Can teachers create classrooms in which students act respectfully, take responsibility, and have self-discipline?
Can directors do the same with their non-academic choirs or instrumental groups?
I believe not only that they can, but they must if they want their groups to perform with fully committed expression. Such a group feels like a Community of Learners – each of whom cooperates, collaborates, and cares about every other human in the classroom – including the teacher/director. Despite the horror stories of out-of-control students across the country, such idyllic environments actually exist.
On this page, you'll find a humanistic philosophy of leadership and group/classroom management, a practical application of same, and games & activities which will create an even more committed, vulnerable, and trustworthy ensemble.
- Humans learn best when they feel safe, and respond best when they feel respected.
- Each student is a wonderful and precious human being, fully deserving to be treated with dignity at all times ... even and especially during moments of "misbehaving" or acting out.
- In a mutually respectful classroom, the teacher respects the students, the students respect the teacher, and the students respect each other. When we treat students with dignity and respect, we pave the way for them to do the same. I love the graphic on edutopia.org – a blackboard filled with I will respect my students. I will respect my students. I will respect....
- Students are more important than the subject matter. John Maxwell said it best, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
- Building strong and genuine rapport with students forms the basis for effective interactions with them. Seeing them as individuals, going to their extra-curricular events, mentioning that experience briefly in class ... these seemingly little things can make a HUGE difference when creating a trusting and mutually respectful community.
- All students can act respectfully and supportively, whatever their age or gender, and regardless of their family, ethnic, or socioeconomic background. IF we expect them to.
- If our students continue to act out, it helps to look at what we are actually expecting. Do we have an unconscious expectation that “Boys will be boys,” or “High school girls will gossip during class”? Do we believe that “no matter what we do, our students will continue to act that way”? If we have that internal conviction, our students will continue to act exactly as we expect them to. But if we raise our expectations, they will elevate their behaviors.
- Self-discipline, empathy, and social awareness can be taught – if we lead with dignity and high expectations, constantly modeling supportive behavior.
- Rewarding, punishing, and covertly manipulating our fellow humans (using praise and disappointment) communicates our LOW expectations of them, and denigrates their actual potential. “I don’t believe you are capable of self-control or caring about others. Therefore, I’ll control you and gain your compliance however I can.”
The Faculty Meeting Test To check that we’re treating students with dignity and equality, we can ask this question: Would I like the principal to treat me the way I’m treating my students? If we think, “No, I would be embarrassed, resentful, angry, hateful, and filled with disrespect for anyone who would treat me that way,” it’s a sure bet that our singers are feeling the same way ... or worse.
For singers to commit to fully expressive singing, they must feel safe – supported by both their leader and their peers. The leader consciously creates this environment, and avoids shaming, punishing, insulting, or losing their temper. Such behaviors stunt expressivity and destroy trust, while simultaneously building resentment and resistance. In unsafe groups, we humans tend to guard our emotions, our expressiveness and joy withering as we do so. Therefore, how we communicate with students – and how we guide them to communicate with each other – is pivotal.
Loving kindness is what it’s all about. If we treat those in our care supportively, they will respect us. And when we set uncompromising expectations of Support for all, the students will meet them. If we accept less, we will get less.
How We Communicate: Conscious Awareness
When we are aware of our thoughts and feelings as they occur, we can act from a place of sensitivity and support rather than REACTING out of anger or frustration
The more Supportive we are, the more Expressive they’ll be. The less supportive we are (controlling, punitive, shaming, angry, inconsistent, fearful, w/ low expectations…), the less expressive they’ll be.
How Singers Communicate: They Can be Supportive … with Your Help
As we focus on the singers’ words and behavior, we can respond to every instance of unsupportive communication. (While consistency is key for this approach to work, the teacher's enhanced attention is vital in the first few days of establishing Support – it's a new approach, after all, and requires extra diligence until it becomes more habitual.)
Be consistent, uncompromising, but kind: Mean what you Say, but don’t Say it Meanly.
