ON OPENING DAY
of my 10th year as a superintendent, I challenged all of our district’s employees with this: If what we most want for our students is they be agile, curious, interested, independent learners, then we must be that very thing first
We cannot talk about developing a learning community committed to creating learning environments where modern learners discover, connect, contribute and adapt to the changing world if we’re not doing so first
What I didn’t count on soon after was a request to meet with one of our newest music teachers, Jamie Briggs. She asked me to join her 4th-grade introductory band — not for one session but for the long term. Her reasoning was simple: Come and learn what it is that music teachers do, first hand. I heard her saying, “I so believe in the importance of music in our schools that I want to share it with you.”
Pushing My Limits
My reason for agreeing was also simple. If I’m going to walk the talk, push boundaries and ask our teachers to move beyond what we’ve always done, then I’d better do the same. I’m curious and a constant questioner. I’m not afraid to tackle hard subjects, hold difficult conversations or accept a new challenge. But this?
I can assure you there is likely no learning experience that would push me, extend my own boundaries and expose my limitations, insecurities and feelings of ineptitude as joining a band and performing publicly. (I’m in a full body sweat just writing about it here.)
I never studied a musical instrument. As a young student, my parents said “no” to taking up an instrument. I don’t know if it was a financial decision. I just accepted their response. I also don’t remember any basic music or chorus classes in school other than a teacher in the 7th grade who sat at his desk while we sang songs from a textbook. He was less than enthusiastic and certainly didn’t teach me a thing. I spent the rest of my life seeing those people as musical and myself as not.
A Hard Life Lesson
My learning journey began last September and continued through December. I attended the 4th-grade band rehearsal every Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. and did my best to attend my group clarinet lesson with five other students every Thursday.
So what did I learn as a member of the 4th-grade band?
First, it turns out I’m not tone deaf. I wasn’t inept musically. I just needed to take the time to study and learn this thing I thought was unreachable all of my life. I had a fixed mindset that “I’m not musically inclined.”
Second, I discovered we usually stay in our own lanes. Though I’m unafraid to accept a new challenge, now I can see that was the case only when the challenge was close enough to my usual areas of strength.
Third, our 4th-grade students care deeply about learning, doing well and pleasing their families. They also want each other to do well — there was constant positive encouragement within our little lesson group.
Fourth, my band mates were fearless when learning something new and incredibly nervous when performing. I wanted to say, “Hey! It’s OK. No 4th-grade beginner band ever has sounded perfect and your parents love you no matter how we sound.”
Fifth, I learned a hard life lesson, belatedly, from our school board president, Allison Duwe, who told me: “You don’t have to be perfect, Kim. You can even make a mistake up there and it’ll be OK!” How many times have I stopped when I wasn’t good at something new right away?
Finally, when asking our school community to change, I will remember that change for them may be as hard as learning to play the clarinet was for me.
is superintendent of the Springville-Griffith Institute School in Springville, N.Y. Twitter: @kimberlymoritz