This is Too Hard, I Can’t Do It, I Quit!
By Jeanne Olson, WMEA Vice President, North Central District
How often as educators have we heard this phrase, “this is too hard, I can’t it do, I quit!” My response has been “of course you can, you just have to practice.” I had an experience this summer that has made me question that response and has given me a new perspective. After 25 years teaching junior high band, I began teaching high school band three years ago. I have been fortunate to have an expert write my marching band halftime shows for me. This summer was different. I was going to have to write my own halftime show. I spent the summer trying to learn a software program that allows you to write the show on the computer. While that seemed like a good use of my time, I became very frustrated very quickly. If you have never used that software, I currently compare it to trying to ride a bike, wearing rollerblades, on an obstacle course, blindfolded! In my frustration I muttered the words “this is too hard, I can’t do it, I quit!” My husband, also a music educator, kept encouraging me. “You can do this, can I help?” That was all it took! I forgot that it is ok to ask for help! I am the expert, I am supposed to have the answers!
In the Ted Talk “How to get better at the things you care about” by Eduardo Briceno, he talks about alternating between the learning zone and the performance zone. In the learning zone our goal is to improve, we can expect to make mistakes, we adjust, we ask for help. In the performance zone the goal is to concentrate on what we have already mastered. The learning zone requires a growth mindset. It took a long time to get to that growth mindset this summer. I had no experience writing a show (college was a long time ago), I had to remind myself that I was going to make mistakes, and it was ok. I had to ask for help. I called colleagues, I joined online forums, I emailed complete strangers, I bought books and I attended a summer clinic. Everyone I met had suggestions and offered help. Suddenly the process wasn’t so daunting. Maybe I could do this. One piece at a time. Map out the music, finalize the performers, design routines and finally place the performers. Was it perfect? NO! But what made the experience so great was when the kids helped make corrections. We went out on the field and started learning the show. No one ran into each other or fell down, well one kid fell down, but in my defense it was raining and the grass was slippery! But the kids noticed there were ways to improve what was in the drill chart to make maneuvers cleaner and more precise. They helped fix the mistakes. Suddenly they had ownership in the show. It wasn’t my show, it became our show! They were so proud to finally perform that show in October. We were all in the learning zone this fall, and we are a stronger, better group because of it. I think it made the performance zone even more rewarding. We have already begun selecting music for the next show, and the students are excited to help write the drill. They have ideas, and good ones. This was not the outcome I expected when I sat in my dining room in July thinking “this is too hard, I can’t do it, I quit!” Eduardo Briceno said the most effective people go through life deliberately alternating between the learning zone and the performance zone. Knowing when we want to be in each zone and having clear goals, focus and outcomes helps us to better perform and better improve.
My response to a student last week who exclaimed “this is too hard, I can’t do it” was very different. I asked what I could do to help, I supported her, I empathized with her. That was all it took, she asked if she could take her bass clarinet home so she could practice her part, she was sure she could do it by Monday! I had to help her get out of the performance zone, where she was afraid to make a mistake, and into the learning zone where mistakes are what we learn from.