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The Professional Development of Music Educators in

Massachusetts Public Schools


By Andrew T. Garcia

At the Massachusetts Music Educator’s 2003 All-State Conference, Dr. Richard Colwell,
arguably the most distinguished music education scholar of our time and editor of both
Handbooks on Research on Music Teaching and Learning (1992, 2000) spoke about the
perceived problem of professional development in music education. His claims are that
professional development “as it is defined by the Massachusetts Department of Education does
not 1-recognize the complexity of [professional development]; 2-it does not recognize the
important issues facing teachers in all disciplines and 3-it does not specify minimum experiences
that lead toward professional improvement….” In defining the problem he made three points:

The first is that the definition of professional development is too broad (Renji, 1996a, 1996b; Sparks, 1994) giving
it responsibility for too many critical issues. My second point is that subject matter competence must be a
primary consideration, and the third point is that a different administrative structure is needed to monitor and
approve all professional development.

He concluded his remarks by suggesting solutions to the second and third problem:

“I’m arguing that mandatory professional development in one’s subject matter, like secondary band, be approved
by an organization of subject matter specialists in the field like MICCA or a group in this audience….School
districts are very different throughout the state. The performance standards appropriate for each should be
established by MICCA {or other Music Agency} and local school personnel in conjunction with and outside music
consultant.”.(Colwell, 2003)

As a member of the audience who heard Dr. Colwell’s remarks, I wondered what the
consensus among those that were gathered was. Were they in agreement? Are there glaring
problems with regard to music education professional development throughout the state? As
music supervisor of my school district, I recognized some of these problems-especially the
problem of over-generalizing professional development for ALL teachers and the subjective
nature of administrative decisions that are made with regard to professional development. I knew
that I had to seek meaningful professional development opportunities outside of my district and
that I often incurred the expense of these. My attendance at the conference was an example. To
pursue these questions and to get a better understanding of the nature of professional
development of Music Teachers in Massachusetts public schools, I developed a survey.

SURVEY PROCEDURE
A survey was developed to acquire a specific understanding of professional development
issues facing Massachusetts music teachers. Both broad and specific questions were asked.
The survey was sent to 30 Music Teachers and was voluntary. It was conducted entirely via e-
mail. E-mail was chosen because of its ease of delivery and response. Survey participants were
asked to simply supply their answers and e-mail the survey back. 14 complete responses were
received in time to submit this study for publication. Once the surveys were received, responses
were placed in tables by survey question so they could be displayed and analyzed. The survey
questions are listed below. As this is study is ongoing, any MMEA member who would like to
complete the survey is more than welcome to do so. Please mail completed surveys to: PD
Survey, 969 Main St., Dalton, MA, 01226.

PARTICIPANT SNAPSHOT
The participants were self-selected and represent a small percentage of all music educators
in the state. While some responses are indicated in percentages it is important to point out that
10% represents one person only. 5 males and 6 females took part in the survey. 4 teach at the
elementary level, 5 teach at the middle school level and 4 teach at the high school level (some
teachers teach at multiple levels). 5 teach general music, 5 teach instrumental music, 4 teach
choral music, 2 teach music theory and history and 1 teaches music technology. The ages of
teachers responding ranged from 25-56 and the years of teaching experience ranged from 1-30+
years. 2 teachers teach in urban school districts, 5 teach in suburban districts and 3 teach in
rural districts. Overall, a wide variety was represented by survey respondents even if the number
of respondents was low.

THE SURVEY QUESTIONS

1- Does your District support professional development related to your teaching


assignment/subject area and your professional development needs?
6 of the participants indicated “yes” and 4 participants indicated, “No”. Not an
overwhelmingly positive response! No additional information was provided to indicate the reasons
for either response, however, the following questions are more specific.

2- What topics do you feel are important in terms of your professional development?
Responses were:

• Standards-Based Curriculum
• Implementation of curriculum and standards
• Improving teaching and musicianship skills
• Music Computer Applications, Technology
• Recording
• Music Advocacy
• Classroom management,
• Curriculum development k-12
• Conducting/ rehearsal techniques
• Arranging
• Current vocal methods and scientific research pertaining to vocal development.

