Teaching Character Education Through Music
By Barbara Weaver Scott
Jackie DeShannon’s song – “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love,” sums up the necessity for strong moral values in working together for a common cause, creating a caring community, while focusing on kindness, gratitude, patience, and respect, especially due to the uncertainty of COVID-19. Tension and anxiety levels have always existed but have escalated even more so now as a result of the pandemic. The investment of good character daily yields high dividends throughout a lifetime!
Inasmuch as I mainly taught Music Education, I also taught a specific Character Education class to grade 6 students weekly throughout the school year – rotating students every nine-week period. I focused on morals, values, manners, communication, real life experiences, problem solving, and gratitude. We established a “clothes closet” to discretely provide necessities for students in need through the guidance office. Letters of gratitude were written by the students and distributed to the staff throughout the year, as well as public officials, and to fellow students in recognizing their efforts and accomplishments. We established “singing birthday telegrams” for all staff members, recognizing them by presenting them with a birthday card and coupon for a birthday treat from the cafeteria. We focused on sharing encouragement and positive thoughts – especially when we sent cards to the Cleveland Browns football team during a losing season reminding them and others to never give up. Needless to say, all of these efforts were well received by all involved, but most importantly, these efforts instilled a life lesson by planting a seed for those students in the Character Education class to continually think of ways to make a difference in their life, and in the lives of others.
The majority of my teaching dealt with my degree and music appreciation for students in grades K-12. As a teacher, the students in my music class were reminded daily that a person’s character is an on-going process of continual reinforcement and development throughout a lifetime, thus shaping an individual into the kind of person they are. They were also reminded that character traits are an important and essential asset in both a person’s personal and professional life – regardless of their age or occupation.
From a “musical” perspective, the children were taught that the “manuscript” of one’s life is built and defined by value and integrity. The students were encouraged to listen to music daily for calming effects, inspiration, and motivation. They were reminded that “music” is healing – both physically and emotionally – and also reminded that they could simply find a “happy place” inside their home, or outside while listening to the unscripted sounds of nature, to focus on their overall wellbeing. The children were reminded about simple – but often forgotten – words of “please” and “thank you” that should always be used.
Children were welcomed into the music classroom with soft background music playing while setting the “tone” for their musical adventure. The “warm-up” exercise in the music classroom consisted of a few moments of silent/mindful meditation – after the children were seated – while listening to calming music – at which time those present reflected on manners and respect for everyone, while making a personal commitment to always try their best. A “music assistant” was chosen via alphabetical order to recite a character pledge – having the classroom repeat each line together – while instilling a positive and productive mental attitude. Students recited the four most powerful words in the English language – “I can do it!” The goal communicated was to maintain a collective focus for the subject matter at hand and to continue with this throughout each day. During and throughout “rehearsal,” the class was reminded of the “dynamics” of their voice and the difference heard by choosing loud and boisterous sounds by constantly disrupting the class or their choice to use a soft and subtle voice while setting the “tone” for listening and working together. The class deciphered and followed the “tempo” of the musical score by calmly and respectfully following leadership and direction to a “steady beat,” rather than a rushed or hurried “cadence.” The notes on the page were brought to life through “interpretation” and “expression,” just as the human voice gives someone words of encouragement and hope through respect and caring. The virtue of patience was constantly reinforced while reviewing specific and difficult sections of the musical score. At the conclusion of the rehearsal and/or class, the students respectfully listened to the teacher for “musical notations and accidentals” requiring more attention and practice. The students also responsibly put their books away while being reminded to make a genuine commitment every day to remain true to themselves, stay positive and productive, and spread kindness wherever they found themselves to be.
As I reflect on my 66 years, I am so very thankful for my wonderful family – who continually instilled and reinforced character values of respect and integrity – and my circle of friends. I encourage everyone to take a moment each morning for mindful meditation in self-reflection and gratitude, in being thankful for at least one or more blessings in their daily life. I also encourage everyone to try to re-evaluate and “re-tune” their character by providing a positive and productive environment for those they surround themselves with. Most importantly, they should belief in themselves by supporting, promoting, and working toward overall success in the game of life! Life is a song, and music – along with strong character values – is the love!