1. Autobiographical Reflections as a Learner
One of things I appreciated most as a student was doing something new, or that challenged me, required me to solve a problem, use my imagination, or even just seeing or hearing something that got me to the edge of my seat. Whether that translated into practicing stream-of-consciousness writing techniques, meditating for the first time, creating skits with my peers, playing in a Balinese gamelan without the help of written notation or an English-speaking instructor, or going to see live performances of all kinds, these experiences have stayed with me forever. They have both shaped who I am as a person, as well as paved the pathway to my becoming a music educator. There is no doubt that these teachers and experiences have forever changed the way I think about what a classroom can look like and feel like, and how exhilarating and contagiously joyful learning can be. In my own personal way, I strive to weave these kinds of experiences into my own teaching; with humor, open-mindedness, energy, and invitation for the students to “get caught” by the same excitement I felt when learning in these ways.
2. Treasured Values as a Teacher
Although I want my students to leave my classroom knowing and being able to do a multitude of things, both musical and non-musical, one of the biggest ideas I hope they leave with is that “learning is fun”. It is a concept I have worked hard at since day one of becoming a teacher, in the hopes that I change some of their minds about school, learning, and music. Because I value learning that generates inquiry, creates a need to know, engages students’ personal interests and prior knowledge, it is my responsibility to foster an environment that allows this to happen in a way where the students are unafraid to open their minds, share their thoughts, create original ideas, and take imaginative risks. I count myself lucky that music happens to be the subject I am passionate about, because it lends itself so easily to these kinds of dispositions. “After all”, I will say to a new class, “we don’t call it working music… we play music here!”
3. Fresh Perspectives and New Ideas
The art of teaching, for me, has been a continuously evolving one. For the first few years, the changes were fast and furious, eventually settling into a comfortable decade or so of teaching habits. Not that there haven’t been many reflections, adaptations, and new situations for me to learn from along the way, but most of my teaching practice had settled into a nice routine. But in the last year or so, I have made some of the most dramatic (and frankly, frightening) changes of my career.
Inspired by the new perspectives formed from having started my graduate studies, and in particular having studied philosophy, I began to embrace the idea of questions. Particularly, the idea that my students may be able to build an entire curriculum from questions alone. I applied this idea to my high school theory class, by ‘striking a deal’ with them that the class would be built by sharing the plan of what they thought was worth learning. They told me why they signed up for theory class, what they hoped to learn, and what they wanted to explore as musicians. I agreed that their ideas would compose 50% of the content of our class, while I gave them the other 50% of what I called the “nuts and bolts” of music theory (traditional stuff like notation, key signatures, analysis, etc.)
Another dramatic change I’ve adopted this year has been implementing a long-term Comprehensive Musicianship plan with my high school chorus that challenged them to predict, reflect, think like composers, and perform with understanding. Both of these adventures with learning in theory and chorus were able to be observed, studied, and questioned by preservice music education majors at the Crane School of Music, who came for regular visits to my classroom via polycom videoconferencing. It was the use of this technology that was, by far, the furthest from my comfort zone I’ve ever felt while teaching. I had to learn how to teach all over again, analyze and plan and reflect on my practice deeply, and I learned to swallow the pill of public humiliation while not one, but two classrooms of students got to watch the process of a teacher stumble through learning a new technique for the first time and making mistakes.
The happy ending to this small part of my story, however, is that I learned from my mistakes, and (except for the very first week or two) didn’t regret the choice I had made to so publicly share my adventure. And it wasn’t long before I observed significant, worthwhile transformations and innovations happening in my teaching, rewarded by students who came back wanting more, and offered deeper insights than I had previously expected high schoolers to be able to give about their own learning. I’m hooked. And I look forward to including even more room for their ideas, skills, and curiosity by deliberately building in regular use with current digital technologies this year.
4. “Disposal Site”
In considering what changes I will need to make to become a more effective teacher who is in tune with my students’ 21st Century learning needs and interests, I am reminded of a quote by Pablo Picasso:
“Every act of creation, is first an act of destruction.”
We need to keep our garden (educational thinking) weeded if we expect the plants (students) we desire to cultivate (habits of mind) to have room to grow and flourish. So, in the spirit of welcoming new innovations of teaching and learning, I am ready to let go: Of rehearsal techniques that encourage more parroting than individual thought, of rubrics entirely constructed without student imput, of whole-group instruction the majority of the time, and of using so much paper in evaluation when paperless formats may offer not only a more environmentally conscious choice, but may in fact prove to be a more effective assessment tool in tracking the progress of individual students’ processes of learning and thinking musically.
5. Influencing the Music Education Field
As a music educator, I have been particularly influenced by my experiences studying with master musicians from around the world, which in turn led to my interest both in the Orff method and in ethnomusicology. I pursued formal training through the Orff certification program, and became passionate about teaching myself about world music in any way I could. I have since given workshops both in Orff and in drumming in interdisciplinary formats, and to many populations, including college students, community members, and educators of every subject area.
Drawing on these experiences of teaching, learning, collaborating, and reflecting on the feedback from participants will help guide my new plans to incorporate more student-centered teaching and technology. This will give me a unique perspective, both as a teacher and student, to share my journey with multiple groups of educators about becoming an innovative and evolving music educator in the hopes that, by leading by example, they have the courage to explore their own personal journey and join community of change.
6. Relating personal work to music education at large
Problems that we all face in music education today include, perhaps most alarmingly, the waning interest on the part of our students for music that exists in school settings only, and seem to have no relation to their lives outside of school. As stated in the article, “What Are Music Educators Doing and How Well Are We Doing It?” (MEJ, Sept. 2007) by David a. Williams:
“Students can now do more musically at home without us
than they can at school with us.”
A wake up call if I ever heard one. And it’s up to every music teacher in the country to change this perception. No matter what area of music we teach, there is room for student-driven participation and room for more open ended expectations of what music education “should” look like. It is our job to participate in the transformation of educational perspectives as a whole by actively preparing our students, through music, to use 21st Century skills and technologies that encourage and develop a sense of inquiry, collaboration, and innovation.
7. Forging a focus
All of this is perfectly possible, particularly if we model exactly the habits and actions we want our students to adopt. By thinking of teaching as learning, we can educate ourselves how to become comfortable with these new modes of teaching practice. By connecting with the growing numbers of networks and online communities of educators who share our vision, we can gain the support we need to draw on the experience and advice of others. By writing about, sharing, and publishing our own work as we move forward, we become more intelligent educators in our reflection and process. Together, we can bring public education into the 21st Century by becoming advocates and examples of self- directed discovery learning, allowing the space and opportunity for our students to become their best selves.
“All children are artists.
The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” - Pablo Picasso