Sunday, March 8, 2015

This one time, at band camp...

In many ways, I am a risk taker. I like trying new things, new strategies and exploring new methods. I am not afraid to try something new, even if it might not work out. I figure, what's the worst that can happen? It might not work out, but then again, it might. Or, if it doesn't work, this attempt might lead to the one that will work. This is especially true when it comes to solving problems... because it isn't enough to just point out the problems, we have to be solution focused and work on identifying how we might solve the problem that has us all scrambling. I think that it also has something to do with the reason why I am trying something new. If it is to fix a problem, then I can easily fall back on that as the reason behind my attempt and justify my failure as a "at least I tried, instead of just complaining about it." It helps me feel more comfortable with failure. And honestly, I don't mind learning from a failure, especially if I am doing it to help someone else I am quite willing to embarrass or humiliate myself for the benefit of others.
However, when it comes to taking a risk where I might be a more visible failure, say, on a stage or in front of a crowd or to learn something that pushes me outside of my comfort zone or something that I am not especially interested in or motivated to do, well, that can be a different story. I worry that others will laugh at me, or mock me, or say horrible things about me. I don't like to be put out on display for other's amusement. In fact, I sometimes shut down. I'm done- nothing to see here, folks, cause I'm not going to give you any more ammunition to use against me.

Can any of you can identify with my feelings or fears? How many of our students feel the same way? And yet, every single day, we ask kids to do things that are new for them, or difficult, or that are so far out of their comfort zone that they simply freeze. And we ask them to take those risks publicly, in front of their peers. When some balk or resist, or shut down completely, we may see it as being disrespectful or non-compliant, when in reality, they may be using the only coping mechanism they have. I'm not suggesting that we just move on and not address the issue. Instead, what if we made it a point to help that student find a different way to cope with their fears? What if we used his/her strengths to attack this new skill or concept? We don't all learn the same way- do our students have to show us the results of their learning in exactly the same way?

On Tuesday, I will be attending the middle school/high school band and choir concert. One of the recent assignments given to the middle school band students was to give one of their parents four lessons on how to play their instrument. Let me first clarify that I actually love the assignment. I love the creativity behind it, the authenticity of having band students teach someone else, the whole process of their reflecting about the experience in a journal, the "let's try this a different way" method that Mrs. Miller is using. That's the educator in me speaking. The parent in me will tell you a different story. My son plays the saxophone, my daughter, the clarinet. During the week, I am the sole parent in our home, so I have had 8 lessons- four on the sax and four on clarinet.... in case you are not familiar with those instruments, they are not particularly alike. What I have been taught to do with one instrument, I have been told not to do on the other. I was not in band when I was in school, for good reason, I have discovered. When I say that this assignment has caused me great anxiety, it is not an exaggeration. My heart accelerates, my hands get sweaty, I get snippy in my responses to those around me, my stomach churns. Literally. The lessons are just a part of this ordeal- er, I mean, experience.  The other part is that the parents are "invited" to be a part of a special band performance at the spring music performance. On Tuesday. In two days. Did I mention that it has me totally freaked out? I think I may be sick on Tuesday. Or have a late meeting. Or run out of gas on my way to the concert.

But in reality, I won't do any of those things. I know that there were many wonderful reasons behind this assignment: To help the band students understand how challenging it can be to teach someone else, to help them see just how far they have come as musicians, to acknowledge the fact that we cannot teach what we do not know, to give parents insight into just how hard it can be for our children to learn this new skill, to give us a taste of the risks that our children are being asked to take when they perform for an auditorium full of people... As a person who believes wholeheartedly in having a growth mindset, whose own children are willing to take those risks and put themselves out there, how can I do anything other than take my seat up on that stage on Tuesday evening?

 Just know that for those of you attending Tuesday's concert, you won't be amazed by anything other than the patience and fortitude that Abby and Jack have shown by completing this assignment with their non-musical, but very dedicated mom.  Well, that and maybe the fact that I actually had four lessons and I am still that bad.  Growth mindset or not, reality is still reality. 


  1. Great post, Leah, thank you for sharing. Your first part of the post made me think about a quote I heard the other day that went something like this: "the best leaders never forget what it's like to be a teacher. The best teachers never forget what it's like to be a student." It's so easy to get caught up in the day to day hussle and bussle and forget about the feelings and dispositions of our students. Students will never forget how you made them feel. Thank you for a great post.


    1. Thank you, Dan! This has been a very humbling experience, to say the least! It really did throw me into the "student viewpoint", especially that of the struggling learner. It's important that we not forget what that feels like, for our students & those who teach them.

  2. Again I will reiterate my gratitude for your ability to model a growth mindset! I will be on stage with you. Together we are better!

  3. Thanks, Micki! I appreciate knowing that I am not alone in this endeavor- both musically & as educators!

  4. Running out of gas on the way might make you more of a spectacle. Just sayin...and that's coming from someone who has forgotten her groceries at Piggly Wiggly! You are going to be great, and laughing at ourselves is the first steps to getting over the trauma! Love you lady!

  5. Leah,
    I absolutely love this post and your honest and refreshing perspective! You are such an incredibly positive presence in my PLN and I feel fortunate to learn from you each and every day because of your compassion, patience and positive perspectives. I know you will bring all that and more to your performance on Tuesday - they are lucky to have you!
    ROCK ON my friend!

  6. This raw truth/honesty. This is a fantastic assignment because it pushes parents to support their kids, while teaching kids that parents have a lot to learn. It also shows kids that learning doesn't stop when you're a kid. A great example of growth mindset. Good luck at the concert!

  7. "Patience and fortitude" love it. A great example of learning with students. Seeing adults struggle with new learning but persevering is a powerful motivator.