Following on from Part I…
6. Resources ARE important
We know that MF can be done with limited equipment and space – the Find Your Voice approach particularly – and we have always reassured poorly-resourced music departments that they can still get something from MF. However, let’s be honest here. Students will gain so much more from MF (or any music lesson) if they are able to work on high quality equipment/instruments that don’t break every time they bash out a power chord. MF Australia works integrally with the music industry to provide heavily-discounted ex-loan-stock equipment to schools, highlighting the importance of this investment to headteachers. The set-ups we saw were nothing short of professional, and highly respected by the students as they felt trusted. You wouldn’t expect a science department to function without all of the necessary equipment, so why do we often have the resolution that music departments somehow have to ‘make do’?
7. Positive attitude goes a long way
The ‘can do’ attitude of all of the teachers I met was utterly inspirational, both in the schools and at the MF2 conference. Obstacles exist just like anywhere else, but the approach was of finding ways of overcoming, rather than dwelling on them. One example is at Timbarra P-9 College with Peter Crowe and Julie Sullivan. They knew that they wanted to do MF, but like many teachers had limited resources. So they set about building an impressive case for the reasons why the school should invest – putting together a band who performed to the senior leadership team and the school council as a way of demonstrating what classroom music could look like. They had to go through an application process, and pitch their case. All of this took time, hard work and determination but their students now have the benefit of a purpose built music department full of state of the art equipment, and MF approaches are successfully embedded throughout all music teaching. Peter and Julie were two of the most positive advocates of the value of MF for students I have ever met, and this will have been a significant contributing factor to them achieving this.
8. Have a clear vision of what is important
MF is about to go through some significant changes to its organisation and structure (more on that in a future blog). It has been inspiring to see how clear and determined our colleagues in Australia are about the value of why they do what they do. Our mission has always been about providing an entitlement for all students, the many not the few, to access a high quality music education. We do this by working with teachers, with the students as the end beneficiaries. In Australia this is exactly the same. However, in the UK we have also been trying to show how what we do can fit into other peoples’ agendas, other organisation’s requirements, and our central purpose has at times been in danger of being diluted. Our by teachers for teachers approach has been the constant driver, but spending time out of our situation and looking back in has helped to reaffirm our vision for MF.
9. Don’t sweat the small stuff
This is a regularly-used phrase in MF team meetings by our project adviser David Price, and the Australians reiterated this in many ways. I chaired a panel discussion at the MF2 conference and one of the topics was notation and how important it should be within MF lessons. Similar debates have been raging on twitter in the UK for the past few months, and everybody has got themselves tied in virtual knots, so we expected similar from Australian colleagues. However, the 80+ teachers at the conference were all in unanimous agreement that if students learn best from notation, that is great, but that aural learning holds a lot more legitimacy for the majority. As one teacher said: ‘I’ve never been to a party and someone has said how cool is that treble clef but they will be wowed by the guitarist jamming in the corner’. Are we in danger in the UK on focusing on debates that take up time and energy, without actually have an impact on the young people themselves?
10. Having fun is ok
It is rare that I have much time and space to relax, reflect and get a bit of perspective on my own practice, and it was fortunate that our MF Oz hosts built in a lot of social time into our trip. Having fun, relaxing, drinking a bottle of wine (or two) is when the BEST conversations happened, and I have come away buzzing with ideas about how we can make MF better, and how I can improve my own work. This wouldn’t have happened sitting around a table in the boardroom – just as learning should be fun for students, working should be fun and engaging for adults as well, and the MF Oz team certainly made sure that happened!
Blog post written 3rd July 2014 and updated 5th December 2016