Ep 52: Emotionally-Inclusive Music Classrooms (Part 1 of 2)
1:15AM Apr 21, 2023
pre service teacher
Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast - Episode 52.
Hello, I'm Debbie O'Shea. In this episode, I get to talk with Bryson Tarbert. Also known as That Music Teacher. I get to talk to him about all of those things I usually do, gratitude and his journey, so interesting to listen to. But he's also got some great insights that will help us while we are trying to provide a more inclusive classroom. So please enjoy this episode with Bryson Tarbert.
I'd like to welcome to this episode of the Crescendo Music Education Podcast, Mr. Bryson Tarbet who is "That Music Teacher". Hello, Bryson.
Hello, thank you so much for having me. I can't wait to see what we can get into.
It will be so good. I've heard you. I've found you relatively recently. So I had a bit of a listen to your podcasts, but this is the first time we've actually spoken in, well in person, it is in person, zooms almost in person.
I'd say so.
Yes. So I want to start, for those people who don't know Bryson, I'm going to read out your bio so that people can be familiar with where you're coming from, apart from the other side of the world obviously. Bryson Tarbert is a pre-K to sixth grade general music teacher just outside of Columbus, Ohio. He received his Bachelor of Music in Music Education from Ohio Wesleyan University, his Master of Music in Music Education with a Kodaly emphasis from Capital University. Bryson spent his first year out of college as part of an elementary school intervention team (ooh you have to tell me what an intervention team is, you'll have to do that in a minute) and he fell in love with working with students with disabilities. Due to this experience, as well as his personal experience as a neuro-diverse individual. Bryson feels very strongly about advocating for sensory and emotionally inclusive classrooms. I tell you what we could all learn a bit more about that Bryson so we'll get into that for sure. Bryson started That Music Teacher LLC, what's LLC?
It's a legal thing.
Okay good, with the goal of sharing different perspectives on issues pertaining to the lives of music educators across the country, and across the world. He also hosts That Music Teacher Podcast, a podcast for elementary music teachers, and is the educator behind the Elementary Music Summit. More information about Bryson and That Music Teacher can be found at thatmusicteacher.com. Bryson can also be found on Instagram and Facebook @ThatMusicTeacher. What would be your favourite Bryson? Are you more on Insta or Facebook?
Instagram tends to be where I hang out more.
Okay, but you'll find people if they reach out to you on either of those platforms, because I think I first reached out to you on Facebook, which is my preferred platform. Okay, now listening to that brief bio, do you want to add anything to your summary of work?
Taking your entire career so far, and putting it into a few paragraphs, it's always tricky, especially these last few years, things have been up in the air and things have been changing so quickly. But kind of one thing I want to highlight is that intervention team I worked on, I was working supporting so many different students with disabilities, maybe one on one and might have been in a classroom setting. And it really opened my eyes, just how the educational system can get compartmentalised sometimes and how it's so important for us to get out of the music classroom sometimes to see how other things are moving. So that we can make sure that our classrooms truly are set up so that anyone can be successful.
Yes, that would have given you really unique perspectives.
It completely changed my trajectory of my career honestly, like my hiring principal straight up told me that, you know, she hired me because of that role and because of that experience I had, my entire graduate research line came out of that, and the way that I teach came out of that, so it'd be very unrecognisable.
Wow. So do you still sometimes get out of your classroom to have a look? Or do you think that you're sort of continuing studies and the connections you've made, keep you connected enough with what's happening outside the music classroom?
So I definitely like to know what's going on just as a person, so I have a unique situation at my teaching position where I actually teach at two schools that are on different schedules. So I actually start my day an hour before the school that I end at ends their day so I have an hour that the kids are still there but my contract time is done. So a lot of times, I'll just like go out, and I'll just kind of like see what's going on or like if anyone's in the hallways kind of talk to them for a little bit. And that's what I think has been really helpful when it comes to like building relationships, but also building relationships with my colleagues, because we are all very busy. And sometimes it can be very easy for us all to get stuck in our classrooms focusing on the things that we have to get done, that we don't get that collaborative experience that is so incredibly important.
