My teaching asserts the primacy of autonomy, identity, experience, invention, and alliance. In addition, student-mediated group tuition, peer feedback, community-life integration, validating diversity, and recognizing entrepreneurship as an arena of personal agency (rather than of necessarily commercial activity) are central to how I design my courses. I have found these elements build valuable agility into curricula, so that they respond to the constantly moving target of how to remain useful and relevant to students.
As concerns autonomy: my formation and education were largely aligned with the “sage on the stage” model, yet in recent years I have gravitated towards wanting my students to be and feel encouraged to exercise control over the shape, direction, and speed of their own learning as much as practicable. While this approach has bearing on all teaching contexts, it is especially relevant to applied instruction. As one example: when I encourage artists to identify repertoires for which they seem to feel special affinity or authority, even if these feelings are vague, a powerful circuit of intuition is wired which later facilitates similar initiative and authority with less-accessible repertoire. As a result, I regularly encourage my applied students to reflect on their “repertoire sweet spots” as early as possible, to inform the learning plan I propose for them.
As concerns identity: whatever the teaching and learning context or outcome, over time I have become increasingly aware of the importance of making room for students to openly reflect on questions of who they are in relation to their environment, how they feel about it, and which actions they feel motivated to take. In response, I developed the “Creative Identities in Music” course series to explore manifestations of expressive diversity in music and how it is shaped by human experience. Students are challenged by the need to articulate their personal vision and assert it in class, online, on paper, on stage, or in community.
Hands-on experience is very central to my approach, because there is no conclusion as powerful as one drawn independently by an individual. In my Keyboard Harmony course, students work in groups to experience theoretical constructs with their own bare hands in real-time, in a supportive lab environment which promotes peer feedback. In my Teaching Methods course, students design and operate their own teaching studio so that they can take away concrete tools, experience, and confidence. While much of the work in these courses has needed to be moved online recently, my principles informing the course structure have not changed.
Invention is deeply linked to self-validation, which is key to developing autonomous, confident students. When a student is liberated and encouraged to invent a unique artefact which comes to life through self-directed experience aligned with identity, the result is often an intense and transformative experience of personal power. Doctoral supervision is the best example I can offer of this process. From first conceptualization meetings, to the Research in Performance project, to the Comprehensive Exams, to the thesis proposal, dissertation writing and then defence, my goal is for my doctoral students to transform into my colleagues.
It is important that my students realize I am an ally in their evolution. Moreover, recognizing the porous relationship between teaching, learning, and even assessment provides me the opportunity to learn as much from my students as they will hopefully learn from me. In this environment of alliance, great traction is brought to the development process, and ultimately is what allows my students to become stronger than me. Their strength is their joy, and mine.
Toronto, January 2021