Thursday, July 3, 2014

Teaching Tips from the Trenches

Hello again. Today I'm linking up with Lindsay Jervis at Pursuit of Joyfulness for some Teaching Tips from the Trenches. My tips are going to be more geared to daily life as the music teacher, as opposed to ideas directly impacting instruction.

When you are the music teacher, it can often feel like you are on an island. You are usually the only teacher of your subject in the building, and sometimes the district. But what can you do to become more "in-tune" with the rest of your school and how to make the most of the never-about-your-subject staff development meetings.

#1. Stretch your vision

When sitting in staff development meetings, I often find myself sitting in a back corner of the room, using my iPad or phone to do work having nothing to do with the meeting topic. After a while, I started to really pay attention to certain aspects of the discussion - especially training in topics such as Understanding by Design. As I was listening, I started to think - "Isn't this just Kodály in the regular education classroom?" That lightbulb moment led me to start listening a bit closer in meetings to see what I could easily adapt to my classroom. Granted, this was before learning targets and essential questions became the "hip thing."

I've found that since starting to think this way, the students and staff have become more receptive to music and any ideas I may offer up for the building. I also saw my evaluations improve when I learned to speak education instead of just music education.

#2. Get out of your classroom

Sometimes you have those moments where you can't figure out why a class acts the way they do - either good or bad. My second tip is - get out of your classroom and into the regular classrooms as much as you can. Even if you just sit in the back for fifteen minutes, you can gain a huge insight into your students and their needs. Listen to the language the classroom teacher uses to give directions, to begin transitions, etc., and draw what you can into the music classroom. Ask the classroom teachers what makes their students tick, what interests particular students - and implement those ideas in your classroom whenever you can.

#3. Reinforce classroom concepts

Now I know what you are thinking - "Don't I already have enough to do without bringing in classroom concepts!" But it's not about stopping what we do to teach something for the classroom teacher, it's about reinforcing the concepts that happen naturally. For example, with lower elementary students we reinforce reading and tracking skills every time we follow a beat chart or have students read rhythms.  I go so far as to make sure that if I am using a mobile object for my beat chart (car/train/animal) that the object is facing so that it moves from left-to-right. We reinforce science skills when we talk about sound production. We reinforce social studies when we put a song in an historical context. Math is the other very logical connection. I draw math connections every day with rhythms and measures. We figure out the fractions, we add the rhythms to ensure the measure is full (or in math, that the equation is balanced).

#4. Work smarter, not harder

It can be overwhelming to plan for multiple grade levels, sometimes for more than one class each week.  Find a planning/organization system that works for you and your building/district requirements and use it. My personal favorite is It is fully customizable, including the ability to insert templates to match your requirements - and you can even share lesson plans with other teachers. If your district has special standards or curriculum, it can be easily added to the program. Customer service is fantastic and receptive to ideas to make the program better.

I hope these thoughts give you some ideas from the trenches that maybe you haven't thought of before.


  1. Thanks for linking up! I will have to check out That's the 3rd time in two days I've heard someone mention it!

    1. It is a fantastic program with a great iPad app. I've been using it for almost four years now.

  2. Thank you for your tips. I am a Kodaly teacher also (10 years). I agree with your tips here. Many, many things can be explained just by visiting classrooms. It's really difficult to find the time but it's worth every minute. I appreciate reading your blog. Happy summertime!

  3. I loved using Planbook too! I loved how customizable it was.