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Ideal Professional Development for Music Teachers: What Does It Look Like In 2024?

Updated: May 12





Ask any music teacher, and they’ll tell you what they DON’T want. 


Topping the list, music teachers don’t want professional development that doesn’t apply to them.  


Time is precious for any teacher, anywhere.  Every minute counts no matter what the day looks like.  Every instructional minute, every prep minute, every minute before classes start and before you leave school to fulfill family obligations or go to job number 2.  Every minute counts on the weekend, every minute of free time is either savored or taken for granted.  Every minute counts somehow.  


A group of teachers in a classroom at a workshop
Cluttered and cramped workshop spaces for teachers aren't optimal for PD anymore.

PD time is a block of time that feels a little like a Catch-22.  You’re told you have to go, you have a certain obligation to that time each year (or a period of years) and you want to get something out of it.  But if you’re a music teacher, or a special areas teacher, or a teacher that the selected PD presentation isn’t geared towards, you feel like your time is wasted.  


I remember my last PD session as a general music teacher at a private school that was a brainwashing session for instructional reform (I’m being vague on purpose to keep opinions neutral).  The teachers I attended it with were fascinated by the content and it all sounded excellent coming from the presenters.  As they went through each bullet point as to how every teacher was expected to teach, beginning that next year, instead of making a to-do list, I checked off each bullet because I was already doing them- in my general music classroom in every grade level from K-8.  


I got nothing out of it and it was because I designed my own curriculum instead of following a purchased one.  For me, it was a personal victory that what I did myself out of lack of budget and exasperation was ahead of its time, and I was teaching children correctly.  And I considered myself lucky.  And it was the best PD time I ever spent.


Hopefully this story elicited a half-hearted sarcastic chuckle. I’m sure you have been to worse sessions: the sessions that apply to every content area except yours, the sessions that instruct logistics you don’t have to do (luckily), the workshops for things you’re 99% likely to never experience, the sampling of something your district won’t shell out the budget money for, the data-driven test score nonsense that only a few people in your building need to know but hate to learn… I’m not going to continue because it’s depressing.


What’s worse is that you could be doing a zillion other things that would be worth your time or worth your students’ time.  




 

But What About the Opportunities Out There For Music Teachers?


There are some, certainly!  How often do you see a workshop pop up in your area that will present applicable methods to your classroom?  Maybe if you live in a larger city or larger school district an opportunity like this will happen.  But here are the drawbacks:


  1. Travel.  It’s not nearby, and if it is, your’re really lucky!

  2. Reimbursement.  Do you have budget money to cover this?  Or are you footing the bill for it?

  3. Time.  This might be the worst.  Many workshops are during the week, and not on your required attendance  professional development days.  You’ll need a sub.  There likely won’t be a music sub to teach your lesson plan.  Classes will finish an uneven amount of material.  Your ensembles lose a critical rehearsal.  This is enough of an argument to talk yourself out of it.



Those Annual Conferences, Though…


I’ve been to a few as a consumer and an exhibitor and I enjoy them.  I fully expect to be going to more in the coming years.  They’re fun and you can feel the buzz of the energy of like-minded people.  It’s a great way to learn about new products and if the speakers or sessions are diverse, you’ll definitely find great ways to spend your time.  


Except there are definitely PD-related drawbacks:

  1. That entire weekend may not count toward your hours.

  2. You may need to pay for attendance, which usually costs in the hundreds of dollars.

  3. You’ll likely need to travel.

  4. It’s a multi-day affair and you’ll need lodging and meals.

  5. You lose an entire weekend of planning and grading.


I’ll never say to not go to a conference or convention, but attendee beware.  It’s for these reasons that people generally won’t go each year and may opt for every few years.  So then what do you get for required PD on the off years?  Probably the material at the start of the article that the school provides, right?  


And the cycle continues.  




21st Century Professional Development For 21st Century Music Teacher Needs and Desires


Let me read your mind for a moment.  I bet I know exactly how you’d want to spend your professional development time.  

  • Sleep in

  • Stay in pajamas 

  • Go right back to bed, but with a snack or cup of coffee for the nightstand

  • Scrolling on your favorite device for awhile


Don’t laugh!  I’m going somewhere with this!


Leaning of all types are becoming increasingly more like streaming television.  You see previews that look enticing, you can start it whenever it suits you, and you can stop and pick up tomorrow when you get tired or busy.  


What if professional sessions could do that?  You would lose the: 

  • Challenges related to a timing or schedule

  • You could schedule it around your life, and watch a video during your child’s soccer game, or after a light planning/grading evening, or at a time when you’re feeling most focused

  • You avoid the awkward small talk with other attendees

  • Your time isn’t wasted with ice-breakers that aren’t necessary

  • Meals come from your fridge

  • Asking questions to the presenter wouldn’t have to be in front of the class


See, what matters for a successful professional development session isn’t all of this.  It’s the content, it’s the manner that the presenter teaches you, and it’s the takeaways that you bring back to your career and instruction.  



A laptop on a tray atop a cozy bed.
The ideal learning environment for the tired, busy teacher.

Making IT A Reality for PD with Uplevel U: Music


I want to say that I don’t understand why most PD doesn’t look like this, but I probably do know.  I don’t believe that creators of PD sessions have time to figure this out and migrate everyone toward asynchronous PD as a norm.  And certainly on the platforms that do exist for this purpose don’t have much, if anything at all for the arts.  We’re back to square one for PD needs.  


Until now.  There is a solution that is working to make it all a reality for every type of music teacher that exists.  Uplevel U: Music is a collection of courses online that range from a few hours to a full day that teach about specific topics and challenges that music teachers can face.  The course topics are either expansions of basic skills that teachers learn in a college course and refine along the way.  Or they are skills that music teachers wish they had time to figure out and use, but don’t have the time or drive to do so.  


Uplevel U: Music teaches systems and methods mostly, and over the years will have dozens of course releases.  


The courses are an affordable, single-payment access to the video content, which makes up the bulk of instruction.  Each course has relevant supplements that can be used in the classroom and a mediated group for questions and for other attending teachers to bounce ideas off of each other, as would happen in a live workshop.  


Each attendee is given a certificate at the end to be submitted for their PD hours and teachers in certain US states will be given further instructions in order to comply with the specific needs of their state for compliance and submission.  More about the requirements for each state can be found HERE.  


If you’re looking for funding for a course purchase and an administrator requires justification, each course has a COURSE REPORT that can be downloaded that provides the basic information and adherence to the NafME music content standards and the Learning Forward Standards.  


It’s the duty of Uplevel U: Music to make the logistics easy for you, so that all you have to do is show up to your device in pajamas and a blanket and learn the material.  


Now that sounds like a good use of your time, doesn’t it?  Check it out now and plan to dedicate some of this year’s PD hours to what Uplevel U: Music has to offer.


Quotations from recent publications


Profile headshot of Karen Janiszewski

Karen Janiszewski is the Owner of Music Room and Creator of the Uplevel U: Music project. Her mission is to improve the lives and careers of music teachers through her innovative teaching strategies.


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