The 2014 “Take a Stand” El Sistema symposium brought together activists from the United States and beyond. As people from many cultures convened to discuss their programs and practice, one central theme emerged: the idea of using positivity and joy to reframe work in the field as both teachers and social workers.
In considering the role of the educator, Robert Duke advocated for teachers to create beauty everyday, implanting small, rich “nuggets” in students’ memories. Duke described the learning cycle in three parts: the initial romance, the inevitable struggle and the eventual, victorious beauty. By creating rewarding experiences for students (otherwise known as “the good stuff”), teachers provide treasured moments that punctuate inevitable difficulties and help retain motivation.
Kathleen Turner’s interactive session on song skills exemplified how one could cultivate such fulfilling occasions in the classroom. In one creative writing game entitled the “Job Song,” students were given the opportunity to create their own lyrics and accompanying motions to describe various professions. Equipping students to make their own musical decisions in these activities, Turner captured the innate curiosity of the youth in truly fun experiences. The musical ownership that Turner allowed the students in turn generated a beautiful, engaging atmosphere.
Therapist Marianne Diaz similarly highlighted how Sistema advocates could use a supportive, positive approach in their roles as social workers. She explained that by making negative assumptions and focusing on the problems of at-risk students, people unintentionally allow youth issues to become more powerful. Diaz challenged attendees to instead focus on student assets – again, “the good stuff” – and invest themselves in getting to know youth personally, providing a prime environment for healing.
Although joy is an intrinsic human emotion, daily challenges of the field can at times make it difficult to remember that this characteristic is the heart of the Sistema mission. Rechanneling “the good stuff,” however, can bring programs back to why they do what they do and, in turn, help them sustain and inspire them through their work.
Hana Morford, Sistema Fellow '14