Be loving but FIRM; don’t back down. Being “nice” by giving second chances will guarantee chaos.
I recommend consciously creating a safe environment on either the first or second day the group meets. What's worked really well for all the groups I've led is the following:
So, if the group has members who are not already self-disciplined, responsible, and supportive at all times, consider the following progression of responses that creates a mutually respectful environment without punishing.
- Sharing the neuroscience behind it. “People learn more effectively and have more fun when they feel safe. And the opposite is true when people feel threatened. Say a singer just finished auditioning for a solo, and I look over at Jimmy here in the front row and roll my eyes slightly. [I do this.] Well, I just brought negative energy, judgment, and danger into the room. Jimmy now knows that it's not safe to sing out in here, and anyone else who saw me do that knows it as well. And it doesn't matter if I do it, or if Jimmy rolls his eyes at Maria sitting next to him. Danger is danger, and even something that small will negatively affect the group, resulting in a release of brain chemicals that tell our bodies to be on alert. So, if we want a truly supportive environment, each person – me included – must do all they can to make it a safe place."
- I then break them into small groups and have them brainstorm examples of supportive and unsupportive behaviors, which they then share – thus creating buy-in. Once we’ve processed a little, "So does it seem we're in agreement about what is supportive and what is unsupportive? [Yes!] So, here's what I'm going to do to help us be the most supportive class we can be...." **The Container System below could easily be transitioned to here.
- After briefly describing the Support System (below), we do a few role plays which give the singers a very clear view of what they can expect. After that, it usually takes no more than three days for everyone to shift their own traditional paradigm and get fully on board.
The Support System
After confirming (and modeling) that I'm going to support everyone – treating them with dignity at all times – I share the steps I'm going to use to maintain the Safe & Supportive environment for all:
Step One: “Support…” (said with the tone rising at the end – it’s an invitation and a reminder, not a command). Look anywhere BUT at the person/s as you respond to their first unsupportive choice of the day. At the singer/s’ next unsupportive choice...
Step Two: “Tom, could you be more supportive right now?” (with a smile – no one’s being punished here)
Step Three: And if Tom continues: “Tom, please move [to empty seat, or switch seats with someone]. Thanks.”
Step Four: And if he’s STILL unsupportive (while you’re still kind and calm): “Tom, please sit next to my desk/on the side of the room… until you’re ready to support us. Come back soon. Thanks.”
Step Five: Rarely needed: “Please go to Ms. Tina’s room until you’re ready to support.” Arrange with staff first.
Remaining kind, relaxed, but calmly assertive while not backing down with steps 3 & 4 is critical. Even if it takes a full minute of your standing there saying "Nobody's in trouble here. But we need you to move,” what you accomplish in that minute will do more to support you and your singers than virtually anything else. The singers now know that you are WILLING TO LEAD, and that you have a leader's integrity – they can't beg, bargain, plead, ignore, intimidate, or manipulate you with flattery. AND you're not a punisher; you're warm! Nice! Reasonable!
The Container System
A similar system that I've had great success with lately (with a very challenging middle school class filled with extremely impulsive students) is one I call The Container System.
- Step One – We All Hold the Container for Each Other: First, I invited the students to sit down on the carpet or grass in an evenly spaced circle. I then told them that their circle is a metaphor for a focused and effective learning environment. I use my arms as a giant spoon. "All the good stuff like focused engagement, mutual respect, kindness, and collective enjoyment is happening INSIDE THE CIRCLE THAT THEY ARE CREATING." The students are "holding the container," making conscious choices that honor and maintain that sort of experience. They do the same thing in the classroom itself; they can "hold the container" metaphorically, even when they are not literally sitting in a circle. . . .
- Step Two – Introduce the Cracks in the Container: "Notice," I told the students, "what happens when one or more of the people creating the container chooses NOT to do this. At this point, I asked one or two students to stand up and move a few feet away from the group. "When somebody chooses to interrupt, to distract, to sharpen their pencil in the middle of a lesson. . . , the container springs a leak, and all of the good stuff inside begins to leak out." The holes left by the missing students are glaring reminders. "When one person stops holding the container, the results affect everyone in the room; we lose what we just had, and we have to work hard to fill the container again."
