Monday, February 22, 2021

NAfME Orchestra Town Hall on Mission in Music Education

 I was recently quite honored to be involved in a NAfME town hall to discuss our "Mission" as instrumental educators.  The event was scheduled for Sunday, February 21st starting at 1:00pm (Pacific Time). 

The entire event was virtual and lasted a total of 2 hours. The first hour was a panel discussion  facilitated as a webinar. Attendees were encouraged to submit questions and comments through the chat feature.  In the second hour, everyone was able to join with their camera and microphones. The dialog was open to everyone in attendance! We continued with questions that were submitted during the panel and appropriately branch off into related topics fueled by the attendees. 

Following the event, the panelists were asked to submit some of our thoughts in writing.  I thought some of you may be interested as well. So, here are some of my responses from the Town Hall.

Why are missions/philosophies important in contemporary American Education? 

Missions and philosophies are important in contemporary American Education, in my opinion, for three specific reasons.  First, they provide individuals guidance for daily decisions and positions. When one is under pressure or faced with a difficult decision, core philosophies or missions serve as an important compass for thoughtful individuals.  They provide clarity in times of crisis. Next, they are an important factor in personal career and job fulfillment.  For me, approaching each day with a mission mentality is an important key to happiness, fulfillment, and a general air of positivity in my daily life. When I approach my tasks as a mission, there is a much greater purpose. Mission implies importance. Mission implies commitment. Mission speaks of doing something for the greater good which is much bigger than one's self.  Missions are honest and go beyond "chores or tasks" in our daily work. Finally, a sense of teacher mission can promote student buy-in and investment in the work and content of the course.  Students sense honesty.  Real learning isn’t about content delivery.  It is about modeling.  Our students are learning MUCH  more than our content every day in class.  

What is YOUR mission as a music educator?

At its core, my primary mission is to serve as a musical and personal model for students.  I seek to lead and serve in my every move as an instructor.  I seek to love and care for my students and colleagues on a daily basis.  But, in reality, my mission changes throughout the day.  I seek to serve students as an example of Artist/Educator and I seek to promote and articulate concepts in functional and creative musicianship every day. I seek to model as an example of the term “steadfast.” I try to “move with purpose” throughout the day and bring tasks to completion.  This goes hand in hand with my stated mission of “servant leadership.”  I seek to build healthy unwavering relationships and promote honest, unbiased communication.  Finally, another stated mission for me is to simply say “yes” to students whenever possible.

How do you craft your mission to best serve your community: what factors need to be considered, which factors are commonly overlooked? 

I believe clarity of mission develops over a number of years and with thoughtful consideration. Our longevity in career and expectations of our position can help to clarify our mission as well.  For me, early in my career, my mission was to become the best and most knowledgeable pedagogue I could possibly be.  In the end, I was developing the tools of teaching during  this time period. I was teaching in central Pennsylvania for 6 years and was charged with building a string program in my community.  The next phase of my career was about 10 years in suburban Washington DC. I stepped into a position where the expectation was strong string and orchestra ensembles.  So, my mission centered around conducting, building ensembles, and building community among my students. For the past 20 years I have been at the North Carolina School of Science and Math.  Here, my mission varies significantly.  I have many roles at my school and must nimbly move between them. I seek to serve as a model teacher, leader, colleague, mentor, and guide.  When I apply my priorities and philosophies to the practical responsibilities of my everyday work the mission develops.

How are models for instruction supported/limited by your mission?

There are so many examples of this.  The mission of modeling functional musicianship as an artist and articulating this as an educator guides virtually all of my pedagogy.  This is outlined in detail in Ensemble Musicians Taxonomy of Mental Habits on my blog, “Thoughts of a String Educator.”  I also believe that many of my models for instruction are supported by my mission to “Just say yes”, and “servant leadership.”  For example, I model performance practices all the time and frequently demonstrate on my instrument in class.  This is a direct reflection of a servant leadership model.  

Finally, I would love to share my recent blog post, "Mission Mentality" here as well. It was written just a few weeks before I was asked to serve on this panel. Some readers may find it interesting.

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