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Unleashing Greatness


A year ago I watched with pride as my seniors delivered their senior presentations. These TED-style talks, 8-12 minutes in length, brought out the very best in most of my students. They were creative, authentic, professional talks that combined many of the skills that we worked on all year: developing arguments, incorporating evidence, integrating narrative, and, perhaps best of all, speaking with authority and passion.

For years now students have delivered these talks while standing in the front of my classroom. But in a moment of epiphany twelve months ago, I caught a new vision for these presentations. I could see my students standing on the stage in Timberline's beautiful auditorium, microphone in hand, stage lights shining, and a large screen behind them replacing the small one in my room.

This idea, so potent, so vivid in my mind, filled me with joy and excitement. My heart raced every time I imagined how spectacular this could be. I could imagine them upping their presentation game to fit this much larger venue. I got lost in visions of parents and siblings coming to watch, of other students filling the auditorium.

But this idea also filled me with trepidation. The logistics alone seemed nearly insurmountable. How would I secure the use of the auditorium without depriving our music and theater programs of the valuable performance space? How would I learn to use the lights, the sound, the big screen? And what if my students simply balked at the idea? Would I give them an out? Should there be an option for those who simply couldn't bring themselves to get up on the stage?

Like so many big, scary ideas, this one pulled at me. In spite of the many reasons not to do it, I couldn't quit thinking about all the reasons to do it. I talked about it whenever anyone would listen. From administrators to colleagues to coaches to parents, every person who heard my story gave me a green light. I even described the idea to my students in the waning days of last year's presentations. Their response stoked the fire that was already beginning to burn. They were overwhelmingly positive about the idea and many of them expressed disappointment that they wouldn't have this opportunity. I distinctly remember one girl--a quiet student who I would have predicted would hate the idea--told me this: "Do it. And don't give them an option. If you gave me an out, I would take it, but if you didn't, I'd end up on the stage, and I know I'd be glad I'd done it."

In the fall I had my first meeting with the man who had the power to squash this dream. Jose Rodriguez is Timberline's highly respected and inspiring band director. He is also the man in charge of scheduling and maintaining our auditorium. I took my crazy idea to Jose, giving him the big picture first to see if this was even a possibility. Like everyone else, Jose gave me the green light. He assured me that using the stage, the lights, the sound, and the screen would be doable. I told him about my ideal window (the last three weeks with seniors), and he said that only a few of those dates were already claimed by other programs.

Fast forward six months and I found myself one April afternoon getting a tour of the auditorium from Jose. I was taking notes (learning how to use the sound board, microphones, lights, etc), and we were nearly done when he said this to me: "I see you're taking notes, but you're not going to remember it all. It's complicated. I am prepared to help you set up--every day. I don't want you to hesitate to send for me when you get stuck." That's the moment I was pretty sure this was going to work. (Sidenote: we were at least six days into presentations before I was able to make everything work without calling for Jose's help, and he was true to his word. He was always ready to help and never impatient with my various snags.)

My pastor often says to our congregation "I am surrounded by greatness." He means us. He is our leader, but he knows it takes a community to makes great things happen. My cousin co-opted and adapted this phrase for her first graders. She teaches them that they are full of greatness. And now it's my turn.

I am surrounded my greatness. This greatness comes in the form of administrators, colleagues, and friends who said "go!"

But I've buried the lead. The true greatness of this story belongs to my students. These amazing seniors have, over the last three weeks, walked up those scary steps to the stage. They have held that intimidating microphone in their hands, and they have shown me over and over that when I give them a great venue, it unleashes their greatness. On topics from the ridiculous to the sublime, they have made me laugh and weep and think and burst my buttons with pride. They have owned that big, beautiful, scary stage.

They have surpassed my expectations and shown me every single day why this is an idea that wouldn't let me go.


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  1. Brilliant idea from a teacher who is full of greatness.

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