Advocating for Music Education During Music in Our Schools Month
By Carey Crows, Music Teacher
March is the month for advocacy for music education. For the past 34 years, March has been designated “Music in Our Schools Month” (MIOSM) by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), and has been recognized and celebrated by music teachers nationally. The purpose of this month-long celebration, as stated by NAfME, is to “raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children and to remind citizens that school is where all children should have access to music,” thus the motto being, “All Music. All People.”
NAfME’s MIOSM motto sums up my philosophy for music education — all students should have access to music, and not only music, but a wealth of opportunities within their school music class. A successful music program transpires not with the music teacher alone, but with the support of administrators, school faculty members, parents, and the local community. However, these support systems do not always develop naturally — it begins with the teacher, advocating for the importance of their program, and sometimes for financial support. When we advocate for our school programs, it demonstrates to others that we are personally invested in our programs for the benefit of our students.
Advocacy for the Process
This year, in response to NAfME’s MIOSM mission, I have decided to initiate informances for my kindergarten classes this coming April. As an elementary school music educator, many responses I receive after student performances begin with, “that was so CUTE!” Of course my students are cute; they are five through eleven years old! However, to dismiss it as “cute” negates the magic of what is happening, why it is happening, and how my students arrived at that point. Recently, I realized that I play a part into this; parents cannot know what, why, or how something is happening if they are not given opportunities to observe the process. So, I asked myself, how can I make a change? How can I invite parents and faculty members to be a bigger part of this process, so they can value music education like I do?
My answer is to invite parents into my classroom when their child is taking their first steps into music education. In April, each kindergarten class will demonstrate what a typical music class looks like for their parents. We will sing, move, play, and create, and invite the parents to do so alongside us. Parents will receive a wealth of information about what we are doing, and more importantly, why we are doing it. From the outside, it may look like we are just simply doing a folk dance, but by inviting parents to come watch us do it, I can also articulate the importance of doing this dance to develop sequencing skills, to develop the social emotional competencies, to improve their sense of right/left direction, to enhance their listening skills, and to keep a steady beat with their bodies. All of that in a two-minute dance? You bet.
Advocating for your program is certainly important, especially when finances are involved. As a creative personality, I always have ideas spinning in my brain faster than I am able to process them. Sometimes, these opportunities are those that can be done within school means, and others are more substantial that require financial assistance. For the three years that I have worked in my school district, I have raised funds to create unique opportunities for my music students that they would not otherwise experience. In 2017, I fundraised to bring a Ghanaian dance troupe to engage my students in drumming and dance workshops, and a performance. In 2018, I commissioned a new piece of choir music from a living composer set to a poem by one of my third graders. This year, I hired renowned composer, producer, and conductor Jim Papoulis to work with my general music and choir students to compose original music that is relevant to the things that they value in life. While my school is part of an affluent community, the funds for projects of this magnitude are often limited.
Many teachers work strictly with their designated school budget, and while that is understandable, school budgets are limited, and many teachers are simply unaware of the various ways in which to raise more money for their classroom. When considering a large endeavor such as the aforementioned opportunities, it’s first important to ask, does my school have a parent/teacher organization that funds classroom projects? Does my district have a grant program? Can I create partnerships with local businesses? Are there any local grants open for application? Even if the answer is no to any or all of these questions, organizations such as Donors Choose, Go Fund Me, and Funds for Teachers, are designed specifically to fund projects of any size.
As an example, to fund the project with Jim Papoulis, I first went to our PTO, who donated a considerable portion of the funds. Then, when my school’s choir performed at Macy’s in December for a holiday performance, the Macy’s organization generously donated money toward our general music program, which was then used for this project. For the remaining funds, I started a campaign on Donors Choose, which matches all donations up to $50 for the first week of the campaign with a special code. At the beginning of January, after two months of fundraising, the project was fully funded. While it took a considerable amount of work and resourcefulness on my part, it is important to me to give my students new opportunities, as well as to show my administrators how I can be a positive advocate for my own program. And in turn, by seeing the the value that these experiences have for my students, many of my school administrators are not only appreciators of the arts, but also advocates.
You Are the Change Agent
All of this is to say that I believe that there are always ways to advocate for change in your program, even if your school does not have the funds to support your big ideas. With a growth mindset and a sense of resourcefulness, you can seek venues for organizing, fundraising, and advocating for your program. As a teacher, this is perhaps one of the most difficult jobs we have, but when we witness the impact that these opportunities have on our students and our community, we know that it is also one of the most important.
Carey Crows is the K-5 General Music teacher and choir director at Elizabeth Ide School (K-2) and Prairieview School (3–5) in the Center Cass School District 66 in Downers Grove, Illinois. Prior to joining the Center Cass community, Mrs. Crows was a freelancer, teaching early childhood and elementary general music, and singing professionally in choirs throughout Chicagoland. A native of Tampa, Florida, she received her B.M. from the University of Miami in Vocal Performance, and later earned her M.M. in Music Education at Northwestern University. She tweets at @CC66_K5Music.
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