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Your Belief System and Your Church (20): Take Risks and Give Away Control

Taking risks in a public setting such as teaching or preaching directly activates one’s fear of failure. The most rewarding intrinsic accomplishment I ever made was eliminating my fear of failure and need to control. Beyond fear of failure is a wonderful realm of freedom and excitement. It is the freedom to explore new territories, and the excitement of out-of-the-box successes. The process to get beyond was at first scary and later intoxicating.

THE FIRST RISK. I will never forget the first time I risked giving students control (also mentioned in Ownership Creates Success). I was so accustomed to imposing answers that I had never thought to ask for them. One day, a serious crash-and-burn caused the students’ bad attitudes to run all over the place. Out of utter frustration, I asked them to tell me everything that went wrong, what should be the right way, and how the wrong should be corrected. Since everything was out of my control anyway, I took a huge risk in involving them in both the problem assessment and solving. This moment was scary for me. I felt I was admitting personal failure by asking the students. I was allowing myself to be transparent by uncovering the fear of failure within me in a public manner. To my utter surprise, the students accurately listed everything that went wrong even to the exact spot in the music and within themselves where the collapse began and why. (All along I thought I had to explain their errors to them—instead they were explaining them to me—with amazing precision.) I remember saying, “All right, we’re doing it again, and since you know what went wrong—go ahead and fix it!” Another shock, they did! It was perfect.

ONE RISK LEADS TO ANOTHER. One successful risk encourages taking another. So I decided I would no longer control or conduct music performance in my classroom. From then on, I gave a measure preparation to begin the music, and purposefully stepped aside, leaning against the wall. While simultaneously playing and singing, the students had to listen very carefully to each other and make all their own music judgments as they performed. I took the risk of giving away control to them, and they accepted it by responding with the highest levels of musical integrity. I did not realize the full ramifications of this until one day an incident happened with a student teacher. Miss M. (name changed) tried to give a fifth grade class a duple meter prep to sing a triple meter song. That is the same as conducting a march while playing a waltz. They silently sat there politely looking at her. She tried it again and received no response. After her third attempt, most of the class simultaneously turned around and looked at me in the back of the room. So I responded, “Well, what should we do when someone makes a mistake?” “Practice,” they all said, “you make us do it!” So I modeled the prep and asked Miss M. to copy me. She copied incorrectly. I asked her to listen very carefully to a certain part in the prep and had her echo me again. When she performed it correctly, the class spontaneously applauded her. I did not tell them which was correct, they automatically knew. I was so surprised by what happened that I thought about it all evening. What musical discernment was I teaching them? This was scary. My fifth grade students successfully evaluated a college music major who was the number one horn player in the music department?!?

MORE DARING RISKS. I had a fourth grade class that was very much negatively influenced by a single individual named Rusty (name changed). Rusty was a young boy who was a street-wise, macho-man bully. Knowing that a negative attitude was the undercurrent of this class and at any moment it could surface, I was very careful in how I handled their behaviors and what music I taught them. The constant pressure of keeping them in line was a stressful balancing act. Under these circumstances, their musicianship and mine were withering. One day, I abandoned all rational reason. I popped in a CD of some beautiful orchestral music and right in front of the students’ eyes, I swept around the room in interpretive movements to the ebb and flow of the music. [The students always sat in a U so I had the entire center of the room to move freely right up to their faces while maintaining eye contact.] The astonished students astonished me. They begged to get up and do the same. I allowed each row in the U to have their turn moving to the music. The music class then ended. Through moving and maintaining eye contact, I risked letting the students see down into my music soul. Next time that class came to music, I had the surprise of my life! The most unlikely one in the whole class asked if we could dance the expressive music again—Rusty.

EXTRAORDINARY BECOMES NORMAL. Success and musical perfection became an ordinary, normal happening in my classroom. Excellence was not our goal—it was our every day mode of existence. The students’ creative and artistic achievements would stir my creativity to go deeper. At the end of a successful performance, I would say to them, “Your wonderful music just gave me five additional ideas on how we can make this harder. Which one would you like to do first?” Every single time in any grade, their answer was without exception, “The HARDEST one!” What a wonderful motivation to learn!