- Step Three – The Container that is You: After the students sat back down in the circle, I suggested that another container was at play in the group. "Yes, we all hold the container for each other, but we also hold the container for ourselves." At this point I circle my hand around my head. "The other container at play here is each of us; we each contain whatever is going on in our brain – or we do not contain it. Imagine that you have a little imp in your brain who loves to hijack you and make you interrupt your peers. . . . IF YOU LET THAT IMP GET OUT OF YOUR PERSONAL CONTAINER, the imp forces you to stop holding the container for the whole group!
- Step Four – Containers Combined: So, "holding the container" is what we each do because we value each other, and we value the positive space we create when we make supportive choices. We hold the container for each other. At the same time we're creating a great group space, we are also monitoring our own personal container (our minds), making sure that none of our unsupportive imps get out and take over. When an imp breaks free, that imp can hijack you, and then you will create that crack in the container for us all.
- Step Five – Teacher Talk: After taking about ten minutes to lay that all out, I checked for understanding and buy-in (they understood and bought-in fully), and we began class. From that moment on, if someone was beginning to exhibit an unsupportive behavior, I would either move my arm in a big circle (a silent reminder of the group container), or I would move my hand around my head while looking at someone whose imps were clearly rampant, or I would say, "Container." Since the students had great buy-in, they responded very quickly to my prompts, and, more importantly, kept their focus on "the good stuff."
Contrast with Traditional Approaches In a traditional classroom, students often comply because they either want a reward or want to avoid a punishment. The drive to win rewards and avoid punishments can be overt (trying to earn gold stars rather than detentions), or it can be more subtle (currying the teacher's praise instead of their disappointment/disfavor). Either way, the students remain extrinsically (rather than intrinsically) motivated – and the teacher's approach doesn't help them develop empathy, true concern for others, or self-discipline in its purest sense.
As its name indicates, the Support System is one whereby the leader supports the students, helping them succeed both individually and collectively. Importantly, it is NOT just a series of progressive consequences doled out as one might in a traditional punitive classroom.
If you do the buy-in exercises and shift your own internal paradigm (toward supporting and away from punishing, rewarding, and gaining compliance), these steps become "Support reminders" rather than punishments. And the students will go along because they like the notion of a supportive classroom – and recognize that you are just doing your part to help. I've hardly ever had a student who didn't willingly support me or their peers – even in the first couple of days. In fact, students react very differently than might be expected ... IF you are very clear that they are "not in trouble" as they might be in a traditional classroom, and IF you do the buy-in activities above.
In the Safe & Supportive classroom, students choose to create a classroom built on mutual respect – because they like the overall sound and feel of it, and they like the responsibility, autonomy, and dignity it engenders. Bottom line, they feel valued rather than coerced or manipulated. No matter how kind and loving the traditional teacher is, the traditional compliance-based system itself is inherently disrespectful.
Interventions For more egregious behaviors, consider a series of interventions, in which a team (student included) comes up with consequences they feel will help the student grow in awareness and responsibility. This might include restitution, amends, anger management classes, restorative justice sessions, and/or time with the school counselor. Such responses are so much more effective – and are inherently so much more respectful – than punishments such as detentions, suspensions, and writing “I will not use profanity during class” 500 times.
The (Even More) Democratic Classroom I have used the Support System for decades, and love the safe, supportive, joyful, and collaborative environment it creates. Students love it as well – over the years I've gotten consistent feedback at the end of every single class to that effect. However, you might want an even more “democratic” set up. For much more on this approach, check out Alfie Kohn’s book, Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community.
