Learning with Lemov: Without Apology

In my early years as a lecturer, I was teaching a class on music analysis one day, when a student asked, ‘And why are we learning this?’ It’s the kind of question that can come over as quite confrontational, especially when you are feeling new to the game. But it’s also a good question to ask every so often. So I talked for a short while about why I thought the method we were looking at was useful to musicians (I suspect it was Schenker, but can’t actually remember for sure). The student accepted my answer, and we went on with the class, all of us feeling some relief that we weren’t wasting our time together.

This incident came back to me as I read Doug Lemov’s principle of teaching Without Apology. If we implicitly (or indeed explicitly) apologise for the content we deliver or the people we deliver to it, we lower expectations about both the achievements that are possible or the rewards that come from achieving it. If we don’t believe in what and who we teach/conduct, who will?

So that’s a principle that’s easy to agree with in the abstract, but let’s look at some of the ways it can play out in a choral context.

Confidence, Competence and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

If you've not seen this movie, I'd recommend it for all kinds of reasons, including its illustration of the Dunning-Kruger EffectIf you've not seen this movie, I'd recommend it for all kinds of reasons, including its illustration of the Dunning-Kruger EffectI wrote some time ago about the relationship between confidence and competence, and how when prioritising learning needs the former can often act as a reasonable proxy for the latter. There was, however, some interesting psychological research towards the back end of the last century that identified circumstances in which this correlation not only breaks down but becomes positively misleading.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect refers to the way that people who are grossly incompetent at a skill will cheerfully think they are quite good at it, as below a certain skill threshold you lack the knowledge and awareness to recognise how truly bad at something you are. Conversely, experts routinely underestimate how much better they are then the merely competent because one of the hallmarks of expertise is being able to do something fluently and without struggle.

This means that if you meet someone who describes an activity as ‘ not that hard’, they are likely to be either very very good at it or very very bad.

Creating a Charismatic Encounter: LABBS Directors Weekend, Part 5

Final Thoughts

Well, not final thoughts ever about this event. In fact, I have several stacks of notes on things I learned or observed or discovered during the course of the weekend that I have yet to get around to writing about. It was after all intended to be the kind of event that would affect its participants for months if not years into the future. But I think I’m nearly done processing my thoughts about it as a charismatic encounter.

Okay, that’s weird. I stopped to have a think after writing that first paragraph, then after a few minutes looking back to the start of the event, remembering what it felt like as people arrived, I realised my pulse was faster and my adrenaline levels back up again. Even while I was remembering how pleasantly surprised I had been to find myself feeling calmer and less nervous than I had expected.

Creating a Charismatic Encounter: LABBS Directors Weekend, Part 4


The key marker of the charismatic encounter isn’t, as is commonly supposed, anything to do with the personal qualities of a leader, but in the emotional experience of the participants. The characteristic sensation is a heightened, emotionally labile state of euphoria and love, that theorist of charisma have called ‘communion’ or ‘flux’.

Things that a leader does are often implicated in creating (or indeed preventing) this feeling, principally providing a Cause to line people’s sense of purpose up in the same direction, and a sense of Crisis to energise them into action. But how that emotional energy operates within the group depends significantly on the structure of interpersonal bonds within that group. Three factors are particularly important in setting this up, and this is how I factored them into my planning for the LABBS Directors Weekend in July.

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