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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Race in the Music Room: Respect

Over the last several weeks I have been tackling the topic of inclusion for traditionally marginalized people and perspectives in music education, and today we're talking about race. This is an emotionally and politically charged topic for many, but also a particularly salient one! I most certainly do not claim to have all of the answers, or to even be raising all of the right questions, but as with all of the topics in this series, my hope is to spark reflection and conversation for music educators so that we can take productive steps forward.

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To help me address this topic I sought insight from two people of color who are music teachers I admire: Danielle from Music On a Cart and Czarina from Little Upbeat Class. I've also been doing a lot of reflection, reading, and talking with colleagues and others in the community over the last year in particular, so the thoughts below are a compilation of all of our ideas.

My focus in this series is threefold: reflecting underrepresented perspectives and people, responding to the needs and perspectives of marginalized perspectives and people, and respecting those differing perspectives and people as we do so. The topic of race is an enormous one, so I will be tackling the issue of reflecting students of color (representation) in a separate post. Today I want to focus on responding to and respecting a broader range of people and perspectives.

1. Take a hard look at your own biases and listen to people from other perspectives.

I've been saying this all through this series but it's worth saying again! It is impossible to expand our worldviews and perspectives in isolation. Obviously talking to people from differing backgrounds face-to-face is one of the most powerful things we can do in this area, but books and articles, professional learning communities (local or online), and social media are all excellent ways to hear from other perspectives and learn from experts who have been studying the topic as well.

You'll find a list of some specific resources for books and online resources later in this post, but I want to focus here on the idea of listening to people from different perspectives. If you are a white teacher, it can be embarrassingly challenging to find people of color to hear from. Looking for pop/ contemporary music to include in your choir concert that are "school-appropriate"? Whether you're looking on the radio, in a Facebook group for music teachers, or doing an internet search, my guess is (and my experience has been) you'll find a lot more songs performed and written by white people before you'll find anything by people of color. Looking for music teachers to follow on social media, authors to read in professional journals, or other ways to learn from experts in the field? The majority of the ones we'll come across initially are going to be white.

It is our job as teachers to seek out those differing perspectives, particularly those that are marginalized like people of color, and take the time to really listen and learn. This can't be about finding one African-American spiritual or one lesson idea from one teacher of color and patting ourselves on the back. The only way to deepen our own understanding and start to identify our own biases so that we can improve our teaching practice for our students is to listen with open ears over a long period of time and seek to understand.

I've included a resource list at the end of this post. Take the time to listen to some or all of them, and then, in whatever ways you can, amplify the voices of music educators of color. We need to help other music teachers find these resources and learn from these voices, and we need to better support our colleagues of color as well. Czarina put it this way (quote from her interview with Razan Abdin-Adnani): "As a woman of color in music education, I am the minority. The majority of music directors are white and usually male. Because of this, I have felt pressure to maintain the status quo in order to prove my worth. As I grew in my own voice and resilience, I realized that being a female-music-director of color is my strength. I am representation. This understanding led me to challenge the status quo, to fight injustice, and to be intentional about providing wider representation and a deeper understanding/appreciation of my students' identities in my teaching." When you find excellent resources from people of color, share them with colleagues!

2. Be proactive in eliminating songs that have a racist background as well as practices/ vocabulary that are offensive to certain racial/ cultural groups.

It is amazing how many songs that are part of the standard literature for many elementary music programs have racist backgrounds. Songs like "Jump Jim Joe", "Five Little Monkeys", and "Jimmy Crack Corn" are all songs that have appeared in many elementary music textbooks and resources and have been used in workshops for many prominent methodologies but all have racist backgrounds. If this is new information for you, you're not alone! But it's time to do some research. Here is an article by Aimee from O For Tuna Orff to get you started.

I've seen a lot of discussions on this topic among music teachers: should we or shouldn't we eliminate folk songs and other music that we've used (and loved) for years but find out have racist origins? There are differing opinions on this. Some teachers prefer to teach the song and have a frank discussion about its racist background, using it as a learning opportunity (Danielle has been able to do this successfully with her older private lesson students, for example). Others modify the portions that are racist by changing the lyrics or eliminating certain sections and use the edited version. Although there are some situations where these strategies might be worthwhile, as in Danielle's example, in most cases I (along with Danielle and Czarina) take the approach of replacing repertoire with racist backgrounds entirely. There is so much music out there in the universe- why would I continue to use a piece that is offensive to certain groups of people and promotes a biased, disrespectful perspective? It takes more effort to find new songs to use and create new lesson plans, but in our opinion it is most certainly worth the time and effort.