Obstacles to Effective Leadership
If the ideal is to treat students well at all times, thereby leading the way to a mutually collaborative and supportive classroom chock full of mutual respect and personal responsibility, what might get in the way? Here are a few possiblities:
The teacher’s view of human nature. If a teacher sees their students as more “nature” than “human,” that teacher will likely have low expectations, treating their students as they would treat circus animals or pets. Operant conditioning will be the norm, with rewards and punishments seen as necessary in order to insure compliance and proper behavior. But if that teacher sees their students as fully “human” – with all the glorious possibilities and nobility that term inspires, high expectations will be the norm – and the different feeling created in the room will be almost palpable. On a related note, dignity-based systems work really well in inner city classrooms, and with kids who are failing to thrive in traditional settings.
The teacher’s unconscious biases. If a teacher believes that certain individuals or types of students can not fully succeed, that teacher’s attitudes will leak out in their words, behaviors, and affect when they are around those students. Do I believe that poor students of color are not interested in school, and can’t control themselves? If so, that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy in my classroom. But if I KNOW that my immigrant Mexican American students can be just as inspired, dedicated, and self-disciplined as every other student, then I can truly serve their best and highest good.
The teacher’s view of themselves. Do they believe that they can lead a classroom effectively? Do they feel at their very essence that they “deserve” to be listened to and treated with respect? Do they love themselves, knowing that they are Good Enough regardless of their students’ choices? If a teacher has doubts about any of these – whether consciously registered or not – that teacher’s ability to lead with power and grace will be compromised. If a teacher has doubts about their own value, they might blow up in anger when the singers are goofing off during a dress rehearsal for an important concert – thus the students get the shaming as a projection, and the teacher doesn’t have to look at their own conditional self-worth. And if a teacher doesn’t really believe that they are worthy, it’s perhaps even easier to see how that attitude might get in the way of confident and assertive leadership.
As alluded to above, the leader's unconscious thoughts and feelings can sabotage a Safe & Supportive environment. The antidote to that is Conscious Awareness – being aware of your thoughts and feelings as they happen, and then choosing which to act on, and which to set aside. If you lead with Conscious Awareness, you will constantly be exercising choice – the choice to create safety and support in each and every moment. In a very real sense, this skill enables you to act with calm assertiveness and loving kindness, rather than blindly reacting to your own unconscious inner process.Expression, Trust, & Commitment-building Activities
Taking a closer look at this, imagine it's two days before the concert, and you're working with singers and instrumentalists. You've gone over the same phrase about seven times, but the altos keep coming in one beat early. The following thoughts, feelings, and sensations occur within you:
Your palms start to sweat.
Your shoulders start to tense up.
You think, "What idiots these altos are – why can't they get this?!"
You think, "Oh man, the violinist [highly respected, with whom you've never worked before] must think I'm awful."
You think, "My gosh, we only have one more rehearsal and then I'm conducting in front of the school board."
You feel frustrated, angry, impatient, helpless, about to lose it....
At the very first instance of any such reaction, a director with Conscious Awareness notices what's going on for them, and chooses a course of internal and external actions. From that point on, they almost instantaneously 1) acknowledge the reaction to themselves, 2) take responsibility internally ("It's my reaction..."), 3) maintain compassion and forgiveness toward themselves for having the reaction, 4) place the reaction aside for later introspection, and 5) choose words and actions which remain supportive towards the altos – and respectful of everyone else.
While some directors have disagreed with – or even thrown up their hands at this concept (stating that they couldn't possibly do this because they're "not Jesus"), it's my conviction that everyone can learn to be consciously aware. While being responsible for our words and actions at all times might require a learning curve, and might take some time and effort – the singers in our care are worth it. And so are we.
Yes, leadership styles differ, but if we choose "I Have a Right to Be Reactive," "My Reactivity Teaches Kids that Their Actions Have Consequences," or "I Couldn't Possibly Do That" over Conscious Awareness, we risk disrespecting all involved ... and creating a very unsafe and unsupportive environment.
