How SongWorks Practices Shaped the Classroom for John R. Good

by Debanhi Garcia

June 2023

Debanhi Garcia 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 at her school, John R. Good Elementary.

When I began my teaching career six years ago, I thought good classroom management meant every student was seated quietly with good posture and only spoke when called upon. I used to think misbehavior was a one-way ticket to the principal’s office. I assumed every student would participate without issues, but when I saw a student off task or not engaged, I used to take it as a personal reflection of my teaching. When it came to academics, I thought that every child would be on the same level, when in reality, that’s far from the truth. These misconceptions of teaching were quickly dissolved when I began my SongWorks journey in 2019. That is when I saw a transformation in my classroom. As I started to follow the SongWorks teaching principles, I shifted my view on behavior and saw how important it was to treat students with respect and dignity for their ideas and skills, at any stage of development (SW1: Principle 1).

It wasn’t until I started video recording my lessons for the SongWorks Teaching Practicum that I noticed how many different levels of engagement were happening at any given moment. Because of the guidance I received during the program, my attitude went from reacting to student misbehavior to receiving their behavior as their way of expressing their emotions and insecurities. I learned that a good teacher acknowledges the importance of the Maslow hierarchy of needs and how that comes before any lesson plan.

The magic of learning truly happened in my classroom when I put the responsibility back into the students’ hands.

During my SongWorks Practicum, I was lucky enough to have not one, but two extraordinary mentors, Betty Phillips and Molly Feigal, who both have achieved recognition for their extraordinary teaching within the SongWorks Association. Lesson planning was never my strong suit, and as a result of poor  planning, my teaching lacked structure and clarity, which led to a constant feeling of defeat and frustration. A method that helped me find success in lesson planning was when I was introduced to the concept that many teachers forget when teaching, called “Seven Words or Less.” The rules were simple and easy to follow: Keep your instructions short, clear, and easy to follow. With this new format, my thoughts felt more organized, and I was able to communicate exactly what I wanted when I wanted. By implementing this one tool, my mind no longer felt clouded and my lessons had a structure that benefited myself and the students. 

I used to think the responsibility of learning music was all up to me because I was the certified teacher in the room, which flooded my brain with anxiety, and the idea of letting my students down haunted me. The magic of learning truly happened in my classroom when I put the responsibility back into the students’ hands. I noticed a shift in participation when I started utilizing the students’ contributions in every lesson. I learned that to give my students autonomy in their learning, I had to start by stepping back and allowing them to learn by watching and assisting one another in the learning process.

When I began my journey as an elementary music teacher, I felt frustrated, lost, and unaware of how to reach my students and support their needs. After two grueling years of failures and frustration, I rushed into my community, desperately seeking answers and guidance, but in return found so much more when I was introduced to the SongWorks Educators Association. Now, after four years of conferences, membership, and completing certifications, I have gained a new love of teaching I didn’t think was possible. More importantly, I am ending my sixth year of teaching with joyful students and a newfound passion and understanding for teaching children.

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