cold outside and that the presentation was held from 7 to 10 p.m. on a Saturday night (after shabbos of course), they did a very good job, completely packing the university Auditorium – I'd estimate 600 were there.  They had enough demand to schedule a second meeting for Monday night.  Saturday night's presentation was free, Monday night was at the museum and was being charged at $15 a ticket.

Local speakers 

The Feuerstein Institute positioned themselves really well – they opened with a TED talk about stem cells and neuroplasticity in adults by Dr Richard Faull from the Auckland University Centre for Brain research. Dr. Faull was also in the audience and gave the closing remark.  

The second speaker was Professor Ian Kirk, the co-director of the Research Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience within the Centre for Brain Research, and leader of the Human Neuroscience team in the School of Psychology. He spoke about being able to prove that learning actually changes the brain.

The third to speak was Anne Gaze.  She talked about the volume of children with learning difficulties in New Zealand and the cost (emotional and psychosocial as well as monetary) of their carrying their disabilities and labels forward into adult life.

The visitors

Next up was Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein (Reuben's son and by chance the parent of a child with Down's syndrome – which is how he got pulled into his father's work).  He was interesting and dynamic – not quite his Dad's presence but powerful and believable – nothing new to those of us already familiar with Feuerstein.. He introduced Instrumental Enrichment, dynamic assessment, cognitive modifiability, discussed some of their work (e.g. the project with Ethiopian immigrants to Israel), and showed a case study. 

Rabbi Feuerstein took us through one of the assessments (dots and lines out of context, needing to be joined to make specific pictures), then worked through the types of likely mistakes to show how they used these tests to find out specifically how someone thought and learned – and what they needed to teach too.  There were lots of shameful giggling as individual thinking styles were elaborated.  I was one of the ones who tried turning the paper upside down and sideways - showing a lack of understanding of general rules.

There was a question period –  the usual stuff –  who do they help, how long is the intervention, what does it cost, can people be trained in New Zealand?.  Rabbi Feuerstein answered and was supported by Chaim Guggenheim, the Feuerstein Institute's Vice-President in charge of international and business development.  A woman in the audience  provided anecdotal reflection, saying that her school had Feuerstein instructors on the team and spoke about the difference that it made with the students, some of whom had 'overcome learning disabilities' to go on to university education as a result.

'Feuerstein' in New Zealand 

The Feuerstein Institute will be running a course in New Zealand.  Their model is to teach Instrumental Enrichment to teachers and therapists – they do not plan to run a Feuerstein satellite or actually work with children here.  There are a few teachers here already qualified and the plan is for Israel to support them and the newly trained in July through professional development. Instrumental Enrichment trainers from Israel will coming back and forth as well for yearly research updates and, it seems, recertification to ensure quality of program delivery.  The of course played their non-profit card very well.

Regardless of what anybody thinks about research, academics and funders are always impressed by it, and the Feuerstein Institute is able to brag papers totalling well over one hundred thousand research papers.  Their website links to many of them -- you can find out more about the Feuerstein Institute, their method (Instrumental Enrichment), their theoretical basis (Structural Cognitive Modifiability), and their plentiful research.

As impressive as the presentation was, I couldn't help but feel saddened sitting in the audience.  Not saddened because of what the Feuerstein Institute has achieved, but because of what we in Conductive Education have not.  The support from the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland, a platform of over one hundred thousand research papers, and a sturdy foundation of academic work underpinning what they are doing.  I include myself here, and am guilty as charged, but we certainly need to lift our game if we are going to see Conductive Education move forward.

My personal contact

I approached Rabbi Feuerstein at the end of the presentation, offered my condolences about his father's recent passing, and told him that I had the opportunity to meet his father in Tel Aviv at the Tsad Kadima conference (he knew Tsad Kadima and asked about the work with cerebral palsy). I told him that I was a conductor (and he knew what that was) and he had heard of Andrew Sutton.  It was a really pleasant exhcange.

He asked why I haven't yet qualified in Instrumental Enrichment. I told him that I'm interested and will keep my eyes posted for the New Zealand. I have also emailed Chaim Guggenheim to express interest in upcoming courses in NZ, who has since responded and promised to keep me in the loop.  I will look forward to see what come of Feuerstein's forray into New Zealand

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Eight million things I love about Em

One of the most wonderful ways to mark time in this profession and on this planet surely must be the pleasure of seeing kids that you conduct evolve and grow into wonderful young people.  Last week I had the pleasure of indulging in this experience for an entire week, when ES decided to hop on a plane from Sydney to Auckland for a visit and a good old fashioned CE kick in the butt.

You can know she is working on her second university degree, you can see her driving around the neighbourhood in her own car, you can go to her 21st birthday.  But suddenly there she is, in another time and another place, confidently introducing herself to a class full of adults, talking about her disability like it is the weather or the cricket, self motivated and focused during the program like all of the other, well, adults.  Suddenly there she is sorting herself out, getting up and dressed on her own and going to bed later than me, ordering cocktails or coffees or whatever she wants, checking to make sure I'm okay after a hectic day, and holding her own in conversations about educational psychology and disability reform and politics. There she is at the airport patiently explaining to the desk staff that she is a person requiring assistance and that no she did not require me to accompany her to the departure lounge (!).

It is hard to describe the way I feel about ES.  There is respect and awe; respect for the journey (which I hope one day she will write about) that she has taken to get to this stage in her life and awe that despite it all she has turned out so wonderfully.  There is pride and gratitude; pride as in I'm so proud to know this person and to introduce her as a friend, pride around seeing what she has become and what she has yet to become and gratitude for what I have learned and experienced by getting to be a part of her journey for the last decade.  There is fierce big sister style protectiveness that has pretty much been outgrown and has been replace by friendship. There is the dance that has to be done whenever a relationship grows and changes which can be disconcerting until you remember that this is what people who see each other through life's transitions have to do to move into the next chapters together.

I see her fall on the beach at Takapuna - the first time she has fallen with me in all of our years of walking together - and see her stand up and brush the sand off of her jeans and laugh about getting wet.  Years ago falling would have devastated her but now this young woman has learned how to fall without falling to pieces and knows how to bounce instead of break.  I find myself wanting to write about her transition, realising that it is not my story to write, and hoping that one day she will tell the world how a fragile and emotionally wrought teenager psychologically trapped by her cerebral palsy finds her way into resiliency and rationality and confidence in adulthood.  I listen to how she talks about how she thinks and feels, about the ups and downs of life in the last few months, and can't help but be amazed at how she now rolls with the punches instead of letting them knock her out, how she gives as good as she gets, and how she now understands her own self worth and is willing to fight for it.

She leaves, and the house is quiet, and I settle back into my routines wishing that I'd had a bit more time to talk to her and that work and life weren't so hectic.  She leaves but isn't gone, like those wonderful people that dance in and out of your life over years and decades, and I realize that we have both watched each other grow up - and that kind of scares me, and I start to think about all of those other wonderful 'kids' making their way in the world of adults as wonderful young people.  I am reminded again how lucky I am to be in a profession that allows me to be on or at least bear witness to these journeys, how lucky I am to be in a profession that allows me to get to know and love so many wonderful people, how lucky I am to be a conductor.

ES, 'I hope you don't mind, that I wrote down in words, how wonderful life is, with you in the world!'