Optimistic confident uncertainty

Music ensembles are a different beast.  A band, by definition, is an ensemble, a group of people who come together to make music on their instruments.  Separated from one another they are soloists.  It is a class that needs to rehearse, in real-time, on a consistent basis.  This doesn’t work well in a pandemic setting.  So accommodations have to be made and people must be patient.  The primary reason students sign up to take a music ensemble is to be with others.  There is a massive social element to being in a band or music ensemble.  The pandemic has made that extra difficult.  The previous semester was survival mode for everyone.  I didn’t have an extra curriculum and because everybody’s location band became something else that didn’t require an instrument.  It was no longer a band class.

Entering into the new semester there has been time to formulate plans and ideas of things to try.  I will lead my classes with an optimistic confident uncertainty through new opportunities as we try to be efficient knowing that there are unknown benefits to our situation.  In a program that has been marginalized for years, I will find a new way to do Band for the students who are able to run the gauntlet of obstacles placed in their way because they deserve my best.  I don’t have all the answers but will encourage my students to embrace imperfection and to learn through all circumstances wherever they are; knowing that if we work together, like usual, we will provide our listeners with a quality product and a product they can be proud of.  It is an optimistic outlook.

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted to get.  It is important to discover expectations and to get as close to meeting them as possible.  And finding value in our experience even if things aren’t what we want them to be.

To achieve these lofty goals I read the experiences of my colleagues elsewhere.  Being the only one in a school that teaches a subject is at the same time freeing and lonely.   Success is gratifying but failure is personal.  In a thriving program, there is little to do but ride the wave and enjoy.  When a program struggles and is in free-fall decline there is usually little one can do, without structural help, but watch.  During the period before I return to Beijing, I will be reaching out to others teaching ensembles and music classes working on collaborative projects in an attempt to provide students with connections to each other and experiencing a wider experience of music-making.

If I had a magic wand first I would allow greater access to the music program overall.  But regarding the 5Cs they would look pretty much as they normally do in a normal year.  Students feel valued, free to be themselves, motivated to make music with others, with an understanding of how important what they are doing is not to the present but to the future.

The Thinking Musician

Lately, I’ve been ruminating on the idea of “the thinking musician.”  A lot of times, and it is very common, the conductor teaches through verbal interaction, but really we want them to watch our expressive movements, but this can be difficult at the beginning when slogging through basic concepts like notes and rhythm, telling the musician every aspect of what to do and what to change in the music.  My goal is Clarify.  It was an area of improvement identified last year that I will continue to improve this year.  Some more concrete steps are to make sure ISB musicians in my band class understand the direction words.  But this is a little bit more challenging in an international school with many ESL learners.  After taking Jose Medina’s Dual Language PD I had the thought:  Music terms written in Italian, taught in English, but understood in Korean, Chinese, English, Other.  So I have been taking steps to allow students more conferencing time to explain to each other the terms.  Also, asking aloud in class what a particular term or concept means in Chinese and/or Korean or other languages in addition to English.   Also, in the works are plans to develop a handout to give ISB students with multiple translations of musical terms.

The end goal of “the thinking musician” is to provide students with the knowledge to learn music without a teacher present and to give them more ownership of their creative ideas, as musical terms (directions) are only guidelines set by the composer, with each performance of the music being different in it’s own right.


I will continue to work on the goal Clarify which was an area of improvement last year.  Because of the different structure of the MS classes I can now employ some of the techniques I use at the high school in an age appropriate manner with my MS students.  The main emphasis to learn Music Through Performance.  And to now check in with students with what they are understanding about the music we play and why what we play draws a certain emotion or feeling so that they can move from being merely a playing musician to a playing-thinking musician.

Final Reflection

I like the survey.  But if we are giving feedback to the company they should design one for specialist areas.  It is obvious that the survey is designed for a traditional classroom.   But overall the method is helpful and directly helps inform teaching practice.

