The report on the first National Music Teacher Mentoring Program has come in and the message is loud and clear.
If you visit your doctor, having been tested for some illness or other, “the results are positive” is not necessarily the thing you want to hear. However, if you have been piloting a Music Education program, which has been undergoing very rigorous analysis led by a crack team of university professional researchers, then this may be exactly the feedback you want.
For some time now, this magazine has been hugely supportive of Music Education, for which I am truly grateful. It is therefore a great thrill to report that since publishing the recent article ‘Singing is our salvation,’ the National Music Teacher Mentoring Program’s first official research results are to hand and they are truly wonderful.
To me, the results are not a surprise. The excitement comes from the fact that what all music teachers really know about the power of music in education is now officially documented from research done in this country. We don’t have to rely on other countries’ efforts. We now have our own statistics and our own evidence.
This article provides me with an opportunity to share some thoughts gathered from that research: thoughts offered by children, parents, mentoring teachers, teachers being mentored and school Principals. These verbal reports reflect the nature of the statistical data and the common thread will be obvious for all to see. The quotes appear exactly as recorded. Nothing has been changed.
The first comes from a child in Grade Two: “I think every school that existed should have a band or music class because most kids don’t get the education they need in music, and I think it’s just as important as English and maths. I think it is just as important because if you don’t know how to express yourself, or play, or sing, then your life isn’t going to be fun as kids that have got education in music.”
“Music makes me feel happy and good.” (Child in a Year 1/2 class)
“You don’t really need to have anybody around, you can just sing to make you feel happy.” (Child in a Year 1/2 class)
“Singing outside where it’s quiet and peaceful makes me happy.” (Child in a Kindergarten class)
School Principals, observing this healthy and positive experience, are now taking a good look at the sustainability of the mentoring programme into the future.
“Overall, as a programme, it offers professional learning that is real and meaningful because it is actually in the classroom. It’s real, it’s happening with the children, it’s not added onto their workload. It’s part of their normal workload and, for me, that professional learning is one of the most important things. The other aspect is that it’s sustainable,” says one Principal.
A teacher being mentored says: “It’s been great, it’s helped me a lot. My mentor was really enthusiastic and really understanding and always made it known that she was available whenever we needed help.”
Parents commented on the strong impact they noticed that music classes, especially singing, were having on their children, and in particular with respect to a child’s capacity to focus and concentrate. Many parents commented on the benefits of singing and the fact that financial restraints prevented them providing instruments for their children, but that singing and school music taught them an enormous amount about music and also allowed participation.
The full report is a significant document totalling 58 pages of research including statistical charts and powerfully supportive information affirming the efficacy of a good music education. In Sydney and then in Perth, I worked with over 2000 children, from Kindergarten age to Year 12, from two radically different schools. One, a state school with few physical resources but with an outstanding teaching staff, and the other a private school with good physical resources and also an outstanding teaching staff.
The message that came home loudly and clearly was this: if you have a wonderfully trained teacher who can sing, then much of what you need to know about music can be taught. The combination of a good teacher and children with voices will do it every time. It was so heartening to hear instrumental teachers singing to children and relating instrumental music to song.
“The combination of a good teacher and children with voices will do it every time“
I believe that great teachers change lives no matter where they teach. We are going to win this one in Australia.
Richard Gill is founder of the National Music Teacher Mentoring Program