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

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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.


Global Learning

One of my goals this year is to introduce more global learning opportunities. I feel like I am beginning to embrace this concept personally with my PLN through Twitter and Facebook, but I need to also help my students discover how they can be global learners. When I stumbled upon the website for a Global Collaboration Day, it seemed like the perfect way to introduce the concept. I set up a project through Flipgrid, asking music teachers to share videos of their students performing a song. My hope was that we could truly get schools all over the globe to participate. While that didn’t happen, there were 35 videos submitted! Four were from my school 🙂 But there were also videos from across the US, Mexico, and Brazil. I consider it a success! According to Flipgrid there were over 1,800 video views and 39 hours of engagement. I was hoping there would be more interaction between the various schools, so I may try to add some comments myself and see if that encourages conversation.

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The best part of this for me was seeing how my students reacted. When they first realized it was possible that people all over the world could hear them play, something definitely changed – they sat a little taller that rep 🙂  This week we went back to the Flipgrid to watch our video. The students loved seeing that 40 other groups had watched them! They were very quick to recognize the number of “likes” they had received as well. We could have spent all class period watching videos, but I left it at 3 for the day. More next week for sure. Another “teacher-win”occurred later in the day when I was talking to a student and her mother after the school. The student couldn’t wait to tell her mom about the videos, because she thought it was such a neat experience.

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This was my first time really using Flipgrid as a teacher (aside from an experiment for a family reunion which was a hit!) It was easy to set up, but I still haven’t decided if the videos should have required moderation. Some videos had less teacher-involvement then others and got a bit silly, but for the purpose of the project – getting students to share their music – it still worked.

I’m excited to say, while this may have been my first project on a global level, it definitely will not be my last! I have a couple other projects in mind for the year where we will reach out to professional musicians for various topics that I’m hoping will be equally as successful. Stay tuned!


#IMMOOC – Why Innovation?


Over the next six week I will be participating in #IMMOOC – the Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course – in reference to a book I read over the summer, “The Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros. I look forward to re-reading this book, as it made me think deeply about what I am doing as a teacher, and what schools are doing for students.

While innovation may seem like the most recent education buzz-word, I really do believe it is more important then that. Why? Because schools need to evolve! Out world is rapidly changing, and so are the students. Students have the ability now to access information at their fingertips. They can connect to other students, educators, and professionals all over the world. Students can create anything they can imagine. If we keep “doing school” the way it has always been done, we are denying students these opportunities. I actually had a student tell me last week there was nothing he could learn (in elementary school) until he got to high school. This child believed that what he could learn in school was limited to what the teacher had planned. For this child, and all of the children similar, we need innovation in schools. (And yes, I will make sure he learns something in my class this year!)



This quote is a great intro to the book: “Change is the opportunity to do something amazing.” I’m ready to change. I’m ready to grow. I’m ready to take more risks. And I’m ready to innovate. Not only for my students, but also for myself. It’s going to be amazing!


A Place for Inquiry in the Arts

This post was originally published on the EdTechTeam blog:  

Is there a place for inquiry in the arts?

If you ask arts teachers if there is a place for inquiry in their classroom, most would say yes. But I think if you asked them to describe inquiry in their classrooms, many would have a hard time doing it. I was one of those teachers! But I’m excited to say, in this coming school year it WILL have a place.

I have struggled for a while, wondering if the current, “tried and true,” model of teaching instrumental music is still the best way. The teacher stands in front of the room, tells the students how to play the music, and the students play accordingly. When mistakes arise, the teacher tells the students how to correct it. Teachers learn to correct mistakes, students learn to follow directions. Sound familiar? But is this really the best way? Why are the teachers making all of the musical decisions? When do the students get to utilize their own creativity? What about critical analysis and reflection? The students should be able to actively participate in the entire process. In music, this is relevant in both solo (individual) and ensemble (group) situations. In an ensemble students will initially need guidance in how to work together effectively, for example to blend and balance their playing, but over time can’t the students make some of these decisions?


Trevor Mackenzie has a great graphic in his book, Dive into Inquirydescribing the various types  of student inquiry. This is what needs to happen in our arts classrooms too. We all start in the pool together, with the teacher directing the students. Gradually the focus shifts, the teacher exits the pool, and students begin making their own choices. Isn’t this what we want for our students? To make their own decisions? To BE musical and BE artistic?

“Gradually begin to flip control of learning in the room from the teacher to the learner.”

~Trevor Mackenzie

Where does inquiry fit in?

What I’m suggesting is that we continue teaching the skills and techniques necessary for success, but leave room for inquiry too. Leave space for students to follow their own passions, explore their own interests, and answer their own questions. In my classroom next school year there will be a lot of changes. Some will work, some will fail, and I can’t wait! The students will be following a personalized learning path. The key skills for the year will be mapped out but students will be encouraged to find their own way to demonstrate mastery. Yes, we will still work together on music for various performances, so students have the opportunity to showcase their personal mastery of their instrument and the opportunity to blend in an ensemble, but aside from that students will have a choice in what music to learn and how to learn it. They will be given a voice and a choice.