This concept goes beyond just song material- we also need to make the effort to learn about terminology and specific practices that are offensive to other people groups and eliminate them from our teaching. Yes, it can be exhausting to learn new vocabulary for referring to people groups or changing little habits that we have, but I believe it is our responsibility as teachers (and, really, as humans) to make the effort to change (and not insist that others should "stop being sensitive", as I've heard some say).

The best way to learn about terms and practices that may offend others is to develop open and honest relationships with people in your community and just ask! Different people groups, and even individuals, will have different opinions on what vocabulary is harmful. And there are so many little things we do as teachers that can offend students or parents but can easily be changed! I learned during my time in Korea, for example, that in some cultures it is like a death wish to write a person's name in red. I no longer use red when I correct papers- now I use another color like purple or green (and hey, it's more fun anyway)!

3. Don't be afraid to discuss race in class.

It can be intimidating to even bring up the topic of race in class, especially if you are a white teacher with classes that are primarily students of color. Take the time to do your homework, of course, but you as a teacher will never have all the answers. If you create a classroom environment where everyone can be open and honest in sharing their perspectives and listening to others', productive conversations can happen by learning from each other.

I teach a very short unit on jazz music in my 6th grade classes. As part of my introduction, I show videos of different styles of jazz from different time periods. As we watch Dave Brubeck and Ella Fitzgerald and talk about the way jazz changed over time, race naturally comes up. I used to avoid getting into the topic too deeply, but now if a student doesn't bring it up in the first few minutes I raise it myself! It's important for students to have opportunities to have honest conversations about race and become comfortable with the topic. It doesn't have to take over the entire class period- we all know how limited our class time is already- but if we raise it matter-of-factly whenever it is appropriate, we will create a classroom environment where students of all races feel more comfortable.

4. Don't make assumptions about students.

I mentioned this in my post on world cultures, but it applies to racial groups as well: don't assume that a student (or anyone else, for that matter) is of a particular race or identifies with a particular group. There are French people with very dark skin who certainly wouldn't call themselves "African American" (for example)! Avoid putting students on the spot or referring to them as an example of a particular people group- get to know the students and have private conversations with them if there is a reason their personal racial identity would be helpful to bring up in class. Remember that nobody's identity is one-dimensional or straight-forward. We are all multi-faceted individuals with unique perspectives, backgrounds, and stories.

5. Look for, and seek to change, ways that you favor the characteristic behaviors of one racial/ cultural group over another.

To truly respect and respond to students from varied backgrounds, we have to think beyond just racist songs and terminology. One area of ongoing reflection for me has been taking a hard look at the kinds of behaviors I encourage and discourage in my classroom (and in my school building as a whole). Are the behaviors I see as "negative" actually detrimental to student learning, or are they just harder for me to manage or uncomfortable for me personally? A simple example is hoodies. In the past I would automatically tell any student with a hood on to take it off in school. Now I only do so if the students are covering their mouths with it while singing, playing with the ties, or otherwise inhibiting their learning in some way. I have found that for some students, they put their hood on when they are upset and it helps them feel safe, which actually improves their ability to remain in class and participate. For others it is simply what they're used to, and by allowing those students to keep their hoods on they feel more comfortable in my class and feel their identity is more accepted. Perceiving the difference between those for whom putting their hood on is a distraction or a means to "check out" from the class, and those for whom it improves their learning, comes down to intentional relationships with my students (isn't that what it always comes down to?).

Another example is the way students enter my classroom. I used to be extremely strict about having classes enter the room silently so that their focus was immediately on the first lesson activity I had planned. Now in some classes (particularly the older grades) I allow students to come in having a quiet conversation or greeting with another student or (more often) with me, and I start our student-led warmup activity while a certain amount of chatter is still happening. I find for certain classes, students are much more comfortable and engaged this way and we get started just as quickly. Am I still a drill sergeant when it comes to walking silently in the hallway? Yep. Do I still have very clear expectations and structure for how students come into my room? Absolutely. None of this is possible without a foundation of structure and high expectations that are consistently enforced. But with that foundation established, I have found that students can handle a certain amount of freedom and, again, feel more welcomed in my classroom (which leads to increased engagement throughout the rest of class).

