SongWorks in Action at ODU: An Interview with the Faculty

by Kylie Decker

August 2023

Kylie Decker, SongWorks Certified Educator, participated in the 2023 Level 1 summer certification course as an intern. She sat down with SongWorks Certification Executive Director, Betty Phillips, and faculty members, Molly Feigal and Sandy Murray, to talk about their experiences during the week.

Betty Phillips
Molly Feigal
Lisa Schoen

Kylie Decker: This year was SongWorks first certification course at Old Dominion University. How would you describe the experience at ODU?

Betty Phillips: Lovely! Everybody was so genuinely happy for us to be there. And southern hospitality is a true thing! It made us feel very welcome. And I’m excited to go back!

KD: What was the student body like for the 2023 summer course? What do they do during the school year?

BP: It was a fascinating mix of people. There was a university student from Utah who is starting her student teaching, and she was more than ready. We had two Virginians who are amazing music educators, and very thoughtful, in-depth thinkers. We had a student who came back for the refresher course and I loved reading her reflections. It was wonderful to see what she came away with because this was the first refresher experience we’ve offered for level one. And we had a lovely gal who is creative and teaches amazing things—art, music, and drama…She is just so open-minded. I think that’s one of the characteristics of a SongWorks teacher. People who come to SongWorks most of the time are very open-minded, even with all their various experience levels, and are very receptive to what we have to offer. And then we had a preschool teacher, who is so amazing and highly thought of. She had wonderful insights to share during the coursework. 

KD: Who taught the course? Where are they from?

BP: Our course this year was taught by Sandy Murray and Molly Feigal. Sandy Murray is from Abbotsford, British Columbia in Canada. She’s worked decades with one of our founders, Dr. Sister Fluerette Sweeney. Sandy taught in the classroom and helped classroom teachers bring music to the kids in their classes. Sandy has also taught courses at the University of the Fraser Valley and worked as a faculty mentor for student teachers. And Molly Feigal. I’ve known Molly for decades too, working with Dr. Marty Stover. She’s a no-nonsense kind of gal, and by golly, she’s been with the program from the get-go, too. She is from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and has also taught education courses as an adjunct faculty member at St. Catherine University. And both of them have won awards for their teaching!

KD: What will the SongWorks certification courses look like in the future?

BP: We will have two faculty members per level. If it’s a new site, I will be there as executive director. I hope to have residential courses on both sides of the US so that people don’t have to pay an arm and a leg just to get there. So we’re looking for a site in Utah. And residential courses means that I set up the course for dormitories for the housing, lunches on campus so everyone can eat together, which is one of the other things that we found is really important for students and faculty to build those relationships. We will continue the refresher course idea for level one and level two. Particularly for people that are thinking about doing level three, if they’re thinking, “I just want to have a little rerun, so I feel more prepared.” 

KD: Do you have dates for the course at Old Dominion University next year?

BP: The dates at ODU next year will be June 24–28. And although our location in Utah is to be determined, we are aiming to have the course there during the first half of July.

So was it what I expected? Yes. Was it more exciting and harder to do than I expected? Yes. Was it a blast? Absolutely.

KD: Molly, tell us about teaching the observation class. Was it what you expected?

Molly Feigal: Yes, and no. I fully expected to have a group of kids who were going to just do their thing, be a group of kids. And I definitely got what I expected: a group of kids that I didn’t know, that I was eager to make connections with and establish a little bit of routine. And then, no, it’s not what I expected. The age range was a little younger than I expected, which is always fun and surprising. And you could definitely see that they were in an environment they weren’t used to. And they were eager to be noticed. So they were a little more than I expected, quite honestly. They made me stretch my teacher brain, and my strategies and techniques to keep them engaged and safe and musical. And what a wonderful experience for the participants to see a class that was definitely making the teacher work hard! I’m really grateful that they were comfortable being their authentic selves, because that gave the participants of the course an opportunity to see a variety of strategies in play. It was really cool. For instance, the very first day, we had already talked about what do you do if the children are singing unmusically. If they’re just so excited, they can have a tendency to blurt their song out. And right in the middle of the first observation lesson, two little voices got so excited they were sort of yell-singing. And I made eye contact with one of the participants across the group, and both our eyes got a little bit big. And I thought to myself, “Okay, we’re doing this,” and I was able to model ways to kind of coach the voices. So was it what I expected? Yes. Was it more exciting and harder to do than I expected? Yes. Was it a blast? Absolutely.

KD: What was one highlight of teaching the first summer course on the East Coast?

MF: It was just so cool to be in a new corner of the world!

Sandy Murray: And for Betty and me, it’s clear across the country!

MF: Connecting to new people. Proximity is important! And it’s really hard to get to know people if they can’t make it to a course. So being in a place where a bunch of new people were able to come was really cool.

SM: And the campus itself was really wonderful. It’s beautiful. I got to see two cardinals for the first time! I’ve never seen that kind of bird. And the music building is amazing!

MF: It was really exciting to be on the East Coast! And in the South! The general culture and interactions with people in the area felt very different than what I’m used to. And I loved it! Also, the campus and the location were so accommodating, welcoming, and so beautiful. It just felt really good.

SM: Yes. And the people! We often commented on how friendly people were in Norfolk. People are friendly everywhere, but it just felt like they were extra, extra friendly.

MF: Right. And I’m from Minnesota, where we say everyone is “Minnesota nice.” And I’m like, no, no, this was like “Norfolk nice.” That was really cool. It’s just exciting to feel like the SongWorks approach is branching out into new areas!

