Back in March I attended the Michigan Reading Association conference in Grand Rapids. I walked to my first session with presenters Barry Lane and Colleen Mestdagh. I knew the session was going to include singing and lessons for young writers. I was intrigued. Little did I know it would transform my thinking about character education in my classroom.
As Colleen and Barry got started I was sucked right into their message about hope, a Force Field for Good. Barry shared his songs and Colleen shared her lessons. There were so many components but it was clear that it was simple enough to easily incorporate these ideas into my teaching.
Later that week I had the pleasure of talking with Barry Lane about his book and how inspired I was. That led to a great friendship and brings me to an interview I had with Barry earlier this month. He answers some burning questions and gives you a peek into the back story of the book.
What was your inspiration for writing Force Field for Good?
This book began with a song I wrote called Now is the New Day. The song is about hope. I started singing it in elementary schools and loved hearing the voices of children singing the chorus, “Now is the New Day.” The great Pete Seeger said, singing with children gives you hope and he was so right. I started writing more songs and enlisting friends to help me. I have never collaborated with songwriting before and was delighted with the magical process. Writing is a lonely business and sharing the process with a friend is really fun and inspiring. Beyond just writing songs, I started to think about the kinds of songs that might lead to discussions about issues in school and how to live in the world. These big issues connect to ideas in literature and life. These songs have a purpose that go far beyond entertainment.
How did you and Colleen meet and what made you decide to write a book together?
This was pretty amazing. I remember Colleen coming to a writing workshop in Michigan. She was a bubbly new teacher and she had that look in her eye that said, “I can do anything.” Naivety is a precious thing, way more important that standards and other top-down educational mandates. She had found the song, Know Your Higher Self on Soundcloud, taught it to her students and decided to get rid of all the class rules and change them to one rule. Be your Higher Self. Her decision to do that and the amazing year that followed is where our book began.
Even more amazing, kids started talking about characters in novels and whether they used their higher self. The social learning became connected to academic learning. Not all teachers have the courage to do what Colleen did. These are lifelong skills. I was so inspired I started writing even more songs and soon we had a year long kindness curriculum with a song each month to go with a helpful habit of living. Colleen crafted the structure of the lessons and I added the writing component and songs.
If you had to pick, what is your favorite song from the book?
Hmmm. Hard, but my personal favorite is Afraid of Love because it is about Xenophobia, fear of foreigners and Xenophilia, love of foreigners. There are not a lot of songs about that topic. It is a love story where love and hope wins over fear and hate. I wrote it with my friend and award-winning children’s book poet, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. After reading her poem Xenophobia, I sent her the first verse and asked her to write a chorus.
My first verse was…
His name was Xenophobia
he lived north of Morovia,
he was afraid of
everyone in town.
Her name was Xenophilia
she worked in memorabilia,
she smiled and laughed
at everyone around.
Then Amy wrote this chorus…
Afraid of love,
in love with fear,
sad hearts live alone
in stony towers,
but love shines on
through all the years
one by one
they start to flower.
I think there is a profound truth in the song. Love is much stronger than hate. Sun melts all ice. In the end it is our connection to each other that unites us no matter what madness keeps us apart. Truth lies in this connection.
The Gimme Blues and Words, Words, Words are my favorite musically because I got to jam with British fiddle phenom Joel Grainger (his cousin is in Coldplay) and guitar virtuoso, Dr.Frank Serafini (the reading guru) and Dr.Mark Flescher (my psychologist cousin). I don’t consider myself much of a musician so it was a real thrill to play with some talented folks. The cd album version has six extra songs on it and will be released in august. Right now demo versions are available at Barry Lane Band Camp.
Why and how did you decide to include Common Core State Standards (CCSS)?
We feel a major flaw in the Common Core Standards is that they limit education to corporate America’s college and career ready goals and don’t talk explicitly about good citizenship or civilized behavior. For example, you can infer that being able to collaborate with others in the workplace means you have to know about your higher self and learn to be kind, but that inference is a bit of a delusion. Force Field for Good gives the Common Core a soul. We included the anchor standards to help teachers integrate this important work into their busy schedule. Force Field for Good aligns with and exceeds the CCSS because it teaches through big ideas and multiple texts, and links academic learning with social emotional learning. For a mere 30 minutes a month teachers can teach helpful habits, such as kindness, courage, empathy, gratitude, etc. As Colleen often says, Force Field for Good is not an add on. Instead it enhances everything you teach and reminds you that teachers are more than knowledge dispensers. Wisdom.
Where can readers access your book?
Go to the website, Force Field for Good, with links to Discover Writing. Also available on Amazon. This website explains the project and has sample lessons. Remember that the book comes with a data DVD that contains all the songs and sing along books as well as all the forms from the book for reproduction and home connection sheets.
Here is a sample sing along song.
- This giveaway is for a copy of Force Field for Good, Teaching Kindness Through Song and Literature. Many thanks to Barry Lane for donating a copy for one reader.
- For a chance to win this copy of Force Field for Good, please leave a comment about this post by Saturday, June 28th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Sunday, June 29th.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, your book will shipped to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only).
Congratulations to chrisleish on winning a copy of Force Field for Good! I hope it encourages and inspires you!
Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.