RISKS ARE INTOXICATING. Beyond the fear of failure is an intoxicating addiction to greater risks and greater successes. I formed a music class of fourth and fifth graders to practice two days a week after school, and I promised them we would learn the most difficult Orff-Schulwerk music arrangements I could find or write. And we did. Classical masterworks such as arrangements of Mozart’s Magic Flute opera, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Movement 4, Mahler’s Symphony 1 “The Titan,” Movement 3, and Rachmaninoff’s Vesper #5. Latin music such as The Macarena (with lyrics deleted, of course). The theme songs to movies such as Titanic and Rigoletto. Music modes from Gregorian Chants, to canons in the Baroque style, all the way through boogie-woogie, blues, and jazz. In addition to anything multi-rhythmic and multi-modal, we learned all high level (inferential) skills such as rhythmic and melodic improvising. The students were limitless in what they achieved—we knew no boundaries. So I video recorded them and sent it away to be adjudicated. In that year, they were invited to perform at the Orff-Schulwerk National and MENC All-Eastern conferences. We expanded into performing at all exclusive restaurants and country clubs in our city, as well as additional conferences. The students grew into loving risk taking. They never knew who was going to be “on deck” in a performance for improvising rhythms and melodies for the audience until I made the announcement just before the music began. They had to make a multitude of musical judgments and decisions in the act of performing right in front of a live audience.

THE ULTIMATE RISK. One year I was assigned to teach ninth grade general music. If you know anything about ninth graders grouped together, it is called “misery loves company.” They are helplessly stuck in a tug of war between just having settled in to adolescence and attempting to comprehend adulthood. The best course of action for dealing with ninth graders is to duck-tape them to a wall and release them when they reach grade 12. A rare few can be released at grade 11. I decided to take a great risk on them and let them choose their own music curriculum. I showed them their previous music teacher’s music history books, the stack of classical music recordings, and worksheets with blanks to fill in. That is how they were mostly taught music in grades kindergarten through eight. Did they want more of the same? I also showed them my inferential, hands-on music curriculum of creating, improvising, composing, arranging, performing, notating, describing, and evaluating. I took a great risk and let them choose their curriculum. The class vote was unanimous! They chose hands-on! (In secondary school, it is better that the students have their hands on music instruments, than having their hands on each other.) We went to work immediately. It was tough for them as they had not been previously taught music skills or music understanding, so we took it slowly and carefully. A few weeks later, a mom walked up to me and said, “So you’re the Mr. Knauss I’ve heard about! What did you do to my son? He’s hated music for the last nine years since kindergarten, and now he comes home talking about nothing but music. What is going on?” I later found out that Mom was a school board member. What a reward of having a ninth grade boy who hated music from the beginning, become open to music for the rest of his life!

ABOUT THEM AND MYSELF. In all these ways of taking risks and giving away control to my students, I learned two major things about them and myself. (1) The more I tried to discover the learning boundaries of my students (which I never found), the more I learned about my teaching limitations. The more control I gave away and the greater risks I took, the more learning freedom my students evidenced. The proportion of one to the other was as if I was their earth, they were the solar system, or if I was their Milky Way galaxy, they were the universe. (2) The more I gave the students control and valued their input as equal to mine, treating them as equals to me, the more they loved me, music, and each other, in that order, and the more they took ownership for their own music learning.

Pastor, just the same as I discovered in my classroom, you too can give your congregation bondage or freedom. It all depends on your belief system over them. How much are you willing to take risks and give away control? What ways can you do this in your church? How have you engendered love and respect for you, the ministry of the church, and each other?

Your Belief System and Your Church: (1) Introduction

Your Belief System and Your Church: (2) Your Paradigms

Your Belief System and Your Church: (3) Bondage or Freedom

Your Belief System and Your Church: (4) Gateway Skills

Your Belief System and Your Church: (5) Teacher Accountability

Your Belief System and Your Church: (6) Talking About vs. Doing

Your Belief System and Your Church: (7) Student Accountability

Your Belief System and Your Church: (8) Assessment

Your Belief System and Your Church: (9) Bury Dead Tradition

Your Belief System and Your Church: (10) Teaching vs. Learning

Your Belief System and Your Church: (11) Teachers' Three Phases

Your Belief System and Your Church: (12) Excellence is NOT a Goal

Your Belief System and Your Church: (13) My Teaching Limits Were Their Learning Limits

Your Belief System and Your Church: (14) Unlearning Creates Success

Your Belief System and Your Church: (15) Pioneers vs. Settlers

Your Belief System and Your Church: (16) Real and Lasting Learning

Your Belief System and Your Church: (17) Problems With Memory

Your Belief System and Your Church: (18) Ownership Creates Success

Your Belief System and Your Church: (19) Not Perfect, But Honest

Your Belief System and Your Church: (20) Take Risks and Give Away Control

Your Belief System and Your Church: (21) Out of a Job

Your Belief System and Your Church: (22) KCAASE and Proverbs 24

Your Belief System and Your Church: (23) Responding vs. Reacting

Your Belief System and Your Church: (24) Only When Performed

Your Belief System and Your Church: (25) A Supervisor's Vision

Your Belief System and Your Church: (26) Glimpses Into the Spiritual

Your Belief System and Your Church: (27) One Reason Alone

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I wonder what would happen if one took these same risks in all areas of life...
And Pastors some of us express all sorts of negative reactions when we feel like we are being control. Aside from pride, what do you lose by stepping back, giving us a bit of control and letting us think it was our idea?

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