“Mrs Stafford, can I just have a quick word? We’ve decided to make you Russian coordinator for next year.”
“Um, but, I don’t speak Russian!”
“Oh don’t worry about that, there’s some wonderful resources in the cupboard”
“But I can’t read all these Cyrillic letters!”
“Don’t worry, we know you’ll rise to the challenge!”
This is the analogy I often cite when describing how it must feel to be given the job of music coordinator when you haven’t had any musical training. Music can feel like a completely different language, and your lack of experience – not able to play an instrument, not able to read music – like an insurmountable obstacle. However, the good news is anyone can teach music, given the right support and guidance.
Here are my top 10 pieces of advice for the non-specialist primary music coordinator:
- Find out if anyone else in your school is a confident musician, and seek their help (obvious, but effective!).
- Create partnerships with the other music coordinators in your cluster or consortium (again, not rocket science, but extremely helpful for sharing ideas and getting support. Ofsted have cited in their three most recent reports that music coordinators are often “professionally isolated”, so go out there and make yourself a support network).
- Find out how your local music hub can support you. Hubs are now tasked with improving curriculum music so they should have a support system in place to help you.
- Investigate commercially available schemes of work (yes they have their issues, and anecdotal evidence suggests that Ofsted are not mightily keen on seeing lessons delivered verbatim from these, but as a starting point until you gain confidence they can be a useful teaching tool.).
- Investigate CPD course opportunities (we have some great basic courses for non-specialist music teachers coming up right across the UK – shameless plug, I know!).
- Sign your school up for the BBC Ten Pieces initiative, which begins in September 2014 and looks brilliant!
- Have a look at schemes and organisations that support singing in schools (which is going to be your easiest & quickest road in to music teaching if you haven’t had any musical training before). My top three picks would be Sing Up, Ex Cathedra Singing Playgrounds and the Voices Foundation.
- Dig out all the back issues of Teach Primary in your staffroom, and check out all the music articles. (Yes, I’ve written one for the September 2014 issue, another mini-plug, but there are plenty of other authors who have contributed really great lesson plan ideas in earlier issues).
- Remember that your colleagues are probably even less enthusiastic about teaching music than you, otherwise they’d have volunteered for the coordinator job! Try to find non-threatening ways into music teaching that you can all try out together. For example try starting with listening, with each teacher sharing their favourite piece of music (in any style) with their class. If you think about the reasons that you enjoy a certain piece of music you’ll realise you already have a lot of appreciation & understanding skills to share, and this is an important part of the new national curriculum.
- Don’t panic! Do you have an A level or degree in every other subject that you teach? No of course you don’t, and you don’t need one! That old saying “you only have to be one step ahead of the children” really applies here! And you know what? Once you settle into the role, you’ll find you’re 2, 3, 4 steps ahead, and before you know it, you’ll be an expert!
Elizabeth Stafford is Director of Music Education Solutions Ltd