Friday, December 9, 2022

Teacher's Manifesto

I’m still thinking about Raphael Warnock’s powerful summary of good leadership and feeling its resonance with good teaching. With just a few words changed, it makes for a powerful Teacher’s Manifesto:


• You can’t teach the children  if you don’t love the children.

• You can’t love the children if you don’t know the children.

• You can’t know the children unless you walk— and play and sing and dance— amongst them. And make art and camp and work side-by-side with and play games and share stories together.  


Teachers, put that poster up on your wall. Begin each staff meeting with a short go-around sharing a moment when love entered your lesson, when a child revealed something new and worthy about her or himself, about some new insight you had into their character as you watched them meet the challenges of your lesson, about a new depth in your relationship that came from working and playing side-by-side with them. 


Speaking from my corner of education to fellow music teachers, let us remember these simple truths:


• Making music together is building relationship. Teacher to student, student to student, student to the material, student’s small self to student’s larger self.


• Making music together is walking—and dancing!— among the people. “How do you like the new chief?” someone in a Ghanaian village was asked. “I don’t know— I haven’t seen him dance yet.” was the wise reply. Likewise, the chief might be asked what the people need and make a similar reply.


• Making music together is getting to know the people you're working and playing with, not by finding out their favorite pizza or preference between dogs and cats (or vampires and werewolves?), but by feeling the pressure and warmth of their hand as you dance in a circle, the resonance and power of their voice as they sing, the way they climb over the walls of challenge they will hit, the expression on their face  when it matches the dynamics and range of their speaking, chanting, reciting, the way they think musically as they venture into the unknown waters of an improvised solo. 


The teacher is the leader serving the deep needs—not the superficial wants— of the students with his/her knowledge of what's needed to master the music and dance that will refresh the spirit, open the heart, challenge the mind, awaken the body of the student and bring him/her to a new place that they didn't even know that they would need or appreciate or love. The teacher teaches from the core of inner authority while still humbly considering what new insights and perspectives the children offer. 


The student is the actively engaged citizen doing the work to merit the promise of given freedoms. Their job is to work hard, be serious, have fun, respect the teacher while intelligently questioning the teacher when needed. While growing their own sense of inner authority and confidence, they recognize that the life experience of the teacher is of great value and humbly, but not naively, begin from trust in the teacher’s guidance. 


As Horace Mann once famously said, “What do you need for great education? A good teacher on one end of a log and a good student on the other." The above is a definition of “good” worth considering. The manifesto is the log. 


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