Helping all students feel welcome, part 1

Helping all students feel welcome in the music room: Blog post includes great thoughts, an Egyptian folk song with recordings, and a free bulletin board display!

There will always be students who, for one reason or another, might not feel welcome in our classrooms, perhaps because of something happening at home, or because of some of the students in the class, or because of something we as teachers are or are not doing.

In our current world, though, there are more reasons for students to not feel welcome. Some students in our classrooms may be worrying about their families, their friends, and their futures.

Regardless of political affiliation, it is really important as educators that we make ALL students feel welcome in our classroom. As music teachers, we have the distinct advantage of bringing children together through song, of linking cultures and experiences in a way that is completely different than any other subject.In my own teaching, I've had some interesting conversations with students about other cultures. Once, after teaching the song “Ye Toop Daram” from Afghanistan (found in this blog post), I had a student exclaim, “But the people in that country are bad!” We then talked about how conflict is a complex thing, and that it doesn't make one side bad and the other side good, that while there are some bad people living in that country, there are also lots of good people. I asked them, “Do you think students in Afghanistan enjoy playing this game?”They said, “Yes.”

“Do you enjoy playing this game?”

They said, “Yes.”

Sometimes, it's simply just pointing out that we are not all so different, that can open up students' minds and hearts.

I think one of the most important things we can do now as music educators is to sing songs from many cultures, so that students understand that other cultures and countries should be celebrated. I reached out to my former Kodaly Level III teacher, Joan Litman, and asked her for input about the topic of making all students feel welcome, and teaching music from diverse populations. She is a phenomenal music educator, and is brilliant about using music of many cultures responsively and respectfully. She sent me this song, from Egypt:

Notes from Joan, about this song:

I picked this song because it very accessible and fun for little kids to do–
on the “Ooooooooooooobba!” which is their hands simulating flying doves (or pigeons) Pigeons/doves are really popular in the Middle East (racing, etc.)

A quick note about sequence. Of course, many of our international songs (most of them) do not fit into our sequence– so, if teachers can– I ask them to look for what they can use sequentially….
Look at the titi titi ta tas– over and over. What a thrill!

The last sung phrase ( mrdtl,) can be sung by the teacher alone. You know, teacher makes the “sh!” motion and ask the kids to listen. Eventually of course, they'll sing along, but I would not put any energy into tuning the line. It's beyond their spot in the sequence.

Joan was also so kind to include recordings! Here is a recording of the pronunciation:

And here is a recording of a Tunisian scholar/Arab musician, Yassine Ayari, playing the tune on the ‘oud, which is tuned to a Middle Eastern tonality.

Here are some pictures of pigeon houses to help give context to the song with your students.I'm very excited about using this song in my classroom, and hope you're able to as well!

In my conversation with Joan, she brought up how validating it is for people to see others like them in photographs. She says, “Middle Easterners (like everyone) really respond to seeing their cultures represented visually. It communicates, ‘You are welcome here. We want to get to know you.'”For this reason, I decided to find photographs of musicians from all over the world for a bulletin board display, a display on your wall, etc, along with the word “Music” in many different languages. Here's what I came up with; click the picture to download the display for free! (There are eight photographs total with the display, along with the “Music” sign.)

Free Music around the world bulletin board display: Blog post also includes great thoughts about making all students feel welcome in the music room!
Thank you so much to Joan for your invaluable advice and resources. She has traveled often to the Middle East and is so thoughtful about her teaching of music from other cultures. If you are going to the OAKE conference in Philadelphia in March, make sure to register for the mini-conference with Joan! She will be sharing ideas about bridging the gap of music, religion, and culture, and I know she will be amazing!I will be writing soon with more thoughts on making all students feel welcome.  Feel free to comment below with your suggestions or thoughts. Have a wonderful day!

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