These responses echo common themes in professional journals such as Music Educator’s
Journal, The Journal for Research in Music Education, and the Journal or Music Teacher
Education and the two Handbooks on Music Teaching and Learning.

3- Please rate to what degree your District supports professional development in the following
areas:

• Elementary General Music Methods


• Middle School General Music
• Instrumental Music Methods
• Instrumental Music Repair
• Instrumental Music Other (specify)
• Music Technology
• Choral Music (all levels)
• World/Multicultural Music
• Music History
• Music Theory
• Assessment (Music)
• Differentiated Learning and Classroom Management techniques
• Curriculum Mapping
• Integrating Music with other subjects
• Word Processing skills
• Internet uses in Music Learning
• Web Design for Music Educators
The majority of responses for Elementary General Methods Courses, Middle School
General Music, Instrumental Music Methods and Instrumental Music Repair was “rarely” or
“never”. These responses indicate that there is a shortage of specific, context-specific
professional development happening in schools. Instrument repair was the least offered topic
even though it is known to be a real need of band directors, in particular, new teachers (Conway,
2002). At least half of the respondents indicated that differentiated learning and internet-based
professional development takes place regularly. Responses appear to indicate that broad-based
professional development educational receive more support than subject-specific topics (Hussey,
Estrada, Decker & Crawford, 1999; Newman, 1998; Olebe, 1999).

4- Does your School District support self-directed professional development related


to your teaching assignment/subject area?
Responses to this question underscored the findings from question 3. Only 2 teachers
indicate that the district “always” supported development in the specific teaching assignment. 4
indicated, “sometimes” and 4 indicated “rarely” or “never”.

5- Does your school or district provide professional development


opportunities specific to MUSIC teaching and learning?
80% responded, “yes” and 20% responded, “no.” One participant wrote the following:

“Yes, only if you consider that these occur through my DEPARTMENT not trough general sessions
sponsored by the school system. The system allows this to happen by providing dedicated K-12 Performing
Arts meeting time throughout the year in which my whole department meets to learn or work on curriculum
together.”

This statement suggests that specific professional development in music is best created
and implemented by music departments themselves. I wondered how many other districts are
free to do this.

6- Please indicate what types of professional development opportunities your school


district supports/offers.

The responses were as follows:

• Sponsors or sends us to classes---50%


• Sponsors or sends us to workshops---70%
• Sponsors or sends us to conferences---70%
• Provides mentors: matches with experienced music teacher in district---50%
• Provides books and other printed material we can borrow---40%
• Has a resource center in school: web access, AV materials on teaching, newsletters---40%
• Allows time in school for professional learning, collaborating with colleagues, observing other
teachers---30%
• Brings in speakers on teaching, music, learning, classroom issues---50%
• Encourages us to seek opportunities, even if they do not directly sponsor---60%

7- If your school/district offers professional development opportunities, does the


school/district contribute financially to the experience?
6 of 10 respondents indicated, “yes, some”. 3 indicated, “No, we pay for ourselves and 1
indicated “yes” and “no” with the following statement:

“Sponsored professional development is fully paid for by the school system. Conferences are usually not
paid for most teachers”
8- How would you rate the professional development opportunities offered by your
local District?
Responses indicate that more than half of music teachers surveyed find district
professional development to be only somewhat or not useful to their specific jobs as music
specialists. These sentiments are reiterations of those shared above.

9- Where do you/where have you received specific music-related professional


development?
The following sites were listed as professional development sites by respondents. They
were quite varied but University programs and MENC/MMEA were frequently cited.

MMEA MENC, All State, Mass insight education, Tanglewood, Self-directed studies
,AOSA, BAKE, AIME ,“Teachers As Scholars”, Boson area Kodaly Educators, Mentor Program,
Observation Opportunities within District and in other Districts, Berklee college of Music, New
England Conservatory, Lesley college, Norfolk county Teacher's Association, District Festivals,
Northwestern University – summer fellows program and conducting symposiums, Univ. of Minn. -
Art of Wind Band Teaching seminar, University of Massachusetts-conducting symposia and
“skillful teacher” program, NEC – Wind Ensemble week, SGMM offerings College courses, Univ.
of Hartford, Visiting other School Music Programs, Milton Public Schools, Orff Workshop

10- How would you rate your experience at these sites?

