My approach to leading classes and seminars:
Over the course of my seven years as a teaching artist, instructor of instrumental and chamber music, and facilitator of leadership and communication training, my thinking has shifted on what it means to be a teacher: from one who imparts knowledge to one who helps others build understanding through experimentation and discovery. My approach to teaching and coaching prepares students to excel in their musical skills and performance, and develop clarity, vision, and capacity to build and lead successful and innovative careers.
My musical studies were formative to my teaching philosophy. Among my favorite learning experiences was a college course called “Improvisation in General Music.” The professor was adept at guiding us towards our own discoveries, helping us take creative risks along the way. When we felt self-conscious, he reminded us to be explorers with the question, “I wonder what would happen if…?” (ask yourself that question and you will always learn the answer!) Thanks to him, I gained insight into my creative process, enhanced technical mastery of my instrument, and renewed motivation to practice.
After years of classical cello training, this environment was unique and refreshing. It contrasted the struggles I had as a child with private cello teachers who emphasized following instructions over experimentation. I felt emboldened by the invitation to wander and make discoveries for myself and grew passionate about providing this experience for others.
I treated my first year at musiConnects, teaching private lessons and chamber music, as a sandbox to find ways to embed this philosophy. These early attempts saw mixed results and raised important questions about structure and sequence in learning. In the last few years, I have found that shifting my model of a teacher has taken continued attention to three areas: how I extend invitations to learning, “connect the dots,” and challenge students to move beyond where they are.
Extending Invitations: As Director of National Outreach Programs at NPR’s From the Top, I led seminars around Arts Leadership, Teaching Artistry, and Defining Success. In those settings, I mixed music-making, discussion, personal reflection, and team projects to offer many entry points for students. Even simple sequences of humming exercises, calling on students to listen closely, make creative choices about the pitches they hum, and contribute a strong voice to the emerging “soundcloud” can provide a rich doorway to topics of teamwork, creativity, improvisation, composition and more. Working within a group provides real time feedback about our leadership styles and comfort in social settings. Using music making as a metaphor lets us leap to a range of destinations. And laying these tools before students as an invitation, understanding that as an educator, we can set the table but not force a student to eat, builds ownership over the learning. Considering the diverse learning styles found in any group of students, it is my job to set a table that is accessible, personally relevant and engaging so they have have every opportunity to fully participate.
Connecting the Dots: Our understanding is tested and strengthened when we are called on to translate and apply ideas to multiple contexts. With that in mind, I ask students constantly to make connections between the material in front of them and other areas of their lives. This may mean referring back to a key moment or exercise (like the “soundcloud” activity above) as we move through a topic or taking moments to identify links between music and science and think of related examples from their own lives. In this way, we are not simply "accumulating" knowledge but treating the learning experience as a practice, just as we would on a musical instrument, reiterating connections in the brain so that students may use their understanding with fluency and ease. Following questions such as "what does it mean to be a leader?" or "what is my musical 'voice'?" and sequencing topics is key here to providing structure. But with the right balance and flow, as we move through the lessons, students can gain a deeper perspective while learning to articulate their understanding in a way that is both clear and personally meaningful.
Challenging Students: Whatever the content, I expect students to make an effort to consider and apply new perspectives. In seminars, I generally ask students to demonstrate this through storytelling or leading a discussion. These are wonderful ways to make the students’ thinking visible and available for feedback. Whenever possible, I challenge my students to integrate components of our discussions and design an engaging session for a real, live audience - perhaps their peers, parents, or students in younger grades. In the course of developing their plan, they make choices around what messages they want to convey, the roles each person will play in the presentation, and what content and activities were most relevant to their sessions. With a little planning time and coaching, the teams were able to lead their own sessions with positive feedback from their program director.
Following one seminar, Olivia, a young cellist reflected, “I gained confidence in my abilities… to make a change in my community. I love to play, but I didn't realize it was really possible to do "big things" and make "big changes" for other people through music.”
Above all, in my seminars and private lessons, I hope for my students to expand their understanding of what is possible in and through music, leaving them not just excited but empowered to take their music off the beaten path. To me, this requires a synthesis of skills, vision and confidence in one’s ability to navigate the unknown. Reflections like Olivia's remind me again and again of the importance of music as not just a destination but a vehicle for students to explore the world around them.