That said, since we are human, it's likely that even the most consciously aware of us will lose our perspective and become reactive on occasion. No problem. A simple and sincere apology – while taking full responsibility – will work wonders to restore Safety. In fact, this vulnerable maturity on our part can rebuild an even more supportive ensemble.
THE NAME GAME Because any dignity-based approach is tied to the teacher’s knowing and valuing each individual student, it’s very important to learn their names as quickly as possible. I play the following “name game” on the first or second meeting, and have found it enormously helpful for me and the students.
Everyone stands in a circle. To play, instruct the singers to think of a descriptive word that has the same beginning sound as the first sound of their name. So, “Jumping George” would work just fine, since the “j” sound begins both words. The only thing is, “You have to act out your descriptive word. Since there is no right or wrong in the Arts, your acting could be as simple or elaborate as you want. [I give a simple example.] Take a minute to think of your descriptive word.”
Next, describe the following: “We’re going to go around the circle three times. I’ll start by saying my name only, and everyone then repeats in unison. We go around the circle following that pattern. The second time we go around, each of us says our name and our descriptive word. Everyone repeats in unison. The third time, we say our name and descriptive word AND we act out that word. However we do it, everyone else repeats both words and actions.” Upon completion, we ‘go around’ the circle, with EVERYONE saying the name and doing the action for every singer. After that, I try to call everyone by name and descriptive word. If I need help after about five seconds, they act out their word. Five more seconds, they say the word. Five more seconds, they tell me their name. Then I’ll ask for about four volunteers to give it a try.
In the following days, I’ll ask each student to act out their descriptive word if I can’t remember their name. This has allowed me to know most of my students’ names by the end of the second day, and all my students’ names by the end of the first week.
To empower singers with full commitment, vulnerability, and trustworthiness, use the following games (sequentially, or as they suit the group's needs and commitment levels). The games, along with the processing of the students’ experience after each round, can have a huge impact on the singers’ sense of confidence and expressive power.
ZIP! ZAP! ZOP! An easy intro into Inner Critic awareness, commitment, and support, “Zip! Zap! Zop!” is an energy transfer game played in a circle. One person starts by extending their arm towards another singer, looking directly at them, and assertively projecting the word “Zip!” The person who has been zipped extends their arm and looks at another singer, and sends a “Zap!” The third person sends a “Zop!” And the pattern continues. Since there is “no right or wrong in the Arts,” there can be no mistakes (you’re consciously weakening the hold of their Perfection Police with this), so if anyone says something out of order, we all pull an imaginary cord and say (klaxon horn), “Ah OOO gah! Let’s try it....” This is a good game to play a few times, then process (with the Inner Critic questions at the bottom of this page) and repeat, challenging them to see if they can “bump up their commitment by 10%....”
While the 'goal' of this game is to go as fast as possible, with as much commitment as possible (full body, full voice, full mind), the game's real purpose is to provide a cauldron for growth and self-awareness. Whatever the players' commitment levels, it's the leader's role to encourage and guide rather than chastise and goad. The same goes for all the other games as well.
BUNNY, BUNNY! Another energy transfer game that offers the next level of Coolness Cop work, “Bunny, Bunny!” has three people working together. The person in the middle is responsible for sending (and receiving) the energy, and they cup both hands around their ears while they articulate “Bunny, bunny, bunny...” as loud and fast as they can. At any point they choose, they emphasize one final “BUNNY!” as they extend both their arms toward another singer ... who then becomes the center of the three-person bunny. The two people on the outside cup their outer hand around their outer ear, thus becoming the “outer ears” of the bunny. They say “Bunny, bunny...” along with the central person. “Ah OOO gah!” goes along here as well.
BIPPITY, BIPPITY, BOP! This is rather tricky to explain, but easy and very fun to play. The other aspect that makes this one to consider on a regular basis is that the group can invent their own adaptations, constantly building the possibilities.
The group stands in a circle, with one person volunteering to be in the middle. Their objective is to get someone on the outside of the circle to make a mistake – when that happens, the person/s who made the mistake gets in the middle, and the middle person takes their place on the outside of the circle.