9 of the respondents (90%) indicate that their experience at these sites is extremely or
quite useful. 1 respondent indicate that his/her experience was somewhat useful. The fact that
such a high percentage of music teachers rate their experience at the sites highly appears to be
related to the fact that they had opportunities to choose these experiences and they were related
to their specific needs (Sikes, 2001;Conway, 2001)

11- Does your School District support your attendance? In What ways?
2 participants responded, “no” to this question. The remaining “yes” responses indicated
that their local district supports professional development in the following ways:

-allow for professional days (4 responses)


-offer release time (2 responses)
-allow substitutes for observation opportunities (1 response)
-reimburse for conferences (1 response)

It would appear that school districts appear to support days off to attend conferences
more than release time within the school day. Districts on the whole didn’t appear to support
professional development financially beyond paying for a substitute in the teacher’s absence.

12- When you seek professional development opportunities on your own, what types
of activities do you seek?
A common theme in all responses is the relevancy of the professional development
opportunities to the teacher’s lives and careers (Goodson & Sikes, 2001; Sikes, 2001) as
opposed to professional development on general education topics.
For the remaining questions, the responses are listed as they appeared on the survey.
There are varying opinions and experiences which are qualitatively distinct which is why I didn’t
feel it would be possible to generalize about them.

13- Briefly compare your professional development experiences at MENC/MMEA or


other music-specific conferences with professional development provided by your
District.

• “Totally different. Most MMEA conferences have short one or two-hour sessions. Most other Prof.
Dev., I do courses over a semester or longer.”
• Music conferences and workshops geared towards the music educator are more relevant to the
daily classroom routine of a music educator. I can use the ideas and materials I gather from these
conferences right away in my classroom. I don't find the same is true with workshops that
concentrate in non-music areas.”
• MENC/MMEA provide "quick hits" on topics at conferences--very brief sessions that only skate on
the surface of the topic. The in-service that I am most drawn to takes time delivering a topic in
depth. When I am on conference planning committees, I advocate for longer sessions so that
people get familiar with a topic. I believe that we do our teachers injustice when we offer one-hour
sessions on critical topics at conventions, expecting them to gain enough competence to go back to
the trenches and perform with confidence and competence.”
• Professional development opportunities in my district are often more general and not music-
oriented because of the small music staff (5 in the district) as compared to the experiences at
MENC/MMEA which are more varied and in depth. “
• My district allows me to plan the district provided professional development for my department
which allows us to be subject specific. For example: last year we all learned to use Finale. This
year we are all going to map our curriculum.”
• The district I was in was SUPPOSED to provide music PD for several surrounding school systems,
besides our own. NOTHING took place.
• MENC regional and national events are OK – not always focused on teaching and learning. I don’t
attend MMEA.”
• While the general structure of professional development workshops seems to be the same, the
biggest difference is applicability. For instance, our district has been offering multiple sessions on
utilizing PowerPoint as an instructional tool - while I can see some great uses, I don’t think this is as
helpful as a session on music specific activities, or instrument repair, or something more pertinent
to daily teaching life. “
• The district doesn't provide actual experiences - they primarily enable us to seek these experiences
elsewhere. “
• MENC/MMEA offer relevant professional development. The school system does not.”
• Usually there is no comparison because my district has only provided non-music professional
development up until this past year. Last year we had an Orff workshop (14 hours) and this year
we will have a Kodaly workshop (14 hours). This has made a huge difference in our department's
experiences in professional development.”

14- What is the most valuable professional development course/class/workshop that


you have participated in related to your job as a music educator? Why was it valuable?
All of the responses to this question had some relation to the teacher’s immediate music
or teaching needs. For example, Kodaly training to become more effective especially with
younger students and choral students, music technology workshops to become current in
computer applications in music, and learning database programs such as Microsoft Access to
organize vast amounts of information necessary to teach effectively. All felt their PD was valuable
because of the specific need it met for them.

