It isn’t unusual for music educators to be singletons…to be the only ones teaching our discipline in our buildings. If we’re fortunate, there might be one of us assigned to direct choral ensembles, one of us responsible for instrumental groups, and somewhere along the powers that be who builds a class schedule, the responsibilities for classroom-based instruction are split between the two. This year, my teaching assignment includes Advanced Placement Music Theory (APMuTh). This is very much a “unicorn” course…an offering that appeals to a typically, small group of students with a very specific focus. Since the beginning of this academic year, my four students and I have been working on developing an academic community with one another. While I enjoy the environment we have established and appreciate the opportunity to individualize instruction according to their strengths and needs, I know that we would all benefit from opportunities to share with a community of teachers and learners greater than what we have in our immediate reach.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate in an AP Workshop along with approximately 10 other music educators. Our presenter was a college professor who has served as a head reader for the APMuTh exam. We were there to learn, but not just from the presenter. I found the opportunity to exchange thoughts with my peers to be a most energizing experience. Just ask my students about the energy level during class the day I returned to campus (those poor kids). My day away equipped me with a renewed commitment to contextual listening and finding ways to engage my students in finding samples that will be used throughout our year together. This is especially valuable since approximately 50% of the exam includes aural skills (harmonic and melodic dictation, sight singing, chord qualities). Collectively, my fellow AP teachers and I are faced with the challenge of taking a knowledge base that we typically take for granted (in this case, the music innately within and surrounding us) and breaking it down to reveal its elements in a theoretical (and potentially non-artistic) way. We are teaching them to communicate in a language other than their mother tongues.
In its great wisdom, the College Board recognizes that AP teachers don’t always have easy access to colleagues who speak the same “teacher talk” common to our distinct classroom environments. Not all AP teachers can get away to participate in professional development opportunities, especially those sponsored by College Board. While it isn’t brain surgery (no offense to neurosurgeons), it does require a unique skill set and, yes, mindset to effectively teach APMuTh. In support of this, the College Board offers us a number of resources, not the least of which is APCentral. In addition to having access to question banks and soft assessments, we have the opportunity to participate in the AP Teacher Community As one of the aforementioned “unicorns,” I have found this to be especially helpful. Since we are all required to submit our curricula, textbooks, and other supportive materials prior to being allowed to actually teach AP, this has permitted me to confirm best practices while having access to resources and strategies that are tried and tested in the field. AP Central and the AP Teacher Community, both forms of Knowledge Management (KM), are evidence of (what I view as) an increasing amount of common ground between education, corporate organizations, and non-profits. Walls between each of these “domains” are coming down…and for the better. When comparing the APMuTh format from when I first taught it in 2002 and its present iteration, I’m able to recognize the many changes made on both sides of the teacher-student equation. The extra gift
This week, I had the chance to consider the APMuTh experience through several lenses. It isn’t difficult for me to recognize how the overall APMuTh has moved through Nancy Dixon’s Three Eras of Knowledge Management during the past 18 years. The eras illustrate times of (a) gathering elements contributing to knowledge (Leveraging Explicit Knowledge); (b) a physical development of communities made up of practitioners (Leveraging Experiential Knowledge); (c) expansion of conversation past geographic limitations by social media (Leveraging Collective Knowledge) Harold Jarche’s concept of Social Learning resonated within me in a similar ways, but especially for its dependence upon the development of relationships to further desired communication. As I read it, Social Learning works because it calls for a breaking down of walls permitting a freer exchange of ideas between community members. All of this is wonderful. KM is certainly aligned with the leadership style and organizational structure that I prefer…one that is based upon trust, encourages collaboration and creativity, and develops leadership from the middle vs. top-down. As a result, I am attracted to taking advantage of KM and actively using it in my teaching and conducting.
As I write this blogpost, my brain is full of the benchmarks my students need during the coming year and the goldmine of strategies I received at this week’s workshop. I’m trying to view the progress made in KM in the most objective way possible. I feel as if I’m straddling two worlds. One foot is securely rooted in the traditions that have framed my chosen art form for centuries. The other is happy to be standing in an environment giving my students access to far more resources than I can give them on my own via hard copy, and encourages me to network with colleagues across the country and around the world. Here are my questions: Do I need to plant my flag in just one world? Does KM necessarily have to be an issue of leaving one “era” for another, or is there a way to encourage a bidirectional flow between Dixon’s Three Eras? Personally, I aspire to closing the loop of learning, as described by Jarche, so that each era or “state” can benefit from the others. My thought is that we will benefit from participating in Work Teams, Communities of Practitioners, and Social Networks without necessarily making any one exclusive of the others.