Dance like nobody's watching. Sing like nobody's listening.
This wisdom is stenciled on my office wall. It reminds me to face the day with a child's exuberance. I preach this to my daughters and to our students at Wheeling Country Day. Embrace your talents; appreciate the differences between people and, most importantly, learn something new every day.
I would be a hypocrite, then, if I turned down Kathy Shapell when she asked me to support the Augusta Levy Learning Center by dancing with the Ohio Valley Stars. I innocently thought I was proving to the children that you can learn something new at any age.
I am learning something new, but those students who watch me practice my footwork don't realize the lessons go beyond the eight counts of our dance. I am learning so much more about myself and about the emotions of learning.
For example, I am learning the art of handing over control. My professional partner has had to say to me many times, "I lead." As a head of school, I laugh every time he says it. I know what step comes next, and I tend to move right into it before he does. In our dance, I am not in charge. He is. He leads.
For days, I could not recognize that I was leading, or should I say not allowing him to lead. Now, I can feel his hand taking me in a direction, and my back loosening to follow him. Without him, my steps are awkward movements. It is only when we work together under his lead that it feels like I am actually dancing. For those who know me, this has not been an easy lesson for me, but one my husband will long appreciate, I am sure.
More importantly, perhaps, is the meta-cognition of how it feels to learn something new - how much courage it takes. I recently heard the comment, "The hardest thing a man can do is to humble himself in order to learn." How very true. As children, we do not realize how we humble ourselves in our learning process, for learning is second nature. How vulnerable it feels to move awkwardly when my partner moves so fluidly - just as a child who reads the words accurately but not fluently, that child must wonder, "Didn't I get it right?" When I watch us dance in the mirror, I can see my steps are correct, but so far from good compared to his - just as the child must hear the story being read to understand the intonation and expression of fluent reading.
Dancing with an experienced partner has been a great lesson on how hard learning something new can be for children. I usually spend my days doing things I have been "practicing" for a long time. Our children spend their days learning new steps whether it be reading or math or softball or self-control or dance.
Learning something new, in my case dancing the foxtrot, is very rewarding and uplifting. This is the message we want to pass on to our children - learning is rewarding and uplifting. I hope while I am dancing, my children (all 167 of them) are watching and realizing how much I love learning something new.
- Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini is head of school at Wheeling Country Day. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She and her husband have two daughters, ages 5 and 9.