That does sound special, it would be great to have that time. I love that. Alright now, what would you consider to be the highlight or highlights of your journey? As a musician, and music educator?
Oh, those are some good questions. If I really had to think of it, the biggest highlight so far, or at least I'll say, of my career is being able to sing again in my classroom, with the COVID restrictions we had here in the states let's leave it at that. And it was rough. There were there was about a year and a half where the music making really wasn't allowed to sing. You know, even with masks we weren't able to do that. And it really, it was hard. And it was really interesting to see how it changed the way that I taught because again, as a vocal major and undergrad as someone who follows a lot of Kodaly we did a lot of singing. And all of a sudden, all that's gone. And it really took a lot of mental toll on myself just trying to do all these different things. But when we were able to get them back singing and noticing that the kids were still singing, and honestly flipping it and realising that there were some kids that were super, super musical, but that weren't super fun singers. And I was really able to open my eyes to different forms of musicality that were already happening in my classrooms that that experience of teaching through COVID really opened my eyes. That was probably the biggest highlight of of my career so far.
Yes, it was fairly major, we didn't feel the restrictions here anywhere near as much as most of the rest of the world. I am quite grateful for that. But yes, our choirs certainly suffered and singing in the classroom. And it is joyous to be able to sing full voice again. But interesting that you found those other pathways, which sort of suits what you've communicated about the way you like to teach catering for the individuals.
For sure. It really kind of opened my eyes to students that even if they're not really into making music, the way they think about music was really cool. And I've implemented a lot of that into my lessons today, because those kids are in my class, so I should do my best to serve them in wherever they're at in that moment.
Well, I can't wait to find out some of the things that you do. All right. I do like to ask all of my guests about gratitude. I think it's a vital part of having a productive, positive mindset, in my opinion. So how for what are you grateful? Personal and professional?
So many things, if I had to really think about the pivot in my life that happened in my first year of undergrad, I was still on the path of being the next great high school choir director. And as part of that, my class, my first year, we observed a high school choir director. And all of a sudden, I just had this moment in the classroom where I realised this isn't it for me, this is not what I want. And I was heartbroken because I've literally just gotten there and already my dream has changed. Thankfully, the next week, I was able to observe an amazing elementary music teacher named Megan McDonnell and she completely changed my life. Because then I was like, Oh, this is it. This is what I need to do. She really opened my eyes to how music can be so joyful. So play based, so integral to child development, that it's hard to figure out where child development starts and music development starts. And it's really just changed my entire life. So I am so grateful that I was able to observe her second grade class here in Columbus, Ohio.
It is so powerful, isn't it to see other music teachers work? I think we don't, well I know, we don't do that enough, our tertiary systems. So we won't talk about tertiary systems here. We're not even training primary music teachers now. But that's part of a bigger story, but our systems even when they were working properly, did not spend enough time observing. You really need to just go and watch other teachers work because once you're out there in the big wide world, you're in your music room, working your little backside off, hardly having any time to even get to the toilet, or eat, let alone observe other music teachers who aren't in your school. It's so important to be able to see other teachers.
Well that's the thing is we have these pre service teachers observing lots of teachers for good reason. But then we put them in the classroom. And we finally have all this context. And then we don't do any more of that, that is one change that I am super thankful for my administration is if there's a PD that doesn't apply to me, I'm able to simply submit and say, Hey, I'm gonna go observe this other teacher, and being able to observe as someone who's been teaching is so much more useful, because you get to see the context and see how things are fitting together, rather than everything just you're putting it in your sponge during pre service teacher training, and you're like, Alright, I'm gonna hold on to this, and eventually, I'm gonna use it.
And then by the time you get to use it, most of it has you've forgotten.
