Collective Care – Singing Through Trauma

Chris Larson

There is no doubt that we have all experienced some form of trauma during the past nineteen months of pandemic living. We have all needed to be flexible, monitor and adjust, and–at times–completely redesign our ways of life. Our choral “worlds” have been shaken, and as we return to our school year, liturgical programming, and concert seasons, we are just beginning to see glimpses of our new realities. This balance of sorrow and joy, past and present, change and stability, can bring a wide range of emotions! It is vitally important that we leave space for ourselves, our families, and our singers, as we process what we have been through as well as what we continue to face. We need to recognize that our singers bring their whole selves to our rehearsals, and we must embrace the idea of “collective care.”

In an interview with the publication Learning for Justice (formerly Teaching Tolerance), the brilliant Dr. Dena Simmons discusses the need to honor our shared humanity in order to create a system that ensures that all students thrive. When asked about healing and justice in education, she responded,

“Some of what I’ve learned about healing and justice in education is that you can’t do it alone. It is collective work and there’s no self-care without collective care. If I keep going into an unwell society or an unwell setting and I’m doing all of this work to get well, I’m going to get contaminated and poisoned. So, this work has to be done collectively. When we begin to think of this work as collective work, then we begin to think of collective solutions.”

When we bring our whole selves to our classrooms, we look for those collective solutions that honor the whole selves of our singers. This is an idea that invites us to consider the possibilities within every musical experience!

This fantastic editorial by educator Kelsey Ko is an interesting and provocative take on our responsibilities as educators and choral leaders. Ko argues that when we recognize our students have gone through traumatic experiences, we also must acknowledge that it is our responsibility to provide them with opportunities to heal. We know that our ensembles can provide a space for all singers to heal, simply by providing human connection and trusting relationships. When we create an environment where our singers are able to connect with each other, where they can see us as trusted mentors who care not only about musical success but also about human development, we can counteract the negative impacts of trauma.

Social-emotional learning must be embedded in our rehearsals and classrooms, in order to foster this human development and connection. As a middle school educator, I am constantly reminded of the need for connection – my singers crave this on a daily basis! We have all seen the power of connection in our classrooms. There are many simple ways to build community and to improve relationships within our classrooms. One simple technique is the 2×10 strategy, where the teacher takes two minutes during class to connect with one specific student, for ten consecutive days. This is a simple way to intentionally build a relationship with a student that seems to need more specific and intentional care. In my conversations with kids this year, I have learned so much about the Marvel universe, Wall Drug in South Dakota, how much it stinks to have two sets of twins in your family, and how baseball brings so much joy to all of our lives! These are the small pieces of data (“street level data,” as my principals like to say) that make each individual tick. It is so important to validate our singers as human beings, and to intentionally build on our relationships. And, these relationships carry into our singing experiences! Fulfilling musical moments happen alongside our SEL work – singing as a group can also provide our singers with the connection that they need to work through their trauma, providing safety, stability, and joy for each individual.

So as we begin our seasons of rehearsals, performances, and worship experiences, may we all remember that we are engaged in “people work.” We can help our singers to overcome trauma simply by being there for them, and building connections and relationships. This is not just another trend in education – it is brain science. I am excited to commit to my year of collective care, healing, and justice. As we sing through our trauma, I hope that we all can find inspiration and hope for this coming year! Our work is important and valuable, and truly life-changing.

Chris Larson

Metro West District Chair
Wayzata Central Middle School