Why I Share: #IMMOOC Week 5.3

Reading the book, “The Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros and participating in the IMMOOC has made me realize even more how important it is to look outside the four walls of my classroom. Taking the time to share, connect, collaborate, and reflect can impact teachers and students in ways that cannot be replicated.

When we share what happens in our classrooms, not only do other teachers benefit but  so do their students! I saw this in action last week, after posting on Twitter about some Halloween songs my string students were learning. A Twitter friend commented, asking if I would mind sharing the songs. After a few correspondences we ended up with a Flipgrid topic dedicated to Halloween songs that both of our students were contributing to. My students were thrilled when they realized they were sharing their music with students outside of our county! Working together, both sets of students benefited more than if we had worked alone.

“What really pushes our thinking is not consuming information, but reflecting, creating, and sharing our ideas with the understanding that others will read it.”        ~ George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset

Couros also talks about the benefits of writing and reflecting. I can’t agree with this enough. Blogging has been a game changer. The act of intentional thought and putting “pen to paper” (fingers to keyboard?) has made me think more deeply about my teaching than I have in a long time. In fact, it’s a topic I recently wrote about as a guest blog for EdTechTeam. I have only been blogging for a few months, but I know it’s something I plan to continue doing. The benefits to me are great and I hope that others might also benefit along the way!


Less is More: #IMMOOC Week 5.2

less is more

I am a person who typically wants to do everything. Read all of the books, attend all the trainings, and try all of the new tools – do it all! As a result, I frequently find myself overwhelmed trying to do all of these things at a high level. It’s just not realistic. You can even see from my first blog post, I had difficulty limiting my goals for the year. I was able to narrow it down to five new things I plan to incorporate, but even that may be stretching myself thin.

It was this quote that really reminded me why less is more:

“In all aspects of education, what we learn is not as important as what we create from what we learn.” -George Couros

I can read all of the education books in the world and take every course offered. But if I’m not going to do something with what I learned, then what is the purpose? I need to make a point to only take on new learning opportunities if I am willing and able to make the time to create something from them. I need to give myself permission to say no to some opportunities if I know the plate is already full. It’s ok to choose just a few new ideas and really dive deep, instead of barely skimming the surface of many. This will be better for me, and as a result better for my students.

Celebrate Strengths: #IMMOOC Week 5.1

First let me admit that I missed week 4. I am planning to go back to it, so PLN, please hold me to that!

“When we build on our strengths and daily successes – instead of focusing on failures – we simply learn more.”  ~Tom Rath

This quote really stuck with me after re-reading chapter 8. Celebrate strengths; don’t focus only on weaknesses. How often do we do just the opposite in education, by focusing on skills that students struggle with? I definitely see it in music. Conductors will rehearse a piece with the ensemble and continuously stop the group to fix problems. It’s becomes an endless cycle of play-stop-fix-repeat. Or, we assign pieces of music to help an individual or ensemble “work on” a specific skill they lack. What if instead we select pieces that have specific features we know will be great, and include some challenging areas as well? Would it help students learn more? 


I think this continues to show the benefits of personalized learning for my students. By allowing students choice in the music they practice, they will be more invested in it and more likely to find success. This success builds confidence which leads students to choose more challenging music and continue the growth processes. The key here is allowing students the choice to achieve that initial success. The more I process all of this, the more I believe that noisy classroom and all – this is going to be a great thing for my students!

Personalized Learning: Part 1

While a personalized learning approach is definitely not on the traditional instrumental music path, I believe it will give all students the opportunity to set their own goals and move forward at a pace appropriate to them.

