The validity of process over product?

Walking into York School in September I was a bit apprehensive. What was this Cohort 21 anyway? The day wound up flying by and by the end, I was a bit overwhelmed, but in a good way. I met lots of new people, had great conversations which truly resonated with me. As a music teacher, I often find PD isn’t meaningful or relevant to my practice, and sometimes, do I dare say, even feel bored sitting through it. This was finally PD that I could shape my wants and needs. How cool was that!

Having said that, I am still a bit confused and anxious about what is expected. I’m still learning to navigate the Cohort21 world that lies at my fingertips. Admittedly, I am experiencing challenges here, as I recognize that I recently replied to a survey posted a year ago to the last Cohort group…but I will learn!

I completed my “placemat” but have yet to complete all of my interviews and research. The big issue for me isn’t my urgency. Probably much like others, it’s simply the lack of time. I feel l have identified my challenge (process vs product in my junior-level music programs) after having some initial chats with my juniors using questions I created. They are very much on the same page as me, but perhaps I choose a group that was more likely to respond positively to me since I am their teacher and they are in my classroom? Was their response valid? I recognized I have access to over 80 juniors whom I teach. What about a Google form? Many of them tend to write more openly to me in our Google classroom forum than they speak anyway. This is still just at the idea phase…no real action…YET.  

As for my insights into this process, I have validated my student-centred philosophy with this activity. I also feel validation that I’m on the right track after speaking with them and other music educators at a recent conference who feel likeminded. The reality is that I also feel this is going to be tough. Concert season is now coming into the thick of things. Time is a hot commodity!

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My best learning experience


As a young musician of approximately 16, I recall performing a piano solo at a festival. 8-10 students were performing for a seasoned adjudicator. All of us had worked hard and were dealing with the nervous anxiety that comes with any competitive venue. I had performed, feeling pleased with my piece and sat with my peers in silent anticipation, awaiting the adjudicators’ results. Finally, he came to stand before us, speaking generally about the performances. He came to me and asked, “Did you hear that thumping when you played?” Puzzled, I pondered for a moment before answering, no. He smiled with half-closed eyes and went in for the kill. “I think it was Bach rolling over in his grave at how fast you took his Prelude.” I wished for the ground to open and swallow me whole. While a very challenging experience, it became wholly transformative in my journey as an educator. It guided me to develop a teaching pedagogy of enabling students to take risks, make mistakes and fail…without humility. Music is a class where you put yourself out there. Students must feel safe doing this if they are to progress. So while I didn’t win that festival, I sure pulled ahead in so many other ways for the students I have taught since.

LEARNING SKILLS:  All learning skills are obviously important. It’s tough to decide which is most important. I find it often depends on the way a student interacts with their environment and can be a very personal thing for each student. I do find, however, initiative tends to jump to the top of the list more often than not for my students in the world today. Music learning works as a springboard for students to try new things and take risks with their learning. I strive to make this a living skill in my classroom. We discuss it openly at each level. I remind students that it is natural to feel unsure and unable, but the best learning experiences often come from testing out new opportunities. While not a Montessori teacher myself, working in a Montessori environment has lead to me providing more choices within student activities and assignments. This allows students to move in their own direction with their curiosity. As we have been implementing more inquiry-based learning opportunities, I see this supporting student’s internal drive and desire to learn as well.

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