One of the best lessons I’ve learned in my career is that when you offer students advice, it is likely they won’t identify with the “when you are older” scenarios because the scope of that thinking just isn’t in their cognitive wheelhouse yet. It makes sense, because I certainly recall thinking about how awesome it would be to turn 16, 18, 21, and even 30 for the various privileges that come with those ages, but I never gave much thought to the responsibilities that accompany those privileges.
That being said, now that I have passed all of those age markers, it occurred to me that the older I get, the more I appreciate some of things the adults in my life shared with me during my youth. They make sense and matter more now when maybe I didn’t care or understand then. Lately, two such moments keep coming to mind, and, not coincidentally, they were shared by two of the educators who are responsible for my existence in the profession today.
The first of these was in Drawing and Painting III of my junior year. My teacher, Mr. Foster, began sharing about the Italian word, and the concept of, Brio which translates to mean “mettle, fire, or life.” The English definition also brings up “vigor or vivacity,” and one can even find it to mean “full of life.” The concept applies to visual art and, likely, whatever historical connection we were focused on at the time, but it was the passion (mettle, fire) and way in which Mr. Foster shared about brio that resonated with me…
…My senior year of high school, we were commissioning a piece of music for a local composer, and our choir director, Mr. Carpenter, posed a question to the A Capella choir one morning to kick off rehearsal. He simply stated, “How do you celebrate life?” and sat there waiting in silence. You can imagine the conversation unfolding with a group of teenage musicians, who were actually accustomed to these existential questions by this point in the year, and what was most striking was not just the way he initially posed the question, but how he then affirmed what was said with joy, excitement, and intensity that led you to believe whatever you said was the most important and profound thing known to mankind. It also strikes me because, for whatever reason, Mr. Carpenter always called me by my first and last name together which I will never forget because it was in this conversation that he said (after my response), “Joe Sellenheim, you should become a music teacher!”
The significance of these memories for me now is that I realize the educators who facilitated those discussions personified the content they were sharing about. They knew how to live and show their students (others) what it meant to “celebrate life,” and they practiced their craft with brio and gusto (another “Foster-ism!”). They always sought out the positive, made people believe things could and should be done with excellence, and showed how any endeavor we take on is bigger than the product itself – be it musical, artistic, or otherwise.
Those experiences, now 16-17 years ago, began shaping me into the leader and person I am now. Entering the second half of my first year in a principalship, I strive more than ever to live each day with vigor, perseverance, fiery passion, and as a celebration of life. I take advantage of every opportunity to glean the positive, seek out greatness, and attack problems with an optimistic, solutions-driven mindset. Most times this comes naturally, sometimes is needs to be a conscious choice, but I know that as I think, speak, and act with brio, it becomes contagious. My hope is that in the interactions I have with the students, staff, and families I am entrusted to lead and learn with cultivates the amazing things we want for our school and lives of the kids who attend it.
I close with these words, written by Osho in “Creativity: Unleashing the Forces within”
Be the celebrators, celebrate! Already there is too much—the flowers have bloomed, the birds are singing, the sun is there in the sky—celebrate it! You are breathing and you are alive and you have consciousness, celebrate it!
May this discussion and mindset never fade…ask others how they celebrate their life, their work, and the relationships they build each day.
Every moment matters.
Vivo con brio!