Saturday, November 28, 2015

From the Stage to the Classroom: Lessons Learned from Sugar Plums

A very big part of my growing up was centered around the dance studio. Ten of my Christmas seasons were spent preparing for my ballet company's production of The Nutcracker. This year that dance company is celebrating it's 30th anniversary of it's annual Nutcracker celebration, I have found myself being a bit reflective lately and making parallels between those childhood moments and the moments in my classroom today.

The Work Leading Up Is Better Than The Performance Itself
Rehearsals for annual ballet begin in September, then ramped up intensity in November, and then finally the week of the show rehearsals till midnight weren't uncommon. Then came performance day and your scene may have only been about three minutes. For some they might find that all of that work for three to eight minutes of performance time, not worth it, but it couldn't be far from the truth. Those long and sometimes painful rehearsals prepared me for my job today. This upcoming week my students have a concert and we started preparing for this concert in September, and some of those rehearsals were long and sometimes painful. What people don't see from artists, performers, and musicians is the weeks and hours that went into prepareing their art, many just see the finished product. Even for the young musicians that I get to work with everyday, this is something hard for them to wrap their minds around. Many times my students will point out how much work we put into performances and then explain how they can't believe that it is over. What I try to point out to my students is cherish and make the most of every rehearsal time, because when we make the most of each moment of music making in rehearsal we just make that performance better. Sure this sounds easy, but when you are working with middle school students that are all about instant gratification it can be a bit difficult. Sometimes I even have to remind myself this, that all the work will be worth it in the end. But I don't stop. I keep trying. By the end of the year and the last performance they get it.

Bring Your Best All The Time
My ballet teacher is an amazing teacher. As a look at my own teaching these days, I find that I do many of the same things she does in my classroom. My students poke fun at my phrase "do it again" but I want my students to know what it is like to do it right. Music is creative and beautiful, but there is some technical skill involved as well. Either you sing the note right or you sing it wrong, there is no in between. The same can be said of ballet, either the move is right or it is wrong. I remember being in rehearsals, going through it once, sitting down and getting notes over our rehearsal and doing it again. We were given the opportunity to do it right. I want to do that for my students every day. I want them to know what it is like to do it right. When I tell them to do it again, it is because I want them not only be successful one time, I want them to feel successful every time. Looking back on those ballet days, those moments of doing it again led to those amazing performances. Not only do I expect my students to bring their best everyday, that also means that I have to bring my best everyday. Some days are hard. Some days I feel completely inadequate to know, love, and teach these children. Some days are a crash and burn moments. But beautiful thing is each day is new and I get to another chance to bring my best.

Art No Matter What Form Is Life Alternating 
Did I turn out to be a prima ballerina? No. But it was when I studied and danced those Nutcracker performances that fell in love with music. I fell in love with art. My art. I'm so overprotective of what I do in my classroom simply because I'm protective of my art. Choral music changed my life, and it is my job to show children how beautiful and transforming it can be in their lives. Being in the Nutcracker taught me how to appreciate all art forms visual and performing. I just love it. Fine Arts gives so much meaning to the world around us. It saddens me when I hear stories about Fine Arts programs being removed from schools, because for many students the Fine Arts are all they have, the Fine Arts are why they come to school. Many students are creative souls stuck in desk chairs with cinder block walls and they just need creativity. They need art. Children need art.

I'm so blessed that I had a chance to dance in ten productions of The Nutcracker. Looking back that time was preparing me for the job that I never even imagined having. Oh and here is a picture of middle school Nutcracker production Meghan.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Happy Thanksgiving Eve!!! There are just so many blessings in my life to be thankful for, to name them all would take forever. I have been blessed with a family that loves me, friends that are small family within itself, and a profession that I absolutely adore. 

You are the best. You have challenged me. You have encouraged me. You have made me better. I can't even name you by name for fear that I will forget someone, you are all just so dear to me. To those that have retweeted or favorited something crazy that I shared and to those of you that have read this blog and have supported me in this writing journey I thank you. Thank you for sharing with me as well, I have learned more from you than any old professional development could do for me. 

Sequoyah Middle School
There are no words to describe my love and thanks for you. In this building I have felt the love of a supportive admin that not only care about my teaching but care about what is happening in my life outside of the building. To the "squad"of teachers that are some of the best people and friends in my life, you are the best. Thanks for listening to me vent, celebrate my successes, and encourage and support music in our school. Plus we are just really cool, people want to be us. 

It has given my life meaning. I can't believe that each day I get to wake up and do this. I get to teach kids how to sing. How amazing. I have seen some kids that absolutely struggle in all areas of school and shine in my class, simply because they love music. I love every moment of watching them grow and fall in love with the art form that so richly enhanced my life. I love their thirst for knowledge in music, I love when their faces light when when they get it. They are the greatest. Love. Love. Love. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Multiplication Effect

Sometimes everything comes together and you realize just how unbelievibly powerful what you do is, and why it is needed.

My university that I graduated from lost a big part of it over a year ago. I have blogged about Dr. Stauffer Todd before and here is my tribute post to her.

Yesterday afternoon there was a fundraiser held in her memory to raise funds to establish an endowned scholarship in her name. She hated being the center of attention, but former students, current students, Divison of Music professors donated art, sang, and performed all for her. She would have loved the communtiy of performance.

In the final moments, after singing with my college choir, and crying my eyes out while I sang, because music is just beautiful. My former dean said this, "teaching is a multiplication effect." As soon as I heard the words, my eyes filled with tears and the ugly cry could not be contained.

Driving home I begin to process that statement. Teaching is a multiplication effect. How many lives do I as one person reach? Rather it be directly or indirectly? How do I make sure that I reach all of my students? What happens if I don't reach them all? How do I keep all of the problems that face educators today from hindering my multiplication effect?

