It is funny, isn’t it, that we often take teachers out of the classrooms to serve as principals. Especially teachers who have spent many passionate years honing their craft. We simply expect them to seamlessly transition from classroom teacher to business managers and educational leaders.

For me, not teaching was never an option.

I had begun teaching violin when I was around 15 years of age when I and my sister started a little violin group out of the parish Church. We played at the annual parish Christmas dinners and Spring teas.

Once teaching violin was in my blood, it was as necessary to my well-being as breathing. Absolutely nothing is as meaningful to me as helping a child blossom.

Part of my negotiations for every new job has included the possibility of my starting a string program at the institution. As I look back, I have founded (or co-founded) 1 parish program, 5 school programs, a university outreach program, and a private music school. Most of this while teaching classes full-time in public school. (Side note: many of them are still going strong! So proud of them all!)

In my office, I have a little teddy bear. It was given to me by a student who transferred to our school in Grade 4. He had had previous violin experience, and was soon accepted into our elite travelling group. He was fairly reticent that first year, and even though he practiced diligently and was an excellent performer, he rarely had a smile on his face when he came to rehearsal. It was clear that he attended under protest. Apparently, Mom thought learning to play the violin was good for him.

It was a few years later, when he was leaving our school, that he gave me this bear and a handwritten card which said, “I knew how to play the violin when I came to this school. Thank you, Dr. Penny, for teaching me to love it. Most of all, thank you for helping me to understand how much my playing it brings joy into the world.”

There was another little guy in the violin travelling group who practiced hard, but every time it came to a performance, he choked from anxiety. I soon learned to never ask him to play a solo, although it was expected that every student played a solo of their choice every concert and it was clear that he very much wanted to play a solo. Every o often I would test his anxiety levels in rehearsal, but it took over three years of trying before he was able to play a solo flawlessly in rehearsal. There was only one more concert in our schedule before he was to leave our school (the family was moving), but it was a “big deal” concert – a gala event for over 500 people who were participating in a state education conference. I know I was more nervous than he was as we stepped onto the stage. When it came time for his solo, we paused a moment, he and I, to practice our breathing technique, then he nodded to me, lifted his violin, smiled at the pianist and played his solo flawlessly. That – was resilience. And that was the growth mindset in action.