Inclusion: Part Of A Holistic Approach To Teaching

Educating the whole person and meeting the needs of each individual student or person in our ensemble. Providing a safe environment for all students or singers. Providing an open door to our music making world for all to be included and accepted. Don’t these statements sound like the perfect set up for a successful classroom or choral ensemble? I think so, and not just because I wrote them!

The theme for this edition the Star Of The North publication focuses on inclusion, which Merriam Webster provides various definitions, with the fourth definition aligning with our topic:

The act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded.

So, what are we doing individually and systematically to make inclusion happen in our schools, and community or church ensembles? Are we obligated to be inclusive, and accepting and welcoming any and all participants? Yes!

We, as educators, have the responsibility to take a holistic approach to educate and meet the needs of all students in our classes and our ensembles. We are to affirm students as unique individuals, and each one deserves a positive opportunity to learn. Much emphasis this past year has been on the student’s social and emotional learning (SEL), yet it is unfortunate that the very item required to be worn, a mask, can hinder students’ ability to be or feel included! Students can ‘hide’ behind their mask, thus creating another hindrance to communicate and express themselves. Although some students may sense the mask helps them feel ‘safe’ and able to avoid various social interactions, I believe it actually hinders their ability to fully express who they are and their individual needs. Let us seek to find ways to safely allow students to be and feel accepted, especially in our music making environment.

One way students and singers can be accepted and included in our classroom or performance space is by creating a safe environment, which provides an optimum learning space, and allows students to be themselves and develop understanding and care for others. A safe learning environment supports student learning and builds community, which can foster and strengthen the inclusion of all participants. Student safety, their well-being, and their educational growth are a few of the elements that become a teacher’s focus in a safe learning environment. When students know a teacher cares about them as an individual, they tend to respond with cooperation, a desire to learn, and a sense of caring for the common good of the ensemble. Along with that thought, when students (and all singers) know they are and can be in a safe learning environment, they can sense their role in the ensemble has purpose and meaning. It can also spur students and singers on to encourage their friends and other community members to participate.

Through intentional, thoughtful music instruction, teachers and directors can guide students and ensemble members to take ownership of their learning and enhance their music experiences. Building community within the ensembles can be a conduit for students to strive for high expectations and achieve success in and out of the classroom.

It is our responsibility as teachers and directors to seek out music and compositions that are diverse and representative of our students body. To program different styles and various composers in our concerts and programs are not enough; we also need to educate our students on the history and culture of the music we rehearse. Some of that history may be difficult to talk about or understand, however, we really do have an obligation to be inclusive within our ensembles; we must accept and welcome any and all participants. That is our charge and our duty.