What about helping other students with answers? Of course there are times when I need to be able to assess each individual student's understanding of a particular concept so I cannot have students helping each other. But I have found shared/ cooperative learning opportunities to be tremendously helpful, whether they happen to be struggling with the topic or are able to help others! The point is to be open to the idea that behaviors we may be trying to prohibit may actually be ones that can help some of our students learn more effectively and give more equal importance to values of different people groups. Often it is a matter of finding different ways to manage the behaviors in a classroom setting. In every case it can only work with a foundation of high structure and clear expectations, combined with intentional relationships with each individual student.


Here is a list of some books, articles, websites, and social media accounts that can serve as resources for further thought and discussion. This is certainly not an exhaustive list! If you have other resources or people you are aware of, please share them below so we can all learn from each other!

I hope that this post serves to spark thought and discussion and that we can continue to learn from each other to better serve all of the students in our classrooms! To stay in touch and get more content delivered straight to your inbox, be sure to sign up here for the Organized Chaos Newsletter.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Planner Setup Tip: Simplifying Weekly Lesson Planning

I made a small but significant change to my planner setup this school year and after test-driving it for a couple of months I'm officially in love!

So let me show you what I did and then I'll explain what it is, how I use it, and why it's awesome :)

For those who don't know, I designed a planner years ago where I can keep everything in one place, from lesson plans for my elementary general music classes to meal planning, from concert organization to birthdays and anniversaries, and everything in between. If you aren't familiar with what my planner is like, here's a video "tour" from a couple of years ago, which takes you through all of the different sections of the planner:

I've had a section for "curriculum" since I first started this planner system, and as my lesson planning systems and resources have changed, the contents of that section have changed as well. A couple of years ago I started creating and using monthly lesson banks to more effectively fill the gap between my long-range yearly plans and my day-to-day lesson planning. If you aren't familiar with that system, stop everything you're doing and go read the post below- it has been life-changing for me!

Until this year, I was referencing those all-important monthly lesson banks in two ways: 1) on my computer, and 2) a hard copy of the current month, which I kept in the back pocket of my planner. As I completed each month's plans I would print out the next month and throw away the old one.

The problem was I found myself referencing those monthly lesson banks so often that it was sometimes inconvenient not to have a hard copy of every month at my fingertips! And as I reflect on my curriculum and lesson plans this school year to dig deeper into how to better represent and respect all of my students from differing backgrounds and perspectives, I have wanted to have a hard copy where I can jot down ideas when I think of them, and pull out several months at a time to look at them side-by-side.

Enter my planner setup update: the grade level tabs within the curriculum section of my planner!

For each grade, I printed out the yearly outline for which skills and concepts I plan to cover each month, with the curriculum overview for each grade level based on the standards on the back of that page. Behind that, I have each month's lesson bank:

I was avoiding having everything printed and included in my planner because I never want to add unnecessary bulk, but these monthly plans have become such a critical part of my planning process that it is worth it for me! If you want to get a closer look at what my monthly lesson banks are like, you can download the September plans for 5th grade for free right here, and you can get all the templates I used to set up everything from my long-range curriculum documents to my specific lesson plans, plus the directions for how I did it, in this free email course.

I love having everything organized this way, and having the tabs-within-tabs makes it easy to find what I need when I'm writing up my lesson plans. Anything that saves me time with all those different lessons is a huge win for me! If you don't want to add too much bulk to your regular planner, this would also be a great binder to set up separately with tabs for each grade and the grade level overviews and monthly plans organized within each grade.

I hope you found some fresh inspiration and new ideas to help you simplify your general music lesson planning! If you want more ideas like this sent straight to your email, be sure to sign up here for the Organized Chaos Newsletter so you can stay up to date on the latest happenings around these parts :)

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Females in the Music Room

As we continue our conversation on better inclusion for marginalized people groups in our music rooms, today I want to focus on women and girls. With such a high percentage of females in the teaching profession in general, it is in many ways surprising to think that girls are marginalized in any way in our classrooms, but when we consider the structures and issues of our societies in general it shouldn't come as a surprise at all. In keeping with the theme of this series, today I want to focus on ways in which we can better reflect, respect, and respond to the needs of females in the music room.

