Because Shift Happens… A Brave, New World

Laurie Schell • AdvocacyArchivesDecember 2021 • December 18, 2021

There comes a time for honest reflection in the life of every music educator and music education program. Students are the ultimate beneficiaries of our work. Music educators and community partners spend every waking moment pursuing the delivery of meaningful music instruction. As a field we are all so busy with the day-to-day business of education that we often forget to look up and take a breath. 

We can all benefit from turning the lens from an outward programmatic focus to an internal review of personal, professional, and workplace health.

Education institutions as well as corporate and cultural partners live within a shifting landscape, now more than ever.  The music education world does not exist in a vacuum; it is shaped by cultural, demographic, geographic, political, personal, mental/physical health, and financial forces. We would be well-served as a community to understand the interplay of those forces and how shifts impact our work collectively and as individuals. 

Dynamics of Shift

There are natural moments in the life cycle of any music education program that may cause a shift. Sometimes the shift barely registers, sometimes it feels like a tsunami. Naturally occurring shifts may be caused by:

Changes in leadership, staffing, and organizational structure (internal or external)

Increasing or decreasing enrollment or financial support

Changes in access to facilities and equipment

Perceived obstacles in program delivery 

New opportunities or threats

Old guard vs. new guard

Changes in demographics

Because of the pandemic, we are also facing ever greater societal shifts particularly around the nature of work. What it looks like. How it is delivered. How it is valued.  

This is a moment like no other, prompting us to reflect on what is important and where we are going. 

“What Is Going On?”

Take a moment to step into the balcony, away from the swirling urgency of being on the dance floor/in the classroom. Take note of what you see from a slightly removed perspective– patterns, interactions, and relationships.

Personal Inventory: Ask yourself the question, “What is going on in my life that supports or inhibits progress toward my goals?” (More about goal setting below.) On the support side, you may include a supportive boss, great colleagues, eager students. On the inhibiting side, you may include challenging schedules, loss of enrollment, family issues. Be honest and kind. 

Workplace Inventory: Ask the same question among your colleagues. “What is going on in our workplace that supports or inhibits progress toward our goals?” We work in a complex arena with community stakeholders and partners beyond the school setting. Parents and community members may have different perceptions and assumptions about what is needed to be successful. How we listen to and navigate those differences is where the breakthroughs in understanding happen.

Goal Setting

Leave the big, hairy, audacious goals to the side for a moment (e.g., music for all). While it is important to know what ultimate success looks like for music education, it can feel overwhelming to know where to start/what to do. In a reflective process, begin with modest, manageable, bite-sized support/inhibit statements. Do others have similar responses? What concrete, measurable goals might be revealed as a result? “My program isn’t getting the kind of attention I think it deserves.” (Suggested goal: Achieve greater visibility with monthly performances at school board meetings.) “My administrators don’t support my programs.” (Goal: Demonstrate best practice by sharing good news stories spotlighting supportive principals.) “I want students to connect more with our community.” (Goal: Outreach to community by inviting music professionals for career Q&A.)

What Does It Mean For Me/Us?

This deceptively simple question— “What is going on?” — opens the door. Once we understand what is going on, then we ask what it means and what we wish to do about it. The process leads to deeper conversations built on shared values. Conversations that will ultimately build trust, reveal underlying issues and perceptions that may have been ignored or underreported, provide narratives for advocacy, and lead to positive change and successful outcomes for the group. 

Because shift happens.

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