At our annual talent show, a group of students teamed up with three students with intellectual disabilities to sing a Justin Bieber song. At the end of "Baby, Baby," the audience of elementary students spontaneously gave these students a standing ovation. I had been in on the planning of the act but the students took all the initiative and responsibility for coordinating and managing rehearsals. The positive response that they received from their community of peers was theirs to enjoy. My emotional tears of pride were maybe just a bonus.
One of my professors in my leadership program had us read Catching Up Or Leading the Way by Dr. Yong Zhao. In one of the chapters, Zhao talked about talent shows and he inspired me to think about them differently. Up until reading his points and discussing them with cohorts, I found talent shows to be mostly tedious. Typically, a couple of students have impressed me with acts that are the results of major commitments; dance routines that have been explicitly choreographed and piano concertos prepared for an outside-of-school recital have been highlights in years past.
Zhao provided me with a different outlook on the talent show tradition. He writes that "Talent shows are just one example from American education, which has traditionally created a culture that respects individual differences, endorses individual interests, and supports a broad range of talents” and goes on to say that “For a nation, a broader definition of success and of what talents are valuable, beyond academic performance in a few subjects, preserves and cultivates a diversity of talent. Such diversity is essential for adapting to changing societies and economies.”
The Bieber act clearly provided students with an opportunity for powerful inclusion but there were other acts that promoted important skills for students in 21st century schools. For example, a group of girls performed a dance. I am certain that this dance would not win platinum in a competition, but these girls choreographed it, independently practiced it, adjusted for each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and continued their performance even when there was an awkward moment when no one could remember a few measures and moves. From this experience, they developed initiative, resourcefulness, collaboration, perseverance, empathy, innovation, and creativity. Another one of my students had vacillated between wanting to play a piano piece and preferring to remain in the audience. Ultimately, he played. For him, he demonstrated all of the aforementioned skills and a significant amount of courage, too. Do these skills sound familiar? Many of them are at the core of 21st century schools’ updated mission statements.
Beyond developing these skills, participation in last week's talent show provided additional opportunities. For one student (and I am sure for others whom I don’t know as well,) the talent show provided inspiration to come to school. Although her absence rate had been exorbitantly high throughout the year, for the two weeks before the show, she was there every day, making every rehearsal. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Additionally, she completed almost all of her work during that time because rehearsals were during recess and she didn’t want to be finishing assignments at those times, a classroom expectation.
As a parent and as a teacher, talent shows have seemed long. Sometimes, really long. However, I am finding myself really agreeing with Zhao and even furthering his argument in favor of talent shows because they offer such opportunities for acceptance, risk-taking, and inclusion. Bravo.