I am eternally grateful to my wonderful music teachers, people who valued individuality and personal expression over uniformity. Following their example, I am committed to helping my students achieve more than just passing grades and a graduation requirement. I strive to create a welcoming, diverse, collaborative learning environment.
What is most concerning to me as a music educator is the discursive divide between the academic curriculum and the “real music” that may be at the core of the student’s musical identity. I believe this distance is perpetuated by the hegemony of canonic masterworks and the impression of select ‘genius’ composers. By no means does my approach ignore the contributions of common-practice composers, nor do I suggest adding “token” examples of music by women or minorities. But I believe that students find the academic side of music more engaging if they feel as if their opinions, experiences, aspirations, and musical influences are valued. Creating an inclusive music theory or music history classroom does not mean excluding Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven. It simply means presenting students with an honest assessment of why canonic works are important, why other works are left out, and ways of addressing the disparity that results. This helps to create consistent emphasis on traditionally marginalized composers and groups, while demonstrating the paradigms of Western art music. I find that initiating a dialogue on why we talk about the music we do, is itself a remarkable way to spark student engagement.
By the same token, I believe open dialogue both inside and outside the classroom is vital to a successful educational environment. I encourage student feedback in one-on-one meetings and (anonymous) online surveys. I always strive to improve, and enjoy discussing aspects of pedagogy with colleagues. This dialogue is, to me, indispensable. A strong learning community of both students and faculty is vital to student success.
My strategies for increasing diversity in the classroom are informed by my experience as a professor, the perspectives I gained through my completion of Temple University’s Teaching in Higher Education certificate program, and my collaborative examination of pedagogical approaches based on research and open dialogue with both students and colleagues. The certificate program—with its emphasis on topics like theories of cognition, pedagogical approaches, and universal design—empowered me to cultivate an approach that is rooted in inclusivity.
I further strengthen this inclusive environment by involving and engaging multiple approaches and perspectives. Enriching collaborative discussions encourage students to think critically, and to apply abstract concepts to the music they personally enjoy. I extend this spirit of collaboration to different aspects of the class, using games, visual demonstrations, peer teaching opportunities, student-designed projects, and customizable assessments. Offering a variety of nontraditional project options instead of a single essay or test—whether a student-designed worksheet and answer key, a short movie, or a detailed musical map—not only encourages creativity and engagement, but often helps serve a practical purpose. For instance, detailed handouts or worksheets may be added to a teaching portfolio, compositions may be performed at upcoming new music concerts, or a blog post can help music therapy students to plan for future guided listening exercises. Student engagement is much higher when students are encouraged to trace connections between course content and their own career goals.
I strive to present concepts in a way that interests students and is relevant to their lives. My goal is for students to feel empowered and informed by their music education, rather than feeling limited, marginalized, or intimidated. At the core of my methodology is the idea that diversity—whether a diversity of ideas, or one of ethnicity, race, ability, or identity—has value, potential, and power.