Learning is an incredible opportunity that we are granted each moment, but it is only through relevant and safe experiences that learning can truly be experienced. When I approach learning and teaching in the music classroom, I consider the following: relevancy of material, relationships, and student safety. My experiences as a learner and an educator have taught me to value and prioritize these beliefs, and are at the forefront of my mind each day as I work with learners of all ages. To engage in learning is to take risks that can only be accomplished in a safe setting. Learning is inherently vulnerable, with an expectation that there may be failure, but often in that moment of failure the real learning occurs.
I must also consider “what if,” “why,” and “with whom.” There must be a sense of safety so that the students and myself, in our vulnerable states can take intellectual and personal risks. However, this can only occur if the content is relevant to the students, their lives, their diverse backgrounds, and the learning community. I consider what prior knowledge and understanding the students with whom I work, as well as future students, may bring with them to the classroom. Relinquishing the title “expert” and instead, considering myself a “co-learner” has augmented the teaching and learning experience for not only myself, but the students with whom I work
“What if” we want to engage students in meaningful conversations regarding the music they have grown up with, in the United States or their home country? Rather than using my own background to guide discussions about music history, we consider the different ways music is consumed throughout the world. Rather than learning about western art music, we learn about social and cultural movements of the 20th and 21st centuries that contributed to the rise of protest music. Steeped in cultural awareness and present day conversations, this exploration of music history encourages students to consider how music is influenced by social and cultural movements throughout the worlds in which they exist.
Learners from diverse backgrounds respond differently to similar artistic experiences based on their previous life experiences. Engaging in these discussions can lead to conversations about “why” we can see differences in the same experience and being able to find commonalities within those experiences. Interrogating “why” artists (visual, musical, physical) make the decisions they do when creating art can lead to fruitful conversations that may enlighten learners as to “why” they may perceive differences in a similar piece of art.
As an educator, my consideration of “with whom” I am engaging encourages me to facilitate a safe space for students to be vulnerable in their intellectual risk-taking and early understandings of new material. Additionally, I am often motivated to step aside, and allow students to struggle with this new information together, process information together, and make meaning as individuals but also as a learning community. I must also consider my own background in relation to the students’ backgrounds and how they may perceive me. This awareness is just as important as students move on to higher education opportunities, where many more new experiences wait for them. Without safety, they may struggle to feel successful.
Teaching puts me in a position of power. With that power comes an even greater responsibility to ensure that all students, regardless of their background, feel safe to experience learning. As an educator, my first responsibility is to the students and then the content. Without a relationship built on trust and understanding, risk-taking and learning will not occur. My goal as an educator is to help students find beauty in learning and to empower them to draw meaning from the music that they will experience throughout their lives.