Meaning; great skill in music or another artistic pursuit, eg “a performance of considerable virtuosity”
synonyms: skill, skilfulness, mastery, expertise, expertness, prowess, proficiency, ability, aptitude, adroitness, dexterity, deftness, excellence, brilliance, talent, genius, artistry, technique, art, creativity, flair, finish, polish, panache, finesse, wizardry, calibre, quality, professionalism.
Last week, Andy Tharby wrote a post about failing better and how we can all learn from errors, which prompted me to send a tweet suggesting that aspects of his post brought the word virtuosity to my mind, and it has stayed there. Is there a point where virtuoso could be applied to a teacher’s practice and what would identify the approach as such?
In music, virtuosity is evident when an individual performs with or without music, usually the latter, interpreting the composition in ways that share the emotion of the piece with the audience. The performer puts themselves into the music in such a way that the audience can almost feel it as well as hear it. This doesn’t need to be showing off. Virtuosity can be quiet efficiency and effectiveness, calm, controlled sharing. Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grapelli and Nigel Kennedy, as violinists have all been described as virtuosi or perhaps a prodigy, by displaying talent early. Each has had a distinctive style, in their respective genres, in terms of self-presentation and playing styles.
So virtuosity has to have something to do with talent and personal style.
My own relatively shallow experience in the music world derives from folk music, where my bodhran playing allowed me to play in France and England with barn dance and social dance bands, as well as playing in the Truffe de Perigeux, where our band Octan played in the final. We didn’t win and I had to come home to headship! Tant pis.
So virtuosity might mean the capacity to unpick and share.
Tricks, tips and bright ideas are the stock in trade of education. Teachmeets make this sharing easier, at least for the brave souls prepared to put themselves forward to share something from their classroom practice. It’s really important to reflect and embed these ideas in a longer term plan, so that they have meaning and can be presented with confidence, just in case something goes wrong and can’t be rectified, because it hasn’t been thought through and rehearsed, whereas the “expert” has already thought through these details.
Virtuosity depends on capability with the tools and significant mental and physical reflection and rehearsal.
Virtuosity, to me, is a state of heightened professional and personal skill, honed through practice or rehearsal to a point where presentation becomes seamless. It can then be difficult for an observer to unpick the details.
Virtuosity should also travel outside the safe contexts within which it has been honed.
In teaching terms, using the teaching standards as baseline descriptors, I’d suggest the following as a starter for a journey to virtuosity in teachers.
- They know their stuff well, breadth and well as depth, so can easily take alternative routes and come back to the main journey, as the need arises. TS3
- They are ordered and organised, mentally and with resources, in such a way that they make appropriate links, ensuring seamless classroom and learning management. TS4
- Learners have confidence in them, so they have professional status, demonstrated through positive relationships which allow learning activities to proceed effectively for all learners. TS8
- The teacher and the learners know the consequences of disrupted learning. Behaviour management is effective; consequences are seen through. TS7
- The teacher knows about child development, can place the learners in the class into appropriately challenging work situations that encourage talk and demonstration of high expectations, on a class and individual level. TS1
- The teacher understanding of learners allows detailed engagement with individual and class learning, guiding, modelling, coaching and mentoring as needed, adapting to needs as they arise and encouraging the best possible outcome. TS6,5&2