Progression of a Skill

We go through many stages in our development of skills. Here’s a rough outline of the progression.

  1. I can’t do this at all.
  2. I can’t do this well.
  3. I can do this well as long as I’m not doing anything else.
  4. I can do this well with slight distractions.
  5. I can do this well despite major distractions.
  6. I can always do this.
  7. I can’t remember not being able to do this.


“I work from a hypothesis of generosity with you. If things are not going well, I assume the best I can about your intention and behavior, and I ask you about it.”
– Brené Brown, in conversation with Krista Tippett (unedited interview)

I find that approaching work, love, and life with this generous mindset is a game-changer for improving the interactions I have with everyone in my life.

How can we bring more of this generosity into your teaching? Can we assume the best of our students intentions and maintain communication?

Do It Now

Do it now.

You are overestimating the stress you will feel when you dig into the work you need to do.

You are underestimating the stress of having it hang over you until you start.

Do it now.

You are overestimating the difficulty of the work.

You are are underestimating the great feeling of being done.

Do it now.

You are overestimating the need to be “inspired.”

You are underestimating the inspiration that comes from doing.

Do. It. Now.

Favorite In The World

What is your favorite pizza place in the world?

Chances are, your favorite pizza is excellent, but also tied to fond memories. For example, at dinner tonight, as we discussed this question, I admitted that I have never had a better pizza than the one I had sitting outdoors on the streets of Prague, with my whole family, in 2014. Was it objectively the best pizza I’ve ever eaten? Probably not – but the good feelings associated with it mark it favorably in my mind.

Here’s the point. Of course it’s important to encourage your choirs to make the best music they can possibly make. But above a certain point of excellence, it’s the positive feelings around the experience – the special people you share it with, the fond memories, the funny little stories – that will cement it in your singers’ memories.

Tend to the whole package, not just the musicianship. That’s how to create the world’s best pizza, and how to create lifelong passion and memories in your singers.

Always Plan For a Snow Day

If you don’t plan for a Snow Day, it will come on your final rehearsal before a performance.

(This could be any school-canceling calamity, of course.)

This is particularly challenging if, like me, you only rehearse once per week. A well-placed Snow Day can wreak havoc on the arc of your preparation. That’s way it’s always important to plan for it. Assume that on the day of your last rehearsal, there will be a blizzard. With that assumption, how does your preparation change?

A flu outbreak in your ensemble, a water main break, a conductor with strep throat, and on and on: there are so many possible reasons why you’ll cancel that last rehearsal. Make sure when that time comes, you don’t feel the extra weight of deeply needing that rehearsal. Plan for it.

Relatedly, unlike my prediction, my school does have a Snow Day today.

Never Hope For A Snow Day

When you hope or plan for a Snow Day, the best you can get is “met expectations.” The worst is “deeply disappointed.”

But when you don’t hope or plan for a Snow Day, the worst you can get is “met expectations.” The best is, “unexpectedly delighted.”

If you’re near me when winter weather is rolling in, you’ll hear me say in no uncertain terms that it will miss us. No chance of a snow day. I truly believe what I’m saying, but I also want to reinforce the idea of not hoping for, planning on, or predicting a Snow Day.

Relatedly, there will not be a Snow Day tomorrow in my district. Count on it.

Weekly Note

Do you post a weekly note for your students? I remember the long-hand notes posted on the ensemble bulletin board in college – they were so beneficial in helping me focus my own practice, personal goals, perspective on upcoming events, and enhance buy-in to the group.

Bulletin boards may be passé, but you already have the digital equivalent. Send that weekly note through blackboard, Schoology, or whatever course management system your school use.

Here’s the format I’m currently using for my weekly note for GRCC Shades of Blue:

  1. Big Picture (short paragraph of text).
    • Short overview and/or philosophical perspective
  2. Quote of the Week.
  3. List of pieces with group and personal goals for the week.
    • Personal Goals
    • Group Goals
  4. Ensemble Business.
    • Money Due
    • Upcoming Dates

I can copy and paste last week’s note, change the language where needed, and create this week’s note in just a few minutes.

Widen Your Lens

On the really, truly busy days – when you feel like you’ve run a marathon before lunch and then the speed picks up, it’s easy to feel as if it’s always this busy. You’re drowning in busy-ness and it will never change.

On those days, it helps me to widen my lens. Take in more scenery – look beyond today, beyond this week. See the full picture. Chances are, your picture will show busy days and less busy days.

With this increase in perspective, it gets easier to dig in and power through the really busy days. I know they won’t last forever.

Shoveling Fresh Snow

If you shovel your driveway when the snow is fresh, the snow usually comes up easily, leaving clear pavement.

If one car drives on it, you’re left with deeply compressed tracks that are near-impossible to clear.

Before you express anger to your students, before your temper gets the better of you, remember: expressing anger in class is driving a car over fresh snow. Once you’ve done it, you’ll never get back the pristine, open spirits you had before.

It might be necessary, on occasion. But then again, with planning, it might not be.

Without Risk of Concussion

Football can be a fabulous activity for teaching character, life skills, team-building, perseverance, flexible and reactive thinking, and plenty of other valuable lessons.

Every single one can also be taught in choir, without a pervasive risk of traumatic brain injury.

Here is a powerful short film of every reported concussion during a game in the 2017-18 NFL Season.

According to The Intercept, the NFL diagnosed at least 281 traumatic brain injuries this season. And according to this rundown of statistics, for every one of those, there were more than 500 diagnosed concussions in high school football players in the same time frame. That is more than 140,000 traumatic brain injuries.