Continuing our series of interviews with Music SLEs (Specialist Leaders of Education) is Laura Crocker of Elmhurst Primary, who has given us a great insight into her working week.
To your mind, what does an SLE for Music do?
Troubleshooting first, followed by support. Initially, I observe and talk with the music leaders then discuss a strategy with the leadership team for improving their musical provision. I like to keep communicating with the music leaders and providing additional support throughout the process and after. I am currently in conversation with the schools in our teaching alliance to find out what CPD they would like me to deliver. We are also in the process of setting up opportunities for the children from different schools to get together and share performances across the alliance.
Describe your typical week during term time.
Every week is different and changes dramatically, especially towards the end of term. It also depends on how much work I am booked to do for the Teaching Alliance. The work of an SLE supporting a school can vary from a one-day visit to an ongoing support system and some cases need more face-to-face contact than others. In a typical week I do the following:
Monday: I start the week with a bang! Lots of thirty minute classroom music lessons; each with a different year group, then a rehearsal for the next upcoming theme assembly. These are assemblies put on by a year group on topics like Christmas, Diwali, and Fairytales. Every group puts on one of these per year and it is my job to help the teachers plan a script, find appropriate music and to rehearse on the stage. The standard of performance is very high and it requires a lot of team work. We have eight of these assemblies in a year as well as termly music concerts. We hope to build a new theatre at school in the next two years.
Tuesday: EYFS day! I teach six nursery classes today and our lessons are very active. We have some singing and instrumental work in each lesson. I try to include recorded music from different genres; a firm favourite is Prokofiev’s Montagues and Capulets from Romeo and Juliet. I also run a Key Stage 2 choir after school with thirty children who are passionate about singing. Each year, we take part in a large-scale performance at a big venue; last year was Royal Festival Hall, this year will be Stratford Circus.
Wednesday: Most of the instrumental tuition happens today. I spend the afternoon managing the peripatetic staff and watching the children’s lessons. After school, I take part in violin club and learn alongside the children. In our school we have around 300 children learning an instrument and our end of term concerts are epic!
Thursday: Singing assemblies are on Wednesday (KS1), Thursday (Yr5&6) and Friday (Yr3&4). In each assembly there are 240 children and Thursday is the challenging day as is it the older children. I try to find the balance between songs they want, and songs I think they ought to learn because it will help them make progress in singing. At lunchtime, there is practice club for children who are unable to practice at home or would like a little help preparing for their instrumental lesson. Usually, around fifteen children attend, some every week, some are just drop ins, but it is a supportive environment and means they have no excuse as to why they didn’t do any practice this week!
Friday: Today, I teach the SEN music groups. These are small groups of special needs children with their TAs where we develop social skills and confidence through musical activities. Often this is the most rewarding part of my week. I also catch up on my correspondence and I am in contact with several other music leaders in the area. We send lesson plans to each other and ask for advice on how to deal with difficult situations. It can be lonely being a one-person department, especially if you have to plan and teach lessons on your own so having this network of other like-minded musicians is invaluable.
What are the biggest challenges faced by music teachers today?
I notice that most music leaders who ask for my help are the ones who have to manage generalist class teachers with little musical experience. I think the biggest challenge is to design lessons that can be taught well by teachers with a variety of musical backgrounds and to get the less confident and unenthusiastic ones excited about teaching music. The first piece of advice I have for anyone in this situation is to communicate. You need to know what the problems are before you can start to improve. Sometimes an engaging CPD session is all you need, and sometimes it is team-teaching or another form of ongoing support. The children deserve great music lessons and it is our responsibility as educators to do all we can to make sure they get that.
What excites you about music education today?
I get the most pleasure from planning and delivering projects that enhance the curriculum. Specifically, the extra bits like World Music Week where every day is a different theme and the children play traditional instruments, immersing themselves in music from around the world. This is not their classroom music lessons but is a bonus that keeps them excited and passionate about music. The music hub for Newham has a lot of contacts and I reply to emails offering interesting musical opportunities. The majority of the workshops I have booked through the hub have been either free or at a small cost. I love making links with ensembles and workshop leaders and providing different groups of children opportunities.
As well as using the link with the hub, I use my own contacts from previous boroughs I have worked in and call on my professional musician friends. I recently set up a percussion project for our children with social, emotional and behaviour difficulties. A drummer came in for six sessions and taught the children different types of percussion. We finished the project with a trip to the West End to see STOMP! Even in this short-term project some of the children made personal progress and gained a lot of confidence. I just love seeing the children feeling the same way I do about music – excited.