Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast - Episode 43.
In this episode, you're going to listen to a fellow called Rowan Hardy. He's a secondary music teacher on the Sunshine Coast. And at the moment, he's doing his PhD, doing research at the Queensland Con, Griffith University and he's investigating playful pedagogical approaches amongst secondary music classroom teachers. It's really interesting. I have a lovely chat to him. Enjoy part one of this interview.
Hello, and welcome to the Crescendo Music Education podcast Rowan Harvey. Welcome, Rowan.
Hey Deb, Hey everybody, are you good?
We are all fabulous. And I'm going to start by reading your little bio. Okay?
So Rowan Hardy is Head of Department for the Arts with the Queensland Department of Education, a specialist in Music Curriculum. He is a subject matter expert on the external examination writing team with the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority and is the Lead Curriculum Writer on the National Advisory Team for the SongMakers Program with the Australian Performing Rights Association. I don't know about that, you'll have to tell me later okay? His PhD research, which is what I want to have a chat to you about, at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University investigates playful pedagogical approaches amongst secondary music classroom teachers through such collaborative, improvisatory and experimental approaches to teaching he aims to develop professional practice in effective and equitable ways. Well, there's so much in that.
It's a mouthful.
There's a lot in there, though.
It's hard to sum up stuff in about 150 words?
Well, I think you did really well. It sounds absolutely fascinating. So many of those words, I just love them, not just because they are big.
There's a lot to unpack for each word really isn't there.
Yeah there is. Lots of bang for your buck. So listening to that brief bio. Is there anything you would like to add to that summary of your work?
I guess, like to sum it up from my heart, because I think what you've probably heard is from my brain, most of my professional career has existed in the classroom. And it still is to this day as a teacher, and I first and foremost trained as a musician. And my teaching career was certainly something that I fell into. And I fell in love with, it wasn't something that I ever embarked on from the beginning. So that's essentially my story. And that continues to kind of play true through my narrative as I go through all those fluffy words in my bio. And I guess what I'm inspired about most now I'm moving into research, is change for teachers and the realisation from a policy makers perspective, that as musicians and music teachers, we teach in a spirit, and we approach our music teaching as musicians, and it's kind of something I'd love to discuss more today is that there's potential for us to work through this in music education in Australia. And that's, that's, that's where I'm headed, I think. But yeah, like we just before discussed my existence as a teacher in a metropolitan area. And now I'm actually living on the Sunshine Coast in what is considered a regional area, and just that change, in the complete change in professional life and existence in two, just two very closely geographical areas in Queensland alone. So my hope is that I can, I can resonate my story throughout Queensland, and particularly for those teachers that work in far out regional areas that don't have those networks, and don't have that collective, like you would in a metropolitan area to make that policy change. That's something I'm really inspired by. And that's part of my story, really. So I hope that adds to the like, from my heart a little more.
It does, but I think what you're saying is where you are depends a lot on though you're in the same system. And we're certainly going to be very careful, we will walk our Code of Conduct blind and we will not you know, but even within the exact same system, working from a national curriculum, you move a couple of hundred kilometers, which in Australia is like nothing, and it's chalk and cheese, in many ways. So I think we're dependent on the region, the messages that are coming down from that region, the messages that are coming through your admin team, are your admin team supportive of what you do and how you do it, there are so many variables, and you are the music teacher, like I'm coming from a primary context as you know, you're secondary. But that's another point we've really got to get primary and secondary teachers talking to each other.
For goodness sake, I've only been trying to do it for 40 years.
I completely empathise with that. So, and having had that, you know, experience myself, let's face it, I'm mid career, I'm only 20 years into education. So I've kind of experienced that quite acutely in the last few years. And as many of us would have, as well, with the pandemic, it's been quite even, like, agitated even more. So. Yeah, I'm passionate about educating teachers in, I guess what we'll get to soon will be around that idea of collaborating more and communicating more with each other in the spirit of education, which is sort of what we were saying before about secondary and primary teachers working together, there's so much that we can learn from one another.
