Monday, July 21, 2008

Thinking for a Change in Music Education

In best selling author John Maxwell's book Thinking for Change, he offers some compelling ideas and a step by step approach to creative and successful thinking. The idea of copying successful people or 'thinking like successful people think' is not new. Can music educators benefit from these tactics? Will they even try? In the book Maxwell addresses the following issues (among others):

Big-Picture Thinking - 'seeing the world beyond your own needs and how that leads to great ideas'. Musicians are great at this on many levels. Understanding how our parts add to the whole band, orchestra or choir comes with the territory and is part of our basic training as a musician.

Focused Thinking - 'removing mental clutter and distractions to realize your full potential'. This is a critical skill that we as musicians hone from very early on. The ability to concentrate on our own playing from a simple duet part to playing in a large group setting is practiced at an early age.

Creative Thinking - 'stepping out of the "box" and making breakthroughs'. Musicians are some of the most creative folks I know, but I can't help but think that music educators have fallen short in this area, especially given our recent past. I am surprised that as music programs are being cut with alarming efficiency, the best defense we've come up with is the argument music education leads students to 'more successful standardized test scores', 'better self esteem' and 'improved spatial reasoning'. Hardly anyone is talking about changing the profession of music education to allow it to thrive 'outside the box' of academia.

Shared Thinking - 'working with others to compound results'. Musically we have this skill in spades. Any trip to a live performance proves that musicians know how to work together to make a great feast for the ears. In a professional capacity however, we tend to fall woefully short in this area.

Our profession (as it exists mainly in academia) allows for very little shared thinking; that is the kind of thinking that actually benefits the profession itself. We gleefully share ideas on how to make the winter concert better or how to get kids to be quite during rehearsal, but we generally do not tend to share ideas about the actual profession itself - as do other disciplines like law, medicine or accounting.

Reflective Thinking - 'looking at the past to gain a better understanding of the future'. Our profession seems doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past with heads in the sand. We hope against hope that our programs remain funded and turn very little attention to thinking of new ways to make fundamental changes that could at the very least, provide a different option for our future educators.

At DSM and Maxwell's Thinking for a Change and others like it (Good to Great by Jim Collins, The Tipping Point by Maclolm Gladwell to name just two) are strongly suggested reading. We embrace a corporate culture and seek to develop long term and fundamental changes in our profession by thinking 'outside the box'. I recommend this kind of thinking for members of the music education field and challenge our universities to include material like this in their curricula for our future colleagues.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think these are all areas lacking in traditional music education. Musicians are good at Big Picture thinking. Music Educators miss out on that. They tend to get stuck on "what is good for the program" (competitions, contests) and not "what is good for the student" (life-long love of music, understanding the musical language).

Creative Thinking? HA!! HA! HA! Music education has not changed; in approach, in presentation, in material basically since Beethoven or beyond (Beethoven Beyond! That would be a great movie...)

SHARED THINKING (I fall on the floor in tears). The music educator in a traditional school setting has as colleagues... a math teacher, a biology teacher, a a janitor. The educator is certainly not even seen with the same respect, generally, as a coach. If you are in a profession you have colleagues doing the same thing where you work. Maybe the Choir Director and Orchestra Directors form a small group of colleagues, but as far as a profession...? I don't think so.

REFLECTIVE THINKING...?? nah, it's living the same year, just different faces, over and over for your career. Maybe you get some new instruments and uniforms once in a while. But change? I don't think so.