(This week is the 35th installment of the book, “The Band Director’s Lessons About Life”, which TCRN is publishing as a series during 2020. This week, band director and spiritual author Donald Lee relates a parable about always doing your best. For a complete listing of previous episodes in this series, click here.)
“Is this test formative or summative?” asked Arthur as I handed out the test papers.
I knew what he was thinking. If the test mark ends up on their report card, we call it a summative test. If it’s just for feedback and to check their progress, we call it formative. Students quickly figure out that formative assessments don’t matter, so they don’t try, so it’s really a waste of time. That’s what Arthur was trying to determine: was it worth his effort to try.
This was health class, which most students don’t take seriously anyway. But if it’s a formative assessment, then what I get handed in might just as easily come from a five-year-old.
“Why would it matter, Arthur?” I asked, feigning ignorance.
“Well, uh, if it’s formative, well, I . . . then it’s not so important.” Arthur finally stumbled it out. I had to chuckle.
“I see. What you are trying to avoid saying is you don’t even try on formative assessments because they don’t matter. Isn’t that right?”
“Well . . . sort of . . . yeah,” Arthur stammered. He hadn’t wanted to state the obvious quite so bluntly, but he couldn’t disagree. There was a murmur of assent throughout the room.
“Let me clarify two things for all of you. Firstly, I don’t do formative assessments. If students don’t try, the whole exercise is a waste of time. I try not to waste your time, but I really hate to waste my time. If I give you any kind of assessment—a test, an assignment, or whatever—it’s for marks. I expect you to show me your best work because you should always strive to do your best. I interpret whatever you do as your best. If it’s lousy, that tells me you are not able to work at this grade level.”
“But someone could just be having a bad day,” objected Cynthia.
“True, there are lots of bad days in life. So many, in fact, that you have to get used to doing the best you can, even on bad days. Otherwise you waste too much of your life with excuses and with allowing the world around you to decide how you feel and how you perform.
“But there’s something far more important you need to know. Everything is a test. Every moment of every day is a test. Life is a constant test. I only comment on a few things you do, but I notice and mentally evaluate you on almost everything you do. And if you are honest, you’ll admit you do exactly the same thing with everyone else.
“Every day when you walk into my classroom, I notice lots of things. Are you early, on time, or late. What is your manner? Do you walk in with a swagger like you own the place? Are you polite or rude to the other students? To me? Are you arrogant, humble, shy, happy, or sad? Do you speak loudly or softly? What is your casual conversation about? Sports? Parties? Gossip? Are your words encouraging or discouraging? Do you insult your classmates? Are you wearing enough makeup to be on a movie set? How are you dressed? Are you a slave to the current fashion of ripped-up jeans? Are you exposing so much skin you might be at the beach? Or are you wearing practical clothing, considering it’s twenty-fivebelow zero outside today. When I ask you to do some work in class, do you actually do the work? How long does it take you to find your textbook, a pen, a piece of paper? Is your binder neat and orderly, or is it a mess? How many times do I have to ask you to put away your phone? To sit down and be quiet? To sit in your proper desk? Or to sit in your desk properly? A hundred formative assessments every class. I don’t need formative tests. Every moment is a formative test. That’s life.
“So, Arthur, do not ask if the test is formative or summative. Do you best at everything you do. That’s how you get better at everything. And everything matters. There are no unimportant tasks or jobs. Even the simplest job is important, or nobody would bother doing it. Even the garbage collector is important. If you don’t think so, just let him skip your house for a few weeks and see how that works out for you. Every moment of your life is a performance. It’s showtime all the time. So always perform your best”
In the spiritual sense, test isn’t the best word. There is no failure. There is no judgment—really. Each moment of the eternal “now” is an opportunity for us to experience and manifest the best “self” we can imagine. Life is “showtime” every minute of every day, and we, as musicians, constantly create our music—ourselves. We know if we are living up to the best version of ourselves. We have to be our best self—every minute. We can’t let our worst self get a moment’s stage time. As we experience our best selves, our best constantly gets better. Remember that it’s through doing that we become. When you perform as a musician—you are a musician. When you perform as a saint—you are a saint. That’s the spiritual performance cycle of life.
Donald Lee is a spiritual author and speaker. This article is part of a weekly series for 2020 in which TCRN is publishing his inspirational book, The Band Director’s Lessons About Life: Volume 1 – 50 Parables on Life’s Performance Cycle, in serial form – one parable per week. You can learn more about the author at his website: www.ComingHomeSpirit.com, or order a copy of his complete book on Amazon, or get his free mini eBook and sign up for his weekly blog. Follow Donald on Facebook.