15- Do you think a Music Agency (independent from the State Department of
Education) made up of Music Organizations and Music Educators should be established to
oversee and provide Music Ed. Professional Development in Massachusetts? Why or Why
Not?
This question was included specifically because it was an implication of Dr. Colwell’s and
I was interested in what music teachers had to say about the subject. In this sample, responses
were equally divided (5 yes, 5 no).

Reasons given for Yes responses:


• I think that this task could be handled by an existing organization, MAAE--MA Association for Arts
Education. Why form yet another group?

• Music (as well as each of the other Arts) is a specific area of education that is often forgotten when
professional development opportunities are planned. I can remember many professional
development inservice days in my district when I was lumped in with other subject area teachers in
an activity that was largely unrelated to anything I would do in my music classes.
• Someone needs to be in charge, don’t they?

• Music organizations overseeing the PDP process would allow teachers to be involved in
professional development that actually worked for them, all the time.

• I think public schools need to be made to service educators in all forms of the arts. Most of the
workshops offered in my district pertain to academic classes and computer technology. Attempts
have been made by dept. coordinators to bring in relevant professional development, but without
the support of the remainder of the administration, it never seems to get off the ground. If there
were an agency statewide dedicated to education in the fine arts, perhaps said agency could put
on a little pressure.

Reasons given for No Responses (some simply said, “No” without giving a reason.
• Different people and school systems have different needs which I do not think one organization
could meet. Too centralized. Too many methodologies and teaching philosophies.

• I think that there should be a division of the State Dept. of Ed that oversees the professional
development of music (arts) educators to establish the validity of professional development sources
(see question 13). An organization that operates outside the Dept of Ed (however cumbersome the
Dept of Ed may be) should have no control over state certified music teachers.

• I think MMEA provides plenty of guidance for professional development. One more agency will just
serve to put more controls on teachers and stifle creative endeavors for professionals. I just
wouldn't trust anything set up in Massachusetts because the DOE would get involved and it would
be a joke. Somehow or other, we all get a chance to see who does and who does not at All State
and District, and we pick and choose our clinicians by what we experience. Sorry I don't trust our
politicians or DOErs, but I've been there, done that.

16- Would you support such an agency establishing professional development and
competency standards for Music Educators?

Responses were, 7 “yes”, 2 “no” and one “no response”

One particularly potent “yes” point was:

Because principals are often the person assessing the music teacher, and because ideas of what
is "good" music teaching widely vary. I also think it is difficult for the principal to really assess if
the music teacher is doing a good job. I have often felt that assessment has been largely based
on classroom management, not on concepts begin taught. I think competency standards,
developed by an agency that understands music
teaching are an outstanding idea. Music teachers would all be held to the same standards. This
organization could then develop professional development in a way that supports the standards.
Right now what educators do for professional development is so unstructured, and only
sometimes actually benefits their teaching.

This comment makes several points that are supported in the research on (the problems
of) professional development (Conway, 2001, in particular).

One particularly potent, “no” response was:

“It would highly depend who was on such a committee. I look upon this task as really walking on thin ice.
For example, the MENC National Teacher Certification is a joke. They make people go through hoops to
obtain, yet I have seen people who have achieved this national certification who I know to be extremely
weak musicians. Such things then become meaningless and discourage quality people from even wanting
to obtain such certification.”
This point underscores the problem of what makes up good professional development?
What standards are worth including? What does it mean to be competent? How is it assessed?
These problems have also surfaced in some writing about teaching in other subject areas as well.

17- Please comment on ANY aspect of professional development as it relates to music


education and your own experiences as a Massachusetts Music Educator.

Most comments reiterated points already made above and one, in particular, summed up
the problem for many of the participants of this survey:

“Our professional development occurs on half days provided by the district. We are required to attend. I
guess my thoughts on this are….