Now I'm bad at the math stuff and my friend and fellow edu-blogger @TeachFromHere  might call me out on it, so I'm doing my own version of it, so he can deal. I reach and impact students, and in turn they reach and impact those around them. That one spark of influence grows and just keeps growing. We reach and influence our students and they in turn reach and influence their own studnets, co-workers, neighbors and community. Reaching just one kid could hold the potential to reach thousands.

Oh how I love this profession. I cannot even begin to put into words how much I love what I do, but you know what sometimes it sucks. Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes it is the most challenging thing in the world. In a world full of those fun little three letter acronyms, you know the ones: HST, TLE, VAM, and the like, I have the best news ever for you, none of those things can hinder your mulitplication effect. Yes these are things that are important, that are needed(okay maybe not all are needed...ahem HST), but loving and knowing your students, reaching them, influencing them, and impacting their lives will reap a far better and greater reward. So my fellow educator that is stressing out over testing, to my fellow choral educator that is stressing out over honor choir auditions, to administrators that are stressing out over an A-F report card, guess what? It will all be okay. Those do not define you as an educator and those things do not define your students. The lives you impact today, will go on to impact other lives, and they will teach the lessons that you taught them to others. Muliplying your circle of influence.

We do not educate data points and stastics on a piece of paper. We educate kids, and these kids have emotions and souls. These kids are full of joy and life, and some of these kids are full of hurt and pain. They need to know that they are more than data points.

Keep going. Keep reaching. Keep doing the hard things. Don't stop. Love kids. Know them. Reach out to them, but remember it's okay if you don't reach and impact them all. Maybe you just weren't the person that they needed at the time. See the good in every kid, and I know sometimes you have to look really hard. Mulitply your circle of influence. Don't worry about the other stuff, just love your job and love your students. You just might be the only one that truly does.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Edu-Grateful: Part Two

For me, the path to becoming an educator was clear. I remember my first day of school and then coming home and playing school. I did this every day of my childhood. I wanted to be a teacher. When I was in kindergarten I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, when I was in first grade it was a first grade teacher, I'm not going to type this all out because that would be forever, you see where I'm going with day everything change.

Her name is Wendy Dooly. She was my elementary music teacher at Ballman Elementary in Fort Smith, Arkansas. One day when I was in fifth grade she told me to try out for the school's honor choir. I had no idea at the time that one conversation would completely change my life, sometimes I even wonder if Ms. Dooly knew that conversation would completely change my life. I think that she just saw and heard a girl that very loudly(yes I am a loud mouth, shocking) loved singing. I was in fifth grade I was more concerned with the Spice Girls and what was happening on 7th Heaven (let's pause for a moment and remember the greatest that was 7th Heaven). I always enjoyed music class, it was always fun for me, but when I started to sing in a choir things changed.

Singing in a choir started to change my spirit. I found joy in it. At the time I was really struggling in school, not in everything but Math started to become a problem for me. I felt like I was a complete idiot because I couldn't do all the Math things that my friends could do. Our choir practices happened after my Math class. So I would always go to rehearsals feeling pretty dumb, but when I left rehearsals I felt like the smartest kid on the planet. In those moments, I felt okay to be the creative little loud mouth that so many have grown to love.

It wasn't in that choir that I decided that I wanted to be a choir teacher, but it was because of being in that choir I choose to take choir in junior high and then in high school, which lead to me discovering my calling and my passion for choral education.

So Ms. Dooly, thank you for making me join choir. Thank you for seeing and hearing something in me. You didn't just influence my life, but because of that influence it lives on in how I influence my students. I feel bad that after elementary school I lost contact with you, but I'm so thankful for you.

Oh by the way.....elementary music teachers, thank you!!!!!! You make my job possible. You lay the foundations and you get kids excited about music. You encourage kids to take my class, and you help them fall in love with music. I don't say it enough but thank you for what you do! Because it was an elementary music teacher that changed my life. You are changing lives, every single day!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Edu-grateful: Part One

I love November. It is my favorite. I love fall. I love Daylight Savings Time. I love Thanksgiving because I can eat all the mashed potatoes with no judgement. Thanksgiving and gratitude is something that we should carrying with us all year long but occasionally we seem to forget all about it and only remember it in November. I am thankful for so many things: my faith in Christ, my church, family, friends, my cat, Netflix, coffee, Diet Coke, Oreo blast ice cream, and my job. I love my job. In case you can't tell. I really really really love my job. My path to becoming the teacher that I am today has been marked by countless educators that have poured into me and invested so much time into my teaching. To write a blog series dedicated to each one would take 365 days. So trying to narrow it down to only four to each feature each week, talk about difficult.

This week is dedicated to Dr. Casey Gerber. Dr. Gerber was my undergraduate music education professor and he still is a resource and mentor. Just yesterday he was conducting some of my students as a part of our district honor choir. Not only did Dr. G teach me how to teach, how to plan effective lessons, how to find the best resources and music for children, but he taught me how to take pride in what I do. His passion and joy for teaching is so clear in everything that he does. It is clear to me that I would not be the teacher that I am today, if I did not have Dr. Gerber mentoring me and training me. The lessons, activity, games, and warm ups that I learned in his methods are still some of my most favorite things ever. And they are my students favorites! He is still a go to resource when I have a question about lessons or curriculum. He told me to start my Kodaly levels, so I did and I'm so thankful for that and what it is doing for my teaching. Plus he is a folk song singing, circle dancing, plays bass in a rock band, cool guy. It's awesome. He's awesome.

Dr. Gerber,

Thank you for encouraging me and making a teacher. Thank you for believing in me. Thanks for just being cool. Thanks for telling me to not suck. I try everyday.