Given your completely different context too much. But I think you make a really good point. I think it's up to us as practicing music educators to make these opportunities for ourselves. Because we're part of a system where we're, well, I think of ourselves as a bit of a square peg in a round hole, you know, so, yeah, they might be doing the whole school maths PD at this time, and you go, how about Well, you do that I organise this and most administrators will allow you to be quite creative with the way you do that, if they know you're doing it for the right purpose.
So I think it's up to us to organise those opportunities. Yeah. So did we finish with gratitude? Yes.
I mean, if I kept going, we'd be here all day. There are just so many things that I'm gracious for.
Yes and I think that one was obviously a very important one, that part of your career. Now there's so many things that we've touched on, and when we first talked about what we could talk about in this podcast. I really felt that we should chose something about which you are most passionate, which does sound to me like neuro-diversity. So neurodivergence and inclusion of students with disabilities and then you go on to say creating sensory friendly classroom environments. So you also said in your bio that you are neurodiverse, is it ok to ask you about where you come from personally? And then let's get into some of the things that you do for your students.
For sure. So I myself was diagnosed with ADHD from a young age. And within the past few years, I've been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, which are things that I want to say I kind of guessed that you see a lot of already and even if it's not an official diagnosis, or anything is that there are kids like me in your classroom. And part of that comes from my own experience going through school, part of it goes through the experience that I had on the intervention team, I noticed a lot of students were getting served in our classrooms, but a lot of students were just there. And yes, it's awesome that they're in your classroom, but how do we really integrate them into the curriculum? How do we really truly make our curriculum work in a way that works for their brains? How do we set up classroom environments, so they're set up for success, and that threw me down this whole rabbit hole of universal design and inclusion and differentiation. And the more I researched it, and the more I went into it, I realised that music teachers, especially elementary music teachers, we're not, we don't have that background information, we really have to go looking for it. You know, if you received that training in undergrad, it was probably either in a general education setting, or maybe it was just touched on here and there. And the reality is, is we are juggling so many things that sometimes things get omitted. And unfortunately, a lot of times that happens to be when it comes to differentiation and allowing students who are neurodiverse, allowing students with disabilities to be able to access our curriculum, whether or not the intent was to signal you know, to do not allow those students to access the curriculum in the same way, the outcome is the same. So that's given me one of these soap boxes where I really want to, I want to share what I know as a student, but as well as an educator to make sure that anyone that walks into my classroom is able to access the curriculum by design.
I know that in the back of my mind and the back of possibly the mind of many of the listeners, that sounds great. Oh, boy, we so 100% agree with you. But we've got 800 children, for example, some have 1000. I lucky I've only got 600 a week, it just sounds like a big ask.
The reality is, is that it is a big ask. But on the flip side, it's worth it. And we are ethically bound to serve our students. Now, am I saying that there aren't systematic things that get in the way of us doing that? Absolutely not. The way that I view setting students up for success comes into the design, which really comes down to making sure that your physical space is set up in a way that your students will be successful. Your lesson framework itself, is it going to allow the students to be successful and that the understanding of the student needs, you have that requisite information so that when you're putting these different things in in the design phase of your lesson, you understand what needs are represented in your classroom, but it's definitely not an easy task by any means.
Allright, so if we want to do better for all of our students, because I imagine if you're setting something up you're also better catering for every child, because they all have different learning styles and different not only ways of learning, but the time it takes them to process something. So I would imagine what you're doing is actually best for every child, not just the neurodiverse child.
Yeah, there are definitely things that are more, you know, strategies that are more focused on neurodiverse children, but the reality is the foundations of good teaching, and the foundations of differentiation, allow everyone to be successful. Sometimes we get really worried because well, how, you know, if I'm focusing so much on this population, what about this population? And the reality is, is when we focus on removing barriers to the curriculum, that can help all students regardless of what population they might may or may not identify with?
Yes, I love that. So how would you suggest (it's alright, I'm just writing down here, remove barriers, it's a good way of thinking about it). So how would you advise someone who wants to do better in this space? How would you advise them to start?
