Since I was a little girl I have heard people say “they were in their element”…
I knew that it meant that they were enjoying what they were doing and always thought it was a brilliant thing. But then I read the brilliant Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element: How finding your Passion Changes Everything and the phrase took on a whole new meaning.
I have always believed that everyone has at least one gift, whether it is for astrophysics, painting, gardening or being a really great friend and everything in between. This has been brought home to me even more over the last few weeks watching my husband working.
If you read my katebeddow.co.uk blog you will know that our family have been through something of a metamorphosis over the last six weeks. If you are interested to know more why not pop over and read my last couple of blogs.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, for those of you that don’t know my husband, he is one seriously talented guy. He is a musician, composer, audio technician, videographer and video editer, journalist, commentator… he even dabbles in graphic design and does so brilliantly! If you ask anyone he has ever created anything for they will corroborate that he does everything to the highest possible standard and has changed many lives with his gifts.
In all our 18 years together though he has never been able to work with anyone watching him, well not me certainly. So for years I have seen these amazing finished projects and not known how or what he had done to create them. I knew how talented he was but had never seen him in his “element”.
However, as I mentioned earlier, over the last few weeks our family has undergone a pretty dramatic transformation and now when he is busy (and he always is!) instead of me sitting alone watching tele or having a bath I sometimes sit with him while he works.
It is incredible!
My mind is completely blown by the way his brain works. He can write a piece of music with so many layers of instruments that my brain can barely differentiate between the sounds and he knows exactly where each note needs to be and how it should sound, and he plays all the instruments himself. If you have ever used any of my MP3s he produces all those for me and writes the music underneath them and they are basic compared to what he creates for himself! If you are interested please do go look at his music website. He is just finishing his fourth album and it is truly amazing.
But then, as if that isn’t enough, ten minutes later he is editing a video for a documentary he is making at the moment and he is choosing different camera angles and clipping them together seamlessly and effortlessly. He watches two or three minutes then just puts a marker in, what to me seems like a completely random place, and then puts the two shots together and the sound and video are perfectly synced! It is genuinely like witchcraft to me!
When Ian is working with audio or video he is totally in his element. He may enjoy working on certain projects more than others but he is able to do everything instinctively. He genuinely struggles to believe that it is something unique to him, he believes on some level that anyone can do it.
As I have sat watching him it made me wonder, why we don’t capitalise on these amazing gifts more at school.
Obviously when we have 30+ children in a class it is very difficult to nurture each and every one’s unique spark, but once upon a time we a little more had time and flexibility to discover what each child excelled at. When I was at primary school in the 80’s in infants (KS1) we had “free choice” almost every afternoon! All our curriculum was completed in the morning and the afternoon was for art, crafts, DT, PE, music, construction. Even at the start of KS2 we had Friday afternoons “free choice”. We had a nature table, musical instruments, art and craft materials, lots of physical play and none of the things we did at school felt “more important” than the others, not until we got to high school anyway.
Often now I hear from children how they are “rubbish”, “stupid”, “not clever enough”… yet they are bright and beautiful children who are being made to feel like failures because Maths and English aren’t their “element”. They might have the ability to be the next James Dyson, Darcey Bussell or Freddie Mercury but because their self esteem has been dinted they may never be brave enough to try, or even worse, they may never even discover that they have that ability.
My husband’s school reports were full of comments like “if he knew as much about history as he does about The Beatles and football then maybe he would achieve more”. Well, maybe he would have got better results in history, but becoming a historian was never his thing. Listening to lots of great quality music growing up undoubtedly developed his ear and deepened his passion for all things musical though. He might have spent a lot of time playing and watching football. But if he hadn’t spent all those hours recording his own commentaries into a tape machine in front of the TV he would have found it almost impossible to become a BBC Sports commentator.
All those moments we spend immersed in something that truly makes us feel happy and alive are all learning and growing too. Not everyone is destined to be an academic and as teachers it is important to remember that and not get caught up in worrying about how Johnny’s lack of interest in all things mathematical are going to impact on our results this year. Johnny might not be good at maths but he might be passionate about plants or sport or music or caring for people. All those skills are just as valuable and needed in the world.
I know too many people who as children were made to feel “thick” or “stupid” because they didn’t fit into the box that school wanted to put them in. Many of those people are contributing to the world in a much greater capacity than their classmates who were top of the class now they are out in the real world.
Hopefully no teachers now would ever intentionally make a child feel this way and certainly wouldn’t ever use that language. How much of it is implied by the emphasis placed on particular subjects at school though?
