I have as much reason to be cynical about human beings as the next guy. I know my history—the long brutal story of wars, conquest, genocide, slavery— and it ain’t a pretty story. I grew up in a family, made a family, worked side-by-side with others in a community and we all know what that’s like. And if ever I feel too naïve or optimistic, the daily news is there to remind me to get real— we humans are a depraved lot.
And yet I remain steadfastly loyal to the glories of human potential. Like yesterday, after watching my 22 students in the Orff training do their 15-minute practicum teach. Such intelligence! Such fun! Such humor! Such heart and soul! Such musicality! Every lesson a stellar example of “the way it spozed to be.” Why were the lessons so great and such affirmations of the heights and depths of the human spirit?
The major credit, of course, goes to the teachers themselves. Dedicated folks who came to the Orff training to further themselves, perfect their perfection and grow an inch forward from their imperfections. Folks who take teaching seriously and are willing to have fun with it. People who love children and want to give them a more joyful and effective education than they themselves got.
But as their teacher, I know I had the potential to squash their exuberance by demanding lessons that ticked off the national standards list or followed the script of the latest “innovation.” I could have marked them down for revealing their personality or being too familiar with their students or too playful. I could have sat in the back with my pen in hand and lowered them to the fear part of the brain knowing that I was sitting in judgement and prepared to change their future by the grade I’d give them.
Instead, after spending 6 days modeling the kind of teaching I cared about and inviting them to do the same, I helped create a community open to possibility and inviting to the imagination. After the lessons, I summarized what I saw and it meant more than giving them the list first and asking them to make sure they succeeded in each. The list, some related to music teaching, and some to all teaching, was as follows:
• Begin in the body and the voice in a circle, preparing what comes next.
• Have at least one imaginative “hook” to entice the students.
• Let the lesson flow like music—enticing beginning, connected middle, satisfying end.
• Teach in your natural personality.
• Use your cultural background and style.
• Pace the lesson according to the response of the students.
• When teaching a set piece, adjust the parts to the needs of your students.
• Give feedback to students with words, thumbs up, encouraging smiles.
But at the end of the matter, the thing that allowed everything to flower as it did was simply my permission for them to be beautiful. I had faith that they are and I wanted them to show the full force of their beauty. And they did.
Beautifully, I might add.