Building Relationships with SongWorks

by Kylie Decker

August 2023

Kylie Decker recently completed her Level 3 SongWorks Certification Teaching Practicum to become a SongWorks Certified Educator. Here she shares her reflections on how the experience has enriched her teaching practice.

As I have taught this year I have gained a deeper understanding of just how important building relationships is. Without positive relationships with students, colleagues, and administrators it is nearly impossible to have meaningful learning experiences. The SongWorks principles have helped to guide my decisions for management and interactions with students. 

The first SongWorks principle, “Students have the right to be treated with respect and dignity for their ideas, skills, and stages of development,” has really resonated with me this year. I have seen many times when teachers, hopefully unintentionally, belittle students’ ideas or set unrealistic expectations for their stages of development. And in each instance, the relationship between student and teacher is damaged. This year I have been practicing being intentional with my communication and recognizing students for their efforts and ideas. I have so appreciated the feedback and encouragement from my SongWorks mentors because it was not always easy! But most of the time it felt natural to get excited with a student about their new idea for what we could do with the music, or to listen to their complaints about why what I was asking them to do was hard. Sometimes just taking the time to listen to them and acknowledge that it is hard was all they needed! Listening to them always helped to build our relationship, and they trusted me more. 

Discussion of SongWorks principles has also helped me build relationships with my colleagues. I have had many opportunities to share my thoughts about how to interact with students or ways to teach music using SongWorks principles and practices, and every time it has built trust and encouraged more communication. I love sharing all the good things that can happen by teaching “the SongWorks way!” 

Looking for student input and ideas gave me immediate feedback about what they were understanding and what I needed to review or teach in a new way.

Many aspects of my teaching have improved this year, but a couple that stand out to me are my ability to think on my feet and improvise when needed and my practice of giving clear, concise directions. It can be so stressful when things aren’t working out how you planned in the middle of a lesson! At the beginning of the year I was more likely to plow through the lesson, even if it wasn’t working. By the end of the year I was able to notice what was not working and pivot to something better. Part of this came from more experience and better classroom management, but reflecting with my mentors and intentionally implementing SongWorks principles and practices also gave me a better framework to work from. I knew what the end goal was and what it should look like along the way, rather than just hoping it would work in the end. Looking for student input and ideas gave me immediate feedback about what they were understanding and what I needed to review or teach in a new way. 

Clear, concise directions are a game changer! Seven words or less. I have learned that if I don’t plan what I want to say ahead of time I ramble and lose students’ attention, and if I don’t plan my questions I end up asking open-ended or vague questions. This has become part of my normal lesson planning to think about and write out how I am going to give directions and what questions I want to ask. The students’ engagement has improved because we spend less time talking and more time doing, and they have more opportunities to show me what they know because I am asking more meaningful questions. 

Even though I can see many improvements that have happened this year, I still feel like I have a long way to go! This year I focused a lot of my energy on the Principles of Teaching and Learning from SongWorks I. Since it was my first full year at this school, a lot of my energy was spent on getting to know the students and building relationships. I’m so glad I took that time—it has set me up for success in the coming years. Next year I want to dive deeper into the Principles of Teaching and Learning Music from SongWorks II to really stretch myself and my students and see how far we can go together! I am also looking forward to becoming more involved with the SongWorks organization by preparing to present at conferences, SongWorks Saturday workshops, and learning how to teach other teachers. The learning and growing is never done! 

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