So much of our mental wellness is dependent upon feeling valued and valuable that if we believe we have nothing to offer the world it can lead to serious depression and stress.
What is your special gift? Have you ever sat down and really thought about it?
We all know that every child is special but imagine how wonderful a world would be if we were given the time and flexibility to really discover what has the potential to make every child soar.
GILLIAN WAS ONLY eight years old, but her future was already at risk. Her schoolwork was a disaster, at least as far as her teachers were concerned. She turned in assignments late, her handwriting was terrible, and she tested poorly. Not only that, she was a disruption to the entire class, one minute fidgeting noisily, the next staring out the window, forcing the teacher to stop the class to pull Gillian’s attention back, and the next doing something to disturb the other children around her. Gillian wasn’t particularly concerned about any of this—she was used to being corrected by authority figures and really didn’t see herself as a difficult child—but the school was very concerned. This came to a head when the school wrote to her parents.
The school thought that Gillian had a learning disorder of some sort and that it might be more appropriate for her to be in a school for children with special needs. All of this took place in the 1930s. I think now they’d say she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and they’d put her on Ritalin or something similar. But the ADHD epidemic hadn’t been invented at the time. It wasn’t an available condition. People didn’t know they could have that and had to get by without it.
Gillian’s parents received the letter from the school with great concern and sprang to action. Gillian’s mother put her daughter in her best dress and shoes, tied her hair in ponytails, and took her to a psychologist for assessment, fearing the worst.
Gillian told me that she remembers being invited into a large oak-paneled room with leather-bound books on the shelves. Standing in the room next to a large desk was an imposing man in a tweed jacket. He took Gillian to the far end of the room and sat her down on a huge leather sofa. Gillian’s feet didn’t quite touch the floor, and the setting made her wary. Nervous about the impression she would make, she sat on her hands so that she wouldn’t fidget.
The psychologist went back to his desk, and for the next twenty minutes, he asked Gillian’s mother about the difficulties Gillian was having at school and the problems the school said she was causing. While he didn’t direct any of his questions at Gillian, he watched her carefully the entire time. This made Gillian extremely uneasy and confused. Even at this tender age, she knew that this man would have a significant role in her life. She knew what it meant to attend a “special school,” and she didn’t want anything to do with that. She genuinely didn’t feel that she had any real problems, but everyone else seemed to believe she did. Given the way her mother answered the questions, it was possible that even she felt this way.
Maybe, Gillian thought, they were right.
Eventually, Gillian’s mother and the psychologist stopped talking. The man rose from his desk, walked to the sofa, and sat next to the little girl.
“Gillian, you’ve been very patient, and I thank you for that,” he said. “But I’m afraid you’ll have to be patient for a little longer. I need to speak to your mother privately now. We’re going to go out of the room for a few minutes. Don’t worry; we won’t be very long.”
Gillian nodded apprehensively, and the two adults left her sitting there on her own. But as he was leaving the room, the psychologist leaned across his desk and turned on the radio.
As soon as they were in the corridor outside the room, the doctor said to Gillian’s mother, “Just stand here for a moment, and watch what she does.” There was a window into the room, and they stood to one side of it, where Gillian couldn’t see them. Nearly immediately, Gillian was on her feet, moving around the room to the music. The two adults stood watching quietly for a few minutes, transfixed by the girl’s grace. Anyone would have noticed there was something natural—even primal—about Gillian’s movements. Just as they would have surely caught the expression of utter pleasure on her face.
At last, the psychologist turned to Gillian’s mother and said, “You know, Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick. She’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”
I asked Gillian what happened then. She said her mother did exactly what the psychiatrist suggested. “I can’t tell you how wonderful it was,” she told me. “I walked into this room, and it was full of people like me. People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.”
She started going to the dance school every week, and she practiced at home every day. Eventually, she auditioned for the Royal Ballet School in London, and they accepted her. She went on to join the Royal Ballet Company itself, becoming a soloist and performing all over the world. When that part of her career ended, she formed her own musical theater company and produced a series of highly successful shows in London and New York. Eventually, she met Andrew Lloyd Webber and created with him some of the most successful musical theater productions in history, including Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.
Little Gillian, the girl with the high-risk future, became known to the world as Gillian Lynne, one of the most accomplished choreographers of our time, someone who has brought pleasure to millions and earned millions of dollars. This happened because someone looked deep into her eyes—someone who had seen children like her before and knew how to read the signs. Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down. But Gillian wasn’t a problem child. She didn’t need to go away to a special school.
She just needed to be who she really was.
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