Saturday, March 29, 2014

Let's Climb That Mountain Today

I wrote this article in January, 2010.  I have never published it before today.  I have revisited it several times over the past 3 years and decided that I wanted it included in my blog.  I still feel very deeply about the ideas presented here.  

Anyone who has spent much time with me socially or professionally knows I believe in the power of strong communities. Strong communities are built on close, communicative relationships.  As an orchestra director, I see the performing ensemble as a community, and I believe the best musical results occur when the performers understand the importance of their relationships, both musically and personally.  Relationships are the foundation of great music, great ensembles and strong communities.

 I recently have been thinking a great deal about the two-way relationship that exists between instructors and students and the unique environment NCSSM provides.  Clearly, students at NCSSM, and all institutions, need their teachers.  They rely on their teachers for information, feedback, tutoring, academic and emotional support, recommendations, information on academic opportunities and mentoring among a wide variety of other things.  Yet, in recent weeks, I have become aware of how much we, as instructors, need our students as well.  We certainly thrive on that “a-ha” moment of discovery and how it motivates us to find new and different ways to explain concepts and facilitate discovery learning.  We enjoy the exuberance of our students as they navigate the social and academic landscape of our institution, and we are all aware of the limited amount of time we are given with them. 

I have heard it said more than a few times recently that the best teachers are the ones who are continually learning from their students. I know I go into every day with a true knowledge I am going to learn something new that day, and my students will play a huge role in the learning process.  I believe we, as teachers, need our students’ genuine enthusiasm for our passions. For, without it, our lives wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilling.  As a colleague recently said, when it is working the way it ought to, we are not just filling our students’ cup – they are contributing as well.   

We also sometimes need our students in more tangible ways.    I was pleased to recently attend a conference session where Jacqueline Dillon Krass, one of the pioneers and leaders in the field of string education was speaking.  She is now in her early 90’s and mentioned she needs her students as much as they need her.  And, she had become more aware of it in recent months following knee surgery.  She literally needed her students to help her get around, while confined to a wheel-chair.  During this presentation, I reflected on the relationship NCSSM teachers have with students. I have always believed great education begins with strong relationships between student and teachers. Great communities are built on these relationships. Ultimately, that is what I am speaking about here.

While connecting with alumni has always been important to me, Facebook and other social networking sites have facilitated meaningful daily dialogue and renewed relationships with many former students. As a result of this social media, I have reconnected with students from the past 20 plus years, and I have been humbled and enriched by these rekindled relationships.   I have been in regular touch with students that I haven’t seen or heard from in that time. I am thankful for these renewed relationships. They have brought meaning and new insights to my teaching and life today.

Shortly after the new year in 2010, our community was stunned to learn of the passing of Corey Dunn (’06).  Corey held one of those important places in my life for the time he was here at NCSSM from 2004-2006.  Corey truly was one of those rare students I could tell would be part of my life well after he left NCSSM.  We had a special connection that resulted from common interests and attitudes about life, family, and fun that we both sensed beginning the first day he showed up at my office, bright-eyed and eager to let me know he would be my new work-service student.  I never had Corey in class. He was my work-service student during his junior year, and we stayed in close touch throughout his senior year, spending a great deal of time planning for and participating in the first Team NCSSM MS Bike Tour Event in the fall of 2005.

Corey was an adventurer, and he always had an infectious glint in his eyes.  I told Corey, on several occasions that I often thought my kids might grow up to be like him.  (They looked very similar to Corey – blond hair, blue eyes, and small stature.  And, they have a similar love for action and fun.) And, if they grow up to be like him, I will be thrilled. During his time at NCSSM, Corey and I had many conversations about his life and his adventures with friends and family. He wanted to know about my family, too.  He was interested in my boys, our family life, our activities, and my music.  It was this mutual interest and the type of communication that builds rich relationships.

Corey had an incredible ZEAL for life. I remember asking him one day why he was so fidgety, and he replied, “I just have to keep moving – I have so much energy!”  One of his best friends told a story at his memorial service about a particular day they shared while traveling in Europe. Corey woke up, looked out the window, pointed to a mountain in the Swiss Alps and said, “You see that mountain over there?  We are going to climb it today!” That was Corey.  Every day, there was a new mountain waiting to be climbed just outside the window.

In 2004, when we began to plan the first Team NCSSM bike event, Corey was the first to sign up.  He was so excited to be part of it and his enthusiasm encouraged me through the event. When it was all said and done, only two students participated, Corey and Michael Lavarnway (06), along with faculty members Kevin Cromwell, Michael Reidy and me.   Corey became the center of the event. His boundless energy and eagerness were contagious, and we all fed off his liveliness. He was enthusiastic about every aspect of the weekend, from our 4:00 a.m. departure, to the unlimited food, the camping, the people and the cycling.  He even got a new bike in preparation for the ride.   At the event, Corey rode over 200 miles in two days.  We were all amazed at his approach and were even more stunned when we found out he rode the first day without a pair of bike shorts (which make a long bike ride much more comfortable).  Corey knew he was a pioneer in this event.  Somehow, I think he knew his efforts would keep me going.  They certainly did. In subsequent years, our MS Bike event has grown quite large and we have had much success with Team NCSSM. But, it would have never happened without Corey and the relationship we developed through the event. 

I have thought of Corey a great deal lately. The relationship we shared was a special one, and I am keenly aware of the strong relationships that are developed at NCSSM between students, faculty, SLI’s, staff, and others.   I believe our strength is in our relationships.  Never before have I been so aware of the wonderful things that I learn and gain from my students. Corey has certainly been a part of that awareness.  Today, I think I will climb that mountain.

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