First it's important to note that gender is not binary, and there are many students who struggle with the issue of gender identity itself. Although that topic is beyond the scope of this post, I do not want us to ignore the struggles or needs of those students as we focus on females today. As we reflect on how to better reach and teach all of our students, it's important to avoid limiting ourselves to binary gender identities.

To help me tackle this topic, I reached out to fellow music teacher Michelle Warshany from Music with Miss W. She has been talking about the need for better female representation in music education for a while now and she has some excellent thoughts, ideas, and resources to share! Here is the conversation we had:

1. What are some of the specific areas where you have noticed lack of female representation in music education, whether as a student or as a teacher?

As a student, I started playing flute in 5th grade but did not play any music written by a female composer until I was in college. I did not meet a female high school band director until my junior year of college. As a student teacher, I attended a meeting with my co-operating teacher for all of the high school band directors in the district. I was the only female there. This summer I took an advanced conducting course as part of my masters and there was not a single female conductor featured as an example of great conducting in the entire course. 

As a teacher, I encountered a huge lack of female representation at the high school band level and at the secondary level in general. I have also encountered quite a bit of sexism and I know I am not alone. The Good Ol' Boys Club definitely still exists in many places, especially in the band world. Do a quick search of "sexism" in any band director Facebook group and you'll find many stories.

As a teacher, I have also noticed many band programs don't program any music written by female composers. It's not even just an issue at the K-12 level. Of the 1,445 classical concerts performed by orchestras, only 5% of the concerts include at least one piece of music written by a female composer. Most often, I see teachers rarely displaying female composers in their "composer of the month" series. If there are female composers, conductors, and musicians displayed or used, they are most often white women and very rarely feature BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color).

2. Besides representation, what are other ways in which females are underprivileged in music classrooms (of any types/ grade levels)? 

Females often face more challenges as leaders. Check out this interview that talks about some of the challenges women face, "for example the ‘master stereotype’ that men have emotion while women are emotional." It is important to recognize that female leaders face unique challenges. This is something to be mindful of, especially if you have female students who are drum majors, section leaders, etc. 

In the same vein of leadership, girls may be less likely pursue leadership positions, despite the fact that research finds girls are just as predisposed to be leaders as boys. If you see leadership potential in female students, be aware they made need a little extra encouragement and be sure to expose them to female leader role models.

If you have self evaluation/reflection on their playing/singing as a part of grading, be aware that female students may often rate themselves lower than their actual performance level. For example, this study found "when self-ratings are examined, men rate themselves as significantly more effective than women rate themselves."

3. What are some specific ways for music teachers to make sure there is more female representation in their lesson content, repertoire, classrooms, materials, etc?

First, I suggest looking at the small things. If you're showing a video of someone playing an instrument, can you find a video that features a female musician? If you have bulletin boards or displays, can you add more females (be sure that they are inclusive of BIPOC)?

Be intentional about the music you program and make a goal to program at least one piece composed by a female composer each year. The composer diversity project has done an AWESOME job of collecting tons of female composers and putting them all in one database.

Don't be afraid to call out or talk about something that a male musician, composer, or conductor did. Russell Simmons is featured in my high school general music curriculum. Instead of side stepping the issue of the rape allegations, I talked about #metoo and gave resources for victims of sexual assault. It is okay to call out something that is wrong. Students need to know what is wrong.

Male teachers/directors - speak up when you see something or hear something.

Take a look at who you follow on social media. Are you listening and learning from voices who are different than your own?

4. What are some specific ways for music teachers to better respect and foster female students and their values in their classes?

Make female representation a normal part of your classroom. Featuring female composers, conductors, and musicians during women's history month is simply not enough. Students need to see themselves regularly in class. If you want to read more on why this important, you can check out this post.

Bring in female guest conductors so students can see other females leading ensembles. Support your female student teachers and talk about the specific challenges they may face. Encourage your female student leaders and be on the lookout for any sexism that may happen.

5. What resources would you suggest for music teachers who want to better represent females in their classes?
If you're looking for grade 3 and below pieces for band and orchestra, check out Yukiko Nishimura.
You can also check out my Instagram highlights - I have a few featuring female composers and conductors.

