3 years later

Sometimes, you need to step away; and, I stepped away for nearly three years. Here is what I’m currently working on:


For decades, it has been widely agreed that engagement in schools refers to students’ behaviors with which they intensely apply themselves to learning. Attributes of students’ willingness and desire to participate play a role, but contemporary perspectives on engagement in school include students’ ability to persevere through challenges and for sustained periods of time (Fletcher, 2015; Loveless, 2015; NSSE, 2013; Strong, Silver, & Robinson, 1995). Fletcher (2015) adds that successful educators are the ones who create conditions within classrooms that allow opportunities for students to engage. Through academic challenges, or rigor, collaborative activities, and meaningful relationships and interactions with the teacher and adults, students are more likely to feel supported and will participate willingly in the learning activities.

Importance of engagement

The National Survey of Student Engagement (2013) results in mathematics suggest that self-reported high engagement is not an indicator for high achievement; however, high engagement is an indicator for school connection. Students who are engaged in the school process are more likely to stay in school, are more likely to learn skills around problem solving, and are more likely to acknowledge a sense of belonging to the school community. These positive factors contribute to higher graduation rates and generally higher grades. Low engagement tends to be prevalent in higher poverty communities, increasingly evident as students move through the system and into higher grade levels (Fredricks et al, 2011).

Relevance of engagement to music education at the middle school level

I am a middle school instrumental music teacher with over 18 years of experience in music education. I have come to support the position that visual and performing arts classes, including the school bands, must coexist as both an artistic experience, with a focus on aesthetics and musicianship, and as a utilitarian, academic support experience. The classes cannot exist – dare I say should not exist —  as only one or the other, but as both, simultaneously.

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continuing the thought…

I am drawn toward a pluralist perspective on the purpose, importance, and placement of music in our public and private lives. Music education sits at an intersection of interpretive and critical epistemologies. I understand music to be an opportunity that goes beyond the task of rudimentary mechanics of operating a manipulative (instrument). Isolated, that is a mechanistic task. Music is a process-oriented experience, not to be solely defined by its measured outcome; in fact, in some cases, the outcome is irrelevant. Eisner (1991) asks whether or not everything can be measured, and suggests that researchers who are looking for a true measurement mistake the measurement for adequate subject matter; or, that the outcome is greater than the process.



Eisner, E. (1991). The enlightened eye. New York: MacMillan.

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incomplete justification

It is the school band, comprised of a plurality of students – amateurs – who are participating for many different reasons. Kaplan (1966) refers to Reimer and says that we weaken the position of music education when we provide unnecessary rationale for it. He continues that the uniqueness of the aesthetic is what provides a contribution, not words; we are involved with subjective experiences. I know this, I support this, and yet, I still get sidetracked with the notion of justifying our time together, progressing, and pushing students to more and more.

An importance of music education is that it needs renewed affirmation. Kaplan identifies an example of incomplete justification for music education through specific outlined objectives. They include such things as “unify and stimulate group morale”, “stimulate general interest in musical activity”, “encourage and stimulate some form of music for every child”. He calls these justifications byproducts to a appease administrators and school boards and the like. They are used because they are measurable by instruments of social sciences, and therefore, are used as unnecessary rhetoric.

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whew! yes to the dialogue

After my Jan. 6 posting, my concern about presenting to/with peers in a forum to confront v. being confrontational, I feel that I accomplished what I hoped I would – healthy, thoughtful engagement of individuals around a professional concern, dilemma, and possible opportunities.  No confrontation. Validation of multiple perspectives. Now, onward to finish writing it up and getting through the next phase…

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confront v. confrontation

Glaser (2005) reframes issues around confrontation to say, “Confronting the truth takes courage. Yet, it doesn’t have to be confrontational.” When considering collaborations, she outlines how confrontations can manifest, suggesting that the confrontations stem from “I-centric” thinking. For a few years, since I set the direction of my dissertation, I have felt that the general topic would be poorly received by my peers and by my larger professional associations. Aligned with Glaser’s sentiments, I have felt that my “expectations will not be met” (p. 233). What expectations?  Perhaps, for me, it is the possibility for other ways to look at a professional dilemma within a community; it is developing alternatives to something otherwise standard; it is finding a way rather than insisting on the “right” way. Let it go.

I’m taking the deep breath.  This coming weekend, I have an opportunity to share in a group format, at my regional professional association conference, some alternatives to the profession. How do I take the “I-centric” confidence issue out of my thoughts as I prepare and implement?  

I will further consider Glaser’s recommendation to use the opportunity to simply put a new platform in place for dialogue. Current realities and future possibilities.  There is no right or wrong. I need to use the opportunity to share, hear, be a part of a forum to address what is working and to a assess what some others are doing around the community. Through the dialogue, we can shape – or at least identify – possibilities and attitudes. 

I’d like to think that I’m a “We-centric” individual working with others (p. 234); that I can anticipate (as I have) discomfort but create the space for healthy dialogue to take place. For turning potential “breakdowns into breakthroughs” through reframing the context in/through/by which our profession has succeeded and failed for decades.

Glaser, J. (2005). Creating we. Avon, MA: Platinum Press.

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“The band”

Current practices in the pedagogical band world privilege and sustain one kind of musicality, or relationship with/to music, over alternative musical subjectivities. To the extent that this is the result of unquestioningly reproductive rather than mindful practice, music educators involved with pedagogical wind bands risk operating unethically, without full appreciation of the consequences of their actions.

— David Elliott (2012)

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If we start wishing…

If we start wishing that things were different without accepting the way things are, then we start to lose touch with the ground, to lose our rootedness, and risk being blown away on the winds of idealism.

Peter Merry in Evolutionary Leadership (2009).

How have music classrooms changed over the years? What ideals have we let go? Have you accepted the way things are?

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