Recently, I donned my cowgirl boots, curled my hair, and headed off to a couple of music concerts that have been on my bucket list for a while – Dolly Parton and Jason Aldean. It just so happened that both singers were going to be playing a short drive from my Tennessee mountain home. I really love music of most any kind, but I suppose my farm-bred roots make my go-to choice country. I grew up visiting Dollywood theme park and listening to southern gospel music and pretty much anything with a country twang. So, to say I was pumped for these concerts would be a huge understatement — a little time away to just enjoy the show. I guess you know you are a teacher, though, when… you can’t even go to a concert without having your classroom on the brain. Well, that’s me; so, here are five teaching tips, ideas & strategies from my concert-going adventures.
1) Come Out On Fire and Rock It From Opening to Closing Both Dolly Parton and Jason Aldean literally came out to the stage on fire. Dolly graced the stage singing her version of “Girl on Fire,” while Jason Aldean emerged from behind of a flaming letter A. The excitement and anticipation of the moment was thrilling, and I was amazed by the attention to detail that the display demonstrated. And, for over two hours both country crooners belted out their melodies and danced non-stop. What does this have anything to do with teaching tips, ideas & strategies? At the concerts, I was captivated by the creativity and excitement of the opening sets, and I believe students like a little flair, too. Even if it’s just a quick video clip, song, or a related image to set the tone, it will amp up the mood of the lesson and create enthusiasm. It wasn’t just the openings, either, that were so fantastic. Both concerts closed on a positive, personal note. Students need to leave our class feeling the same way; whether it has gone well or as planned or not, finding a way to close on a positive note could make or break the feeling students have when it’s time to return to class tomorrow. Maybe it won’t be fire and lights, but students do appreciate and notice the teachers who show they care.
2) Connect with the Audience Despite the flashy, bright lights, smoke, and the distance from the stage to the seats — all things that would have been really easy for the stars to hide behind — Dolly and Jason both made every attempt to recognize the audience. Dolly even went as far as to tell us several times that she could see us and how much she loved to see that her fans were standing and singing along with her. Jason Aldean often paused to wave at the cheap seats, and once when he spotted a less-than-enthusiastic attendee who apparently had his arms crossed, JA encouraged him to clap along! Of course, everyone knew the words to the songs, me included, and several times throughout the concert, the performers would turn the microphone outward and let the crowd take the lead. They didn’t let that fourth wall stop them, and teachers should either. Proximity isn’t just for discipline.
Further, it’s so easy to get so involved in preparing my lessons to meet certain standards or be so driven to prep for tests that I forget who my audience actually is – real kids. And not only that, but they need to be engaged and involved. I needed to be reminded there must a healthy balance between creation and consumption in the classroom. We won’t be there forever to do it for them, nor will students really get the most out of the material if they aren’t engaging with it. They need to be doing as much — or more — as we are. The “real world” is, after all, a hands-on project, and we teachers need to make sure they are getting a taste of that.
3) Tell Stories; Make It Personal Dolly Parton’s music is known for being of a story-telling nature, and so is country music, of course, by definition. The power of a perfectly crafted song that tells a story packs a punch and lasts in the hearts of the audience for a long time, if not forever. We are drawn in by the pathos, and we get attached to the emotional, dramatic, and sensory experience. Not only do the songs themselves often tell a story, but both artists paused to relate the stories behind several of the songs. I once attended a Marcia Tate workshop where she shared specific brain-based teaching tips, ideas, & strategies. Telling stories to make a personal connection made the list because it reaches verbal and auditory learners. I loved hearing the background of the songs and the personal experiences each performer told. My students are no different. I believe any type of learner would enjoy hearing a personal experience (related to the topic) every now and then — plus it makes the information stick.
4) Smoke and Lights and Graphics I don’t know about you, but my classroom is not equipped with any smoke machines, and I only have three rows of harsh fluorescent lighting. Regretfully, I guess I won’t be installing cool smoke and lights anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that my presentations, worksheets, and other materials have to be dull and boring. Using pictures or age-appropriate art can really make a simple sheet sing. Many classrooms now have at least a projector, and a lot of classrooms have an interactive whiteboard. It takes a little time to plan and create lessons with a little more visual and interactive jazz, but I always find it is so worthwhile. I enjoy it, and so do the students.
5) Have Tons of Screaming Fans Maybe you are smirking a little as you read this one; I did, too, when I thought of it. Oh, how nice it would be to have 20,000 screaming fans wearing shirts with my name and picture and holding “I ❤ Mrs. Faulkner” signs in the air. I’ll keep dreaming. I went to those concerts because I love the music, and I am drawn in each time I hear a familiar song on the radio. I choose those playlists over and over. In teaching, we often don’t get a ton of compliments or accolades – and no one is making any #1 fan signs for us.
Teachers have a hard job and have to be tough, and sometimes students/parents don’t appreciate why we do what we do. Every now and then, though, a student will take me again for a second course or different class. That is such an amazing feeling to know they came back by choice! And every once in a while, a former student will come back for a visit or send an email or text to let me know how much he/she learned in my class or that mine was actually his/her favorite. I am reminded of a quote by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Even though my boots are back in my closet now, I’ll be waltzing into my classroom each day with my focus on kids and how I can go the extra mile to make learning productive and enjoyable. Thanks, Dolly and Jason for reminding me that a teacher should always have open mind for learning, and I’m putting these teaching tips, ideas, and strategies into practice. Dolly closed the concert with her most popular song: “I Will Always Love You.” Teachers teach because we love what we do; it certainly is a profession that comes from the heart.
If you want to bring a little music into your classroom, check out these interactive resources:
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