“Let the children boogie!”: Farewell to David Bowie

Mike Tidd

My name is Mike Tidd, and I am a ukulele-playing Head of Geography at Gillingham School in North Dorset. I have a deep interest in education developments and am motivated to learn from fellow practitioners and young people to achieve their potential. I write about new educational developments and new education-technologies, plus geography.

Over the past few years I’ve been shortlisted for two Education Blog Awards, written for Sec-Ed and TES, been involved in BETT 2014 as a presenter, been involved in several Speed Learning events across Dorset and I am an co-organiser and presenter at TeachMeet Dorset.

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Website: miketidd.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

“We can be heroes” he sang, but to me, Bowie was the Hero. Like many people around the world, I was shocked and devastated by the news of David Bowie’s death last Monday. I’ve been a massive fan of Bowie all my life, from the highs of Ziggy Stardust, Soul Man and The Thin White Duke in the 1970s, to the period in the 1980s and early 1990s where he struggled with his writing, to the great comeback of The Next Day three years ago. He was quite simply the Picasso of Pop.

Bowie attempted all types of musical styles. Even if it didn’t work out and his fans and critics were appalled with the outcome, Bowie didn’t care. He wanted change. He wanted to take risks. He wanted the challenge and to make a statement. Even his final release, Blackstar, was once again stretching his fans to listen to his combination of jazz and rock.
To me, Bowie was the ultimate teacher. He was the Starman of teaching, the first teaching rebel. He didn’t flinch from challenging his listeners to new sounds. He challenged us about life on mars, living in tin cans, Japanese fashion, men wearing eyeliner, and so on. He could have very easily of sat on the fence and still released pop songs of a high standard, but to Bowie this was never enough.

Within teaching we are always trying to develop and improve our lessons for our students. Sometimes success comes easy, but other times we have to persevere. Creating a classroom where challenge, stickability, perseverance and positive reflective learning is a challenge. However, it is a challenge that we teachers undertake every day for the benefit of our students. Teachers are pioneers of innovation and are forever developing their skills.

I’ve been trying to think like Bowie throughout my teaching career. If I found I was planning a lesson that didn’t have the right learning outcomes or wasn’t enjoyable, I would think ‘what would Bowie do?’ This would make me think outside the box, think like one of my students and think what do I want to achieve with this lesson.

John Hattie, in his Visible Learning for Teachers book, said that “achievement is changeable and leads to higher gains”. It could be argued that Hattie is following the Bowie philosophy in teaching. Hattie is not afraid to say how it is and what we could be doing to make education better. Hattie also said: “educating students to have high, challenging and appropriate expectations is among the most powerful influence in enhancing student achievement.” Bowie would expect each new album to be a success, and we should apply this to our students giving them high expectations and challenging them to the max.
He was a great singer, songwriter, performer, actor, producer, collaborator, painter, mime artist, fashion designer, finance guru and internet pioneer. But beyond all that, at the very heart of the matter, David Bowie was quite simply - quite extraordinarily - cool. Bowie had his finger on the pulse for most of his career and was always looking for the new thing in life. He was the first musician to release a single via the internet nine years before iTunes existed, and the first again develop a ‘celebrity bond’ on the stock market! He was also ground-breaking in his use of technology, not least his internet service, BowieNet, which launched in September 1998. In a time before Instagram, YouTube, Twitter or even MySpace, most artists provided little if any online material to their followers. But Bowie's platform not only offered a wide variety of exclusive content, but also several ways to interact with the singer himself. His fondness for new forms of communication was also apparent with BowieWorld - a 3D chat environment offered via his site, which pre-dated Second Life.

I have been discussing Bowie’s wide ranging influence and what someone with one O Level could achieve with my classes. From watching and discussing Bowie's influence, it was noted how many pupils knew of his work. Already I have plans for a Bowie series of lessons looking at his Geography of reach from tours, Twitter hashtags and global record sales, to investigating the globalisation of Bowie culminating in establishing #NationalBowieDay on 8th January 2017, which will celebrate his birthday. Bowie was once sitting in a classroom like many of our students – is one of them the next Bowie? I would very much like to hear what other schools and teachers are doing to remember this extraordinary man.

Bowie was not afraid to change and start afresh, even if it was against current trends. He taught us about the world and about a different way to live our life. So for one day, think like Bowie - what would he do? As the lyrics to Starman say: “Let the children boogie!”

Have you brought Mr Bowie into your classroom since Monday 11th January? Let us know below.

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