I think it's essential that we make these connections and Crescendo, my little, you know, mission, bio, catch phrase, whatever it is for Crescendo is connecting, supporting, and inspiring music educators, and I put connecting first, deliberately, we have to, we have to get on the same page, we have to connect with each other, connect with, as you're saying, and I think this is really vital. We need to connect with the policymakers. We need to help educate people around how important what we do actually is for the child. So I just could not agree more. It is all about this, this collaboration and understanding each other. So the question is, how do we do it, but anyway, we might, you might have some suggestions. One of the ways I do it is through inventing Crescendo 22 years ago. So that's my way of doing something, bringing people together. But there's got to be other ways my work with the Queensland Teachers Union, through Music for Every Child Every Week, that is helping, but there's got to be more we can do. And I also, the whole reason I'm actually speaking to you, Rowan is trying to connect more with what's happening in the research world, to help inform us at the coalface because I work full time in a very busy primary school with thriving music choirs and instrumental and I coordinate that. And so, you know, I don't have time to go off and 1) do the research 2) do much more than read a quick summary on someone's blog? How do we connect all of those things up? That's one of my issues. And it's why I'm talking to you to make a start with the connections.
Of course, yeah and I think the underlying value of research for me is not necessarily the outcome or what it produces. It's the philosophy that inspires. And I think that for me, stepping into that world of research in the last few years, besides the knowledge that I'm gaining from reading and immersing myself in a lot of these theories, which we'll obviously discuss soon, I'm more inspired by the philosophy that it's bringing about within my compass, I guess you could say, so the way that I relate with the world as a musician and how that affects my professional life, or how I can use my skills as a musician to be a more agile professional, and by that I mean be able to independently develop ways to affect that policy change or figure out how to break those particular rules for want of a better word or turn of phrase. And then having these kinds of connections, these conversations, are another great part that comes out of doing research is that you end up networking with people who, like we haven't, we haven't talked about this ever, this is so exciting, you know, to be shared throughout these networks is also inspiring for me, it's so cool. That, to me is the essence of why I'm doing research. As I said, it's not about trying to prove something to the world, it really is about opening up a richer philosophy about music education, so that we can as a group, challenge these types of policies rather than the you know, from hard working people like yourself who are like the like you feel alone in the fight sometimes, you know, to change that policy. So I'm hoping that's the ripple effect of what this work will create in the future. So that's, that's yeah, essentially what I'm inspired by. Yeah.
So I think I'm getting a sense that it's doing two main things. I'm about to summarise terribly here, sweeping generalisations, right? That through doing this, you're learning, and it's affecting your personal philosophy, and your work with children and with other educators. So obviously that's informing your outlook and your perspectives, but also what you're doing, because you're doing research in this slightly bigger field, it's actually going to inform us as a group as well. And I think both things are important if we don't have the research and the more academic type backing for what we do, then all we can say is, hey, guys, come and look at the kids in my room, look at them over seven years, have a look at the amazing things we do. Now, I know for a fact, the amazing positive influence that we can have as music educators, I know I see it literally every day, but someone who is not in my classroom does not know that.
