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  • Writer's pictureJane Powel

JBOP: The Jazzy Approach to Education.

Jane’s Brain on Pedagogy - Understanding the black box, aka, the brain.


In this series I discuss various pedagogy perspectives and what makes the OmniLearn model so effective. Humans are social animals and our brains are hard-wired for learning. Multi-sensory learning across disciplines is more than a pleasant experience. It leads to the formation of long-term memories and fosters new questions. But the greatest outcome of all of this experimentation and social interaction is becoming a self-motivated, life-long learner whose cognitive and affective skills are well-honed! 



Years ago, an English teacher came to observe me at a private school in Long Island. He said:

"Jane, what you do is jazz."

At the time, I didn't quite realize it, but looking back, I do see the parallels. I've had former students who became amazing jazz musicians, and I've been fortunate to attend many of their concerts. When you watch skilled jazz musicians perform, you notice how they understand the notes that fit a particular theme. But the specifics can be interchangeable. The musicians know how to read each other. It's a collaborative effort, much like a team, and that's precisely how I view teaching.


In teaching, you have your set of rules, your toolkit, but sometimes you need to improvise. If you are doing a squid dissection and a student brings up a topic like jellyfish, and it wasn't on the menu, you embrace the opportunity for spontaneity. If discussing jellyfish relates to the subject, perhaps comparative anatomy, then that's where the lesson leads. It's about being responsive to the students' interests and curiosity.





In my classroom, I aim to involve students as active participants in the learning process. It's not just about listening to me; it's about recognizing that every student has valuable contributions. By setting this tone, students understand that their voices are heard and respected.


During lessons it helps to physically improvise. I did a lab recently on heat transfer. Students put hot washers into water and measured the temperature change. They were not getting it. Mid lesson I decide I'm going to be the hot washer and the students are the water molecules. They are sitting there not moving a whole lot. I'm running through the classroom and I'm bumping into them and moving them around. Since I am the hot washer I have all the energy and I pass my energy on to them. They look at me like I am nuts (and maybe they have a point, I am running through the classroom shaking students up) but they won’t forget it. And if it helps them to remember about heat transfer, I am all for it. 

Teaching, like jazz, is immersive. It's spontaneous. It's fun. It's about engaging the audience, whether they're students in the classroom or members of the audience at a concert. There's a constant exchange of ideas, learning from each other's perspectives.

Sometimes, students ask challenging questions, and as teachers, we may not always have the answers. However, embracing uncertainty and curiosity is part of the learning process. It's okay to admit when we don't know something and explore it together with the students. Teachers need to be comfortable with not knowing. It’s okay to not know. Look up the answer together!

Ultimately, teaching is about creating connections, bringing disparate elements together to create something beautiful, much like a jazz concert or a cityscape. We draw inspiration from various sources, continuously learning and evolving in our practice. As long as we remain open to new ideas and surround ourselves with mentors and peers who inspire us, we'll continue to grow as educators.



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