I’ve been quite concerned about the fact that I haven’t made enough time to blog. I’ve drafted post after post, but never published them and there is so much I want to write about, that it is difficult to start. So, here is a post, coming from the heart, to get me going again and set the scene for a sequence of posts which will be directly related to the project I am currently developing with a group of teachers who do cascade teacher development alongside me.
I have many passions in my life. Teaching, is without a shadow of doubt, one of them. Yet another thing which does take up a significant space in my life is my passion for classical music. I am sure this happened because I was brought up in a house with a pianist – my mum.
One of the things we were “taught” as kids was to stop, listen and appreciate music: listen to minimal differences and nuances. My mum always said, and still says, that to listen to music we need to stop all else and concentrate on it as this is the only way to capture the beauty of it all. I think she is right. The focused listening experience is completely different to when we listen to music and multi task.
Recently, as I searched for a particular piano piece on You Tube, I was “ambushed” by a video of a very young pianist, Jan Lisiecki, playing Chopin. I was immediately transfixed and transposed to a place of many more possibilities.
But before I go on any further, perhaps you may also want to stop a bit and listen (not watch, just listen) to Jan playing Chopin, Concerto No. 2, Larghetto movement.
Sublime, isn’t it? And the most fascinating thing is that this was recorded when Jan was a mere 15-year-old.
In an interview with him about his forthcoming album, Jan mentioned a few things which, as I listened to him, drew a direct parallel with the world of ELT, my beliefs as a teacher, as a teacher developer (if such a role actually does exist).
You can watch his interview here, but these are some of the points he made (some I paraphrase, others I quote directly).
1) If you want to involve the audience, it has to speak from the heart (wheather it is a live performance or recorded one).
The other day Guilherme Pacheco and myself were working alongside Paul Seligson, elaborating a development programme for mentors and Paul looked up at one stage and said: “…the great thing about this is that we’re all so passionate about teaching…” And he’s right. The three of us could go on for hours.
I can’t seem to lose the passion I’ve always had for teaching and for the work I try to collaboratively develop with teachers. Yes, like Jan, teaching does have to come from the heart for me. I don’t really know how to address a group of learners without trying to be fully engaged with them – I can’t fake this. And I often wonder if teachers are finding it difficult to remain in the teaching profession exactly because they have lost heart? You see, when we interact with learners, when we really look at them and listen to them, it does become ever so difficult not to become involved with them. The affective dimension has to be there.
2) You can’t just record and play perfect technically and expect that’ll be what the audience loves, “it has to have a communication.”
Well, what is a perfect lesson? Does this exist in any manner? Does following a lesson plan to a T result in a perfect lesson? If we follow all the stages we planned for in a lesson and don’t deviate from the chartered path, does this guarantee a better lesson? If I implement a number of class management techniques does this automatically mean my lesson is a good one?
Well, from my experience and loads of hours observing teachers I would have to answer “No” to all the questions above. You see, what is the point of following something so religiously if we do not include the learner in our lesson? And learners subvert our teaching and our planning process. They ad-lib, they ambush our most carefully laid out plans. And if we’re wise, we listen to them, we go with the flow…their flow…and maybe we add a very valuable element to our lessons…we truly communicate with the learner and at the end of the day, this is what we want in the ELT classroom…communication in the target language. Teaching techniques and expertise are a valuable and important aspect of our professional development, but unless we recognise that the human element in the class is equally important, well then, we might as well be teaching robots (or be slightly robotic ourselves).
3) “In a sense its incomplete [the Mozart piano Concertos in terms of the emotion in the music] and you have a chance to put your own say into it.”
I think I like this because he is talking about what makes an experience complete…he has the piano score, he has his technique and years of practice and experience (well he’s still in his teens, but he’s been playing for years), yet each time he plays a piece he musters up the emotions he needs to complete the music (of course, this is the way he sees Mozart). And I daresay that each time he plays the piece, he will be taken emotions which may by ever so slightly different.
In teaching we always need to add our own twist to things, add our own mark. I think this is what allows for the emergence of those very special teaching moments we have all had the chance either of experiencing ourselves as learners or as teachers. When we are working with a particular group of learners we have the whole picture there in front of us and if we are really paying attention to them and listening, we pick up on the minor nuances of what is taking place.
And if we are wise enough, we allow ourselves to be ambushed by whatever emerges: ideas, thoughts and emotions – ours and theirs.