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Active Engagement

In the month of March, I had opportunities, both as a teacher and as a student, to engage in different learning environments. I think that one of our under-appreciated super powers as humans is the ability to keep learning throughout our lifetimes. Are we seeking out these opportunities, which sometimes requires taking a chance, or are we limiting ourselves by staying in our zones of safety? Are we actively engaging in new things and ideas?

At the beginning of the month, I attended the Central Ohio Flute Association (COFA) Festival at the Ohio State University with one of my high school students and her mother. This opportunity represented many firsts for them: first time to see and hear flute choirs, first time to see a masterclass with fantastic guest artist Jennifer Gunn, first time to hear amazing piccolo solo literature, first time to try a bunch of flutes in the exhibit hall. It was very rewarding to see my student’s eyes go wide with excitement. She asked a lot of questions and we talked a lot about why she liked the pieces that she did. I also dragged this student up onto the stage to participate in the mass flute choir, which had a 15-minute rehearsal and then performed on the flute choir program. She didn’t know she would be sight reading and she did well. It’s one thing to listen to a bunch of flute choirs and another thing entirely to participate in one with at least 50 people in it! She learned that all the rhythm work we’ve been doing for several years really paid off with this little adventure, but sight reading with key signatures with sharps and added accidentals still needs some work. She was definitely out of her comfort zone, but learned that she was able to do this thing! She asked great questions about so many things she saw and heard. This was a very rewarding experience for me as her teacher. 

The COFA festival was also a rewarding experience for me as a learner. Jennifer Gunn’s piccolo class in the morning was the first thing I attended and she was able to give very clear, succinct directions that enabled the piccolo students playing for her to make significant change in a short amount of time in front of an audience. In general, the information wasn’t new to me, but the delivery and word choice was. If we, as teachers, think we already know everything, then we are missing opportunities to build our skill set. For years, any time I attend a masterclass or coaching, I make a little list in my notebook of things that I would address if I were the one up there on the stage with the student. What amazes me, every time I do this, is how many different points of entry there are! As a body mapping teacher, I’ve worked very hard to learn how to pick something that a student can make progress with in a short amount of time, even if that’s not the most glaring issue. Going after a reachable target is half of the battle. Jennifer Gunn’s masterclass coaching was also fantastic. Sometimes I picked the same things to work on that she did but would have done them in a different way, and others times, she went somewhere that I never even considered. All of the students made so much progress! Jennifer talked often about changing the size of the resonating space by allowing air to be between the teeth and cheeks. This is not a new idea for me, but when she said that, I happened to see the lightbulbs go off in my student’s eyes. My first thought was “What??? I’ve been teaching you a version of that for several years!” My second thought was “Cool. That language is resonating with you, so I need to borrow that terminology and add it to my tool box.” My third thought was “Hmm, I wonder if this would make a difference to my other students?” The answer to that question turned out to be yes for some students and no for others. As I’ve said before, everything works for somebody and nothing works for everybody! If I had stayed home, reading a book or going to the gym, I would have missed all of this!

In the middle of the month, my friend and colleague Meerenai Shim did a Feldenkrais residency with students at the Oberlin Conservatory. She offered several group classes and also came into my body mapping class to work directly with my students. I participated in the group classes and learned information about my own movement, which is what generally happens during Feldenkrais sessions for me.The majority of my students had no previous experience with Feldenkrais and some really loved it and others not so much. The important thing is that they tried something new when it was offered to them. 

An opportunity for my growth as a teacher happened when Meerenai noticed some things about my students that I had completely missed! My first thought was “What????? How does this happen?” My second thought was “Cool, why are they all doing that and how can I help them fix it?” The point is that we all don’t know what we don’t know! It’s supremely useful to have another set of eyes, another brain participating on the “What Can I Do To Help My Students” team. This requires that we are able to check our own egos at the door and be vulnerable enough to take in information given to us. It also requires that we go outside of safety zones and actively search out new environments and experiences, as teachers and learners.

Another bonus thing in both of these situations is that my students reported back that much of the information that they were hearing from other teachers was stuff that they’ve heard me say all the time! I’ve often found that this sort of feedback improves my credibility as their teacher. “Hey, she really does know what she’s talking about!” Yes, sometimes, I do. 

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