As a music educator I am motivated to teach in an authentic manner that represents beliefs and values that are dear to me, and which I feel are beneficial to students, or important for the future of music education. Many of these stem from personal values about sociopolitical issues, and just as many relate directly to my own experiences and opinions on music. One activity that links all of these thoughts, and which has been especially crucial at present, as I am about to begin my first professional experience, is that of self-reflection and evaluation.
I strive to always remain self-reflective and question my teaching practices and choices. This reflection is not just about past teaching, but also about new ideas and approaches. As much as reflection is important for evaluating past events, lessons, teaching, etc., it is also a recognition that teachers should always be learners. I have recently learnt a great deal and made changes to my teaching practices as a result of how I have questioned, researched, and analysed new concepts that have challenged what I thought or reinforced and refined previously held beliefs of mine. Reflection and self-evaluation reduce the chances of poor habits becoming ingrained, whilst encouraging constant learning and inquiry (Dwyer, 2016).
Many of the ideas that aligned with my personal values have been those in music curriculum classes that have dealt with making music relevant to children in 2020 and beyond, and teaching in an ethical, inclusive, and progressive manner. Some that are particularly important to me are: Cultural Responsive Pedagogy, informal learning, project based learning, recognition of WAM hierarchies and the presence of colonial structures/ideas in music education, and an overarching theme of “teaching music that is relevant to the cultures children participate in” (Humberstone, Zhao, & Liu, 2020, p. 3). [This quote might become my catchphrase if I keep writing it].
At the heart of these ideas the need to teach in a student centred manner in the music classroom. We may have ideas of what we want to teach and how, and what the syllabus dictates that we must cover, however to teach these things effectively and in a way that meaningfully engages students with music we need to put students’ needs and interests at the centre of the music we teach. At the same time it’s crucial to recognise that all students are unique individuals with their own interests, contexts, experiences, and stories. There is no one size fits all approach to music, nor to students. Instead of teaching in such a manner I believe it is critical to create opportunities for students to experience making music, sharing music, collaborating in music, and expressing themselves through music.
In order to do this a classroom needs to be inclusive – I am passionate about music being for all students, and also for viewing music as a beacon for social change, empowerment, diversity, culture, and expression. So much music is inseparable from these themes. I particularly think that music education in Australia needs to be de-colonised and needs to recognise and involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – there are fantastic opportunities in music to teach students about ethics, culture, power systems, and so on as these are themes ever-present in music. In regards to Australia’s First Nations cultures, these are conversations that need to be happening in our classrooms, and relationships that should be developed (MacKinlay, 2011). Personally, I strive to hold inclusive, ethical, and progressive values, and I do not want to separate these values from the way that I teach, especially when teaching in such a powerful and emotive field as music. An idea strongly related to teaching in this manner is that of involving the music of students’ own cultures.
I wish to adopt a pluralist approach to music education, as has been championed strongly by James, as I truly believe that this is one of the strongest ways to ensure music education remains relevant for students in this day and age. I want to embrace “all musics and all creative practices” (Humberstone, 2017, p. 7) in the classroom. I have always listened to an incredibly diverse range of music, and this is still ever expanding. Over just this past year I have come to understand and experiment with electronic music in ways I never expected, and I spend far more time than I used to listening to hip hop, electronic music, and music created through new innovations and methods of composition (one innovative approach that I love and want to share about, at a risk of going off on a tangent, is Ólafur Arnalds’ use of two pianos connected to a keyboard controller which Arnalds uses to run the individual notes he plays through a software coded by a friend of his, to be played as chords and cascading arpeggios by these two pianos. The result of this is somewhat random as Arnalds may play a single note but receive an indeterminate number of notes played by the two pianos. It is also some of the most beautiful and relaxing music I know of.) I want to take my love of so many forms of music and use this to teach music in an inclusive and respectful manner that leaves students with an appreciation of all musics without reinforcing the superiority complex present in WAM traditions.
Central to my personal philosophy of how music should be taught is the belief that students should be doing music. In order to actually practice what I preach about keeping music relevant for children, students need to have opportunities to make music themselves. I also think that actually experiencing and playing music is the best way to learn, including for music theory lessons that are often taught in a ‘chalk and talk’ manner. In my teaching I wish to include strategies/pedagogy such as informal learning, project based learning, collaborative learning, and the use of technology in the music classroom. All of these (and combinations of them) can be used to involve students in music, including those with no prior musical experience or knowledge. They may also allow for the hands-on development of musical skills and ability whilst grappling with realistic problems and challenges
As a teacher my goal is to engage as many students as I can in a life-long love and exploration of music, and everything I have mentioned above reflects my teaching identity and values, and how I see music education progressing and growing in the future.
Dwyer, R. (2016). Music Teachers’ Values and Beliefs. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Humberstone, J. (2017). A Pluralist Approach to Music Education. In S. Ruthmann & R. Mantie (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Technology and Music Education. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199372133.013.40
Humberstone, J., Zhao, C., & Liu, D. (2020). Nurturing Vulnerability to Develop Pedagogical Change Through MOOC Participation and Public Blogging. In J. L. Waldron, S. Horsley, & K. K. Veblen (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190660772.013.35
MacKinlay, E. (2011). A pedagogy of heart which beats to the rhythm of relationships: Thinking about ourselves as music educators in relation to indigenous Australia. Australian Kodaly Journal (Online), 2011, 17–21.