Activating Aspiration - A Look Back at ThesCon 2018
The Colorado Thespian Conference has been a highlight of my December since I was in high school. I can remember packing down to Denver and the wonder of getting to see so many other theatre kids from around the state as they competed and performed their way through the weekend. I attended first as a student, then as a chaperone and IE coach, and now, this year came with a whole new responsibility as I got to bring my own budding thespian students down to participate.
In planning for Riverdale Ridge High School to open, I don’t know that we ever once considered the very emergent need to help our students find direction for their lives that has become apparent. As we’ve struggled with some behaviors and habits unbecoming of young learners, we’ve started identifying that perhaps these are coming from a lack of direction.
The debate around competition in the arts is lengthy and probably fairly unresolvable, but a thought occurred to me in the last moments of conference as the collective 5,000 theatre students came together one last time to watch the best of the best perform on the mainstage. As I watched and was inspired by these young performers, I flashed back to the same emotions I felt as a high school student. Competition is naturally a paradox between the positive (winning) and the negative (losing). The power of competition comes from how a person handles each of those opposites. In those youthful moments of envy and adoration for my superior peers, I can remember so clearly the drive I felt of wanting to work harder and reach those same levels. I was being exposed to aspiration.
We’ve started to work with our students at RRHS on visioning for their futures. What do they want out of life? What does that look like? What does it take to get to there? Through our developing advisory system, all of our students were tasked with creating a vision board upon which to layout their hopes and dreams. One of the trends I’ve heard in the feedback from other teachers has been the vagueness with which the boards are being developed. They want to help people. They want to live in big house. They want to travel the world. When pressed on the how or specifics, there is a disconnect that they have a role in shaping that next step.
Events like ThesCon or the State Spirit Championships (of which our Cheer and Poms teams competed in this weekend) help expose students to aspirational examples. In a school where our highest current grade level is 10th grade, I am starting to think that we ought to consider making a more concerted effort to provide models and examples of what our students lives could look like. By solely focusing on hitting standards we are missing our core role as educators which is making healthy citizens of our society.
I had three students competing and another in the Lighting Design Boot Camp. I witnessed my students successes and failures and, most importantly, the fortification of their determination. It was magical to get to watch them watch the conference. They saw the levels of talent and effort and hopefully, I can continue to instill in them my own reflectiveness so they can look back on this experience and use it to reach their goals.
While there was still that high school version of me watching those students rock their performances and finding the aspiration to keep making and getting better, there was also the part of me that recognized my role now is to help my own students activate that aspiration into real and focused work. It was the much needed reminder of why I teach after what I am certain has been my most challenging semester of teaching.