Encouragement Comes in All Forms.
I was thinking this as my wife was sharing with me the highlights of her Body Attack Exercise Class as we were both leaving the YMCA. She shared with me how the instructor was a motivating force for each participant. Although the instructor was earnest and firm in her encouragement, it made my wife want to excel even more and push harder. Now the encouragement from the instructor was not typical, my wife further explained. The instructor possessed the right balance of firmness and compassion. My wife said it was hard to explain but she just felt inspired to excel with the cardio challenge at hand.
The impact of encouragement is best felt when it is recognized by all involved in the endeavor. I know that this happens in any kind of collective pursuit such as musical performance. I am thinking of two songs which can serve as examples for this contagious encouragement felt by all playing the tune in the moment.
“Push, Push!” and 27 Choruses at Newport
Madison Square Garden, New York City, 1973: There is a moment in the live version of “The Song Remains the Same” where lead singer Robert Plant shouts “Push, Push, Push!” in the middle of the song. The song is an energetic paen to the universal power of music. It is a stirring anthem and drives hard like a chariot race on a superhighway. Robert Plant makes a rapid fire call of encouragement by chanting, “Push, Push, Push!” several times throughout the song and you can sense the momentum increase. The band hears this and seems to hit another level of energy within the song. It is as if Robert Plant’s rally cry of “Push!” motivates guitarist Jimmy Page to ignite his twin-neck Gibson SG guitar to stratospheric power chords. Bassist John Paul Jones and Percussionist John Bonham lock into an immaculate groove foundation following the electric guitar chord frenzy. A recognition of the positive moment by Robert Plant inspires the other band members to a greater height within the song.
Newport Jazz Festival, 1956: The Duke Ellington Orchestra is on the bill for a live performance at this annual gathering of Jazz Nirvana. The tape is rolling on a performance being deemed as a comeback of sorts for The Duke and his faithful band. The sheet music is gathered for a 1937 composition entitled “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.” It is an extended piece of the Duke’s. It included room for Ellington sidekick and saxophonist, Paul Gonsalves, to solo what was later called “The Wailing Interval.” Paul Gonsalves steps up to the microphone and proceeds to take the entire festival crowd on a Jazz odyssey with a saxophone solo lasting 27 choruses. The crowd is on their feet dancing to the steady rhythm of the Duke Ellington Orchestra backing Gonsalves’ “Wailing Interval.” On the recording, you can hear the Duke himself encouraging Paul Gonsalves in such an unabashedly affirmative way. His chants of encouragement inspire the rest of the band to follow suit which in turn compels the audience to do the same. The audience is so worked up in the joy of this musical encouragement that mild chaos erupted at the conclusion of the performance. The Duke had to calm the crowd in order for the set to continue. Duke Ellington conducts on two different levels during this performance. He fulfills his role as orchestra conductor on the literal level. On another level, he is conducting encouragement in his bandmates and modeling it for the audience. Duke Ellington is in complete trust of his bandmate Paul Gonsalves to carry the performance to a level of transcendence for the festival.
A few weeks ago, I was in an impromptu meeting with our Guidance Counselor and Assistant Principal. We were brainstorming ways to welcome back our teachers for our new school year. Our purpose was to structure positive and inviting ways to continue building our school culture. Many ideas were shared and we kept building upon the positive foundation each person shared. The energy in the room was contagious. We were getting excited for our teachers to return to set the tone for what we believe will be a year of greatness for our school community. I was so caught up in the moment of the positive things being planned that I pressed paused on our brainstorming with this comment: “Hear that? That’s the sound of synergy!” We all exchanged agreeable nods and sincere smiles knowing that we were in the midst of making positive action for our teachers.
I am nowhere near the vocal splendor of Robert Plant nor am do I possess the compositional genius of Duke Ellington. What made their music so lasting is the fact that intentional pauses were made to tune into the positive moment of synergy. This intentionality created an awareness which led their respective bands to greater heights. I aspire to capture those moments as they both did respectively in “The Song Remains the Same” and “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.” It is vital to my role as Principal/Lead Learner to recognize those moments of synergy in a clear, supportive and visceral way.
It is equally important for school leaders (and really all leaders) to intentionally hold up the banner of synergy for all to recognize and celebrate. This awareness of the sounds of synergy among educators strengthens the collaboration that is essential in the schoolhouse. The awareness in turn creates an environment for all educators and students to tune into positive waves of synergy. This builds a welcoming core of community within the schoolhouse.
We have to be relentless in this pursuit of recognizing when positivity lands in the moment of collaboration in the schoolhouse. The recognition shows others that the synergy of collaboration is doing what is best for our kids.