Well, first of all, just start, don't wait until you have all the answers, take baby steps along the way. But if I want to give some actual practical stuff, which I totally understand, I would focus on your physical classroom layout and how it is structured things like that, for instance, in my classroom, I have these really, really bright fluorescent lights, I also have a wonderful essentially wall of windows which most of the day, there's a lot of sun coming in. So I never have all of my lights on. Because one for me, that's just too bright, it's too much sensory input. And I know for a lot of my students it's the same. So that's one way that I was able to make my classroom a little bit more accessible. A lot of students have sensory needs when it comes to sound in a music classroom. Obviously, there's a lot of sound going on. I myself, when I teach, I have special earplugs that I use to kind of make things so I can still hear them but I don't get overstimulated but in my classroom I have a bunch of the over the ear headphones, that students are able to grab at any point if they need them. And what I love about the way that I use these headphones, is I don't say, Oh, Johnny, you're plugging your ears, here's some headphones, any student is able to go grab them for any reason. And you know, for instance, if I have 30 kids playing a glockenspiel, at the same time, there's gonna be a lot of sound. So there might be students, that typically would be fine. But in that setting, they're like, this is too much. And or maybe they have a headache that day, or maybe they just got hearing aids, and they're still adjusting to them, whatever. Anyone can go grab those. And what I love about that is because eventually the novelty wears off, and the students that aren't benefiting from that strategy, they're not going to use it anymore. But any student that was able to find value from it, regardless of if I know they have a diagnosis or anything like that, they're still able to get what they need. And that's where it comes down to really make it so it's not mothering, it's really allowing it like you said before, allowing any student to access that strategy.
Yes, I love that concept. And also, the fact that you mentioned after the novelty wears off, because you know that you're gonna have to ride out the, "Oh, this is exciting and new." That's human nature, "I want to have a go at that." So you do have to let that little bit of time go, where they're going to experiment because they want to have a go, and then it will settle down. So I guess some teachers might be put off by the fact that Well, I know that there are going to be children that will abuse them. You know what I mean by abuse? Use them when they don't need to, but you just need to go through that, don't you? It's a bit like, I remember when I was speaking to Tanya LeJeune, and it's a term I really like "noodling". I'm going to borrow that from Tanya. And she said, when children first get an instrument, she lets them have a little noodle, and they just exactly, you know, then you go, okay, rest position, and then they know they can't touch it. But you need to let the children have that little bit of venting their natural curiosity, don't you.
Exactly. I think sometimes we get so stuck in making the kids follow our rules that we don't stop and think why those rules are set up in that way. So in that example, why do the students need to go over to their instrument and not play any notes until we start? Why can't they play five notes and then be done? Like if they're able to get into that and they're able to go, oh, okay, now cool. I got out what what I wanted, otherwise, they're not listening to your instructions, either. It really comes down to again, just being aware of where the kids are what a child's brain is doing, because again, it's different than our brains. We can't make decisions based on our brains for our students, because that's not how that works. And I feel like a lot of teachers, or a lot of times when we have these classroom management clashes, often times you can trace it back to an expectation or a rule or something that just isn't set up properly? Maybe it's completely wrong. Maybe it wasn't introduced correctly, maybe it wasn't framed the right way so that the student fully understood why that was the expectation or something like that. While students brains are very different than our brains, they are still people. So if someone kept telling you all day, every day, don't do this, do that, you know, and you they never got to get any context why? Or they never got to get any input, or they never got to make any choices. Well, yeah, eventually, you're going to start pushing back. And that's where I feel like we can, when we make sure students are in our classroom, and truly, there in our classroom doing all the wonderful music making. That is where we're able to get so many of the classroom management issues out of the way, because the students want to be there, they're able to access the curriculum, and that is where the magic can happen.
So how do you go about, you were mentioning about choice, giving children choice? Is that fairly important when you're looking about creating inclusive classrooms?
