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MALI Teacher Leader Story: Kris Bisson

March 20, 2018

Music educator: Kris Bisson

This is one of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series of blog posts includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 Teaching Artist Leaders.  CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE  for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories.  Thank you Kris for sharing your story!

Kristine (Kris) Bisson, Music Teacher and Chorus Director for Marshwood Middle School, grades 6, 7, and 8, in Eliot, Maine. She has been teaching a total of 16 years, all of them at Marshwood Middle School. Kris teaches 350 students throughout the school year in six classes: guitar/ukulele, piano, Composing Music, and three grade level Chorus classes (Grade Eight Chorus, Grade Seven Chorus, Grade Six Chorus)In addition, Kris offers several music classes as extra-curricular groups after school. These are always offered as multi-age ensembles open to all students and we have had students participate from grades four through twelve join us for Select Chorus Ensemble, Rock Band, Guitar/Ukulele Ensemble, Piano Class, and Songwriters Workshop.

A unique fact is that I taught here ten years, then had my maternity leave and decided to stay at home to raise my children. After nine years I returned to my position at Marshwood Middle and have been here since. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to return to the teaching position I have always loved. She also is very fortunate to teach my own two children in my music classes.

What do you like best about being a music educator?

I absolutely love my profession. I love music and am reminded every day of why I love it. I have the amazing opportunity to share what I love with young people and help them embrace what they love about music, too. We do a lot of reflection in class: “Why did the composer choose this note? this rhythm? how would you sing this if you were really feeling these lyrics? how would you sing this differently?”

I love to personalize music making and music creating. Everyone can respond and it can be different to each and every person, and that is acceptable. This is personalization.

Every day we laugh, learn, make music, and work together to discover new things about ourselves. My favorite phrase in the classroom is, “Who else is having this much fun?”

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

  1. Personal expression is unique to the performing arts. Every day and every item of study should carry an aspect of how there is a human response. I try to establish an environment of trust and respect between teacher and students and foster this every day. We work together as a team and support each other. I remind my choruses that this is what an ensemble does: we work together.
  2. Passion is an important element in the classroom. Being able to explore music as an art means being able to share first-hand experiences and giving students that opportunity as well. When you create music you have a story to tell. Tell it!
  3. Taking time to process what we are learning has been a key part of reflection in learning. Taking time to listen and hear my students respond to what they are learning is important learning. Why are we learning this? How does this moment in our learning affect other areas of our lives? I strive to help students continue to think about music beyond our classroom walls.

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?

Teaching performance-based classes (Choruses, creating compositions in Guitar, Piano, and Composing Music classes) can sometimes create some confusion around the subjective and objective qualities present. Authentic assessment has created a more objective and transparent method of demonstrating learning. Students can compare the rubrics we use with those similar in every class at our school. It validates the arts. It also provides measurement that can be effectively reached by various means. There are multiple pathways to learning, thus creating a broader spectrum of learning. This has been extremely rewarding to me as an educator and likewise, to my students.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

MALI has provided a generous amount of support and enrichment to my teaching career. Being able to collaborate and learn from highly motivated and skilled teaching artists and teacher leaders has awakened a new area of growth for me. It has reminded me of the risk I ask my students to make daily to try something new and take a leap of faith into the unknown. MALI has brought that desire to succeed closer to me and I carry this with me in my classroom.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Kate Smith and Kris at the summer institute, summer 2017

With the help of my extremely supportive husband and two amazingly awesome children I earned my Masters in Music Education at the University of Southern Maine last year. It was an incredibly busy four years, but everything I studied and researched and learned I have used directly in my teaching classroom. The best lesson from this has to be that while I was working on my Masters, my husband was working on his MBA and our children witnessed first-hand how dedicated we both were to our goals in our careers, in our studies, and with our family. From our example both of our children have expressed how valuable education is and I know they will always remember this.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

Time

  • I always make time for a student who wants to keep improving or delving deeper during lunch breaks or after school.
  • Researching new material or reading up about improving learning or my own teaching takes time.
  • Getting the word out to the newspapers or parents about the goings on of our trips, activities, and concerts takes time.
  • Sending out “I got caught being awesome!” emails to students and their families takes time.
  • Needing the sleep for the energy my job demands sometimes gets in the way, but is absolutely necessary time! 🙂

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

When I returned to classroom teaching after a nine year hiatus I hadn’t touched my resume, my certification had expired, and I hadn’t interviewed in nineteen years. I put my full effort into the entire process and committed myself fully. This took a great amount of work and I knew it was the absolute thing to do.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Love what you do. Love giving that thirst for knowledge to others. Love being with the age group you work with. There is no greater satisfaction than loving what you do and sharing and seeing that grow in others.

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

I would love to start a music school that extends our learning for Marshwood students – and our surrounding community – giving scholarships to children and adults who want to learn beyond their classroom music experience and grow more music in their lives. Choruses, rock bands, jazz bands, and private lessons on instruments they love or haven’t even explored yet would be definite possibilities to so many people. Having intergenerational ensembles where the people you sit beside are sharing the same love of learning is an amazing experience for any human being. I attended small schools that did not have any band experiences and now I conduct four choruses and a Rock Band. The experience one learns in an ensemble is unique. Every person should experience being a member of a music ensemble.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

Kaitlin Young and Kris at the MALI summer institute, August 2017

I really hope I do not have any regrets. One of my favorite rewards of teaching is the surprise meeting with former students and their family members. I sincerely love finding out who they have become, where they are, and what they are doing. It means so much to know that they look back fondly on their learning in my classroom and have taken some of our learning with them in their pursuits. I can honestly say that I have made music, laughed, and learned every day and hope my students do, too. For this, I have no regrets.

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