I was gonna say that, that divide has always been really evident for me. Like, even before I embarked on research, I never engaged with it deeply because I felt a disconnect between the world of research and the world of being a professional, or being being that music teacher or the person on the coalface and having to do like you're saying, you know, lose countless lunchtimes, countless mornings and afternoons, weekends, you're just constantly doing everything on your own. It's just, it's a lot of work. Besides the face to face classroom time, I always felt there was like, Oh, well, you don't understand what it's like to be in my position, like, can't make those statements about, you know, the profession and that's what I'm trying to join together. That's what I'm really trying to approach this with is an openness to that world, at the same time as piecing together my lived experience in a role as a music teacher, as an instrumental music teacher, as a classroom music teacher, and I've been a Head of Department for 15 years now. So I know and I understand the aspects of the job, or the the professional mindset of a teacher. And that's certainly become you know, that's entered into, like, the realm of research for me now. And I've started to question, you know, the actual professionalism, the role of the professional, like, what is a music professional? Like? What is what does that look like? What is a teaching professional? What does that involve? And as I said earlier, if I came to education, as a trained musician, how can I use those aspects of my musical training, or my musical passion I have for music in my professional? Are there coexisting aspects of my professional life and my musical life? Or are they separate identities? That's what I'm trying to kind of come to terms with, I think, and what research is doing for me at the moment is opening up the possibility for bringing in aspects of my musical or artistic life into my professional life and vice versa, which has been great, like really eye opening. And it's made me think very divergently about how to approach some of these challenges we talked about before about navigating the policy or having more agency as a teacher to make more choice over what the policy is telling us to do. Yeah.
Becuase agency can be such a big one too, depending where you are, again, depends where you are, who your team is, I know experienced music educators, and again, I'm speaking from the primary context, who have landed in a school and been told you will use C2C units and you will use those assessments. Now. I know the people who wrote those C2C units, there's some gold in there. They're amazing. Right. If someone told me, I have to teach those units, those lessons and that, I would actually I would probably quit but that's a different story. I just seriously, I'd say, Have you no respect for me as a professional. I know that in some cases, these things are literally forced on you. And, again, I want to reinforce that I am not dissing the C2C units.
No, I know.
They were written with a particular purpose in mind. But you have to have that agency, you have to have the professional respect to be able to create your own programs and guide those children to great learning. And I love this concept of trying to bring in what it is that makes a musician because I believe all of my children are musicians from the second they walk in, I want them to have that attitude. Hmm. Interesting.
It's like, I guess the the two identities I struggle with is that professional identity of being told what to do, or having to work within a box, or having to tick certain boxes, or, as we'll talk about soon, the risk aversion of professional, the professional mindset, you know, then on the other hand, I was jazz trained. So my musical background is improvisational, it's it's about taking risks and experimenting, it's about being open to failure and making mistakes. So there's a real dichotomy between the two that I struggle with, which is what brought me to research in the first place is that well I don't understand where how I can have this mindset, which is of a musician and I want to advocate for that in music education, because that's what inspired me to do music. But on the other hand, in my professional life, I've got to vary the policies around me. And it's not the people who enact those policies. It's the way the policies are written or interpreted sometimes need to be, you know, approached with that same level of experimentation or risk taking. So it's very, it's a tricky balance between the two, very tricky, and that's what I'm hoping research will kind of create some space. Like there's a gap in the middle that I'm hoping research will help me kind of discover some more or will come to some more conclusions, perhaps even give me more questions.
No, that's the problem with research isn't it? It often uncovers more questions, but that's learning.
You realise that the more you know, the more you realise you don't know.
Look, I think I want to come back to some of the things that I had earlier in our questions, because I want to get straight into your work around play and playfulness. Yeah. Okay. So what your research is, and what that means for us as music educator.
