Stuck in the Middle: You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
This spring, one of the highlights, at North Saanich, was our Showcase of Performing Arts. A big part of middle school is giving students opportunities to try new things and to take some learning chances. Showcase is an event that allows our students take risks in front of a friendly and supportive group of family and friends.
When I was sitting in the back of the MPR watching our students perform, I was amazed by their willingness to step on stage, in front of a crowd and perform. Despite the hours they had put into practicing, it takes a great deal of courage to stand up in front of an audience.
The talent at our school is diverse in variety and experience, but each student's performance was special. Students sang, danced, acted, and played music. As I watched our students this year, I marveled at their talent and kept wondering if I could have done that when I was their age.
Sing? Definitely not. Dance? Pretty sure I would trip. Play a musical instrument? I have been practicing guitar for two years and I still can not make it through Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl to play for my wife on our anniversary.
A couple of students even did a lip sync, and I am positive that I am no Milli Vanilli. I tried that once already in the early 1990’s without much success. Blamed that colossal mistake on the rain!
And then a student and did something I could do. He juggled! I learned to juggle while sitting in the dugout as a young baseball player. Baseball is a great game, but there is a lot of downtime. This gave me the time to learn how to keep three balls in the air at once.
But then in the bright lights of the Showcase stage, our North Saanich juggler added a couple of new moves. Five minutes later he was doing tricks that I would expect to see in the circus or even on a stage in Vegas. I was impressed and wondered if I could add to my juggling repertoire.
The next day on the playground, I asked our juggling genius to show me a new trick. He went to his locker and brought back his juggling balls. He tried to show me a move that was more about deception than juggling. It looked easy! Five minutes later, every time he showed me it still looked easy and every time I tried to do it I dropped the balls.
A small crowd gathered around to watch me attempt this new juggling trick. Eventually, a grade 8 boy tried to be supportive by saying, “At least you can juggle. I can’t even do the basic juggle.”
“I could teach you to do the basic juggling of three balls in two steps,” I replied.
“I don’t think so,” he responded.
Less than two minutes later he was juggling three balls with ease. It is amazing how quickly the adolescent brain can pick up new things.
Over the last couple of weeks, I haven’t had much success with learning that new juggling move. It is amazing how slowly the middle-aged brain picks up new things. I can still do all the moves I learned as a young boy, but I can’t seem to pick up this new one.
And that is why it is so important for middle school students to try new things. Science shows that the greatest spurts and growth in brain development, after infancy, occur just around adolescence. So middle school is a great time for students to try and learn new things.
At North Saanich Middle School, students can perform in front of an audience at Showcase, and they can quickly learn new and exciting things if they engage in them, but it is harder to teach an old dog (or principal) new tricks.