Forum: Good teachers, coaches focus on growth to reach perfection

A music professor showed me that perfection comes through growth. We can take that path with America.

Ron Friesen

Ron Friesen

By Ron Friesen / Herald Forum

I had a wonderful band director, Lylburn Layer, while at Seattle Pacific (then a college, now a university). He came at a time when the band needed improvement. What was remarkable at this time in the late-1960s and early ’70s was the approach he took with us.

It was much different than other music professors, and was a stark difference to my upbringing.

Upbringing and education of the times focused solely on criticism and punishment for making errors, or not being “perfect.” So guess what I learned to focus all my attention on as a child and then as a young adult? My single focus was to be “perfect” and to not make mistakes.

As a musician, being classically trained meant being the “best” on my instrument, and to never, ever make a mistake while playing. The result of this upbringing and training was constant self-doubt and extreme performance anxiety.

In contrast, Professor Layer planted a seed of hope which would bloom later. He did not emphasize perfection. He emphasized growth. “You are either growing or dying,” he often said to us. Each step of growth was recognized and congratulated. But then it was time to take the next step, and the next, and the next.

It took about 10 years of trying to teach as I had been taught to finally realize the old approach was all wrong. One spring day after school at the old Stanwood High School, I stopped to watch baseball practice. The coach, Jim Piccolo, was working with his players who were making a lot of mistakes and needed a lot of improvement. But there was not one critical word spoken. The only criticism I ever heard was, “Did you try your hardest on that?” There were only words of encouragement like, “Good try! Now try it this way.” Or, “Don’t worry! Keep trying! ( with repeated hand claps). You will get it next time!” Or, “Great job! Now, you are ready to try something even harder!”

The focus was on growth, not perfection. Both the professor and the coach understood that focus on growth led to “perfection,” but focusing only on perfection would stunt growth and would defeat the goal of perfection.

After 10 years of teaching “the old way,” I moved to teaching at middle school and started the “growth over perfection” approach in teaching beginning and intermediate band students. Two remarkable things happened. First, I enjoyed teaching more than ever, and especially enjoyed my middle school students. Second, student achievement improved, and rates of kids dropping band plummeted.

I share this because there could be a lesson for all of us in today’s climate of despair, divisiveness, and general dissatisfaction with life in America. A recent news poll showed 72 percent of us think we are headed in the wrong direction. I am part of that 72 percent. So how do we change this? Focus on growth, not perfection.

Growth means change. But the conflicts we are seeing are ignited largely from a radical left that wants perfection now and are willing to criticize and destroy everything because it is not perfect. Meanwhile, a reactionary right has dug in its heels with howls of disbelief at anything denying we are perfect as is, and will perfectly fantasize and lie to prove it!

Growth means identifying the best and building on that. Destruction eliminates growth and condemns us to starting from scratch. Lies and fantasies, on the other hand, are just another way of saying, “I am done growing.” Well, as we see playing out in real life, when growth stops death begins, whether in a culture, a community or a political party.

We are a great people as a culture, country, and community. But we are not perfect. Since our founding in 1776, we have grown a lot, much of it at great price. The one time in our history when the price was the greatest almost ended the United States because the “radical left” and the “radical right” of the time decided that violence was the only way to settle disagreement.

We have made great progress since that time. So how about continuing to grow instead of stagnating or dying? How about, “Great effort, America! Now, try it this way.” Or “Don’t worry! Keep trying! We will get it next time!” Or “Great job, America! Now, we are ready to try something even harder!”

Let’s take the next step in our growth. We can all be proud of that. We will be proud of that.

Ron Friesen is a longtime Marysville resident, a retired music teacher and community and church musician and is committed to community improvement.

Herald Forum

The Herald Forum invites community members to submit essays on topics of importance and interest to them. Essays typically are between 400 and 600 words in length, although exceptions for longer pieces can be made. To submit essays or for more information about the Herald Forum, write Herald Opinion editor Jon Bauer at or call him at 425-339-3466.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Tuesday, May 30

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

File - A teenager holds her phone as she sits for a portrait near her home in Illinois, on Friday, March 24, 2023. The U.S. Surgeon General is warning there is not enough evidence to show that social media is safe for young people — and is calling on tech companies, parents and caregivers to take "immediate action to protect kids now." (AP Photo Erin Hooley, File)
Editorial: Warning label on social media not enough for kids

The U.S. surgeon general has outlined tasks for parents, officials and social media companies.

Anabelle Parsons, then 6, looks up to the sky with binoculars to watch the Vaux's swifts fly in during Swift's Night Out, Sept. 8, 2018 in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Birders struggle with legacy, name of Audubon

Like other chapters, Pilchuck Audubon is weighing how to address the slaveholder’s legacy.

Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, left, and Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, right, embrace after a special session to figure out how much to punish drug possession on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Olympia, Wash. Without action, Washington's drug possession law will expire July 1, leaving no penalty in state law and leaving cities free to adopt a hodgepodge of local ordinances.  (Karen Ducey/The Seattle Times via AP)
Editorial: With law passed, make it work to address addiction

Local jurisdictions, treatment providers, community members and more have a part in the solutions.

A pod of transient orcas, known as T124As, surfacing near Tacoma. (Craig Craker/Orca Network)
Comment: Orcas may have a message for us; are we listening?

The destruction of a boat off Spain’s coast by orcas raises questions about their frustrations and memories.

Comment: Why Ukraine should keep its fight within its borders

Incursions into Russia offer strategic benefits, but would come at a cost to Ukraine’s global support.

Search for a new airport was flawed from startx

Well, the hunt for a new airport location is redirected (“WA lawmakers… Continue reading

Readu for a clean slate of candidates in coming elections

The White House and the Congress have made my voting choices very… Continue reading

Most Read