Yeah, sure, sure. So this is a big answer. So I'll try and package it up so that it makes some sense, then I can give you an overview. So we know it's very well researched that the benefits of play or musical play within a classroom, particularly in early childhood, it's great for the child. And there's research to say that that's even the case for adolescents, and people in higher education. So I'm not really exploring much about the student teacher interaction with that. What I'm really interested in exploring, where my research is going is in the Teacher/Teacher interaction. So the way we use those same concepts of play, and we'll get to this in a minute, as teachers together, and how we use those modalities or the spirit of play, I talk a lot about or the ethos behind play, in the way we interpret policy curriculum, the way we behave as teaching professionals are the way we have a generate agency as music teachers, and I'm interested in exploring what that might look like. So that sums up the direction my research is headed in. We know and we've discussed within the research of education policy in Australia, and in Queensland, there seems to be a perceived crisis in confidence of music teachers, and my research looks at secondary music in their agency, what we've discussed. So I'm really interested in teachers opportunities for the provocation of those policy discourses. So how they can empower more agency in the way they do their work through using or interacting with it, or looking at it, viewing it through a lens of play. We know there's some professional accountability also that we've got to balance assessment practices. And you talked earlier about the concept of instrumentation or instrumentalism I think the word is. So C2C units, for example, can be interpreted by some as you know, you do this and obviously that's not the intent of the work that the Queensland Government put together for that, but it can certainly be like, interpreted through an administrators lens, as you know, play it safe, do what I've told you to do, which takes away that that personalised approach to music education. So there's a systematic reliance, I guess you could say, on evidence based policy in education, which is also a bit of a tension that I'm exploring. Because what that does is it means that we need to stick to the script and do what you're told to do because evidence or research says it does this. So that's something I'm battling with, because it's ironic, but I'm doing research in it. So because play is quite ambiguous. And you know, and it's hard to, it's hard to define. Some say it's almost impossible to define play. So it's trying to find what, the point I was getting to earlier is what what are playful modalities? What do they look like as a teacher? So are they ways of working with other colleagues, of interpreting policy? Is it about embodying a greater sense of risk, or experimentation, or even an openness and vulnerability as music teachers to experience mistakes in the way we do our jobs? The way we write interpretive curriculum? Is it about this idea of spontaneity and improvisation in the way we teach? I mean, I'm very guilty of being an, I'm a teacher that plans between my staff room and the door of the classroom often. And it's not out of choice. It's often because like, as, as we talked about before, I'm that flat out, it's just getting from point A to point B. But are we like, are we able to explore more of that aspect of our job, because what could be of benefit for the children is, it could be amazing. It could be just what music education needs to be able to demonstrate to those people around us that it's, that it is everything we say it is, is that it does engage students in creative avenues for exploring sound or exploring aspects of their personality or creating collaborative spaces for kids to work. Music is fertile soil for that, cultural understanding, the list goes on.
So where I'm really headed with this is how play might generate or a spirit of play might generate new knowledge and insights for teachers through that idea of experience. So the experience of working in the classroom, the experience of interacting with your colleagues. I give you an example of my previous school in Brisbane, I used to spend a lot of time playing music with my fellow music teachers, and we had, I was fortunate to have a staff of three or four classroom music teachers, but we often were in one another's classrooms or before school, playing in a band together with the kids, we're often performing with the children, supporting them. I could see that aspect of my musical personality, or musical identity in the classroom just as much as I could that professional identity. So that's an example of kind of where I'm going. And one of the questions we'll talk about later is around nuggets. And there's some stuff in there that I can throw into the mix as well.
Oh yeah, I'm looking forward to your nuggets. They'll be coming from quite a different perspecitve.
Yeah. I hope that summarises it Debs.
Now, look, I think that's good. There's lots of questions. Of course, the more you say, the more questions I have, hey, that's the nature of learning isn't it. Because I'm just looking at this thinking of me, and all of the people that I have the privilege of working with, these are the things that have popped into my head, as you were talking about. A lot of this comes down to allowing the teacher, giving them the professional respect to give them choice and agency. Right, that I'm lucky. I get that where I work, which is why I'm so happy where I'm working.
That's an essential ingredient to what you're talking about. The teachers have to have that agency. I think it also, another key thing in what you've said, for me was about confidence and the confidence to be vulnerable. Okay, I have not a problem expressing that I actually don't know about that can you tell me more. But I do think that there is a characteristic I have noticed in some music educators is to not want to admit that they don't know it. They need to and partly that could be from the position that they find themselves in, in schools.
