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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Music Teacher Administrators Love

I'm continuing my series with insights from administrators on how we as music teachers can improve our relationships with administration and with colleagues and raise the level of respect they have for us and our profession, and today I'm sharing administrators' thoughts on what they think makes a great music teacher.

Nobody knows better than music teachers what truly makes a great music teacher. But I'm sure we've all heard those horror stories (or maybe experienced them ourselves) of good teachers who were treated unfairly because colleagues/ administrators didn't value the amazing work that they were doing, either because they weren't aware of what they were doing or didn't understand how the things the teacher was doing were effective (especially when it's a teaching practice that is unique to music)! And for those of us who are well-supported by our school community, it's always helpful to take some time to really reflect on our teaching practice and what we can do to continue to improve, and it's always a good idea to get some outside perspective as we reflect!

The thoughts I'm sharing below are a compilation of responses I got from two interviews: one with my building principal, and one with the district fine arts director. Neither has experience teaching music, but both are extremely supportive and thoughtful administrators. As you read their thoughts, I hope you'll consider how you can better make your administrators aware of these qualities that you probably already possess so that they see those things that they value more readily! At the same time, this is a good opportunity for some honest self-reflection. What areas mentioned here have I let fall to the way-side? What areas of my teaching practice could I focus on this year?

With all of that in mind, here are 3 questions I asked them, and the responses they gave:

What makes a good music teacher?
  • A love of students and a true desire to see them grow. 
  • An understanding of how to help students grow- this comes down to effective planning. An ability to figure out how to most effectively teach the skills and concepts in the curriculum to meet each student's needs.
  • Energy and passion for music and music teaching.
  • Creativity- fresh, new ideas for lessons and programs / performances.
  • Openness to new ideas- don't just keep teaching the same lessons the same way you've always taught them. Focus on skills and concepts and be open to new ways to teach them.
  • Relentlessness- the energy to keep pursuing excellence, to keep trying when you aren't getting through to a student or a lesson falls flat.
  • A dedication to your own musicianship.
How can music teachers be more effective members of the school building staff?
  • Be willing to collaborate with non-specialists. If you're teaching something that could be reinforced in other subjects (like the science of sound or music from a particular country), ask them if they have any resources for you or if they can tie it into their own classes somehow. If they come to you with a topic they are working on in their class, work with them to find musical ways to further student learning, whether you reinforce it in your music classes or give them resources to include a musical activity in their own teaching. Colleagues will come to respect you as an expert, and the students will benefit from the cross-curricular connections!
  • Get involved in school-wide (non-musical) events, programs, and/or committees, whether it's helping to plan an assembly or joining a staff committee. You will be seen as more of a team player and as a teacher deserving of equal respect by colleagues and administrators if you are involved in non-music-specific work in the building, and the other teachers will be much more likely to want to help with music events.
How can music teachers be more effective members of the music department?
  • Be open-minded. Be honest and open in your collaborations with your department colleagues so that you can reflect on areas where you can continue to improve your teaching practice. Often teachers are happy to share their own successes with colleagues but aren't as eager to truly listen to and take into consideration the ideas of other teachers.
  • Don't think that you can't have an impact on the district / department beyond your classroom because you're "just a teacher". Be proactive and get involved in department-wide efforts, especially when you see places where you can contribute a particular interest or expertise.
Do I think that exhibiting all of these qualities will ensure all music teachers are treated fairly and with the respect they deserve? Nope. The reality is, of course, that it doesn't always work that way. But I hope these insights are helpful in at least thinking about what we can do as music teachers to work towards improved relationships and respect.

What are your thoughts on this? It can sometimes be hard to have outsiders tell us how we can do our job better, but I think these suggestions are all quite insightful. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and if you'd like to get more content like this sent to your inbox and join in a more direct and personal conversation, please sign up for the Organized Chaos Newsletter right here.

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