The 2020 NAfME elections are right around the corner and include voting for North Central division president-elect. Candidates Brian L. Saylor (North Dakota) and Richard Tengowski (Wisconsin) share their responses to important questions below. Note: NAfME online elections will open to eligible members on January 14, 2020 and will remain open through February 12, 2020 (midnight Eastern time) – please make sure your membership to NAfME/WMEA is current so that you are eligible to vote! Learn more at nafme.org/about/2020-nafme-elections.
How will you move the division forward in the areas of diversity, equity, access and inclusion?
I believe that ALL means ALL. Every child deserves access to the highest quality music education available. There are numerous challenges because equal and equitable are far different things, and there are kids who do not have access to quality music offerings. It is imperative that we continue conversations on how best to accomplish this, we must take-action immediately. The North Central division must lead our members in creating classrooms where ALL kids are actively engaged in making music. We must work with policy-makers to ensure that funding is available to support the classrooms that our kids deserve. Music educators must be open to diverse musical offerings that will have appeal and impact on ALL kids. It is also important for every child to feel safe, challenged, engaged, and free to create in every music classroom.
It is not enough to make courses available. We must work to provide resources and supports where needed. We should continue to work to make instruments and other crucial supports available to every student who is in need.
I am glad to see this question being asked of the candidates because I believe this is one of the areas that NAfME needs to continue addressing in both conversations and in action. Communities are changing and schools are on the battleground of an evolving and complex society shift. There are many sectors of our society that are underserved or ignored. Our organization needs to move this issue to the forefront so ALL students can receive a music education as part of a well-rounded education, regardless of circumstance. We must continue to have conversations on how to best serve today’s children. We as a professional organization must also look in the mirror and recognize our own shortcomings too. We must identify our deficiencies and most importantly act upon what is best for all students so that all students can receive a respectful and comprehensive music education.
While NAfME has initiated the conversations at the national level, the conversations must continue. We need to work with educational systems to break down barriers that limit or inhibit music education for all. Change can be difficult but it can also be an opportunity to do what is right in education.
What do you hope to contribute to the position of North Central division president?
My number one focus will be continued advocacy. I consider myself to be a consistent, strong and passionate voice for music education and music educators. I believe in the power of what we do each-and-every day in the music room. For the past several years, I have dedicated myself to advocating for MORE music education to anyone who will listen. As music educators, we KNOW the power of what happens in the music classroom for ALL students.
NAfME has been very effective at advocating at the national level for music education. A great deal of time, energy and resources have been dedicated to changing how music is viewed by our national policy-makers. It is now our task to do the same in the states of the North Central NAfME. We need to continue to advocate, share resources, ideas, and successes with each other. By creating a network of member states who are all advocating for music education, we can expand music education for ALL kids.
It’s the role of the North Central division president to represent the shared interest of the ten North Central states when establishing policies that are set by the NAfME National Executive Board. While the North Central division president serves on the National Executive Board, the North Central division president provides a significant voice in establishing this policy. For six years, I have participated in North Central division meetings as a state president and have gained the experience and wherewithal to understand its structure, to translate new goals, initiatives and objectives into programs.
As I prepared my candidacy for the North Central division presidency, I took the time and reviewed the mission statements of every music education association in the North Central division. While each state is different, we have more in common than not. Every state wants to be the lead advocate for music education, provide support, resources and professional development for teachers, and provide educational opportunities for all music students. It is those shared goals from the North Central states, our common goals, which I will strongly work to support and promote as the North Central division president at the national level so we can advance a comprehensive music education for all.
Describe two issues facing small states. How would you address these issues?
Issue #1: There is a growing shortage of qualified music educators which is pushing small states towards creating alternative licensure plans. As music positions remain unfilled with no qualified applicants there is temptation to consider some form of alternative. I believe that state MEAs along with NAfME must be involved with policy-makers at the state and federal level in these decisions. It is imperative that every child in a music classroom has access to the highest quality music educator available. As a national organization we should work to connect states who have a surplus of music educators with states who are actively seeking teachers. We also can work with policy makers at the state and national level to provide incentives, such as student loan repayment, for teachers to take jobs in rural isolated areas.
Issue #2: We should be continuing to expand the method in which professional development is offered to all members. In rural states like North Dakota, it is difficult for music teachers to find quality professional development outside of the annual MEA conference. We need to explore strategic partnerships with large state, area universities, NAfME online resources, and online learning communities. These partnerships can exponentially bolster the professional development offerings for all NAfME members. This is especially true for those who are in rural isolated areas in which funding, travel distance, lack of substitute teachers, and other supports are hurdles in accessing high quality professional development.
