Lindsay Brazell

Music Educator and Creative Professional

What Is Care Theory, and Why Should We Care?

I have always been someone who loves when everyone is getting along. I’m sort of like a new-age hippy, without the drugs and such. I love peace and people being kind to one another. So you may ask, “Then why did you enjoy teaching high school students so much?” Good question, especially when conflict and conflict resolution is pretty much the scariest thing EVER to me, in my little hippy-dippy world.

Character education became my way of making choir members feel ownership and responsibility for one another. My philosophy was, simply put, you don’t have to like everyone you sing with, but you need to acknowledge that everyone here is important and valuable to our success. Teaching good individual character was the only team building method that really strengthened the ensemble in that way.

The question that arises is: What definition of “good character” do you teach and model?  Who decides what behavior is good and/or moral? Obviously, this can get a little touchy depending on the route you take.

As I began researching character education in the music classroom, I came across Care Theory. Rather than a direct teaching of character traits deemed good or moral, care theorists focus on establishing conditions likely to encourage goodness. The premise is more in creating an environment that recognizes goodness than the instruction of character. Nel Noddings, a prominent voice in Care Theory, has published several books and articles on character education. She emphasizes the idea that, as educators, we should want more than academic achievement in our classrooms, but making sure students know how to be caring people, and how to be cared for by people. To me, it’s a fascinating outlook.

My favorite aspect of care theory is that it so well implemented in a community environment, particularly classrooms. Noddings explains it best in her book Educating Moral People: A Caring Altnernative to Character Education.

“Caring is not confined to a group with identifiably common features. It recognizes the ‘community of those who have nothing in common’ (Lingus,1994). We should be able to respond to the pain of strangers as well as that of friends.”

A community of those who have nothing in common mostly summarizes our ensembles classes. Our students typically come from all walks of life, different grades, musical aptitudes, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and hold a vast number of personal opinions. Yes, they have a shared interest in music and belong to the same school community, but their individual makeups are quite a melting pot of traits. I can’t think of a better environment to teach care and tolerance, than in the walls of a rehearsal space.

[Tweet “”I can’t think of a better environment to teach care and tolerance than in the walls of a rehearsal space.” – @LindsayBrazell”]

And guess what, Care Theory is being used in the music classroom! In a case study by Scott Edgar titled “An Ethic of Care In High School Instrumental Music,” four instrumental music educators were observed in their efforts to implement care into their daily instruction and rehearsal. Several benefits, both interpersonal and musical, were found and an overall sense of ownership and loyalty were noted in those classrooms and ensembles. Teachers found that by investing in their students, modeling caring relationships, and fostering a caring community among their ensemble, their musical achievements were more prominent and appreciated.

Another benefit that I’m sure greatly weighs with educators is that there was no need to sacrifice rehearsal or instruction time to look out for student social and emotional well-being.

To answer the question of whose definition of character should educators utilize, I’m inclined to go with Care Theory, as it avoids any moral or religious argument. I highly recommend Nel Noddings’ book, and any other articles you may find on the topic. If you are looking to create or mend a team environment with your ensemble, the practices in care are definitely a great starting point.

There are 4 components of care: Modeling, Dialogue, Practice, and Confirmation. Next week I’ll be talking about each component and what they could look like in a music classroom or ensemble rehearsal. I’ll be sharing some of my own classroom stories as well as some other case studies!

So, what are your thoughts on Care Theory? I’d love to continue the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #CareChoir! Feel free to ask questions, leave comments, or anything else on your mind!

How are you fostering care and community in your classes and ensembles? Leave a comment below, or continue the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #CareChoir or tweet at me personally @LindsayBrazell. 

**Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you click on them and end up purchasing a product from that website, I will make a small commission. This helps fund the expenses in maintaining my blog. I appreciate your support!**

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About Lindsay

I’m Lindsay, a choral music educator by day, a singer-songwriter by evening, and a writer when time allows. You can find my latest album, The Room I Found – Lindsay Morelli on iTunes.

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