We’ve got a choir teacher at our school who has a special way of getting his kids to perform. We’re in a middle school of 6th-8th grades. After he gets a group of kids for three years, his concert choir can sing as well as the Mormon Tabernacle choir. Okay, maybe not that good, but they are clearly better than most High School choirs. He is well liked by everyone in the building, and the kids love him. There’s something in his method that makes his class a desirable place to be, as well as demanding more than the kids think they have to give. So, as another teacher in the building, there’s something I can learn from his pedagogy.
Our principal has been steadfast in her desire for our staff to communicate and learn from each other, even creating an observation form for visiting our colleagues. So, one of my favorite classes to visit this year has been Profé’s class. The kids are required to enter the class in a hushed silence. They know where to sit. He very kindly talks with most of the students as they come into class, and gets quite personal with several of them. Before they begin an activity he describes not just what they’re about to do, but all about how they will move to the spot, how loud or soft they will talk or move, how they will end, and where they will stand or sit. If anyone is distracted or isn’t paying attention he will have them “reset”, which means go to the door and touch it and come back quietly with your full attention. He is extremely patient, never showing anger or annoyance when kids inevitably misbehave. His verbiage is specific when he is demanding a certain behavior. He says, “we will” rather than “I want”. It’s not about what the teacher wants, it’s what is going to happen.
So, I’m an action guy. Not into words really, but the result of how he demands the behavior without it coming from his ego speaks volumes in the results. The performance level from each class is so high that the kids obviously feel pride. He does talk about that feeling of pride, and their accomplishment, but it’s the result of their hard work; he takes no credit.
I realized this year that when I get an activity started, I can use a little of Profé’s precision when I get the kids ready to do an activity. After we have the groups picked, and it’s time for me to tell the kids what they are going to do, I remember how Profé would do it. I tell the kids what they’re going to do. What they’re going to get out of it. How they will take down their data, how they will behave, what they will do when someone in their group needs extra help, what to do if they are the one needing help or not understanding, and pretty much every possible behavior in that activity. Then, have them repeat back to me the key parts of their behavior until we have a class-wide consensus. When someone gets out of line, I remember his solution of just having the kid start over.
It’s good to be reminded that perfection does not result from perfectionism. It comes from practice. And everything we do in school is a practice. Profé’s choir class reminds us that there is no ceiling to well-defined parameters, and by association, results.