Mike's Notes: Deep Practice and Deep Learning

Posted by Mike Henriques


Every year one spine-tingling moment rises above others. We all have our Proctor highlight reels – Hays speeches, Pete Talks, buzzer beaters in basketball, robotics presentations, social entrepreneurship pitches, a painting in Slocumb – moments that prickle the forearms and back of the neck. Ghostly moments, spiritual moments, what-just-happened moments. Last Sunday’s choral performances certainly gave me a new one.


There is a book, published not too long ago (2009), but long enough ago that it may already be receding in the wake of the next great gristmill treatise on grit or perseverance, or character. It shouldn’t. The Talent Codewritten by Daniel Coyle in 2009, looks at how extraordinary talent develops. It’s a highly readable, thought provoking book, and in the introduction Coyle looks at the concept of deep practice. Deep practice moments are “targeted practice” moments that scaffold talent towards performance excellence. Coyle focuses on a famous video of an average student practicing the clarinet and the six extraordinary minutes of practice that reveals the starts and stops and reflection associated with effective, deep learning.

Proctor Academy Vocal Music

Something like this must have happened on the way to Sunday’s performance. How else to account for all of those voices coalescing into something magical, to account for such a collectively strong performance? Yet in the midst of all this, there was one what-just-happened moment when Ceilidh Kehoe sang in the complicated and layered Loch Lomond. Ceilidh, who had never sung a solo in public and who had practiced so hard over the term, stepped forward. When she started to sing and began hitting impossibly high notes, that’s when the “Oh my” moment crackled and the whole afternoon changed.

Proctor Academy Vocal Music

In his introduction to Loch LoMond, choral director Rob St. Cyr spoke to Ceilidh’s journey through practice and lessons. There were challenges, tears, but when the opportunity came, she said she wanted the solo. Definitely wanted it. Pitched for it. “This is why the performing arts are so important,” Rob said. “This is why we believe in them.” The challenges they present and the confidence they instill travel beyond a single discipline of singing or theater or jazz-rock ensemble. With performances waiting at the end of a term’s long corridors as incentive, students frequently experience those moments of targeted practice that Daniel Coyle identifies as integral to excellence.

Proctor Academy Vocal Music

The chapel moment still resonates. Even though I’ve told the story a number of times, the tingle is there from Sunday’s performance, and so, too, is the case for the performing arts. Deep practice and deep learning yielded performance excellence last Sunday, and a highlight for the year.


Mike Henriques P'11, P'15

Proctor Academy Head of School

Listen to Proctor's vocal music ensemble performance here!


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