The middle person has several options to begin with, and you will need to teach them to the group before you start to play. Here they are:
- Bippity, bippity, bop! The middle person points assertively at someone on the outside of the circle, looks them right in the eye, and says this phrase as fast as they can. The outside person must say "bop" before the middle person says "bop." Tie goes to the outside.
- Bop! When the middle person points at someone and says this, the outside person says nothing. If they say anything at all, they exchange places.
- Elephant! This is a three-person activity for those on the outside. When the middle person points and says "Elephant!," the person pointed to must extend one arm, wrap it with the other, and touch their nose with the hand of the wrapping arm. They have thus formed the elephant's trunk. The two people on either side hold their arms in a large "C" position (think cheerleading), and hold them with the opening towards the middle "trunk" person. These two are now the ears of the elephant. One more critical part of this (and all the other) three-person activity – the person in the middle MUST count to ten after they name the activity. So, it would sound like this: "Elephant! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten!" If ANY of the three people fail to hit their pose by "ten," they exchange places with the middle person. (With more than one person in the middle, the only difference is that they're told that they have to "work" different parts of the circle.)
- Aviator! Another three-person activity, with the middle person making inverted goggles ("OK" sign inverted and held over the eyes), and the two flanking players extending two arms out to become the bi-plane's wings. Everything else is the same as "Elephant!"
- Charlie's Angels! Another three-person activity, with the middle person holding their hands over their head in a raised pistol position, and the flankers also holding "pistols" but lunging to the sides. It's patterned on the 70's television show tableau.
- Group Creations After the group is comfortable with the above, giving teams a few minutes to come up with other three-person possibilities raises the ownership and fun factor (occasionally adding two or three new ones can spice up the game if you feel it's getting stale).
SOUND TRANSFORMATION CIRCLE This game really ups the ante, giving singers a very strong experience of the Inner Critic and its impact. It also highlights support, trust, and commitment.
Everyone stands in a circle, their eyes closed and one fist extended into the circle (elbow at 90 degrees). One person (director to begin with) starts, and WITH OPEN EYES they move into the middle of the circle and start to walk around.
As they do say, they are vocalizing some repeated sound pattern, which they continue as they let it slowly shift to some other repeated sound pattern. This pattern is gibberish and spontaneous, with “no resemblance” to speech, song, or animal sounds. Usually, somebody will use song or animal sounds, and will also control the sound’s change – shifting abruptly from one pattern to the next. GREAT! In the processing, that can be addressed. Not as “right or wrong,” but as “Anyone notice that the brain tried to control your sound pattern? Anyone notice that it’s scary to just let the sound change itself.
Once the person in the middle comes up with a new sound pattern they like, they go up to one of the people in the circle and they gently tap their fist. The tapped person opens their eyes, and makes the sound with the middle person. Once they get the sound, they move into the middle (eyes open!), and the middle person takes their place and puts their fist down. The new person in the middle now lets the given sound pattern shift to a new one, and takes it to someone who has their fist extended....
When you introduce this one, it’s good to say something like, “If you notice your Coolness Cop or Perfection Police telling you that you couldn’t possible make that sound correctly(!), see if you can talk it down. Remember, it’s all about commitment and not about perfection.” Processing this exercise is a great way to bring out the perspective of the audience – “As an audience member of sorts, what ‘performances’ were the most engaging for you? How does this game relate to Choir?”
SOUND & MOVEMENT TRANSFORMATION CIRCLE Just like Sound Transformation Circle but for these differences: 1) the added element of random and wacky movement for the person in the middle, 2) the people on the outside have their eyes open (no fist out), and optionally, 3) the people on the outside are sitting on the floor, making the ‘hit, hit, CLAP’ rhythm of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
So, one person (you?) volunteers to go first, and they bring random sound and movement patterns into the middle of the circle. They move around, letting both sounds and movements transform until they come up with a set of new patterns which they then present to someone on the outside of the circle (as they ‘stand’ directly in front of them, repeating the patterns until that person joins in).