My areas for improvement after the first one were all improved on according to the second one.  Checking for understanding was one I tried hard to do.  But with an average of 33 minutes of class time sometimes we just had to get things rolling.  This one will be easy next year with the longer class periods and extremely small number of students taking band.

The other area for improvement was expectations for the group.  This year was a struggle to get the band to learn music at the normal level of past groups.  Typically 3 songs per concert was easy, but this year it was a stretch.  Short class times and over scheduled kids (outside of school) made it difficult to reach the same proficiency as in the past.

Captivate is still my highest area ranking.  Keeping the energy going, sound best practice techniques (enhanced by my trip to Earcos), and personal stories all keep the kids interested.  A common comment is my use of humor, which the students enjoy.






A work in Progress

The three things that stood out on my student survey were

  1.  Checking for student understanding
  2.  Expectations and standards
  3.  Anger


I talked with the students about perceptions and how they answered the questions and we agreed “anger” insn’t the correct outcome for those questions but how I react to frustrations with students who are repeat offenders of irresponsibility.

Checking for student understanding –   Stopping more, speaking slower, leaving time for questions are all areas I’ve tried to focus on in my daily teaching routine.

Expectations and Standards – Students wanted a better product and better experience so there has been a focus on creating good routines and and good processes for students to be successful.

The second survey goes out this week so it will be interesting to see if there is marked improvement in those areas.

Rethinking My Goal to Match the Needs of The Students

My original 7C goal was Captivate.  But it turns out, via my survey, I already deliver captivating lessons in a humorous and educationally sound manner; hallmarks and characteristics of a seasoned master teacher no doubt.

My areas for growth improvement showed up in 3 main areas:

  1.  My expectations for students being too low
  2.  Checking for clarification
  3.  Anger

The 3rd one, Anger might trigger some worry if you read that but upon clarification with the students who filled out the survey they used anger in liu of a better term.  It wasn’t really Anger they thought I had during some class times but rather the expression of extreme disappointment of their admitted laziness in not doing their own work up to the standard I set.

Checking for clarification came mainly from our English as Second Language learners.  The language of music is primarily in Italian, the instruction in English, but the understanding sometimes isn’t there.  Admittedly, sometimes I speak too fast so I have been conscious about that and started using the vocal enhancer in class.  I also double and triple check for understanding of learning concepts, terminology, and end of class wrap up.

My expectations being too low was primarily from grade 8 students frustrated with the slow pace of class of the beginning of the year as I trained the grade 7 student in the new class routines.  Since then the music and pace of class has sped up to its normal speed for the year.

I continue to remind myself of this feedback from a delightful group of musically minded students and hope they will continue in music even if they are discouraged in HS from continuing by all the obstacles purposely put in their way.

Goals 2018-2019


Spark and maintain student interest in learning

  • Design stimulating lessons
  • Facilitate active participation

My goal this year will be in the area of Captivate.  As the school and Performing Arts program undergoes changes both in physical facilities and curriculum and vision it is a great time to bring the PA classes into the 21st century with regards to the use of technology and integrating aspects of music production into our classes.  With that in mind I will be planning outlines for lessons we can integrate into our performing ensemble classes and music studio classes next year to use when the new facility is competed.  It will also add a real world application as recording and editing is what music producers do in the real world.  The lessons will be general in nature but geared specifically towards use with Ableton Live and Pro Tools.



Welcome to your Professional Learning Blog! This is a place for you to post your goals, and reflect on them throughout the year.

  • Decide on your goal, perhaps in consultation with your colleagues or principal, and create a post to share with this online professional learning community that you are now a part of! Categorise this post in Goal Setting. Set your goal by considering:
    • Self assessment and reflection based on new teacher standards  (Tripod 7C’s)
    • Previous or new observation data from peers and principals
    • Student surveys (online surveys developed and aligned with 7C’s)
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  • You may also like to share work that your students have created or your own professional achievements that may not be directly related to your goal setting. This is encouraged! Categorise these posts as Showcase.

If you need support using this platform, please don’t hesitate to contact Ed Tech, we are always happy to be of assistance!

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