Dance Like There's Nobody Watching

I’m passionate about what I do. I am guessing that many of you have realized that from my bulletin pieces, and hopefully, from daily interactions. I’m optimistic, idealistic, and to those who know me best, sentimental—maybe even borderline corny. Perhaps, most importantly, I am always sincere. It is hard for me to think about my students, or education in general, and not be moved.

When I watched the Dance Anywhere video, I got that warm, fuzzy feeling and found myself getting a little misty-eyed. Watching the students dance, some with wild abandon, some with reserve, some with a certain je ne sais quoi, I was reminded of the quote “dance like there’s nobody watching.” The full quote, from William Purkey, is “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like there’s nobody listening, And live like it’s heaven on earth.” It isn’t surprising that Purkey is an educator because what I want most for my students is the sense of freedom he describes, the freedom to be who they want to be, to learn without fear, and to grow without limits.

There is incredible power in that kind of freedom—power to be and do anything you set your mind to, without the weight of doubt or fear. Isn’t that exactly what we all want for our students and children? We want the children in our care to be brave and bold—in the way they play, the way they learn, the way they live. We want them to find that there is power in being unafraid of failure and mistakes, in taking on challenges and pushing themselves, in giving themselves the freedom to be who they are. Helping children to find and believe in the power of freedom is a mighty task, but a purpose I truly believe in and why I believe in GUS.

In the past few years, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about fixed and growth mindsets, acknowledging that when students believe that they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. A growth mindset ties into that sense of freedom Purkey describes. How I wish students could always learn like the grade doesn’t matter. But too often, real learning gets lost in the quest for a good grade. You might have seen a crumbled up paper your child brought home. Students can miss out on some of their best learning opportunities by getting bogged down in disappointment, frustration, or shame. I hear them resolve to do better next time, but without taking the time to consider what they need to do to make that happen. Helping students develop growth mindsets has been an important focus of our professional development, championed by our math coordinator, Maureen Twombly. LFMs (Learn from Mistakes) are a prime example from our math program. By devoting time to LFMs, students discover that they learn as much, if not more, from defeats as successes (to read more: What children should really take away from LFMs is that mistakes are expected! Another example: Grade 7 English Teacher Sydney Clarke sometimes doesn’t put the grade on papers so that students focus on narrative feedback and use it to create a plan to reach for the success they crave. X-block classes, taught by all teachers, also offer a chance for students to engage in learning for the sake of learning. These non-graded opportunities for support and enrichment allow students to use intrinsic motivation and interest to push themselves. It’s not surprising that these classes are so successful.

Once students let go of the weight of perfection, so many doors open to them. Suddenly, they don’t have to worry about trying new things and taking chances. Without the fear of failure, they can believe that anything is possible. It’s fitting that I was inspired by the Dance Anywhere video because dance at GUS epitomizes how we lure students out of their comfort zone. And by the 8th grade, students eagerly take on several challenging rite of passage tasks: an in depth art project, a dance recital, public speaking, national/international community service, a musical, and more. The sky’s the limit for GUS 8th graders. They don’t shrink from these formidable tasks; rather, they welcome their role in fulfilling and preserving these GUS traditions.

Creating a place where students feel brave takes committed teachers and a safe and accepting community. Recently, we completed a school climate survey: 90% of our students reported that students can be who they want to be at GUS; 92% reported that students make an effort to understand difference. This survey reflects how open and accepting our community is, and we use it to assess our student life curriculum and plan for the future. While there is always work to be done, the results affirm that we are moving in the right direction. 

Dance like there’s nobody watching. To me, this goal feels noble and important. May my students dance through life like there’s nobody watching and become adults who have the power not only to change themselves but also to change the world. It’s a lot to hope for, but I believe it’s possible and that it starts here at GUS.

Gretchen Forsyth

Director of Upper School

Gretchen Forsyth