Pass the energy. Pretty much every teaching artist I know has some version of this activity in their arsenal. You pass the energy around the circle with an enthusiastic movement that ideally engages the whole body, accompanied by a silly, equally enthusiastic, sound of some sort (such as “whoosh!” in my version). From the outside looking in, I’m sure this activity can look ridiculous (the best ones usually do). The sight resembles a circle of people passing around an imaginary ball. But energy is not imaginary. It might be invisible, but energy is very real, and utterly present in every moment of our lives.
Yesterday I taught a story drama workshop for young people aged 3-6 and their parents. I stacked the chairs at the side of the room, cued up my iPod for our wild rumpus, and waited for the families to arrive. The first parent and child pair walks in, and we make introductions. But when I invite them to start a circle with me in the middle of the room, the six-year-old happily joined me, while the parent looked disdainfully in my direction, and said, “I am NOT sitting on the floor. I am NOT participating in anything. I’ll be over here.” She found a chair on the other side of the room, and that, apparently, was that.
This parent might have had a difficult morning. Maybe her expectations of what the workshop would be were different from what I explained we were doing that morning, and that was off-putting. No matter what the source of it was, I felt weighed down by her negative energy. I’ll admit I struggled to bring fresh, positive energy into the room, particularly at the beginning of the lesson. Once we dived into the story, I let go of the negative first moment with the parent and the eager, enthusiastic energy of the other families filled the room.
The varied levels and types of energy I encountered yesterday morning really got me thinking about how our energy can influence those around us. No matter how much sleep we aim for or healthy foods we put in our body, we can’t always control how energetic we are in a given moment. We can choose what we do with it. Energy is a key ingredient to teaching. You set the energy in the room. It was more challenging to set my usual positive, playful energy after a negative encounter. Challenging, but not impossible. No matter what happens before class, we can’t carry that with us through the lesson. It won’t go well. Acknowledge the negativity or fatigue, and set it aside. Make the choice to bring a fresh ball of energy to the room and your students will pick it up.
I have an energy mantra that has been a great help to me this year. Particularly in those moments right before a class starts when I’m beginning to doubt the effectiveness of my morning coffee routine. I say this, most times out loud (my co-teachers can attest to this), in those wavering moments:
You will have energy when you need it.
Now I want to add a part two to this mantra:
Choose your energy.
Three questions to ask yourself to bring focus to your energy:
- Where is your energy level right now?
- How would you describe that energy?
- How will you CHOOSE to pass that energy on to others you encounter today?