Lessons from an Elementary School Talent Show
Life lessons can be found everywhere if you look for them.
I was recently inspired by an elementary school talent show. My 8-year-old granddaughter performed an ambitious lip synch/dance number to the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. A tiny kindergartener stressed out the crew, testing the limits of how low they could configure the microphone stand while she sang/whispered a song. A small first grade boy did a pretty good Michael Jackson dance to Billy Jean. We got a martial arts demonstration from a skinny fourth grade kid who could kick surprisingly high and did an impressive rubber nun chuck demonstration. One kid had four audience members take turns confusing his Rubik’s Cube before he untangled the mess in 42 seconds. There were two songs from “The Greatest Showman” (ok movie, amazing soundtrack) that brought tears to my eyes—I’ll take the fifth about whether it was the beauty of the lyrics or the comedy of young voices trying to sing such big songs.
The audience of the participants’ families from my granddaughter’s melting pot neighborhood school was “California diverse”—every inhabited continent in the world was well represented. The audience was enthusiastically supportive of every act, regardless of the level of “talent” being displayed. Every performer got hearty applause. Everyone waited patiently when karaoke soundtracks had to be restarted because kids weren’t sure when to start singing. The audience clapped along loudly with the tune when kids were struggling with lyrics. It was near the end of the school year, spirits were high, the air conditioning was working well, and everyone was having a good time.
The teacher coordinating the extravaganza set up chairs along one wall for the talent. The stage was at the front of the room, the audience arrayed in folding chairs before the stage. The acts were arranged in the order they were supposed to appear on stage, sitting in chairs along the right wall and waiting nervously for their time in the spotlight. I was on the far right of the audience chairs, next to the talent.
Context set, here’s what impressed me: As each act finished to thunderous audience applause (no matter how smoothly or challenged the performance had been) and the performers returned to their seats along the right wall, their fellow performers congratulated, high-fived, and hugged them. No adults were in the area coaching them. The support seemed genuine and spontaneous from my chair 15 feet away. I noticed it when the first act finished… The tiny kindergartener got hugs and enthusiastic encouragement from the “big kids” who were third and fourth graders. I thought it was sweet, them looking out for their little sister. I assumed it was a one off, but the encouragement continued for the entire 175 minutes of the show.
The kids who had done well and knew it, basked in the approval. The shy kids who weren’t certain how things had gone seemed instantly buoyed by the enthusiasm. The kids who had tanked and had run from the stage in terror were clearly relieved by the support of their fellows. The kids who were up next were obviously nervous, but everyone was smiling. It was beautiful.
It made me think of some of the better teams I’ve been on during my career. I’m not talking about participation trophies—I’m talking about earnest support for people who are learning and taking chances. Cheering victories and laughing together at mistakes—not in a cruel way, but in a normalizing one. When was the last time you genuinely appreciated someone for giving their first high pressure presentation, or asking an interesting question that revealed useful information, or finding a tough bug, or admitting a mistake?
The kids in that talent show were learning useful lessons about art and performance, but more importantly about supporting one another. Maybe we should think about those lessons and apply them a little more in our lives.
Just a thought.