I want to frame this post through the work of Mark Applebaum as illustrated in his TED Talk, which you can watch below.  I do suggest watching it before you read this post and I hope you remain interested enough to come back at some point.

Watching Applebaum’s work unfold on stage got me to think about our work as educators.  First, what is our question?  Applebaum’s question is:

Is it music?

Is there a single question for all educators to explore or are there as many questions as there are educators?  I’m not sure I know the answer, but I do believe that all teachers should be willing to explore this question:

what does it take to be a creative and interesting teacher?

In his work as a musician and composer, Applebaum reframes the way he engages in his work after moving from realizing he was bored with his routine work.  So he went about exploring the boundaries of his musicianship by taking on assuming different roles.  Taking on the challenges that each role represented resulted in him creating new forms of music that were interesting to him.  Here are roles he assumed:

  • interpreter
  • improvisor
  • inventor
  • composer
  • visual artist
  • scavenger
  • performance artist
  • dramaturge
  • choreographer

So he changes the dynamic by acting from his “boredom” to change the way he looks at music.  Music is no longer a routine exercise.  It is a vehicle for him to explore the boundaries that our culture uses to define music.  After experimenting with a new form of music that has sometimes taken months or years to create, Applebaum returns to the question:

But is it music?

After assuming the nine roles and many iterations of the inquiry, he concludes that he was asking the wrong question.  The question he ends up asking about his musical experimentation is:

Is it interesting?

If the music is interesting, then it is worthy of his creative energy.

Allow my creativity to push me into directions that are simply interesting to me. (Applebaum’s TED talk)

I don’t allow myself to worry about whether the likeness of result is close to some notion of what music composition should be. (Applebaum’s TED talk)

In the style of Mark Applebaum, what if educators were to explore the boundaries of what it means to be an excellent teacher by assuming different roles.  Using an action research model, play around with different roles to explore the boundaries that help move us from the question:

Is it good teaching?

To the more important question:

Is my teaching interesting or is the learning in my classroom interesting such that my students are fully engaged in the important work at hand?

What would taking on different roles in an action research protocol look like?  What roles would we assume?  I encourage you to comment on this blog, sharing your thoughts about what you might DO to be an ( inventor ), exploring the question of how to make the classroom an interesting place for students to learn.  What can you invent that changes the conversation about learning?


 Table: Action Associated with the Role

Role Action to Explore
Visual Artist or Artist
Performance Artist


Let’s embrace Applebaum’s challenge…

to what extent can we change the fundamental question in our discipline.