I’m also excited to later in the year delve into the world of Project Based Learning (PBL). Students will need to find a way to use their music to answer the driving question, “How can you have a positive impact on your community using your skills as a musician?” They will be able to choose an audience that is important to them, select what music to play, prepare that music, and carry out the project. For young students, this fits somewhere between Controlled Inquiry and Guided Inquiry, since I will be there to assist in the process. For older students, this question could easily be modified for a Free Inquiry project – though I wouldn’t recommend jumping right to it! This project is a double-win in the world of inquiry; not only are students encouraged to design their own project, but it is truly an authentic audience. Rushton Hurley said it best, “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they’re just sharing it with you, they want it good enough.”

So this is it. My statement to the world that this upcoming school year will be different. There will be a place for inquiry. There will be a place for student voice and choice. And there will be great music.




The Beginning of the Journey

Being able to truly think, reflect, and share is something special

Earlier this summer I had the privilege of being a guest blogger for EdTechTeam as a result of a Twitter post about Trevor Mackenzie’s “Dive Into Inquiry” (you can see the original blog here). Prior to this I never would have considered myself a writer. I enjoyed writing, in fact, I frequently reflect back to grad school and how much I enjoyed researching, writing about, and presenting on various conductors and pieces of music. But it still didn’t click how much I enjoy the writing process until I completed and submitted that blog post. Being able to truly think, reflect, and share is something special! And from that, this blog was born.

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Throughout the summer I spent a significant amount of time learning and reading. I participated in a 12-week Teacher Leadership Certificate program through EdTechTeam that turned my views on education upside down. I read numerous books, also about teaching. What’s incredible is that none of them directly related to music, but I feel each will have a drastic impact on my teaching of music.

This will be my space to write about three things I really enjoy professionally: music, teaching, and technology. While I know I have been continually growing and evolving as an educator, I feel like after this summer a true transformation is on the horizon. Hence the journey!

Here are some of my main takeaways, and my goals for this school year:

Global Connectivity                                                            

In a time where information and communication are right at our fingertips, it’s so important to show students how to become part of a global community. One of my goals for this year is to take my students outside of the four walls of our classroom, to learn from and experience music globally. (I’ll be writing about my Global Collaboration project soon!)

Personalized Learning

Personalized learning is something I have been interested in since the spring, when my county announced they were going to begin piloting some personalized learning initiatives. After researching the topic I’ve decided to jump in with my 5th grade instrumental music students. The idea of giving students a voice and a choice in their learning is really intriguing, especially in my situation where every 4th-5th grader has to play an instrument. For the band and orchestra lessons I outlined the learning targets at the beginning of the year, and the students will be responsible for setting their own goals and moving through at their own pace. Students will also have a choice in how they show mastery of various skills. Lessons will look (and sound!) much different, as the students will be working individually or with a partner while I facilitate and help as needed.

Inquiry Based Learning/Project Based Learning

Going along with the personalized learning, is giving students the opportunity to learn what they want. Students are used to having teachers ask the questions, and they provide the answers. In inquiry based learning the students have to come up with the questions first! In music, especially instrumental music, this might be a bit of a stretch, but I have some ideas on how students can design their own projects and really take ownership of their music making.

“Our job as educators is not to prepare students for something…our job as educators is to help students prepare themselves for anything” ~ A.J. Juliani

Flexible Seating


This is a bit of an experiment. The theory is that students should be comfortable in their learning environment, and should have choice in how/where they learn. In a band or orchestra rehearsal this obviously isn’t possible on a regular basis. While yes, there are days I let the students sit wherever they want, having the tuba player in the front row consistently just won’t work! However, when the students are working independently or with a partner, why not give them more freedom? I purchased four stools from Ikea that I believe will still enable them to have good posture while playing. The stools are small and easy to move, so they can be kept under the counter and out-of-the-way while not being used. I also purchased 4 pillows, and am considering allowing students to sit on the floor. To promote good posture I purchased tablet stands, in hopes the students could put their lesson books or iPads on the stand. We’ll see how it goes!


Talk about a fun tool! According to Flipgrid it is a “video discussion platform,” but really it’s so much more. Students respond to a prompt by adding their video to a grid. From there, students can view and respond to each other’s videos, the teacher can respond and add feedback, a rubric can be added…the list goes on. Flipgrid gives every student a voice. Plus, it can be shared with anyone you want, safely. Parents, community members, other teachers and students, and more. I can see so many potential uses for the music classroom! I am very excited to share Flipgrid with my students.

Thanks so much for accompanying me on this journey; it’s sure to be an adventure!
~ Theresa 🎶