KD: What was your schedule like on a typical day of teaching the course?

MF: Well, we would stumble out of our rooms in the morning. Greet each other. Find a way to get some coffee or tea. Caffeine.

SM: Then we marched right over to the music building, which was pretty close. It was nice! And then we just had so much help from the interns. It was really wonderful to have all of that support, because I am not tech-savvy. And so if it weren’t for Kylie helping me, I just would have been dying. So thanks, Kylie. It’s a long day, actually—8:30 to 5. And then dinner. And then Molly and I did spend a lot of time planning for the next day. Even though everything has already been put in place by several other faculty members in great detail, somehow, it still took that long to get ready for the next day.

MF: Yes, each of us would go over the next day’s lessons. And sometimes we’d put our heads together on them. So we’d be back in our dorm room, paging through the lessons. And just making sure that we had our heads wrapped around them and that they really reflected what we were doing with this particular group of participants. 

SM: Exactly. 

MF: Because what I’ve noticed now that I’ve taught the course more than one year is that we are very responsive to the participants who are there. So we have these great lesson plans written out, we have this flow of what the day is supposed to be like, and we have to respond to what’s going on with the participants in front of us. So even on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, everyone would go to lunch and Sandy and I would stay in the music room for a little bit and say, “Okay, hold on. Quick look at this afternoon. Did we miss anything this morning that we need to reshuffle into the afternoon? How are we going to fit this in? What do the participants need?” So we would spend about 20 minutes of our lunch doing that. And then in the evenings, going back again, and looking at things and thinking, “Okay, what portion do we need to move into tomorrow’s lessons?” Or “What portion do these participants need? Or want to see? What have they told us they want to learn more about?” And so we were really bending our brains around how to best respond to the needs of the participants, in addition to all the things that we already had planned. So we were lucky if we were in bed before midnight. That was our goal—be in bed before midnight. Oh, because we also had to read and respond to reflections. And we also had to eat dinner. And we really wanted to see a little bit of Norfolk. So it was long. And it was really great. And, wow, we really had a good time working hard, and just geeking out being the faculty.

SM: And it spoke a lot about teaching with a partner, and how powerful that can be. And so, this was a back and forth thing with Molly and me and looking back on the day. And, as Molly said, thinking about what the participants wanted, what they needed, what we missed. I think it’s much stronger when you’re talking about it with a partner.

We think about teaching from the principles to our children, but then as faculty, we’re also teaching from the principles to the teachers in front of us.

KD: What did you appreciate about or learn from teaching level one?

SM: My big takeaway from this is that we think about teaching from the principles to our children, but then as faculty, we’re also teaching from the principles to the teachers in front of us. We’re trying our best to apply the principles of SongWorks to the course itself. So being mindful of what teachers are needing, what they are worrying about, and how we can create a joyful experience for them, all while still presenting a lot of content.

MF: Past participants have remarked to me that they felt safe enough to explain their understandings through a variety of participation. And that they may not have felt that way in other professional development situations in their life. And it just goes back to the principles. They resonate with all of us so strongly, it’s just how we end up living our lives. Every student has the right to be treated with respect and dignity for their ideas, skills, and stages of development. We have participants who have never experienced SongWorks, or are just starting out as music teachers, or are classroom teachers. And then we have people who have done a lot of SongWorks, or have done a lot of other certifications and levels and have a huge variety of information that they can pull from as a music teacher. So knowing that we have that wide breadth of participants, we really try to hone in on the right path for this particular group. 

SM: Yeah, it’s just appreciating and reinforcing what we know about good teaching.

MF: And people and relationships.

SM: I do like that. That’s really central to what we are doing. 

KD: Will you be back to teach the course again?

MF: Yes! The answer is yes.

SM: Of course! I want to come back.

MF: I’m so excited because Sandy and I implemented some things this year that we hadn’t had a chance to wrap our brains around in past years. Because some of us have taught the course for a while, we’re seeing places where we can continue to improve and change. Sandy and I got to roll out some things together, like actually having the participants teach each other mini lessons. This is something that Dr. Marty Stover did with me when I was at St. Kate’s learning how to be a teacher. And we were able to do that within this course.

BP: One of the things that I noticed is we are becoming less teacher-directed and more student-directed. And so instead of doing our lecture on this particular thing, we’re presenting scenarios and bringing in what they already know, and involving them more like we would in a classroom of children. That’s one of the big changes I’ve seen.

KD: I loved it! It was so great this year to have those changes in there.

MF: I need to credit Sandy with a couple of those changes, because what I noticed is that, whether this is just her personality, or if it’s because of her background in the classroom, she has some skills that I don’t have. She found ways to masterfully elicit from the participants the main points or to have them really discuss and chew together on a specific topic. She has those strategies, and she has that skill, as a teacher of people. And it was really an honor to partner with her and to see that come out. And I can’t wait to see exactly how she may have written that in some of the lesson plans so that if next year, I have to teach a course without her as my buddy and with another faculty, I will be able to use some Sandy skills in my teaching of other people.

SM: Thank you for that feedback!

A final note from Sandy: “We want to thank Dr. Taryn Raschdorf for all her efforts in getting the course to happen at ODU. She did so much to make us feel welcome and comfortable! Shuttling us from the airport, taking us to the grocery store, making sure we had everything we needed for teaching, and energizing us with her contagious smile and enthusiasm!!”

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