. . . a living document . . .
(first draft by Jen Moultine, April 2016)
“I believe that 80% of what we teach is who we are.”
--Eric Booth, The Teaching Artist’s Bible
We at YAMA have been trying to hone in on why YAMA is what it is, and what makes it that way. A YAMA Board member recently made the observation that none of us (the Teaching Artists, or TAs) are teaching in the way we were trained. We are striving for more, reaching for a different culture. This requires an ongoing process of discussion, introspection, observation, experimentation, and meeting our students where they are while helping them to reach for the next level in their musical ability and self-awareness. Lucky for us, though, we share the ultimate goal of making beautiful music and having fun as we navigate through these unknown waters; this is our glue.
Some of the things we have talked about as a team are fairly easy to list out, and yet are so uniquely adapted by each of us. This is one of the benefits of having such a small team. We are able to communicate, to take the time to collaborate, and yet we are also able to do what we feel is best in our own lessons. There is no one telling us what to teach when, which for so many teachers these days is a rare blessing. The other edge of that blade is the big challenge to consistently co-create a culture and curriculum that doesn’t yet exist on paper. This is the big magic of what we get to do together.
That said, let me attempt to map out some of our shared core values as a program:
· We are a learning organization. Constant, ongoing learning is the impetus for what we do. This may seem somewhat obvious on the surface when we think about this in relation to the students. But if we look more closely, this learning goes much deeper. Not only are we striving to create learning experiences for the students everyday, we are also always looking for ways to engage more parts of them – their musical technique and expression, their hearts, their intellect and curiosity, their humanity, their interpersonal selves, their growing ability for personal reflection, and so on. With this in mind, our role as teachers can be one of creating shared expectations and structure, or a framework, within which the students are able to explore, experience, take risks, learn, and grow.
But THEN we can zoom out and say the same for the teachers. All of the items I listed for student growth can be translated right over to our TAs – on a different level and through a different lens, perhaps, but the same nonetheless. We are all striving to grow and get better at what we do all the time. We have days of wild success in our lessons, and days where we experiment with a new idea and it is an obvious ‘no’ for fit and relevance. And then we share these things with each other. We also ask each other for help and ideas and brainstorming time and a listening ear. This is where I feel our team is so special – we don’t let our egos get in the way of our growth, and we never pretend to know it all. Not even close. This leaves room for a whole lot of creative potential, and allows us to take risks as teachers, which is a really great way to grow and expand our box of teaching tools and color pallet of artistic inspiration. We strive for this growth in our teaching as well as our performance. If we lose touch with ourselves as performers then our teaching becomes flat and lifeless. We have to stoke our own fires to have any to share.
· Respect is key. Respect is the cornerstone of how we do what we do at YAMA. This translates into professional respect as well as respect for our students. This means we strive to appeal to our students’ intrinsic motivation and do not rely on punitive measures for learning outcomes. This takes constant mindfulness, since most of us were taught in ways that involved shaming and punishment as means for motivation. The students are also expected to be respectful – of themselves and others, of their instruments and the space we are so graciously allowed to use. The big one that comes up most often for me in my teaching, and can be the most helpful to go back to in times of distraction/chaos, is the expectation that we all respect everyone’s right to learn as well as the teacher’s right to teach. This means that we do not interrupt, we do not play when the teachers are talking, and we do not make fun of others.
Rehearsal Agreements for YAMA Students and Teachers:
♬ Be safe, on time, and ready to learn
♬ Bring all materials
♬ Respect yourself: Always try your best
♬ Respect the teachers’ right to teach, respect the students’ right to learn
♬ Respect all instruments and propert
Another aspect of respect involves accountability. We hold each other accountable, and hope our students hold us accountable, as teachers. We also hold our students accountable to their commitment to being a part of YAMA and all that entails. As a result, the students are able to hold each other accountable to their responsibilities to the group, which is a really great kind of peer pressure. This is a powerful life lesson to learn, and can feed a personal and communal a sense of safety, belonging, responsibility and purpose.
· We are creating space for these future leaders to come into themselves. This is a big one for us, and the reason we do all the hard work that we do to not perpetuate a more classical model of education. Students do not learn to lead when they just sit and follow directions all the time. This requires a very dynamic balance, which we are all still seeking to find – allowing for leadership among our students while still maintaining the atmosphere that we need in order to make really good music. Some ways we do this are in peer teaching, choosing group leaders for certain lessons, choosing teacher helpers, offering auditions for more advanced musical opportunities, giving every student a chance to sit in the leader chair to practice counting, cueing, and ownership, and giving students the chance to play on their own or in small groups for the larger group as much as possible. (Here is some of that “safe risk-taking.” I shied away from the last one for a long while, because I was a very timid player growing up. But I have found that if I present the opportunity to play alone in a fun way, congratulate the students for being brave and sharing - I learned this one from Mrs. Humphrey - and have them do it a LOT, it takes some of the terror out of it. I wish I had had more opportunity to let my voice b heard when I was younger because it might have saved me a lot of years of performance anxiety.)
- We strive for fun AND high standards. We are a young program, and we have a long way to go before we achieve the caliber we desire to reach. We have faced many challenges, like any start-up program, with finances, staffing, and community support. Yet we forge ahead and keep improving. We are aware that it does our students no favors to expect less than excellence from them. Many of these kids are already talking about one day being music teachers and performers, and even coming to work at YAMA. We owe them a good set-up and a fighting chance to succeed. We try to combine this rigor and discipline with fun. This challenge brings a lot of creative thinking our pedagogy, which is ever-evolving. Games, stories and images, listening opportunities, movement, exposure to really high caliber artists, variety in lessons . . . we are always looking for new ways to keep things alive. In fact, if you feel compelled to share any of your favorite teaching tools, we would love to hear about them!
As we grow and mature as a program, our values will continue to be defined and to define us more clearly. This is but the beginning, and, oh what fun we are having!