What Musical Minds Teach Us About Innovation In Education: Producing

Author’s note: This post is based on the ideas from the book Two Beats Ahead by R. Michael Hendrix and Panos A. Panay.

Lead, Bring Forth, to Draw Out

Coach, facilitator, guide–these are terms that have been proposed as ways to rethink the relationship between teacher and student. We should also consider how the concept of a “producer” is used in films and music. This is the framework that Hendrix and Panay are using in their book.

“Producer” is derived from the Latin producere which means “lead or bring forth, to draw out.” In education, we can think of our roles as producing learning. Teachers “bring forth” or “draw out” the learning that exists within students.

The subtitle of the chapter–”bring the best out of others” reflects this idea. Teaching is about being a learning producer, of “Seeing all of the variables at any given moment, then nipping, tucking, pruning, grafting, molding, and sculpting that moment into its best form.” We shift from teaching content to producing learning.

The Great Adventures of Slick Rick

Hank Shocklee’s work is a great example of how we can shape the environment for learning or “create the space for her to succeed.” I am most effective as a teacher not being present during every step of the process. There are moments when I can be more impactful by being nearly invisible.

Shocklee used this approach to produce the seminal record The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. He describes his approach as “sitting with the artist, listening to her, removing obstacles of self-doubt that might get in the way, so she can tune in to her own inspiration, helping her explore ways to grow and do her best work.”

This is a profound way of collaborating with a creator. It is why Shocklee was so successful at doing what others could not–bringing forth the best of Slick Rick’s musical creativity.

From Authoritarian to Supportive

In another section of the book, one of the co-authors shares how he shifted his leadership style from authoritarian to supportive. This transformation involved “asking questions more than giving answers, ensuring designers were taking care of themselves, helping colleagues pursue interests that fed their creativity and strengthened their art.”

As a result of this transformation he “began seeing associates as people first.” Imagine if we replace “associate” with “students.”

True leadership arises out of managing the environment, not the individual people. As a teacher tasked with producing learning, I need to focus on creating an environment in which students can unlock their deeper creative growth.

Trust and T Bone

During the discussion with music producer T Bone Burnett, he repeats the word “trust” over and over. In education, we also need to build bridges of trust. Trust not only from teacher to student but student to teacher.

This is a massive shift away from the compliance paradigm so common in our classrooms. Because we have removed the trust students have lost faith in the teachers. Students have become very aware of the arrangement that devalues the student as an individual.

Burnett advises rebuilding this trust by being authentic through honesty. We can’t lie to our students, and we can’t hype them either.

Students, much like musicians, are very sensitive. Because all children are natural creators we need to consider Burnett’s words, “People will know the moment you’re hyping them. Even if they don’t consciously register it, they’ll feel it on a cellular level.”

The Empowered Polymath

The final section of the chapter focuses on individuals and collaborative teams as being experts in more than one given field. This is an idea that has gained traction in music, art, business, and education as well.

We can apply this to how we can redesign our learning spaces as well. By moving away from the siloing of learning into “math”, “language arts”, or “science” we can then rebuild our schools to support multi-disciplinary learning.

By applying musical mindsets we can support curiosity and creativity. This takes immense trust between all stakeholders in our education system. But this trust can empower our learners.

As T Bone Burnett says, “To distrust people you’re working with disempowers them, but to trust them empowers them”.

Rebuilding the Walls of Trust

We can rebuild the walls of trust by applying the tools of the musical mindset that shifts our work from a teacher to a producer. This gives the power back to the student and allows them to access the skills they need to succeed. Students will be able to develop themselves as healthy and whole individuals because we have created the conditions that allow them to discover their true selves.

This is the fifth part in a series connecting the ideas from Two Beats Ahead by R. Michael Hendrix and Panos A. Panay to education. To read part 1 on listening go here, part 2 on experimenting go here, part 3 on collaborating go here, and part 4 on demoing go here.