Craig and I had a couple of marvellous theatrical experiences in Florida recently. We were blown away, by middle school students. Not high school. Not college. Not professional. Middle school. 11 to 13 year olds. I was there to see the premiere of a play, Funhouse and at the same time another school was in the middle of rehearsing our a capella musical Shout!
SHOUT has always been a tough bird. It’s the piece that meets the most resistance (my kids could never do that) and the most reward. We KNOW it can be done, it was written specifically for students and have been trying to figure out how to successfully get that across. To break through the sea of resistance.
So imagine our wonder when we walked into a rehearsal where there was no resistance at all. Where middle school students (doing the full production) were singing and acting and no one was complaining that they couldn’t do it. They were just doing it. Why? Because their teachers believed they could do it. It was quite clear these teachers believed their students could do anything and treated them as such.
Students are sponges. They react. If you give off the vibe that you don’t believe in them, why should they believe in themselves? And here were teachers who believed and expected their students to believe as well. There was no coddling. There was no “Let’s make this easier because they’re too young.” There was only, do the work. Do the work well. You can do it. High expectation creates a high level of work.
At the second school, there was a different level of student (for a number it was their first time ever on stage) but the expectation was no
different. The expectation was no lower. Do the work, do it well, you can do it. And FUNHOUSE is not an easy piece – it’s a mostly non verbal play about bullying, there’s a lot for the students to do, there are a lot of sound effects (the stage management team was all student run). It was a brand new play with no set precedent. And again, students weren’t complaining that they couldn’t do it. They were just doing it. Because their teacher believed in them and expected them to do the same.
And why isn’t this happening every day? Why are there teachers who say “my kids could never do that.” Why isn’t there more support so teachers can encourage students to find their strengths and believe in themselves? I don’t know. I only know what I observe. And creating students who believe in themselves, can’t be a bad thing.