For my entire career as a leader of groups, I’ve leaned more toward the forest than the trees. In my classes with kids, in my workshops with adults, I have a feeling for the whole group energy and what it needs to flow harmoniously. Now we need to sit, now stand, now talk, now listen, now move, now sing, etc. I can tell you at the end the overall feeling of the class, but might have missed what Johnny was saying to Julie when we was supposed to be playing his xylophone.
Over the years—especially close to report cards—that shifted and I became more aware of what was happening with each kid even while tending to the group flow. At the end of the day, that’s what makes teaching memorable, effective and life-changing, the one-to-one connection with each child even as you’re working with a group.
Same dynamic in workshops. It’s interesting who you notice in a workshop group and when and how. Some people announce themselves in the first two minutes, the extroverts who are happy to let you know they’re here and ready to express 150% the full exuberance of their personality. Others need a warm-up time and others may prefer to hide in the corner even as the workshop circle has no corners! And there are factors beyond personality. If there’s 20 women and two men, chances are I’m going to notice those men. If someone seems quite a bit older or dressed differently or they remind me of someone else, naturally, they’ll stand out.
In the third day of my Jazz Course here in Sao Paulo, while the 44 Brazilian teachers were seated at the xylophones working on a piece, I looked at each and noted how it felt like I was seeing some of the people for the first time. One woman in particular had a bright sparkle in her eye and seemed wholly engaged in playing. So when it came time to pick someone to demonstrate how to improvise a solo in the piece, I chose her.
Good idea! For not only did she do a great job, but it gave her a special moment to stand out, one I would have missed if I just went to the confident improvisers in the group I already knew. I was pleased with myself for that and it’s a reminder that we all need to work harder to notice each and every one of our students and look for that moment to gently push them into the spotlight and shine.
The forest still uplifts me, but I happy to report I have come to love each and every tree.