Personalized Learning: Part 1

This year one of my biggest goals is to implement a personalized learning program with my 5th-grade band and orchestra students. Personalized learning is something my county is starting to incorporate, so I did some reading over the summer to learn more. (I read “How to Personalize Learning” by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey, but I’ve been told starting with their first book, “Making Learning Personal” would have been helpful

In my school all 4th and 5th grade students have to participate in band or orchestra. It’s amazing! However, it’s also challenging. Throughout 4th grade most students are on the same level, progressing at a similar pace. But by 5th grade there is a much larger gap due to variances in interest, motivation, practicing, prior knowledge, home support…the list goes on! It becomes very difficult, with limited time, to give all students what is really needed for them to progress. While a personalized learning approach is definitely not on the traditional instrumental music path, I believe it will give all students the opportunity to set their own goals and move forward at a pace appropriate to them.

To Set the Stage…

All students attend a weekly 30-minute group lesson with 5-7 students, and a weekly 45-minute band or orchestra rehearsal with approximately 30-40 students. While in theory all of the students also played their instruments last year, of the 94 students 3 are new to the school (one of which never played an instrument before) and 3 are playing different instruments this year. The personalized learning will primarily take place during group lessons, and we will focus on full-group concert repertoire during the band and orchestra rehearsals. In the future I am hoping to make these rehearsals more student centered…but that is another topic for another day!

Where to Start?

Two weeks ago the students were given a list of 10 learning targets, skills, that they will need to demonstrate mastery of. The first few learning targets were very basic, such as demonstrating the ability to play songs with three notes, but I felt these were important to include so all students could have an equal starting point. I plan to add to the list of learning targets as the year progresses.

For each learning target the students have 4 options to show mastery.  Three are suggestions of mine, pieces from the lesson book, Essential EScreen Shot 2017-10-09 at 9.52.57 PMlements, and there is also a “student choice” option. Student choice could be a different piece from the lesson book, music from private lessons, music from other sources, or an original composition.  I know it’s a very loose list, but that’s the point! I want the students to work on music that interests them and is important to them, because at this stage any playing they do on their instruments is beneficial.

Last week the students were asked to set a goal for themselves, stating how many learning targets they would show mastery of by the end of the 1st quarter, in approximately 5 weeks. To show mastery, they need to submit a video demonstrating the learning target using one of the given options. This part was so much fun!

Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 9.57.12 PMI had to reiterate numerous times that “yes, you have a choice,”  and “no, you only have to complete one of the options” – it became very obvious to me how much students are used to being told exactly what to do. They were very excited to have a choice. For each video submitted, students have to include a message explaining which learning target they were focusing on. This part is important! The students need to be able to articulate what specific skills they have mastered, and not just say, “I can play Jingle Bells.”

Right now my plan is to teach a mini-lesson at the beginning of each class, working on something that pertains to all students. From there the students will have 10-15 minutes to practice alone or with a partner, working on whatever they need to. I will spend that time circulating the room to give assistance when needed and help everyone stay on task. There may be days when I pull individuals or small groups to work with me, for example, students who are preparing the Junior Honor Band audition music. It will be great to be able to do that and know the other students are still benefitting from their time in class.

What’s Next?

The next step is allowing the students these few weeks to work towards their goals. They will have some time in class, as well as their home practice time. I’m excited to see how it turns out! From there we will do a reflection, both the students and myself, and determine the next step. Wish us luck and stay tuned!


To read more about Personalized Learning, check out these posts: 

Personalized Learning: Part 2

Personalized Learning: Part 3, How it Works


Things Change…#IMMOOC Week 3

This was a very thought provoking week in the #IMMOOC. There were two great book chapters on the importance of relationships and being a leader, a powerful talk by Tara Martin where she encouraged people to “Cannonball in,” and we’ve been asked to reflect on the question, “What is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in?”

“Cannonball in! You’ll either sink or swim, but most likely you’ll swim because you don’t want to drown!” ~Tara Martin

The biggest change I’ve made, and admittedly it is still a work in progress, has to do with control. I have finally started to realize that I do not always have to be in control – the class can still function without me standing in front of them, directing every minute.

conductorI believe this concept is tricky for music teachers, and I’ll even go one step farther to say it’s especially difficult for conductors. Think about it, we are given a magic wand (our baton) that when we wave it, a whole group of people do exactly what we want. Conductors are some of the biggest control freaks I know! What I am discovering though, is that it’s not necessary. As conductors we don’t have to control every beat. We are there to keep everyone together, to guide the musicians on the journey. But it’s ok to give them some freedom to make musical choices along the way. In fact, it’s a good idea to do so!

