How often do we say ‘I don’t know how you do it’, when – really – we do? It’s easy to assume others have hidden talents we don’t. But we all have things we are good at that we just take for granted.
How Do You Do It?
I was having coffee, just earlier today, with a dear friend. I was talking about some composing work that may be coming my way. He said ‘I don’t know how you do it’. To which I replied ‘what?’. ‘Just make something up, out of no-where’ he replied.
The friend in question is an architect. I asked him ‘well, how do you go about designing a house?’. He then proceeded to explain that he would begin with a plot of land (this was represented by the cutlery and condiments on our table). Then, he would see where the access to the property would be (a spoon became the gateway). Next, he would note whether a road ran alongside (a napkin). And, he would consider which way was North, in relation to the property, to see where the natural light would fall.
Given these parameters, he would decide where best to position the house, so that there may be privacy from the road. Ideally this would allow space for a garden to the South side, to make best use of the sunshine. He would consider, perhaps, having a kitchen somewhere where the evening light may fall upon a window (a pepper-pot) and locate a garage (salt-cellar) near to the entrance, where it would not obscure any views.
The Same Process
‘Well, it’s the same process’, I said. I will ascertain how long a piece of music needs to be; what sections are required. what instrumentation is desirable. Often – if it is a commission – I will be given a ‘guide track’, which will provide a ready-made set of parameters. From this, I can deduce: tempo; style; genre; degrees of texture and ‘layers’; whether there are repetitions and motifs; whether the piece is melodic, atonal or abstract. Once these constraints are in place, it is more or less a question of filling in the spaces.
We both agreed that the difficult bit is then to find some kind of inspiration to do the creative bit. And where that comes from is hard to define. However, once you have essentially created a playground within which to play (whether musically, visually, dramatically or whatever), then it really is just a matter of playing. Ring any bells? Of course it does!
Let Them Loose
As a teacher, you follow this process all the time. You give your pupils a set of parameters within which to operate and essentially let them loose. Obviously, if the underlying subject is mathematics, then the children won’t be allowed to roam too far. But in more creative subjects, they have freedom to explore.
As someone whose connection with education is through creative movement (or – for want of a better term – ‘dance’), it is often apparent to me that many teachers are a little intimidated by this subject. Many ask ‘how do you do that?’ – or, more often, ‘how should I do that?’. To which, the answer is: you don’t have to. Or rather, you don’t have to do anything beyond your already considerable capabilities.
‘What? Me? Considerable capabilities?’. Yes. You. Stop and think for a moment. How many people outside of the teaching profession think to themselves ‘how do they do that?’. I can tell you: a good many. Plenty of people – myself included – would be filled with dread at the thought of having to inspire, lead and nurture young people on a daily basis. What you do is, in short, amazing.
So, any fears you may be harbouring over teaching subject areas that fall outside your natural comfort zone are unfounded. Especially when you pause to consider that you do know how to teach. And, by extension, you can teach anything. Very much like designing a house or composing a piece of music, it really is just a question of defining your playground. Once your pupils understand the parameters within which they are allowed to play, they will naturally get on and do that: play.
You Already Know
And what is primary education at its best, if not structured play? Interestingly, in demonstrating to me how he designs a house, my friend resorted to a form of play. Our table top became the playground and our imaginations did the playing. So, in answer to the question: ‘how do you do that?’, the answer is quite simple: ‘you already know’.