Including All Singers
At Dassel-Cokato Middle and High Schools, students are on a trimester schedule. Vocal music is compulsory for middle schoolers and elective for high schoolers. Each class presents its own challenges when making sure each student feels included and has a meaningful experience in the classroom. In middle school, students range from not liking to sing to loving to sing. In high school, some students enroll in choir for all three trimesters each year while others enroll for one or two trimesters total. My first years of teaching at Dassel-Cokato were difficult in terms of making all students feel welcome. There was a clear divide between seasoned singers and new-comers. Now in year 5, attitudes have changed and choir has become a welcoming and prospering organization within the school.
Having an Inclusive Philosophy
I have always embraced an inclusive philosophy in my approach to conducting and teaching ensembles. I welcome any and all singers who are interested in singing. I am often in the hallway during passing time to encourage students to join us. My singers have begun to do the same. I am also very careful to use inclusive language in the classroom. When working with students and ensembles, I refer to “us” and “we,” never “I” or “me.” I expect students to share ownership and responsibility of themselves and the ensemble. It is my goal for every student to see the ensemble as a community of equals rather than a group under the command of a conductor.
Including Students With Special Needs
Inclusion also means welcoming students with special needs. It is important to be in communication with special education teachers and paraprofessionals in order to best meet the needs and abilities of each student. Whether a disability is physical, mental, or both, there is always a way to include someone in the music classroom. Take any and all steps necessary to find a meaningful role for that student.
The Rewards of an Inclusive Program
The most obvious reward of an inclusive choral program is more singers. If students feel truly welcome, and that they are important to the class, they will come and sing and encourage all of their friends to do so. Another result of this expanding community is the depth and richness of rehearsal, performances, and other musical experiences. When students support each other, they are willing to take on challenges and be vulnerable. Over time I have noticed the development of a singing culture within the school. This is a culture where students in choir are not afraid to let others know they are in choir. They are proud of what they do and speak positively about it.
At the heart of my teaching is the belief that everyone can be included in a music program. There is an experience to be had for all students who are willing to join an ensemble. Ensembles can be structured in a way that allows for students of all ability levels to have a positive experience. As with any ensemble, there will be challenges, but the rewards are great and your students will be more engaged and community-minded because of it.