“As leaders in education, our job is not to control those whom we serve but to unleash their talent.  If innovation is going to be a priority in education, we need to create a culture where trust is the norm.” ~ George Couros (The Innovator’s Mindset) 

One thing I am working on this year is letting the students make more decisions and giving them more control. Voice and Choice. It has resulted in a loud classroom (6 trumpet players working on different music will do that!) but kids who seem genuinely happy and excited about making music. I have been more successful with this during the small group lessons then full ensemble rehearsals, but it’s a work in progress. I now understand that when students have control in the classroom, they can also take control of their learning. That should be one of our main goals.


Characteristics of an Innovator’s Mindset: #IMMOOC Week 2

Mindset is a word we hear being used much more now, especially compared to when I first started teaching. Most people are familiar with the concept of having a Growth Mindset vs. a Fixes Mindset, as in, believing that intelligence/abilities can be developed as opposed to believing that intelligence/abilities are static. Carol Dweck discusses this topic at length in her book, Mindset. George Couros’s recent book introduced me to the importance of also having an Innovator’s Mindset.

“The Innovator’s Mindset: The belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed, leading to the creation of better ideas.” ~ George Couros

innovator's mindset image

This week in the IMMOOC we were asked to reflect on the 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset, and write about one we exemplify. I would like to think I possess all of the characteristics to some degree, but the one I’d like to talk about is being a risk taker – because it’s that one I am personally most impressed with!  If you asked me fifteen years ago if I was a risk taker I would have quickly told you no. However I feel in more recent years taking risks is something I have become more comfortable doing. For example, several years ago I took a risk by leaving a well paying job in a highly respected school district to instead take a chance on a teaching position starting a new program with an unknown future. It was a great decision! Not only did I truly enjoy the teaching experience, but I know I was able to make a difference in many students’ lives. More recently my husband and I took a risk by moving out of state to pursue a new career option for him. We both left comfortable, safe, known jobs to take a chance on something new. Again it turned out great. We’re both doing things now we couldn’t have even imagined before.

This year I am taking a big risk at work, attempting to implement a personalized learning program within my 5th grade band and orchestra. I feel like over the years things haven’t changed too drastically in the world of instrumental music. The days of tyrant directors is (hopefully) over, and many teaching pedagogies have been improved upon, but in a typical class period the director stands at the front of the room and tells the students what to do. Period. Some people however are starting to create more learner-centered opportunities in instrumental music, and this is what I want to do with personalized learning. Students will be encouraged to set their own goals and work towards achieving them. Is this a risk because it’s brand new to our school? Yes. Because the students are only in 5th grade? Yes. Because I’ve never done anything like this before? Yes! But I am very excited to try it.

“Having the freedom to fail is important to innovation. But even more important to the process are the traits of resiliency and grit.” ~George Couros

I think my willingness to try something new comes from something else George Couros mentions in his book, and that has to do with failure. Couros explains the key is not letting a failure become the final outcome. In the event of a failure, we need to adjust and try again. That’s how I’ve felt about all the risks I’ve taken. None were end point decisions, or destinations, they were just points along the path. They were part of the journey. If one didn’t work out as planned we could just re-evaluate, make an adjustment, and try something new. Take a different fork the next time and see how that works out. (Are you noticing a correlation with my blog title? That wasn’t intentional for this post, but it really fits!) Obviously with this risk taking comes the necessity of resiliency and grit, and that’s why it would be impossible to just take one innovation characteristic and hope it’s enough. It won’t be. But for me, I enjoy reflecting on my risk taking, and seeing it as an important part of this journey.