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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Summer Reflection: School Year Highlights

I like to take time at the end of each school year to reflect. It's easy for me to get so caught up in the excitement of new ideas I have for next year that I don't spend enough time really processing the year that has just passed! This year I thought I would share my reflections here, not only so others can possibly learn from my mistakes and successes, but also to hopefully inspire others to do some reflection of their own! Today I will be focusing on my highlights, and you can read about things I've learned and new ideas for next year in this follow up post.

I shared the questions I ask myself at the end of each school year in this post several years ago, and I'm using those same ones here (see the second half of the questions in this post):

1. What are my favorite memories from this school year?

Oh boy, that's hard to pick...

The International Music Festival is always a highlight and it's fresh in my mind- I do a school-wide informance with each grade performing music and dance from a different country. It is so much work but so rewarding, and the students always love it too!

Of course there's all those "little moments"- the look on his face when I showed a kindergarten student with special needs how to play the cello, the first grade boy who often ends up in the principal's office who said out loud to himself, "Man I am killin' it today!" in the middle of class, the look of pride on the fourth graders' faces when the whole grade level learned a complex instrumental piece and the whole ensemble "clicked", the time my 5th and 6th grade chorus first sang in 3-part parallel harmony a capella...

Yeah, OK, I'm crying now. Time to stop!

2. What am I most proud of from this school year?

I think I'm most proud of the new material I put together and taught for the International Music Festival this year. I've been teaching in-depth units on music from one country in each grade for over a decade, but this is only my 2nd year presenting those songs as a performance. Since students had shared the songs and dances I have been teaching all these years in last year's festival, I decided I needed to come up with new material so it wasn't all the same songs. It was extremely challenging to learn so much new music in so many different languages etc well enough to teach them to all 7 different grade levels, but it was worth all the effort.

3. What did I do differently this year that worked?

I actually made some pretty significant changes this year and for the most part they were successful. I already mentioned the changes to my cultural deep-dive units, but besides that one new thing I did was adding warm-ups to my daily lesson routine- you can read about how I set it up in this post from the beginning of the year, but basically I had some type of student-led activity at the beginning of each lesson to get everyone going right away and review basic concepts. It worked so well- the students and I loved it, and it was a great way to review basic rhythm and pitch literacy skills especially.

Another new thing this year was the hip-hop composition unit I did with my 6th graders. I brought in a local hip-hop artist to help teach the unit, and overall the project was successful and accomplished what I hoped it would- giving more legitimacy to the genre and to the unique skills needed to perform and create hip-hop music, flipping which students are comfortable and which aren't, and engaging a tough-to-please age group.

I also added several new books to my classroom and those were a huge success, especially for my self-contained special education class (which was also a first for me this year). Snake Alley Band, Allie All Along, My Family Plays Music, and Max Found Two Sticks were all new for me this year- you can see all of my lesson plans for these and other books in this post.

I also changed up my Music In Our Schools Month celebration quite a bit this year, and I did a musical "march madness" bracket for the first time, having students vote on their favorite songs each day. It was fantastic! Everyone loved it, and it wasn't a tremendous amount of work on my end either, which is always a win. I explained how I ran the bracket, including the songs I used this year, in this post.

This is not part of my actual teaching or my classroom itself, but one more thing I did differently this year that definitely worked was being more deliberate about regularly complimenting and encouraging my colleagues and administrators. I'm lucky to have some pretty fantastic colleagues and bosses but I have never been good at telling people how much I admire them or complimenting people. I tried to do so verbally too, but my biggest success this year was dropping a card in people's mailboxes every now and then- not just for teacher appreciation, birthdays, end of the semester/year or other milestone events when it would be more expected to send cards, but at random times during the school year. You know how they say showing gratitude makes you feel better yourself? It's absolutely true. And it's getting less and less awkward for me the more I do it.

Inspired to share your own successes? Let's all celebrate together- I promise, it's good for you to toot your own horn! Leave a comment below and share your highlights from this past school year!

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