They need to have the confident front and I know what I'm doing, because there is a balance there to knowing what you're doing, doing the best you can, but still having that vulnerability. Thanks Brene Brown, you know, you have to, you need that. If you aren't open to admitting that you don't know everything and that you're learning from others, ou haven't got a hope. So you have to have that vulnerability, on top of the confidence knowing you're doing your best, but still being vulnerable. And the other. I mean, I love working with teachers is key to this. Absolutely. It's my happy place. I do so much work, lots of intentional collaboration with Deb Brydon. She's my work wife, I call her, but I work with so many amazing people and that's what fuels me. It's what gives me ideas, inspiration, so that working with colleagues essential, and the other thing I'm thinking of, is creativity/play. Are they basically synonyms? In your work? Or are they a bit different? And then I'll be quiet, because they were just things that came into my head listening to you.
Yeah, it's with that question, potentially, I mean, one way of framing it is around process and for want of a better word, product or outcome. So play I see as a process, it's not a there's no like activity that is play. Play is, as you see, like if I put this back into the lens of a young person, and I've got three young kids, so I see it every day. But if I've got, if I see kids playing around me, I see a sense of vulnerability of flow, a sense of, I guess, this loss of awareness of their surroundings. So I don't know, that's cognitively, the case of kids that age. But there really is extensive experimentation of being creative, being a creative. So play is definitely the process that I see that happens, or the conditions that allow for that creativity, are created through the spirit of play, is what I kind of refer back to, again, the space for that spontaneity or that interaction. And that even in some cases, that concept of excess, when I play, I try out ideas that I wouldn't necessarily put in front of a bunch of people in a controlled circumstance, like a classroom, for example, where there is, like we've said that professional accountability, where there's that aversion to take the risk, or that like fear of looking stupid in front of a bunch of kids, and potentially the behaviour problems that stem from that, right. That is a major factor for a teacher, hence, why I returned to what interactions do we have as musicians, and music teachers, between ourselves that foster that spirit, that ethos, and that's what I want to explore more of, because the way I see us, you know, moving through these policy changes, and creating a ripple effect I talked about earlier, is through engaging more in these interactions and bringing that spirit within the interactions we have as musicians and teachers together, perhaps even through communities of practice, which is also quite a broad term, but how can we create new, you know, methodologies and ways of working together that investigate, you know, the possibilities of what if I tried this on my lesson next, you know, and then brought that confidence or that willingness to take a risk within your classroom in that sense, because then you can tangibly see evidence of creativity and things happen in your classroom that every music teacher wants to see. So that's kind of the Yeah, that sums up a little of where I'm at with research. My next step is in study phase. So I'm actually about to embark on interviews with teachers and putting all of this work together. So it's very much philosophical, as I said earlier, in my mind at the moment, because I'm not yet at the point of really carrying out the study, and pulling together all the narratives and stories of different teachers to be able to see what this might look like, or how this might be interpreted. So this is a great chat we're having now because this is the beginning of where I'm at, it's so exciting. It makes me so happy. So yeah.
It just, it sounds fascinating.
Hopefully quite inspiring for people and I think there are a lot of musicians and music teachers out there that want that liberation, they want to feel that, you know, I can, I can go and try this out, like there are others around me doing it or I've got some critical friends that you know, I've tried this out with we talked about it or we're nutted it out together and I can bring that same spirit that I had, or that same mode that I was in when I when I did that into my classroom and it might really bring some energy and otherwise inspire some really interesting music making in the classroom.
I like it. It might even work slightly in reverse. There might be somebody that goes, actually, I do this in my room, and it works really well and I feel and I will share this because it worked for me.
And so yes, it's the connection and the communication.
Yes, absolutely. Yeah.
I think this sounds fascinating. You have to keep me up to date.
Yeah of course. Thanks Deb. Of course.
Where you're up to, it sounds wonderful. It sounds great.
Thank you for joining me for this podcast. Don't forget that you'll find the show notes on crescendo.com.au/43. Also, you can find the transcripts there. So you've got all of the detail that you need. If you've found this podcast useful I'd really love it if you share the link with a colleague. Remember all I can be is the best version of me. All you can do is be the best you. We'll meet again. I hope we will. Bye.
As we know laughter relieves stress. Don't lose sight of the funny side of life.
I am terrified of elevators. So I'm starting to take steps to avoid them.