The pressure of mistakes

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Yesterday I felt the pressure of performance. Once a week I rehearse with Batala London: a samba reggae drum group that I’ve been a part of since moving to London. Numbers were low at yesterday’s session so as one of only two ‘hep’ (repinique) players, the pressure was on to hit every beat on time, in tempo.

Now, the leader of our group yesterday was certainly nothing like Whiplash’s Terrance Fletcher, which, as an aside, is a great film – one I’d certainly recommend. Instead, the pressure came from me.

Making mistakes is a crucial part of learning and certainly I’ve made many in terms of my journey into drumming. Yet making mistakes in front of others feels different. Making mistakes so publicly, when so exposed, feels highly pressurised.

Alongside playing, yesterday I led the band for the second time. Being stood in front of around 30 musicians as a ‘conductor’ is even more exposing. The responsibility to keep the music running smoothly through changes in track while adding dynamics through taking drums in and out is actually very stressful! Inevitably it was a ‘shaky’ set, but it was great fun and the feedback from the group was really positive.

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on the pressure that is often placed on children in Year 6 as schools become more and more about data measurement and comparison. While the tests are more a reflection of a schools performance, the children are the ones who determine what this looks like in terms of numbers. This can inevitably cause teaching staff to ‘feel the pressure’. I hope that I am not placing too much emphasis on these tests with the children in my class. I hope that I am managing to filter the pressure away from them. I hope I am still able to celebrate mistakes, rather than worry and stress about them.

The experience of learning to drum has also forced me to reflect on how I encourage mistakes to be shared in my classroom. The culture we have at Batala London is that of a community of learners where making mistakes is valued and viewed as an opportunity to improve. It is an open, trusting environment.

This is what I aim to create in my own classroom. I hope that children feel comfortable enough to fail and share their mistakes with others in order to help them move forwards in their learning. I regularly ask children to share their mistakes with the class with the awareness that this is not comfortable for everyone. But, in order to cultivate a community of learners, I feel it is important. I hope that the children in my class develop in their ability to make mistakes confidently. To fail and react in a positive way, free from stress or a feeling of pressure. This, I think, is an important skill to nurture in young people.

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