//Why GREAT Teachers don’t INSPIRE!

Why GREAT Teachers don’t INSPIRE!

Ideology of Intentional Inspiration.

You don’t inspire….you teach!

If you are reading this blog, you are probably a great teacher and/or conductor. If you are new and haven’t yet mastered the craft, you are well on your way; I say this because anyone who is searching the internet, looking for articles and reading blogs, is trying to better themselves, and/or strengthen their own core philosophies. Most of us keep up with our instruments, search for new repertoire, and look for new tips to improve our programs.

The purpose of this opening title is to get us all thinking. Perhaps we’ve heard one of the most uplifting educational quotes, “I don’t teach, I inspire”. It is such a beautiful, poetic description of what we all wish we did. We all want to be Mr. Holland from “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, Jaime Escalante from “Stand and Deliver”, or Clement Mathieu for “Les Chorister”. But what is the difference between an “inspirer” and a teacher?

Most teachers teach. Many teachers teach well. Very few teachers inspire.

While most passionate, effective, and caring teachers may “inspire” a few students, these students are the ones who previously had a love of our subject or want to follow directly in our footsteps. These students were waiting to be “inspired” and/or have become our personal projects to provide additional guidance.

The description above is great teaching, NOT inspirational teaching.

There are two main forms of classroom/rehearsal inspiration: Unintentional Inspiration & Intentional Inspiration

Unintentional Inspiration

Unintentional inspiration implies that we teach our curriculum and someone is sparked by our teaching and it motivates them to excel beyond what we expected of them, maybe even beyond what they thought they could achieve. It is unintentional because it was not our goal. Our goal was to teach the music, or a specific skill

We are not inspirers just because occasionally one or two students have chosen to follow in our footsteps, or the elite are pursuing a performance career.

Intentional Inspiration

Intentional inspiration occurs when our primary goal as a teacher is to inspire. Our entire approach to teaching and rehearsing is centered around inspiring our students and we are effective at it. Our goal is not to inspire our elite musicians to pursue performance careers or careers in music education; our ultimate goal is to inspire everyone.

INSPIRER isn’t the name of our occupation, but if we want to be someone who INSPIRES, it must be our primary goal; teaching becomes our secondary goal, maybe even our tertiary goal depending on what else we choose to prioritize within our job description.

Focusing on Intentional Inspiration:

Here are a few “Inspiring” questions for all blog readers:

1. What is inspiration and what does it look like in the classroom?

2. Can we recognize when a teacher is inspiring their students?

3. Is being an “Inspirer” a talent or a skill?

What the ability to inspire IS NOT…………….

The ability to inspire is not a mystical thing. It is not one’s “charisma” that inspires others. It is not the memorization of fancy quotes and using them in the middle of a rehearsal to impress our ensemble. It is not being the all-knowing teacher or conductor who never makes a mistake. It is not our beautiful conducting technique, our gorgeous singing voice, or the way we can pick out one wrong note amongst a group of 80. It is not picking “cool songs”. It is not having a major blow-up, yelling at the group to spark them or light a fire under them.  It is not a consistent pattern of positive compliments.

What the ability to inspire IS…………….

The ability to Inspire is tangible, planned, calculated, and it is purposeful: we exist to motivate our students to be independent, insightful, proactive, resourceful, and motivated for success.

Inspiration has little to do with us and everything to do with them.

What we say is not what is important; what they do

1. What does inspiration look like?

Students who are inspired go above and beyond. Not all students will be the same but all students will want to learn in their own independent way. Here are some examples of what inspiration looks like:

A. If the students are capable of learning something on their own, frequently they will

Whether it’s students going home and practicing or students helping other students to learn the music, they will do what they can without requiring us to spoon-feed the material.  They work on sight-reading, theory, and fundamental skills without it being required homework or assessments.

B. Students pose intelligent and thought-provoking questions about the music and about making music

They wonder “why” things are the way they are.  Why did the composer choose to change the notes ever-so-slightly in the 2nd chorus? Why did we choose that specific piece for our concert? Why do the sopranos sit on the left side of the room and the altos on the right side? Students are thinking about more than just their part in the music.

C. Students take responsibility for their own learning/curriculum

Student are looking to dive deeper, beyond what we give them. They search the internet for recordings. They share recordings with one another.  They sing in quartets on their own, or use the a-cappella app on their phones to create four-parts themselves. Students are excited to bring to us new pieces that they found and love. They compose or arrange for the choir. Students ask to conduct the choir or teach pieces to the choir.

D. Our Students look to inspire others

They follow directly in our footsteps and help others, usually younger students, to want to grow as musicians and as people.

2. Can we recognize when a teacher is inspiring their students?

Yes and No. Both great teachers and average teachers will recognize that in an Inspiring teacher’s classroom there is a different feeling in the room. They will probably attribute that feeling to the kids being super-talented, dedicated, a strong feeder system, supportive parents, etc.  They will sense the focus in the room and notice the overwhelming majority of students are giving 100% effort. They will notice that students generally appear to be comfortable, happy, free, and engaged in the learning process. They may feel bad that their students aren’t as serious about their own program. The reality is that only Inspiring people can tangibly understand when and how a teacher is inspiring their students. Teachers who focus on Inspiration can instantly recognize inspired students.

3. Is being an “Inspirer” a talent or a skill?

Like anything else in life, the answer is BOTH. Nobody is successful in life in any field with just talent; hard work and skill development is the key to becoming an “Inspirer”. It requires changing from our traditional core teaching values; goals need to charge and our role in the classroom needs to evolve.

Great teachers don’t inspire because it is not their primary focus. Think about this in our personal lives: if our primary focus is to save money, we will save money. If our primary focus is to lose weight, we will lose weight. The purpose of this blog is to begin to uncover how INSPIRING differs from TEACHING in the rehearsal setting and to set the tone for the next blogs, which will hopefully begin to “inspire” and plant the seed for great teachers to evolve into “Inspirers.”

Choral Clarity Blog will focus this month on INSPIRATION with 4 articles that are intended to rethink our role in the classroom/rehearsal.

By | 2018-10-18T18:55:27-05:00 September 6th, 2016|Ideology of Intentional Inspiration|

About the Author:

Adam Paltrowitz is a master educator, composer, conductor, and clinician. During his 21-year tenure as the Director of Choral Activities at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in New York, his groups have toured throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. He also has pioneered a philosophy that every student is a soloist. Adam's choral program has also gained great acclaim for the cultivation of eight student-run a-cappella ensembles; some of these ensembles have performed on national and local television programs. His compositions and arrangements have been performed by choirs around the world. Adam earned his B.S. in music education from New York University, M.A. in vocal pedagogy from Columbia University - Teacher's College, and Ed.M. choral conducting from Columbia University - Teacher's College. ​Adam resides in Manhattan with his wife, Blair Goldberg, a professional Broadway actress, and their daughter, Lyla, and son, Nolan.

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