There are many issues that affect schools in smaller states. They range from music teacher shortages, lack of funding, lack of technology and resources, lack of teacher or program support and general cuts to music programs. Even larger states experience some of these issues. When it comes down to it, we as a profession have many challenges that we face every day.
The North Central Division is one of the largest divisions covering the upper Midwest and our states are diverse in size and in membership. I have seen this play out at several of the state conferences that I have presented at over the years. Some states have a large team that run their state conferences and others have limited personnel. Regardless of size, I’ve seen pride and a commitment to its membership to advance music education. While we have a diversity in the size of our states, there are some significant issues that I’d like to address.
Value of Music Education
Since the inception of the No Child Left Behind Act, our profession has experienced a great lack of understanding by policy makers at all levels. The value of a systematic and comprehensive music education has taken a backseat to standardized testing. In my view, the emphasis on standardized test scores and ratings are directly impacting the ability to provide a well-rounded education. This has led to a general devaluation of music. Incidentally, music is not the only discipline dealing with this issue. There is a general lack of value from some parents, school leaders, politicians and even some of our own colleagues in education. The world of education is slow to change and old paradigms and ways of thinking need constant attention and persistence in order for change to occur. We have a lot of work to do to change this trend.
However, I am optimistic. With the inception of the national standards and subsequent state standards, now is the time to communicate and educate teachers, administrators and policy makers about the importance and the value of a standards based education that promotes student understanding, independence and music literacy. We must continue to grow through continued professional development to become even better educators. With our skills and knowledge, we must continue to work with educational systems to break down barriers that limit or inhibit music education.
Needing a Strong Voice
For our advocacy efforts to be successful, we must have a unified organization that can lead the efforts to advocate for music in our schools. If we have a unified organization with strong membership, we can provide a unified message with power and credibility. If you are a music teacher in a small state or small school, know that you are valued and we need your membership and your voice. We know that NAfME is the largest organization that serves the field of music education. Our organization can be extremely influential if we continue to bring people together to create a unified membership within every state. In our North Central Division, we have differing levels of membership and I would promote an emphasis on building and unifying our membership in all states. Strengthening our membership, specifically in our smaller states, will bring music teachers together to share a common mission. If we come together, we can create a network of professional educators who can use their voices to advocate for all music students.
How will you share exciting developments happening in the classroom for all teachers and learners?
I believe it is important to continue to diversify the methods we use to share information with our membership. Print materials, online resources, social media, blogs, and podcasts should all be utilized to share the musical experiences our students are exploring. Recently, I have begun a podcast which focuses on Music Teachers as Leaders. The topics are specifically related to how we lead in our music classrooms every day. I believe that this is one example of how we begin to have a culture of sharing.
Another exciting tool available to all educators is the ability to share experiences in real-time via social media. NAfME should continue to build online communities where networking of educators and students is encouraged. This is a great tool for rural and often isolated classrooms to connect a wide variety of real-time musical experiences. These connections would have been very costly prior to recent advances in technology.
Everyone must be an advocate for music education. We know that grassroots advocacy is most effective at the local level. Teachers must share the purpose and benefits of a comprehensive music education with parents, school boards and local communities. There are many stakeholders who will listen if we give them a meaningful message. One voice can be a strong voice, but the impact of many voices can make powerful change in the world of education.
Advocacy is a key component to sharing exciting developments in the classroom. I firmly believe that all of us need to use technology, specifically social media, to its fullest potential to share the power of music. Sharing what is happening in the classroom with those beyond our classroom walls is necessary. Social media allows us to build a bridge that allows us to connect with our parents and communities unlike other forms of media. Doing so allows us to share the value and importance of a comprehensive music education that will reach and influence a new generation.
Advocacy doesn’t end there. We must continue to share our message with everyone from parents to politicians all the time. We’ve seen how advocacy can influence national policy. I am proud of all the state music education associations who have led a grassroots movement at each state level. I am also proud of NAfME for leading the efforts at the national level where policy and legislation exist. Because of NAfME and the efforts of our state leaders, we now have the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that recognizes music as a core subject and ensures that every child is entitled to a well-rounded education. I am proud to have been part of those discussion as a state president who participated in six visits to Capitol Hill to educate elected officials and key decision makers about the impact and importance of this legislative act. The moral of the story is that advocacy is a collective effort by each and every one of us. It is a tireless and never ending mission and a mission worth fighting.