Getting Started in Schools

By Louise Campbell

Schools are great places to make music. If you are, as I am, a guest in the school sys­tem, trust built over time is reward­ed again and again with cre­ativ­i­ty and excite­ment of stu­dents and teachers.

Every school, prin­ci­pal, teacher and stu­dent is part of a larg­er edu­ca­tion­al struc­ture. Under­stand­ing your place in this struc­ture deter­mines a project’s suc­cess, longevi­ty, and desire of prin­ci­pals and teach­ers to col­lab­o­rate in the future.

Ulti­mate­ly, every project in schools is about the stu­dents. How can you best sup­port stu­dent cre­ativ­i­ty and learn­ing through music and sound?

General tips:

  • Know the cur­ricu­lum. The more your projects respond to cur­ricu­lum, the more pos­i­tive respons­es you will have. Con­sult your province/territory’s cur­ricu­lum for edu­ca­tion­al frame­works in the arts, tech­nol­o­gy and cross-cur­ric­u­lar competencies.
  • Under­stand the annu­al cycle, includ­ing exams, hol­i­days and bud­get allocation.
  • Build rela­tion­ships with allies includ­ing teach­ers, prin­ci­pals, par­ents, school board arts con­sul­tants and arms-length edu­ca­tion­al associations.
  • Treat teach­ers with respect. Look for ways to build on what teach­ers already do and know about art and their students.
  • Keep com­mu­ni­ca­tion effi­cient and to-the-point.

Project development: Questions to discuss:

  • What are teach­ers’ moti­va­tions for invit­ing you into their class­room? Are there spe­cif­ic goals or learn­ing out­comes they want addressed?
  • How are teach­ers involved in-class dur­ing the project? Involve­ment ranges from obser­va­tion to team-teaching.
  • How much expe­ri­ence do stu­dents have in music-mak­ing and the approach you are offering?
  • What grades are involved? How many stu­dents are in each class?
  • What is the class sched­ule? How many times will you see each class?
  • What equip­ment is avail­able in the class­room? (i.e. Orff instru­ments, band instru­ments, dig­i­tal devices, inter­net con­nec­tion and speed etc.)

N.B. Guests are fre­quent­ly brought in to ful­fill cur­ricu­lum require­ments for tech lit­er­a­cy. Dis­cuss in advance whether to bring your own equip­ment (and leave with it at the end of the project) or use school equipment.

Tips for in-class time

  • Chil­dren and teens have a life­time of expe­ri­ence. Stu­dents may trust you quick­ly, or not, for var­i­ous rea­sons. Should any­thing come up that con­cerns you, speak with the teacher, prin­ci­pal and school coun­cil­lor to ensure the stu­dent has appro­pri­ate support.
  • Be flex­i­ble: what works with one class may not work for anoth­er. Be ready to adapt.
  • ALWAYS respect class sched­ule. Fin­ish­ing late has ram­i­fi­ca­tions through­out the school, from delay­ing class­es to caus­ing a child to miss a meal or the bus home. I per­son­al­ly wrap up 5 min­utes before the bell, leav­ing time for ques­tions, com­ments and a calm tran­si­tion to the next activity.
  • Respect safe­ty procedures:
    • Check in and out of school with the secretary
    • Ensure there is always school super­vi­sion while you are work­ing with students
    • Use adult facil­i­ties dur­ing out-of-class time (i.e. staff lounge and bathrooms)
    • Avoid com­mon aller­gens for lunch (e.g. no peanut but­ter or fish)
    • See the staff room for posters regard­ing school-spe­cif­ic Health and Safe­ty pro­ce­dures, on-staff first respon­ders and impor­tant phone numbers