I usually learn the most when I take a risk of some sort. I bet I’m not that different than most people in that regard – kids included. For our Remembrance Day assembly earlier this month, I came up with the idea to recite the words to a song written and composed by Mark Knopfler, of Dire Straits. You may know the song called Brothers in Arms.
My original plan was to simply add the verse to my opening remarks at the assembly, which wouldn’t have been much of a risk at all. But after listening to the song a few times, it became all too apparent that the power of the song’s message was much more meaningful with the musical accompaniment. So, I approached two students to see if they would consider helping me out.
I was hoping that Avery and Coltin would team-up on keyboard and guitar to add mood and scale to my words. Thankfully they agreed, but as soon as we held our first practice I knew I was way out of my league. Simply put, my voice was lost in the depth and structure of the exceptionally strong musical tones. I panicked.
I found myself looking for a way out. I even asked another student, Elijah, if he would take my place. He said he would. I felt relieved – until I got home and started to think about things. Why was I pushing back on stepping outside my comfort zone? Isn’t that what we ask our students to do every day? And what about Avery and Coltin; what kind of example would I be setting for them if I scurried away because I was uncomfortable with taking a risk?
The next day I committed myself to getting some input and support to help me rise to the occasion. I went to see Ms. Robinson, our Senior School English curriculum leader. On my first visit, she suggested I find the author’s journey and recite the words as if I was trying to tell a story. On my second visit, she listened to me recite the poem and gave me feedback about the tone of my voice and how she felt while I spoke. I also sought out Mr. Burrage on two occasions. The first time I met with him, he encouraged me to speak more slowly and with greater depth, and on the second visit he suggested I incorporate more emotion at the end of the piece.
By the time our second rehearsal came around, I had committed the words of the song to memory and practiced saying it over and over again to get my pacing, emotion, tone and inflections just right. I even recorded myself at least a half dozen times to get comfortable with the sound of my voice being more dramatic than normal. During the second rehearsal I told Coltin and Avery how nervous I was and they both rallied around to give me encouragement and support. When I walked out of the music room after the second rehearsal, I felt I might be able to pull it off. I immediately found Elijah in the Harkness Room to let him know that I was going to give it a go. He shook my hand and smiled . . . wow, even more support.
The journey to the Remembrance Day assembly “performance” taught me a great deal about Southridge. I discovered, first hand, what a wonderfully supportive and encouraging learning environment exists here. The teachers spent extra time with me, the students encouraged me and I felt comfortable taking, what was for me, a big risk. After the assembly, Elijah passed me in the hallway and caught my eye. He gave me a nod, a smile, a big thumbs-up and a hearty “way to go Mr. Stephens.”
This learning experience was important for me. Not only did it allow me to take a risk and accept a challenge that was out of my comfort zone, but it also affirmed for me, on an emotional level, how special a place Southridge is. To be surrounded by caring adults who make the time to listen and encourage their students, to be among students who support and reassure their peers and to know that kids here cheer you on when you take a chance . . . well, who could ask for anything more?
Watch out, next year I’m looking forward to performing that interpretive dance I’ve been thinking about giving a go. :-)