Incorporating Social Emotional Learning in
Music Ensembles

December 03, 2021

By John Grimsley, Middle School Music and Drama Teacher

Last year presented our community with a lot of challenges that required us to be flexible, understanding, and patient. While dealing with new schedules, virtual learning, and safety protocols, we were also confronted with the collective trauma from the pandemic, traumas from racial inequities, and our own unique traumas outside of the MMFS community. I felt motivated at the end of a very hard year to focus my energy on furthering my understanding of trauma-informed (TI) approaches, social-emotional learning (SEL), and culturally responsive teaching. I knew that our mission to become an anti-racist and trauma-informed institution could not stop in the classroom; I wanted to find ways to incorporate this mission into our extracurricular activities and after-school programming.

The University of the Arts offers a Summer Music Studies program, and when I saw a course for Incorporating Social Emotional Learning in Music Ensembles, I quickly signed up for the opportunity to continue my education in this field. This virtual course allowed me to create a five-course unit plan or system of lesson plans centered around SEL and to collaborate with other music educators around the country.

The first part of the course focused on background information and why SEL and TI work were crucial. We synthesized personal understandings of how TI and SEL practices are implemented and core philosophies of the idioms. We utilized base ideas of TI and reflected on how to improve our classrooms based on TI principles. The next section was the what and how of SEL. We studied the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), five competencies and adjusted lessons from the Scott Edgar book Portraits of
Music Education and Social Emotional Learning
. The final section provided a tactical approach to SEL. We developed personal philosophies of education and created units of study to fit our classrooms, which we shared with each other so that we would have a multitude of materials from many different perspectives. One of the unit plans includes a Music Identity Project in which students create playlists based on the different facets of their identities and how the intersections of their identities make them who they are.

After an entire school year of not participating in ensembles or collaborating with other students, our community needs a lot of guidance to continue to foster relationships with the students and maintain a safe and supportive environment with consideration to our students’ many lived experiences, both from the pandemic and other traumas they bring into class/rehearsal. I feel much better equipped to begin to understand these approaches and improve my teaching practices in a trauma-informed, social-emotional, and culturally responsive way.

A huge thank you to the Parents Association for making this possible. I cannot thank them enough for their continued support in our work in equity, trauma, and social-emotional learning.

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