An Invitation to Build Bridges

by Nan Fitzpatrick

June 2023

So many of our SongWorks songs and games begin with an invitation; whether we’re singing the starting pitch with the word, “Ready?” or guiding our students’ listening with a specific focal point of study such as, “notice when my body stops moving.” Invitations request and even encourage participation. And it is with that spirit that I recently extended five invitations to my SongWorks colleagues at our Annual Conference in Boston last month. The invitations were offered as a response to the question posed during my presentation: What role, if any, do equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging play in the music classroom?

Before that question could be answered I first had to acknowledge that with fifty different people in the room, we would likely approach this question with fifty different perspectives. Where we live in the world, our local laws, the training offered by our school and district, our religious upbringing, our family culture, race and/or ethnic identity, our gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, political party, the news we consume, and the data we absorb all influence our viewpoints. With so many lenses from which to view this question, we as teachers are often left feeling fractured and overwhelmed; caught up in controversy with no common ground to land on.

Thankfully, we likely have some common ground around the idea of breaking down walls to increase safety and belonging for our students. As SongWorks Educators, we have a unifying lens with which to engage this question of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging: our principles. Three in particular offer guidance:

  • Students have the right to be treated with respect and dignity for their ideas, skills, and stages of development. (SW1-1)
  • Students deserve an engaging learning environment in which they feel safe enough to demonstrate freely their understanding and skills through various types of participation. (SW1-2)
  • A teacher’s attitudes, behaviors, and methodologies should be compatible. (SW1-5)
As SongWorks Educators, we have a unifying lens with which to engage this question of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging: our principles.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. As many of you are aware, in the United States we are experiencing an uptick in mental health challenges among youth. Girls and students who ID as non-binary, transgender, or genderqueer are at higher risk for threats to health, and youth who report experiencing racism and other youth who are historically marginalized report feeling less connected at school. To combat this disconnectedness schools can play a critical role in promoting students’ health and development by creating environments where all students feel that they are cared for, supported, and belong.

Belonging is a huge concept that is being studied in school and corporate settings as well as cultural and political structures… but it boils down to having a meaningful voice and opportunity to participate—not just in someone else’s structure but the opportunity to participate in the design of the thing itself (Othering and Belonging Institute, UC Berkeley). “Belongingness” sits just above basic physiological requirements like nourishment and safety… this is perhaps the clearest acknowledgment that belonging is a fundamental need for all of us. 

In order to meet this moment and stay true to our principles and foster and maintain respect, dignity, safety, and align our attitudes, behaviors, and methodologies, here are the five invitations:

  1. Acknowledge your own stumbling blocks around whom you’re comfortable creating a place of belonging for and whom you’re not.
  2. Incorporate stories, literature, songs, and visuals (like handouts and posters) that highlight different cultures, racial and ethnic groups, family structure variation, learning styles, and gender expressions. Music educators and culture bearers throughout the country and the world are sharing incredible materials, lessons, and repertoire.
  3. Affirm the struggle and the joy of affinity and identify groups—not just for the students who identify that way, but for everyone—to broaden perspectives, strengthen understanding and develop empathy.
  4. Keep learning. Stay open minded, and seek out new information and skills that lead toward belonging. There are some starting points listed below but are by no means comprehensive.
  5. Advocate: if you’re affiliated with an organization, school, district, political party, or a religious institution, service organization, etc. that is creating policy that is the antithesis of our SongWorks principles, you may also consider advocating for a change.

Our SongWorks Educators Association Purpose Statement compels us to:

  • Promote playful teaching and vibrant learning through the use of SongWorks principles and practices.
  • Inspire the inherent playfulness, responsiveness, and musicality in teachers and learners.
  • Embrace a community of life-long learners who grow together with care, respect, and grace.

We are in fact an organization of bridge builders already! Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your president this past year. It has been my pleasure to engage with you as we learn and grow together as individuals, educators, and community members. I hope you will continue to invite each other into learning, humility, and joy through teaching music. I leave the presidency position in the incredibly competent and caring hands of Jake Harkins.

-Nan Fitzpatrick
2022-23 SWEA President


Othering & Belonging Institute:

Decolonizing The Music Room:

CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey:

The Institute for Anti-Racist Education:

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN):

National Center for Transgender Equality School Action Center (terms, FAQs):

“Intercultural Understanding Through World Music Pedagogy” by Patricia Shehan Campbell, NAfME publication: Teaching Music, January 2023

Teaching Students To Respect Cultural Diversity:, January 12, 2022

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