Friday, February 18, 2011

The freedom to fail...

Every year at Belmont Hill we have a student poetry festival. The entire student body memorizes a poem and recites it in English class. One or two boys from each class are selected to move on to a semi-final round, and from there one or two boys from each form are chosen to recite their poem at a morning meeting for the entire school community.

I love reciting poetry. When I was in high school I was on the speech team and competed in the poetry category. This year I am organizing our first faculty poetry festival, where faculty will read or recite poems for colleagues and students. I think it will be a lot of fun. I have chosen Taylor Mali's What Teachers Make, or Objection Overruled, or If things don't work out, you can always go to law school. It is a great poem and I think it will be a lot of fun to do for the school.

While many faculty members share my excitement and have agreed to participate, I have been surprised by the number of teachers who do not want to recite a poem because as they put it "I'm bad at it," "I can't do that stuff," or "I can't memorize." We so often talk about giving students the freedom to take risks and to fail. How many of us are willing and feel comfortable doing the same. In front of our students? In front of our colleagues? In front of our administration?

I fell like Belmont Hill is a place that would embrace any faculty members attempt to recite a poem, no matter how wonderful or terrible. I know our students will be respectful, regardless of our performance. Sometimes the fear of failure resides inside our own heart. How do we encourage ourselves and each other to take these risks? I've been trying to encourage my friends and colleagues to step outside their comfort zones and give it a try. I want my excitement to rub off on everyone.

We all have our things and this is mine. I can't expect everyone to get on my poetry bus. But I think it would be a great example to everyone, if some of those nay sayers would just give it a go. I'll keep trying to convince them...

Image Credit: Collection of Poetry

6 comments:

Jeff Richardson said...

I LOVE Taylor Mali's "What Teachers Make" and I have used it lots of times to get teachers pumped. I can totally see you doing it and getting some great cheers! If that poem doesn't fire a teacher up, then get out the AED 'cause they are dead! On the getting them excited to step out of their comfort zone front, I know exactly what you mean. That's something I think we all struggle with as leaders and learners. But like you said, it's about taking risks and we have to be risk-takers if we (humans) hope to grow and experience new things. When I put it in the context of parenting my own kids, I would be devastated if my kids never took risks! What if those teachers' students never took risks? Would they be cool with that? I don't want my kids to miss a thing so I do my best to make them feel as safe as possible even if failure is the result-which it's going to be if enough risks are taken. I try to get them to see that it's not the end of the world if the end result isn't success. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But if I don't create a safety net and push them a bit, they would never step out there. I like the cliche' saying "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger" because I believe it. Maybe physically, maybe mentally, maybe we gain some wisdom...but the bottom line is we grow and we learn from our risks. It's the same with students and teachers and really everyone I think. Some of us are gonna risk blindly just because and others won't take that chance without some sort of calculated reassurance that our lives will not end if we do try and fail. Heck, my kid wouldn't realize how awesome cliff jumping into the lake by our house is had he not tried it. Would he have done it on his own? No way! But with a little creative coaching and support from me, he did it and now wants to go every chance he gets. But ultimately, I think there has to be a desire within a person to grow, to experience new things. I believe that is part of being human-that it's innate in us. BUT I also know that desire can get buried underneath cynicism, prior failures or whatever. And in that case, we have the difficult yet rewarding task of helping that person to rediscover it. Personally, I couldn't imagine life without risks! It would be just plain boring.

Arlene said...

I remember you performing. And the years and ways you have stepped out of your comfort zone. But as a poet, and someone who is uncomfortable reading my poems in public, i think it is important to sometimes take baby steps,perhaps to read out loud in a small supportive group perhaps. Or to be coached and practice with other uncomfortable readers. There is a difference in moving out of your comfort zone and in doing it in public, and in your work space. Your Mom

Anonymous said...

A teacher should never be afraid if failure. If they are how can they teach.
Finally if someone has a problem finding the right poem, memorizing, or stage fright I would suggest the poem of Dorthy Parker entitled NEWSFLASH " Men seldom make passes at women who wear glasses."
Also I would like to point out that SC is okay so far.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Davis,

My name is Whitney Hale and I am a student in Professor Strange's EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I just want to start by saying that I really enjoyed your post. I think that it is awesome what you are doing. I believe that sometimes people do not know how much they actually enjoy something until they break out of their comfort zone and do it. This seems like an excellent tool for students and teachers to take the opportunity and get to know one another a little better. I just could not believe that some teachers do not want to do it because they do not feel that they are good at it. How can we expect our students to do things if we cannot do them ourselves? You would think it would be easier for them versus a student since they do stand up and teach a good number of students on a daily basis! This should be a piece of cake!

Mike Lewis said...

I couldn't agree with Jeff more, Taylor Mali's video always lifts me up when I'm second guessing myself.

I also loved your post and I'm happy to have found you on twitter. It seems most of the educators I communicate with live on the other side of the county.

Have you checked out HBO's Brave New Voices? It's some of the most moving student poetry I've ever experienced. Those kids exemplify the joy that should be felt through the medium.

http://www.hbo.com/russell-simmons-presents-brave-new-voices/index.html

Jordan Wolfe said...

I like the way that you view failure. How incredibly fortunate that you work in a community that you and your colleagues feel comfortable enough to try new things! What an important quality in a learning environment.