Using music to encourage connectedness while physically separated

Music teacher and assistant principal Sarah Donnelley was named a Telstra ARIA Music Teacher Award winner last semester for her influence on students at Wilcannia Central School in Wilcannia, a remote indigenous community in far west New South Wales.

In her two years at Wilcannia Central School, Donnelley has used singing in many ways as a classroom management tool, helping guide her school community through the temporary move to study from home. She was awarded the prize for this committed work.

“I think music has a really strong ability to bring people together. Singing together and singing in a collective and as a group has something so magnetic about it, ”she says Teacher.

Connect with students at home over the air

When the New South Wales government announced that most students should study from home due to COVID-19 concerns, Donnelley went to the community to see what form of communication would be best for families to use while they were listening Stayed home. Of the 15 families Donnelley spoke to, three had internet access at home.

“As we watched it, we got to the radio station pretty quickly because we realized that while we were making study packages for the home and developing resources and activities to get home, our parents and family and community members needed support to help the children with these activities too, ”she explains.

“So the radio became our way of almost explaining the activities to these family members so they could help the children with the printed resources we delivered every few days.”

Every day a teacher went to the radio station to explain the students’ activities that day. Each teacher also selected a story to read aloud, which Donnelley says is an exercise they implemented to ensure students can experience at least one literacy activity during the day. The teachers were also interviewed by the radio staff to keep the connection with the community strong and to allow new staff to build relationships.

“… What I really missed was of course my weekly music lessons,” says Donnelley. In order to involve the students in the music class, she created a music video together to give the students a sense of connectedness again, even when they were physically separated from their teachers and classmates.

‘So that’s where the radio came in because we were recording [a] Song and played it over the radio and then people would send videos of them singing along which was really special. So it was a very special opportunity for children, their families and employees to feel connected at a time when they felt separated. “

Music as a classroom management tool

During normal school operations in the classroom, Donnelley has used music as a tool throughout her five-year career to calm students down, encourage them to pay attention to instructions, and help transition between study activities.

‘I definitely use it as a tool for tool [individual] Children when they are insecure or when they have difficulty learning or concentrating, ”she shares. ‘[I] Use it as a way to take them away from what is troubling them at the time … often they come along or sing along or just listen, and then it gives them a little more opportunity to calm down. And then we can discuss what happened. ‘

To calm students down in a group setting, Donnelley found success in playing classical music to encourage mindfulness, breathing activities, and focused listening. When it comes to transitioning between assignments in the classroom, she uses call and response songs or action songs to keep students busy. Often times, to get class attention, music is the most effective technique for getting students’ attention.

“Music is definitely a part of our children’s and community life. So it’s something that we can really share and draw together in school. I think that [with] Music, you just move away from everything that’s going on in your life and it allows our students to just be kids, which is really powerful. ‘

Launched in 2017, the Telstra ARIA Music Teacher Award aims to recognize the influence and commitment of music teachers across the country. Previous winners are Antonio Chiappetta from New South Wales, Scott Maxwell from South Australia and Renee McCarthy from South Australia.

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