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“Anything I learned I wanted to teach.”

February 11, 2011

This morning I was listening to City Cafe on WABE in Atlanta.   WABE’s Lois Reitzes was interviewing Alvin Ailey’s Artistic Director Designate, Robert Battle, who is only the third person to be the postion.  The other two were Alvin Ailey and Judith Jameson.  She talks with him about how he feels being handed the leadership and responsibility previously held by Judith Jameson, a legend in the dance community.  I was taken by the interview for two reasons: (1) I am a fan of Alvin Ailey; and (2) Mr. Battle’s comments resonated so well with what I think about when I reflect on the teaching profession.   Here is a link to her full interview on Thursday, February 10th, as part of City Café (Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s New Artistic Director).

 Battle, an accomplished dancer and choreographer says,

Anything I learned I wanted to teach.

He reflects on the impact that watching Alvin Ailey’s production of Revelations, in Miami, FL had on him as a child.  If you are unfamiliar with Revelations, here is a quote regarding the impact of the work on audiences around the world (from www.alvinailey.org).  Then underneath the quote is a 9 minute You Tube video of a performance of Revelations.  I hope you take the time to watch this powerful piece.

Since its debut in 1960, Alvin Ailey’s Revelations has moved audiences around the world through its powerful storytelling and soul-stirring music—evoking timeless themes of determination, hope, and transcendence.  More people have seen Revelations than any other modern dance work, and it has been enjoyed by over 23 million people in 71 countries across six continents.  This timeline depicts some key historical highlights and transformations throughout its 50-year history.

In the interview, Mr. Battle goes on to say

Once you get something you own it.

He will never forget it having seen Revelations.  For him it was magic.  As a young person, it catipulated from a state of uncertainty to a desire to “spread the gospel.”   It was as though the light went on inside of him and his future unfolded.  He says,

Young people have to feel they get it.  So they don’t shut down.

When I saw Revelations I know I got it and when you get it you want to teach it.

These words speak to me about us as educators or teachers.  We know that when the “light bulb” turns on for a student in our class it sort of clears the path for learning.  How do we structure our classes, teach our courses and assess student learning so the “light bulb” goes on?  So that they feel as though they get it, want to learn it and want to teach it.   We know, just like Mr. Battle says, that teaching it helps you learn.

Why is it true that most students do not have light bulbs going off in most classes?  Some teachers will push back and say that I am exaggerating my comments here.  Really?  I would challenge you to collect some data from your students and see if they feel about your course the way Mr. Battle felt after seeing Revelations

I would challenge us to try and teach in such a way that students experience a revelation in our class at some point early in the year.  Let’s make their light bulbs shine brightly, feeling confident that they know, understand and can do the work we feel is important to their future.

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