From the Principal’s Office to the Stage…
Have you ever had a student whose behavior at times mystified you? One moment the child is a polite and sweet young lad, the next moment he is defiant and spewing out nasty insults to the unsuspecting little girl sitting next to him? He is not a toddler, nor a teenager…yet! He is simply unprovokedly mean and angry at the world, seemingly on the flip of a switch. As a teacher it is ingrained in your being to keep trying to “reach” this child, to invoke a change in his attitude, and make the “difference” that perhaps many of us sign up for in education naively underestimating just how difficult this actually is to do. You’ve talked to the administration and to the child’s parents. You find yourself scouring the internet for solutions. Perhaps you’ve even recorded a few Dr. Phil episodes in the hope that therein will lie the key to success. When in class do you find yourself on high alert, ready for the potential of bad behavior to emerge at any given moment? Or, do you step back and instead of looking for solutions to do or give to the child, just try to read what the child’s behavior is telling you?
This past week, I was the teacher somewhat described above and was given an opportunity by the student described above to set aside solutions I intended to try inflicting on him and instead observe what he was unknowingly just trying to tell me and perhaps other teachers around him. Last week the school was holding their annual school Christmas program. During my previous visit a couple days earlier, a student I will call Jake, had been taken to the hall during our music class to talk with his teacher about his inappropriate comments in class. Upon his return, he sat down next me and immediately spewed out a nasty insult to the girl sitting on the other side of him. This time I removed him myself and took him to the principal’s office as that had been the agreed upon procedure for this student given his behavior over multiple weeks. Later in the week, when I arrived back at the school , Jake was there, but it was as though he was in another place. School was not school for Jake on that day! On Thursday Jake was not the kid who had landed himself in the Principal’s office, again, but rather Jake was, on this day, the Christmas program Stage Manager! Jake was in charge of setting up the stage, the audience seating, and running the sound system. Jake was a different kid, one with an important job. His school needed him, and his teachers needed him. He was so engaged in his role that everything had to be perfect. He asked me for help to solve a microphone issue and he taught me how he had been taught to run the amp for the mic and speakers. He put tape down on the floor so the children would know exactly where to stand in relation to the microphone. At one point a small group of students had come into the gym with boomwhackers and while they waited for their teacher, they were whacking away and creating lots of sound. They weren’t doing any harm, but this bit of chaos did not fit Jake’s perfect world he was attempting to create and he soon proceeded to attempt to get control over these young children and get them to quiet down. As I chuckled at this in my head I eventually told Jake that the kids were ok, they weren’t hurting anything or anyone so we could let them be.
What did I learn from observing Jake the Stage Manager that day? Well, Jake needs to have a sense of belonging, he needs a job, he needs to be able to contribute to his school in HIS own way, and he needs to be so important that he knows he matters. This is not a surface level experience that we as teachers can simply create for him; it is something he must see in himself. But, we can open the door and be ready to see the opportunity for such self-discovery.
Having seen Jake in this different light, after the New Year, the principal has suggested that we allow Jake to have some time on his own to experiment in the music studio. During this time I intend to see if there are ways we can take Jake’s stage managerial skills and turn them into a daily role within his school. Perhaps he will create a weekly school jingle that will contribute to the school day announcements. Perhaps he will become the studio manager who tracks the studio usage and any technical problems that come up. Perhaps he will become the one teachers and students rely on for help when they don’t know how to do something in the studio.
And…perhaps I as a teacher working alongside Jake will continue to be on high alert, but this time ready for the potential of exemplary behavior to emerge at any given moment!
Much thanks and appreciation to Jake’s principal and teachers for all they do to see the good in all students and help them to be their best!
Kendra’s Reading Corner…
Music-making involves using important transferable skills – communication, team working, presentation, project management and problem-solving – that are essential in many aspects of life.
Who has control over learning? Who should have control? The relationship between teacher and students will be affected by how this question might be answered. If the student are allowed control over what they learn, they may choose not to apply themselves to difficult tasks, they may get distracted or they may set themselves goals that are inappropriate or unrealistic. Students need a teacher. However, if the teacher has complete control over what students learn, the students may not engage with or really understand what they are supposed to be learning.
The relevance of the curriculum to students is important. Socio-cultural relevance can mean a number of things including:
- progression – if a student intends to continue with music as a career and how they conceive this career evolving;
- cultural influences – the musical values and tastes they bring with them to the classroom;
- social life – how they may use music to engage in social interactions with friends.
Each student will bring his or her own interests and understandings of music.
It is the task of the music teacher to create opportunities for students to take an interest in music-making activities that will require them to engage in the key processes that are central to independent music-makers. It is important for the music teacher to provide a safe environment in which students can experiment and explore different ways of expressing their ideas.
With a Year 10 group, a teacher uses a composition sketchbook to develop students’ understanding of music theory and harmony. Each week a simple theoretical aspect is introduced such as dynamics, rhythms, binary form or the major triad, exploring with the class different possibilities for its use, methods for notation and ways of communicating these ideas. The teacher models how to create a little compositional idea using simple rules that limit the scope of what can be produced. Examples might be a two-bar baseline or perhaps a simple melody for a flute to accompany the chords to ‘Wild Thing’, articulated in formal and practical forms of notation. These are then performed by the teacher or some of the students. Following on from this, the students are asked to create their own compositional ideas and to notate them so that they may be performed at the end of the lesson. Students keep their ideas in a sketchbook which can be used as stimulus material in longer pieces.
In recognizing the need for common languages with which musicians can express their ideas to each other, students are able to take ownership of theoretical and notational methods that are often taught in an abstract manner, divorced from the processes of composing and performing.
From Teaching Secondary Music, edited by Jayne Price and Jonathan Savage, Sage Publications, London, 2012.
Stay tuned for what I learn from my next book study…The Music of Pythagoras by Kitty Ferguson
Student Music Conference Announcement…
What: A music conference for exploring and learning music through performance, technology, composition, and improvisation.
Who: The conference will be open to PSSD students in grades 7-12
When: March 19th & 20th – Students are welcome to attend either on one of the two days or on both days
Where: Cedar Lodge on Blackstrap Lake, a few minutes south of Saskatoon
More details: TBA
Check out this great resource website passed to me by one of our teachers. Many music lessons, unit plans, and music clips can be found here all in one place!
If you are into patterns or teach math and science you MUST take a look at this amazing music experiment. This is way too cool!
Kendra’s Road Trip Schedule…
Monday – AM DO, PM meeting @ Blaine Lake
Tuesday – All day DO
Wednesday – AM Colonsay, PM Dentist
Thursday – All day Blaine Lake
Friday – AM DO, 11:00 parent meeting, PM DO
Looking ahead to January…
Friday – Kayleigh Gr. 6’s Ukes