At ASH we are grateful to have such a diverse community of students, families and staff from all around the world. Each member of our community brings their own background and story to make up the diversity of cultures and experiences, we are all lucky to learn from and contribute to the #ASHexperience. In our ASH Voices series we are speaking with and learning more about these incredible members of our community. We’ll be learning about their passions both in their roles at ASH and in their life outside of school, what it means to them to be a part of this community and more.
Today we feature Ms. Middelburg, one of our high school theater teachers. She is a veteran educator with more than twenty years of experience teaching across many different age levels and disciplines, from 5th graders to university students. She has a background in both Theater and English, and has been lucky enough to teach both subjects during her career at ASH. Originally from Minneapolis, the Netherlands has been home for Ms. Middelburg since 1997. While she sometimes misses Minnesota's four very distinct seasons, the tradeoff for being able to bike to work every day, passing storks, herons, sheep, cows and the occasional fox along the way, has been more than worth it. Ms. Middelburg lives in a lovely Dutch village with her husband, her two teenagers, and a larger-than-is-probably-healthy pile of books to read.
We asked Ms. Middelburg some questions about her life at ASH and how the last several months have been working and adapting throughout the COVID-19 pandemic...
How long have you been at ASH and what does the #ASHexperience mean to you?
This is my 19th year at ASH. To me the #ASHexperience is about creating a space for growth - not just for students, but also for the larger community, including teachers, staff, parents and alumni. I often like to compare ASH to a greenhouse: I see us all working together to create and maintain an environment which has the optimal conditions for learning and growth to occur. You see it in the classrooms when students are in control of their own learning and development, taking risks, and challenging themselves, and you see it in your own and your colleagues' experiences as we all learn and grow through peer coaching, classroom exchanges, and other professional development opportunities. Each of us is learning every day - benefiting from the greenhouse, at the same time as we help to create it as well - and that's one of the things I love about ASH!
What are your passions?
I am passionate about the arts and creativity. I think participating in creative, collaborative endeavors is one of the most transformative experiences a human being can have, and it's been such an honor to be able to create those experiences at ASH through teaching, and also through directing the High School Musical for the past six years. Nothing gives me more joy than hearing back from students years later, as they share how their lives have been changed by their participation in the arts. I've also always been passionate about reading, games, writing and music, and outside of school, you might very well find me engrossed in a wonderful book, tinkering away on my fantasy novel in progress, singing, or playing a video game!
How have the last several months impacted you and what are the lessons you have learned that you will be taking forward in your work here at ASH?
Creating the 2020 High School Musical, Bright Star, safely, in the time of Covid-19, has been a huge challenge. From the start, we approached the students involved with the message that all our focus needed to be on the week-to-week work and learning that was taking place in our rehearsals and meetings, as we could not be in control of what the final production would look like. The high school student actors, band members and crew members rose to this immense challenge. Their commitment and focus was amazing to see. And I was so lucky to work with talented colleagues. To give just one example, our phenomenal music director Mr. Jiménez helped a group of instrumentalists learn how to play new-to-them acoustic instruments & keyboards so that they could still participate in the band, despite the restrictions! Student leadership adapted as well. Again, just one significant example would be our outstanding student choreographers, Ella and Defne, who created choreography for the musical numbers in such a way that all singing took place with the actors at a 1.5 meter distance from each other. From keeping makeup safe and clean to learning how to manage live-streaming, we were faced with so many new challenges this year - and I couldn't be prouder of the collaboration and the incredible result the musical became.
What will I take forward from this experience into the future? First of all, the lesson that with a team of talented, focused people, anything is possible - but flexibility, engaging with the process, and letting go of needing to control the final product is key! Secondly, what at first can seem like a disadvantage can sometimes turn out to be a benefit. For example, the choice to live-stream the show this year came initially because we knew we wouldn't be able to have a large audience in our theater. However, that same decision meant that for many students involved, Bright Star was the first time their family members across the globe were able to share in their performance. This was a wonderful, unexpected side effect! Finally, the deep gratitude that I feel toward each person involved, including to the ASH administration for supporting our production throughout, is simply a reminder to me of how lucky we are to participate in such a fantastic, student-centered learning community.
If you could give our students at ASH one piece of advice what would it be?
To actively reach for joy. There are so many ways in which we rob ourselves of truly experiencing moments of joy - by worrying about the future, by being critical of ourselves, by taking on a cynical or a dismissive view of things. Focusing on that feeling of exhilaration when we learn something new, or experience something tremendous, or simply laugh out loud because we are enjoying a moment of connection with a friend - savouring that moment of joy -is a wonderful way to make our every day not just happier, but more fulfilling.
If you weren't working at ASH, what would you be doing?
I am sure I would be teaching and directing in another capacity at another educational institution. I can't imagine not being a teacher!