Points to Consider

Reflect: Finding ways to better reflect females in our classrooms goes beyond including Clara Schumann in our music history lessons! We need to include music written by female composers in the repertoire we use, show examples of female composers, conductors, performers, and other musicians in our posters, visuals, and video examples, and make sure students have opportunities to interact with female leaders in music, whether they're guest conductors, visiting artists, teaching colleagues, or other musicians from the community.

Respond: It's important to take into account the specific ways that female students handle self-evaluation compared to their male peers. We also need to be conscious of the barriers to leadership that our female students often encounter, and provide them with the support and role models they need to take on leadership roles in our classrooms.

Respect: We can't ignore the specific challenges that girls face in taking on leadership in our classrooms. It's important to encourage female students to take on leadership roles and be aware of (and counteract) any sexism they may encounter when they do. And when we talk about people, events, and ideas that are disrespectful of females in some way, it's important not to ignore the issue but to address it (in an age-appropriate way) with our students. We can also model respect as teachers ourselves, whether male or female.

I hope you found some thought-provoking ideas and resources to help you better reflect, respect, and respond to female students in your classroom! I have to thank Michelle for sharing her thoughts with us. If you want to hear more from her, you can find her on Instagram, Facebook, TeachersPayTeachers, and on her website.

If you haven't yet, I encourage you to read through the introductory post for this series on making room for every student in our classrooms. I hope you'll take some time to read my thoughts on ways to better teach other marginalized people and perspectives in my other posts in this series as well.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

September Favorites 2018

I cannot believe I'm writing this post right now... how is it already the end of September?!? Each month I like to take the opportunity to reflect back on some of the highlights from the past month, from home and school, and share them with you. I hope you find some inspiration here or at least a reason to smile!

1. Planner fun!

I have been having so much fun making different planner spreads in my teacher planner this month. I've been using a lot of scrapbook paper and it is so fun to look back at all of the different spreads! If you want to learn more about my how I "decorate" my planner while also keeping it super-functional, check out this blog post. And if you want to read more about my teacher planner/ life planner combination and how I make it all work, click here to see all of my planner-related posts :)

2. Imaginative play with 6-year-olds

It has been absolutely astonishing to see my 6-year-old daughters' imaginations explode lately! They will see something or have a thought and instantly be engaged in some kind of creative project for HOURS. On one of our recent days off of school, the girls set up the entire play room like a school, making everything down to the lined paper for journaling, and then spent 4 hours pretending to be the teachers (with the dolls and I as students). I had to cut it short after 4 hours because I was honestly all schooled-out, but in truth I think they could have kept going for at least a few more hours if I had let them! It is just amazing to sit back and see all of the creative ideas they come up with.

3. Social justice in the music room

This has been, and continues to be, such an important journey for me. I read stacks of books this summer on race, culture, bias in teaching, and more. I'm searching out and listening to marginalized voices as much as I can. And I've been thinking a lot about the role we as teachers, and music teachers in particular, can play in giving those marginalized people groups and perspectives a voice in our classrooms. What we do in our classes- in our interactions with our students- can have such a tremendously powerful impact on how our students view themselves and others. I'll be continuing this series in the weeks ahead so stay tuned, but you can click on the picture above to read the introductory post to the series on social justice in the music room, and read the last few week's posts to hear my thoughts on world cultures.

4. Amazing friends

One of my colleagues in the art department added the quote to this rainbow for my classroom. Is that not the best thing you've heard all day? It is now proudly displayed in my rainbow-colored classroom and it's perfect! I realized this year that this is the longest I have ever taught in the same school, or even lived in the same city, in my entire life (I've been in my current school over 5 years and the city over 6). Isn't that crazy? As someone who moved around a lot, it has been such a blessing to feel like I actually know people and places well enough to develop deeper connections, and this is one of those relationships that I'm so happy to have formed.

4. Music education articles

I love sharing my favorite music teaching blog posts that I found this month! You can click on each picture below to go read the posts- trust me, they are well worth your time.

This has been a busy but amazing month! What were some of your highlights from September? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below. And if you want to stay up to date on all the happenings in the Organized Chaos world, be sure to sign up for the newsletter right here.