Guided by principals

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There is an advocacy initiative in NSW which will seek to train and place specialist primary school music teachers in public primary schools.

Their placement probably will depend upon school principals taking a decision to hire a music specialist. So they might need to be persuaded that such a decision is the best choice they could make among the alternatives.

Who would be the best to persuade them? Other principals who have already made that decision. The Music Trust already did a survey of principals of schools reputed to have good music programs.

Here is a set of quotes from their testimonies about the outcomes for their students and their schools of establishing a successful music program. It comes from the survey report on the Music in Australia Knowledge Base and you can find it at http://musicinaustralia.org.au/index.php?title=A_Survey_of_Principals_of_Schools_Reputed_to_Have_Good_Music_Programs.

There were 19 respondents. The principals answered questions about changes in their school caused by introduction of a music program; changes in students’ co-operativeness; the re-engagement or ‘rescue’ of some students by the music program; changes in classroom behaviour; changes in school spirit and morale; changes in school reputation; other effects.

Here is an example, the responses to question 20.

  1. Well-being. Please comment on any improvements in self-confidence, well-being of students that may be attributable to the music program

All 19 responded. The text in italics shows individual principals’ own words.

Many studies and informal reports remark upon the growth of self-confidence through musical performance activities.

  • Sense of belonging and success, and opportunities for personal and social regulation.
  • Many of the students involved in the student representative council were also involved in the music program. These students seemed to develop a new confidence in their role and started to see our high school as the equal of others in the area instead of seeing it as disadvantaged and second class. • High level of confidence through the Musicals and performance groups. Students are encouraged to use the microphone from Prep and given opportunities to perform at assemblies.
  • Have noticed development of self-confidence and calming effects of music
  • Our students are confident leaders. Music contributes to confidence
  • There is a music family. It is a place to be amongst similarly minded students but is also a safety haven and friendships
  • The fact that Music students and their staff build strong and trusting relationships, contributes to student well-being in a positive way, particularly when performing arts events are being rehearsed. The bonds that form for instance, when preparing for the College Musical, are outstanding and long-lasting. Our students have the opportunity to build their self-confidence when performing for Chapel, college and community events.

As to the first point, music builds relationships which contribute to well-being; it is a sequence.

There is an assumption here that performance builds self-confidence – and it seems to be confirmed by the evidence, but one would think that performance could as easily breed anxiety.

  • Working in ensembles/small groups increases self confidence – student leaders involved in the program are role models for the student population – small group work with specialist teachers allows for strong rapport with students which can lead to important mentoring with at risk or difficult students.
  • Confronting any fears about performing in public are dealt with effectively in a music performance so there are benefits to studying music and performing in a group in terms of confidence and character development. This has knock-on effects for later life and in other fields/domains as a student.
  • Many students feel most comfortable when performing or listening to music. The sense of belonging engendered by being a part of a choir or orchestra, and the feeling of elation following successful performances is huge boon to the self esteem and confidence of many individuals.
  • The students in our music program have a real sense of belonging to the group and are motivated to perform at the highest level and to be challenged musically, socially, emotionally and intellectually.

My perception is that our music students are well balanced students who enjoy being at school. Their engagement in performance opportunities and community service opportunities ensures a well-rounded and successful start to their education. The vast majority of these students become successful professionals after tertiary studies. The school has had a Beazley medallist (the top ATAR student in WA) in each of the past three decades resulting from its music program.

  • The music program creates a great deal of well-being for our students. They have fun, have a sense of belonging, work together as a team and support and look after each other.
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