• If Iam required to be there, please provide me with an opportunity for growth. Otherwise, it's a colossal
waste of time.
• Allow me to use that development time in pursuit of my own development rather than requiring me to
attend workshops that have nothing to do with my teaching situation.
• Maybe help financially support workshops outside of the district or college classes, as financial
restrictions can keep educators from getting the
development they need.
• It also would be nice if there were time built into the school day when colleagues can meet and
discuss, or observe one another's teaching.”

SUMMARY
Music teachers have specific, unique professional development needs that differ from the
broad population of subject-matter teachers. School districts should provide professional
development for music educator’s that is context-specific. Taken as a whole the responses to the
survey support research indicating that professional development opportunities offered by
schools and school districts do not often match the actual ongoing needs of music teachers.
Despite knowledge and a desire for the contrary, school districts in Massachusetts appear to offer
short-term, broad-based opportunities rather than professional development as a process that
takes place on a continual basis within the teaching setting and context. Teachers have had to
seek opportunities on their own. This problem is not new.

It is still relatively unknown how in-service teachers in music and other subject areas learn
and apply their own learning (Scribner, 1999) but teachers do understand clearly what counts for
effective professional development. The responses above, while taken from a small sample,
prove the point. The needs of an elementary general music teacher are different from a high
school band director. The needs of a middle school choral director are different from a music
technology lab specialist, etc. Also, the needs of a first year teacher are vastly different for a
th
teacher in his or her 20 year. The professional development problem in music education exists
because of the complexity involved in meeting the needs of teachers within each of the music
disciplines, at all grade levels and at all stages in a teacher’s career-a complexity not always fully
appreciated by local school districts.

As the survey only represents a pilot study, further investigation of the problem is
recommended. Still, as a stating point, potential issues pertaining to professional development in
music education in Massachusetts public schools have been specifically identified by the
participants of this study. These issues validate literature critical of traditional professional
practices and specifically Dr. Colwell’s (2003) comments. Whether or not an entity such as
MICCA, MENC, AIME, or another group is willing to take up the challenge of assuming a
leadership role in organizing the professional development activities of music educators remains
to be seen. Colwell’s comments still reverberate:
“………it will be a formidable task for any organization.”
References

Conway, C. (2002). Perceptions of beginning teachers’ their mentors, and administrators


regarding preservice music teacher preparation. Journal of Research in Music Education,
50((1), pp20-36.

Colwell, R.J., (Ed.) Handbook of research on music teaching and learning. New York: Schirmer
Books.

Colwell, R.J, & Richardson, C. (Eds.), New handbook of research on music teaching and
learning: a project of the music educator’s national conference. New York: Schirmer
Books.

Colwell, R (2003) Remarks made at MMEA 2003 All-State Conference, March 21, 2003.
Published in Massachusetts Music News, 51(6), p.45.

Goodson, I. & Sikes, P. (2001) Life History in Educational Settings: Learning From Lives,
Buckingham, Open University Press

Hussey, K., Estrada, N., Decker, D., & Crawford,S. (1999). How much time should teachers
devote to professional development? Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance,
70(7), 12-13.

Newman, J. (1998). We can’t get there from here. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(4), 288-296.

Olebe, M. (1999). California formative assessment and support system for teachers (CFASST):
Investing in teachers’ professional development. Teaching and Change, 6(3), 258-271.

Renyi, J. (1996a). Finding the time to build professional development into the life of schools. In
Teachers take charge of their learning: Transforming professional development for
student success (pp. 11-20). Washington, DC: National Foundation for the Improvement
of Education.

Renyi, J. (1996b, November 13). The longest reform. Education Week on the Web [Online].
Available: http://www.edweek.org/ew/vol-16/11renyi.h16

Scribner, J. (1999). Professional development: untangling the influence of work context on


teacher learning. Educational Administration Quarterly, 35(2), 238-266.

Sikes, P. (2001) 'Teachers' lives and teaching performance. In Gellson, D. & Husbands, C. The
Performing School, London: Routledge, Falmer, pp. 55-77

Sparks, D. (1994). Time for learning: A view from the national level. Professional Development:
Changing Times (NCREL Policy Brief, report no. 4) [Online]. Available:
http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/pbriefs/94/94-4sprk.htm