I think it really, especially when you're thinking about like the differentiating the actual instruction or assessment. One of my favourite examples of differentiation, we had my students, they had their glockenspiels and I wanted them to come up with a song that had eight notes. That was my thing I wanted them to be composed on the staff and play it on the glockenspiel. And there were some students that fully understood and got the concept of the pentatonic scale. But there were some students that were still not quite there, they really didn't have the ability to successfully use the pentatonic scale on a staff and then play it. So any student was able to choose between creating a pentatonic composition or creating a composition using only Mi Re Do. Both students were creating on the staff, both students were be able to play their compositions back on their instruments, and then I actually differentiated one level higher is students were able to show the notation on the staff however they wanted. So a lot of students chose taking a little whiteboard marker and actually just drawing a note head on the line. But some students chose to use an eraser, and or like a little gem, a little manipulative to put it there. And for one student, in particular, his fine motor skills, if he had to figure out how to use the marker and make the line, you know, not between the lines, but on the line, it would have been, he wouldn't have been successful in that. But because I took away those soft skills and allowed them to choose when it came down to how they do it, I still got to them do the musical goal. But the way they got there, they were able to choose the way that was most successful for them.
Yes, and I love, I'm a bit passionate about my manipulatives. Because not only are they fun, but like you said, they are so powerful for the kids that have dysgraphia or, you know, they'd much rather, one of my assessment tasks with year two is to create a rhythmic composition with paddle pop sticks, love my paddle pop sticks. It's fun, they're all spread out on the floor. It's just so much better than a bit of paper and they're drawing their Ta's and Ti-Ti's. And you can still see who understands the concepts. So, yes, I see what you're saying. So you're building in levels within the one task, they can just show you their knowledge in different ways. And so that comes in when you're talking about designing lessons, do you call it lesson design?
So I guess that concept works. The term itself is universal design for learning. That is an educational structure that I did through my graduate research and what it comes down to is the amount of time that we spend in the actual crafting of the design of the lesson rather than the implementation. That's the important part, is making sure that your lesson to set up so that when you're in the moment, you're able to really rock it.
Okay, so that's something we should because I have not looked into universal design, that's something maybe should we pop a link in the show notes if people want to find out more about that?
Yeah, I can send something over for you.
Yeah, that would well just sounds like something very interesting.
And that really, the entirety of UDL, or Universal Design for Learning comes down to removing barriers, to ensuring that our students can access that curriculum. And it's not necessarily, it's more of a this is how you should think about things. This is like a framework to view the world, rather than do this, then this, then this, and this, which I like because I like the freedom of being able to do what I feel is right, as the expert in the room for my students. It's not this structured thing. It's more of a way of looking at the way that your classroom is set up and your lessons are set up. And again, identifying those points where we have a barrier to access.
That sounds really interesting. And as a Kodaly based teacher, I like my sequences and my structures and partly this sounds a little bit scary to me because it it almost sounds like you've got to let go a little bit. Am I wrong? You can tell me.
Yeah, there's definitely a control release sometimes and it doesn't necessarily have to be the entire lesson every student gets to choose everything, it could be, you know, I want my students to create ta and ti ti rhythms. Alright, you can use popsicle sticks or you can use a whiteboard. Okay, cool. They still got the choice, they got to pick whichever one they wanted, but you still got the musical goal. So it's understanding that taking those little steps rather than trying to apply everything all at once. That's where the real success is gonna come in.
Yeah, no, that sounds fabulous. Thank you for that.
I appreciate you and all of my colleagues, and hope this episode has been enjoyable and useful. Don't forget, you'll find the show notes on crescendo.com.au. I'd love to share rate or review to help other music educators find this podcast. All I can be is the best version of me. All you can do is be the best you. Until next time, bye.
As we know laughter relieves stress. Don't lose sight of the funny side of life. What's the difference between a hippo and a Zippo? A hippo is really heavy and the Zippo is a little lighter.