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My most powerful conversation this week was with one of our Year 12 Prefects who has managed a stutter all his life. He is absolutely beloved, and someone I will track beyond 2019, but I know he feels it acutely.
I asked him, “Will you ever put your hand up to do a speech as part of the Prefect Forum?”
He replied, “It’s unlikely, and anyway, I like leading from behind and doing the behind-the-scenes stuff.”
Me, “I would SO MUCH love to see you do one. Not because it’s going to be easy, but because you’d have everyone backing you. And you’d absolutely kill me, I know that.”
He brushed it off, but I could see him ticking over the unexpected comment.
And then he gave me an unexpected response just as he was leaving the office:
“Ms Kwok, you know that you’ve had a massive impact on how I feel about my speaking, right? I know you’ve got the whole “English-as-a-second-language” thing going on, even though you can HARDLY TELL, but I know you get frustrated at yourself when you can’t get your words out perfectly. But you still get excited and talk the way you do, and you go ALL IN. It makes me feel like I can speak without my stutter stopping me, even though it is so frustrating.”
Kid, you do the same. Every single time you get up and speak, you remind me to do what I do MORE.
I am quick to write off creative pursuits at the end of a long day of teaching.
Despite thinking of myself as a person who is completely happy and comfortable with being creative, being free and playful in the creative realm when I am truly exhausted seems overwhelming. It seems too draining and frivolous when all I want to do is rest and switch off.
Yet now I realise, while I am on holidays and engaging with all things creative, how utterly essential being creative and playful is, especially at the end of long and challenging day.
Just as the opposite of play is not seriousness but depression; the opposite of not being creative is not being still and restful, it is numbing.
Yes, that’s right. Numbing.
At the end of a stressful day, or an argument, or a lesson gone pear-shaped, or on the brink of a challenging conversation, we need to be more playful, more daring and more creative. I couldn’t believe it, but I see it with clarity now. Every time I sit down in front of Netflix, or YouTube, or mindlessly scroll through Facebook, I am not “unwinding” like I think I am; I am numbing. I am zoning-out because I have decided that I am too tired to engage with whatever experiences I have had in the day.
But really, I am avoiding.
How? And what if I am truly tired?
Physical tiredness is inconsequential; you can get to bed earlier, exercise and eat well, and make sure that your body is at its optimum to heal and regain its energy stores.
But emotional tiredness? That requires creativity. It requires a vehicle for expression, and a pathway out into the world where it can be seen and demystified.
It requires voice and play in the quiet and safety of your own mind, away from the noise of the classroom. Away from the demands of leadership, of the assault of angular personalities, grief, sadness, and unresolved issues. It is the voice that soothes the abrasive, stark moments of the day.
The balm that is creativity allows you to do the following:
Being creative is your chance to play in the playground of your own self, heart, and mind. What a crucial part of getting to know yourself! Combine with stillness and silence, and you can truly hear your thoughts, that you may become emotionally strong and perceptive.
So as I sit my exhausted self at the piano and lift my hands to the keys, I remember that with each piece or exercise comes new sounds, healing, ideas, chords, tones, and colours.
As I put pen to page in my journal and write for the five minutes before falling asleep, I see the unspoken words coming forth from me, uncensored, raw and real, authentic, alive, and truthful, that I might make meaning out of my thoughts. That I might see all the places where I have been dutiful, or withheld my true self, or could have done things differently. That I might also catch the wild and amazing ideas that are just below the surface, eager to play.
As I sing, I hear and feel the openness of my voice and how this might feel in rehearsal. I find the satisfaction in producing a beautiful sound, and the wholeness of my body as it aligns in song. I think of how I will share this with my choristers to capture that physical, musical and emotional reward.
As I compose, I practise a skill that is words and music combined. I give energy to silent words on the page and bring them into being, all the while aware that they are guiding my thoughts, and giving courage to my new ideas by existing.
The more tired and exhausted I am, the more I need to be creative.
I was thinking about all the moments that were ever worthwhile between myself and my beautiful Year 12 Tutor Group this year. They are an amazing crew, so many different personalities, talents, characters, and insights. So many different backgrounds and understandings.
The thing about the Year 12s, the most senior of our students, is that they are the easiest and hardest to support and really know. I naively thought this year would be easy; to have the rapport built over the last two years to draw from. And yes, in many ways it is, as I’ve built a strong connection + have a history and storyline with my students.
But in so many ways, it’s harder. They are focused, stressed, and consumed by their thoughts, their lives, and their studies. They have goals and aspirations, and sometimes no time for simple, playful conversation. They are pulling away into the beautiful young adults they are becoming; strong, courageous, young, scrappy, imperfect, and breathtakingly authentic.
And it turns out that I have a fear-factor in me as well. I selfishly need to see some return on my endeavours to support, connect, and open a conversation. Oh, these are good students, they are polite and open in conversation. They will always talk to and laugh with me, accept my help and guidance, and respond to what I ask for.
But that’s not connection. That’s not really knowing them.
So I have been daring my arse off. Every time there has been a “sliding door” moment; a chance to do something a little more silly and playful, creative, imaginative, or to open ups a conversation that might be a little too tender or joyful, I say yes. I do it. I make sure I cheer at every achievement. I celebrate every birthday. I grieve with them. I bring in lollies, brownies, and tissues and spoil them a little bit. I show my stress, my love for them, my gratitude, my frustration, my sense of fun. I unfurl myself and engage, so that they might as well.
And it’s in saying yes to every silly, playful, scary moment and inviting that awkward few seconds of “What if?”, that I have found the most authentic connection between me and my beautiful class of Year 12s, young adults on the brink of taking flight.
What a kid!
Sir Year 6: “Waiting for the end of term to roll around is like watching a giant pimple grow and not being able to pop it. The suspense is killing me!”
Disgusting, but very apt.
I have been giving this Miss Year 10 choral hell. Basically, I want her in my Senior Concert Choir. She toured with me earlier this year, totally needs to audition, but absolutely refuses to.
I’ve forbidden her to quit choir, so for the past term and a half she’s been idling in 2nd gear in Grammarphones as a section leader, continuing to refuse to audition. Every time she has missed a rehearsal, even the legit ones, I’ve pinged home an email to her parents within the hour.
She hates me for that, but grudgingly goes along with it.
She is the most fabulous “jam with the radio” singer you can get, she finds harmonies where others flail aimlessly, and she’s sass on legs. She is FUN to have around, and quietly yet sassily lifts the morale of the people around her with her hilarious one-liners.
Imagine my surprise when I received this email from her. It came yesterday, but I refused to read it for fear that it was the official “I Am Allowed To Quit With Parental Support”, which would have totally pissed me off.
I cried. Then I read it again, and cried some more. 😭