Positive Mindset in the Music Classroom: Why and How


Our students are dealing with so much in their lives. The Annie Casey Foundation website states that more than one in five children experience multiple adverse experiences.  You probably have children whose parents knowingly or unknowingly provide negative feedback, sometimes within earshot of other people. Other parents (and teachers!) can have unrealistically high expectations of their students. Quite a few students are bullied. Other students have difficulty with standard learning and test taking. All of these situations can contribute to a closed mindset.

What is a closed mindset? According to Dr.Diana Allan of Missouri Southern State University, a mindset is “the lens through which we view our world”. (Source, clinic at Missouri Music Educators Conference).
People with closed mindsets:

  • Avoid challenges
  • Give up easily
  • See efforts as fruitless
  • Ignore useful negative feedback
  • Are threatened by the success of others 

On the other hand, people with positive (growth) mindsets:

  •  Embrace challenges
  • Persist, even with setbacks
  • Believe effort is just a pathway to success
  • Learn from criticism
  • Are inspired by the success of others

When so many outside obstacles can throw a monkey wrench into the growth mindset works, what can teachers do to help students develop a positive attitude towards their abilities?

  1. Determine if your expectations are reasonable, but also provide a challenge. The best way to do that is to actually never assume anything. It’s better to start a little easy, note when students are zipping through objectives, and state, “Wow. You know this! Let’s try to up this”. When you get to the part when the students don’t get it right the first time, make sure the feedback is positive, with a hint of help that seems to come from them. “Oops, I think we have a little challenge. Have you tried…”, or “Hmmm, here’s a tricky part. What do you think you can do to tackle this?”
  2. Make sure the classroom environment is risk-free. The biggest impediment to risk-free? Bullying and teasing. Nothing is going to shut down creativity and pushing the success envelope more than the fear of peers laughing at you. The best thing to do is to be proactive.
    *Use team-building discussion activities. The picture below shows an activity I’ve used in my classroom. Students toss a skein of yarn to another student. Each student answers the question posed, hold on to a section of the yarn, and then toss it to someone else. Everyone must answer, and the answers must be accepted, no matter how short.

       *Teach students how to critique. Remind them that critiquing doesn’t always mean negative comments. 

        * Teach students how to SELF-critique. Many of our bullies have low self-esteem. When students learn how to objectively self-critique and understand where their strengths are and that they have them, the bullying tendencies stop. Case in point: for many, recorder is a struggle. Ask them what they did correctly, many will answer “Nothing”. BUT, you can say “Were you able to hold the recorder?” “Did you use warm air?” “Did you play the entire song without stopping?” Humans are generally very hard on themselves. When we learn to see the positive we can do, our feelings of safety are increased. We are willing to take more risks and understand that not every task is immediately successful.

        * Teach students that the journey, not necessarily the destination, is important. This is a very important tenant in the Orff-Schulwerk approach to teaching music. (“Experience first, then intellectualize”.)
                                   MOVING ON to POSITIVE MINDSET DEVELOPMENT

  4. Give feedback that focuses on process. (What was I saying about the Orff approach?)
  5. Introduce students to the growth mindset process. Here are some examples of what I did when I was teaching:
       *Most of us are familiar with exit tickets. I used exit tickets that focused on effort and self-reflection, not music objectives. I had a special bulletin board for success, and students would post answers to effort questions with Post-It notes. (“Where did you feel success in music today?” “Who did you see that found success in something they struggled with?”)
      * I frequently asked students to journal on SeeSaw. The students could either type their reflections or record themselves. They could also ask me to keep it private. The students could record their reflections on activities, their successes, their frustrations and how they planned to overcome their frustrations in progressing on a certain music objective;
      * Introduce students to musicians who had positive mindsets in the face of adversity. Some great examples:
               +Evelyn Glennie
               +Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder
               +Hank Williams
               +Itzhak Perlman
               + Mel Tillis
               + Michael Bolton
               + Tony Braxton
               +  Ali Stroker

Blogs on Student Mindset

Adventures of a Schoolmarm: Building a Positive Classroom Culture

How to Use Writing to Build Classroom Community

Building a Positive Culture in Your Classroom

Mean Girls: What Teachers Can and Should Do to Stop Them

5 Practical Ways to Implement Social and Emotional Learning in Music Class: The Domestic Musician (podcast)

Bully-proof Your Classroom

6 Tips to Help Develop Positive Mindset

Mindset, Grit, and Determination

Mindset in the Music Classroom

Books on Mindset

Check my bookstore for books on positive mindset for teachers and students.

Coming up: PD in the Pages Book Review, observations, stress, music classroom jobs……..

Check out Dr. Stafford’s Tuneful Talk Tuesdays on Instagram and Facebook Live!

Instagram: Normally 4:00 Central/sometimes 8:00 Central (due to college class)

Facebook: 7:30 Central

Stay tuned on Dr. Stafford’s social media for upcoming topics

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Hi there!

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have just completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.


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