how mentoring makes music tangible for elementary school students

The National Music Teacher Mentoring Program was launched in 2015 by Richard Gill and implemented by the Australian Youth Orchestra.

The mentoring program follows a simple formula: experienced music teachers (the mentors) are paired with general early childhood teachers in primary schools that do not have music programs to jointly develop music programs.

First, the mentors assess the teachers’ musical experience and skills, the students’ needs, and local resources.

Second, subject and generalist teachers work together to plan music activities that work for that school, class, and teacher.

The training includes mentors demonstrating music lessons in their own classroom, then in the teachers’ classroom, along with shared lesson planning, preparation and team tuition, where mentors gradually hand the reins to teachers as they gain more skill and confidence in music lessons.

The approach of the mentoring program is very different from typical professional development. Typically, teachers are presented with a lot of information during a one-day course, but do not receive ongoing support as they try new ideas in their classroom.

Through this mentoring program, mentors and teachers build a lasting relationship based on trust, mutual respect and collaboration. Since its inception, 630 primary school teachers have been trained to teach music to 50,000 students in their classrooms.

Read more: Music can help lift our kids out of the literacy rut, but schools in some states are still missing out

Benefits for Children

This mentoring program is a ray of hope for children who do not have access to music at school, especially in disadvantaged schools.

Our research found that students’ singing skills improved in these classes regardless of gender or socioeconomic status, and children showed an overall improvement in their attitudes toward music.

An illustration of a kid taking music class.
The National Music Teacher Mentoring Program

We spoke directly to children who participated in this program. They told us that they:

  • recognized the intrinsic value of music

  • sang and played music games at home and at school

  • made music at home and on the road in the car

  • played musical instruments

  • Accessing Music Using Technology

  • uses music for mood and self-regulation

  • built social interactions and confidence through music and

  • identified the positive influence of music on the development of literacy and numeracy skills.

A very wise second grader said:

I think [music] is just as important as English and math. I think it’s just as important because if you don’t know how to express yourself or how to play or sing, then your life won’t be as fun as kids who have music education.

Read more: What’s your school closure playlist? Why music should be part of a parent’s pandemic survival strategy

Impact on teachers and schools

Not only did we talk to children, we also interviewed teachers, mentors and school principals.

They saw many positive outcomes from the program, including an enriched school curriculum, locally relevant programs that drew on the interests and activities of the school and its community to create music content, building teacher resources, increased confidence in teachers’ musical abilities, and positive impact on student learning and behavior.

As part of the mentorship, music did not only take place in individual lessons. The mentoring program integrated music into daily activities and transitions between regular classes and changed the atmosphere of entire schools.

A teacher and student play tambourines in a colorful classroom.
The mentoring program gives educators the confidence to teach music in their classrooms.

Morning roll call became a song play, short musical activities between classes refreshed the children for the next task, and the children continued to sing and play musical games outside of the classroom on the playground.

Teachers also highlighted the particular benefits for children from non-English speaking backgrounds who gained English skills and personal confidence through singing and music activities.

As one teacher described:

30% of our students come to us without any English and now they learn languages ​​through singing. Songs make a big difference for children learning English because otherwise they just stay silent.

Children with different neurological needs also became calmer in the classroom and more actively engaged in learning. A mentor reported:

The teacher was absolutely stunned by this little boy who had a number of learning difficulties, didn’t want to speak, incredibly low self esteem. But he got up and sang and had confidence.

Bridging the gap between values ​​and skills

The National Music Teacher Mentoring Program has made it possible for classroom teachers with little music experience to continue to provide quality music programs in their schools.

Programs like this invest in the expertise of specialist music teachers, bringing music mentors and teachers together to create music programs in elementary schools.

Our research has shown that early childhood educators value music highly, but express low confidence in their abilities and their ability to deliver music lessons. The National Music Teacher Mentoring Program addresses the gap between values, confidence and skills.

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