If you are just stumbling upon this article, be sure to read my previous 2 articles about this month’s topic for some background information! 

Implementing care into your ensemble rehearsal or music classroom is very simple and requires no additional resources. As I stated in last week’s post, there are educators and researchers studying care ethics in the music classroom, and one of the most highlighted benefits was that it does not require extra planning or time to invest in your students. Isn’t that the best news? Typically when we are told we have to implement a new system or process, there’s a significant amount of time we need to put in to learn and complete those tasks.

There are 4 concepts of care that take place in a caring classroom environment:

  1. Modeling
  2. Dialogue
  3. Practice
  4. Confirmation

My intention for this post is to explain what each of those concepts entail, and illustrate them in a classroom scenario, either from a story of my own, or a suggested way of implementing the concept. Let’s get started!

Modeling

This concept is exactly what it says, modeling the behavior you want your students to emulate. However, this is not just referring to good manners, treating others kindly, and other positive behaviors, but also being intentional in the way we publicly interact with students and adults. Nel Noddings puts it as, “What does our behavior with this student convey to the class about what it means to care?”

There are a few ways you can look at this modeling towards other students:

  • If a student experience a personal or family tragedy, making a card that the entire ensemble signs and contributes to shows that the organization as a whole cares for that individual and wishes them well in their circumstances.
  • Celebrating a student’s achievement’s that may be occurring outside the classroom, such as a notable athletic or academic award, etc. Or even celebrating a student who struggled with a musical concept who is now finding success.

Teaching students to celebrate the successes of their peers, or to empathize with other’s hardships, will transform the way they think of each other. It is almost as if they say, “I don’t know so-and-so very well, but I’m sorry to hear they have been so sick,” or “I don’t have much in common with so-and-so, but I’m glad they were selected for All State Orchestra.”

The more we facilitate these kinds of interactions, the more they will expect to see it if they find themselves in similar situations, and the more they will begin to imitate those actions without being prompted.

Dialogue

Sometimes having “group discussions” can be a daunting task, or at least it was for me. I always struggled finding a happy balance between making the conversations too “open for discussion” and letting the wind take us where it may. This could just be generally awkward personality and overall discomfort with “serious” discussion, so this may be a walk in the park for you! Regardless of comfort level, establishing group or individual dialogue opportunities will open your eyes to a world you didn’t know existed.

About a month after returning from Christmas break one year, I gave a short review assignment on a half sheet of paper, reviewing concepts we had learned prior to break. It was a quick assignment that was intended to take about 10 minutes and be a small classwork grade to start the semester. I wrote 3 additional questions on the board for them to answer on the back: 1) How are you? 2) How is school/choir going? 3) How can I help? 

I told students that these questions were required, and they could write as little or as much as they wanted, though I was really not interested in one word “Good” or “Bad” answers. I explained that this was just a way for me to have a one-on-one conversation with them all, since it’s hard to chat in between classes or after school with 100 kids.

The responses were a full range of emotions. Some kids were doing fine, happy to be alive and were enjoying choir. Some kids were struggling in other classes, but were otherwise great.

Then there were the not-so-great responses. I learned of a student whose parents were going through a divorce, and they admitted that was why they had missed some of our after school activities the last couple months. (And of course, I just thought this student was being irresponsible and forgetful…clearly very wrong in my assumption.) Other students shared other home life situations that were causing them grief. It was hard to read, but at the same time, had I not asked, I wouldn’t know. From that point on, when the student who was handling the parents divorcing, I always made sure to discreetly ask if there were transportation issues, or even uniform issues. I could tell this made that student more comfortable in mentioning potential conflicts to me, because I already understood the situation.

Practice

Once students are aware of the character they are to uphold in your organization, it’s time to put it into practice! One of the best ways to do this is through community service, but can also be achieved by doing something small for your school! Here are just a few ways I have seen ensemble organizations reach out and practice care:

  • Canned-food donations at a concert as their “ticket” in.
  • Music instrument donation to new or suffering music programs.
  • Writing thank you notes to administrators, teachers, etc, thanking them for supporting the arts.
  • “Get well” or “thinking of you” cards/videos/media for school or community members.
  • Benefit concerts for a specific cause in the community or school.
  • Service projects (especially since some students will need the hours for other organizations they belong to!)

Contributing to a cause as a group is a fun way to give back to your community, and in turn, can bring your students together in a different way than they can in a classroom environment.

Confirmation

This may be the most important concept, and can often get overlooked. Confirmation is the act of acknowledging caring, and/or encouraging the best in others. It is not necessarily a reward for positive behavior, but rather a concept that requires a familiar relationship.

When we confirm someone, we identify a better self and encourage its development. To do this we must know the other reasonably well…We do not posit a single ideal for everyone and then announce ‘high expectations for all’. Rather we recognize something admirable, or at least acceptable, struggling to emerge in each person we encounter. The goal or attribute must be seen as worthy both by the person trying to achieve it and by us. We do not confirm people in ways we judge to be wrong. (Noddings 1998: 192)

This makes me think of those students who have made a few mistakes, are aware of their actions, and you can see them trying to right their wrongs. I had a student on choir probation that went out of their way to help me, to make up for a situation in which they were dishonest. This led to the student becoming a ritual helper, and it was long forgotten that this was once a student who was put on choir probation. I had been confirming this student (without realizing it), and it ended up bringing out the best in them.

So there you have it! These are the 4 concepts of care that aid in creating a caring environment in your classroom. You may employ some of these already, but may have been unaware of their purpose and title, and that’s great! Maybe there are some that will help you in a situation with students in the future! Feel free to share your ideas on Twitter using the hashtag #CareChoir!

Next week we will be looking at 4 ways you can implement character education in your ensemble classroom!

 

Join in on the conversation about Care Theory and Character Education with the hashtag #CareChoir. Leave a comment below, or continue the conversation on Twitter @LindsayBrazell.

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