Shared wisdom

Post thirty-five in our (re)learning to teach music series. This is the second week responding to the tasks in chapter five in Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School, and we completed those tasks yesterday. This is week seven of the collaborative blogging, and before we move to chapter six next week and today we’re sharing the best advice we’ve received. 

Liz Gleed @MrsGleedMusic

The best piece of advice I ever received as a music teacher was given to me in my second job, about 3 years into my career. The advice was given to me as part of an observation by a senior member of staff and that advice was simply ‘please be authentic’.

In that observation I was trying so hard to be something I wasn’t. It was obvious and I was awkward, uncomfortable and the lesson was too. I have reflected on the word authentic many times and have since held this as something I value and have encouraged in the teachers I have mentored over the years, encouraging them to bring their authenticity and not try to imitate mine or any one else’s around them. There is no right answer and I take it to mean the following:

  • Being an active musician in my lessons, performing and improvising, making mistakes. Leading by example and not purely by direction.
  • Being honest when I am not an expert. Listening to those around me, students included as no one can be an expert on everything.
  • Admitting when I have got things wrong, musically or as a teacher. Being human is about mistakes and our responsibility as teachers is to model that and how we can solve them.
  • Not trying to be something I am not, owning my musical abilities and styles (and lack of them!) with strength and pride.
  • To have the faith to do things my way. Not trying to imitate another teacher, jump through hoops or use resources that I feel I ‘should’ use.
  • The best lessons are always when I truly believe in the content and value of them.

Mike Morgan @MikeMMusicED

I guess the best piece of advice I was given is at my first job. While this was not a “sit down” moment where the advice was given to me, it was clear of what my HoD was trying to achieve.

This was a school with a fairly successful music department before I got there. They had good numbers and results at GCSE, it was a highly thought of department with great support during shows and productions and a really high number of pupils taking peripatetic lessons.

The result of this was clear. The department had a strong link between primary and secondary. This was in the classroom and in peripatetic lessons. There were systems in place to help this.

The thinking was that a strong Key Stage 3 music programme sets the perfect foundation for music in the school. Having an engaging curriculum with lots of opportunities helps increase participation across the school. This is the one of the (I’ll say one of because my mentor was an amazing practitioner who I owe a lot too) pieces of advice I took and have put into practice with good results. While of course all other aspects (KS4, Ensembles, Opportunities) which we music teachers do is important, But I feel building a strong key stage 3 sets up a foundation for the rest!

Vaughan Fleischfresser @VFleischfresser

“Vaughan, no one is perfect, and that includes you”. For a fledging teacher, full of passion and bravado, these words hit me like the proverbial tonne of bricks. However, once I’d recovered from the scars to my ego and bravado, I was never the same teacher again. And, that’s a good thing.

You see, when I started to teach, like many fledgling teachers, I thought I had to know everything and get everything right … “Vaughan, no one is perfect, and that includes you”. I thought getting anything wrong was a sign of weakness and a quickfire way of losing the respect of the pupils I was teaching … “Vaughan, no one is perfect, and that includes you”. I thought if I made mistakes in front of my pupils, this would result in their standards dropping … “Vaughan, no one is perfect, and that includes you”. I thought that if I made mistakes the whole lesson would come crumbling down around me, everyone would laugh at me, the Headteacher would come in and fire me on the spot, not even letting me collect my new sports jacket, complete with arm patches … “Vaughan, no one is perfect, and that includes you”. I also thought, thankfully not for very long, that if I made mistakes my pupils would think it was acceptable for them to make mistakes …. “Vaughan, no one is perfect, and that includes you”.

How naive all of these thoughts are looking back at them, however I had them, and I know that other teachers, when starting out, have them too. Once I finally came to terms with this one statement, everything about my teaching changed for the better. I became the teacher my pupils needed me to be, rather than the one I thought they needed. I became the teacher I needed to be, rather than the teacher I thought I needed to be. To put it another way, I started being me, rather than being some made up teacher version of myself that wasn’t realistic, sustainable, or effective. No one is perfect. No music is perfect. No one person knows everything, nor can they know everything. Mistakes are good. We learn from them, etc. You know all the clichés. However, they’re all true, especially when it comes to teaching. Our pupils have perfection thrust down their throats every day. It isn’t healthy. It isn’t realistic. And, it’s stifling. We need to be the antidote to this.

I now take great pride in making mistakes, in not knowing everything, and in all the possible variations of that. I try to normalise mistakes. I try to normalise taking responsibility and learning from one’s actions. I have shown them that, with the right frame of mind, there is great joy and possibility in making mistakes. Each and every day, I work tirelessly to show them that no one is perfect, and more importantly, that this is ok.

David House @House_dg

I have received many pieces of advice during my teaching career: some explicit, some implicit, some from reading and CPD and some from observation of other teachers. One that particularly sticks in my mind was about adopting an overall approach of “missionary zeal” in fronting up one’s subject and its teaching – that unflinching dedication to Music and all that it represents and benefits it will bring the young people in our care. This has stuck with me in those moments in the classroom where individuals and classes can make lessons hard work, in the staff room where defending aspects of music provision can be needed, in presentations to Governors, in parent meetings, in concert and performance situations, when wading through administrative tasks, and when putting together reports and grades which usually fall at the most inconvenient times.

Ewan McIntosh @ETMcINTOSH

Don’t think I got any advice from my music teacher but did have a great experience with my Headmaster. In Year 13, you were invite to the Headmasters study, given a glass of sherry and asked about your University course choices for UCAS. Went in, and when the magic word Music was uttered, could visibly see his face drop, sherry was not offered and he then spent the next 10 minutes trying to persuade me that Medicine or Land Economics would be better choices. Never invited to his study again.


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