Actively Listening

Actively listening to our students is the most important teaching strategy there is. We can decenter ourselves as teachers when we focus on what our students have to say and share every day, in and outside of the music classroom.

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As educators, we can create necessary space in our music classrooms where students can be heard not only by us as educators, but also by their peer musicians. We cannot listen to our students only to respond to what they have to say; instead, we must listen simply to better understand our students and who they are.

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Actively listening to our students requires us to hear the silences of our students as well. Instead of adhering to traditional music education class structure where one music director, conductor, and/or teacher leads and students respond and only speak or share when instructed to do so, we can actively empower all students to share their voices.

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When students are encouraged to share who they are, we can then notice who is sharing their voice, ideas, and music in class and who is not.

It is important to note that speaking up and voicing our opinions is a Western societal norm.

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In many non-Western cultures — the global majority — using one’s voice to speak up is not the norm. Understanding this nuance does not account for all silences from students, but it can allow us to better recognize the importance of understanding each student’s positionalities and cultural norms.

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Questions we can ask our students to better understand them may include:

– What does using your voice mean?
– What is the value of your voice?
– When do you use your voice?
– Why do you use your voice?
– What does using your voice mean to you in the music classroom?

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When we notice students who are not speaking or sharing, we can build opportunities for peer sharing without being under the duress of the teacher’s gaze. As educators, we can also allow students to ask us about who we are — in and outside of our educator roles.

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The vulnerability in sharing who we are with each other is critical in building community in music education.

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Written and published in NAfME Teaching Music August 2022.