This is the ‘graduate course’ in the Course of Support, so it’s only recommended once you have successfully built real trust among the choir members. IMPORTANTLY, since this game in particular will terrify some people, really alarming their Inner Critic, let them know ahead of time that anyone can cross their arms over their chest as a sign that they respectfully decline the offer. “Different people will have different levels of trust and comfort, and we respect you wherever you are in the process.”
TRUST CIRCLES A real metaphor for supporting and trusting, this activity starts with six to eight people standing in a close circle, their kicking leg behind them, and their arms out – palms forward. The reason for this is that they are preparing to gently and safely move someone else around ... that someone is standing in the middle of this tight circle, their feet together, their eyes closed, and their arms crossed or entwined over their chest. I give the following instructions: “Person in the middle – feet together, body stiff like a board, and close your eyes. Supporters focus – your objective is to make the person feel safe, nothing else. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and begin.” At that point, the person in the middle falls one way or another, and the people on the outside move them around from one to another. This goes on for about two minutes, then I give a five count countdown at the end of which the person in the middle is centered in the middle of the circle. They then open their eyes and share their experience, including thoughts on what the group can do to make the next person feel safer.
This can be done with very large groups, with many different circles operating simultaneously – but all responding to your vocal directions. As with the Sound Movement Transformation Circle, some people won’t feel comfortable. NO PROBLEM, NO BIG DEAL.
As you do all of the above, you will continually reinforce the notions of safety, mutual respect, dignity, personal differences, support, and personal responsibility. Once the singers embody all of the above, they will be more willing and able to express themselves fully, regardless of the risk involved. Enjoy!
Awakening The Inner Critic And Then Reducing Its Influence
Most of us want to be accepted and loved. Conversely, we don’t want to be judged, criticized, and found unworthy. Perhaps most of all, we don’t want to make a fool out of ourselves in the eyes of others. Because of these core needs, a part of each of us keeps watch, making sure we stay as safe as possible. The greater the perceived threats, the more vigilant this Inner Critic becomes.
While this Inner Critic wants to keep us safe, too much of a good thing will also paralyze us, preventing us from committing to anything which we perceive as risky. If our Inner Critic grows too large, we choose this perceived safety over risk every time, and our power as authentically expressive artists withers. Therefore, it’s extremely helpful for singers to become aware of their own Inner Critic, and – with your help – begin to lessen its impact and restore their full expressive power. I call the Inner Critic the Coolness Cop and/or the Perfection Police – the latter often unconsciously reinforced by a director's perfectionism.
The Inner Critic Questions
When continuing to empower singers toward confident artistry, these questions are often helpful:
- How many of you were aware of your Coolness Cop that time? What was it telling you?
- Was anyone’s Coolness Cop smaller that time? How did that affect your experience?
- How many of you found a way to reduce its power over you? Anyone want to share?
- How did your Coolness Cop affect your voice? Body? Thinking? Share with your neighbor...
- Anybody notice that your Perfection Police was stronger that time? Any ideas why?
- Did anyone have complete success in getting rid of your Inner Critic? What was that like?
- Anybody notice that our collective Coolness Cop was different that time? What was that like for you?
- How did it affect our collective feeling? Our sound? Our movement? Our enjoyment?
Moving Along To reinforce the above, have the singers move a lot during warm-ups (see the "Movement & Warm-ups" page). This could be as simple as them mirroring your random movement, to their juggling imaginary balls, to moving like an animal or athlete. You can also rotate warm-up "Movement Leaders," having each singer lead this aspect during every warm-up. A more structured and formalistic approach to this can be found in Charlotte Adams DVD called "Daily Workout for a Beautiful Voice.”
Summary Teaching from the perspective that each human is precious and deserves respect forms the foundation for joyful expression. Combine this with High Expectations and calm, assertive leadership, and your collaborative experiences can be even more enjoyable for everyone involved.