The importance of being inept

Tai chi in the school hall every morning can only mean one thing: wellbeing week.  Wellbeing week has become a regular fixture in the calendar, but the school recognises that there is more to creating a culture of wellbeing than simply practising the ‘white crane’. A commitment to physical education and the embedding of mindfulness in our ‘Learning 2 Learn’ curriculum are just two of the strategies in place to stem the tide of anxiety, depression and eating disorders which is increasingly affecting modern teenagers.

Wellbeing week is important to keep our mental health high on the agenda, but it is also about having fun and doing something different. I myself took the opportunity to attend a life-drawing class for staff and to accompany the school’s musicians to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall.

The few times that I have attended an art class, I have enjoyed the activity. I have never done that much art and so when asked to draw a female nude, I am pleased if the lines on the page resemble anything relating to the human form and I try to ignore the work of those around me, which is more akin to Egon Schiele or Lucien Freud.  This week, I was also quick to jump at the opportunity to go with a school group to see the violinist Anne Sophie Mutter playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.  My own music-making has gone little beyond playing the recorder at primary school, but even I could appreciate the ease with which she could make the strings of the violin sing and the notes soar.

I could have left these two experiences feeling very inadequate. I have never shown much talent at art or music and could never recreate what I could see others doing.  However, I think finding and indulging in activities at which you are inept is incredibly important, especially as a teacher. There are obvious applications such as reminding us of how some pupils might be feeling as they struggle with your subject in class, such as trying to untangle the tricky Latin of Cicero’s oratory.

Yet, what is eminently more important is the chance to feel the sense of liberation of knowing that we cannot be an expert in everything and this is a crucial lesson that we should pass onto our pupils. While I am firm believer in trying everything, appreciating the struggle and not giving up when the going gets tough, it is also ok for us to be ultimately inept at an activity.  If we allow ourselves to be content in our incompetence, then we can  appreciate and rejoice in the small steps forward that we might take even if we know that we will never become a violin virtuoso. We should be happy in our haplessness rather than worrying about what we cannot achieve. I think if we can all revel in being inept at times, then it will add immensely to our sense of wellbeing and it will certainly be more worthwhile than a week’s worth of tai chi.

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