2023 Emerging Pioneer Reflections

by Sammi Smith

June 2023

The Fleurette Sweeney Fellowship was initiated in 2010 to honor Music EdVentures founding member and teacher extraordinaire, Dr. Fleurette Sweeney. In her words, the impetus behind this initiative is “the well being of children brought about by supporting, caring, and excellently prepared teachers.” By designating a teacher as an Emerging Pioneer, we aim to foster the development of teachers who believe in, support, and share their expertise in the principles and practices of the SongWorks approach. Primarily, the Fleurette Sweeney Fellowship is designed to assist conference attendance for those teachers who are designated as Emerging Pioneers (EP) in Music Education.

This year’s three Emerging Pioneers offer their reflections on attending the 2023 SongWorks Conference in Boston below.

Kylie Decker

Provo, UT

I am so grateful I was able to attend my first SongWorks conference this year! I left feeling inspired, uplifted, and ready to try new ideas in my classroom. I made new connections with other teachers and am inspired to create new meaningful, musical connections with my students.

This conference was my first time sharing lessons, resources, and ideas that I have created and used in my classroom. I was so nervous! I was worried about what other people would think about how I’ve used SongWorks or that I wasn’t doing enough. It’s a little intimidating presenting to all the people that have taught you! But really, I had nothing to worry about. It was fun to see what I had done in my classroom sparking new ideas for other people! That’s what the SongWorks conference is all about—sharing ideas and learning from each other.

It was eye-opening to see the unique ways everyone has implemented SongWorks principles and practices in their classrooms. There were lessons shared for teaching orchestra, bucket drumming, Orff instruments, choir, dances, solfège, songs in other languages, and more! At first it felt overwhelming, wondering when I could possibly add all of these new ideas into my own curriculum. In reflecting after the conference, I realized the important thing is not to try everything you saw at the conference, but to use those ideas and inspiration to teach what is most authentic to you and your situation. Not everyone will have the time or means to start a choir, orchestra, bucket band, etc. But wow, did they inspire me to try new things with what I am already doing!

We learn so much from each other. Without the people finding new ways to use the principles and practices every day, SongWorks would just be an idea. I am looking forward to attending many conferences in the future, and would love to see new friends attending, too! The more the merrier; we learn through play and experiences just like our students!

Rachel Gunderson

Rachel Gunderson

Mesa, AZ

Emotion, Attention, Engagement, and Learning

The SongWorks Conference was inspiring, refreshing, and invigorating, and I am beyond excited and ready to try out some of the new songs and games I learned, as well as implement principles and practices in new ways. Throughout the conference, a few repeating themes stuck out to me as goals I want to focus on in my classroom. Each of those themes comes back to something Jake Harkins said in his opening statements: “Emotion drives attention, attention drives engagement, and engagement drives learning.” Honoring and centering children’s choices and ideas and staying mindful of children’s identities and needs are two themes I am choosing to focus on. I believe that by focusing on my student’s ideas, choices, identities, and needs, I can reach them on an emotional level that will drive their attention, engagement, and therefore learning in my classroom.

Honoring Student Choice and Ideas

Betty Phillips’ invitation during “Pass the Witch’s Broomstick” to those who got out to come up with something to do encouraged creativity, play, and camaraderie between students. Alice Nordquist’s open-ended question, “Has anyone seen my dog?” in “Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” modeled taking children’s voices and ideas seriously in a silly situation, which I believe may empower them to use their voices and trust that they will be heard in more serious situations. Danielle Solan centered children’s choices both by having students create their own icon arrangements, as well as giving them the freedom to create movement and sound for the B section of the song, “Hear that Train.” I absolutely love the process she presented of Contribute, Consider, Choose & Compromise, Combine, and Rehearse!

Mindfulness of  Children’s Identities and Needs

Nan Fitzpatrick’s presentation, “Break ’Em On Down, These Walls Between Us,” was a perfect encapsulation of both the How and the Why of honoring student identities and needs. I especially loved her concise directions, “Acknowledge, Incorporate, Affirm, Learn, Advocate.” Each child deserves “to be treated with respect and dignity for their ideas, skills, and stages of development” (SW1: Principle 1), and I think that extends to their identities, cultures, and individual needs. Vicky Suárez and Debanhi Garcia gave great specific examples of how to include Hispanic music and culture in our classrooms with both song and dance. As Debanhi put it, “Representation is celebration,” and I want to celebrate everything about my students. One final way I plan to implement this theme is by using Molly Feigal’s suggested language for talking to students when they are experiencing big feelings. “I see” and “I notice” are common phrases in SongWorks teaching already, but I think the addition of “When you… I feel… because…” and “When you… you must feel…because…” as common classroom phrases, along with each of the practices mentioned previously, will help students to be and feel seen and understood. This will reach them at an emotional level that can drive the attention, engagement, and learning in ways that our children deserve.

Jakki Moses

Jakki Moses

Corvallis, OR

The principles and practices from SongWorks have enriched my teaching practices in the past 13 years. My time at the SongWorks Conference in Boston solidified SongWorks sturdy song lessons and gave me ideas for a more vibrant learning and playful teaching. 

Rebecca Hahn gave a presentation on “The Penny Song,” a game I recently did with my first and second graders. I have so many more ideas for this song now! The practice of using pictures for ideographs and then encouraging students to create their own version or arrangement of the song was engaging and encourages no-stress composition for any age! 

I learned several ways of connecting the solfège ladder with notes to help bridge the gap between singing and playing on instruments. Betty Phillips’ two song choices of “Pass the Witch’s Broomstick” and “Oats, Peas, Beans” started with secret songs on the solfège ladder and we were given the choice of which to do first. Danielle Solan brought two solfège ladders and connected instrument ideas with “Marko Skače” and “Hear That Train.”

Katie Herzberg brought some new ideas for older students and connected them to instruments through the familiar SongWorks favorite “Let’s Catch a Rooster” and the pop song “High Hopes” by Panic! at the Disco. I was delighted with the unfurling of this lesson as we started jamming on the instruments and all singing together. The moment of wonder when we all thought we started with one song and it came into another was a shared moment of joy.

Taryn Raschdorf’s lesson about a community of diverse people dancing to “Mayim” was my first lesson back after the conference and seamless to teach! My fifth graders easily felt successful through dancing to the three parts and having a leader from each of the sections in smaller circles. 

I am thankful for the opportunity to attend the SongWorks Conference and present as an Emerging Pioneer how SongWorks principles and practices have influenced my music teaching. Thank you! 

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